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Title: When Wilderness was King - A Tale of the Illinois Country
Author: Parrish, Randall
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber Note

Text emphasis denoted by _Italics_.



WHEN WILDERNESS WAS KING


[Illustration: "'Toinette!' I whispered, 'I would call you by a dearer
name than that!'" [Page 386]]


                            [Illustration]



                       WHEN WILDERNESS WAS KING

                    A Tale of the Illinois Country


                          By RANDALL PARRISH


  _With six pictures in full color and other decorations by Troy and
                         Margaret West Kinney_


                            [Illustration]

                             Third Edition


                                Chicago

                          A. C. McClurg & Co.

                                 1904

                            [Illustration]


Copyright

By A. C. McClurg & Co.

1904

  Published March 36, 1904
  Second Edition, April 20, 1904
  Third Edition, July 2, 1904


Entered at Stationers' Hall, London All Rights Reserved



University Press John Wilson and Son Cambridge. U. S. A.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                    PAGE

       I. A Message from the West               1

      II. The Call of Duty                      9

     III. A New Acquaintance                   19

      IV. Captain Wells of Fort Wayne          33

       V. Through the Heart of the Forest      41

      VI. From: the Jaws of Death              54

     VII. A Circle in the Sand                 66

    VIII. Two Men and a Maid                   77

      IX. In Sight of the Flag                 86

       X. A Lane of Peril                      95

      XI. Old Fort Dearborn                   105

     XII. The Heart of a Woman                119

    XIII. A Wager of Fools                    133

     XIV. Darkness and Surprise               141

      XV. An Adventure Underground            150

     XVI. "France wins, Monsieur!"            161

    XVII. A Contest of Wits                   171

   XVIII. Glimpses of Danger                  182

     XIX. A Conference and a Resolve          191

      XX. In the Indian Camp                  201

     XXI. A Council of Chiefs                 212

    XXII. The Last Night at Dearborn          224

   XXIII. The Death-Shadow of the Miamis      236

    XXIV. The Day of Doom                     248

     XXV. In the Jaws of the Tiger            261

    XXVI. The Field of the Dead               269

   XXVII. A Ghostly Vision                    278

  XXVIII. An Angel in the Wilderness          292

    XXIX. A Soldier of France                 306

     XXX. The Rescue at the Stake             314

    XXXI. A Search, and its Reward            325

   XXXII. The Pledge of a Wyandot             337

  XXXIII. An Intervention of Fate             347

   XXXIV. A Stumble in the Dark               358

    XXXV. The Battle on the Shore             368

   XXXVI. In the New Gray Dawn                378



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  "'Toinette!' I whispered, 'I would call you by a
      dearer name than that!'"                        Frontispiece

  "The obsequious darkey was deliberately combing
      out his long hair"                             Facing page 56

  "There was a rustle of paper, and Heald read
      slowly: 'Evacuate the post if practicable'"               192

  "She had reined her horse back against a wheel
      of the halted wagon"                                      268

  "'You shall not torture this man--he is a soldier
      of France!'"                                              313

  "'Don't, John! The savage has a gun hidden
      beneath his robe'"                                        338


    "I saw a dot upon the map, and a housefly's filmy wing--
    They said 'twas Dearborn's picket-flag, when Wilderness was King.

               *       *       *       *       *

    I heard the block-house gates unbar, the column's solemn tread,
    I saw the Tree of a single leaf its splendid foliage shed
    To wave awhile that August morn above the column's head;
    I heard the moan of muffled drum, the woman's wail of fife,
    The Dead March played for Dearborn's men just marching out of life;
    The swooping of the savage cloud that burst upon the rank
    And struck it with its thunderbolt in forehead and in flank,
    The spatter of the musket-shot, the rifles' whistling rain,--
    The sandhills drift round hope forlorn that never marched again."

                                                --_Benjamin F. Taylor._



When Wilderness Was King



CHAPTER I

A MESSAGE FROM THE WEST


Surely it was no longer ago than yesterday. I had left the scythe
lying at the edge of the long grass, and gone up through the rows of
nodding Indian corn to the house, seeking a draught of cool water from
the spring. It was hot in the July sunshine; the thick forest on every
side intercepted the breeze, and I had been at work for some hours. How
pleasant and inviting the little river looked in the shade of the great
trees, while, as I paused a moment bending over the high bank, I could
see a lazy pike nosing about among the twisted roots below.

My mother, her sleeves rolled high over her round white arms, was
in the dark interior of the milk-house as I passed, and spoke to
me laughingly; and I could perceive my father sitting in his great
splint-bottomed chair just within the front doorway, and I marked how
the slight current of air toyed with his long gray beard. The old Bible
lay wide open upon his knee; yet his eyes were resting upon the dark
green of the woods that skirted our clearing. I wondered, as I quaffed
the cool sweet water at the spring, if he was dreaming again of those
old days when he had been a man among men. How distinct in each detail
the memory of it remains! The blue sky held but one fleecy white cloud
in all its wide arch; it seemed as if the curling film of smoke rising
from our chimney had but gathered there and hung suspended to render
the azure more pronounced. A robin peeked impudently at me from an oak
limb, and a roguish gray squirrel chattered along the low ridge-pole,
with seeming willingness to make friends, until Rover, suddenly spying
me, sprang hastily around the corner of the house to lick my hand,
with glad barkings and a frantic effort to wave the stub of his poor
old tail. It was such a homely, quiet scene, there in the heart of the
backwoods, one I had known unchanged so long, that I little dreamed it
was soon to witness the turning over of a page of destiny in my life,
that almost from that hour I was to sever every relation of the past,
and be sent forth to buffet with the rough world alone.

There were no roads, in those days, along that valley of the upper
Maumee,--merely faint bridle-paths, following ancient Indian trails
through dense woods or across narrow strips of prairie-land; yet as I
hung the gourd back on its wooden peg, and lifted my eyes carelessly to
the northward, I saw a horseman riding slowly toward the house along
the river bank. There were flying rumors of coming Indian outbreaks
along the fringe of border settlements; but my young eyes were keen,
and after the first quick thrill of suspicion I knew the approaching
stranger to be of white blood, although his apparel was scarcely less
uncivilized than that of the savage. Yet so unusual were visitors, that
I grasped a gun from its pegs in the kitchen, and called warningly to
my mother as I passed on to meet the new-comer.

He was a very large and powerful man, with a matted black beard and an
extremely prominent nose. A long rifle was slung at his back, and the
heavy bay horse he bestrode bore unmistakable signs of hard travelling.
As he approached, Rover, spying him, sprang out savagely; but I caught
and held him with firm grip, for to strangers he was ever a surly brute.

"Is this yere Major Wayland's place?" the man questioned, in a deep,
gruff voice, reining in his tired horse, and carelessly flinging one
booted foot across the animal's neck as he faced me.

"Yes," I responded with caution, for we were somewhat suspicious
of stray travellers in those days, and the man's features were not
pleasing. "The Major lives here, and I am his son."

He looked at me intently, some curiosity apparent in his eyes, as he
deliberately drew a folded paper from his belt.

"No? Be ye the lad what downed Bud Eberly at the meetin' over on the
Cow-skin las' spring?" he questioned, with faintly aroused interest.

I blushed like a school-girl, for this unexpected reference was not
wholly to my liking, though the man's intentions were evidently most
kind.

"He bullied me until I could take no more," I answered, doubtfully;
"yet I hurt him more seriously than I meant."

He laughed at the trace of apology in my words.

"Lord!" he ejaculated, "don't ever let that worry ye, boy. The hull
settlement is mighty glad 'twas done. Old Hawkins bin on the p'int o'
doin' it himself a dozen o' times. Told me so. Ye're quite a lad, ain't
ye? Weigh all o' hundred an' seventy, I'll bet; an' strong as an ox.
How old be ye, anyhow?"

"Twenty," I answered, not a little mollified by his manner. "You must
live near here, then?"

"Wal, no, but been sorter neighbor o' yourn fer a month er so back;
stoppin' up at Hawkins's shebang, at the ford, on the Military Road,
visitin'; but guess I never met up with none o' your folks afore. My
name's Burns, Ol' Tom Burns, late o' Connecticut. A sojer from out West
left this yere letter fer yer father at Hawkins's place more nor a week
ago. Said as how it was mighty important; but blamed if this wasn't the
fust chance he's hed to git it over yere sence. I told him I'd fetch
it, as it wasn't more nor a dozen miles er so outer my way."

He held out a square paper packet; and while I turned it over curiously
in my hand,--the first letter I had ever seen,--he took some loose
tobacco from an outside pocket and proceeded leisurely to fill his pipe.

My mother rolled my father's chair forward into the open doorway, and
stood close behind him, as was her custom, one arm resting lightly upon
the quaintly carved chair-back.

"What is it, John?" she questioned gently. Instantly aroused by her
voice, I crossed quickly over and placed the packet in my father's thin
hands. He turned it over twice before he opened it, looking at the odd
seal, and reading the superscription carefully aloud, as if fearful
there might be some mistake:

               "Major David Wayland,
                     Along the Upper Maumee.
                        Leave at Hawkins Ford
  "Important.              on Military Road."

I can see him yet as he read it, slowly feeling his way through the
rude, uneven writing, with my mother leaning over his shoulder and
helping him, her rosy cheeks and dark tresses making strange contrast
beside his pain-racked features and iron-gray hair.

"Read it aloud, Mary," he said at last. "I shall understand it better.
'Tis from Roger Matherson, of whom you have heard me speak."

My mother was a good scholar, and she read clearly, only hesitating now
and then over some ill-written or misspelled word.

                                 At Fort Dearborn, near the head of the
                                        Great Lake. Twelfth June, 1812.

  My Dear Old Friend:

  I have come to the end of life; they tell me it will be all over by
  the morrow, and there remains but one thing that greatly troubles
  me--my little girl, my Elsa. You know I have never much feared death,
  nor do I in this hour when I face it once more; for I have ever tried
  to honor God and do my duty as both man and soldier. David, I can
  scarcely write, for my mind wanders strangely, and my fingers will
  but barely grasp the pen. 'Tis not the grip of the old sword-hand
  you knew so well, for I am already very weak, and dying. But do you
  yet remember the day I drew you out of the rout at Saratoga, and
  bore you away safely, though the Hessians shot me twice? God knows,
  old friend, I never thought to remind you of the act,--'twas no more
  than any comrade would have done,--yet I am here among strangers, and
  there is no one else living to whom I may turn in my need. David, in
  memory of it, will you not give my little orphan child a home? Your
  old comrade, upon his death-bed, begs this of you with his final
  breath. She is all alone here, save for me, and there is no blood kin
  in all the world to whom I may appeal. I shall leave some property,
  but not much. As you love your own, I pray you be merciful in this
  hour to my little girl.

                       Your old comrade,

                                           Roger Matherson.

This had been endorsed by another and bolder hand:

  Captain Roger Matherson, late of the Massachusetts Continental Line,
  died at this fort, of fever, fourteenth June, 1812. His daughter is
  being cared for by the ladies of the garrison.

                                            Nathan Heald,
                                    Capt. First Regt. Inf., Commanding.

The tears were clinging to my mother's long lashes as she finished the
reading; she was ever tender of heart and sympathetic with sorrow. My
father sat in silence, looking far off at the green woods. Presently
he took the paper again into his hands, folded it carefully in the old
creases, and placed it safely away between the Bible leaves. I saw my
mother's fingers steal along the arm of the chair until they closed
softly over his.

"The poor little lamb!" she said gently.

My father's old sword hung over the fireplace, and I saw his glance
wander toward it, as something seemed to rise choking in his throat. He
was always a man who felt deeply, yet said but little; and we both knew
he was thinking about the old days and the strong ties of comradeship.

The stranger struck flint and steel to light his pipe; the act
instantly recalled my father to the demands of hospitality.

"Friend," he said, speaking firmly, "hitch to the stump yonder, and
come in. You have brought me sad news enough, yet are no less welcome,
and must break bread at our board. John," and he turned toward me, "see
to friend Burns's horse, and help your mother to prepare the dinner."

Out in the rude shed, which answered as a kitchen during summer
weather, I ventured to ask:

"Mother, do you suppose he will take the little girl?"

"I hope so, John," she answered, soberly; "but your father must decide
himself. He will not tell us until he has thought it all out alone."



CHAPTER II

THE CALL OF DUTY


It was upon my mind all through that long afternoon, as I swung the
scythe in the meadow grass. I saw Burns ride away up the river trail
soon after I returned to work, and wondered if he bore with him any
message from my father. It was like a romance to me, to whom so few
important things had ever happened. In some way, the coming of this
letter out of the great unknown had lifted me above the narrow life
of the clearing. My world had always been so small, such a petty and
restricted circle, that this new interest coming within its horizon had
widened it wonderfully.

I had grown up on the border, isolated from what men term civilization;
and I could justly claim to know chiefly those secrets which the
frontier teaches its children. My only remembrance of a different
mode of life centred about the ragged streets of a small New England
village, where I had lived in earlier childhood. Ever since, we had
been in the depths of the backwoods; and after my father's accident
I became the one upon whom the heavier part of the work fell. I had
truly thrived upon it. In my hunting-trips, during the dull seasons,
I learned many a trick of the forest, and had already borne rifle
twice when the widely scattered settlements were called to arms by
Indian forays. There were no schools in that country; indeed, our
nearest neighbor was ten miles distant as the crow flies. But my mother
had taught me, with much love and patience, from her old treasured
school-books; and this, with other lore from the few choice volumes
my father clung to through his wanderings, gave me much to ponder
over. I still remember the evenings when he read to us gravely out of
his old Shakespeare, dwelling tenderly upon passages he loved. And he
instructed me in other things,--in honor and manliness, in woodcraft,
and many a pretty thing at arms, until no lad in the settlements
around could outdo me in rough border sport. I loved to hear him, of a
boisterous winter night,--he spoke of such matters but seldom,--tell
about his army life, the men he had fought beside and loved, the daring
deeds born of his younger blood. In that way he had sometimes mentioned
this Roger Matherson; and it was like a blow to me now to hear of his
death. I wondered what the little girl would be like; and my heart
went out to her in her loneliness. Scarcely realizing it, I was lonely
also.

"Has he spoken yet?" I questioned anxiously of my mother, as I came up
to the open kitchen door when the evening chores were done.

"No, John," she answered, "he has been sitting there silently looking
out at the woods ever since the man left. He is thinking, dear, and we
must not worry him."

The supper-table had been cleared away, and Seth, the hired man, had
crept up the creaking ladder to his bed under the eaves, before my
father spoke. We were all three together in the room, and I had drawn
his chair forward, as was my custom, where the candle-light flickered
upon his face. I knew by the look of calm resolve in his gray eyes that
a decision had been reached.

"Mary," he began gravely, "and you, John, we must talk together of this
new duty which has just come to us. I hardly know what to decide, for
we are so poor and I am now so helpless; yet I have prayed earnestly
for guidance, and can but think it must be God's will that we care for
this poor orphan child of my old friend."

My mother crossed the room to him, and bent down until her soft cheek
touched his lips.

"I knew you would, David," she whispered, in the tender way she had,
her hand pressing back his short gray hair. "She shall ever be unto us
as our own little girl,--the one we lost come back to us again."

My father bent his head wearily upon one hand, his eyes upon the candle
flame, his other hand patting her fingers.

"It must be all of ten years," he said slowly, "since last I had word
of Roger Matherson. He was in Canada then, yet has never since been
long out of my mind. He saved my life, not once alone, as he would
seem to remember, but three separate times in battle. We were children
together in the blue Berkshire hills, and during all our younger
manhood were more than brothers. His little one shall henceforth be as
my own child. God hath given her unto us, Mary, as truly as if she had
been born of our love. I knew that Roger had married, yet heard nothing
of the birth of the child or the loss of his wife. However, from this
hour the orphan is to be our own; and we must now decide upon some safe
means of bringing her here without delay."

He paused. No one of us spoke. His glance slowly wandered from the
candle flame, until it settled gravely upon my face as I sat resting on
a rude bench fitted into the chimney corner. He looked so intently at
me that my mother seemed instantly to interpret his thought.

"Oh, surely not that, David?" she exclaimed, pleadingly. "Not John?"

"I know of no other fit messenger, little woman," he answered soberly.
"It has indeed troubled me far more than all the rest, to decide on
this; yet there is no one else whom I think equal to the task. John is
a good boy, mother, and has sufficient experience in woodcraft to make
the journey."

"But the savages!" she insisted. "'Tis said we are upon the verge of
a fresh outbreak, stirred up by this new war with England, that may
involve the settlements at any time. You know Burns told you just
now,--and he is an old scout, familiar with the West,--that British
agents were active along the whole border, and there was great
uneasiness among the Indian tribes."

"There is serious promise of danger, 'tis true," he admitted, a flash
of the old fire in his eyes. "Yet that is scarce likely to halt David
Wayland's son. Indeed, it is the greater reason why this helpless
orphan child should be early brought to our protection. Think of the
defenceless little girl exposed alone to such danger! Nor have we means
of judging, Mary, of the real seriousness of the situation to the north
and west. War between the nations may very likely arouse the spirit
of the savages, yet rumors of Indian outbreak are always on the lips
of the settlers. Burns himself was upon his return westward, and did
not seem greatly troubled lest he fail to get through. He claimed to
live at Chicagou Portage, wherever that may be. I only know it is the
extreme frontier."

My mother did not answer; and now I spoke, my cheeks aflame with
eagerness.

"Do you truly mean, sir, that I am to go in search of the little girl?"
I asked, barely trusting my own ears.

"Yes, John," my father replied gravely, motioning me to draw closer to
his chair. "This is a duty which has fallen to you as well as to your
mother and me. We can, indeed, but poorly spare you from the work at
this season; yet Seth will be able to look after the more urgent needs
of the farm while you are absent, while he would prove quite useless
on such a mission as this. Do not worry, Mary. Friend Burns is well
acquainted with all that western country, and he tells me there is
scarcely a week that parties of soldiers, or friendly Indians, do not
pass along the trail, and that by waiting at Hawkins's place for a few
days John will be sure to find some one with whom he may companion on
the long journey westward. He would himself have accompanied him, but
must first bear a message to friends at Vincennes. It is now some weeks
since Roger Matherson died, and we shall prove unworthy of our trust if
we delay longer in sending for his daughter."

Though my mother was a western woman, patient and long habituated to
sacrifice and peril, still her eyes, fixed upon my face, were filled
with tears, and the color had deserted her cheeks.

"I know not why it should be so, David," she urged softly; "but in my
heart I greatly fear this trip for John. Yet you have ever found me
ready to yield wherever it seemed best, and I doubt not you are right
in your decision."

At any other time I should have gone to her with words of comfort
and good cheer; but now my ambition was so aroused by this impending
adventure as to permit me to think of nothing else.

"Is it so very far, father, to where I must go?" I questioned, eagerly.
"Where is this Fort Dearborn, and how am I to journey in reaching
there? 'Tis no garrison of which I have ever heard."

"Bring me the map your mother made of this country, and the regions to
the westward," he said. "I am not over clear in regard to the matter
myself, although friend Burns, who claims to know all that country,
gave me some brief description; but I found him most chary of speech."

I got the map out of the great square cupboard in the corner, and
spread the paper flat upon the table, placing knives at each corner
to hold it open. I rolled his chair up before it, and the three of us
bent our heads over the map together, our faces glowing in the candle
flame. It was a copy made by a quill from a great government map my
mother had seen somewhere in her journeying westward; and, though only
a rude design, it was not badly done, and was sufficiently accurate
for our purpose. Much of it was still blank; yet the main open trails
had been traced with care, the principal fords over the larger streams
were marked, and the various government posts and trading settlements
distinctly located and named. Searching for the head of the Great
Lake, we were not long in discovering the position of the fort called
Dearborn, which seemingly was posted upon the western shore, nearly
opposite another garrison point at the mouth of the St. Joseph river.
We were able to trace with clearness the military road that had been
constructed northward from Fort Wayne, our nearest government post; but
the map failed to exhibit evidence of any beaten track, or used trail,
leading westward and around the head of the lake. There were numerous
irregular lines which denoted unnamed streams, but by far the larger
portion of the territory extending to the west beyond Fort Wayne had
been simply designated as "forest land" and "unexplored." "Friend Burns
tells me there is a trail used by both troops and savages, which he
has traversed several times," my father explained, as he lifted his
eyes from the map; "but it is not over plain, nor easily followed,
as communication with the Fort is mostly maintained by means of the
waterways to the northward. The overland journey, however, will prove
speedier, besides being less liable to disaster for one unaccustomed to
boats. How soon can John be ready, mother?"

Her voice trembled, and I felt the pressure of her hand upon my sleeve.

"It will take all of the morrow, David, to prepare his clothing
properly," she replied, with the patient resignation of the frontier.
"There is much that will need seeing after."

"Then John will start the next dawn. You had best ride the brown colt,
my son; he is of good breed, and speedy. Seth shall accompany you
until you find suitable companionship at Hawkins's. He will bring back
word of how you started, and that knowledge will greatly comfort your
mother."

He paused, and held out his thin hands.

"You go upon this strange journey willingly, my son?"

"Yes, father."

"You will be both kind and thoughtful with Roger Matherson's little
girl?"

"She shall be to me as my own sister."

I felt the confiding clasp of his fingers, and realized how much to him
would be a successful termination of my journey.

"Kiss your mother, John," he said, a trustful look coming into his
kindly eyes. "We must all be astir early on the morrow."

Beneath the rived shingles of my little room, under the sloping roof,
how I turned and tossed through those long night hours! What visions,
both asleep and awake, came to me, thronging fast upon my heated
brain, each more marvellous than its fellow, and all alike pointing
toward that strange country which I was now destined by fate to travel!
Vague tales of wonder and mystery had come floating to me out of that
unknown West, and now I was to behold it all with my own eyes. But
marvellous as were my dreams, the reality was to be even more amazing
than these pictures of boyish imagination. Had I known the truth that
night, I doubt greatly whether I should have had the courage to face it.

At last the gray dawn came, stealing in at the only window, and found
me eager for the trial.



CHAPTER III

A NEW ACQUAINTANCE


I drew rein upon the upper river bank, before we finally plunged into
the dark woods beyond, and glanced back. I had to brush the gathering
tears from my eyes before I could see clearly; and when I finally rode
away, the picture of that dear old home was fixed in my memory forever.
Our house stood near the centre of an oak opening,--a little patch of
native prairie-land, with a narrow stream skirting it on one side, and
a dense fringe of forest all about. The small story-and-a-half cabin
of hewn logs, with its lean-to of rough hand-riven planks, fronted to
the southward; and the northern expanse of roof was green with moss. My
father sat in the open doorway, his uplifted hand shading his eyes as
he gazed after us; while my mother stood by his side, one arm resting
upon the back of his chair, the other extended, waving a white cloth
in farewell. Rover was without, where I had bidden him remain, eagerly
watching for some signal of relenting upon my part. Beyond stood the
rude out-buildings, silhouetted against the deep green. It was a
homely, simple scene,--yet till now it had been all the world to me.

With a final wave of the hand, I moved forward, until the intervening
trees, like the falling of a curtain, hid it all from view. Seth was
astride the old mare, riding bareback, his white goat-like beard
hanging down his breast until it mingled with her mane, while his long
thin legs were drawn up in the awkward way he had. He was a strange,
silent, gloomy man, as austere as his native hills; and we rode on with
no exchange of speech. Indeed, my thoughts were of a nature that I had
no wish to share with another; so it was some time before the depth of
loneliness which oppressed my spirits enabled me to feel even passing
interest in the things at hand.

"I'd hate like thunder ter be a-goin' on your trip, Maester John,"
volunteered Seth at last, solemnly turning on the mare's broad back to
face me.

"And why?" I asked, wonderingly; for the man's rare gift of silence
had won him a certain reputation for deep, occult knowledge which I
could not wholly ignore. "It will bring me the sight of some wonderful
country, no doubt."

His shrewd gimlet eyes seemed fairly to pierce me, as he deliberately
helped himself to tobacco from a pouch at his waist.

"Wal, that may all be, Maester John; but I've heerd tell ther is
some most awful things goes on out yonder," and he swung his long
arm meaningly toward the west. "Animyles sich as don't prowl raound
yere, man-yeatin' snakes as big as thet tree, an' the blood-thirstiest
salvages as ever was. An' arter a while ther ain't no more trees grows,
ther Ian' is thet poor, by gosh! jist a plumb dead levil er' short
grass, an' no show ter hide ner nuthin'."

"Were you ever there, Seth?" I questioned with growing anxiety, for I
had heard some such vague rumors as these before.

"Me? Not by a dinged sight!" he replied, emphatically. "This yere is a
long way further west thin I keer 'bout bein'. Ol' Vermont is plenty
good 'nough fer this chicken, an' many's ther day I wish I was back
ther. But I hed a cousin onct who tuk ter sojerin' 'long with Gineral
Clarke, an' went 'cross them ther prairies ter git Vincennes frum the
British. Lor'! it must a' bin more ner thirty year ago! He tol' me
thet they jist hed ter wade up ter ther neck in water fer days an'
days. I ain't so durn fond o' water as all thet. An' he said as how
rattlesnakes was everywhere; an' ther Injuns was mos' twice es big es
they be yere."

"But Clarke, and nearly all of his men, got back safely," I protested.

"Oh, I guess some on 'em got back, 'cause they was an awful lot in thet
army, mighty nigh two thousand on 'em, Ephriam said; but, I tell ye,
they hed a most terrible tough time afore they did git hum. I seed my
cousin whin he kim back, an' he was jist a mere shadder; though he was
bigger ner you whin he went 'way."

"But Fort Dearborn is much farther to the north. Perhaps it will be
better up there."

"Wuss," he insisted, with a most mournful shake of the head, "a dinged
sight wuss. Ephriam said es how the further north ye wint, the tougher
it got. He saw an Injun from up near the big lake--a Pottamottamie, or
somethin' like thet--what was nine fut high, an' he told him es how the
rivers in his kintry was all full o' man-eatin' critters like snakes,
an' some on 'em hed a hundred legs ter crawl with, an' cud travel a
dinged sight faster ner a hoss. By gosh! but you bet I don't want
none on it. Your father must 'a' been plum crazy fer ter sind ye way
out ther all 'lone,--jist a green boy like you. What ye a-goin' fer,
enyhow?"

I explained to him the occasion and necessity for my trip, but he shook
his head dubiously, his long face so exceedingly mournful that I could
not remain unaffected by it.

"Wal," he said at length, carefully weighing his words, "maybe it's all
right 'nough, but I've got my doubts jist the same. I'll bet thet ther
gal is jist one o' them will-o'-the-wisps we hear on, an' you never
will find her. You'll jist wander 'round, huntin' an' huntin' her, till
ye git old, or them monsters git ye. An' I'll be blamed if ever I heerd
tell o' no sich fort as thet, nohow."

Seth was certainly proving a Job's comforter; and I was already
sufficiently troubled about the final outcome of my adventure. Hence
my only hope of retaining any measure of courage was to discountenance
further conversation, and we continued to jog along in silence,
although I caught him looking at me several times in a manner that
expressed volumes.

We camped that night in the dense heart of some oak woods, beside a
pleasant stream of clear, cool water. Late the following evening,
just as the sun was disappearing behind the trees, our wearied horses
emerged suddenly upon the bank of a broad river, and we could discern
the dim outlines of Hawkins's buildings amid the deepening shadows of
the opposite shore.

Upon one thing I was now fully determined. Seth should start back
with the first streak of the next dawn. His long face and dismal
croakings kept me constantly upon nettles, and I felt that I should
face the uncertain future with far stouter heart if he were out of my
sight. Firm in this resolve, I urged my horse to splash his reluctant
way through the shallows of the ford; and as our animals rose on the
steep bank of the western shore, we found ourselves at once in the
midst of a group of scattered buildings. It seemed quite a settlement
in that dim light, although the structures were all low and built of
logs. The largest and most centrally located of these was evidently
the homestead, as it had a rudely constructed porch in front, and a
thin cloud of smoke was drifting from its chimney. As I drew nearer, I
could perceive the reflection of a light streaming out through the open
doorway.

No one appeared in answer to our shouting,--not even a stray dog; and,
in despair of thus arousing the inhabitants, I flung my rein to Seth,
and, mounting the doorstep, peered within. As I did so, a shiny, round,
black face, with whitened eyes and huge red lips, seemed to float
directly toward me through the inner darkness. It was so startling
an apparition that I sprang back in such haste as nearly to topple
over backward from the steps. Heaven alone knows what I fancied it
might be; indeed, I had little enough time in which to guess, for I
had barely touched the ground,--my mind still filled with memories of
Seth's grotesque horrors,--when the whole figure emerged into view,
and I knew him instantly for a negro, though I had never before seen
one of his race. He was a dandified-looking fellow, wearing a stiff
white waistcoat fastened by gilded buttons, with a pair of short curly
mustaches, waxed straight out at the ends; and he stood there grinning
at me in a manner that showed all his gleaming teeth. Before I could
recover my wits enough to address him, I heard a voice from within the
house,--a soft, drawling voice, with a marked foreign accent clinging
to it.

"Sam," it called, "have you found either of the scoundrelly rascals?"

The darkey started as if shot, and glanced nervously back over his
shoulder.

"No, sah," he replied with vigor, "dat Mistah Hawkins am not yere, sah.
An' dat Mistah Burns has gone 'way fer gud, sah. But dar am a gemman
yere, sah,--"

"What!" came a surprised ejaculation that caused the negro to jump, and
I heard a chair overturned within. "A gentleman? Sam, don't deceive
me! For the love of Heaven, let me see him. May I be bastinadoed if it
hasn't been three months since my eyes beheld the last specimen! Sam,
where was it I saw the last one?"

"Montreal, sah."

"By Saint Guise! 'tis gospel truth," and the speaker strode forward,
candle in hand. "Here, now, you ace of spades," he cried impatiently,
"hold the flame until I bid this paragon of the wilderness fit welcome
in the name of Hawkins, who strangely seems to have vanished from the
sylvan scene. Alas, poor Hawkins! two gentlemen at one time, I greatly
fear, will be the death of him. Would that his good friend Burns might
be with him on this festive occasion. Ye gods, what a time it would be!"

As the black hastily reached out for the candle-stick, his erratic
master as quickly changed his mind.

"No," he muttered thoughtfully, drawing back within the hall; "'tis
far more fit that such formal greeting should occur within, where
the essentials may be found with which to do full courtesy. I will
instead retire. Sam, bid the gentleman meet me in the banquet hall,
and then, mark you, thou archfiend of blackness, seek out at once that
man Hawkins in his hidden lair, and bid him have ample repast spread
instantly, on pain of my displeasure. By all the saints! if it be not
at once forthcoming I will toast the scoundrel over his own slow fire."

"Seth," I said to my staring companion, as soon as I could recover from
my own surprise, "find a place for the horses somewhere in the stables,
and come in."

"Where is your master to be found?" I questioned of the black, whose
air of self-importance had been resumed the moment he was left alone.

"Second door to de right, sah," he answered, gazing curiously at my
deer-skin hunting-shirt as I pressed by.

I had little difficulty in finding it, for all that the way was totally
dark, as the fellow within was lustily carolling a French love-song. I
hung back for a moment, striving vainly to distinguish the words.

Without pausing to make my presence known, I opened the door quietly,
and stepped within. The room was not a large one, though it occupied
the full width of the house; and the two lighted candles that illumined
it, one sitting upon a table otherwise bare, the other occupying the
rude dresser in the far corner, revealed clearly the entire interior.

The sole occupant of the room sat upon a corner of the table, one
foot resting on the floor, the other dangling carelessly. Hardly more
than a year my elder, he bore in his face the indelible marks of a
life vastly different. His features were clear-cut, and undeniably
handsome, with a curl of rare good-humor to his lips and an audacious
sparkle within his dark eyes. His hat, cocked and ornamented in foreign
fashion, lay beside him; and I could not help noting his long hair,
carefully powdered and arranged with a nicety almost conspicuous, while
his clothing was rich in both texture and coloring, and exhibited many
traces of vanity in ribbon and ornament. Within his belt, fastened by a
large metal clasp, he wore a pearl-handled pistol with long barrel; and
a rapier, with richly jewelled hilt, dangled at his side. Altogether he
made a fine figure of a man, and one of a sort I had never met before.

If he interested me, doubtless I was no less a study to him. I could
see the astonishment in his eyes, after my first entrance, change to
amusement as he gazed. Then he brought a white hand down, with a smart
slap, upon the board beside him.

"By all the saints!" he exclaimed, "but I believe the black was right.
'Tis the face of a gentle, or I know naught of the breed, though the
attire might fool the very elect. Yet, _parbleu!_ if memory serves,
'tis scarcely worse than what I wore in Spain."

He swung down upon his feet and faced me, extending one hand with all
cordiality, while lips and eyes smiled pleasantly.

"Monsieur," he said, bowing low, and with a grace of movement quite
new to me, "I bid you hearty welcome to whatsoever of good cheer this
desert may have to offer, and present to you the companionship of
Villiers de Croix. It may not seem much, yet I pledge you that kings
have valued it ere now."

It was a form of introduction most unfamiliar to me, and seemed
bristling with audacity and conceit; but I recognized the heartiness of
his purpose, and hastened to make fit response.

"I meet you with much pleasure," I answered, accepting the proffered
hand. "I am John Wayland."

The graceful recklessness of the fellow, so conspicuous in each word
and action, strongly attracted me. I confess I liked him from his first
utterance, although mentally, and perhaps morally as well, no two men
of our age could possibly be more unlike.

"Wayland?" he mused, with a shrug, as if the sound of the word was
unpleasant. "Wayland?--'tis a harsh name to my ears, yet I have heard
it mentioned before in England as that of a great family. You are
English, then?"

I shook my head emphatically; for the old wounds of controversy and
battle were then being opened afresh, and the feeling of antagonism ran
especially high along the border.

"I am of this country," I protested with earnestness, "and we call
ourselves Americans."

He laughed easily, evidently no little amused at my retort, twisting
his small mustache through his slender fingers as he eyed me.

"Ah! but that is all one to me; it is ever the blood and not the name
that counts, my friend. Now I am French by many a generation, Gascon
by birth, and bearing commission in the Guard of the Emperor; yet
sooth, 'tis the single accursed drop of Irish blood within my veins
that brings me across the great seas and maroons me in this howling
wilderness. But sit down, Monsieur. There will be both food and wine
served presently, and I would speak with you more at ease."

As he spoke he flung himself upon a low settee, carelessly motioning me
toward another.

"On my word," he said, eying me closely as I crossed over to the bench,
"but you are a big fellow for your years, and 'tis strength, not flabby
flesh, or I know not how to judge. You would make a fine figure of a
soldier, John Wayland. Napoleon perchance might offer you a marshal's
baton, just to see you in the uniform. _Parbleu!_ I have seen stranger
things happen."

"You are now connected with the French army?" I questioned, wondering
what could have brought him to this remote spot.

"Ay, a Captain of the Guard, yet an exile, banished from the court on
account of my sins. _Sacre!_ but there are others, Monsieur. I have
but one fault, my friend,--grave enough, I admit, yet but one, upon my
honor, and even that is largely caused by that drop of Irish blood. I
love the ladies over-well, I sometimes fear; and once I dared to look
too high for favor."

"And have you stopped here long?"

"Here--at Hawkins's, mean you? Ten days, as I live; would you believe
I could ever have survived so grievous a siege?" and he looked
appealingly about upon the bare apartment. "Ten days of Hawkins and
of Sam, Monsieur; ay! and of Ol' Burns; of sky, and woods, and river,
with never so much as a real white man even to drink liquor with. By
Saint Louis! but I shall be happy enough to face you across the board
to-night. Yet surely it is not your purpose to halt here long?"

"Only until I succeed in joining some party travelling westward to the
Illinois country."

"No! is that your aim? 'Tis my trip also, if Fate be ever kind enough
to bring hither a guide. _Sacre!_ there was one here but now, as odd a
devil as ever bore rifle, and he hath taken the western trail alone,
for he hated me from the start. That was Ol' Burns. Know you him?"

"'Twas he who brought the message that sent me here; yet he said little
of his own journey. But you mention not where you are bound?"

"I seek Fort Dearborn, on the Great Lake."

"That likewise is to be the end of my journey. You go to explore?"

"Explore? Faith, no," and he patted his hand upon the bench most
merrily. "There are but two reasons to my mind important enough to lure
a French gentleman into such a hole as this, and send him wandering
through your backwoods,--either war or love, Monsieur; and I know of no
war that calleth me."

Love, as he thus spoke of it, was almost an unknown term to me then;
and, in truth, I scarcely grasped the full significance of his meaning.

"You seek some lady, then, at Fort Dearborn?" I asked, for his tone
seemed to invite the inquiry.

"Ay!" with quickened enthusiasm; "'tis there Toinette has hidden
herself for this year or more,--Toinette, on my word as a French
soldier, the fairest maid of Montreal. I have just discovered her
whereabouts, yet I shall win her ere I traverse these trails again, or
I am not Villiers de Croix."

"I travel thither to bring back a little orphan child with me," I
explained simply, in response to his look, "and will most gladly aid
you where I can."

Before he could answer, Hawkins, a gaunt, silent frontiersman, together
with Sam, entered the room, bearing between them our evening meal.



CHAPTER IV

CAPTAIN WELLS OF FORT WAYNE


We tarried at the table a considerable time,--not because of any
tempting variety in the repast, as the food furnished was of the
coarsest, but for the sake of companionship, and because we discovered
much of passing interest to converse about. De Croix had travelled
widely, and had seen a great variety of life both in camp and court. He
proved a vivacious fellow, full of amusing anecdote,--a bottle of rich
wine drawn from his own private stock so stimulating his imagination
that I had little to do but sit and listen. Yet he contrived to learn
from me,--how, I hardly know, the simple story of my life, and, indeed,
assumed a certain air of patronizing superiority, boasting unduly of
his wider experience and achievements in a way that somewhat nettled
me at last, as I began to comprehend that he was merely showing off
his genteel graces the better to exhibit his contempt for my provincial
narrowness. I did not permit this really to anger me, for our views
upon such matters were totally different, and I could not help feel
admiration for the brilliant and audacious fellow.

The black waited upon us while we ate and drank, moving noiselessly
across the rough floor, so keenly observant of his master's slightest
wish as to convince me the latter possessed a temper which upon
occasion burst its bounds. Yet now he was surely in the best of humors;
and with the coming of our second bottle, after the remains of the
repast had been removed, he sang several love-songs in his native
tongue, the meaning of which I could only guess at.

"Saint Guise!" he exclaimed at last, flinging one booted foot over
the table corner. "You are a very sphinx of a fellow. You deny being
English, yet you have all the silence of that nation. I am hungry,
Monsieur, for the sweet sound of the French tongue."

"'Tis a language of which I know little," I answered, striving to
speak pleasantly, although his manner was becoming less and less to my
liking. "I have met with your _coureurs de bois_ in plenty, and picked
up sufficient of their common phrases to enable me to converse on
ordinary themes with them; yet I confess I find it difficult to follow
your speech."

_"Canaille,"_ he returned, in tone of undisguised contempt, "Canadian
half-breeds, the very offscourings of our people. _Sacre!_ but you
should know us at home, Monsieur,--we are the conquerors of the world!"

I wish I could picture to you how he said this. Simple as it now reads,
he made it vital with meaning. The insolent boast was uttered with such
a swagger that my face instantly flushed, and he noted it.

"Is it not true, Monsieur?" he asked quickly, his own blood heated
by the wine. "I tell you, the whole of Europe has trembled, and will
again, at the nod of our Napoleon. Why, even over here we had to come
with our legions to help you repel the red-coats. Saint Guise! but it
was the Frenchmen who made you a nation."

"Ay! but only that they might revenge themselves upon England," I
retorted blindly, "and the force sent merely hurried a result already
inevitable; yet we gave you a slight touch of our own quality in '98
that stung a bit, I warrant."

"Bah! a ship or two. 'Twas well for you that our army was so closely
engaged elsewhere, or the story would have a different ending."

We were both of us upon our feet by this time, glaring at each other
across the board, our faces hot with the ill-restrained passion of
youth. A word more from either would surely have precipitated matters;
but before it could be spoken the door leading into the hallway was
hurriedly flung aside, and, without apology for the intrusion, two men
strode forward into the glare of light.

"Serve supper here, Hawkins," commanded the first, his back still
turned toward us. "Anything you may chance to have in the house,--only
let there be little delay."

He was a tall, dark-featured man, smoothly shaven, as swarthy as an
Indian, with stern dark eyes, thick coarse hair, and an abrupt manner
born of long command. His companion, of lighter build and younger face,
was attired in a travel-stained uniform of blue and buff; but he who
was evidently the leader was so completely wrapped within the folds of
a riding-cloak as to reveal nothing of rank other than his unmistakable
military presence and bearing. Turning from the door, he swept a
penetrating glance over us, loosening the clasp of his cloak as he did
so.

"I regret having thoughtlessly interrupted your quarrel, gentlemen,"
he said brusquely, "but this appears to be the sole excuse for a
public-room in the place. However, my services are at your command if
they be desired in any way."

De Croix laughed, perfectly at his ease in a moment.

"'Tis scarce so serious," he explained lightly. "A mere interchange of
compliments over the respective merits of our nations in war."

The stranger looked at him intently, and with some manifest disapproval.

"And yours, no doubt, was France," he said shortly.

De Croix bowed, his hand upon his heart.

"I have worn her uniform, Monsieur."

"I thought as much, and fear my sympathies may be altogether with your
antagonist in the controversy. Yet what's the use of wasting life like
that? Surely there is fighting enough in this world of ours for such
young blades, without inventing cause for quarrel. Come, sit down once
more, and join with us in whatsoever cheer our landlord may provide."

As he spoke, he flung aside his cloak, revealing beneath merely the
well-worn dress of a frontiersman, with an army sword-belt buckled
about the waist.

"Come, Walter," he called to his companion, who remained standing,
"there is to be no touch of ceremony here to-night. Gentlemen, I am
Captain Wells, formerly of the army, now Indian agent at Fort Wayne;
and this is Sergeant Jordan."

The Frenchman bowed gracefully, and extended a card across the table.
The other glanced at it carelessly.

"Ah! De Croix; pleased to meet you. Think I heard some of our officers
speak of seeing you a month ago at Detroit,--McBain or Ramsey, I have
forgotten which."

"I recall a game of cards with a Lieutenant Ramsey, a rather choleric
Scotchman, with a magnificent capacity for strong whiskey."

The Captain turned inquiringly toward me, and I hastened to name myself.

"Wayland, did you say?" he asked, with deepened interest. "'Tis not a
common appellation, yet I once knew a Major by that name in Wayne's
command."

"My father, sir," I asserted proudly.

With quick impulsiveness he extended his hand.

"As noble a soldier as I have ever known," he exclaimed heartily. "I
served with him in two campaigns. But what are you two young fellows
doing here? for it would be hard to conceive of a more disheartening
place of residence. Surely, De Croix, you are not permanently located
in this delightful spot?"

"The saints forbid!" ejaculated the other, with an expression of horror
that caused the younger officer to smile. "Yet I have already survived
ten days of it. We seek to join some party bound westward, either to
Fort Dearborn or beyond."

The elder officer smiled gravely, as his stern eyes wandered
thoughtfully over our faces in the candle-light.

"You will scarcely find those who go beyond," he said, at last, slowly.
"That is our extreme frontier; and even this post, I hear it rumored,
is to be abandoned shortly. Indeed, I am now proceeding thither, hoping
to escort a niece safely eastward because of that very probability. I
can offer you naught save companionship and guidance upon the journey;
yet if you needs must go, you may ride with us and welcome. But 'tis my
first duty to advise you strongly against it."

"You look for trouble?" I asked, for his words and manner were grave.

"I am not one easily alarmed," he answered, scanning our faces as we
fronted him; "but I have lived long among the Indians, and know them
well. This new war with England will not pass without atrocities along
the border, and in my judgment we are now on the eve of a general
uprising of the savages. It will surely come with the first news of
British success, and 'tis the fear of reverses at Dearborn that has
hurried me westward. You, sir," and he turned toward me, "are young,
but it is evident you have been bred to the frontier, so you will
realize what it may mean to us if we be caught in the Illinois country
by such an uprising."

I bowed, deeply impressed by his earnestness.

"I have, indeed, seen something of savage warfare, and know much of its
horror," I replied stoutly. "Yet what you say of the possible future
only makes more urgent my duty to press on."

"And you?" he asked De Croix.

"Faith, Captain," was the instant reply, "it is the gentle hand of love
which leads me westward, and never yet did a true Frenchman hesitate in
such a quest because danger lurked between."

Wells smiled grimly.

"Then my conscience is left clear," he exclaimed heartily; "and if you
ride with me to death, 'tis of your own choosing. However, glad enough
we have cause to be thus to gain two more fighting men. I have a party
of Miamis travelling with me, and I doubt not there will be ample work
for all before we return. Here comes supper; let us eat, drink, and
be merry, even though to-morrow it be our fate to die. 'Tis the best
border philosophy."



CHAPTER V

THROUGH THE HEART OF THE FOREST


We lingered long over the wine,--for that which De Croix had furnished
proved excellent, and greatly stimulated our discourse. Yet, I must
confess, it was drunk chiefly by the Frenchman and Jordan; for Wells
barely touched his glass, while I had never acquired a taste for such
liquor. De Croix waxed somewhat boastful, toward the last; but we paid
small heed to him, for I was deeply interested in Captain Wells's
earlier experiences among the savages, which he related gravely and
with much detail. Jordan proved himself a reckless, roistering young
fellow, full of high spirits when in liquor; yet I formed an impression
that he stood well in his commander's favor, for the latter warned him
kindly to be more abstemious.

However late it may have been when we finally sought rest, we were
early astir the next morning. I despatched Seth upon his return
journey to the farm, bearing under his girdle as cheerful a note of
farewell as I could frame; and then, though it was scarce later than
sun-up, the rest of us were fairly upon the westward trail. There were
in the party thirty Miami Indians, strong, lusty-looking warriors,
most of them. The larger portion of them travelled in our advance,
under command of one of their chiefs; a smaller detachment acting in
similar manner as a rear-guard. The white men, as well as the negro,
who controlled a pack animal heavily laden with his master's baggage,
were on horseback; and it pleased me greatly,--for I was young and
easily flattered,--to have Captain Wells rein in his horse at my side
as soon as we were safely across the ford, leaving the Frenchman either
to companion with Jordan or ride alone.

I looked at De Croix curiously, as he moved forward with slow
carelessness in our front, for he had kept the entire company waiting
outside the house for half an hour in the gray dawn while he curled and
powdered his hair. Doubtless this was what so disgusted Wells, whose
long black locks were worn in a simple queue, tied somewhat negligently
with a dark cord. I almost smiled at the scowl upon his swarthy face,
as he contemplated the fashionably attired dandy, whose bright-colored
raiment was conspicuous against the dark forest-leaves that walled us
round.

"I have heard it claimed these gay French beaux fight well when need
arises," he commented at last, thoughtfully; "but 'tis surely a poor
place here for flaunting ribbons and curling locks. Possibly my fine
gentleman yonder may have occasion to test his mettle before we ride
back again. Sure it is that if that time ever comes he will not look so
sweet."

"You make me feel that we go forward into real peril," I said,
wondering that he should seem so fearful of the outcome, "Have you
special reason?"

"The Miamis have already been approached by Indian runners, and their
young men are restless. It was only because I am the adopted son of
Big Turtle, and a recognized warrior of their tribe, that these have
consented to accompany me; and I fear they may desert at the first
sign of a hostile meeting," he answered gravely. "There is an Indian
conspiracy forming, and a most dangerous one, involving, so far as I
can learn, every tribe north of the Ohio. Now that war with England has
actually been declared, there can no longer be doubt that the chiefs
will take sides with the British. They have everything to gain and
little to lose by such action. The rumor was at Fort Wayne, even before
we left, that Mackinac had already fallen; and if that prove true,
every post west of the Alleghanies is in danger. I fear that death
and flame will sweep the whole frontier; and I frankly acknowledge,
Wayland, my only hope in this expedition is that, by hard travel, we
may be able to reach Chicagou and return again before the outbreak
comes. Tom Burns, an old scout of Wayne's, and a settler in that
country, was at Fort Wayne a month since with an urgent message from
the commandant at Dearborn. I tell you frankly, it will be touch and go
with us."

"Chicagou?" I questioned, for the word was one I had heard but once
before and was of an odd sound.

"Ay! old Au Sable called it the Chicagou portage long before the fort
named Dearborn was ever established there. 'Tis the name the French
applied to a small river entering the Great Lake from the west at that
point."

"Have you journeyed there before?"

"Once, in 1803. I held Indian council on the spot, and helped lay out
the government reservation. 'Tis a strange flat country, with much
broken land extending to the northward."

Little by little our conversation lapsed into silence; for the narrow
trail we followed was a most difficult one, and at times taxed our
ingenuity to the utmost. It led through dense dark woods, fortunately
free from underbrush, skirted the uncertain edges of numerous marshes
in the soft ooze of which the hoofs of our horses sank dangerously,
and for several miles followed the sinuous course of a small but rapid
stream, the name of which I have forgotten. There were few openings in
the thick forest-growth, and the matted branches overhead, interlaced
with luxuriant wild vines, so completely shut out all vestige of the
sun that we toiled onward, hour after hour, in continuous twilight.

What mysterious signs our guides followed, I was not sufficiently
expert in woodcraft to determine. To my eyes,--and I sought to observe
with care,--there was nowhere visible the slightest sign that others
had ever preceded us; it was all unbroken, virgin wilderness, marked
only by slow centuries of growth. The accumulation of moss on the
tree-trunks, as well as the shading of the leaves, told me that we
continued to journey almost directly westward; and there was no
perceptible hesitancy in our steady progress, save as we deviated from
it here and there because of natural obstacles too formidable to be
directly surmounted.

We skirted immense trees, veritable monarchs of the ages, hoary with
time, grim guardians of such forest solitudes; climbed long hills
roughened by innumerable boulders with sharp edges hidden beneath the
fallen leaves, that lamed our horses; or descended into dark and gloomy
ravines, dank with decaying vegetation, finally halting for a brief
meal upon the southern edge of a small lake, the water of which was as
clear and blue as the cloudless August sky that arched it. The sand of
the shore where we rested was white as snow, yet De Croix had his man
spread a cloak upon it before he ventured to sit down, and with care
tucked a lace handkerchief about his throat to prevent stray crumbs
from soiling the delicate yellow of his waistcoat.

"One might fancy this was to be your wedding day, Monsieur," observed
Wells, sarcastically, as he marked these dainty preparations, and noted
with disgust the attentive negro hovering near. "We are not perfumed
courtiers dancing at the court of Versailles."

De Croix glanced about him carelessly.

"_Mon Dieu_, no," he said, tapping the lid of a richly chased silver
snuff-box with his slender fingers. "Yet, my dear friend, a French
gentleman cannot wholly forget all that belongs to the refinements of
society, even in the heart of the wilderness. Sam, by any foul chance
did you overlook the lavender water?"

"No, sah; it am safe in de saddle-bags."

"And the powder-puff, the small hand-mirror, and the curling-iron?"

"I saw to ebery one ob dem, sah."

De Croix gave a deep sigh of relief, and rested back upon the cloak,
negligently crossing his legs.

"Captain," he remarked slowly and thoughtfully, "you've no idea the
trouble that negro is to me. Would you believe it? he actually left my
nail-brush behind at Detroit, and not another to be had for love or
money this side of Montreal! And only last night he mislaid a box of
rouge, and, by Saint Denis! I hardly dare hope there is so much as an
ounce of it in the whole party."

"I rather suspect not," was the somewhat crusty reply; "yet if a bit of
bear's grease could be made to serve your turn, we might possibly find
some among us."

"I know not its virtue," admitted the Frenchman gravely; "yet if it
reddens the lips it might be useful. But that which I had came from the
shop of Jessold in Paris, and is beyond all price."

We were ten days upon this forest journey, from the time of our
crossing the Maumee; and they were hard days, even to those of us long
habituated to the hardships of border travel. Indeed, I know few forms
of exertion that so thoroughly test the mettle of men as journeying
across the wilderness. There are no artificial surroundings, either
to inspire or restrain; and insensibly humanity returns to natural
conditions, permitting the underlying savage to gain ascendency. I
have seen more than one seemingly polished gentleman, resplendent with
all the graces of the social code, degenerate into a surly brute with
only a few hours of such isolation and the ceaseless irritation of the
trail. Yet I must acknowledge that De Croix accepted it all without a
murmur, and as became a man. His entire plaint was over the luxuries he
must forego, and he made far more ado about a bit of dust soiling his
white linen than about any real hardship of the march. 'Tis my memory
that he rather grew upon us; for his natural spirits were so high that
he sang where others swore, and found cause for amusement and laughter
in much that tested sorely even the Indian-like patience of Wells. He
was like a boy, this gayly perfumed dandy of the French court; but
beneath his laces and ribbons, his affectations and conceits, there hid
a stout heart that bade him smile where other men would lie down and
die. He companioned mostly with Jordan as we journeyed, for Wells never
could become reconciled to his mincing ways; yet I confess now that I
began to value him greatly, and longed more than once to join with the
two who rode in our advance, cheering their wearisome way with quips
of fancy and snatches of song. He knew it too, the tantalizing rascal,
and would frequently send back a biting squib over his shoulder, hoping
thus to draw me away from the silent grim-faced soldier beside whom I
held place.

It was truly a rough and wild journey, full enough of hardship, and
without adventure to give zest to the ceaseless toil. I know now
that we made a wide detour to the southward, trusting thus to avoid
any possible contact with prowling bands of either Pottawattomies or
Wyandots, whom our friendly Miamis seemed greatly to dread. This took
us far from the regular trail, rough and ill-defined as that was, and
plunged us into an untrodden wilderness; so that there were times when
we fairly had to cut our way through the twisted forest branches and
tangled brakes of cane with tomahawks and hunting-knives. We skirted
rocky bluffs, toiled painfully over fallen timber, or waded ankle
deep in softened clay, in the black gloomy shadows of dense woods
which seemed interminable, meeting with nothing human, yet constantly
startling wild game from the hidden coverts, and feeling more and more,
as we advanced, the loneliness and danger of our situation,--realizing
that each league we travelled only added to the length and peril of our
retreat if ever disaster came or Fort Dearborn were found deserted.

Captain Wells, naturally grave and silent from his long training among
savages, grew more and more reticent and watchful as we progressed,
riding often at my side for hours without uttering a word, his
keen eyes warily searching the dark openings upon every hand as if
suspecting that each spot of gloom might prove the chosen place for
an ambuscade. Our Indian allies moved like shadows, gliding over the
ground noiselessly; and the occasional outbursts of merriment from De
Croix and his equally reckless companion grew gradually less frequent,
and appeared more forced. The constant and never-ending toil of our
progress, the depressing gloom of the sombre primeval forest on every
side of us, the knowledge of possible peril lurking in each league of
this haunted silence, weighed upon us all, and at last closed the lips
of even the most jovial of our number.

It was the tenth day, as I remember,--though it may have been later,
for I have no writing to guide me concerning dates,--when we emerged
into a broad valley, treeless save for a thin fringe of dwarfed growth
skirting the bank of a shallow stream which ran almost directly
westward. I cannot describe how sweet, after our gloomy journey, the
sunlight appeared, as we first marked it play in golden waves over the
long grass; or the relief we felt at being able to gaze ahead once
more and see something of the country that we were traversing. 'Twas
like a sudden release from prison. Our jaded horses felt with us the
exhilaration of the change, and moved with greater sprightliness than
they had shown for days. As the sun began its circle downward, vast
rolling hills of white and yellow sand arose upon the right of our line
of march, huge mounds, many of them, glistening in the sunshine, some
jagged at the summit, others rounded as if by art, so unusual in form
and presence that I ventured to address our leader regarding them, as
he rode with his head bent low and a far-off look in his eyes.

"The sand?" he questioned, glancing up as if startled at the sound of
my voice. "Why, it has been cast there by the stormy waves of the Great
Lake, my lad, and beaten into those strange and fantastic shapes by
the action of the wind. Doubtless 'tis the work of centuries of storms."

"Are we, then, so close to the lake?" I asked eagerly,--for I had
never yet seen so large a body of water, and his description fired my
imagination.

"'Tis but just beyond those dunes yonder, and will be still nearer when
we come to camp. Possibly you might reach the shore before dark if
you exercise care,--for there is danger of becoming lost in that sand
desert. Those hills seem all alike when once you are among them."

"What is it that so greatly disturbs your Miamis?" I ventured to ask,
for I had been noticing for some time that they were restless and
travelling poorly. "They have been counselling now for two hours."

He glanced aside at me in apparent surprise.

"Why, boy, I thought you were bred to the border; and can you ask me
such a question? Do you observe nothing, like that fine gentleman
yonder? What have we been following since first we entered this valley?"

"An old Indian trail."

"True," he exclaimed, "and one that has been traversed by a large
war-party, bound west, within twelve hours."

"How know you this?"

"By a hundred signs far plainer than print will ever be to my eyes. In
faith, I thought those fellows out yonder would have summoned me to
council long ere this, instead of threshing it out among themselves.
They are bolder warriors than I deemed, though they will doubtless
revolt in earnest when we camp. We shall have to guard them well
to-night."

As he paused, his eyes fixed anxiously upon our Indian allies, De Croix
began to hum a popular tune of the day, riding meanwhile, hat in hand,
with one foot out of the stirrup to beat the time. Then Jordan caught
up the refrain, and sang a verse. I saw one or two of the older Indians
glance around at him in grave displeasure.

"The young fools!" muttered Wells, uneasily. "I shall enjoy seeing if
that French popinjay keeps all of his fine airs when the hour for stern
work comes."

He lifted his voice.

"Jordan!"

The young soldier instantly ceased his song, and turned in his saddle
to glance back.

"The time has come when I must insist on less noise, and more decorum
upon the march," Wells said sternly. "This is not Fort Wayne, nor is
our road devoid of danger. Captain de Croix, I shall have to request
you also to cease your singing for the present."

There was that in his voice and manner which forbade remark, and we
rode on silently. I asked:

"But you have not explained to me how you learned all this of which you
spoke?"

"By the use of my eyes, of course. It is all simple; there are marks
beside the beaten trail, as well as in its track, which prove clearly
the party ahead of us to be moving westward, that it travelled rapidly,
and was certainly not less than a hundred strong, with ponies and
lodge-poles. Not more than a league back we passed the evidences of a
camp that had not been deserted longer than twelve hours; and when we
crossed the river, a feather from a war-bonnet was lying in the grass.
These are small details, yet they tell the story. That feather, for
instance, was dropped from a Pottawattomie head-dress, and no doubt
there are warriors among those Indians yonder who could name the chief
who wore it. It simply means, my lad, that the savages are gathering in
toward Dearborn, and we may reach there all too late."

"Is the way yet long?" and my eyes sought the horizon, where the sun
hung like a red ball of fire.

"We should be there by the morrow," he answered, "for we are now
rounding the head of the Great Lake. I wish to God I might see what
fate awaits us there."

Young and thoughtless as I was in those days, I could not fail to
realize the depth of feeling which swayed this stern, experienced man;
and I rode on beside him, questioning no more.



CHAPTER VI

FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH


I think it must be in the blood of all of New England birth to love the
sea. They may never have seen it, nor even heard its wild, stern music;
yet the fascination of great waters is part of their heritage. The
thought of that vast inland ocean, of the magnitude and sublimity of
which I had only the vaguest conception, haunted me all that afternoon;
and I scarcely removed my eyes from those oddly constructed mounds of
drifted sand, striving vainly to gain, through some depression between
them, a fleeting glimpse of the restless waters that had helped to
shape them into such fantastic forms.

As the sun sank, angry red in our faces, presaging a storm, the course
of the little stream we had been following drew in closer toward these
grotesque piles, and the trail we followed became narrower, with the
sluggish current pressing upon one side and that odd bank of gleaming
sand upon the other. In a little open space, where quite a carpet of
coarse yellowish grass had found lodgment, beneath the protecting
shadow of a knot of cottonwoods, we finally made camp, and proceeded
to prepare our evening meal. Determined to strike north through those
guarding sand-dunes, and reach the shore of the lake if possible before
final darkness fell, I hastily crowded my pockets with food, and looked
eagerly around for some congenial companion. Captain Wells, whom I
should have preferred to be with me, was deep in conference with one
of the Miami chiefs, and not to be disturbed; Jordan had seemingly
been detailed to the command of the night-guard; so, as a last resort,
I turned aside and sought De Croix. I found him seated cross-legged
on a blanket beneath one of the cottonwoods, a silver-backed mirror
propped against a tree-butt in his front, while the obsequious darkey
was deliberately combing out his long hair and fashioning it anew. The
Frenchman glanced up at me with a welcoming smile of rare good-humor.

"Ah, sober-face! and have you at last mustered courage to break away
from the commander of this most notable company?" he cried mockingly.
"'Tis passing strange he does not chain you to his saddle! By Saint
Guise! 'twould indeed be the only way in which so dull a cavalier would
ever hold me loyal to his whims. Friend Wayland, I scarce thought you
would ever thus honor me again; and yet, 'tis true, I have had an
ambition within my heart ever since we first met. 'Tis to cause you
to fling aside those rough habiliments of the wilderness, and attire
yourself in garments more becoming civilized man. Would that I might
induce you, even now, to permit Sam to rearrange those heavy blond
locks _à la Pompadour_. Bless me! but it would make a new man of you."

"Such is not at all my desire, Monsieur," I answered, civilly. "I came
now merely to learn if you would walk with me through these dunes of
sand before the daylight fades."

He looked out, idly enough, across that dreary expanse of desolation,
and shrugged his shoulders.

"Use the other powder, Sam, the lighter colored," he murmured
languidly, as if the sight had wearied him; "and mind you drop not so
much as a pinch upon the waistcoat."

Then he lifted his eyes inquiringly to mine.

"For what?" he asked.

"To look forth upon the Great Lake. Captain Wells tells me 'tis but a
brief and safe walk from here to the shore-line."

"The lake?--water?" and the expression upon his face made me smile.
"_Mon Dieu_, man! have you become crazed by the hard march? What have I
ever said in our brief intercourse that could cause you to conceive I
care greatly for that? If it were only wine, now!"

[Illustration: "The obsequious darkey was deliberately combing out his
long hair."]

"You have no desire to go with me, then?"

"Lay out the red tie, Sam; no, the one with the white spots in it, and
the small curling-iron. No, Monsieur; what you ask is impossible. I
travel to the west for higher purpose than to gaze upon a heaving waste
of water. _Sacre!_ did I not have a full hundred days of such pleasure
when first I left France? My poor stomach has not fairly settled yet
from its fierce churning. Know ye not, Master Wayland, that we hope to
be at this Fort Dearborn upon the morrow, and 'tis there I meet again
the fair Toinette? Saints! but I must look my best at such a time, not
worn and haggard from tramping through the sand. She was ever a most
critical maid in such matters, and has not likely changed. 'Tis curled
too high upon the right brow, you black imp! and, as I live, there is
one hair you have missed entirely."

Realizing the uselessness of waiting longer, I turned my back upon
his vanity, and strode off alone. It is not my nature to swerve from
a purpose merely because others differ in desires; and I was now
determined to carry out my plan. I took one of the narrow depressions
between two mounds of sand and plunged resolutely forward, endeavoring
to shape my course as directly northward as the peculiarities of the
path would admit. To my mind, there was little to fear from the
hostile Indians, as every sign proved them to be hastening westward
in advance of us; while I was too long accustomed to adventure to be
easily confused, even in the midst of that lonely desolation.

I soon found the walking difficult; for I sank to the ankles with each
step, while the soft sliding sand rolled beneath me so as to yield no
solid foothold. The irregularity of the mounds continually blocked my
passage, and caused me to deviate in direction, so that I grew somewhat
bewildered, the entire surface bearing such uniformity of outline as
to afford little guide. Yet I held to my original course fairly well,
for I could pilot somewhat by the dim north star; and it was not long
before my alert ears caught the pounding of surf along the shore-line.
Much encouraged, I pressed forward with greater rapidity, ignoring the
lanes between the dunes, and clambering over the mounds themselves in
my eagerness to reach the lake before the complete closing down of
night.

At last I topped a particularly high ridge that felt solid to the feet;
and as I did so the wind came, hard and biting, against my face. There,
just below me, not fifty feet away, were rolling the great waves,
white-capped and roaring, pounding like vast sledges upon the anvil
of the sand. My entire being thrilled at the majestic sight, and for
the moment I forgot everything as I gazed away across those restless,
heaving waters, seemingly without limit, stretching forth into the
dim northward as far as the eye could reach, until water and sky
imperceptibly met and blended. Each advancing wave, racing toward the
beach, was a white-lipped messenger of mystery; and the vast tumultuous
sea, rolling in toward me out of that dark unknown, with its deep voice
of thunder and high-bursting spray, breathed the sublimest lessons of
the Infinite to my soul. It awed, impressed, silenced with the sense of
its solemn power. No dream of ocean grandeur had ever approached the
reality now outspread before me, as this vast inland sea tossed and
quivered to the lashing of the storm-wind that swept its surface into
fury.

To the left and right of where I stood motionless, curved the
shore-line, a seemingly endless succession of white shining sand-hills,
with the sloping shingle up which the huge breakers tossed and rolled
in continuous thunder and foam, rising, breaking, receding, chasing
each other in gigantic play. How savagely strong it all looked!
what uncontrollable majesty lived in every line of the scene! The
very suggestion of tremendous power in it was, to my imagination,
immeasurably increased by its unutterable loneliness, its seemingly
total absence of life; for not a fin rose above the surface, not a wing
brushed the air overhead. The sun, sinking slowly behind the rim of
sand, shot one golden-red ray far out into that tumbling waste, forming
a slender bridge of ever-changing light that seemed to rest suspended
upon the breaking crests of the waves it spanned. Then, gradually,
stealthily, silently, the denser curtain of the twilight drew closer
and closer, and my vista narrowed, as the shadows swept toward me like
black-robed ghosts.

I turned about reluctantly, to retrace my steps while the dim light yet
lingered. Some unseen angel of mercy it must have been that bade me
pause, and led me gently down the steep bank to the water's edge, where
the sharp spray lashed my cheeks. If this be not the cause, then I know
not why I went; or why, once being there, I should have turned to the
right, and rounded the edge of the little bay. Yet all of this I did;
and God knows that many a time since I have thanked Him for it upon my
knees.

I saw first the thing bobbing up and down behind a bare wave-washed
rock that lifted a hoary crown close beside the water's edge. A branch
from off some tree, I thought, until I had taken a half-dozen curious
steps nearer, and felt my heart bound as I knew it to be a boat. My
first thought, of course, was of hostile Indians; and I swept the
sand-hills anxiously for any other sign of human presence. The world
about me was soundless except for the ceaseless roaring of the waves,
and there was not even a leaf within my sight to flutter. I crept
forward cautiously, seeing no footprints on the smooth sand, until my
searching eyes rested upon a white hand, dangling, as if lifeless,
over the boat's gunwale. Forgetting everything else in the excitement
of this discovery, I sprang hastily forward and peered within the boat.

It was an awkward and rudely-formed water-craft, with neither mast nor
oars, yet of fair size, broad-beamed and seaworthy. In the forward part
lay the body of a woman; curled up and resting upon the boat's bottom,
the head buried upon the broad seat so that no face was visible, with
one hand hidden beneath, the other outstretched above the rail. So
huddled was her posture that I could distinguish few details in the
fading light; yet I noted that she wore a white upper garment, and that
her thick hair flowed in a dense black mass about her shoulders.

For a moment I stood there helpless, believing I gazed upon death. She
either moved slightly, or the waves rocked the boat so as to somewhat
disturb her posture. That semblance of life sent my blood leaping once
more within my veins, and I leaned over and touched her cautiously.

"Oh, go away! Please go away!" she cried, not loudly, but with a stress
of utterance that caused me to start back half in terror. "I am not
afraid of you, but either take my soul or go away and leave me."

"For whom do you mistake me?" I asked, my hand closing now over hers.

"For another devil come out of the black night to torture me afresh!"
she answered, never once moving even to my touch. "Ah, what legions
there must be to send forth so many after the soul of one poor girl!
'Tis not that I shrink from the end. Death! why, have I not died a
hundred deaths already? Yet do I trust the Christ and Mother Mary. But
why does the angel of their mercy hold back from me so long?"

Was she crazed, driven mad by some extremity of suffering at which
I could only guess? That oarless boat, beached amid the desolation
of sand and the waste of water, alone told a story to make the heart
sick. I hesitated, not knowing what I had best say. She lifted her head
slowly, and gazed at me. I caught one glimpse of a pale young face
framed in masses of black dishevelled hair, and saw large dark eyes
that seemed to glow with a strange fire.

"You,--you cannot be a devil also," she said, stammeringly. "You do not
look like those others,--are you a man?"

I bowed in silence, astounded by her words and appearance.

"Yet you are not of the garrison,--not of Dearborn. I have never seen
your face before. Yet you are surely a man, and white. Holy Mother! can
it indeed be that you have come to save me?"

"I am here to serve you by every means in my power," I answered
soberly, for the wildness of her speech almost frightened me. "God, I
truly think, must have led me to you."

Her wonderful eyes, questioning, anxious, doubtful, never once left my
face.

"Who are you? How came you here?"

"I am named John Wayland," I replied, striving to speak as simply as
might be, so that she would comprehend, "and form one of a small party
travelling overland from the east toward the Fort. We are encamped
yonder at the edge of the sand. I left the camp an hour ago, and
wandered hither that I might look out upon the waters of the Great
Lake; and here, through the strange providence of God, I have found
you."

She glanced apprehensively backward over her shoulder across the
darkened waters, and her slight form shook.

"Oh, please, take me away from it!" she cried, a note of undisguised
terror in her voice, and her hands held out toward me in a pitiful
gesture of appeal. "Oh, that horrible, cruel water! I have loved it
in the past, but now I hate it; how horribly it has tortured me! Take
me away, I beg,--anywhere, so that I can neither see nor hear it any
more. It has neither heart nor soul." And she hid her face behind the
streaming hair.

"You will trust me, then?" I asked, for I had little knowledge of
women. "You will go with me?"

She flung the clinging locks back from her eyes, with an odd, imperious
gesture which I thought most becoming, holding them in place with one
hand, while extending the other frankly toward me.

"Go with you? Yes," she replied, unhesitatingly. "I have known many men
such as you are, men of the border, and have always felt free to trust
them; they are far more true to helpless womanhood than many a perfumed
cavalier. You have a face that speaks of honor and manliness. Yes, I
will go with you gladly."

I was deeply impressed by her sudden calmness, her rapid repression of
that strange wildness of demeanor that had at first so marked her words
and manner. As I partially lifted her from the boat to the sand, she
staggered heavily, and would have fallen had I not instantly caught her
to me. For a single moment her dark eyes looked up confidingly into
mine, as she rested panting against my shoulder, and I could feel her
slender form tremble within my arms.

"You are ill--faint?" I questioned anxiously.

She drew back from me with all gentleness, and did not venture again to
attempt standing entirely without support.

"I am ashamed so to exhibit my weakness," she murmured. "I fear I am
greatly in need of food. What day is this?"

"The twelfth of August."

"And it was the night of the tenth when I drifted out of the mouth of
the river. Ever since then I have been drifting, the sport of the winds
and waves."

"Sit you down here, then," I commanded, now fully awakened to her
immediate need. "The sand is yet warm from the sun, and I have food
with me in my pockets."



CHAPTER VII

A CIRCLE IN THE SAND


I have since thought it almost providential that my food supply was
so limited; for, after first asking me if I had eaten all I required,
she fell upon it like a famished thing, and did not desist until all
was gone. A threatening bank of dark cloud was creeping slowly up
the northern sky as we were resting, but directly overhead the stars
were shining brilliantly, yielding me sufficient light for the study
of her face. She was certainly less than my own age by two or three
years, a girl barely rounding into the slender beauty of her earliest
womanhood, with hints of both in face and form. She was simply dressed,
as, indeed, might naturally be expected in a wilderness far removed
from marts of trade; but her clothing was of excellent texture, and
became her well in spite of its recent exposure, while a bit of rather
expensive lace at the throat and a flutter of gay ribbons about the
wrists told plainly that she did not disdain the usual adornments
of her sex. And this was quickly shown in another way. She had not
yet completed her frugal meal when her mind reverted to her personal
appearance, and she paused, with heightened color, to draw back her
loosened hair and fasten it in place with a knot of scarlet cord. It
was surely a winsome face that smiled up at me then.

"I feel almost guilty of robbery," she said, "in taking all this food,
which was no doubt intended for your own supper."

"Merely what chanced to be left of it," I answered heartily. "Had
I so much as dreamed this stretch of sand was to yield me such
companionship, I should have stinted myself more."

An expression of bewildered surprise crept into her eyes as I spoke.

"Surely you are not a mere _coureur de bois_, as I supposed from
your dress," she exclaimed. "Your expression is that of an educated
gentleman."

I smiled; for I was young enough to feel the force of her unconscious
flattery.

"I believe I can prove descent from an old and honorable race," I said;
"but it has been my fortune to be reared in the backwoods, and whatever
education has come to me I owe to the love and skill of my mother."

My frankness pleased her, and she made no attempt to disguise her
interest.

"I am so glad you told me," she said simply. "My mother died when I
was only ten, yet her memory has always been an inspiration. Are you a
Protestant?"

This unexpected question took me by surprise; yet I answered
unhesitatingly, "Yes."

"I was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Montreal. It was my mother's
dearest wish that I should take the vows of that order, but I fear I am
far too frivolous for so serious a life. I love happy things too well,
and the beautiful outside world of men and women. I ran away from the
Sisters, and then my father and I voyaged to this country, where we
might lead a freer life together."

"Here?" and I glanced questioningly about me into those darkening
shadows which were momentarily hemming us in more closely.

"To Fort Dearborn," she explained. "We came by boat through the
straits at the north; and 'twas a trip to remember. My father brought
out goods from Canada, and traded with the Indians. I have been in
their villages. Once I was a week alone with a tribe of Sacs near
Green Bay, and they called me the White Queen. I have met many famous
warriors of the Wyandots and Pottawattomies, and have seen them dance
at their council. Once I journeyed as far west as the Great River,
across leagues and leagues of prairie," and her face lighted up at the
remembrance. "Father said he thought I must be the first white woman
who had ever travelled so far inland. We have been at Dearborn for
nearly a year."

She rose to her feet, and swept her eyes, with some anxiety, around
upon dim mounds of sand that appeared more fantastic than ever in the
darkness.

"Had we not better be going?" she asked. "There is surely a storm
gathering yonder."

"Yes," I answered, for I had not been indifferent to the clouds
steadily banking up in the north. "Yet you have not told me your name,
and I should be most glad to know it."

The girl courtesied mockingly, as though half inclined to laugh at my
insistence.

"What is a name?" she exclaimed. "'Tis not that for which we greatly
care. Now I--I am simply Mademoiselle Antoinette,--at least, so most
of those I care for call me; and from now on, the very good friend of
Master John Wayland."

I was deeply conscious that I blushed at her words and manner; but with
it there arose an instant query in my mind: could this be the fair
Toinette whom De Croix sought so ardently? I greatly feared it; yet I
resolved I would not mention his name to her.

"It has a decided French sound," I stammered.

She laughed at my tone, with a quick shrug of her shoulders.

"And pray, why not, Monsieur? Have you such a prejudice against that
great people that you need speak of them with so glum a voice? Ah, but
if I must, then I shall endeavor to teach you a higher regard for us."

"That may not prove so hard a task," I hastened to assure her; "though
I was surprised,--you speak English with so pure an accent that I had
not dreamed you other than of my own race."

"My father was of English blood," she answered more gravely; "but I
fear you will find me quite of my mother's people, if ever we come
to know each other well. But hark! that was surely thunder! We have
loitered too long; the storm is about to break."

It was indeed upon us almost before she ceased speaking. A sudden rush
of wind sent my hat flying into the darkness, and whipped her long
black hair loose from its restraining knot. I had barely time to wrap
my hunting-jacket closely around her shoulders, when the rain came
dashing against our faces.

I drew her unresistingly around the edge of the nearest sand-pile; but
this supplied poor protection against the storm, the wind lashing the
fine grit into our faces, stinging us like bits of fire. I tried to
excavate some sort of cave that might afford us at least a partial
shelter; but the sand slid down almost as rapidly as I could dig it out
with my hands.

"Oh, let us press on!" she urged, laying her hand upon my arm in
entreaty. "We shall become no wetter moving, and your camp, you said,
was only a short distance away."

"But are you strong enough to walk?" And as I leaned forward toward
her, a quick flash of vivid lightning, directly overhead, lit both our
faces. I marked she did not shrink, and no look of fear came into her
eyes.

"I am quite myself once more," she answered confidently. "It was
despair and loneliness that so disheartened me. I have never been timid
physically, and your presence has brought back the courage I needed."

There was a natural frankness, a peculiar confidence, about this girl,
that robbed me of my usual diffidence; and as we struggled forward
through the dampening sand, her dress clinging about her and retarding
progress, I dared to slip one arm about her waist to help in bearing
her along. She accepted this timely aid in the spirit with which it was
offered, without so much as a word of protest; and the wind, battering
at our backs, pushed us forward.

"Oh, that troublesome hair!" she exclaimed, as the long tresses whipped
in front of our faces, blinding us both. "I have never before felt so
much like sacrificing it."

"I beg that you will not consider such an act now," I protested, aiding
her to reclaim the truants, "for as I saw it before the darkness fell,
your hair was surely worthy of preservation."

"You laugh at me; I know I must have been a far from pretty sight."

"Do you wish me to say with frankness what I thought of your appearance
under such disadvantages?"

She glanced at me almost archly, in the flash of lightning that rent
the sky.

"I am really afraid to answer yes,--yet perhaps I am brave enough to
venture it."

"I have never been at court, Mademoiselle, and so you may not consider
my judgment in such matters of much moment; but I thought you rarely
beautiful."

For a moment she did not attempt to speak, but I could distinctly feel
the heaving of her bosom as I held her hard against the assault of the
wind, and bent low hoping to catch an answer.

"You are sincere and honest," she said at last, slowly, and I felt that
the faint trace of mockery had utterly vanished from her soft voice.
"'Tis manifest in your face and words. You speak not lightly, nor with
mere empty compliment, as would some gilded courtiers I have known;
and for that reason I do value your opinion."

"You are not angry at my presumption?"

"Angry?--I?" and she stopped and faced me, holding back her hair as she
did so. "I am a woman, Monsieur; and all women, even those of us hidden
here in the wilderness, like best those who admire them. I do not know
that I am as beautiful as you say, yet other men have often said the
same without being pressed for their opinion. No, I am not angry,--I am
even glad to know you think so."

"And you surely do know?" I insisted, with a courage strange to me.

"Yes," she answered, but her eyes fell before my eagerness; "you are
not one who has yet learned to lie, even to women. 'Tis a relief to
know there are such men still in the world."

We had come to a full halt by this time.

"Do you have any idea where we may be?" she asked, peering anxiously
about, and perhaps glad to change the tone of our conversation. "I
cannot note a landmark of any kind. These sand-hills seem all alike."

"I believe we have kept to the southward, for we have merely drifted
with the storm; but I confess my sole guidance has been the direction
of the wind, as these sand-lanes are most confusing. If there were the
slightest shelter at hand, I should insist upon your waiting until the
rain was over."

"No, it is better to go on. I am now wet to the skin, and shall be
warmer moving than resting on this damp sand."

We must have been moving for an hour, scarcely speaking a word, for the
severe exertion required all our breath. The rain had ceased, and stars
began to glimmer amid the cloud-rifts overhead; but I knew now that we
were lost. She stopped suddenly, and sank down upon the sand.

"I am exhausted," she admitted, "and believe we are merely moving about
in a circle."

"Yes," I said, reluctantly; "we are wasting our strength to no purpose.
'T will be better to wait for daylight here."

It was a gloomy place, and the silence of those vast expanses of
desolate sand was overwhelming. It oppressed me strangely.

"Let me feel the touch of your hand," she said once. "It is so
desperately lonely. I have been on the wide prairie, at night and
alone; yet there is always some sound there upon which the mind may
rest. Here the stillness is like a weight."

Possibly I felt this depressing influence the more because of my long
forest training, where at least the moaning of limbs, fluttering of
leaves, or flitting of birds brings relief to the expectant senses;
while here all was absolute solitude, so profound that our breathing
itself was startling. The air above appeared empty and void; the
earth beneath, lifeless and dead. Although neither of us was cowardly
of heart, yet we instinctively drew closer together, and our eyes
strained anxiously over the black sand-ridges, now barely discernible
through the dense gloom. We tried to talk, but even that soon grew to
be a struggle, so heavily did the suspense rest upon our spirits, so
oppressed were we by imaginings of evil. I remember telling her my
simple story, gaining in return brief glimpses of her experiences in
Canada and the farther West. She even informed me that orders had been
received, the day before she became lost upon the lake, to abandon Fort
Dearborn; that an Indian runner--whom she named Winnemeg had arrived
from General Hull at Detroit, bringing also news that Mackinac had
fallen.

"Doubtless your absence has greatly worried them also," I said.

"Oh, no; none of them knew my plight. Possibly some may miss me, but
they will naturally suppose I have been at Mr. Kinzie's house all
this time. I have been there often for weeks together, and they have
frequently urged me to take shelter with them. You see it is far safer
there than at the Fort, for even the most hostile Indians remain on
friendly terms with Mr. Kinzie and his family. He has been there so
many years, and is so just a man in his dealings with them. 'Tis
really strange to see how he leaves his house unguarded, while the
garrison at the Fort is almost in a state of siege. It makes it hard to
realize how imminent is the danger. Yet they are terribly alarmed at
the Fort, and I fear with cause. Even Mr. Kinzie feels the situation
to be critical. There were fully three hundred Pottawattomie warriors
encamped without the Fort two days ago; and they were becoming bold and
impudent,--one chief even firing his gun in Captain Heald's office,
thinking to frighten him into furnishing them with liquor."

"But the Fort is strong?" I asked. "It is capable of resisting an
attack?"

"I should suppose so," she answered, hesitatingly; "but that is not a
matter upon which a girl may judge. I fear, however, all is not harmony
among its defenders. I know that Captain Heald and Ensign Ronan do not
agree, and I have heard bitter words spoken by other officers of the
garrison."

I thought she did not care to speak more about this matter, and we
drifted off upon other topics, until I felt her head sink slowly down
upon my shoulder, and knew she slept. I sat there still, pillowing her
tenderly upon my arm, when the gray light of the dawn stole slowly
toward us across the ridges of sand and revealed the upturned face.



CHAPTER VIII

TWO MEN AND A MAID


The emotion I felt was new and strange to me; for though I had known
little of young women, yet as I looked upon her in that dim light of
dawn I found myself wondering if I already loved this strange girl.
Fair as her face certainly was, its beauty rendered even more striking
by the pallor of her late exposure and the blackness of her dishevelled
hair, it was her frankness and confidence which most appealed to me.
She had held all my thoughts through the long hours of watchfulness
as I sat there quietly, feeling the rise and fall of her regular
breathing, and thrilled by the unconscious caress of stray tresses as
they were blown against my cheek. How she trusted me, stranger though
I was! Yet it was through no lack of knowledge of the great world of
men, for this young girl had known court gallants and rough soldiery,
soft-spoken courtiers and boastful men-at-arms. So the night through
I dreamed of what might be; and when the light finally came slowly
reddening the eastern sky, I feasted my eyes unchecked upon that sweet
upturned face, and made a rash vow that I would win her heart.

I was still mirroring her image in my memory, forgetful of all
else,--the broad white brow, the long dark lashes resting in such
delicate tracery against the smooth velvet of the cheek now slightly
flushed, the witching pink of the ear, the softly parted lips between
which gleamed the small and regular teeth of ivory, the round white
throat swelling ever so slightly to her breathing, when a sudden shout
of surprised recognition aroused me from my reverie, and I looked up to
see Jordan topping the sand-bank in our front, and waving his hand to
some one beneath him and out of sight.

"See here, De Croix!" he cried, excitedly, "the prodigal has had good
cause to lag behind. He has found the lost fairy of this wilderness."

Before I could relieve myself of my burden,--for the mockery of his
words angered me,--the French man appeared at his side, and glanced
down where his companion's finger pointed. For a moment he gazed; then
he murmured a sharp French oath, and strode heavily down the sand-bank.
There was a look in his face that caused me to lay the girl's head back
upon the sand and rise hastily. The sudden movement awoke her, and her
dark eyes looked up in startled confusion. By this time I had taken a
quick step forward, and faced De Croix.

"This lady is under my protection," I said, a bit hotly, not relishing
the manner of his approach, "and any disrespect from either of you will
be unwarranted."

He paused, evidently surprised at my bold front, and his lip curled
contemptuously.

"Ah, my young game-cock!" he ejaculated, surveying me curiously. "So
you have spurs, and think you can use them? Well, I have no quarrel
with you, but perchance I may have more reason to be the protector of
this young lady than you suppose. Stand aside, Monsieur."

She had risen from the sand, and now stood erect beside me. I saw
Jordan grinning in great enjoyment of the scene, and that De Croix's
eyes were full of anger; but I would not stir. In my heart I felt a
dull pain at his words, a fear that they might prove too true; but
I remained where I was, determined to take no step aside until she
herself should judge between us.

"Will you stand back, Monsieur?" he said, haughtily, dropping his hand
upon the hilt of his rapier, "or shall I show you how a gentleman of
France deals with such impertinence?"

If he thought to affright me with his bravado, he reckoned ill of my
nature, for I have ever driven badly; my blood seems slow to heat,
though it was warm enough now.

"If the lady wishes it, you may pass," I answered shortly, my eyes
never leaving his face. "Otherwise, if you take so much as another step
I will crush every bone in your body."

He saw I meant it, but there was no cowardice in him; and the steel
had already flashed in the sunlight to make good his threat, when she
touched me gently upon the shoulder.

"I beg you do not fight," she urged. "I am not worthy, and 'tis all
unneeded. Captain de Croix," and she swept him a curtsey which had the
grace of a drawing-room in it, "'tis indeed most strange that we should
meet again in such a spot as this. No contrast could be greater than
the memory of our last parting. Yet is there any cause for quarrel
because this young gentleman has preserved my life?"

De Croix hesitated, standing half-poised for attack, even his glib
tongue and ready wit failing as she thus calmly questioned him. Indeed,
as I later learned, there was that of witchery about this young girl
which held him at bay more effectually than if she had been a princess
of the royal blood,--a something that laughed his studied art to scorn.
She noted now his hesitancy, and smiled slightly at the evidence of her
power.

"Well, Monsieur, 'tis not often that your lips fail of words," she
continued, archly. "Why is it I am made the subject of your quarrel?"

The slight sarcastic sting in her voice aroused him.

"By all the saints, Toinette!" he exclaimed, striving to appear at his
ease, "this seems a poor greeting for one who has followed you through
leagues of forest and across oceans of sand, hopeful at the least to
gain a smile of welcome from your lips. Know you not I am here, at the
very end of the world, for you?"

"I think it not altogether unlikely," she replied with calmness. "You
have ever been of a nature to do strange things, yet it has always been
of your own sweet will. Surely, Monsieur, I did never bid you come, or
promise you a greeting."

"No," he admitted regretfully, "'tis, alas, true"; and his eyes seemed
to regain something of their old audacity. "But there was that about
our parting,--you recall it, Toinette, in the shadow of the castle
wall?--which did afford me hope. No one so fair as you can be without
heart."

She laughed softly, as though his words recalled memories of other
days, pressing back her hair within its ribbon.

"Such art of compliment seems more in place at Montreal than here. This
is a land of deeds, not words, Monsieur. Yet, even though I confess
your conclusion partially true, what cause does it yield why you
should seek a quarrel with my good friend, John Wayland?"

"You know him, then?" he asked, in quick astonishment.

"Know him! Do you think I should be here otherwise? Fie, Captain de
Croix, that you, the very flower of the French court, should express so
poor a thought of one you profess to respect so highly!"

He looked from one to the other of us, scarce knowing whether she were
laughing at him or not.

_"Sacre!"_ he exclaimed at last. "I believe it not, Mademoiselle. The
boy would have boasted of such an acquaintance long before this. You
know him, you say, for how long?"

"Since yester even, if you must know. But he has a face, Monsieur, a
face frank and honest, not like that of a man long trained at courts to
deceive. 'Tis for that I trust him, and have called him friend."

"You may rue the day."

"No, Captain de Croix," she exclaimed, proudly. "I know the
frontiersmen of my father's blood. They are brave men, and true of
heart. This John Wayland is of that race." And she rested one hand
lightly upon my arm.

The motion, simple as it was, angered him.

"You ask why I sought quarrel," he said sternly. "'Twas because I
suspected this uncouth hunter had wronged you. Now I understand
'twas of your own choice. I wish you joy, Mademoiselle, of your new
conquest."

I felt the girl's slight form straighten, and saw his bold eyes sink
beneath the flame of her look.

"Captain de Croix," and every sentence stung like the lash of a whip,
"those are cowardly words, unworthy a French gentleman and soldier.
Did you leave all your courtesy behind in Montreal, or dream that in
this wilderness I should cringe to any words you might speak? You wish
the truth; you shall have it. Three days ago, through an accident,
I drifted, in an oarless boat, out from the river-mouth at Fort
Dearborn to the open lake. None knew of my predicament. A storm blew
me helpless to the southward, and after hours of exposure to danger,
and great mental anguish, I was driven ashore amid the desolation of
this sand. This comrade of yours found me scarce alive, ministered to
my sore need, protected me through the hours of the night, stood but
now between me and your ribaldry, counting his life but little beside
the reputation of a woman. He may not wear the latest Paris fashions,
Monsieur, but he has proved himself a man."

"I meant not all I said, Toinette," he hastened to explain. "You will
forgive, I know, for I was sorely hurt to find that some one else had
done the duty that was plainly mine. Surely no rude backwoodsman is to
come between us now?"

She glanced from the one to the other, with true French coquetry.

"Faith, I cannot tell, Monsieur," she said, gayly; "stranger things
have happened, and 'tis not altogether fine clothes that win the hearts
of maidens on this far frontier. We learn soon to love strength, and
the manly traits of the border. On my word, Monsieur, this John Wayland
seems to have rare powers of body; I imagine he might even have crushed
you, as he said."

"Think you so?" he asked, eying me curiously. "Yet 'tis not always as
it looks, Mademoiselle."

It came so quickly as to startle me. I was wondering at the smile
that curled his lips, when he sprang upon me, casting his arms around
my waist, and twining one leg about mine. The shock of this sudden
and unexpected onset took me completely by surprise, and I gave back
sharply, scarce realizing his purpose, till he had the under-hold, and
sought to lift me for a throw. 'Twas my weight alone that saved me,
together with the rare good fortune that I had been leaning upon my gun.

As the breath came back to me, we locked grimly in a fierce struggle
for the mastery. I had felt the straining grip of strong arms before,
but De Croix surprised me, he was like steel, quick of motion as a
wild-cat, with many a cunning French wrestling trick that tried me
sorely. I heard a quick exclamation of surprise from the girl, a shout
of delighted approval from Jordan, and then there was no sound but the
harsh trampling of our feet and the heavy breathing. De Croix's effort
was to lift me to his hip for a throw; mine, to press him backward by
bodily strength. Both of us were sadly hindered by the sliding sand on
which we strove. Twice I thought I had him, when my footing failed; and
once he held me fairly uplifted from the ground, yet could not make the
toss. 'Twas a wild grapple, for when we had exhausted all the tricks
we knew, it came to be a sheer test of physical endurance. Then, for
the first time, I felt myself the master,--though he was a man, that
gay French dandy, and never did my ribs crack under the pressure of a
stronger hand. But I slowly pressed him back, inch by inch, struggling
like a demon to the last, until I forced his shoulders to the sand.

For a moment he lay there, panting heavily; then the old frank and easy
smile came upon his lips.

"Your hand, monsieur," he said; "that is, if it yet retains sufficient
strength to lift me."

Upon his feet he brushed the sand from out his long hair, and bowed
gallantly.

"I have done my very best, Mademoiselle, 'Tis defeat, but not disgrace,
for I have made your giant puff to win. May I not hope it has won me
restoration to your good graces?"



CHAPTER IX

IN SIGHT OF THE FLAG


It would have been impossible not to respond to his sparkling humor
and good nature, even had the girl been desirous of doing otherwise.
From the first I felt that she liked this reckless courtier, whose
easy words and actions made me realize more deeply than ever my own
heaviness of thought and wit.

As he stood there now, bowing low before her, his clothing awry and
his long hair in disorder from our fierce contest, she smiled upon him
graciously, and extended a hand that he was prompt enough to accept and
hold.

"Surely," she said mockingly, "no maid, even in the glorious days of
chivalry, had ever more heroic figures to do battle for her honor. I
accept the _amende_, Monsieur, and henceforth enroll you as knight
at my court. Upon my word," and she looked about at the desolate
sand-heaps surrounding us, "'tis not much to boast of here; nor, in
truth, is Dearborn greatly better."

She paused, drawing her hand gently from his grasp, and holding it out
toward me.

"Yet, Captain," she continued, glancing at him archly over her
shoulder, "I have likewise another knight, this wood ranger, who hath
also won my deep regard and gratitude."

De Croix scowled, and twisted his short mustache nervously.

"You put a thorn beside every rose," he muttered. "'Twas your way in
Montreal."

"A few hundred miles of travel do not greatly change one's nature.
Either at Dearborn or Montreal, I am still Toinette. But, Messieurs,
I have been told of a camp quite close at hand,--and yet you leave me
here in the sand to famish while you quarrel."

The tone of her voice, while still full of coquetry, was urgent, and
I think we both noted for the first time how white of face she was,
and how wearily her eyes shone. The Frenchman, ever ready in such
courtesies, was the first to respond by word and act.

"You are faint, Toinette," he cried, instantly forgetful of everything
else, and springing forward to give her the aid of his arm. "I beg you
lean upon me. I have been blind not to note your weakness before. 'Tis
indeed not a long walk to our camp from here,--yet, on my life, I know
nothing of where it lies. Jordan," he added, speaking as if he were in
command, "lead back along the path we came. _Sacre!_ the old bear was
gruff enough over the delay of our search; he will be savage now."

I know not how Jordan ever found his way back, for the sliding sand
had already obliterated all evidences of former travel; but I walked
sullenly beside him, leaving De Croix to minister to the needs of the
girl as best he might. I felt so dull beside his ready tongue that, in
spite of my real liking for the fellow, his presence angered me. 'Tis
strange we should ever envy in others what we do not ourselves possess,
ignoring those traits of character we have which they no less desire.
So to me then it seemed altogether useless to contend for the heart of
a woman,--such a woman, at least, as this laughing Toinette,--against
the practised wiles of so gay and debonair a cavalier. I steeled my
ears to the light badinage they continued to indulge in, and ploughed
on through the heavy sand at Jordan's heels, in no mood for converse
with any one.

We came upon the camp suddenly, and discovered Captain Wells pacing
back and forth, his stern face dark with annoyance. At sight of me, his
passion burst all restraint.

"By God, sir!" he ejaculated, "if you were a soldier of mine, I would
teach you what it meant to put us to such a wait as this! Know you
not, Master Wayland, that the lives of helpless women and children
may depend upon our haste? And you hold us here in idleness while you
wander along the lake-shore like a moonstruck boy!"

Before I could answer these harsh words, the girl stepped lightly to my
side, and standing there, her hand upon my arm, smiled back into his
angry eyes. I do not think he had even perceived her presence until
that moment; for he stopped perplexed.

"And am I not worth the saving, Monsieur le Capitaine," she questioned,
pouting her lips, "that you should blame him so harshly for having
stopped to rescue me?"

His harsh glance of angry resentment softened as he gazed upon her.

"Ah! was that it, then?" he asked, in gentler tones. "But who are you?
Surely you are not unattended in this wilderness?"

"I am from Fort Dearborn," she answered, "and though only a girl,
Monsieur, I have penetrated to the great West even farther than has
Captain Wells."

"How know you my name?"

"Mrs. Heald told me she believed you would surely come when you learned
of our plight at the Fort, it was for that she despatched the man Burns
with the message,--and she described you so perfectly that I knew at
once who you must be. There are not so many white men travelling toward
Dearborn now as to make mistake easy."

"And the Fort?" he asked, anxiously. "Is it still garrisoned, or have
we come too late?"

"It was safely held two days ago," she answered, "although hundreds of
savages in war-paint were then encamped without, and holding powwow
before the gate. No attack had then been made, yet the officers talked
among themselves of evacuating."

For a moment the stern soldier seemed to have forgotten her, his eyes
fastened upon the western horizon.

"The fools!" he muttered to himself, seemingly unconscious that he
spoke aloud; "yet if I can but reach there in time, my knowledge of
Indian nature may accomplish much."

He turned quickly, with a sharp glance over his military force.

"We delay no longer. Jordan, do you give this lady your horse for
to-day's journey, and go you forward on foot with the Miamis. Watch
them closely, and mark well everything in your front as you move."

"But, Captain Wells," she insisted, as he turned away, "I am
exceedingly hungry, and doubt not this youth would also be much the
better for a bit of food."

"It will have to be eaten as you travel, then," he answered, not
unkindly, but with all his thought now fixed on other things, "for our
duty is to reach Dearborn at the first moment, and save those prisoned
there from death, and worse."

I shall always remember each detail of that day's march, though I saw
but little of Toinette save in stolen glances backward, Wells keeping
me close at his side, while De Croix, as debonair as ever, was her
constant shadow, ministering assiduously to her wants and cheering
her journey with agreeable discourse. I heard much of their chatter,
earnestly as I sought to remain deaf to it. To this end Wells aided me
but little, for he rode forward in stern silence, completely absorbed
in his own thoughts.

During the first few hours we passed through a dull desolation of
desert sand, the queerly shaped hills on either side scarcely breaking
the dead monotony, although they often hid from our sight our advance
scouts, and made us feel isolated and alone. Once or twice I imagined I
heard the deepening roar of waves bursting upon the shore-line to our
right, but could gain no glimpse of blue water through those obscuring
dunes. We were following a well-worn Indian trail, beaten hard by
many a moccasined foot; and at last it ran from out the coarser sand
and skirted along the western beach, almost at the edge of the waves.
'Twas a most delightful change from the cramped and narrowed vision
that had been ours so long. Our faces were now set almost directly
northward; but I could not withdraw my eyes from the noble expanse of
water heaving and tumbling in the dazzling sunlight. Indeed, there was
little else about our course to attract attention; the shore in front
lay clear and unbroken, bearing a sameness of outline that wearied the
vision; each breaking wave was but the type of others that had gone
before, and each jutting point of land was the picture of the next to
follow. To our left, there extended, parallel to our course of march, a
narrow ridge of white and firmly beaten sand, as regular in appearance
as the ramparts of a fort. Here and there a break occurred where in
some spring flood a sudden rush of water had burst through. Glancing
curiously down these narrow aisles, as we rode steadily onward, I
caught fleeting glimpses of level prairie-land, green with waving
grasses, apparently stretching to the western horizon bare of tree or
shrub. At first, I took this to be water also; until I realized that I
looked out upon the great plains of the Illinois.

The Captain was always chary of speech; now he rode onward with so
stern a face, that presently I spoke in inquiry.

"You are silent, Captain Wells," I said. "One would expect some
rejoicing, as we draw so close to the end of our long journey."

He glanced aside at me.

"Wayland," he said slowly, "I have been upon the frontier all my
life, and have, as you know, lived in Indian camps and shared in many
a savage campaign. I am too old a man, too tried a soldier, ever to
hesitate to acknowledge fear; but I tell you now, I believe we are
riding northward to our deaths."

I had known, since first leaving the Maumee, that danger haunted the
expedition; yet these solemn words came as a surprise.

"Why think you thus?" I asked, with newly aroused anxiety, my thoughts
more with the girl behind than with myself. "Mademoiselle Toinette
tells me the Fort is strong and capable of defence, and surely we are
already nearly there."

"The young girl yonder with De Croix? It may be so, if it also be well
provisioned for a long siege, as it is scarce likely any rescue party
will be despatched so far westward. If I mistake not, Hull will have
no men to spare. Yet I like not the action of the savages about us.
'Tis not in Indian nature to hold off, as these are doing, and permit
reinforcements to go by, when they might be halted so easily. 'Twould
ease my mind not a little were we attacked."

"Attacked? by whom?"

He faced me with undisguised surprise, a sarcastic smile curling his
grim mouth. His hand swept along the western sky-line.

"By those red spies hiding behind that ridge of sand," he answered
shortly. "Boy, where are your eyes not to have seen that every step we
have taken this day has been but by sufferance of the Pottawattomies?
Not for an hour since leaving camp have we marched out of shot from
their guns; it means treachery, yet I can scarce tell where or how. If
they have spared us this long, there is some good Indian reason for it."

I glanced along that apparently desolate sand-bank, barely a hundred
feet away, feeling a thrill of uneasiness sweep over me at the
revelation of his words. My eyes saw nothing strange nor suspicious;
but I could not doubt his well-trained instinct.

"It makes my flesh creep," I admitted; "yet surely the others do not
know. Hear how the Frenchman chatters in our rear!"

"The young fool!" he muttered, as the sound of a light laugh reached
us; "it will prove no jest, ere we are out of this again. Yet,
Wayland," and his voice grew stronger, "the red devils must indeed mean
to pass us free,--for there is Fort Dearborn, and, unless my sight
deceive me, the flag is up."

I lifted my eyes eagerly, and gazed northward where his finger pointed.



CHAPTER X

A LANE OF PERIL


We passed a group of young cottonwoods, the only trees I had noted
along the shore; and a few hundred feet ahead of us, the ridge of sand,
which had obscured our westward view so long, gradually fell away,
permitting the eye to sweep across the wide expanse of level plain
until halted by a distant row of stunted trees that seemed to line a
stream of some importance. As Captain Wells spoke, my glance, which
had been fixed upon these natural objects, was instantly attracted by
a strange scene of human activity that unfolded to the north and west.
The land before us lay flat and low, with the golden sun of the early
afternoon resting hot upon it, revealing each detail in an animated
panorama wherein barbarism and civilization each bore a conspicuous
part. The Fort was fully a mile and a half distant, and I could
distinguish little of its outward appearance, save that it seemed low
and solidly built, like a stockade of logs set upon end in the ground.
It appeared gloomy, grim, inhospitable, with its gates tightly closed,
and no sign of life anywhere along its dull walls; yet my heart was
thrilled at catching the bright colors of the garrison flag as the
western breeze rippled its folds against the blue background of the sky.

But it was outside those log barriers that our eyes encountered scenes
of the greatest interest,--a mingling of tawdry decoration and wild
savagery, where fierce denizens of forest and plain made their barbaric
show.

No finer stage for such a spectacle could well be conceived. Upon one
side stretched the great waste of waters; on the other, level plains,
composed of yellow sand quickly merging into the green and brown of the
prairie, while, scattered over its surface, from the near lake-shore
to the distant river, were figures constantly moving, decked in gay
feathers and daubed with war-paint. Westward from the Fort, toward the
point where a branch of the main river appeared to emerge from the
southward, stood a large village of tepees, the sun shining yellow and
white on their deer-skin coverings and making an odd glow in the smoke
that curled above the lodge-poles. From where we rode it looked to be a
big encampment, alive with figures of Indians. My companion and I both
noted, and spoke together of the fact, that they all seemed braves;
squaws there may have been, but of children there were none visible.

Populous as this camp appeared, the plain stretching between it and us
was literally swarming with savages. A few were mounted upon horses,
riding here and there with upraised spears, their hair flying wildly
behind them, their war-bonnets gorgeous in the sunshine. By far the
greater number, however, were idling about on foot, stalwart, swarthy
fellows, with long black locks, and half-naked painted forms. One
group was listening to the words of a chief; others were playing at la
crosse; but most of them were merely moving restlessly here and there,
not unlike caged wild animals, eager to be free.

I heard Captain Wells draw in his breath sharply.

"As I live!" he ejaculated, "there can be scarce less than a thousand
warriors in that band,--and no trading-party either, if I know aught of
Indian signs."

Before I could answer him, even had I any word to say, a chief broke
away from the gathering mass in our immediate front, and rode headlong
down upon us, bringing his horse to its haunches barely a yard away.

He was a large, sinewy man, his face rendered hideous by streaks of
yellow and red, wearing a high crown of eagle feathers, with a scalp
of long light-colored hair, still bloody, dangling at his belt. For
a moment he and Captain Wells looked sternly into each other's eyes
without speaking. Then the savage broke silence.

"Wau-mee-nuk great brave," he said, sullenly, in broken English, using
Wells's Indian name, "but him big fool come here now. Why not stay with
Big Turtle? He tell him Pottawattomie not want him here."

"Big Turtle did tell me," was the quiet answer, "that the
Pottawattomies had made bad medicine and were dancing the war-dance
in their villages; but I have met Pottawattomies before, and am not
afraid. They have been my friends, and I have done them no wrong."

He looked intently at the disguised face before him, seeking to trace
the features. "You are Topenebe," he said at last.

"True," returned the chief, with proud gravity. "You serve me well
once; for that I come now, and tell you go back,--there is trouble
here."

Wells's face darkened.

"Have I ever been a coward," he asked indignantly, "that I should
turn and run for a threat? Think you, Topenebe, that I fear to sing
the death-song? I have lived in the woods, and gone forth with your
war-parties; am I less a warrior, now that I fight with the people of
my own race? Go take your warning to some squaw; we ride straight on
to Dearborn, even though we have to fight our way."

The Indian glanced, as Wells pointed, toward the Fort, and sneered.

"All old women in there," he exclaimed derisively. "Say this to-day,
and that to-morrow. They shut the gates now to keep Indian on outside.
No trade, no rum, no powder,--just lies. But they no keep back our
young men much longer." His face grew dark, and his eyes angry.

"Why you bring them?" he asked hotly, designating our escort of Miamis,
already shrinking from the taunts of the gathering braves. "They dog
Indians, bad medicine; they run fast when Pottawattomie come."

"Don't be so certain about that, Topenebe," retorted Wells, shortly.
"But we cannot stop longer here; make way, that we may pass along.
Jordan, push on with your advance through that rabble there."

The Indian chief drew his horse back beside the trail, and we moved
slowly forward, our Indian guides slightly in advance, and exhibiting
in every action the disinclination they felt to proceed, and their
constantly increasing fear of the wild horde that now resorted to
every means in their power, short of actual violence, to retard their
progress. As they closed in more closely around us, taunting the Miamis
unmercifully, even shaking tomahawks in their faces, with fierce
eyes full of hatred and murder, I drew back my horse until I ranged
up beside Mademoiselle Antoinette, and thus we rode steadily onward
through that frenzied, howling mass, the girl between De Croix and me,
who thus protected her on either side.

It was truly a weary ride, full of insult, and perchance of grave peril
had we faced that naked mob less resolutely. Doubtless the chiefs
restrained their young men somewhat, but more than once we came within
a hair's-breadth of serious conflict. They hemmed us in so tightly
that we could only walk our horses; and twice they pressed upon Jordan
so hard as to halt him altogether, bunching his cowardly Miamis, and
even striking them contemptuously with their blackened sticks. The
second time this occurred, Captain Wells rode forward to force a path,
driving the spurs into his horse so quickly that the startled animal
fairly cut a lane through the crowded savages before they could draw
back. Naught restrained them from open violence but their knowledge of
that stern-faced swarthy soldier who fronted them with such dauntless
courage. Hundreds in that swarm had seen him before, when, as the
adopted son of a great war-chief of the Miamis he had been at their
side in many a wild foray along the border.

"Wau-mee-nuk, the white chief," passed from lip to lip; and sullenly,
slowly, reluctantly, the frenzied red circle fell back, as he pressed
his rearing horse full against them.

How hideous their painted faces looked, as we slowly pushed past
them, their lips shrieking insult, their sinewy hands gripping at our
stirrups, their brandished weapons shaken in our faces. With firm-set
lips and watchful eyes I rode, bent well forward, so as best to protect
the girl, my rifle held across my saddle pommel. Twice some vengeful
arm struck me a savage blow, and once a young devil with long matted
hair hanging over his fierce eyes thrust a sharpened stake viciously
at the girl's face. I struck with quick-clinched hand, and he reeled
back into the mass with a sharp cry of pain. My eyes caught the sudden
dazzle, as De Croix whipped out his rapier.

"Not that, Monsieur!" I cried hastily, across her horse's neck. "Use
the hilt, not the blade, unless you wish to die."

He heard me above the clamor, and with a quick turn of the weapon
struck fiercely at a scowling brave who grasped at his horse's rein.
He smiled pleasantly across at me, his fingers twisting his small
mustache. "'Tis doubtless good advice, friend Wayland," he said,
carelessly, "but these copper-colored devils are indeed most annoying
upon this side, and I may lose my temper ere we reach the gate."

"For the sake of her who rides between us, I beg that you hold in hard,
Monsieur," I answered.

"'T would be over-much to pay, I imagine, for a hot brain."

I glanced at her as I spoke, scarcely conscious even then that I had
removed my eyes from the threatening mob that pressed me, though I know
I must have done so, for I retain the picture of her yet. She rode
facing me, although her saddle was of the old army type with merely a
folded blanket to soften its sharp contours, and her foot could barely
find firm support within the narrow strap above the wooden stirrup. She
sat erect and easily, swaying gently to the slow step of the horse. Her
face was pale, but there was no evidence of timidity in her dark eyes,
and she smiled at me as our glances met.

"You are surely a brave girl, Mademoiselle!" I exclaimed, unable to
restrain my admiration. "'Tis a scene to try any nerves."

"Yet almost worth the danger," she returned softly, "to realize what
men can be in such stress of need. You are the real--Beware of that
half-breed, Monsieur!"

Her last words were a quick warning, yet my eyes were already upon the
fellow, and as he dodged down, knife in hand, to aim a vicious lunge at
the forward leg of her horse, I brought the stock of my rifle crunching
against his shoulder. The next instant we had passed over his naked
body as he lay gasping in the trail.

"See!" she cried, with eagerness. "The gates are opened!"

We were possibly a hundred yards from the southern front of the
stockade, when I glanced forward and saw the level ground between a
seething mass of savage forms, so densely wedged together as to block
further progress. I could see hundreds of brown sinewy arms uplifted
from a sea of faces to brandish weapons of every description, and
marked how the Miamis cowered like whipped curs behind the protection
of Wells's horse, while close beside him stood Jordan, erect and silent
as if on parade, a rifle grasped in his hands, his head bare, a great
welt showing redly across his white forehead.

A little party, hardly more than twenty infantrymen, marched steadily
out from the open gateway of the Fort. The first file bore bayonets
fixed upon their guns, and the naked savages fell slowly back before
the polished steel. It was smartly done, and it thrilled my blood to
note with what silent determination that small band of disciplined
men pressed their way onward, passing through the threatening mass of
redskins as indifferently as if they had been forest trees. A young,
smooth-faced fellow, wearing a new officer's uniform, led them, sword
in hand, a smile of light contempt upon his lips.

"Clear the space wider, Campbell!" he said sternly, to the big corporal
at his side. "Swing your files to left and right, and push the rabble
out of the way."

They did it with the butts of their guns, laughing at the brandished
knives and tomahawks and the fierce painted faces that scowled at them,
paying no apparent heed to the taunts and insults showered from every
side. There were some stones thrown, a few blows were struck, but no
rifle-shot broke the brief struggle. The young officer strode forward
down the open space, and fronted our advance.

"I presume this is Captain Wells, from Fort Wayne?" he said, lifting
his cap as he spoke.

"It is," was the reply, "and I am very glad to find that you still hold
Fort Dearborn."

The other's frank and boyish face darkened slightly, as if at an
unpleasant memory.

"'Tis no fault of some," he muttered hastily; then he checked himself.
"We are glad to greet you, Captain Wells," he added, in a more formal
tone, glancing about upon us, "and your party. I am Ensign Ronan, of
the garrison; and if you will kindly pass between my guard lines, you
will find Captain Heald awaiting you within."

Thus we rode freely forward, with the guarding soldiery on either side
of us, their faces to the howling savages; we passed in at the great
southern gate, and halted amid the buildings of old Fort Dearborn.



CHAPTER XI

OLD FORT DEARBORN


It makes my old head dizzy to recall the events of that hour across the
years that have intervened. Possibly I, as I write these words, am the
only person living who has looked upon that old stockade and taken part
in its tragic history. What a marvellous change has less than a century
witnessed! Once the outermost guard of our western frontier, it is now
the site of one of the great cities of two continents. To me, who have
seen these events and changes, it possesses more than the wonderment of
a dream.

That day, as I rode forward, I saw but little of the Fort's formation,
for my eyes and thoughts were so filled with those frenzied savages
that hemmed us about, and the cool deployment of the few troops
that guarded our passage-way, that everything else made but a dim
impression. Yet the glimpse I obtained, even at that exciting moment,
together with the sub sequent experiences that came to me, have
indelibly impressed each detail of the rude Fort upon my memory.

It stands before me now, clear-cut and prominent, its outlines distinct
against the background of blue water or green plains. In that early
day the Fort was a fairly typical outpost of the border, like scores
of others scattered at wide and irregular intervals from the Carolina
mountains upon the south to the joining of the great lakes at the
north, forming one link in the thin chain of frontier fortifications
against Indian treachery and outbreak. It bore the distinction, among
the others, of being the most advanced and exposed of all, and its
small garrison was utterly isolated and alone, a forlorn hope in the
heart of the great wilderness.

The Fort had been erected nine years before our arrival, upon the
southern bank of a dull and sluggish stream, emptying into the Great
Lake from the west, and known to the earlier French explorers as the
river Chicagou. The spot selected was nearly that where an old-time
French trading-post had stood, although the latter had been deserted
for so long that no remnant of it yet lingered when the Americans first
took possession, and its site remained only as a vague tradition of
those Indian tribes whose representatives often visited these waters.

The earliest force despatched by the government to this frontier post
erected here a simple stockade of logs. These were placed standing on
end, firmly planted in the ground and extending upward some fifteen
feet, their tops sharpened as an additional protection against savage
assailants. This log stockade was built quite solid, save for one main
entrance, facing to the south and secured by a heavy, iron-studded
gate, with a subterranean or sunken passage leading out beneath the
north wall to the river, protected by a door which could be raised
only from within. The enclosure thus formed was sufficiently large to
contain a somewhat restricted parade-ground, about which were grouped
the necessary buildings of the garrison, the quarters for the officers,
the soldiers' barracks, the commandant's office, the guard-house, and
the magazine. These rude structures were built in frontier style,
of cleaved logs, and with one exception were but a single story in
height, so that their roofs of rived shingles were well below the
protection of the palisade of logs. Besides these interior buildings,
two block-houses were built, each constructed so that the second
story overhung the first, one of them standing at the southeast and
one at the northwest corner of the palisaded walls. A narrow wooden
support, or walk, accessible only from one or the other of these
block-houses, enabled its defenders to stand within the enclosure and
look out over the row of sharpened logs. At the time of our arrival
the protective armament of this primitive Fort, besides the small-arms
of the garrison, consisted of three pieces of light artillery, brass
six-pounders of antique pattern, relics of the Revolution. Outside
the Fort enclosure, only a few yards to the west along the river
bank, stood the agency building, or, as it was often termed, "goods
factory," built for purposes of trading with the Indians, so that it
would not be necessary to open the Fort to them. This agency building
was a rather large two-story log house, not erected for any purposes of
defence. Along the southern side of the stream, in both directions, the
soldiers had excavated numerous root-houses, or cellars, in which to
store the products of their summer gardens,--these excavations fairly
honeycombing the bank.

Such was Fort Dearborn in August of the fatal year 1812. It stood
ugly, rude, isolated, afar from any help in time of need. Its nearest
military neighbor lay directly across the waters of the Great Lake,
where a small detachment of troops, scarcely less isolated than itself,
garrisoned a similar stockade near the mouth of the river Saint
Joseph. To the westward, the vast plains, as yet scarce pressed by
the adventurous feet of white explorers, faded away into a mysterious
unknown country, roamed over by countless tribes of savages; to the
northward lay an unbroken wilderness for hundreds of leagues, save
for a few scattered traders at Green Bay, until the military outpost
at Mackinac was reached; to the eastward rolled the waters of the
Great Lake, storm-swept and unvexed by keel of ship, an almost
unsurpassable barrier, along whose shore adventurous voyagers crept
in log and bark canoes; while to the southward alternating prairie
and timber-land stretched away for unnumbered leagues the Indian
hunting-grounds,--broken only by a few scattered settlements of French
half-breeds.

From the walls of the Fort the eye ranged over a dull and monotonous
landscape, nowhere broken by signs of advancing civilization or even
of human presence. A few hundred yards to the east the waves of Lake
Michigan broke upon the wide, sandy beach, whence the tossing waters
stretched away in tumultuous loneliness to their blending with the
distant sky. Southward, along the shore of the lake, the nearly level
plain, brown and sun-parched, soon merged into rounded heaps of
wind-drifted sand, barely diversified by a few straggling groups of
cottonwoods. To the westward extended the boundless prairie, flat and
bare as a floor, except where the southern fork of the little river
cut its way through the soft loam, and gave rise to a scrubby growth
of cottonwood and willow; while northward, across the main body of the
river, the land appeared more rugged and broken, and somewhat heavily
wooded with oak and other forest trees, but equally devoid of evidences
of habitation.

In all this wide survey from the little knoll on which the Fort stood,
five houses only were visible. These were built roughly of logs in the
most primitive style of the frontier, and, with a single exception,
were now deserted by their occupants, who had retreated for safety to
the stockade of the Fort. The single exception was the larger and more
ambitious dwelling standing on the north bank of the river, occupied by
John Kinzie and his family, himself an old-time Indian trader, whose
honesty and long dealing with the savages had made him confident of
their friendship and fidelity. At one time, however, so threatening had
become the strange bands that flocked in toward Dearborn, as crows to a
feast, he also deserted his home, and, with those dependent upon him,
sought refuge within the Fort walls; but, influenced by the pledge of
the Pottawattomies, and believing that safety lay in trusting to their
friendship, they had returned to their own house. The other cabins were
scattered to the westward of the stockade, close to the river bank.
These dwellings had been occupied by the families of Ouilmette, Burns,
and Lee, respectively; while the last named owned a second cabin, built
some distance up the south branch of the river, and occupied by a
tenant named Liberty White.

The prospect was in truth depressing to one accustomed to other and
more civilized surroundings. A spirit of loneliness, of fearful
isolation, seemed to hover over the restless waters upon the one hand,
and those vast silent plains on the other; sea and sky, sky and sand,
met the wearied eye wherever it wandered. The scene was unspeakably
solemn in its immensity and loneliness; while irresistibly the thought
would wander over those fateful leagues of prairie and forest that
stretched unbrokenly between this far frontier and the few scattered
and remote settlements that were its nearest neighbors.

It was not until some time later that these sombre reflections pressed
upon me with all their force. After the excitement of our first
boisterous greeting was over, and I found opportunity to lean across
the top of the guarded stockade and gaze alone over the desolate
spectacle I have endeavored to describe, I could feel more acutely the
hopelessness of our situation and the danger threatening us from every
side. But at the moment of our entrance, all my interest and attention
had been centred upon the scenes and persons immediately about me.
It was my first experience within the stockaded walls of an armed
government post. The scene was new to my young senses, and, in spite of
the excitement that still heated my blood, I looked upon it with such
absorbing interest as to be forgetful for the moment even of the fair
girl who rode in at my side.

The dull clang of the heavy iron-bound gate behind us was a welcome
sound after the fierce buffetings of our perilous passage; yet it only
partially shut off the savage howlings, while above the hideous uproar
came the sharp reports of several guns. But the instant bustle and
confusion within scarcely allowed opportunity to notice this disorder;
moreover, there had come to us a sense of safety and security,--we were
at last within the barriers we had struggled so long to gain. However
the savage hordes might rage without, we were now beyond their reach,
and might take breath again.

Our little party, closely bunched together, with Wells and the timorous
Miamis at its head, surged quickly through between the bars, and
came to a halt in an open space, evidently the parade-ground of the
garrison, the bare earth worn smooth and hard by the trampling of many
feet. A tall flag-pole rose near the centre, and the wavering shadow of
the banner at its top extended to the eastern edge of the enclosure.
Out from the log-houses which bordered this enclosure there came a
group of people to welcome us,--officers and soldiers, women neatly
dressed and with bright intelligent faces, women of rougher mould
attired in calico or deer-skin, hardy-looking men in rude hunter's
garb, picturesque French voyageurs wiry of limb and dark of skin, an
Indian or two, silent, grave, emotionless, a single negro, and trailing
behind them a number of dirty, delighted children, and dogs of every
breed and degree. It was a motley gathering, and appeared almost like a
multitude as it hurried forth into the open parade-ground, and surged
joyfully about us, all eager to welcome us to Dearborn, and hopeful
that we brought them encouragement and relief. We were of their own
race, a link between them and the far-distant East; and our coming told
them they were not forgotten.

The odd commingling of tongues, the constant crowding and scraps of
conversation, the volley of questioning from every side, was confusing
and unintelligible. I could gain only glimpses here and there of what
was going on; nor was I able to judge with any accuracy of the number
of those present. I looked down upon their appealing, anxious faces,
with a sad heart. In some way the sight of them brought back thoughts
of the savage, howling mob without, clamoring for blood, through which
we had won our passage by sheer good-fortune; of those leagues of
untracked forest amid whose glooms we had ploughed our way. I thought
of these things as I gazed upon the helpless women and children
thronging about me, and my heart sank as I realized how great indeed
was the burden resting upon us all, how frail the hope of safety.
Death, savage, relentless, inhuman death in its most frightful guise
with torture and agony unspeakable, lurked along every mile of our
possible retreat; nor could I conceive how its grim coming might long
be delayed by that palisade of logs. We were hopeless of rescue. We
were alone, deserted, the merest handful amid the unnumbered hordes of
the vast West. Swift and terrible as this conception was when it swept
upon me, it grew deeper as I learned more fully the details of our
situation.

Just in front of where I lingered in my saddle, the crush slightly
parted, and I noticed a tall man step forward, a fair man, having a
light beard slightly tinged with gray, and wearing the undress uniform
of a captain of infantry. A lady, several years his junior, stood at
his side, her eyes bright with expectancy. At sight of them, Captain
Wells instantly sprang from his horse and hastened forward, his dark
face lighted by one of his rare smiles.

"Captain," he exclaimed, clasping the officer's hand warmly, and
extending his other hand in greeting to the lady, "I am glad indeed
to have reached you in time to be of service; and you, my own dear
niece,--may we yet be permitted to bring you safely back to God's
country."

I was unable to catch the reply of either; but I noted that the lady
flung her arms about the speaker's neck and kissed his swarthy cheek.

Then Captain Wells spoke more loudly, so that his words reached my ears.

"But, Heald," he said, "what means all this litter of garrison
equipment lying scattered about? Surely you have no present intention
to leave the Fort, in face of that savage mob out yonder?"

"'Tis the orders of General Hull," was the low and somewhat hesitating
response, "and the Pottawattomie chiefs have pledged us escort around
the head of the lake. But this is no place to discuss the matter. As
soon as possible I would speak with you more fully in my office."

The look of undisguised amazement upon Wells's face startled me; and
as I glanced about me, wondering whom I might take counsel with, I was
astonished to note the horse that Toinette had ridden standing with
empty saddle. De Croix, negligently curling his mustache between his
slender fingers, gazed at me with a blank stare.

"Where is Mademoiselle?" I questioned anxiously, as he remained silent.
"Surely she was with us as we came in!"

"Pish! of course," he returned carelessly; "if she chooses to dismount
and rejoin her friends, what has that to do with John Wayland? Cannot
the girl so much as move without your permission, Monsieur?"

The words were insolent, not less than the manner that accompanied
them. Instantly there flashed upon me the thought that this Frenchman
sought a quarrel with me; but I could conceive no reason there for, and
was not greatly disposed to accommodate him.

"'Twas no more than curiosity that urged my question," I answered,
assuming not to notice his bravado. "I was so deeply interested in
other things as to have forgotten her presence."

"Something no lady is ever likely to forgive," he interjected. "But
what think you they propose doing with us here?"

As if in direct answer to his question, the young officer who had met
us without now elbowed his way through the throng, until he stood at
our horses' heads.

"Gentlemen," he said, with a quick glance into our faces, "dismount and
come within. There is but little to offer you here at Dearborn, we have
been cut off from civilization so long; but such as we possess will be
shared with you most gladly."

De Croix chatted with him in his easy, familiar manner, as we slowly
crossed the parade; while I followed them in silence, my thoughts
upon the disappearance of Toinette and the Frenchman's sudden show
of animosity. My glance fell upon the groups of children scattered
along our path, and I wondered which among them might prove to be
Roger Matherson's little one. At the entrance of one of the log-houses
fronting the parade, a rather ambitious building of two stories, if I
remember rightly, with a narrow porch along its front, an officer was
standing upon the step, talking with a sweet-faced woman who appeared
scarce older than seventeen.

"Lieutenant Helm," said Ronan, politely, "this is Captain de Croix, of
the French army."

He presented De Croix to Mrs. Helm, and then turned inquiringly toward
me.

"I believe I have failed to learn your name?"

"I am simply John Wayland," I answered, and, with a glance at my face,
Lieutenant Helm cordially extended his hand.

"We are greatly pleased to welcome you both," he said earnestly, but
with a grave side-glance at his young wife, "though I fear we have
little to offer you except privation and danger."

"How many have you in the garrison?" I questioned, my eyes upon the
moving figures about us. "It looks a crowd, in that narrow space."

"They are all there who are able to crawl," he said, with a grave
smile. "But in this case our numbers are a weakness. In the
garrison proper we have four commissioned officers, with fifty-four
non-commissioned officers and privates. To these may be added twelve
settlers acting as militiamen, making a total defensive force of
seventy men. But fully twenty-five of these are upon the sick-list, and
totally unfit for active duty; while we are further burdened by having
under our protection twelve women and twenty children. It almost crazes
one to think of what their fate may be."

"Your defences look strong enough to keep off savages," broke in De
Croix, "and I am told there is a sufficiency of provisions. Saint
Guise! I have seen places where I had rather reside in my old age; yet
with plenty of wine, some good fellows, and as lovely women as have
already greeted me here, 'twill not prove so bad for a few weeks."

Helm glanced at him curiously; then his gaze, always gravely
thoughtful, wandered back to me.

"We are to evacuate the Fort," he said quietly.

"Evacuate?" echoed the Frenchman, as if the word were displeasing.
"'Tis a strange military act, in my judgment, and one filled with grave
peril. Does such decision come from a council?"

"There has been no council," broke in Ronan, hastily. "The commander
has not honored his officers by calling one. Such were the orders as
published on parade this morning."

He would have added more, but Helm warned him by a sudden look of
disapproval.

"I understand," he explained quietly, "that the instructions received
from General Hull at Detroit were imperative, and that Captain Heald
was left no discretion in the matter."

"I have not yet discovered the man who has seen the orders," exclaimed
the Ensign hotly, "and we all know it means death."

Helm faced him sternly.

"A soldier's first duty is obedience," he said shortly, "and we are
soldiers. Gentlemen, will you not come in?"



CHAPTER XII

THE HEART OF A WOMAN


As I sat in the officers' quarters, listening to the conversation
regarding existing conditions at the Fort and the unrest among the
Indians of the border, my thoughts kept veering from the sudden and
ungracious disappearance of Mademoiselle to the early seeking after
that hapless orphan child for whose sake I had already travelled so far
and entered into such danger. Evidently, if I was to aid her my quest
must be no longer interrupted.

With characteristic gallantry, De Croix had at once been attracted
toward Lieutenant Helm's young and pretty bride, and they two had
already forgotten all sense of existing peril in a most animated
discussion of the latest fashionable modes in Montreal. I was not a
little amused by the interest manifest in her soft blue eyes as she
spoke with all the art of a woman versed in such mysteries, and at
the languid air of elegance with which he bore himself. Meanwhile, I
answered as best I might the flood of questions addressed to me by the
two officers, who, having been shut out from the world so long, were
naturally eager for military news from Fort Wayne and from the seat of
government. As these partially ceased, I asked:

"Has a date been set for the abandonment of the Fort?"

"We march out upon the fifteenth," was Helm's reply, "the day after
to-morrow, unless something occurs meanwhile to change Captain Heald's
plans. I confess I dread its coming, much as I imagine a condemned man
might dread the date of his execution," and his grave eyes wandered
toward his young wife, as if fearful his words might be overheard by
her. "There are other lives than mine endangered, and their peril makes
duty doubly hard."

"Lieutenant," I said, recalled to my own mission by these words, "I
myself am seeking to be of service to one here,--the young daughter of
one Roger Matherson, an old soldier who died at this post last month.
He was long my father's faithful comrade in arms, and with his dying
breath begged our care for his orphan child. It has come to us as a
sacred trust, and I was despatched upon this errand. Can you tell me
where this girl is to be found?"

Before he could frame a reply, for he was somewhat slow of speech, his
wife, who had turned from De Croix, and was listening with interest to
my story, spoke impulsively.

"Why, we have been wondering, Mr. Wayland, where she could have
gone. Not that we have worried, for she is a girl well able to care
for herself, and of a most independent spirit. She disappeared very
suddenly from the Fort several days ago; we supposed she must have gone
with my mother when Mr. Kinzie took his family back to their home."

"With Mr. Kinzie?" I questioned, for at that moment I could not recall
hearing the name. "May I ask where that home is?"

"He is the very good step-father of my wife, and one she loves as
truly as if he were her own father," answered Helm, warmly; "a man
among a thousand. Mr. Kinzie is an Indian trader, and has been here
for several years, if indeed he be not the first white settler, for
old Pointe Au Sable was a West Indian mulatto. His relations with
these savages who dwell near the Great Lake, and especially those of
the Pottawattomie and Wyandot tribes, are so friendly that he has felt
safe to remain with his family unguarded in his own home. They have
always called him Shaw-nee-aw-kee, the Silver-man, and trust him as
much as he trusts them. He is, besides, a great friend of Sau-ga-nash,
the half-breed Wyandot; and that friendship is a great protection. His
house is across the river, a little to the east of the Fort; it can
easily be seen from the summit of the stockade. But we have had no
direct communication for several days; the orders have been very strict
since the gates were closed. It is not safe for our soldiers to venture
outside except in force, and neither Kinzie nor any of his family have
lately visited us. Doubtless they feel that to do so might arouse the
suspicion of their Indian friends."

"But are you sure they are there, and safe? And do you believe the one
I seek will be found with them?"

"Smoke rises from the chimney, as usual, and there was a light burning
there last evening. We do not know certainly that your friend is there,
but think such is the case, as she was extremely friendly with a young
French girl in their employ named Josette La Framboise."

I sat in silence for some time, thinking, and neglectful of the
conversation being carried on around me by the others, until we were
called to supper by the soldier who officiated as steward for the
officers' mess. I remember many details of the situation, as they were
frankly discussed in my presence while we lingered at the table; yet my
own reflections were elsewhere, as I was endeavoring to determine my
duty regarding the safety of her whom I had come so far to aid. Surely,
my first object now must be to ascertain where she was, in order to be
at her service when the hour for departure came. Nor had I any time to
spare, if we were to march out on the fifteenth. I cannot describe,
at this late day, how strangely my allegiance wavered, in that hour,
between the unknown, unseen girl, and the fair, vivacious Toinette. My
heart drew me toward the one, my clear duty to the other; and I could
see no way out of the dilemma except to find Elsa Matherson without
delay, in order that the two should be close together where, as need
arose, I could stand between them and whatever of evil impended.

I fear I was an indifferent guest, for I was never nimble of tongue,
and that night I was more silent than usual. However, De Croix most
effectually hid my retirement by his rare good-humor and the sparkling
badinage with which he concentrated all attention upon himself, and was
consequently soon in the happiest of moods. I know not how the fellow
succeeded in working the miracle, but he sat at the board, upon Mrs.
Helm's left hand, powdered and curled as if he were gracing a banquet
at the Tuileries. His ruffled shirt, glittering buckles, and bright
blue waistcoat, were startling amid such homely surroundings; while
his neatly folded handkerchief of lace exhaled a delicate perfume.
Deeply as I was immersed in my own thoughts and plans, I could not help
admiring his easy grace, and more than once forgot myself in listening
to his marvellous tales and witty anecdotes.

He was detailing a recent scandal of the French court, passing
delicately over its more objectionable features, when I grasped the
opportunity to slip unobserved from the room into the open of the
parade-ground. It proved a dark night without, but the numerous lights
in the surrounding buildings, whose doors and windows were open,
sufficiently illumined the place, so that I found my way about with
little difficulty. A group of soldiers lounged at the open door of the
guard-house, and I paused a moment to speak with one, a curly-headed
lad, who sat smoking, his back resting easily against the logs.

"Are the outer gates ever opened at night?" I asked.

He glanced up at me in surprise, shading his eyes to be assured of my
identity before speaking.

"Scarcely either day or night now, sir," he replied, respectfully, "but
between sunset and sunrise they are specially barred, and a double
guard is set. No one can pass except on the order of Captain Heald."

"In which direction is the Kinzie house?"

He pointed toward the northeast corner of the stockade.

"It is just over there, sir, across the river. You might see the light
from the platform; beyond the shed yonder is the ladder that leads up
into the block-house."

Thanking him, I moved forward as directed, found the ladder, and pushed
my way up through the narrow opening in the floor of the second story.
The small square room, feebly lighted by a single sputtering candle
stuck in the shank of a bayonet, contained half a dozen men, most of
them idling, although two were standing where they could readily peer
out through the narrow slits between the logs. All of them were heavily
armed, and equipped for service. They looked at me curiously as I first
appeared, but the one who asked my business wore the insignia of a
corporal, and was evidently in command.

"I wish to look out over the stockade, if there is no objection. I came
in with Captain Wells's party this afternoon," I said, not knowing what
their orders might be, or if I would be recognized.

"I remember you, sir," was the prompt response, "and you are at
liberty to go out there if you desire. That is the door leading to the
platform."

"The Indians appear to be very quiet to-night."

"The more reason to believe them plotting some fresh deviltry," he
answered, rising to his feet, and facing me. "We never have much to
disturb us upon this side, as it overhangs the river and is not easy
of approach; but the guard on the south wall is kept pretty busy these
last few nights, and has to patrol the stockade. The Indians have been
holding some sort of a powwow out at their camp ever since dark, and
that's apt to mean trouble sooner or later."

"Then you keep no sentry posted on the platform?" I asked, a thought
suddenly occurring to me.

"Not regularly, sir; only when something suspicious happens along the
river. There's nobody out there now excepting the French girl,--she
seems to be fond of being out there all alone."

The French girl? Could it be possible that he meant Toinette? I was
conscious of a strange fluttering of the heart, as I stepped forth upon
the narrow foot-way and peered along it, searching for her. I could
distinguish nothing, however; and as I slowly felt my way forward,
testing the squared log beneath me with careful foot and keeping hold
with one hand upon the sharpened palisades, I began to believe the
corporal had been mistaken. The door, closing behind, shut off the last
gleam of light, and I was left alone in utter darkness and silence,
save for the low rumble of voices within the Fort enclosure, and the
soft plashing below where the river current kissed the bank at the foot
of the stockade.

I had gone almost the full length of that side, before I came where she
was leaning against the logs, her chin resting upon one hand, her gaze
turned north ward. Indeed, so silent was she, so intent upon her own
thought, I might have touched her unnoticed in the gloom, had not the
stars broken through a rift in the cloud above us, and sent a sudden
gleam of silver across her face.

"Mademoiselle," I said, striving to address her with something of the
ease I thought De Croix would exercise at such a moment, "I meant not
to intrude upon your privacy, yet I am most glad to meet with you once
more."

She started slightly, as though aroused from reverie, and glanced
inquiringly toward me.

"I supposed my visitor to be one of the guard," she said pleasantly;
"and even now I am unable to distinguish your face, yet the sound of
the voice re minds me of John Wayland."

"I am proud to know that it has not already been forgotten. You
deserted me so suddenly this afternoon, I almost doubted my being
welcome now."

She laughed lightly, tapping the ends of the logs with her finger-tips.

"Have you, then, never learned that a woman is full of whims,
Monsieur?" she questioned. "Why, this afternoon your eyes were so big
with wonder that they had forgotten to look at me. Truly, I spoke to
you twice to aid me from the saddle; but you heard nothing, and in my
desperation I was obliged to turn to the courtesy of Captain de Croix.
Ah, there is a soldier, my friend, who is never so preoccupied as to
neglect his duty to a lady."

"It was indeed most ungallant of me," I stammered, scarce knowing
whether she laughed at me or not. "Yet my surroundings were all new,
and I have not the training of DC Croix in such matters."

"Pah! 'tis just as well. I am inclined to like you as you are,
my friend, and we shall not quarrel; yet, with all his love for
lesser things, your comrade has always shown himself a truly gallant
gentleman."

I made no answer to these flattering words, for I felt them to be true;
yet no less this open praise of him, falling from her lips, racked me
sorely, and I lacked the art to make light of it.

"The soldiers in the block-house tell me you come here often," I
ventured at last, for the dead silence weighed upon me. "You have never
seemed to me like one who would seek such loneliness."

"I am one whom very few wholly comprehend, I fear, and surely not upon
first acquaintance," she answered thoughtfully, "for I am full of
strange moods, and perhaps dream more than other girls. This may have
been born of my early convent training, and the mystic tales of the
nuns; nor has it been lessened by the loneliness of the frontier. So,
if I differ from other young women, you may know 'tis my training, as
well as my nature, that may account for it. I have led a strange life,
Monsieur, and one that has known much of sadness. There are times when
I seek my own thoughts, and find liking for no other company. Then I
come here, and in some way the loneliness of water and plain soothe me
as human speech cannot. I used to love to stand yonder by the eastern
wall and gaze out over the Great Lake, watching the green surges chase
each other until they burst in spray along the beach. But since I went
adrift in the little boat, and felt the cruelty of the water, I have
shrunk from looking out upon it. Monsieur, have you never known how
restful it sometimes is to be alone?"

"My life has mostly been a solitary one," I answered, responding
unconsciously to her mood, and, in doing so, forgetting my
embarrassment. "It is the birthright of all children of the frontier.
Indeed, I have seen so little of the great world and so much of the
woods, that I scarcely realize what companionship means, especially
that of my own age. I have made many a solitary camp leagues from
the nearest settlement, and have tracked the forest alone for days
together, so content with my own thought that possibly I understand
your meaning better than if my life had been passed among crowds."

"Ah! but I like the crowds," she exclaimed hastily, "and the glow and
excitement of that brighter, fuller life, where people really live. It
is so dull here,--the same commonplace faces, the tiresome routine of
drill, the same blue sky, gray water, and green plains, to look upon
day after day. Oh, but it is all so wearisome, and you cannot conceive
how I have longed again for Montreal and the many little gaieties
that brighten a woman's world. There are those here who have never
known these happier things; their whole horizon of experience has been
bounded by garrison palisades; but 'tis not so with me,--I tasted of
the sweet wine once, when I was a girl, and the memory never leaves me."

"Yet you are often happy?"

"'Tis my nature, Monsieur, a legacy of my mother's people; but I am not
always gay of heart when my lips smile."

"And the coming of the French gallant has doubtless freshened your
remembrance of the past?" I said, a trifle bitterly.

"It has indeed," was her frank admission. "He represents a life we
know so little about here on the far frontier. To you, with your code
of border manliness, he may appear all affectation, mere shallow in
sincerity; but to me, Captain de Croix represents his class, stands
for the refinements of social order to which women can never be
indifferent. Those were the happiest days of my life, Monsieur; and at
Montreal he was only one among many."

She was gazing out into the black void as she spoke, and the slowly
clearing skies permitted the star-light to gleam in her dark eyes and
reveal the soft contour of her cheek.

"You do not understand that?" she questioned finally, as I failed to
break the silence.

"I have no such pleasant memory to look back upon," I answered; "yet I
can feel, though possibly in a different way, your longing after better
things."

"You realize this sense of loneliness? this absence of all that makes
life beautiful and worth the living?"

"Perhaps not that,--for life, even here, is well worth living, and
to my eyes the great sea yonder, and the dark forests, are of more
interest than city streets. But in one sense I may enter into your
meaning; my thought also is away from here,--it is with a home,
scarcely less humble than are our present surroundings, yet it contains
the one blessing worth striving after--love."

"Love!" she echoed the unexpected word almost scornfully. "'Tis a
phrase so lightly spoken that I scarce know what it may signify to you.
You love some one then, Monsieur?" and she looked up at me curiously.

"My mother, Mademoiselle."

I saw the expression upon her face change instantly. "Your pardon,"
she exclaimed, hastily. "'Twas not the meaning I had thought. I know
something of such love as that, and honor you for thus expressing it."

"I have often wondered, since first we met, at your being here,
seemingly alone, at this outermost post of the frontier. It seems a
strange home for one of your refinement and evident delight in social
life."

"'Tis not from choice, Monsieur. My mother died when I was but a child,
as I have already told you. I scarce have memory of her, yet I bear
her name, and, I am told, inherit many of her peculiarities. She was
the daughter of a great merchant at Montreal, and the blood of a noble
family of France flowed in her veins. She gave up all else to become my
father's wife; nor did she ever live to regret it."

Her voice was so low and plaintive that I hesitated to speak; yet
finally, as she ceased, and silence fell between us, I asked another
question:

"And 'twas then you voyaged into this wilderness with your father?"

"I have never since left him while he lived," she answered softly, her
head resting upon her hand. "But he also has gone now, and I merely
wait opportunity to journey eastward."

"He was a trader, you told me once?"

"A soldier first, Monsieur; a true and gallant soldier, but later he
traded with the Indians for furs."

I felt that she was weeping softly, although I could see but little,
and I leaned in silence against the rough logs, gazing out into the
black night, hesitating to break in upon her grief. Then a voice spoke
rapidly at the farther end of the stockade, and a sudden glow of light
shot like an arrow along the platform. I turned quickly, and there in
the open doorway, clearly outlined against the candle flame, stood De
Croix.



CHAPTER XIII

A WAGER OF FOOLS


"It looks a narrow walk, my friend," he said rather doubtfully, peering
forward with shaded eyes, "and 'tis dark as Erebus; yet gladly will I
make the venture for hope of the reward."

The door closed behind him, shutting off the last vestige of light; and
we, with our eyes accustomed to the gloom, could mark his dim outline
as he advanced toward us. His actions belied his words, for he moved
with all his accustomed jauntiness along the uncertain foot-way, barely
touching the top of the palisades with one hand to guide his progress.
He was almost upon the girl before he perceived either of us; and then
his earliest words surprised me into silence.

"Ah, Toinette!" he cried eagerly, "I fear I must have kept you waiting
over-long; yet I was with Mrs. Helm,--a most fair and charming
bride,--and scarce noted the rapid passage of time."

"I naturally supposed it was a woman," she answered, with what I
interpreted as a strained assumption of indifference, "as that has ever
been your sufficient reason for breaking faith with me."

"Do not interpret it so, I beg," he hastened to implore. "Surely, my
being a few moments in arrears is not a matter sufficiently serious
to be called a breakage of faith. I do assure you, Toinette, you were
never once absent from my thought."

"Indeed?" she exclaimed incredulously, and with an echo of suppressed
laughter in her voice. "Then truly you are far more to be commiserated
on this occasion than I, for in truth, Monsieur de Croix, I have not
missed you over-much. I have enjoyed most excellent company."

"The mysterious spirits of the starry night?" he questioned, looking
out into the darkness, "or the dim figures of your own imagination?"

"Very far from either," she retorted, with a laugh; "a most substantial
reality, as you are bound to confess. Master Wayland, is it not time
for you fitly to greet Captain de Croix? He may deem you lax in
cordiality."

I can perceive now how dearly the laughing witch loved to play us
one against the other, hiding whatever depth of feeling she may have
had beneath the surface of careless innocence, and keeping us both
in an uncertainty as aggravating as it was sweet. I could not read
the expression upon De Croix's face in the gloom, yet I saw him
start visibly at her almost mocking words, and there was a trace of
ill-suppressed irritation in his voice.

"Saint Guise! 'Twas for that, then, he left us so mysteriously," he
exclaimed, unconsciously uttering his first thought aloud. "But how
knew he you were to be here?"

Before she could answer, I spoke, anxious to relieve her of
embarrassment; for 'twas ever my nature to yield much without complaint.

"As it chances, Captain de Croix, she did not know," I said, standing
back from the palisades where he could see me more clearly. "I left
the table below with no thought of meeting Mademoiselle, and came out
on this platform for a different purpose. As you know, I am visiting
Dearborn upon a special mission."

"Ah, true," and I could feel the trace of relief in his voice as
he instantly recalled my story. "You also sought a girl in this
wilderness,--may I ask, have you yet found trace of her?"

I heard Mademoiselle move quickly.

"A girl?" she asked in surprise. "Here, at Dearborn?"

"She was at Dearborn until very lately, but they tell me now I must
seek for her at the Kinzie house, It was for the purpose of marking
its position from the Fort that I came up here."

For a moment no one of our voices broke the strained silence. I was
troubled by this knowledge of a pre-arranged meeting between these
two, yet felt it was nothing with which I had a right to interfere.
This careless French girl, whom I had known for scarcely two days, was
not one to be easily guided, even had I either reason or excuse for
attempting it.

"'Tis strange," she said, musingly, "that she has never so much as
spoken to me about it; yet she was always shy of speech in such
matters."

"Of whom do you speak, Toinette?" questioned De Croix.

"Of Master Wayland's young friend with the Kinzies," she answered,
the old sprightliness again in her voice. "I know her very well,
Monsieur,--a dear, sweet girl,--and shall be only too glad to speed you
on to her. Yet 'tis not so easy of accomplishment, hemmed in as we are
here now. Yonder is the light, Master Wayland; but much of peril may
lurk between. 'Tis not far, were the way clear; indeed, in the old days
of peace a rope ferry connected Fort and house, but now to reach there
safely will require a wide detour and no little woodcraft. There were
patrols of savages along the river bank at dusk, and it is doubtful if
all have been withdrawn."

I looked as she pointed, and easily distinguished the one glittering
spark that pierced the darkness to the north and east. I wondered
at her earlier words; yet they might all be true enough, for I knew
nothing of this Elsa Matherson. Before I could question further, De
Croix had interfered, eager, no doubt, to be rid of me.

"Upon my soul!" he exclaimed recklessly, "if I could voyage here from
Montreal to win but a smile, it should prove a small venture for our
backwoods friend to cover yonder small distance. _Sacre!_ I would do
the deed myself for one kiss from rosy lips."

I have wondered since what there was about those words to anger me.
It must have been their boastful tone, the sarcasm that underlay the
velvet utterance, which stung like salt in a fresh wound. I felt that
from the summit of his own success he durst laugh at me; and my blood
boiled instantly.

"You are wondrous bold, Monsieur," I retorted, "when the matter is
wholly one of words. I regret I cannot pledge you such reward, so that
I might learn how you would bear yourself in the attempt."

He stared at me haughtily across the shoulder of the girl, as if
doubting he heard aright.

"You question my courage to venture it?"

"It has been my experience that the cock that crows the loudest fights
the least."

"Oh, hush, Messieurs!" broke in Mademoiselle, her voice showing
suppressed amusement. "This platform is far too narrow to quarrel
upon; and, besides, the condition of the wager is most easily
met,--that is, if my lips be deemed of sufficiently rosy hue."

I know I stood with opened mouth, so astounded by these mocking words
as to be stricken dumb; but not so De Croix. The audacity of his nature
made eager response to the bold challenge.

"Do you mean what you say, Toinette?" he asked, striving to gain a view
of her face in the darkness.

"Do I? And pray, why not?" she questioned lightly. "One kiss is not so
very much to give, and I shall never miss it. 'Tis duller here than at
Montreal, and no doubt 'twill greatly interest me to witness the race.
Surely it will prove a better way to end your foolish quarrel than to
shoot each other. But come, Messieurs, why do you hesitate so long? is
not the prize enough?"

He bowed gallantly, and took her hand.

"'Twould be the ransom of a king," he answered; "though first I wish to
know the terms of this contest more clearly."

She looked out into that silent and lonely night, her eyes upon the
distant gleam, and instinctively our glances followed hers. It was
a dull desolation, with no sound, no movement, in all the black
void. The stars gleamed dull on the water of the river beneath us,
and we could dimly see the denser shadow of the opposite shore;
beyond this, nothing was apparent save that distant candle flame.
What lay between,--what strange obstruction of land, what ambushed
foes,--neither of us had means of knowing. We could simply plunge into
the mystery of it blindfolded by the fates. Yet to draw back now would
brand either of us forever with the contempt of her who had challenged
us so lightly.

"'Tis all simple enough," she said at last, her eyes glowing with quick
excitement. "The goal is yonder where that light glows so clearly,
though I warn you the longest way round may prove the surest in the
end. To the one of you who reaches there first and returns here, I
am to give one kiss as a measure of reward. I care not how it may be
accomplished,--such minor matters rest with your own wits."

"But the young girl we seek," he insisted; "must she also be brought
here upon the return?"

"Pish! what care I what may be done with the girl? Besides, she is far
safer from the savages there than she would be here."

I saw De Croix lean far out over the sharpened palisades and peer
downward. The movement gave me instantly a thought of his purpose,
and, unnoticed, I loosened the pistol-belt about my waist and silently
dropped it upon the platform. Whatever desperate chance he might choose
to take, I was determined now to equal.

"Doth the water of the river come to the very foot of these logs?" he
asked, unable to determine in the darkness.

"No, Monsieur, the earth slopes downward for some feet, yet the current
is at this bank, and gives much depth of water at the shore."

"But of what width is the strip of earth between?"

"Perhaps the length of a tall man."

"Saint Guise! 'tis well I thought to ask!" he explained jauntily. "And
now, Mademoiselle, if you will but kindly hold this coat and sword, I
shall strive to show you how highly I value the prize offered, and what
a French gentleman can do for love."

I fully grasped his purpose now, and even as he turned toward her,
holding out the valuables he hesitated to lose, I scaled the low
barrier in my front, planted my feet firmly between the pointed stakes,
and sprang boldly into the darkness.



CHAPTER XIV

DARKNESS AND SURPRISE


It was a greater distance to the water than I had supposed, but I
struck at last fairly enough, and went down until I thought I should
never come up again. As I rose to the surface and shook the moisture
from my face and ears, a light laugh rang out high above me, and
Mademoiselle's clear voice cried mockingly:

"The backwoodsman has taken the first trick, Monsieur."

I saw De Croix's body dart, like a black arrow, far out into the air,
and come sweeping down. He struck to my left, and a trifle behind me;
but I waited not to learn just how. With lusty strokes I struck out for
the north shore. It was a hard swim, for my deerskins held the water
like so many bags, and the current, though not rapid, was sufficiently
strong to make me fight valiantly for every foot of way. I came out,
panting heavily, upon a low bank of soft mud, and crept cautiously up
under the black shadow of some low bushes growing there. I took time,
as I rested, to glance back, hoping thus to learn more of the direction
I should follow; for the Kinzie light was no longer visible, and my
struggle with the current had somewhat bewildered me. I neither saw
nor heard anything of De Croix; but the flame of the candle gleaming
through the narrow slits of the block-house told me clearly where it
stood, while a wild yelling farther to the southward convinced me that
our Indian besiegers were yet astir and concocting some fresh deviltry
at their camp. With a half-uttered prayer that they might all be there,
I hastily pressed the water from my soggy clothes and plunged forward
into the unknown darkness. A big cottonwood, as from its shape I judged
it to be, rose against the stars in my front,--a dim outline swaying
slightly in the westerly wind, and I took it as my first guide-mark,
moving over the rough unknown ground as rapidly and silently as
possible.

The soft moccasins I wore aided me greatly, nor were there many trees
along the way to drop twigs in the path to crackle under foot; yet I
found the ground uneven and deceptive, rifted with small gullies, and
more or less bestrewn with stones, against which I stumbled in the
darkness. I was too thoroughly trained in the stern and careful school
of the frontier not to be cautious at such a time, for I knew that
silence and seeming desolation were no proof of savage desertion; nor
did I believe that Indian strategy would leave the north of the Fort
wholly unguarded. Any rock, any black ravine, any clump of trees or
bushes, might well be the lurking-place of hostiles, who would only too
gladly wreak their vengeance upon any hapless straggler falling into
their hands. I was unarmed, save for the long hunting-knife I carried
in the bosom of my shirt; but my thought was not of fighting,--it was
to get through without discovery.

To De Croix I gave small consideration, save that the memory of the
wager was a spur to urge me forward at greater speed. The place was
strangely, painfully still; even the savage yelling of the distant
Indians seemed to die away as I advanced, and nothing broke the
oppressive silence but an occasional flutter of leaves, or my own deep
breathing. I had gone, I take it, half or three-quarters of a mile,
not directly north, but circling ever to the eastward, seeking thus
to reach the house from the rear, when I came to a sharp break in the
surface of the land, somewhat deeper and more abrupt than those before
encountered. It seemed like a cut or ravine made by some rush of water
lakeward; and, as I hesitated upon the edge of it, peering across and
wondering if I had better risk the plunge, my eyes caught the blaze of
the Kinzie light scarce a hundred yards from the opposite bank of the
ravine.

Assured that I was headed right, I stepped off with a new confidence
that, for the moment, conquered my usual prudence,--for the steep
bank gave way instantly beneath my weight. I grasped vainly at the
edge, fell heavily sidewise, and rolled like a great log, bruised
and half-stunned, into the black gorge below. I remember gripping
at a slender bush that yielded to my touch; but all the rest was no
more than a breathless tumble, until I struck something soft at the
bottom,--something that squirmed and gripped my long hair savagely, and
pushed my head back with a grasp on the throat that nearly throttled me.

It was all so sudden, so unexpected, that for the moment I was helpless
as a child, struggling merely from the natural instinct of preservation
to break free. I could perceive nothing, the darkness was so intense;
yet as I gradually succeeded in getting my hands loose, I wound them in
long coarse hair, pressed them against bare flesh, heard deep labored
breathing close to my face, and believed I was struggling with a savage.

It was a question of mere brute strength, and neither of us had had the
advantage of surprise. I could feel the sharp prick of my own knife as
he hugged me to him, but I dare not reach for it, and I held his arms
so tightly that he lay panting and struggling as if in a vise. It was
an odd fight, as we turned and tossed, writhed and twisted among those
sharp pointed rocks like two infuriated wild-cats in the dark, neither
venturing to break hold for a blow, nor having breath enough in our
bodies for so much as a curse. My adversary struck me once with his
head under the chin, so hard a blow that everything turned red before
me; and then I got my knee up into the pit of his stomach and caused
him to quiver from the agony of it; yet the fellow clung to me like a
bull-terrier, and never so much as whined.

It was never my nature to yield easily, and I felt now this struggle
was to cost his life or mine; so I clinched my teeth, and sought my
best to push back the other's head until the neck should crack. But if
I was a powerful man, this other was no less so, and he fought with a
fierce and silent desperation that foiled me. We dug and tore, gouged
and struck, digging our heels into the soft earth in a vain endeavor to
gain some advantage of position. My cheek, I knew, was bleeding from
contact with a jagged stone, and I was fast growing faint from the
awful tension, when I felt his arms slip.

"My God!" he panted. "The devil has me!"

So startled was I by these English words, that I loosed my grip,
staring breathlessly through the darkness.

"Are you white?" I gasped, so weakened I could scarce articulate.

For a moment he did not answer, but I could hear his breath coming in
gasps and sobs. Then he spoke slowly, his voice hoarse from exertion.

"By the memory of Moses! I was once,--but that squeeze must have turned
me black, I'm thinkin'. An' ye're no Injun?"

"Not so much as a feather of one," I retorted. "But that is what I took
you to be."

We were both sitting up by this time, he with his back against the
bank, both of us panting as if we could never regain our breath, and
eagerly seeking to see each other's features in the gloom. Any attempt
at conversation was painful, but I managed at last to stammer:

"You must be a whalebone man, or I'd have broken every rib in your
body."

"An' I'm not a bit sure ye didn't," was the response, uttered between
puffs. "'Twas the worst grip ever Ol' Tom Burns had squeeze him,--an'
I've felt o' bars mor' nor oncet. Who may ye be, anyhow, stranger? an'
for what cause did ye jump down yere on me?"

There was a trace of growing anger in his tone, as remembrance of the
outrage returned to his mind, which caused me to smile, now that I
could breatheless painfully. It seemed such a ludicrous affair,--that
dark struggle, each mistaking the purpose and color of the other.

"My name is Wayland," I made haste to explain, "and I left the Fort
but now, hoping by this roundabout route to reach the Kinzie place
and return under cover of darkness. I slipped on the edge of the bank
up yonder, and the next thing I knew we were at it. I can assure you,
friend, I supposed myself in the arms of a savage. You say your name is
Burns?"

"Ol' Tom Burns."

"What? It is not possible you are the same who brought a message to
Major Wayland on the Maumee?"

"I reckon I am," he said, deliberately. "An' be you the boy I met?"

"Yes," I said, still doubtful. "But how came you here?"

"Wal, here's whar I belong. I've bin a sorter huntin' an' trappin'
yer'bouts fer goin' on nine year or so, an' I built a shanty to live
in up yonder by the forks. I hedn't much more nor got home frum down
east, when the Injuns burnt thet down; an' sence then I ain't bin much
o' nowhar, but I reckon'd I'd go inter ther Fort to-morrow and git some
grub."

He spoke with a slow, deliberate drawl, as if not much accustomed
to converse; and I pictured him to myself as one of those silent
plainsmen, so habituated to solitude as almost to shun companionship,
though he had already let drop a word or two that made me deem him one
not devoid of humor. Suddenly I thought of De Croix.

"Has any one passed here lately?" I asked, rising to my feet, the old
emulation throbbing in my veins. "A white man, I mean, going north."

"Wal," he answered slowly, and as he also stood up I could make out,
what I had not noted in our previous meeting, that he was as tall as
I, but spare of build; "I ain't seen nuthin', but some sort o' critter
went ploughin' down inter the gulch up yonder, maybe ten minutes 'fore
ye lit down yere on me. Dern if I know whether it were a human er a
bar!"

"Will you show me the nearest way to the Kinzie house?"

"I reckon I'll show ye all right, but ye bet ye don't git me nigher ner
a hundred foot o' the door," he returned seriously. "John Kinzie's a
mighty good man, stranger, but he an' Ol' Tom Burns ain't never hitched
worth a cent."

We climbed silently, and came out together upon the top. A slight
beam of light crept along through the open door of the log house just
in front of us, and for the first time I caught a fair view of my
companion. He was a tall, gaunt, wiry fellow, typical in dress and
manner of his class, the backwoodsmen of the Southwest, but with a
peculiarly solemn face, seamed with wrinkles, and much of it concealed
beneath a bushy, iron-gray beard. We eyed each other curiously.

"Dern if ever I expected ter meet up with ye agin in no sich way as
this," he said shortly. "But thet's the house. Be ye goin' ter stay
thar long?"

"No," I answered, feeling anxious to have his guidance back to the
Fort, "not over five minutes. Will you wait?"

"Reckon I may as well," and he seated himself on a stump.

No one greeted me at the house, not even a dog; though I could see
figures moving within. Either the occupants felt that an assumption of
confidence was their best security, or experienced no fear of Indian
treachery, for I rapped twice before there was any response. A young
girl, with a face of rare beauty and a pair of roguish black eyes,
peered out curiously. At sight of a stranger she drew back slightly,
yet paused to ask:

"Did you wish to see some one here?"

"I am seeking for a young girl," I answered, wondering if this could
possibly be she, "and they told me at the Fort I should probably find
her here. May I ask if you are Elsa Matherson?"

For a moment she looked out at me, as if I might be an escaped lunatic.
Then she turned her face over her shoulder toward those within.

"Mr. Kinzie," said she, "here's another man looking for Elsa
Matherson."



CHAPTER XV

AN ADVENTURE UNDERGROUND


A heavily-built man in shirt-sleeves, with a strong, good-humored face,
and a shock of gray hair, appeared beside the girl in the doorway.

"'Tis not the same scamp I that kissed you, Josette," he exclaimed,
after examining me intently in the dim light, "but I doubt not he may
prove of similar breed, and it behooves you to be careful where you
stand."

"Has De Croix been here?" I questioned, scarcely deeming it possible he
could have outstripped me in our race through the night.

"I know not the rascal's name," was the reply, in the man's deep voice,
"but certain I am there was one here scarce ten minutes agone asking
after this same Matherson girl. Saint James! but she must have made
some sweet acquaintances, judging from the looks of her callers!
Josette has been rubbing the fellow's kiss off her lips ever since he
caught her unawares."

"He was a dandified young fellow?" I urged, impatient to be off, yet
eager to be sure.

The girl laughed lightly, her roguish eyes ablaze with merriment.

"He might be sometime, Monsieur," she cried, evidently glad to talk,
"but to-night he reminded me of those scare-crows the farmers near
Quebec keep in their fields; a little chap, with a bit of turned-up
mustache, and a bright eye, but rags,--gracious, such rags as he wore!"

'Twas De Croix, there could be no doubt of it,--De Croix, torn and
dishevelled by his mad rush through the darkness, but with no shred
of his reckless audacity gone. There was naught left, me now but to
race back upon his trail, hopeful for some chance that might yet allow
me to come in first on the return journey. In my throat I swore one
thing,--the graceless villain should never collect his reward at both
ends of his journey. He had already stolen the sweets from Josette's
red lips, but he should never claim those of Mademoiselle. I lingered
for but a single question more.

"But this Elsa Matherson,--she is not here, then?"

"No," returned Mr. Kinzie, somewhat gruffly, "and has not been since
the closing of the gates of the Fort. I think you are a parcel of mad
fools, to be chasing around on such an errand; yet humanity leads me to
bid you come in. There is not a safe foot of ground to-night for any
strange white man within three hundred miles of Dearborn."

I glanced about me into the black shadows, startled at his solemn words
of warning. Away to the southward a faint glimmer told of the location
of the Fort; farther to the west, a sudden blaze swept up into the sky,
reflected in ruddy radiance on the clouds, and the thought came to
me that the savages had put torch to the deserted cabin on the south
branch of the river.

"No doubt 'tis true," I answered hastily; "yet, whatever the danger may
be, I must regain the stockade before dawn."

I saw him step forward, as if he would halt me in my purpose; but,
wishing to be detained no longer, my thoughts being all with De Croix
and Mademoiselle, I turned away quickly and plunged back into the
darkness.

"You young fool!" he called after me, "come back, or your life will be
the forfeit!"

Without so much as answering, I ran silently in my moccasins to the
spot where I had left Ol' Tom Burns. He sat upon his stump, motionless,
apparently without the slightest interest in anything going on about
him.

"Ol' Kinzie was gol-dern polite ter ye, sonny," he commented. "Reckon
if an Injun was a scalpin' me right on his front doorstep he'd never
hev asked me ter walk inside like that! He an' me sorter drew on each
other 'bout a year ago, down at Lee's shebang; an' he don't 'pear ter
fergit 'bout it."

"Show me the nearest safe passage to the Fort," I said, interrupting
him, almost rudely.

He got up slowly, and cast his eyes with deliberation southward.

"Oh, thar ain't no sich special hurry, I reckon," he answered with an
exasperating drawl. "We'll be thar long afore daylight,--perviding
allers we don't hit no Injuns meantime,--an' the slower we travel the
less chance thar is o' thet."

"But, friend Burns," I urged, "it is a racing matter. I must reach
there in advance of another man, who has already been here ahead of me."

"Sol sorter reckoned from what I heerd; but ye needn't rip the shirt
off ye on thet account. The feller can't git in thar till after
daylight, nohow. Them sojers is too blame skeered ter open the gates in
the dark, an' all the critter'll git if he tries it will be a volley o'
lead; so ye might just as well take it easylike."

The old man's philosophy seemed sound. De Croix would certainly not
gain admittance until he could make himself known to the guard, and,
carefully as the stockade was now patrolled, it was hardly probable he
would be permitted to approach close enough for identification during
the night. De Croix was no frontiersman, and was reckless to a degree;
yet his long training as a soldier would certainly teach him a measure
of caution in approaching a guarded fort at such a time.

"Tis doubtless true," I admitted, "yet I shall feel safer if we push on
at once."

"Ye called the feller De Croix, didn't ye?" he asked. "Is it the French
dandy as was at Hawkins's?"

"Yes," I answered, "and I guess you don't care much to help _him_."

Burns wasted no breath in reply, but moved forward with noiseless
step. Glancing back, I could clearly perceive Kinzie framed in the
light of his open door. The vivacious French lass stood beside him,
peering curiously out across his broad shoulders. Then we sank into the
blackness of the ravine, and everything was blotted from our sight.

Burns evidently knew the intricacies of the path leading to the Fort
gate, for I soon felt my feet upon a beaten track, and stumbled no
more over the various obstacles that rendered my former progress so
uncertain. My guide moved with excessive caution, as it seemed to
me, frequently pausing to peer forward into the almost impenetrable
darkness, and sniffing the night-air suspiciously as if hoping thus
to locate any lurking foes when his keen eyes failed in the attempt.
So dark was it that I had almost to tread upon his heels in order
to follow him, as not the slightest sound came from his stealthy
advance. As he surmounted the steeper inclines of land, I was able to
perceive him dimly, usually leaning well forward and moving with the
utmost caution, his long rifle held ready for instant use. As we drew
nearer the river,--or where I supposed the river must be, for I could
distinguish but little of our position,--he swerved from the footpath
we were following, and the way instantly grew rougher to our feet.

"Reckon we'd better hit the crick a bit below the Fort," he muttered,
over his shoulder; "less likely ter find Injuns waitin' fer us thar."

"You think there are savages on this shore?"

He turned partially, and peered at me through the darkness.

"I never heerd tell as Injuns was fools," he answered briefly. "In
course thar's some yere, an' we're almighty likely ter find 'em."

On the bank of the river, which I could see dimly by the faint light
of a star or two that had broken through the cloud-rifts, he paused
suddenly, sniffing the air like a pointer dog.

"The gol-dern fools!" he muttered, striking his rifle-butt on the
ground with an expression of disgust. "They've gone and done it now!"

"Done what?" I questioned, almost guessing his meaning as a pungent
odor assailed my nostrils. "That smells like rum!"

"'Tis rum. Dern if ever I see whar the A'mighty finds so many blame
idjits ter make sojers of! Them ar' fellers in the Fort wern't in tight
'nough pickle, with a thousand savages howlin' 'bout 'em, so they've
went an' poured all their liquor inter the river! If I know Injun
nature, it jist means the craziest lot o' redskins, whin they find it
out, ever was on these yere plains. I bet they make thet fool garrison
pay mighty big fer this job!"

"You mean the destruction of the liquor will anger them?"

"Anger? It'll drive 'em plum crazy,--they'll be ravin' maniacs! It's
the hope o' spoils thet's held 'em back so long. They've wanted the
Fort to be 'vacuated, so as they could plunder it,--thet's been the
song o' the chiefs to hold their young men from raisin' ha'r. But come,
sonny, thar's nothin' gained a-stayin' here, an' dern me if I want ter
meet any Injun with thet thar smell in the air. I don't swim no river
smellin' like thet one does. We'll hev ter go further up, I reckon, an'
cross over by the ol' agency buildin'."

We crept up the edge of the stream, keeping well in under the north
bank, and moving with the utmost caution, for the chances were strong
that this portion of the river would be closely watched by the
redskins. We met with no obstacle, however, nor were we apparently
even observed from the stockade, as we slowly passed its overhanging
shadow. I could distinguish clearly its dark outlines, even making out
a head or two moving above the palisades; but no hail of any kind rang
out across the intervening water, and we were soon beyond the upper
block-house, where a faint light yet shone. We could see the dim shape
of the two-story factory building, looking gloomy and deserted on the
south shore. Burns lay flat at the water's edge, studying the building
intently; and his extreme caution made me a bit nervous, although
I could scarcely determine why, for I had thus far marked not the
slightest sign of danger.

"I reckon we'll hev ter risk it," he said at length, as he bound his
powder-horn upon his head with a dark cloth. "Come right 'long arter
me, and don't make no splashin'."

He slipped off so silently that I scarcely knew he was gone, until I
missed the dark outline of his figure at my side. With all possible
caution, I followed him. The current was not strong, but I partially
faced it, and struck out with a long, steady stroke, so that my
progress, as nearly as I could judge, was almost directly across
the stream. Burns had been completely lost to my sight, although as
I looked along the slightly glistening water I could see for some
distance ahead. I remember a black log bearing silently down upon me,
and how I shrank from contact with it, fearful lest it might conceal
some human thing. Soon after it had swirled by, my feet touched the
shelving bank, and I crept cautiously up into the overhanging shadow.
Burns was there, and had already reconnoitred our position; for my
first knowledge of his presence came when he slowly lowered himself
down the bank until he lay close beside me.

"They're thar," he said, soberly. "Thought most likely they wud be."

"Indians?" I asked, doubtfully,--for I had an impression the factory
might be garrisoned by some of our own people.

"Sure; I heerd as how the sojers hed been drawed in, an' naturally
reckoned the Injuns wouldn't be over-long findin' it out. 'Nother fool
thing fer the sojers ter dew."

He paused, listening intently. In the silence, above the slight sound
of the running water, I felt sure I could distinguish voices speaking
not far distant.

"It's no place yere ter stay," he whispered, his lips close at my
ear. "Reckon best thing we kin dew now is to find one o' the sojers'
root-caves somewhar along the bank, an' crawl in thar till daylight.
The Injuns ain't so likely to bother us when the guards kin see 'em
from the Fort. They don't want no out-'n'-out fuss, to my notion, till
they kin git inter the stockade for good. Creep 'long yere with me,
sonny, an' 't won't be far till I find a hole somewhar thet'll hide us
fer awhile anyhow."

We crawled slowly along, snake-fashion, at the edge of the river, for
perhaps thirty feet, our movements hidden by the high and slightly
overhanging bank at our left. The night was so dark that Burns relied
more upon feeling than sight to guide him. At last he stopped suddenly.

"Here's one o' 'em," he said. "Crawl along in, sonny; thar's lots o'
room after ye go a foot er two."

It was the merest hole dug into the bank, roughly lined with irregular
bits of rock, which opened out into quite a cellar about a yard from
the surface. The air within felt somewhat chill and damp, as I put my
head cautiously down the narrow opening; but there seemed no cause for
fear, and I crept nimbly forward, feeling my way as I advanced along
the rude mud walls. I could hear Burns behind me on his hands and
knees, puffing slightly as he squeezed through the small aperture that
led into the larger chamber.

I had advanced perhaps two yards without reaching the end of this odd
underground apartment, when suddenly, and directly in my front, there
sounded a deep, hollow, unearthly groan. The sound was so terrifying
that I stopped with chilled blood and beating heart, gripping my
knife-hilt and peering forward into the dark as frightened as ever I
was in my life. I heard Burns gasp and half turn; then, before I could
move, even had I dared venture such a thing, an instantaneous flash lit
up the black interior. I caught one confused glimpse of a huge object,
topped with a head of tumbled hair, of two flapping wings stretching
out upon either side, and then the impenetrable curtain of the dark hid
everything once more. Sweat bathed me in cold drops; nor could I have
moved a limb to save my life. Behind me Burns was muttering what might
have been a prayer; when the thing groaned again, a hollow, awful moan,
thrilling with agony, that sent me grovelling upon my face as nearly
dead as one could well be and yet breathe and know.



CHAPTER XVI

"FRANCE WINS, MONSIEUR!"


For the moment, every muscle of my body seemed paralyzed. I distinctly
heard the creature moving in my direction, and I backed away violently,
actuated only by the thought of instant escape into the open air. But
Burns blocked the solitary passage.

"Back out of here, for God's sake!" I managed to exclaim through
parched lips. "That devil-thing is coming this way!"

He struggled desperately in the darkness, tugging madly at some
obstacle, an oath smothered on his lips. I waited and listened, every
nerve on edge.

"Dern it all, but I can't!" he groaned at last. "My blame ol' gun hes
got wedged, and won't give an inch."

Then a half-smothered laugh rippled out of the gloom just in front of
me.

"Heaven protect me, but it's Wayland!" came a voice, and the laughter
broke into a roar of merriment.

"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! This will be the death of me!"

The voice, choked and muffled as it was, sounded strangely hollow in
that dark cave; yet it had a familiar tone. So surprising was the
situation, that I could only stare into the black void, speechless. It
was Burns who realized the need of action.

"Whoever the dern fool is," he growled, his voice hoarse with anger,
"choke the wind out of him, or his blame howling will bring every Injun
on the river yere!"

"De Croix!" I exclaimed quickly, aroused to recollection by the
seriousness of the situation, "stop that infernal racket, or the two of
us will throttle you!"

He puffed and gurgled, striving his best to smother the sense of
ludicrousness that mastered him. To me there was small cause for
merriment; the supreme terror of those moments merged into hot anger
at the deception, and I crept forward eager to plant my hand upon the
rascal's throat.

"What French mockery is this?" I exclaimed, my hand hard upon his arm.
"Think you, Captain de Croix, that you can play such tricks in this
wilderness, and not be made to pay for them?"

I felt him tremble under my fierce grasp; yet it was not from fear,
for my words only served to loosen his laughter once more. Burns now
broke in, shoving the barrel of his long rifle forward over my shoulder
till he struck the Frenchman a blow that effectually silenced him.

"You chattering ape!" he said, growling like an angry bear, "another
yawp like that, and I'll blow a hole clean through you! Now, you French
ninny, tell us what this means, an' be quick about it if ye want ter
save yer hide!"

De Croix did not answer, but he ceased to laugh, and panted as if the
breath had been knocked out of him. Another impatient movement by Burns
led me to speak up hastily in his defence.

"Wait," I said, laying my grasp upon his gun, "he has no breath left
with which to make reply. 'Tis the French gallant who raced with me,
the same whom you met at Hawkins's Ford; and no doubt he felt good
reason to play the ghost here in this dark pit."

"Ay," panted De Croix painfully, "I truly thought the savages were
upon me, and sought to frighten them by the only means I could devise.
Sacre! but you hit me a sore blow in the ribs! If I have frightened
you, 'twas no worse than the terror that took me at your entrance here."

For a time none spoke, and no sound, save De Croix's labored breathing,
broke the silence. Burns had turned slightly, and I knew was listening
intently for any sound without. Apparently satisfied that the noise
made by us had not been overheard, he asked in his old deliberate drawl:

"How in thunder, Mister Parly-voo, did ye git up thet thar combination,
anyhow?"

I heard the Frenchman chuckle, and pinched him as a warning to be
careful. He answered, in his reckless, easy way:

"'Twas all simple enough behind the scenes, Messieurs. I but took some
old sacking discovered here, and used it as a robe, standing my hair
well on end; and a flash of powder made the scene most realistic. The
thing indeed worked well. I would I had a picture of Master Wayland's
face to show Toinette!"

This chance mention of her name recalled me to myself. The undecided
wager was yet to be won, and the night was now nearly spent. There came
to me a sudden determination to risk a rush through the darkness to the
Fort gates, rather than chance any further defeat at the hands of this
rash gallant. Yet prudence bade me question somewhat further before I
ventured upon so mad a deed.

"No doubt 'twas most happy from your point of view, Monsieur. From
ours, it was less so; and instead of laughing, you might better be
thanking your lucky stars that you did not pay more dearly for such
folly. But what brought you here? Why have you failed to reach the
stockade?"

_"Sacre!"_ he muttered carelessly, "but I had a fierce enough run for
it as it was. Why did I not reach the stockade? Because, my friend, I
am no real ghost to be invisible in the night, nor am I a bird to fly.
'Twas in the shadow of that big building yonder that I ran into a nest
of those copper-colored fiends, and 'twas nip and tuck which of us won,
had I not, by pure good luck, chanced to stumble into this hole, and so
escape them. Perchance they also thought me a ghost, who knows? But, be
that as it may, they were beating the river bank for me in the flesh,
when you came creeping here."

We lay flat on the floor, the three of us, our eyes fastened upon the
faint light that began to stream in through the entrance. I could hear
Burns muttering to himself, as is often the way with men who lead lives
of solitude; and every now and then De Croix would shake silently at
the recollection of what had just occurred. I minded neither of them,
but chiefly planned how best I might outwit De Croix and win the prize
offered by Mademoiselle. The promise of dawning day was in the outer
air, too dim as yet to render our faces visible. Suddenly the slight
draft of air veered, and swept a tiny breath of smoke into my nostrils.
It came so quickly that I scarcely realized its significance until
Burns scrambled to his knees with a growl.

"God! the devils have run us to cover!" he cried, sullenly. "They have
started a fire to smoke us out!"

It hardly needed a moment to prove this true; the thin smoke grew more
and more dense, filling the narrow entrance until we lay gasping for
breath. De Croix, ever the most impulsive, was the first to act.

_"Parbleu!"_ he gasped, pulling himself forward with his hands. "Better
Indians than this foul air! If I die, it shall at least be in the open."

To remain longer cooped in that foul hole was indeed madness; and
as soon as I could I followed him, rolling out of the entrance to
the water's edge, fairly sick with the pressure upon my lungs, and
caring so little what the end might be, provided I might first attain
one breath of pure air, that before I gained strength to resist I
was prisoner to as ill-looking a crew of savages as ever my eyes
encountered. The villains triced us firmly with thongs of skin, and
sat us up against the bank like so many puppets, dancing about before
us, snapping their dirty fingers in our faces, and treating us to all
manner of taunts and insults. 'Twas done so quickly as to seem a dream,
had I not smarted so sorely from the blows dealt me, and my limbs
chafed where the tight cords were drawn.

I recall glancing aside at Burns; but his seamed and puckered face
remained emotionless, as the red devils rolled him over till he stared
straight up at the sky, now gray with coming dawn. The sight of De
Croix almost set me laughing, which won for me a kick from the brute
who had me in special charge. The Frenchman was surely no court dandy
now; his fancy clothing clung to him in rags, while the powder-flash
within the cellar had blackened his face and made sad havoc with his
gay mustache. He endeavored to smile at me as our eyes met, but the
effort produced only what seemed like a demoniac grin.

"'Tis a hard life, Monsieur," I could not forbear remarking, "and will
hardly remind you of Versailles."

His form stiffened in its bonds, as if the words spurred his memory of
other days.

"A French soldier smiles at fate, wherever it overtakes him," he
answered, a touch of pride in his voice. "Besides, the game is not
played out,--I may yet prove the first one in. But see! if I mistake
not, here comes the chief of all these devils."

The new-comer strode down the high bank alone, and was greeted noisily
by our captors. It was the same Indian that had halted Captain Wells
the day previous; and he looked us over with a contemptuous sneer that
curled his lips and transformed the whole expression of his hideously
painted face. I noted that he paid but small heed to either De Croix
or myself, contenting his vengeance with sharp kicks at our prostrate
bodies; but as he came to Burns, he paused, bending down till he could
peer into the old borderer's upturned face.

"Bah! I know you," he said, brokenly. "You Ol' Burns. Stake down in
village for you."

The old man neither moved his head nor gave the slightest sign that he
had heard.

"Squaw eat heart," went on the Indian, prodding him with his stick;
"feed bones to dog. All white men go that way now,--Ol' Burns first."

"Topenebe," was the quiet reply, as the victim rolled over until he
half-sat against the bank, "I had the pleasure o' kickin' ye once down
on the Kankakee, an' should be mighty glad ter do it agin. I reckon as
how ye don't feel over friendly ter me, but ye're simply wastin' yer
breath tauntin' me. Any time yer derned old fire is hot, I'm ready to
dance."

These calm words angered the warrior, and he spat at him; then he
turned and grunted an order in his own language. With blows of their
sticks the Indians got us on our feet; but when they sought to drive
us up the steep bank to the prairie, Ol' Burns balked and absolutely
refused to move.

"Not one dern step, Topenebe," he swore grimly, "with these yere
things on my legs. I'm no pony ter be hobbled, an' blame if I'll jump
'long fer any red skin. Ye kin carry me, if ye ain't too lazy; but, by
thunder! thar'll be no walkin' till ye cut them bonds."

Blows, curses, and threats failed alike to budge the old man. He simply
sat down and smiled grimly at them; and we followed his example,
dimly perceiving there must be a purpose in it. Sheer obstinacy wins
many a battle, and when we went up the bank our lower limbs were
free, although to my mind we were as hopelessly bound as ever. Not so
with Burns. I chanced to press close to him, as we came out upon the
prairie, and he muttered a quick word into my ear.

"See how they herd us in the shade of the Agency! They are not yet
ready to let the sojers know whut they're re'lly up to. Not an Injun
will go beyond thet line long enough to be seen. Be ready to run fer it
as soon as I say 'Go,' an' tell the Frenchman."

I succeeded in making De Croix understand, by means of the mongrel
French at my command, which seemed not to be intelligible to the
savages; and we moved forward at as slow a gait as our vigilant guards
permitted, with every muscle tense for the coming strain. We were
bunched together, with no pretence of order on the part of our captors;
indeed, they seemed to be of various minds over what was to be done
with us, though Topenebe exercised sufficient control over his mongrel
followers to compel at least partial obedience to his orders. We
tramped along to the west of the factory, the walls of which shut off
all view of the Fort, a half-dozen of the savages about us, while the
chief stalked on a few feet in advance.

We had almost reached the southwestern corner of the big Agency
building, and Topenebe had already taken a step to the right, carefully
keeping the log-walls as a protection between our movements and the
eyes of the garrison, when Burns, shaking off the Indians nearest him,
bounded suddenly forward and struck Topenebe with his head, hurling the
fellow by his side over backward as he passed.

"Run for the gate!" he yelled.

Like an arrow from the bow, I shot around the Agency corner, and raced
for the stockade, De Croix, running like a deer, barely a foot behind
me. I never dreamed, in that moment of intense action, that Burns was
not also coming,--that he had deliberately sacrificed himself in order
to hold back the savages and give us the better chance for life. Behind
arose the sound of struggle, but there was no indication of pursuit,
and as I rounded the end of the stockade the lower gate swung open
just before me and I glanced back, half pausing as I realized the old
borderer had not followed us; then some one tripped me, and I fell
headlong. With a sudden rush, De Croix swept by.

"France wins, Monsieur!" he cried back in mocking triumph, as I
staggered to my knees.



CHAPTER XVII

A CONTEST OF WITS


Though I was never of hasty or violent temper, it was quite as well
that I failed to gain a sight of De Croix as I passed the posts and
the sentry clanged the gate behind me. The Frenchman's scurvy trick
would have heated cooler blood than mine; nor was my spirit soothed by
the harsh fall I suffered. But De Croix had not waited; nowhere along
the bare sunlit parade was he visible. I saw nothing but a squad of
grinning soldiers lounging beside the barracks, until Captain Wells,
issuing from the guard-house door, caught sight of me and came forward.

"Back, are you, Master Wayland?" he said gruffly, and 'twas easy to see
he did not approve of my escapade. "I scarcely thought to see you here
again with so full a head of hair, after I learned of your mad wager.
Providence must indeed take special care of fools. Have the redskins
captured our French friend?"

"He entered a step in my advance."

A gleam of amusement played over his swarthy face.

"Ah, and so you let him win!" he exclaimed; "he, a mere voyager from
the courts, unused to forest play! Such remissness deserves the
guard-house, at the very least. Come, how happened it that this gay
sprig outfooted you?"

"'Twas but a trick," I retorted, aroused by these contemptuous words,
"and one I shall make him pay well for. But I pray you cut these bands
and set me free."

I think he had not noticed them before; but now, as he quickly drew his
knife across the deer-skin thongs, his whole expression changed.

"'Tis Indian tying," he said earnestly; "you have been in the hands of
the savages?"

"Ay!" and the memory of it instantly brought back the recollection of
the sacrifice that had won us our freedom. "There were three of us
taken at daylight on the river bank, beyond the factory building. De
Croix and I escaped through the efforts of one who is still a prisoner,
and marked for torture."

Many were gathering about us by this time, anxious to learn whatever
news I brought from without; but it was Captain Heald himself who now
pushed his way through the throng until he fronted me.

"Who was it?" he asked, sharply. "We have lost no men!"

"His name is Burns, sir. I ran across him just back of the Kinzie
house."

"Burns? Ol' Tom Burns?"

"Yes, sir."

Heald laughed, a look of evident relief on his haggard features.

"We shall not have to worry much as to his fate," he said, turning
toward Wells. "You remember the fellow, William? He was one of Mad
Anthony's scouts, and came west with you in 1803 when you first held
council here."

The other nodded, a twinkle of pleasant recollection in his eyes.
"Remember him?" he repeated. "I am not likely ever to forget him.
He it was who brought me your message at Fort Wayne a month ago. My
sympathies in this case are entirely with the Indians. There are likely
to be things happening when Ol' Tom is around, unless he has lost
his versatility and nerve in recent years. Come, my lad, give us the
details of the story, for it must be worth the hearing if Ol' Burns
played a leading part. He is as full of tricks as a dog of fleas."

I repeated the story briefly, for I was now eager to be away before
De Croix could dress and claim his wager. I knew well the conceited
coxcomb would never seek the presence of Mademoiselle until he had shed
the rags he wore on entering the Fort. I remember yet that throng of
faces, anxious yet amused, peering over each other's shoulders to get
a better view of me as I talked, and constantly augmented as the word
passed quickly about the garrison that we had safely returned from our
midnight adventures.

"You will send aid to him?" I questioned, as I concluded, my eyes fixed
appealingly upon Captain Heald.

"Not I," was the prompt and decisive rejoinder. "No soldier of
this command shall leave the stockade until the hour for our final
departure. The fellow had a chance to come in here with the others
before the gates were closed, but was obstinate as a mule, and must now
take the consequences. But you need not worry about Ol' Tom, my boy;
he'll circumvent those red devils in some way, you may rest assured,
nor would he even thank us for interference. I have no force with which
to control the horde of savages that surround us here. A clash of arms
would be their excuse for immediate attack, and might mean death and
torture to the whole garrison. Our only hope lies in being permitted
to pass out without armed collision; and to do this requires that we
ignore such hidden deeds. 'Twas a mad prank of yours last night, and
might have involved us all in common ruin. Go this time free, except
for these words of censure; for you are not directly under my orders.
Another such attempt, subversive of all discipline, and the gates of
Dearborn will be closed against you."

These harsh expressions stung me, but I felt them in a measure merited,
and made no reply.

"'Twas but the act of a boy, Heald," interposed Wells kindly, resting
his hand upon my shoulder, "and you will find the lad well worth having
when time of trial comes."

I slipped away through an opening in the curious throng, and hastened
across the open parade toward the mess-room. I felt dust-covered and
bruised from my rough experiences, and hoped to discover opportunities
for a bath. The building called the mess-room was long, running nearly
half the length of the stockade, built like the others of logs, two
stories in height, and containing a number of rooms. The single flight
of stairs, opening just within the porch, was exceedingly rude, and
built without any protecting rail. I hesitated a moment when fairly
within the entrance, scarce knowing which way to turn in search of what
I sought; but as I waited there, a light step sounded upon the bare
floor above, and glancing up, with quickened beat of the heart, my eyes
caught the soft drapery of a woman as she stepped on the upper stair.

I could scarcely have retreated had I wished to do so, though I
realized instantly who it was, and drew back against the wall, so that
she came down, singing lightly to herself, without noticing my presence
until we were face to face. It was a picture to touch the heart of
any man, and abide forever in the memory. I saw the sunlight as it
streamed through an upper window along the rough log wall and flecked
her white dress with ever-changing spots of quivering gold, and, as she
drew nearer to my standing-place, played softly amid the masses of her
dark-brown hair, giving it a tinge of glory. How daintily fair she was!
how archly sweet looked the clear girlish face under the coquettish
sweep of the broad hat! and with what unconscious grace she moved down
the rude stairway, one white hand steadying her against the brown logs,
the other gathering her draperies so close that I could not be blind to
the daintily slippered foot that shyly peeped below the petticoat of
ruffled silk. I may not have loved her then as I learned to do in later
days, but my heart throbbed riotously at her presence, and I stood
forgetful of all else.

As she turned aside at the foot of the stairs, she saw me, and the
color deserted her face, only to return instantly in deeper volume,
while her tell-tale eyes hid themselves behind long lashes.

"And are you indeed returned, Master Wayland?" she asked quickly,
conquering her first emotion with a proud uplifting of her head. "You
surprised me greatly. I think I first mistook you for a ghost come
back to haunt me for having despatched you on so perilous a quest. You
cannot know how I have been scolded for doing such a thing; yet surely
you would have gone, even if I had failed to encourage it."

"Perhaps so, Mademoiselle," I answered, hoping I might lead her to
speak with greater seriousness; "but it was the hope of the reward that
spurred me forward."

"Ah, of course," she said deliberately ignoring her own offer, and with
a reckless toss of her head, "you sought a fair girl for whose sake
you have travelled far. Pray tell me, Monsieur,--I am so curious to
know,--do you truly think Josette fairer than I?"

She spoke so lightly, smiling softly into my eyes, that I hardly
detected the faint tinge of regretful sarcasm in her low voice.

"Josette, you ask me? Why, Josette is indeed a most charming girl,
Mademoiselle; but to my mind there can be no comparison between her and
you, for you are the fairest woman I have ever known."

Her dark eyes were full upon me, and I saw her parted lips move as if
she would speak. But no words came, and we stood there silent except
for the nervous tapping of her foot against the floor. Her look of
seriousness changed into a smile.

"By my faith, but you pay compliments with so grave a countenance,
Monsieur, that I hardly know how to receive them. Most men whisper such
things with a light laugh, or a twinkle of the eye, and I know their
words to be empty as bubbles of air. But you, why, you almost make me
feel you are in earnest."

"And I am," I interrupted, longing to seize her hand as I knew De
Croix would have done, and pour forth the words that burnt upon my
lips. "I have not been privileged to see much of the great outside
world, Mademoiselle,--the world of courts and cities,--nor do I know
how lovely its women may be; but no ideal formed in dreams satisfies
me as you do. I know naught of idle compliments, nor the graces of a
courtier; but my words are from the heart."

"I do truly believe and trust you, John Wayland," and she gave me
her hand. "But let us talk of this no longer. My vanity is already
more than satisfied by your frank and honest speech. And so you found
Josette?"

"Yes," I answered, scarce noting what it was I said, so puzzled was I
by her quick retreat.

"And that meeting, perchance, was so pleasant that it has taken your
thought from all else? It must indeed be so, or why is it that Master
Wayland doth not claim of me the stake of the wager?"

"Because," I stammered, greatly embarrassed by her roguish questioning
eyes, "I fear it has not been fairly won."

"Not fairly won?" she echoed, puzzled by my tone and manner. "Surely
you have made the trip, and the terms were plain. Really, Monsieur, you
do not think I would withhold so small a reward from the winner?"

"But there was another,--the prize was destined for him who came back
first."

"And has Captain de Croix returned also?"

"We arrived together, Mademoiselle, but it was his good fortune to be
earliest through the gate."

'Twas good to see how her face lit up with the amusement this reply
afforded her.

"Pish! but you are in truth the most marvellous man I ever knew. 'Tis
good to meet with such open honesty; and when did maid ever have before
so unselfish a cavalier to do her honor? Monsieur, I greatly doubt if
Captain de Croix will prove so thoughtful when his hour comes."

"You are right, Toinette," broke in a voice at my back. "I know not
what Master Wayland may be yielding up so easily, but, like the Shylock
of your William Shakespeare, I am here to claim my pound of flesh."

I wheeled and faced him, standing firmly between his approach and the
girl, my blood instantly boiling at the familiar sound of that drawling
voice.

"I have refused to accept from Mademoiselle what I had not fairly
earned," I said, with quiet emphasis, "and so, no doubt, will you."

There was that about my words and action that astonished him, and for
the moment his old audacity was gone as he swept a puzzled glance
over our faces. I have often reflected upon the contrast we must have
presented to her sight as we stood there,--for De Croix had donned his
best attire, and was once again resplendent in frills and ribbons, with
heavily powdered hair.

"Oh, most certainly, what I have not earned," he said at length, "but
the kiss promised is surely mine by every right, as I was the first in."

"'Twas done by a most scurvy trick."

"Poof! what of that? 'Tis the same whether the goal be won by wit and
strategy, or mere fleetness of foot. Toinette will make no such fine
distinction, I warrant you."

"Mademoiselle," and I turned toward the smiling girl, who seemingly
enjoyed our interchange of compliments, "what may have been your
understanding of this wager?"

"Why," she answered slowly, endeavoring to recall the details to mind,
"Captain de Croix declared he would willingly make the trip for a touch
of rosy lips, and In a spirit of venture I promised that whichever of
you two first completed the journey and returned here should obtain
such reward."

"There, 'tis plain enough," he cried, stroking his mustache
complacently, "and I have won."

"Most surely you have," I retorted, "and the reward has already been
given you."

"Been given?" she questioned, "and by whom?"

"The girl Josette."

She looked from the one to the other of us, puzzled for a brief moment
at the odd situation. Then, as her eyes settled upon De Croix's flushed
and angry face, she laughed gaily, even as she daintily drew aside her
skirts to pass us by.

"Pish, Monsieur!" she cried, shaking her finger at him, "I doubt it
not. No, you need not deny it, for 'tis but one of your old-time
tricks, as I knew them well at Montreal. 'Twould be no more than
right were I even now to reward Master Wayland, for he hath truly won
it,--yet for that I will delay awhile."

And with a flash of her dark eyes that held us speechless, she was
gone.



CHAPTER XVIII

GLIMPSES OF DANGER


If any trace of anger held place in my heart, it utterly vanished
as I noted the bewildered surprise with which De Croix gazed after
Mademoiselle's departing figure.

_"Sacre!"_ he exclaimed presently, turning toward I me, his face
flushed, and forgetful of all his well-practised graces. "'Twas an
unworthy trick, Master Wayland, and one I am not likely to forget."

"'Twas a moment ago," I answered, in great good-humor at his
discomfiture, "that you claimed wit was as important a factor as
fleetness of foot in the winning of a race. I did no more than
illustrate your theory, Monsieur."

The humor of it failed to touch him, and there was a direct menace in
his manner which caused me to fall back a step in the narrow passage
and front him warily.

"No boor of the woods shall laugh at me!" he exclaimed, his eyes aflame
with passion, "be the cause love or war. What mean all these sly tricks
of speech and action?--this hurried message to the ear of Mademoiselle?
By my faith, you did not even pause to wash the dust from off your face
before you sought her company. 'Tis strange such intimacy could spring
up between you in so short a time! But mark you this, Master Wayland,
once and for all; I have not voyaged here from Montreal to be balked
in my plans by the interference of an uncouth adventurer. I give you
now fair warning that if you ever step again between Toinette and me,
naught but the decision of steel shall end our quarrel."

That he was indeed in deadly earnest, and indulged in no vain threat,
I well knew; his passion was too strongly painted on his face. My own
temper rose in turn.

"I hear your words, Monsieur," I returned coldly, "and care no more
for them than for a child's idle boasting. There is naught between
Mademoiselle and me that the whole world might not know. We are good
friends enough, but if by any chance love should be born from that
friendship, no French gallant, though he sport a dozen swords, shall
come between us. Win her if you can by reckless audacity and lavishness
of perfume, but dream not to frighten me away from her presence by the
mutterings of bravado. I am the son of a soldier, Monsieur, and have
myself borne arms in battle."

"You will fight, then?"

"With pleasure, whenever the occasion arises," I replied slowly,
struggling hard to keep back more bitter words. "But I see none at
present, and, if I mistake not, all our skill at arms will soon be
needed to save this girl, as well as ourselves, from savage hands."

I know not how we would have parted, for 'twas evidently his wish to
goad me on to fight; and there are times when passion overwhelms us
all. But at that moment I heard the soft rustle of a dress, and wheeled
to face the fair young wife of Lieutenant Helm. It was plain she had
been weeping; but De Croix, ever quicker than I in such matters, was
first to accost her in words of courtesy. A pretty face to him was
instant inspiration.

"We bow to you, Madame," he exclaimed with excessive gallantry, doffing
his hat till it swept the stairs; "your corning makes the very sunshine
a brighter gold."

"I trust it may bring peace as well," she answered, striving to smile
back at him, although trouble yet shadowed her sweet face; "surely my
ears caught the sound of harsh words."

"A slight misunderstanding, which will hardly grow to any serious end,"
he protested.

"I trust not, gentlemen, for the time is come when we women at
Dearborn surely need you all to protect us. Our case already appears
desperate."

"Has something new occurred," I questioned anxiously, "that makes you
more alarmed?"

Her eyes, grown strangely serious once more, swept our faces.

"You may neither of you comprehend this in its full meaning as clearly
as I do," she returned gravely, "for I am frontier-bred, and have known
the Indian character from childhood. We have long been acquainted, in
my father's family, with many of the chiefs and warriors now encamped
around us. We have traded in their villages, lived with them in their
smoke-stained tepees on the great plains, and trusted them as they
showed faith in us. You, I learn," and she looked at me more intently,
"were at my father's house no later than last night. In spite of rumors
of war and tightly guarded Fort gates, you found his door wide open
to whosoever might approach, with never a dog to bark at an intruder,
be he white or red. This is because the Silver-man has always dealt
fairly with the Indian, and won his respect and gratitude in return.
Now, in time of peril this trader dares to believe in their good faith
toward him and his. 'Tis because of this I know so well all that is
going on without, and have been able to inform Captain Heald of much
his scouts were unable to discover. From the first there have been
two factions among the savages gathered yonder; and whether we live
or die may depend upon which counsel prevails among them that of
peace or that of war. Until within an hour I have hoped it might be
peace,--that the older chiefs would hold their young men in control,
and the red wampum be not seen at Dearborn. Twenty minutes ago one of
the noblest advocates of peace,--a Pottawattomie warrior named Black
Partridge,--sought interview with Captain Heald, and his words have
shown me how desperate indeed has our situation become."

"He threatened?" broke in De Croix, his hand upon his sword-hilt.

"Nay, Monsieur, 'tis not the way of an Indian, nor is Black Partridge
one to indulge in vain words. I have known him long; in childhood I
sat upon his knee, and believe him so friendly to the whites that
naught but a sense of duty could move him otherwise. Yet, as I say,
he came just now to the commandant of this garrison, and returned a
medal once given him by the government. It was done sadly, and with
deep regret,--for I overheard his speech. He said: 'Father, I come to
deliver up to you the medal I wear. It was given me by the Americans,
and I have long worn it in token of our mutual friendship. Our young
men are resolved to imbue their hands in the blood of the whites. I
cannot restrain them, and I will not wear a token of peace while I am
compelled to act as an enemy.'"

She stopped, her agitated face buried in her hands, and neither of us
spoke. The solemnity of her words and manner were most impressive.

"You feel, then, that the die is cast?" asked De Croix, all lightness
vanished from his voice.

"I believe we march forth from these walls to our death to-morrow."

"But why," I protested, "should you, at least, take part in such
hazard? Your father's family, you tell us, will be safe from attack.
Surely, that home might also prove your refuge?"

The little woman, with the face of a girl, looked up at me indignantly
through her tears.

"Lieutenant Helm marches with the troops," she answered quietly, "and I
am his wife."

I retain no memory, at this late day, of what conversation followed. I
know that De Croix in his easy carelessness about the future, sought
to laugh at her fears and restore a feeling of hopefulness; but all
my thoughts were elsewhere, upon the grave dilemma in which we found
ourselves, and my duty to these helpless ones upon every side.

I must have left the two standing there and conversing, though just
how I moved, and why, is dim to me. I recall crossing the bare parade,
and noting the company that formed the little garrison drawn up in the
shadow of the south stockade. At any other time I should have paused in
interest, for military evolutions always attracted my attention; but
then I had no sense other than that of mental and physical exhaustion
from the hours of toil and lack of rest. Owing to my absence the night
before, no quarters had been assigned me; but finding the barracks of
the troops unoccupied, and yielding to imperative need, I flung myself,
without undressing, upon a vacant bunk, and lay there tossing with the
burden of intense fatigue.

And then how the thoughts I sought to banish thronged upon me! No
effort of my will could shut them out. I went over again and again the
quarrel with De Croix, the incidents of the night, the solemn words
of Mrs. Helm. Little by little, each detail clear and absolute, there
unrolled before my mind's view the picture of our situation. I saw
it as a frontiersman must, in all its grim probabilities. The little
isolated Fort was cut off from all communication, held by a weakened
garrison. Hope of rescue there was none. Without were already gathered
hundreds of warriors attracted by rumors of war and promise of pillage;
and these were growing in number and increasing in ferocity each day.
I had ridden through them once, when their mood was only to annoy, and
realized with a shudder of horror what it would mean to face them in
our retreat, with all restraint of their chiefs removed. I thought of
those long leagues of tangled forest-land stretching between us and the
nearest border settlements, of ambuscades, of constant and harassing
attack on the ever-thinning column as we fought for each foot of the
way. Once my mind dwelt for an instant upon the quiet home I had left
on the banks of the Maumee; as my eyes filled at the memory I drove
it from me, for the present necessity was all too stern to permit
indulgence in such weakness.

'Twas of the women and children I thought most, and their probable
fate if we failed to win a passage. The half-framed thought of such a
possibility made my heart throb with dread apprehension, as I set my
lips together in firm resolve. What had become of Roger Matherson's
orphan child? 'Twas indeed strange that I could gain no trace of
the little girl. At the Fort they said she was with the Kinzies,
at Kinzies' they told me she was at the Fort. It was, as Seth had
prophesied, like seeking after a will-o'-the-wisp; yet surely she must
be in the flesh somewhere. My plain duty was to find her at once; and
I resolved to take up the task anew that day, and question every one
I met till some trace yielded to my persistency. However, I needed
first to sleep; but as I resolutely closed my eyes, there came gliding
into my memory another face,--an arch, happy face, with softly rounded
cheeks and dark laughing eyes, a face that mirrored a hundred moods,
and back of them all a sweet womanly tenderness to make every mood
a new and rare delight. Toinette! never before was woman's name so
pleasant to my lips. Ignorant as I was in mysteries of the heart,
I knew not clearly whether I loved her, though this I knew beyond
cavil,--no savage hand should ever touch her while I lived; and if I
had to fight each step of the path from that accursed spot to Wayne, I
swore within my heart she should come safe through. Her gentle memory
was with me when all the rest yielded to the drowsy god, and in sheer
exhaustion I slept--to dream.



CHAPTER XIX



A CONFERENCE AND A RESOLVE


"To my mind, the risk would be extreme; and I greatly doubt the wisdom
of the step."

"But, William, what other alternative offers us any hope?"

"I confess I know not, for your last mistake has greatly aggravated the
situation."

I sat up hastily, for seemingly these words were spoken at the very
side of the bunk on which I lay. As I glanced about me I saw the room
was vacant; so I knew the conference thus accidentally overheard must
be taking place in an adjoining apartment. I was thoroughly awake when
Captain Heald's voice spoke again.

"You say a mistake,--what mistake?" he questioned, as though aggrieved.
"I have done no more than simply obey the orders of my superior
officer."

"That may be true," broke in the gentler tones of Lieutenant Helm, "but
of that we are unable to judge, for not one of your officers has been
privileged to see those orders."

"You shall see them now. If I have been remiss in taking you into my
confidence in these grave matters, it has been because of certain
malcontents in the garrison with whom I hesitated to confer."

There was a rustle of paper, and Heald read slowly. I failed to
distinguish the opening words, but as he reached the more important
portion of the document his utterance grew deeper, and I heard
distinctly this sentence:

  "Evacuate the post if practicable, and in that event distribute the
  property belonging to the United States in the Fort, and in the
  factory or agency, to the Indians in the neighborhood."

There was a pause as he concluded. Captain Wells spoke first.

"To my mind, these orders are not positive, and leave much to your
discretion. Who brought the message, and when?"

"A Wyandot named Winnemeg. He reached here on the ninth."

"I have heard the name, and believe him worthy of confidence. Did you
advise with him?"

[Illustration: "There was a rustle of paper, and Heald read slowly:
'Evacuate the post if practicable.'"]

"Ay! Though he had no oral message from General Hull, he counselled
immediate evacuation. I also felt such action to be wise; but things
were in such condition within the Fort,--so large a number of helpless
women and children to be provided for, and so heavy a proportion of
the garrison on the sick-list,--that I found it impossible to act
promptly. The Indians gathered so rapidly without, and assumed so
hostile a manner, that I thought it suicidal to attempt a march through
the wilderness, encumbered as we should be, without some positive
understanding with their chiefs."

"I can easily comprehend all this, and that you have sought to act for
the best," was Wells's comment; "but I fail to realize how you hoped to
appease those same Indians by the wanton destruction last night of the
liquor thrown into the river. It was done in direct opposition to the
orders you have just read, and is bound to increase the hatred of the
savages. You may be sure they are not ignorant of the contents of your
despatch, and must resent the destruction of property they consider
their own."

"'Twas done upon the advice of two of their leading chiefs."

"Indeed! Which two?"

"Topenebe and Little Sauk."

"The two biggest devils in that whole Pottawattomie camp, and the head
and front of their war-party! Their purpose is clear enough to my mind,
and seamed with treachery. Well, Heald, from my knowledge of Indian
nature I must say that whoever goes forth now to confer with yonder
redskins has a desperate mission; but if you are still determined upon
such a conference, I will take my chances with you. 'Tis given unto man
but once to die."

"No, William," replied Captain Heald, with more firmness. "It is your
part to remain here in protection of your niece, my wife; and if my own
officers refuse to volunteer in this service, I shall go forth alone to
meet the chiefs. It is my duty as commandant."

"Two of your officers are here," said Wells, "and they can probably
answer for themselves. Ensign Ronan is not present."

"He is acting as officer of the day," returned Heald, somewhat stiffly,
"and is therefore not eligible for such service. Perhaps one of the
officers here present possesses courage enough for the venture?"

Apparently neither cared to express himself, after such an insinuation.
At last one, whose voice I recognized as that of Surgeon Van Voorhis,
gave utterance to his refusal.

"As the only medical officer of the garrison, I feel justified in
declining to go upon so desperate an expedition," he said gravely. "It
would expose not only my own life to unnecessary peril, but the lives
of many others as well."

"And what say you, Lieutenant Helm? Have you also personal scruples?"

I could detect a tremor in the younger officer's voice, as he answered
promptly.

"Captain Heald has before this seen me in time of danger," he said
quietly, "and can have no reason for ascribing cowardice to me. But
I will frankly say this, sir, and with all respect to my commanding
officer, I believe such conference as now proposed with the hostile
Indians yonder, at this late day, to be perfectly useless, and that
every hour's delay since the receipt of orders to evacuate the post has
only tended to increase our danger and lessen our hope of escape. I
feel now that our only chance of safety lies in defending this stockade
against attack until a rescue party from the East can reach us. I have
a young wife among the women of this garrison; to her I owe allegiance,
as well as to the flag I serve. Feeling as I do, Captain Heald, as a
soldier I will obey any command you give, and will go forth upon this
mission if ordered to do so, either in your company or alone; but I
cannot volunteer for such service. I believe it to be foolhardy, and
that whoever undertakes it goes forth to almost certain death."

"Then I shall go alone," said Heald, sternly; "nor do I look forward to
any such disastrous ending to so open a mission of peace."

"Wait," broke in Wells, impulsively. "I have a final suggestion to
make, if you are resolved to go. There rode in my party hither a
rattle-brained gallant, bearing a French commission, who ought to
prove sufficiently reckless to lend you his companionship. Faith! but
I think it may well suit the fellow. Be sides, if he wore his French
uniform it might have weight with the reds."

"Who is he?" asked Heald, doubtfully. "I seem not to have memory of
him."

"He calls himself Captain Villiers de Croix, and holds commission in
the Emperor's Guard."

Scarcely were the words spoken when I was on my feet, all vestige of
sleep gone from my eyes. De Croix was hardly a friend of mine, since
late developments, but he had been my comrade for many a league of hard
forest travel, and I was unwilling to have him carelessly sacrificed
in a venture regarding the danger of which he knew nothing. Besides,
I counted on his sword to aid in the defence of Mademoiselle. I
understood thoroughly the desperate chances of Indian treachery that
lay before such a commission as was now proposed. It was rash in the
extreme; and only the terrors of our position could sanction such an
experiment. The savages that hemmed us in were already in an ugly
mood, and fully conscious of their power. To go forth to them, unarmed
and uninvited, as Captain Heald coolly proposed doing, was to walk
open-eyed into a trap which treachery might snap shut at any time. It
was not my purpose to halt De Croix, nor to stand between him and any
adventure he might choose to undertake; but I could at least warn him,
in a friendly spirit, of the imminent danger such a thing involved.

With this thought in mind, I ran hastily across the open parade into
the officers' mess-hall, hoping I might find him loitering there. To my
hasty glance, the place appeared deserted; and I drew back, wondering
where to turn next in search. As I hesitated on the threshold, the low
voice of Mademoiselle fell upon my ear; and at that moment she emerged
from behind the curtain which divided the officers' quarters.

"May I hope you are seeking me?" she asked, graciously; "for it has
been most lonely here all day, even Captain de Croix seems to have
forgotten my existence."

"It was De Croix I sought," I answered, somewhat nettled by her prompt
reference to him; "and doubtless you are well able to give me trace of
him."

She studied me keenly, marking an angry note in my voice that I sought
vainly to disguise.

"Forever a quarrel?" she said, regretfully. "Do you know, Master
Wayland, I had thought better of you. Surely it is not your nature to
be a brawler, and always seeking opportunity to show the strong hand!
What has Captain de Croix done now to make you seek him so vengefully?"

"'Tis not in quarrel," I explained,--I fear with ill grace, for her
words in his defence were little inclined to mollify me. "You may
indeed have so poor conception of me as to misinterpret my coming; yet
in truth I seek De Croix in friendship, hoping that I may by a chance
word serve him."

"Indeed! what danger threatens, that he needs to be warned against?"

I hesitated; for, now that my blood had somewhat cooled, my mission
seemed a bit foolish.

"I insist upon knowing," she continued haughtily, her eyes full upon
mine, "or I shall believe you sought him for hostile purpose, and would
deceive me by fair words."

"Mademoiselle," I answered gravely, "you do me wrong. Only a few
moments ago I chanced to overhear a discussion, by the officers of
this Fort, regarding a commission to go forth and hold council with
the Indians. Captain Heald is determined upon such a course; but none
will volunteer to accompany him, because of the grave danger of savage
treachery. The Frenchman's name was mentioned as one reckless enough
to join with such a party; and I sought to warn him ere he accepted
blindly. He is hardly a friend of mine,--yet it seems no more than fair
that he should know the full measure of his peril before saying 'yes.'"

She came impulsively forward, with quickly extended hand, her face
aglow.

"You are indeed a true heart, John Wayland, and have shamed me
rightly. I know well the deceit and treachery of Indian nature, and can
understand the peril such a party would run. Promise me that you will
prevent Captain de Croix from becoming one of them."

"I?" I exclaimed in perplexed surprise; "I can do no more than warn
him."

"But you must do more!" she cried imperatively. "He will surely go if
asked. A warning such as you propose would only stir his blood. I beg
you to use your wits a little, so that he may know nothing of it."

I looked at her, deeply hurt by the interest so openly displayed.

"You are wondrously aroused for the Frenchman's safety, Mademoiselle!"

"Yes, though not as you may fancy. Captain de Croix came here for my
sake, even though no word of mine gave him reason for doing so. For
this reason I could never forgive myself if harm befell him on such a
journey. 'Twould be as if I had lured him to his death. So 'tis for my
sake, not his, that I ask the favor."

I leaned against the log wall and thought quickly, her anxious eyes
never leaving my face. There came into my mind a conviction that the
girl really loved him; and this made the struggle harder for me to
serve him. Nor did I see clearly how it could well be done, save
through a sacrifice of myself, such as I had never intended.

"Surely," she urged, "your wits will conceive some way in which it may
be done?"

"Yes," I answered, eager now to hide my own feeling from her; "'tis not
hopeless. You desire that he be kept within the Fort, ignorant of this
commission?"

"I do; 'tis the only way."

"Very well, it shall be done, Mademoiselle. No, I need no thanks from
you. Only do this simple thing, which, I am sure, you will find no
hardship,--keep Captain de Croix from any possible contact with others
for an hour. Your eyes will prove sufficient, no doubt, to enchain him
that long; if not, use other measures."

"But what will you do?"

"That does not count. 'Tis the result, not the means, that must content
you. I have my plan, and it will work; but I cannot stay here longer to
discuss it. Only do your part well, and I pledge you the safety of De
Croix."

I left her standing there, the light of questioning still in her eyes;
but I wished mainly to be safely away, where I might hide my own sudden
heart-ache in the energy of action.



CHAPTER XX

IN THE INDIAN CAMP


It cut me deeply to think that this girl would willingly sacrifice me
to save the French gallant from injury, and an anxiety to escape her
presence before I should speak words I might always regret caused me
to leave with scant ceremony. Yet I was none too soon; for scarce had
I stepped without the door when I met Lieutenant Helm ascending the
steps. "Ah, Wayland!" he said, catching sight of me, "do you happen to
know where I am most likely to find Captain de Croix?"

"He is scarcely to be disturbed at present, unless the matter be
truly urgent," I replied, my plan hastily sketched in mind. "Have you
arranged a banquet in honor of the Frenchman?"

"No such good fortune," was the grave response. "Captain Heald desires
his company upon an immediate mission to the Pottawattomie camp."

"Oh, is that all? Well, Captain de Croix will hardly be found
sufficiently recovered from his late adventure to enter upon another
one so early. 'Tis in my thought he either sleeps or is prinking
himself for more pleasant conquests. But why worry him? In my judgment,
no poorer choice could be made for so serious a task as you propose.
He is a mere French courtier,--brave enough, and rash, I grant, yet
without knowledge of Indian ways and treachery. Might not I answer
better as his substitute?"

"You?"

"Ay! and why not? I am frontier-bred, long trained in woodcraft and
savage ways, and surely far better fitted for such a task than is this
petted darling of the courts. Were it a flirtation, now, the post might
be truly his."

"'Tis true, you would be my choice; but do you realize the peril
involved?"

"Fully, my friend, yet scarce think it so desperate as you imagine. It
is my judgment the savages yonder are seeking bigger game than so small
a party would afford, and will therefore allow us to go free. However,
if it should prove otherwise," and I spoke the words with a sore heart
as I recalled what had just occurred, "I am a lone man in the world,
and to such an one death is not so terrible, even at Indian hands.
Come, I will go with you to confer with Captain Heald, and offer him my
services. He can do no more than refuse."

Helm offered no further objection, doubtless feeling it useless in my
venturesome mood; and we crossed the parade together without speaking.

Captain Wells was the first to see me as we entered, and some instinct
told him instantly of my purpose.

"Ah, Wayland, my boy! I have been troubled lest you might chance to
hear of our plight, and jump in. Come now, lad! 'twas not you we sent
after, nor can we use you in so grave a matter."

"And pray, why not?" I questioned, a little touched by this evidence of
kindness, yet firmly determined to keep my pledge to Mademoiselle. "I
am a better man for such deeds than the Frenchman, and am eager to go."

"So this is not your Captain de Croix?" said Captain Heald, eying me
curiously. "Saint George! but he is a big fellow,--the same who made
the race last night, or I mistake greatly. And what is this man's name?"

"It is John Wayland," I answered, anxious to impress him favorably; "a
frontiersman of the Maumee country, and fairly skilled in Indian ways.
I have come to volunteer my services to go with you."

"You are anxious to die? have the spirit of a Jesuit, perchance, and
are ambitious of martyrdom?"

"Not unusually so, sir, but I think the danger overrated by these
gentlemen. At least, I am ready and willing to go."

"And so you shall, lad!" cried the old soldier, striking a hand upon
his knee. "You are of the race of the long rifles; I know your kind
well. Not another word, William! here is a man worth any twenty of your
French beaux strutting with a sword. Now we start at once, and shall
have this matter settled speedily."

The earliest haze of the fast-descending twilight was hovering over the
level plain as we two went forth. In the west, the red tinge of the
sun, which had just disappeared below the horizon, lingered well up in
the sky. Against it we could see, clearly outlined in inky blackness,
the distant Indian wigwams; while to the eastward the crimson light was
reflected in fantastic glow upon the heaving surface of the lake. For
a moment we paused, standing upon the slope of the mound on which the
Fort was built, and gazed about us. There was little movement to arrest
the eye. The dull, dreary level of shore and prairie was deserted;
what the more distant mounds of sand or the overhanging river banks
might hide of savage watchers, we could only conjecture. Seemingly the
mass of Indian life, which only the day before had overflowed that
vacant space, had vanished as if by some sorcerer's magic. To me, this
unexpected silence and dreary barrenness were astounding; I gazed about
me fairly bewildered, almost dreaming for the moment that our foes had
lifted the long siege and departed while I slept. Heald no doubt read
the thought in my eyes, for he laid a kindly hand upon my sleeve and
pointed westward.

"They are all yonder, lad, at the camp,--in council, like enough. Mark
you, Wayland, how much farther to the south the limit of their camp
extends than when the sun sank last night? Saint George! they must have
added all of fifty wigwams to their village! They gather like crows
about a dead body. It has an ugly look."

"Yet 'tis strange they leave the Fort unguarded, so that the garrison
may come and go unhindered. 'Tis not the usual practice of Indian
warfare."

"Unguarded? Faith! the hundreds of miles of wilderness between us and
our nearest neighbor are sufficient guard. But dream not, my lad, that
we are unobserved; doubtless fifty pair of skulking eyes are even now
upon us, marking every move. I venture we travel no more than a hundred
yards from the gate before our way is barred. Note how peaceful the
stockade appears! But for the closed gates, one would never dream it
the centre of hostile attack. Upon my word, even love-making has not
deserted its log-walls!"

I lifted my eyes where he pointed, and even at that distance, and
through the gathering gloom, I knew it was De Croix and Mademoiselle
who overhung those eastern palisades in proximity so close. The sight
was as fire to my blood, and with teeth clinched to keep back the mad
utterance of a curse, I strode beside Captain Heald silently down the
declivity to the deserted plain below.

It is my nature to be somewhat chary of speech, and to feel deeply and
long; but if I doubted it before, I knew now, in this moment of keen
and bitter disappointment, that my heart was with that careless girl
up yonder, who had sent me forth into grave peril apparently without
thought, and who cared so little even now that she never lifted her
eyes from the sparkling water to trace our onward progress. Anger,
disappointment, disgust at her duplicity, her cruel abuse of power,
swept over and mastered me at the moment when I realized more deeply
than ever my own love for her, and my utter helplessness to oppose her
slightest whim. No Indian thongs could bind me half so tightly as the
false smiles of Toinette.

Plunged into this whirlpool of thought, I moved steadily forward at
Captain Heald's shoulder, unconscious of what might be taking place
about us, and for the moment indifferent to the result of our venture.
But this feeling was not for long. Scarcely had our progress taken
us across the front of the deserted agency building, and beyond the
ken of the sentinels in the Fort, when a single warrior rose before
us as from the ground, and blocked the path. He was a short, sturdy
savage, bare to the waist save for a chain of teeth which dangled with
sinister gleam about his brawny throat, and, from the wide sweep of his
shoulders, evidently possessed of prodigious strength. He held a gun
extended in front of him, and made a gesture of warning impossible to
misapprehend.

"What seeks the White Chief?" he questioned bluntly. "Does he come for
peace or war?"

The query came with such grave abruptness that Heald hesitated in reply.

"Never since I have been at Dearborn have I sought war," he replied
at last. "Little Sauk knows this well. We travel now that we may have
council of peace with the chiefs of the Pottawattomies. See!" and
he held up both empty hands before the Indian's eyes, "we are both
unarmed, because of our trust in the good faith of your people."

Little Sauk uttered a low grunt of disapproval, and made no motion to
lower his threatening rifle.

"Ugh! You talk strong! Did any Pottawattomie send to White Chief to
come to council?"

"No," admitted Heald. "We come because it is the wish of the Great
Father of the white men down by the sea that we talk together of the
wrongs of the red men, and make proposals of peace between us. There is
no cause for these rumors of war, and the Great Father has heard that
the Pottawattomies are dissatisfied, and it has made him sad."

The Indian looked from one to the other of us in the growing darkness,
and made a gesture of contempt.

"The real Great White Father wears a red coat, and is friend to the
Pottawattomie," he said with dignity. "He no lie, no shut Indian out of
Fort, no steal furs, no throw rum in river. Who this man, White Chief?
He no soldier,--he long-knife."

"Yes, he is a frontiersman, and came to the Fort yesterday with
Wau-me-nuk, bringing word of greeting from the Great Father to the
Pottawattomies. He goes now with me to council. May we pass on to your
camp?"

For a moment Little Sauk did not answer, stepping closer in order
that he might better scan my features. Apparently satisfied by the
keen scrutiny, he turned his broad back upon us and strode off with
contemptuous dignity.

"Come," he said shortly; and without further word we followed across
that dim plain and through the thickening darkness.

The Indian's step was noiseless, and his figure cast the merest shadow;
but as we moved onward others constantly joined us, stalking out of the
black night like so many phantoms, gliding silently in their noiseless
moccasins across the soft grass, until fully a dozen spectral forms
hedged our pathway and kept step to every movement. It was a weird
procession, through the shifting night-shadows; and although I could
catch but fleeting glimpses of those savage faces and half-naked forms,
the knowledge of their presence, and our own helplessness if they
proved treacherous, caused my heart to throb till I could hear it in
the painful silence like the beat of a drum. Now and then a guttural
voice challenged from the darkness, to be instantly answered by those
in advance, and another savage glided within our narrowed vision,
scanned us with cruel and curious eyes, and fell in with the same
silent, tiger-like tread of his fellows.

It was not long that we were compelled to march thus, the gathering
warriors pressing us closer at each step; and it was well it proved
so soon ended, for the grim mockery set my nerves on edge. Yet the
change was hardly for the better. Just before reaching the spot where
the river forked sharply to the southward, we came to the upper edge
of the wigwams, and into a bit of light from their scattered fires.
There rushed out upon us a wild horde of excited savages, warriors
and squaws, who pushed us about in sheer delirium, and even struck
viciously at us across the shoulders of our indifferent guard, so
that it was only by setting my teeth that I held back from grappling
with the demons. But Heald, older in years and of cooler blood, laid
restraining hands upon my arm.

"'Tis but the riff-raff," he muttered warningly. "The chiefs will hold
them back from doing us serious harm."

As he spoke, Little Sauk uttered a gruff order, and the grim warriors
on our flank drove back the jeering, scowling crowd, with fierce Indian
cursing and blows of their guns, until the way had been cleared for
our advance. We moved on for two hundred yards or more, the maddened
and vengeful mob menacing us just beyond reach of the strong arms, and
howling in their anger until I doubted not their voices reached the
distant Fort.

We came to a great wigwam of deer-skin, much larger than any I had
ever seen, with many grotesque figures of animals sketched in red and
yellow paint upon the outside, and clearly revealed by the blazing fire
without. A medicine-man of the tribe, hideous with pigment and high
upstanding hair, sat beating a wooden drum before the entrance, and
chanting wildly to a ferocious-looking horde of naked savages, many
bleeding from self-inflicted wounds, who danced around the blaze, the
leaping figures in the red glare making the scene truly demoniacal.
Little Sauk strode through the midst of them, unheeding the uproar, and
flung aside the flap of the tent.

"White Chief and Long Knife wait here," he said sternly. "Come back
pretty soon."

There was nothing to be seen within, excepting some skins flung
carelessly upon the short trodden grass. We sat down silently upon
these, gazing out through the narrow opening at the blazing fire and
the numerous moving figures constantly crowding closer about the
entrance, both of us too deeply immersed in thought to care for speech.

The black shadows upon the tepee cover told me that guards had been
posted to keep back the rabble from intrusion, and once I saw signs of
a brief struggle in front when the swarm had grown too inquisitive and
were forced back with scant ceremony. The weird dance and incantation
continued; and although I knew but little of the customs of the
Pottawattomies, there was a cruel savagery and ferocity about it which
I felt held but little promise of peace.

"'Tis the war-dance," whispered Heald in my ear, "and bodes ill for our
purpose. See! the red wampum is in the fellow's hand."

As I bent forward to catch the gleam of it in the flames, a new figure
suddenly flitted past our narrow vista, between us and the wild circle
of dancers. It was a woman, attired in fanciful Indian dress; but
surely no Pottawattomie squaw ever possessed so graceful a carriage, or
bore so clear a face.

"Captain!" I ejaculated eagerly. "Did you see that white woman there,
with the long skirt and red hair?"

"Ay!" he answered as though he scarce had faith in his own eyes. "I
marked not the color of her hair, but I saw the lass, and, by Saint
George! she looked to me like old Roger Matherson's daughter."



CHAPTER XXI

A COUNCIL OF CHIEFS


I was on my feet in an instant, forgetful of everything excepting my
duty to this girl whom I had come so far to find, and who now was
plainly a prisoner in Indian hands. At the entrance of the tepee, a
scowling warrior pushed me roughly back, pretending not to understand
my eager words of expostulation, and, by significant gesture,
threatening to brain me with his gun-stock if I persisted. A slight
return of reason alone kept me from striking the fellow down and
striding over his prostrate body. While I stood struggling with this
temptation, Captain Heald grasped me firmly.

"Are you mad, Wayland?" he muttered, dragging me back into the dark
interior of the tepee. "For God's sake, don't anger these fellows!
Think of all the helpless lives depending on the success of our errand
here! What is the girl to you?"

"I will wait," I answered, calmed by his earnestness, and ashamed of
my boyish impetuosity; "but I am here at Dearborn seeking this young
woman, whom I had supposed rather to be a young child. Her father was
my father's dearest friend, and wrote us from his death-bed asking our
protection for her."

"You are Major Wayland's son,--I remember the circumstances now, and
that I endorsed such a letter. 'Tis most strange. This girl disappeared
from Dearborn some days ago. Mrs. Heald heard the matter discussed
among the ladies of the garrison, and then all supposed her to be at
John Kinzie's in company with Josette La Framboise; yet I would almost
have sworn I saw her again, and not two hours ago, within the Fort.
By Saint George! the glimpse I got just now makes me doubt my own
eyesight. She was ever an odd creature,--but what can bring her here,
walking so freely about in this camp of vengeful savages?"

I could not answer him; the mystery was beyond my clearing. Only, if
this was the Elsa Matherson for whom I had sought so long, surely God
had in some way led me on to find her; nor should any peril turn my
quest aside.

I had hardly time for this resolve, ere the flap of the tepee was
held back by a dark hand, and in grimly impressive silence warrior
after warrior, plumed, painted, and gaudily bedecked with savage
ornaments, stalked solemnly within, circled about us without sign of
greeting, and seated themselves cross-legged upon the bare ground. The
uplifted door-skin permitted the red flames from without to play freely
over their stern, impassive faces, and shone back upon us from their
glittering eyes. It was an impressive scene, their stoical demeanor
breathing the deep solemnity of the vast woods and plains amid which
their savage lives were passed; nor could one fail to feel the deep
gravity with which they gathered in this council of life or death. To
them it was evident that the meeting was of most serious portent.

I saw only two faces that I recognized in that red ring,--Topenebe and
Little Sauk. I knew, however, it was probable there were some great
chiefs among that company; and I marked especially two, one with long
white hair, and a tall, slender, rather young fellow, having two wide
streaks of yellow down either cheek.

The Indians sat motionless, gazing intently at us; and I swept the
entire dark circle of scowling faces, vainly endeavoring to find one
hopeful glance, one friendly eye. Open hatred, undisguised distrust,
implacable enmity, were stamped on every feature. Whatever our plea
might be, I felt convinced that the chiefs were here only to carry out
their own purposes and make mock of every offering of peace.

After several moments of this painful silence, the chief with the
long white hair deliberately lighted a large pipe drawn from his belt.
It was curiously and grotesquely fashioned, the huge bowl carved to
resemble the head of a bear. He drew from the stem a single thick
volume of smoke, breathed it out into the air, and solemnly passed the
pipe to the warrior seated upon his right. With slow deliberation, the
symbol moved around the impassive and emotionless circle, passing from
one red hand to another, until it finally came back to him who had
first lighted it. Without so much as a word being uttered, he gravely
offered it to Captain Heald. I heard, and understood, the quick sigh
of relief with which my companion grasped it; he drew a breath of the
tobacco, and I followed his example, handing back the smoking pipe to
the white-haired chief without rising, amid the same impressive silence.

The Indian leader spoke for the first time, his voice deep and guttural.

"The Pottawattomies have met in council with the White Chief and the
Long Knife," he said soberly, "and have smoked together the peace-pipe.
For what have the white men come to disturb Gomo and his warriors?"

I gazed at him with new interest. No name of savage chief was wider
known along the border in those days, none more justly feared by the
settlers. He was a tall, spare, austere man, his long coarse hair
whitened by years, but with no stoop in his figure. His eyes, small and
keen, blazed with a strange ferocity, as I have seen those of wild-cats
in the dark; while his flesh was drawn so closely against his prominent
cheek-bones as to leave an impression of ghastliness, as of a corpse
suddenly returned by some miracle to life. With dabs of paint across
the forehead, and thin lips drawn in a narrow line of cruelty, his face
formed a picture to be long remembered with a shudder.

It was easy enough to see that Captain Heald felt uncertain how far to
venture in his proposals, though he spoke up boldly, and with no tremor
in his voice. His long frontier experience had taught him the danger
that lay in exhibiting timidity in the face of Indian scorn.

"Gomo," he said firmly, "and you other Chiefs of the Pottawattomies,
there has never been war between us. We have traded together for many
seasons; you have eaten at my table, and I have rested by your fires.
We have been as brothers, and more than once have I judged between you
and those who would wrong you. I have remembered all this, and have now
come into your camp through the night, without fear and unarmed, that I
might talk with you as friends. Am I not right to do this? In all the
time I have been the White Chief at Dearborn, have I ever done wrong to
a Pottawattomie?"

He paused; but no warrior made reply. A low guttural murmur ran around
the line of listeners, but the bead-like eyes never left his face. He
went on:

"Why should I fear to meet the Pottawattomies, even though word had
come to me that their young men talk war, and seek alliance with our
enemy the red-coats? The Chiefs have seen war, and are not crazed for
the blood of their friends. They will restrain such wild mutterings.
They know that the White Father to the east is strong, and will drive
the red-coats back into the sea as he did when they fought before. They
will ally themselves with the strong one, and make their foolish young
man take up arms for their friends."

Still no one spoke, no impassive bronze face exhibited the faintest
interest. It was as if he appealed to stone.

"Is this not so?"

"The White Chief has spoken," was the cold reply. "His words are
full of eloquence, but Gomo hears nothing that calls for answer. The
White Chief says not why he has come and demanded council of the
Pottawattomies."

A low murmur, expressive of approval, swept down the observant line;
but no man among them stirred a muscle.

"I came for this, Gomo," said Heald, speaking now rapidly, and with
an evident determination to trust all in a sentence and have it over
with, for it was clear the savages were in no mood for diplomatic
evasion: "to ask your guidance and protection on our march eastward on
the morrow. I come to the Pottawattomies as friends; for I fear we may
meet with trouble on the way, from roving bands of Wyandots and Miamis,
and we are greatly burdened by our women and children. It is to ask
this that I and the Long Knife are here."

"You say the White Father is strong, and will drive the red-coats into
the sea: did he at Mackinac?"

"There was treachery there."

"Ugh! Why, if White Father so strong, you leave Fort and go way off?"

"Because just now I can serve him better elsewhere; but we shall come
again."

"My young men have rumor that Detroit go like Mackinac."

"It is untrue; your young men bring false news."

Gomo turned and looked about him upon the expectant warriors; and, as
if the glance was an invitation to free speech, one sitting half-way
across the circle asked gruffly:

"Why you pour out rum, if you love Pottawattomie?"

"Because I am only the White Chief at Dearborn," returned Heald, facing
the questioner, "and, like Peesotum who asks, have higher chiefs
elsewhere whom I must obey. What they tell me I have to do."

"White Chief lies!" was the short, stern answer. "Winnemeg brought no
such word."

So furious were the many dark, glowering faces, that I braced myself,
thinking the next moment would be one of struggle for life or death;
but Gomo held them motionless with a wave of his hand. He rose slowly
to his feet, and faced us with grave dignity.

"It is true, as Peesotum says," he said impressively. "The White Chief
has used a double tongue to the Red man; yet we will deal fairly with
him, for he has come to us in peace. White Chief, there is to be war
between us; 'tis the will of our young men, and the red wampum has
passed among our lodges and the lodges of our brothers the Wyandots.
Yet when you unlock the gates we will go forth with you and your
people, around the sweep of the water. Such is the will of the Great
Spirit, and the decision of the Pottawattomie in council of chiefs."

Heald looked about upon the scowling circle with disbelief so clearly
expressed in his eyes, that Gomo, reading it, turned to his warriors
and called upon them one by one to say if he spoke the truth. I heard
him speak thus to Little Sauk, Black Bird, Topenebe, Mankia, Pipe Bird,
Peesotum, and Ignance; and each answered with the low grunt of assent.
He fixed his eyes upon the younger Indian who had already attracted my
attention by the manliness of his face as well as the yellow stripes
that disfigured him.

"And you, Black Partridge?"

"I have already spoken to the White Chief in his own wigwam, and given
back the medal of the Americans," was the grave response. "I have no
more to say."

I confess these words chilled me, as I recalled their meaning; and
Heald half rose to his feet as though he would protest, but not a
stolid face among the warriors changed in expression. Gomo drew his
robes more closely about his gaunt figure in simple but impressive
dignity.

"Doth Shaw-nee-aw-kee go east also with the white men?" he asked.

"I have not of late conferred with the Silver-man. He has been at his
own lodge, and doubtless you may know his purpose better than I."

"We wish him to stay. He good man; Pottawattomie's friend."

The Indian stood motionless, his eyes watching keenly the expression of
each face. He added slowly:

"The White Chief hears the promise of the Pottawattomies. It is enough.
He can go forth in peace upon the morrow, with all his warriors,
squaws, and pappooses, and the people of my nation will walk with them
as guards. It is our pledge; we will counsel no longer."

At a simple commanding gesture of his long arms, the circle melted away
through the narrow opening as silently as it had gathered, the dark
figure of each warrior silhouetted for an instant against the red glare
of the fire, before it suddenly disappeared in the darkness beyond. At
last Little Sauk alone stood between us and the blaze.

"Come," he commanded gruffly, "White Chief go back to his people."

Enclosed by that same phantom guard of savages, we passed out through
the limits of the camp; but now the rabble paid not the slightest heed
to our presence. Our mission known, and no longer a mystery, they
treated us with the stolid indifference of Indian contempt. I walked
with eyes alert upon either side of our path for another glimpse of
that girlish figure that I had seen before so dimly; but we traversed
nearly the full length of the tepee rows before I saw any one that at
all resembled her. Even then, I was far from certain, until the sudden
leaping up of a dying fire reflected on her crown of auburn hair, and
set my heart to throbbing.

"Little Sauk!" I cried, in my excitement clutching his naked arm, "who
is that white girl yonder, and how comes she here?"

The startled Indian sprang aside, flinging me from him with a violence
that showed his giant strength.

"No white girl," he protested, vehemently. "Pottawattomie."

"No Pottawattomie has hair like the sunset," I retorted. "Come, I would
speak with the girl."

For an instant I saw the bead-like eyes of the savage glittering in the
darkness and wandering where I pointed. He faced me doggedly.

"Long Knife leave Indian maid alone," he said grimly. "Long Knife go
Fort; no talk."

I was in a mood to resist the fellow's dictation, and reckless enough
of consequences at that moment to take the chance; but Heald interfered.

"You can serve her far better, lad, in that way," he muttered hastily.
"We shall not always be two to twelve."

With teeth gritted to keep back the fierce anger that shook me, I
strolled sullenly on, not even venturing to glance back lest I should
give way. It was thus we reached the Fort gate, and entered, leaving
our dusky escort to slink back into the night. An anxious crowd met us.
It was Wells who questioned first.

"So those devils have let you go unharmed? What answer made the
savages?"

"They pledge us safe convoy around the head of the lake."

"They do? Who spoke the words of the pledge?"

"Old Gomo himself, and it was ratified by each of the chiefs in turn."

"They are lying dogs,--all but one of them. What answered Black
Partridge?"

Heald made no response; and Wells wheeled impetuously to me.

"Come, lad, the truth,--what reply did Black Partridge make to this
Indian mummery?"

"He said, 'I have already spoken to the White Chief in his own wigwam,
and given back the medal of the Americans, and have nothing more to
say.'"

For a moment the old Indian soldier stared at me, his stern face fairly
black with the cloud in his eyes. He brought his clinched hand down
hard against the log wall.

"By God! it is treachery!" he exclaimed fiercely, and turned and walked
away.



CHAPTER XXII

THE LAST NIGHT AT DEARBORN


It was evident that preparations were even then well under way for
retreat the following morning. Trunks and boxes, together with various
military stores and arms, strewed the sides of the parade-ground;
farther back, a number of wagons, partially filled, stood waiting the
remainder of their loads. Men and women were hastening back and forth,
and children were darting through the shadows, their little arms piled
high with bundles, and making play, as children ever will, of what was
to prove an awful tragedy. A large fire, burning brightly before the
deserted guard-house, cast its ruddy glow over the animated scene,
checkering the rude walls with every passing shadow.

I noticed, as I slowly pushed my way along, that the soldiers worked
seriously, with few jests on their lips, as if they realized the peril
that menaced them; while many among the women, especially those of
the humbler sort, were rejoicing over the early release from garrison
monotony, and careless of what the morrow might bring of danger and
suffering.

A few steps from the gate, I paused for a moment that I might watch
their flitting figures, the incessant bustle being a positive relief
after the dull and ghostly silence without. My mind,--though I strove
to cast the thought aside,--was still occupied with the mystery of
Elsa Matherson; but the more I dwelt upon it, the less I was able to
penetrate the secret of her strange presence in the Indian camp, or
devise any scheme for reaching her. The ache in my heart made me dread
to meet again with Mademoiselle Toinette, lest I should utter words of
reproach which she did not deserve; for, sad as such a confession was,
I had to acknowledge that she had a perfect right to protect the man
she loved, even at my cost.

Nor did I greatly desire to run upon De Croix. I knew his temper
fairly well, and doubtless by this time he had learned the story of my
interference, and would be in fit mood for a quarrel. Still, as seems
often to be the case at such a time, before I had taken a dozen steps
away from the gate, I met him face to face. It was a jaunty picture he
made in the glare of the fire, the fine gentleman sauntering lazily
about with hat of bleached straw pushed rakishly upon his powdered
hair, and a light cane dangling at his wrist, as fashionably attired
as if he were loitering upon the boulevards of an August evening, his
negro man a yard behind, bearing a silken fan which flashed golden in
the radiance. At sight of him, I stopped instantly, ready enough to
resent attack if that had been his purpose, though anxious to avoid
violence for the sake of Mademoiselle. But he merely laughed as he
surveyed me critically, swinging his bamboo stick as if it were a
whip-lash.

"_Parbleu_, Master Wayland!" he said, seeming in rare good-humor, "I
this moment learned of your safe return. 'Twould have been an excellent
joke had the savage found excuse to retain you out yonder, to form a
part of one of their delightful entertainments! Fit revenge, indeed,
for the foul deceit you played upon me!"

"Think you so, Monsieur?" for his easy words relieved me greatly. "It
would have been one less arm for our defence."

"With safe convoy guaranteed by the Indian chiefs, that loss would make
small odds," he replied carelessly. "But, truly, that was a most scurvy
trick you played to gain the wager which was offered me. But for the
happy ending, I should be sorely tempted to break this cane across your
shoulders in payment therefor."

"Indeed!" I said; "the act might not be as easily accomplished as you
imagine. But what mean you by happy ending? Had the savages roasted
me over a slow fire, I should hardly be here for the pleasure of your
chastisement."

He laughed lightly, his eyes wandering carelessly over the throng of
figures in front of us.

"Saint Guise! I thought not about your predicament, but rather of the
happiness which came to me in the society of Mademoiselle. In faith,
she was most gracious with her favor. 'Tis thus you did me a great
kindness, friend, and have won my gratitude."

The words were as stinging as he meant them to be, for I marked his
quick glance into my face. So I held my resentment well in check, and
smiled back at him, apparently unconcerned.

"Then we are again even, Monsieur," I returned quietly, "and can start
anew upon our score. But why should I remain here to discuss matters of
such small import, with all this work unfinished which fronts strong
men to-night? I will break my long fast, and turn to beside these
others."

He seemed to have further words to say; but I minded him not, and
pushed past, leaving him to saunter where he willed, accompanied by his
black satellite. If I could not win Mademoiselle, as I now felt assured
from his boastful speech I could not, I might at least work for her
greater safety and comfort; and there was much I could do to help in
burying my own disappointment.

For all that, it was a night to live long in the memory,--that last
night we spent at Dearborn. It remains a rare jumble in my mind,--its
varied incidents crowding so fast upon each other as to leave small
room for thought regarding any one of them. Without, the dim black
plain stretched away in unbroken solemnity and silence; nor did the
sentinels posted along the walls catch glimpse of so much as a skulking
Indian form amid the grass and sand. A half-moon was in the sky, with
patches of cloud now and then shadowing it, and in the intervals
casting its faint silver over the lonely expanse and tipping the crest
of the waves as they crept in upon the beach. The great Indian village
to the westward was fairly ablaze with fires; while the unending
procession of black dots that flitted past them, together with the echo
of constant uproar, showed that the savages were likewise astir in
eager preparation for the morrow. We could hear the pounding of wooden
drums, mingled with shrill yells that split the night-air like so many
war-missiles. Only those above, upon the platform, could mind these
things; for the bustle within the enclosure below continued unabated
until long after midnight.

The report of our mission spread rapidly, and the pledge of protection
given by the chiefs greatly heartened the men, so that they worked now
with many a peal of laughter and careless jest. The women and children,
ever quick to feel the influence of the soldiers, responded at once to
this new feeling of confidence, which was encouraged by the officers,
however they may have secretly doubted the good-faith of the savages.
So the children tumbled about in the red glare of the flames, the
soldiers swung their traps into the waiting wagons with good-natured
badinage, their brawny breasts bare and glistening with sweat in
the hot night; while, as the hour grew late and discipline sensibly
relaxed, the women danced in the open and sang songs of home.

It was hard enough to realize what it all meant,--what hardship and
suffering and death lay just before these rejoicing people; what depths
of cruel treachery and murder lurked for them so few hours away. We did
not suspect it then; not even those among us who had long learned the
deceit of Indian nature could unroll the shadowing veil of that morrow
and reveal the forthcoming tragedy of those silent plains. I remember
that, doubtful as I felt about the future, I could look on with
interest at the busy scene, and that more than once a smile lay upon my
lips. What an odd variety of figures that congested place disclosed!
what strange life-histories were having their culmination there! I saw
Ensign Ronan, young, slender, smooth of face, appearing scarce more
than a boy, his short fatigue-jacket buttoned to the throat in spite
of the heat, hurrying here and there in his enthusiasm, ever upon his
lips some happy phrase to take the sting from his word of command.
Lieutenant Helm, calm but observant of every detail, moved in and out
among the busy throng, every now and then stealing aside to speak a
word of encouragement to his young wife, who stood watching by the
mess-room door. There was quite a bevy gathered there, officers' wives
for the most part, gazing in mingled interest and apprehension upon the
scene. I marked among them Josette, who had come in that evening with
the Kinzies; and as I drew yet nearer the group, a sudden blazing up
of the fire yielded me a glimpse of Mademoiselle, and I turned hastily
away, unwilling still to greet or be greeted by her.

Gaunt frontiersmen stalked about, having little to save and nothing
to do, with the inevitable long rifle held in the hollow of the arm;
Captain Wells's Miamis skulked uneasily in dark corners, or hung over
the embers to cook some ration yet unused, their dark skins and long
coarse hair a reminder to us of the hostiles who watched without.
Captain Heald, in company with Captain Wells and John Kinzie, the
latter conspicuous by his white beard, stood long in deep converse near
the barracks, leaning against the black logs. I felt the two latter
were urging some change of plan; but in the end Wells left in vexation,
almost in anger, striding across the parade-ground to the northern
block-house.

In the shadow of the south stockade, some one was softly playing upon
a violin, the sweet notes stealing up through the wild hubbub in
strains of silvery sound. Close upon one side of the fire, forgetful
of the heat in their deep interest, two young soldiers were engrossed
in a game of cards, while a group of comrades commented freely on
the fortunes of the play. Scarcely a yard distant, a grizzled old
sergeant,--a veteran of the great war, no doubt,--bent above a book
held open upon his knee, the shape of which bespoke a Bible; while
on the other side a bevy of children were romping with their dogs or
playing with sharp knives in the hard ground. A woman over by the gate
lifted a sweet contralto voice in an old-time love-song, and had hardly
lilted the opening line before others joined her, making the night
resound to the tender melody. I saw the soldiers pause in their work
to beat time, and marked the dark forms of the sentries above on the
palisades as they leaned over to listen, every heart set throbbing with
the memory of days gone by.

"Man is indeed a strange animal," said a voice beside me, and I turned
to greet Ensign Ronan. "He can sing, laugh, and jest, in death's very
teeth."

"'Tis better, surely, than to cry," I commented. "But these do not so
much as dream of death; the pledge of the Pottawattomies has brought
renewed hope."

"Yes, I know; though I confess I have little faith in it. And there
will be plenty of danger about us before we see Fort Wayne, even if
they pass us in safety around the lake. There will be leagues of travel
through hostile territory. That," he added, "is, to my mind, the only
sensible way of preparation for the morrow."

He pointed to the old sergeant seated beside the fire with his Bible;
and I glanced into his boyish face with no little surprise.

"Some remark Surgeon Van Voorhis made caused me to deem you indifferent
in such matters."

"No doubt," he said, dryly. "If one does not subscribe to the creeds,
he is written down a heretic. I have laughed at folly, and so have won
the reputation of being an unbeliever. Yet, Wayland, if we ride forth
to a savage death to-morrow, no one will meet it with more faith in
Christ than I. The years indeed have not left me spotless, but I have
never wavered from the great truths my mother taught me. I know not the
future, lad, but I believe there is ever mercy for the penitent."

In an instant my own thought spanned the leagues of forest to my
distant home; and I choked back a sob within my throat.

"It is our mothers' love that makes us all better men," I said
gravely. "And whatever may befall us upon the morrow, that God of whom
they taught us will be true."

"The words are spoken in the right spirit," he returned, soberly, "and
have the soldier ring I like best to hear. If it chance that we both
come forth from this venture in life, I should be most glad to know you
better."

I was deeply touched by his open, manly spirit, and especially
impressed with his frank adherence to the Christian faith, something
too uncommon in that day along the border.

"'Tis rather my wish to begin friendship before that time of trial," I
said eagerly, and with extended hand. "We shall fight the better for it
when the hour for fighting comes; and if it be God's will to guide us
safely through the wilderness, a friendship thus cemented in peril will
have the strength of comradeship."

The young man's strong and thoughtful face lighted up; but his eyes
were resting upon the form of the sentry above us, and he did not speak.

"Ronan," I questioned, somewhat doubtfully, "I have long wished to ask
you the cause of the friction that apparently exists between Captain
Heald and the officers of this garrison; but have felt it none of my
business. I cannot but realize you are not in his good graces, although
he appears to me to be a brave and capable man."

"He is both," was the instant and manly reply; "for all that, he has
constantly turned for counsel in military matters to others than his
own officers,--why, I know not, unless he considered us unworthy of his
confidence. Instead of confiding his orders to us, and asking judgment
upon his plans, he has been swayed from the beginning by Indian advice;
and it is only natural for us to resent such unjust and discourteous
treatment. Moreover, each move thus far made has proved to be a
mistake, and we must suffer from them in silence and without remedy."

"He does indeed seem strangely headstrong," I admitted reluctantly,
recalling to mind the words uttered in the room beyond my bed; "but
surely his conference with the chiefs has resulted well, and is proof
of his good judgment."

The young officer turned quickly and faced me, his eyes full of
emotion. "That remains to be decided," he exclaimed. "Such old
frontiersmen as Captain Wells and John Kinzie say that pledge only
hides black treachery. They urged him most earnestly, for an hour
to-night, to reconsider his decision, and give up the immediate
evacuation of the post. But he fully believes he can put faith in those
lying, murderous hounds out yonder. So certain is Kinzie of trouble,
that he has sworn to march forth with us, sending his family away by
boat, in hope that his influence may hold back the savages from open
attack; while Wells declares that he will ride forth with blackened
face, as becomes a Miami who goes to certain death in battle. These men
are no fools, no strangers to savage warfare and Indian deceit,--yet
in spite of their warning, Captain Heald persists in driving us forth
into the very fangs of the wolves. Brave! ay, he is indeed brave to the
point of rashness; but this bids fair to be a fatal bravery to all of
us who must obey his orders."

The intense bitterness of these words shocked me and held me
dumb,--the more so, as I could not be insensible to their truth. As
I lifted my eyes, I beheld, crossing the parade through the mass of
equipment scattered here and there, De Croix and Mademoiselle. With a
half-muttered excuse, I drew hastily back into the protecting shadow of
the stockade; and as they slowly passed, I heard him jesting lightly,
and saw her laughing, with a side-glance up at his face.

With these words of warning from Ronan's lips yet ringing in my ears,
such reckless thoughtlessness of the danger encircling us astounded me;
and I drew farther back, less willing than ever to make one of them.
Deep in my heart, I knew this was no time for careless laughter or
happy jest.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE DEATH-SHADOW OF THE MIAMIS


It was after midnight when I finally ceased my labors, feeling I had
performed my fair share of the hard work of preparation. By this time
everything was comparatively quiet within the stockade enclosure; the
wagons were piled with all that could be loaded before morning, and
many of the wearied soldiers had flung themselves upon the ground to
snatch what rest they might before the early call to march. The women
and children had disappeared, to seek such comfort as was possible amid
the ruins of their former quarters; and only the sentries remained
alert, pacing their solemn rounds on the narrow walk overlooking the
palisades and the silent plain without.

Physically wearied as I was, my mind remained intensely active, and I
felt no desire for sleep. I do not recall that I gave much thought
to the perils of our situation. One grows careless and indifferent
to danger,--and in truth I looked forward to no serious trouble with
the Indians upon the morrow's march through the sand-dunes; not that
I greatly trusted to those reluctant pledges wrung from the chiefs,
but because I felt that if properly handled in that open country our
force was of sufficient fighting strength to repel any ordinary attack
from ill-armed savages, my long border experience rendering me a bit
disdainful of Indian courage and resourcefulness. So it was that my
restless mind dwelt rather upon other matters more directly personal.
I could not put away the thought of the half-seen girl flitting about
amid the dusk of the Pottawattomie camp, especially as Captain Heald
had declared her to be Elsa Matherson. I was surprised to discover
that she I sought, instead of being a mere child, was a woman grown;
for in this we were all deceived by the words of her father. What did
she there, passing with such apparent freedom from restraint among
those fierce warriors? and how was I ever to reach her with any hope
of rescue, even if she desired it? There was evidently a mystery here
which I could never solve through idle musing; and yet I could but
ask myself where lay my graver duty,--beside this single woman, who
seemingly needed no defender, or with the many helpless ones who must
march forth on the morrow on that long and dangerous passage through
the wilderness? Indeed, what hope could I cherish of aiding the young
girl, if I now deserted these others, and endeavored alone to penetrate
that Indian camp in search of her?

Then came another thought. It was of Mademoiselle.

It was this that effectually halted me. To whomsoever else she might
have given her heart, she was still the one for whom I was most glad
either to live or die; and in spite of De Croix, I would ride at her
side on the morrow, within striking distance of any prowling hostile.
Let the Matherson girl wait; my arm belonged first of all to the
defence of Mademoiselle.

Busied with these thoughts, and endeavoring to adjust this decision
with my conscience, I passed out upon the platform, that I might
look forth once more upon the moonlit waters of the lake. There were
a few dim figures to be seen, leaning over the logs; but I supposed
them to be members of the night-guard, and, feeling no desire for
companionship, I halted in a lonely spot at the northeastern corner of
the stockade. How desolate, how solemnly impressive, was the scene!
To the north all was black in the dense night, the shadows of the
scattering trees obscuring the faint glow of the moon and yielding
little of detail to the searching eye. Even the single ray of light
which the evening previous had blazed forth as a friendly beacon from
the Kinzie home, was now absent. I could vaguely distinguish the dim
outlines of the deserted house in the distance, and noticed a large
boat moored close to the bank beneath the Fort stockade, doubtless the
one in which the fugitives expected to venture out upon the lake on the
morrow.

It was the wide stretch of water, gleaming like silver, that fascinated
me, as it always did in its numberless changing moods. What unutterable
loneliness spoke to the soul in those unknown leagues of tossing sea!
how far the eye wandered unchecked, searching vainly for aught to rest
upon other than glistening surge or darkling hollow! The mystery of
the ages lay unexpressed in those tossing billows, sweeping in out of
the black east, making low moan to the unsympathetic and unheeding
sky. Deeper and deeper the spirit of unrest, of doubt, of brooding
discontent, weighed down upon me as I gazed; life seemed as aimless as
that constant turmoil yonder, a mere silver-tinted heaving, destined
to burst in useless power on a shore of rock, and then roll back again
into the mighty deep.

I leaned over the palisades, sunk deep in revery of home, recalling one
by one the strange incidents of the last month that had so curiously
conspired to cause a total upheaval of my life; and for the moment
I grew oblivious of my surroundings. A mere lad, knowing little of
himself and less of life, had ridden westward from the Maumee; a man,
in thought and character, leaned now over that beleaguered stockade of
Dearborn.

I was recalled to actualities by a light touch on the sleeve of my
shirt, and a half-laughing, half-petulant voice at my elbow.

"Well, Master Laggard! do I not show you great honor in thus seeking
you out, after your avoidance of me all these hours?"

I glanced aside into the fair face and questioning eyes, noting at the
same time that De Croix stood only a step beyond her in the shadows.

"I have been very busy, Mademoiselle," I tried to explain; "it has been
a time when every strong hand was needed."

"Fudge!" was the indignant rejoinder. "Did I not perceive you loitering
more than once to-night,--though each time I drew near, hopeful of
a word of greeting, it was to behold you disappear as if by magic?
Do I flatter you by thus showing my interest? Yet 'twas only that I
might have explanation, that I sought you thus. Come, confess that you
feared my just resentment for going forth on so perilous a trip without
telling me of your plans."

"'Twas not altogether that," I answered, for dissembling was never an
easy task for me, "as I only did what I believed would most please you.
Nor have I anything to regret in my action, now that we have thus
gained the pledge of the Pottawattomies for protection upon the march."

She watched me closely as I spoke, and I wondered if she realized ever
so dimly the impulse of loving service that had inspired my deed.
Whether 'twas so or not, her whole mood quickly changed.

"I must admit you are a constant puzzle to me, John Wayland, yet
rather an interesting one withal. For instance, here is Josette, who
did assure me but an hour ago that your very name was unknown to her,
although, if memory serves, you asserted only yesterday that you were
seeking her from the Maumee country. Perhaps, sir, you can explain the
contradiction?"

"It was not altogether as you have stated it, Mademoiselle," I
stammered, confused by the directness of her attack. "I said nothing
of knowing this Josette, and you have deceived yourself in the matter.
I came here seeking a young girl, 'tis true, but found no trace of her
until a few hours ago, most curiously, in the heart of that Indian camp
yonder."

"You found her there? How strange!"

"Most strange indeed, Mademoiselle, especially as she appeared to enjoy
perfect liberty among the savages."

"You spoke with her?"

"Not a word; it was only a glimpse I caught of her in the firelight,
and when I sought to go to her the warriors interfered and forced me
back. But Captain Heald, who saw her at the same time, assured me 'twas
the one I sought."

"'Tis small wonder, then, you could stand here at my very side so long,
and yet see me not, or remain indifferent to my presence," she said,
drawing slightly back. "Come, Captain de Croix, let us walk to the
other corner of the stockade, and leave Master Wayland to dream of his
mysterious beauty undisturbed."

"You misapprehend me," I cried, awakened by her words, but more by De
Croix's smile. "She has no such hold upon my memory as that, for until
to-night I had supposed her a mere child. I knew not you were upon the
platform, believing the forms I saw in the gloom to be those of the
night-guard. What dark figure is that, even now leaning over the logs
yonder?"

It was De Croix's deeper voice that made answer.

"'Tis Captain Wells; and we found him in no mood for conversation.
Seemingly he hath small faith in the pledges of the chiefs."

"My own hope rests far more upon our skill at arms, Monsieur," I
answered directly; "for I have known Indian treachery all my life. They
may keep faith with us to-morrow, for John Kinzie has great influence
with them for good; nevertheless, I shall oil my gun carefully before
riding forth."

It was in his eyes to make reply; but before it could come the girl
between us uttered a cry so piercing that it set us gazing where her
finger pointed out across the lake.

"Look there, Messieurs! Did ever mortal behold so grewsome a sight
before? What means the portent?"

It is before me now, in each grim, uncanny detail,--though I know
well that my pen will fail to give it fit description, or convey even
feebly a sense of the overwhelming dread of what we saw. Nature has
power to paint what human hand may never hope to copy; and though, as
I now know well, it was no more than a strange commingling of cloud
and moon in atmospheric illusion, still the effect was awe-inspiring
to a degree difficult of realization within the environments of peace
and safety. To us, it appeared as a dreadful warning,--a mysterious
manifestation of supernatural power, chilling our blood with terror
and striking agony into our souls. Up from the far east had rolled an
immense black cloud, rifted here and there by bars of vivid yellow as
electric bolts tore it asunder. Moonlight tipped its heavy edges with a
pale spectral gleam; and as it swiftly rose higher and higher into the
sky, blotting out the stars, it seemed to dominate the entire expanse,
hovering over us menacingly, and assuming the shape of some gigantic
monster, with leering face and cruel mouth, bending forward as if to
smite us with huge uplifted hand. Perchance our tensioned nerves may
have exaggerated the resemblance, but nothing more horribly real have
my eyes ever beheld.

For a moment I cowered, like a nerveless craven, behind the logs,
gazing up at that awful apparition, that mocking devil's-face, as a man
fronts death in some terrible and unexpected form. It seemed as if the
breath of the creature must be pestilence, and that it would smite us
gasping to earth, or draw us helplessly struggling within its merciless
clutch. A prayer trembled on my lips, but remained unuttered, for I
could only stare upward at the mighty, crawling thing now overshadowing
us, my arms uplifted in impotent effort to avert the crushing blow.

I could hear the girl sob where she had sunk upon the platform, and
caught one glimpse of De Croix, his face yellow in the weird glare as
he stared in speechless terror out over the water, his hands clutching
the palisades. It was Captain Wells, who had been standing near us, who
first found voice.

"Tis the Death-Shadow of the Miamis!" he cried, in choked accents,
striding toward us along the narrow plank, and pointing eastward. "I
knew it must come, for our doom is sealed."

What centuries of Indian superstition rested behind the fateful
utterance, I know not; but facing that horrible spectre as we did, his
words held me in speechless awe. In the blood of us all such terrors
linger to unman the bravest; and for the moment such fright and panic
swept me as I have never known before or since. I, who have laughed at
death even in the hour of torture, sank in deadly agony before that
mystery of light and shadow, as if it indeed foreshadowed the wrath of
the Great Spirit.

The sobs of Mademoiselle recalled me somewhat to myself, and led me to
forget my own terror that I might help to relieve hers.

"I beg you, fear not," I urged, though my voice trembled and my lips
were dry. "Come, Mademoiselle," and I found her hand and clasped it,
feeling the touch a positive relief to my unstrung nerves, "look up and
see! the cloud is even now breaking asunder, and has already lost much
of its form of terror. Mind not the words of Captain Wells; he has been
raised among the Indians, and drunk in their superstitions. De Croix,
arouse yourself, and help me to bring courage to this girl."

He drew back from his grip on the palisades, as if, by sheer power of
will, he forced his fascinated eyes from the cloud-bank, shivering like
a man with an ague fit.

"_Sacre!_ did ever human eyes behold so foul a thing!" he cried, his
voice shaking, his hand shading his face. "'Twill haunt me till the
hour I die."

"Bah! 'Twill all be forgotten with return of daylight," I was quick to
reply; for had found relief in action, and could perceive already that
the clouds were becoming shapeless and drifting rapidly southward in a
great billowy mass. "Do not stand there moping like a day-blind owl,
but aid me to make Mademoiselle see the foolishness of her fears."

The sting of these words moved him more than a blow would have done;
but as he knelt beside her, I noted there was little of the old
reckless ring in his voice.

"'Tis indeed true, Toinette,--'twas but a cloud, and has already
greatly changed in aspect. 'Twill be no more than cause for laughter
when the sun gilds the plain, and will form a rare tale to tell to the
gallants at Montreal. Yet, Saint Guise! 'twas grewsome enough, and my
knees quake still from the terror of the thing."

Mademoiselle was as brave and cool-headed a girl as ever I knew; but
so thoroughly had she been unnerved by this dreadful happening, that
it was only after the most persistent urging on our part that she
consented to be led below. There, at the foot of the ladder, I stepped
aside to permit De Croix to walk with her across the parade; but she
would not go without a word of parting.

"Do not think me weak and silly," she implored, her face, still white
from the terror, upturned to me in the moonlight. "It was so spectral
and ghastly that I gave way to sudden fear."

"You need no excuse," I hastened to assure her. "When the thing
frightened De Croix and me, and even set so old a soldier as Captain
Wells to raving, it was no wonder it unnerved a girl, however brave
she might prove in the presence of real danger. But you can sleep now,
convinced it was naught but a floating cloud."

She smiled at me over her shoulder, and I watched the pair with jealous
eyes until they disappeared. I noticed Captain Wells standing beside me.

"You thought I raved up yonder," he said gravely; "to-morrow will prove
that my interpretation of the vision was correct."

"You believe it a prophecy of evil?"

"It was the warning of the Great Spirit--the Death-Shadow of the
Miamis. Never has it appeared to men of our tribe except on the eve of
great disaster, the forerunner of grave tragedy. We ride forth from
these gates to death."

It was plain that no amount of reasoning could change his Indian
superstition; and with a word more of expostulation I left him standing
there, and sought a place where I might lie down. Already the numbing
sensation of supernatural fear had left me, for in the breaking up
of that odd-formed cloud I realized its cause; and now the physical
fatigue I felt overmastered all else. I found a quiet corner, and, with
a saddle for a pillow, was soon fast asleep.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE DAY OF DOOM

Fifteenth August, 1812. My hand trembles and my pen halts as I write
the words; for the memory of those tragic hours, far distant as they
are now, over masters me, and I see once again the faces of the dead,
the mutilated forms, the disfigured features of the hapless victims of
savage treachery. Were I writing romance merely, I might hide much of
detail behind the veil of silence; but I am penning history, and, black
as the record is, I can only give it with strict adherence to truth. I
dread the effort to recall once more the sad incidents of that scene
of carnage, lest I fail to picture it aright; but I can tell, and that
poorly, only of what I saw within the narrowed vista of my personal
experience, where the fate of the day found me. Out of the vortex of so
fierce and sudden a struggle, the individual, battling madly for his
own life, catches but hasty and confused glimpses of what others may do
about him or in other portions of the field; and there has been much
recorded in what men call the history of that day's battle, about which
I know nothing. Nor shall I attempt to tell much more than the simple
story of what befell me and those who faced the danger close at my side.

In spite of the early bustle around me, incident to the preparations
for departure, I slept late, stupefied by intense fatigue. The sun
was already high, painting with gold the interior of the western wall
of the stockade, when some unusual disturbance aroused me, so that I
sat up and looked about, scarce realizing for the moment where I was.
The parade was alive with moving figures; and I instantly marked the
cheery look on the faces of those nearest me, as if the entire garrison
rejoiced that the hour for departure had at last arrived. The northern
half of the little open space was filled with loaded wagons of every
description, to which horses, mules, and even oxen, were being rapidly
hitched; while women and children were clambering in over the wheels,
perching themselves upon the heaps of camp accoutrements, and rolling
up the canvas coverings in order that they might the better see out and
feel the soft refreshment of the morning air.

The officers of the post were moving here and there among the throng
of workers, grave of face, yet making no effort to curb the unusual
gaiety of the enlisted men. For the time, all reins of discipline
seemed relaxed. The few settlers and plainsmen who had gathered within
the Fort for protection looked on stolidly, either lying in the shade
of the log wall or lounging beside their horses already equipped for
the trail; while the Miamis were gathered restlessly about their
breakfast fires, their faces unexpressive of emotion, as usual,
although many among them had blackened their cheeks in expectation of
disaster.

Evidently the hour fixed upon for our final desertion of Fort Dearborn
was close at hand; and I hastened to seek opportunity for a bath and
breakfast. I do not recall now, looking back after all these years upon
the events of that day, any dreading of the future, or serious thought
of the coming ordeal. The bustle of excitement about me, the high
spirits of the men, were like a tonic; and I remembered only that we
were east-bound once more, and my chief concern was to be ready to ride
out promptly with the column.

It could not have been far from nine o'clock when every preparation
was completed, and the echoing bugle called the laggards from their
quarters into the open parade. The officers, already mounted, rode
about quietly, assigning each driver and wagon to position in the
marching column, and carefully mustering the troops. The many sick of
the garrison were brought forth from the barracks in their blankets,
and gently lifted to places beside the women and children in the
loaded wagons; while the men fit for active duty fell in promptly along
the southern wall, the right of their slender column resting opposite
the barred entrance. I was assigned to ride with the rear-guard beside
the wagons, in company with the few settlers and fifteen of the Miamis
under command of Sergeant Jordan. Captains Heald and Wells, the latter
with face blackened so that at first glance I scarcely recognized him,
took position at the head of the waiting column in front of the closed
gates, and they sat there on their horses, facing us, and watching
anxiously our rather slow formation.

John Kinzie joined them, his features grave and careworn, a long rifle
in his hands; while the ladies of the garrison, plainly dressed for the
long and hard journey, came forth from their several quarters and were
assisted to mount the horses reserved for them. De Croix accompanied
Mademoiselle, attired as for a gay pleasure-ride in the park, and
gave her his gloved hand to step from into the saddle, with all the
gallantry he might have shown a queen. I knew this was no boy's play
before us now; and, crushing back my natural diffidence, I spurred my
horse boldly forward until we ranged up beside her, even venturing to
uncover in polite salute.

Never did I see her look fairer than beneath the shade of the
wide-brimmed hat she had donned to keep the hot sun from her clear
cheeks; nor was there the slightest vestige of last night's terror
lurking in the laughing eyes that flashed me greeting.

"I surely know of one sad heart amid this gay company," she exclaimed,
"for while we rejoice at being once more bound for civilization, Master
Wayland looks most truly mournful; doubtless his thought is with her
who has turned Indian for a time."

Her careless bantering tone nettled me; but I was quick enough to
answer, having no wish to awaken her fears as to the safety of our
journey.

"'Tis true, Mademoiselle. I dislike greatly to leave in peril one
I have journeyed so far to seek; nor can I banish from my mind the
thought that perhaps I am failing in my duty toward her. Yet surely you
have small cause for complaint, as I have, instead, deliberately chosen
to ride here at your side, in order that I may be near to defend you
should occasion arise,--provided always that my presence shall meet
your wishes and approval."

She bowed as best she could in her high-peaked saddle, shooting a
mischievous glance from me to the unconcerned and self-satisfied face
of the Frenchman.

"I am indeed most gratified and happy, Monsieur, thus to feel myself
the object of such devotion; but I greatly fear you will prove but a
poor companion on the journey if you wear so glum a look. Captain
de Croix is full of wit and good-humor this morning, and has already
cheered me greatly with reminiscences of happier days."

"Indeed?" I said, looking at the fellow curiously. "He has quickly
forgotten the baleful portent of last night. I thought the daylight
would yield him new heart."

"And why not? 'Twas but a cloud, as all of us know now,--though I
confess it terrified me greatly at the time. You yourself seem not even
yet to have wholly shaken off its terror."

"'Tis not the supernatural that so troubles me," I rejoined. "As you
may perceive yonder, Captain Wells rides forth with blackened face to
what he deems to be certain death. I acknowledge, Mademoiselle, that
I look forward to a serious clash of arms before we are rid of the
redskins, in spite of their pledges; and shall therefore keep close
beside you, hopeful that my arm may show you better service than my
tongue before nightfall."

Her eyes had grown grave as she listened; for I spoke with soberness,
and there crept into them a look that thrilled me. Before either could
speak again, Ensign Ronan rode up beside me.

"Wayland," he questioned anxiously, "what is this I hear about a
strange portent in the eastern sky last night? Saw you anything
terrifying there?"

"'Twas no more serious than a cloud which chanced to assume the form
of a monster, and its aspect was most terrifying until we understood
the nature of its formation. Then it became merely an odd memory to
weave a tale about. Mademoiselle here saw it, and remains in most
excellent spirits nevertheless."

He lifted his hat to her, and stared hard at De Croix, who barely
nodded to his greeting.

"By Heavens!" he exclaimed, as if much relieved, "it seemed to me as if
Nature had conspired with those red demons yonder to sap our courage,
when first I heard the rumor. I am so convinced that there is trouble
afoot, that my nerves are all a-tingle at such mystery."

"Are the savages gathering without?"

"Ay! they are in mass of hundreds, awaiting us at the foot of the
mound, and have been since daybreak. See! the sentries are being called
down, and the men are at the gate levers. I must be back at my post."

He held out his hand, and I clasped it warmly, feeling my heart go out
instantly to the brave, impetuous lad.

"You ride this day with the rear-guard," he said, lingering as if
loath to go, "and my duty lies with the van. We may not chance to meet
again, but the God we spoke about together last night will strengthen
our hearts to meet their duty. It matters not where men die, but how.
Good-bye, Mademoiselle! Captain de Croix, I wish you a most pleasant
journey."

With doffed hat, he struck spurs into his nettle-some horse, and was
gone; while the ringing notes of the bugle called the waiting column to
attention.

I watched with deepening interest all that was taking place before
me. The heavy log-gates were unbarred, swung slowly inward, and left
unguarded. Captain Heald uttered a single stern word of command, and
Captain Wells, with a squad of his Miamis pressing hard at his horse's
heels, rode slowly through the opening out into the flood of sunshine.
Captain Heald and Mr. Kinzie, side by side, with Mrs. Heald mounted
upon a spirited bay horse a yard in their rear, followed close; and
then to Lieutenant Helm's grave order the sturdy column of infantrymen,
heavily equipped and marching in column of fours, swept in solemn curve
about the post of the gate, and filed out through the narrow entrance.
The regular tramp-tramp, the evident discipline, and the confident look
of the men, impressed me. While I was watching them, the small garrison
band began suddenly to play, and the smiling soldier faces clouded as
they glanced around in questioning surprise.

"Saint Guise!" ejaculated De Croix, uneasily; "it is the Dead March!"

I marked the sudden look of terrified astonishment in Mademoiselle's
eyes, and dropped my hand upon hers where it rested against the
saddle-pommel. Ensign Ronan spurred swiftly back down the column, with
an angry face, and hushed the ill sound by a sharp order.

"Another tune, you fool, or none at all!" he said, peremptorily. "The
foul fiend himself must have assumed charge of our march to-day."

As the column marched away, the groaning wagons one by one fell into
line behind it, until at last our own turn came, and De Croix and I,
each with a hand upon the bridle-rein of Mademoiselle's spirited horse,
rode between the gate-posts out to where we had full view of that
stirring scene below.

It was a fair, bright morning, with hardly so much as a fleecy white
cloud in all the expanse of sky; glorious sunlight was flashing its
prismatic colors over a lake surface barely ruffled by the faintest
breeze. Never did Nature smile more brightly back into my eyes than
then, as I gazed out over the broad plain where the glow of the
summer reflected back in shimmering waves from the tawny prairie and
glittering sand. With all its desolation, it was a picture to be
treasured long; nor has a single detail of it ever left my memory.

How vast the distances appeared through that clear, sun-illumined
atmosphere, and how pronounced and distinctive were the varied colors
spread to the full vista of the eye, contrasts of shine and shadow
no human brush, however daring, would venture to depict on canvas. A
primitive land this, idealized by distance, vast in its wide, sweeping
plains, its boundless sea, its leagues of glistening sand, and, bending
over all, the deepest, darkest arch of blue that ever mirrored so fair
a picture of the wilderness.

Scattered groups of cottonwood trees, the irregular mounds and ridges
of sand, the silvery ribbon of river, merely emphasized the whole,
and gave new meaning to what might else have been but sheer desert
waste. I knew little then of what other years had seen within these
solitudes and within the circle of my view; yet scraps of border legend
came floating back into memory, until I recalled the name of many an
old-time adventurer,--La Salle, Joliet, Marquette the Jesuit,--who must
have camped beside that very stream out yonder.

The column had halted as our last laggards cleared the gate; and for
a moment we rested in silence upon the side of the slope, while the
long line was being re-arranged for travel. The Indians, in seemingly
disorganized masses, were already enveloping the head of the column
with noisy clamor, and Wells was having difficulty in holding his
Miami scouts to their proper position. A few scattered and skulking
savages,--chiefly squaws, I thought at the time,--were stealthily
edging their way up the slope of the slight rise, eager to begin the
spoliation of the Fort as soon as we had deserted it.

Wild and turbulent as was the scene, I perceived no alarming symptoms
of hostility, and turned toward Mademoiselle with lighter heart. Her
dark eyes were full of suppressed merriment as they encountered mine.

"I thought you would sit there and dream all day," she said pleasantly;
"and I hardly have the heart to blame you. 'Tis indeed a fair scene,
and one I almost regret leaving, now that the time to do so has come.
Never before has its rare beauty so strongly appealed to me."

"'Tis the great distance outspread yonder which renders all so soft to
the eye," I answered, glad to reflect her mood; "yet Captain de Croix
and I know well 'tis far less pleasant travelling over than to look at
here. We think of the swamps, the forests, the leagues of sand and the
swift rivers which will hinder our progress."

"I hardly imagine," she murmured softly, "that Captain de Croix is
guilty of wasting precious time in reflection upon aught so trivial
this morning. He has been conversing with me upon the proper cut of his
waistcoat, and I am sure he is too deeply engrossed in that subject to
give heed to other things."

I glanced at him and smiled as my heart glowed to her gentle sarcasm,
for surely never did a more incongruous figure take saddle on a western
trail. By what code of fashion he may have dressed, I know not; but
from his slender-pointed bronze shoes to his beribboned hat he was
still the dandy of the boulevards, his dark mustaches curled upward
till their tips nearly touched his ears, and a delicately carved
riding-whip swinging idly at his wrist. He seemed to have already
exhausted his powers of conversation, for he remained oblivious of our
presence, fumbling with one yellow-gloved hand in the recesses of a
saddle-bag.

"By Saint Denis, Sam!" he exclaimed, angrily, to his black satellite,
"I can find nothing of the powder-puff, or the bag of essence!
_Parbleu!_ if they have been left behind you will go back after them,
though every Indian in this Illinois country stand between. Come, you
imp of darkness, know you aught of these?"

"Dey am wid de pack-hoss, Massa de Croix," was the oily answer. "I done
s'posed you wouldn't need 'em till we got thar."

"Need them! Little you know the requirements of a gentleman! Saint
Guise! Why, I shall want them both this very day! Ride you forward
there, and see if they cannot be picked out from among the other
things."

"See, Monsieur!" cried Mademoiselle suddenly, one hand pressing my arm,
while she pointed eagerly with the other, "there goes the boat with
Mistress Kinzie and her children! That must be Josette in the bow,
with the gay streamer about her hat. She did wish so to ride with us,
but Mr. Kinzie would not permit it."

The boat had but just cleared the river-mouth, and was working
off-shore, with half a dozen Indians laboring at the oars.

"Yet Josette has by far the easiest passage, as we shall learn before
night," said I, watching their progress curiously. "I imagine you will
soon be wishing you were with them."

"Never, Master Wayland!" she cried, with a little shudder, and quick
uplifting of hands to her face as if to shut out the sight. "Memory
of the hours when I was last on the lake is still too vivid. I have
grown to dread the water as if it were an evil spirit. See! the column
resumes its march, and the savages are moving beside us as might a
guard of honor."

It was as she had said. The long, hard journey had begun; and slowly,
like some great snake torpid with a winter's sleep, the crawling column
drew forward. We at the rear rode down the incline and out upon the
level plain, every step an unconscious advance toward battle and death.



CHAPTER XXV

IN THE JAWS OF THE TIGER


We chatted carelessly about many things, as we rode slowly onward, our
unguided horses following those in advance along the well-marked trail
close beside the water along the sandy beach. Mademoiselle was full of
life and bubbling over with good-humor; while De Croix, having found
the essentials of his toilet safe, grew witty and light of speech,
even interesting me now and then in the idle words that floated to my
ears,--for he managed to monopolize the attention of the young girl so
thoroughly that after a little time I sat silent in my saddle, scarce
adding a word to their gay tilt, my eyes and thought upon the changing
scene ahead.

I know not why, as I reflect calmly upon the incidents of that morning,
I should have grown so confident that the savages meant us fair; yet
this feeling steadily took possession of me, and I even began to
regret that I had not stayed behind in quest of her for whom I had
come so far. Surely it was hopeless for me to dangle longer beside
Mademoiselle, for De Croix knew so well the little ins and outs of
social intercourse that I was like a child for his play. Moreover, it
was clear enough that the girl liked him, or he would never presume
so to monopolize her attention. That she saw through much of his vain
pretence, was indeed probable; her words had conveyed this to me.
Nevertheless, it was plain she found him entertaining; he was like a
glittering jewel in that rough wilderness, and I was too dull of brain
and narrow of experience to hope for success against him in a struggle
for the favor of a girl so fair and gay as this Toinette.

I thought the matter all out as I rode on through the sunlight, my
eyes upon the painted savages who trooped along upon our right in such
stolid silence and seeming indifference, my ears open to the light
badinage and idle compliments of my two companions. Yes, it would be
better so. When the Indians left the column at the head of the lake, I
would invent some excuse that might allow me to accompany them on their
return, and I would remain in the neighborhood of the Fort until Elsa
Matherson had been found.

Just in front of us, a large army wain struggled along through the
yielding sand, drawn by a yoke of lumbering oxen. The heavy canvas
cover had been pushed high up in front, and I could see a number of
women and children seated upon the bedding piled within, and looking
with curious interest at the stream of Indians plodding moodily beside
the wheels. Some of the little tots' faces captivated me with their
expression of wide-eyed wonder, and I rode forward to speak with them;
for love of children is always in my heart.

As I turned my horse to draw back beside Mademoiselle, my eyes rested
upon the stockade of the old Fort, now some little distance in our
rear; and to my surprise it already swarmed with savages. Not less than
five hundred Indians,--warriors, all of them, and well armed,--tramped
as guards beside our long and scattered column, yet hundreds of others
were even now overrunning the mound and pouring in at the Fort gates,
eager for plunder. I could hear their shouting, their fierce yells
of exultation, while the grim and silent fellows who accompanied us
never so much as glanced around, although I caught here and there the
glint of a cruel, crafty eye. The sight made me wonder; and I swung my
long rifle out from the straps at my back down across the pommel of my
saddle, more ready to my hand.

The trail we had been following now swerved nearer the lake, deflected
somewhat by a long high ridge of beaten sand, separating the shore from
the prairie. Here the two advancing lines of white and red diverged,
the Indians moving around to the western side of the sand-ridge,
while Captain Wells and his Miami scouts continued their march along
the beach. There was nothing about this movement to awaken suspicion
of treachery, for the beach at this point had narrowed too much for
so great a number moving abreast, and it was therefore only natural
that our allies should seek a wider space for their marching, knowing
they could easily reunite with us a mile or so below, where the beach
broadened again. Their passing thus from our sight was a positive
relief; and so quiet did everything become, except for groaning wheels
and the heavy tread of horses, that Mademoiselle glanced up in surprise.

"Why, what has become of the Indians?" she questioned. "Have they
already left us?"

I pointed to the intervening sand-ridge.

"They move parallel with us, but prefer to walk upon the prairie-grass
rather than these beach pebbles. For my part, I would willingly
dispense with their guard altogether; for in my judgment we are of
sufficient strength to defend ourselves."

"Ay, strong enough against savages," interposed De Croix, his eyes
upon the straggling line ahead; "yet if by any chance treachery was
intended, surely I never saw military formation less adapted for
repelling sudden attack. Mark how those fellows march out yonder!--all
in a bunch, and with not so much as a corporal's guard to protect the
wagons!"

I was no soldier then, and knew little of military formation; but his
criticism seemed just, and I ventured not upon answering it. Indeed, at
that very moment some confusion far in front, where Captain Wells led
his scouts, attracted my attention. We must have been a mile and a half
from the Fort by this time, and I recalled to memory the little group
of trees standing beside the trail where we had halted on our journey
westward to enjoy our earliest glimpse of Dearborn. At first I could
make out little of what was taking place ahead; then suddenly I saw the
squad of Miamis break hastily, like a cloud swept by a whirling wind,
and the next instant could clearly distinguish Captain Wells riding
swiftly back toward the column of infantry, his head bare, and one arm
gesticulating wildly. In a moment the whole line came to a startled and
wondering pause.

"What is it?" questioned Mademoiselle anxiously, shading her eyes.
"Have the Indians attacked us?"

"God knows!" I exclaimed, clinching my rifle firmly. "But it must
be,--look there!"

Wheeling rapidly into line, as if at command, although we could hear
no sound of the order, the soldiers poured one quick volley into the
sand-ridge on their right, and then, with a cheer which floated
faintly back to us, made a wild rush for the summit. This was all I
saw of the struggle in front,--for, with a cry of dismay, the Miamis
composing the rear-guard broke from their posts beside the wagons and
came running back past us in a panic of wild terror. I saw Sergeant
Jordan throw himself across their line of flight, striking fiercely
with his gun, and cursing them for a pack of cowardly hounds; but he
was thrown helplessly aside in their blind rush for safety.

"Wayland! De Croix!" he shouted, staggering to his knees, "help me stop
these curs, if you would save our lives!"

It was a fool thing, yet in the excitement I did it, and De Croix
was beside me. Two or three of the settlers on foot rallied with us,
and together we struck so hard against those cowering renegades that
for the moment we held them, though their fear gave them desperation
difficult to withstand. I recall noticing De Croix, as he pressed
his rearing horse into the huddled mass, lashing at the faces of the
fellows mercilessly with his riding-whip, as if thinking Mademoiselle
would admire his reckless gallantry.

A wild yell, with the mad thrill of the war-whoop in it, suddenly
assailed our ears; the Miamis broke to the left like a flock of
frightened birds, and my startled glance revealed a horde of naked
Indians, howling like maniacs, and with madly brandished weapons,
pouring over the sand-ridge not thirty feet away from us. With a shout
of warning, which was half a curse at my own mad folly, I drove the
spurs deep into my horse's side in a vain endeavor to fling myself
between them and the girl. Hardly had the startled animal made one
quick plunge, when we were locked in that human avalanche as if gripped
by a vise of steel. A dozen dark hands grasped my bridle or clutched at
me, their swarthy faces fierce with blood-lust, the eyes that fronted
me cruel with passion and inflamed by hate. I heard shots not far away;
but we were all too closely jammed to do more than fight in a desperate
hand-to-hand struggle with club and knife.

The saddle is a poor place from which to swing a rifle, yet I stood
high in my wooden stirrups and struck madly at every Indian head I
saw, battering their faces till from the very horror of it they gave
slowly back. I won a yard--two yards--three,--my horse biting viciously
at their naked flesh, and lashing out with both fore-feet like a
fiend, while I swept my gun-stock in a widening circle of death. For
the moment, I dreamed we might drive them back; but then those devils
blocked me, clinging to my horse's legs in their death agony, and
laughing back into my face as I struck them down.

Once I heard De Croix swearing in French beside me, and glanced around
through the mad turmoil to see him cutting and hacking with broken
blade, pushing into the midst of the _mêlée_ as if he had real joy in
the encounter. While I thus had him in view, a knife whistled through
the air, there was a quick dazzle in the sunlight, and he reeled
backward off his horse and disappeared in the ruck below.

Never in a life of fighting have I battled as I did then, feeling that
I alone might hope to reach her side and beat back these foul fiends
till help should come to us. The stock of my rifle shattered like
glass; but I swung the iron barrel with what seemed to me the strength
of twenty men, striking, thrusting, stabbing, my teeth set, my eyes
blurring with a mist of blood, caring for nothing except to hit and
kill. I know not now whether I advanced at all in that last effort,
though my horse trod on dead bodies. Only once in those awful seconds
did I gain a glimpse of Mademoiselle through the mist of struggle, the
maze of uplifted arms and striking steel. She had reined her horse back
against a wheel of the halted wagon, and with white face and burning
eyes was lashing desperately with the loaded butt of her riding-whip at
the red hands which sought to drag her from the saddle.

The sight maddened me, and again my spurs were driven into my horse's
flanks. As he plunged forward, some one from behind struck me a
crushing blow across the back of the head, and I reeled from my saddle,
a red mist over my eyes, and went hurling face downward upon the mass
of reeling, tangled bodies.

[Illustration: "She had reined her horse back against a wheel of the
halted wagon."]



CHAPTER XXVI

THE FIELD OF THE DEAD


The fierce plunging of my horse in his death agony, and his final
pitching forward across my prostrate body, were doubtless all that
saved my life. Yielding to their mad desire for plunder, the savages
scattered when I fell, and left me lying there for dead. I do not think
I quite lost consciousness in those first moments, although everything
became blurred to my sight, and I was imprisoned by the weight above me
so that the slightest effort to move proved painful; indeed, I breathed
only with the greatest difficulty.

But I both heard and saw, and my mind was intensely occupied with the
rush of thought, the horror of all that was going on about me. How I
wish I might blot it out,--forget forever the hellish deeds of those
dancing devils who made mock of human agony and laughed at tears
and prayers! It was plain, as the wild cries of rejoicing rose on
every side, that the Indians had swept the field. The distant sound
of firing ceased, and I could hear the pitiful cries of women, the
frightened shrieks of children, the shrill note of intense agony wrung
from tortured lips. Close beside me lay a dead warrior, his hideously
painted face, with its wide, glaring, dead eyes, so fronting me that I
had left only a narrow space through which to peer. Within that small
opening I saw murder done until I closed my eyes in shuddering horror,
crazed by my own sense of helplessness, and feeling the awful fate
that must already have befallen her I loved. God knows I had then no
faintest wish to live; nor did I dream that I should see the sun go
down that day. Death was upon every side of me, in its most dreadful
forms; and every cry that reached my ears, every sight that met my
eyes, only added to the frightful reality of my own helplessness. The
inert weight of the horse stifled me so that I drew my short breath
almost in sobs; nor did I dare venture upon the slightest attempt at
release, hemmed about as I was by merciless fiends now hideously drunk
with slaughter. Once I heard a man plead for mercy, shrieking the words
forth as if his intensity of agony had robbed him of all manliness; I
saw a young woman fall headlong, the haft of a tomahawk cleaving open
her head, as a brawny red arm gripped her by the throat; a child, with
long yellow hair, and face distorted by terror, ran past my narrow
outlook, a naked savage grasping after her scarcely a foot behind. I
heard her wild scream of despair and his shout of triumph as he struck
her down. Then I lost consciousness, overwhelmed by the multiplying
horrors of that field of blood.

It is hard to tell how long I lay there, or by what miracle of God's
great mercy I had escaped death and mutilation. It was still day, the
sun was high in the heaven, and the heat almost intolerable, beating
down upon the dry and glittering sand. I could distinguish no sound
near at hand, not even a moan of any kind. The human forms about me
were stiffening in death; nor did any skulking Indian figures appear in
sight.

From away to the northward I could hear the echo of distant yelling;
and as I lay there, every faculty alert, I became more and more
convinced that the savages who had attacked us had withdrawn, and that
I alone of all that fated company was preserved, through some strange
dispensation of Providence, for what might prove a more terrible fate
than any on that stricken field. With this thought there was suddenly
born within me a fresh desire for life, a mad thirsting after revenge
on those red demons whose merciless work I had been compelled to see.
Yet if I hoped to preserve my life, I must have water and air; a
single hour longer in my present situation could only result in death.
Fortunately, such relief, now that I felt free to exert myself and
seek it, was not so difficult as it had seemed. The heavy horse rested
upon other bodies as well as my own, so that, little by little, I
succeeded in dragging myself out from beneath his weight, until I was
finally able to lift my head and glance cautiously about me.

I pause now as I sit writing, my face buried in my hands, at the memory
of that dreadful field of death. I cannot picture it, nor have I wish
to try. I took one swift glimpse at the riven skulls, the mangled
limbs, the mutilated bodies, the upturned pleading faces white and
ghastly in the sunlight, the women and children huddled in heaps of
slain, the seemingly endless line of disfigured, half-stripped bodies
stretching far down the white beach; then I fell upon my face in the
sand, sobbing like a baby. O God, how could such deeds be done? How
could creatures shaped like men prove themselves such fiends, such
hideous devils of malignity? It sickened me with horror, and I shrank
from those dead bodies as if each had been a grim and threatening ghost.

Necessity presently overcame the dread possessing me; and slowly,
seeking to see no more than I must of the awful scenes about me, I
struggled to my knees, and peered around cautiously for signs of
skulking Indians. Not a living creature was near enough to observe
me. To the northward the savages were swarming about the Fort, and
it was evident that they had left everything to search for plunder.
My uncovered head throbbed under the hot sun, and my hair was thick
with clotted blood; scarce a hundred feet away was the blue lake, and
on my hands and knees I crawled across the beach to it, forgetful of
everything else in my desire to roll in the cool sweet water.

I realized that it would be far safer for me to remain there until
darkness shrouded my movements; but I felt so revived by the touch of
the water that the old desire for action overcame considerations of
personal safety. Before night came I must somehow gain possession of
a rifle, with powder and ball; and I must discover, if possible, the
fate of Mademoiselle. I cannot describe how, like a frightened child,
I shrank from going again amid those mutilated corpses. I started
twice, only to crawl back into the water, nerveless and shaking like
the leaf of a cottonwood. I knew it must be done, and that the sooner I
attempted it the safer would be the trial; so at last, with set teeth
and almost superhuman effort, I crept up the beach among the silent,
disfigured dead once more.

With little trouble I found the wagon against which I had seen
Mademoiselle draw back her horse in that last desperate defence. It was
overturned, scorched with flame, its contents widely scattered; while
about it lay the bodies of men, women, and children. A single hasty
glance at most of these was sufficient; but a few were so huddled and
hidden that I was compelled to move them before I thoroughly convinced
myself that Mademoiselle was not there. I finally found her horse,
several rods away, lying against the sand-ridge; but she whose body I
sought with such fond persistency was not among those mangled forms.
Faint and sick from the awful scene, with head throbbing painfully, I
sank down upon a slope of sand where I was able to command a clear view
in either direction, and thought rapidly. I was alone with the dead. Of
all those lying silent before me, none would stir again. Not a savage
roamed the stricken field,--though doubtless they would again swarm
down upon it as soon as the sacking of the Fort had been completed. I
must plan, and plan quickly, if I would preserve my own life and be of
service to others. And life was worth preserving now, for there was
a possibility,--faint, to be sure, yet a possibility,--that Toinette
still lived. How the mere hope thrilled and animated me! how like a
trumpet-sound it called to action! She had told me once of friendships
between her and these blood-stained warriors; of weeks passed in
Indian camps on the great plains, both with her father and alone; of
being called the White Queen in the lodges of Sacs, Wyandots, and
Pottawattomies. Perchance some such friendship may have intervened
to save her, even in that fierce _mêlée_, that carnival of lust and
murder. Some chief, with sufficient power to dare the deed, may have
snatched her from out the jaws of death, actuated by motives of
mercy,--or, more likely still, have saved her from the stroke of the
tomahawk for a far more terrible fate.

This was the thought that brought me again to my feet with burning face
and tightly clinched teeth. If she lived, a helpless prisoner in those
black lodges yonder, there was work to be done,--stern, desperate work,
that would require all my courage and resourcefulness. Firm in manly
resolve, and rendered reckless now of contact with the dead, I crept
back among the bodies in eager search for gun and ammunition. For a
long time I sought vainly; the field had been stripped by many a vandal
hand. At last, however, I turned over a painted giant of a savage whose
head had been crushed with a blow, and beneath him discovered a long
rifle with powder-horn half filled. As I drew it forth, uttering a cry
of delight at my precious find, my eyes fell upon a pair of bronze
boots, with long narrow toes, protruding from beneath a tangled mass of
the slain. It was no doubt the tomb of De Croix; and without so much as
a thought that he could be alive, I drew the bodies off him and dragged
his form forth into the sunlight.

Merciful Heaven! his heart still beat,--so faintly, indeed, that
I could barely note it with my ear at his chest. But life was
surely there, and with a hasty glance about to assure me that I
was unobserved, I ran to the lake shore. I returned with hat full
of water, with which I thoroughly drenched him, rubbing his numbed
hands fiercely, and thumping his chest until at last the closed eyes
partially opened, and he looked up into my anxious face, gasping
painfully for breath. His lips moved as I lifted his head in my arms;
and I bent lower, not certain but he was dying and had some last
message he would whisper in my ear.

"Wayland," he faltered feebly, "is this you? Lord, how my head aches!
Send Sam to me with the hand-mirror and the perfumed soap."

"Hush!" I answered, almost angry at his flippant utterance. "Sam is no
doubt dead, and you and I alone are spared of all the company. Do you
suffer greatly? Think you it would be possible to walk?"

"I have much pain here in the side," he said slowly, "and am yet weak
from loss of blood. All dead, you say? Is Toinette dead?"

"I know not, but I have not found her body among the others, and
believe her to be a prisoner to the savages. But, come, De Croix," I
urged, anxiously, "we run great risk loitering here; there is but one
safe spot for us until after dark,--yonder, crouched in the waters of
the lake. The Indians may return at any moment to complete their foul
work; and for us to be found alive means torture,--most likely the
stake, and will remove the last hope for Mademoiselle. Think you it can
be made if you lean hard on me?"

_"Sacre!_ 'twill not be because I do not try, Master Wayland," he
answered, his voice stronger now that he could breathe more freely, and
with much of his old audacity returned. "Help me to make the start,
friend, for every joint in my body seems rusty."

His face was white and drawn from agony, and he pressed one hand upon
his side, while perspiration stood in beads upon his forehead. But no
moan came from his set lips; and when he rested a moment on his knees,
looking about him upon the dead, a look of grim approval swept into his
eyes.

"Saint Guise, Wayland," he said soberly, "'twas a master fight, and the
savages had it not all their own way!"

It made me sick to hear such boasting amidst the horror that yet
overwhelmed me, and I drew the fellow up to his feet with but little
tenderness.

"God knows 'tis sad enough!" I answered, shortly. "Come, there are
parties of Indians already straying this way from the Fort yonder, and
it behooves us to get in hiding."

He made the distance between us and the water with far less difficulty
than I had expected, and with a better use of his limbs at each step.
In spite of vigorous protest on his part, I forced him out from the
shore until the water entirely covered us, save only our faces; and
there we waited for the merciful coming of the night.



CHAPTER XXVII

A GHOSTLY VISION


The touch of the water brought renewed life to De Croix. This was shown
by the brighter color stealing into his cheeks, as well as by the more
careless tone that crept into his voice. The lake proved shallow for
some considerable distance off shore, and I compelled the Frenchman to
wade with me southward, and as far out as we dared venture, until we
must have reached the extreme limit of the field of massacre. Indeed,
I fully believed we had passed beyond the point where the attack had
first burst upon Captain Wells's Miamis; for I could perceive no sign
of any bodies lying opposite us against the white background of sand.
As the night drew on, squads of savages wandered over the scene of
slaughter, despoiling the stiffening corpses, and taking from the
wagons whatever might suit their fancy. Yet we were now so far removed
that we could distinguish little of their deeds, although the sound of
their voices echoed plainly enough across the water to our ears.

As time passed, the numbness that had paralyzed my brain, either from
the cruel blow that felled me or the terrible shock my nerves had
experienced, gradually passed away, and our situation became more vivid
to my mind. I thought again of all who had gone forth that morning
filled with hope and life. I had, it is true, known none of them long,
but there were many in that ill-fated company who had already grown
dear to me, and one was among them who I now knew beyond all question
was to remain in my heart forever.

I recalled the faces one by one, with some tender memory for each in
turn. I thought of the brave Captain Wells, with his swarthy face,
and Indian training, who had proved himself so truly my friend for
my father's sake; of Captain Heald, the typical bluff soldier of the
border, ready to sacrifice everything to what he deemed his duty; of
Lieutenant Helm, grave of face and calm of speech, always so thoughtful
of his sweet girl bride; and of young Ronan, loyal of heart and
impetuous of deed, whose frank manliness had so drawn me to him. And
now all these brave, true comrades were dead! Only five or six hours
ago I had spoken with them, had ridden by their side; now they lay
motionless yonder, stricken down by the basest treachery, their poor
bodies hacked and mutilated almost beyond recognition. I could scarcely
realize the awful truth; it rested upon me like some horrible dream,
from which I knew I must soon awaken.

But it was Mademoiselle,--Toinette, with the laughing eyes and roguish
face, which yet could be so tender,--whose memory held me vibrating
between constant dread and hope. Living or dead, I must know the truth
concerning her, before I felt the slightest consideration for my own
preservation. If I lived, it should be for her sake, not mine. Plan
after plan came to me as I stood there, my face barely raised above
the water level, praying for the westering sun to sink beneath the
horizon. Yet all my plans were so vague, so visionary, so filled with
difficulties and uncertainties, that at last I had nothing practical
outlined beyond a firm determination in some way to reach the Indian
camp and there learn what I could of its black secrets. I wondered
whether this rash hare-brained Frenchman would aid or hinder such a
purpose; and I glanced aside at him, curious to test the working of his
mind in such a time of trial.

"Saint Guise!" he exclaimed, marking my look, but misinterpreting it;
"the sun has gone down at last, and there seems a chill in the air
where it strikes my wet skin. It is in my thought to wade ashore,
Master Wayland, and seek food for our journey, as I can perceive no
savages near at hand."

"It will be safer if we wait here another half-hour," I answered,
almost inclined to smile at the queer figure he cut, with his long, wet
hair hanging down his shoulders. Then I added, "What journey do you
contemplate?"

He gazed at me, his face full of undisguised amazement.

"What journey? Why, Mon Dieu! to the eastward, of course! Surely you
have no wish to linger in this pleasant spot?"

"And is that the way of a French soldier?" I asked, almost angrily. "I
thought you made the journey westward, Monsieur, for the sake of one
you professed greatly to admire; and now you confess yourself willing
to leave her here to the mercy of these red wolves. Is this the way of
it?"

I spoke the words coolly, and they cut him to the quick. His face
flushed and his eyes flashed with anger; yet I faced him quietly,
though I doubt not I should have felt his hand upon me had we been
better circumstanced for struggle.

"How know you she lives?" he asked sullenly, eying the rifle I still
held across my shoulder.

"I do not know, Monsieur, except that her body is not upon the field
yonder; but I will know before I leave, or give my life in the search.
And if you really loved her as you professed to do, you would dream of
nothing less."

"Love her?" he echoed, his gaze upon the sand, now partially obscured
in the descending twilight. _"Sacre!_ I truly thought I did, for
the girl certainly has beauty and wit, and wove a spell about me in
Montreal. But she has become as a wild bird out here, and is a most
perplexing vixen, laughing at my protestations, so that indeed I hardly
know whether it would be worth the risk to stay."

Hateful and selfish as these words sounded, and much as I longed to
strike the lips that uttered them so coolly, yet their utterance
brought a comfort to my heart, and I stared at the fellow, biting my
tongue to keep back the words of disgust I felt.

"So this is the measure of your French gallantry, Monsieur! I am
sincerely glad my race holds a different conception of the term. Then
you will leave me here?"

"Leave you? _Sacre!_ how could I ever hope to find my way alone through
the wilderness? 'Twould be impossible. Yet why should we stay here?
What can you and I hope to accomplish in so mad a search amid all these
savages? You speak harsh words,--words that under other conditions I
should make you answer for with the sword; but what is the good of it
all? You know I am no coward; I can fight if there be need; yet to my
mind no help can reach Toinette through us, while to remain here longer
is no less than suicide."

I saw he was in earnest, and I felt there was much truth in his words,
however little they affected my own determination.

"As you please, Monsieur," I answered coldly, turning from him and
slowly wading ashore. "With me 'tis not matter for argument. I seek
Mademoiselle. You are at perfect liberty either to accompany me or to
hunt for safety elsewhere, as you wish."

I never so much as glanced behind, as I went up the beach, now shrouded
in the swift-descending night; but I was aware that he kept but a step
behind me. Once I heard him swear; but there was no more speaking
between us, until, in the darkness, I stumbled and partially fell over
a dead body outstretched upon the sand.

"A Miami, judging from the fringe of his leggings," I said briefly,
from my knees. "One of the advance guard, no doubt, brought down in
flight. 'Tis good luck, though, De Croix, for the fellow has retained
his rifle. Perchance if you be well armed also, it may yield you fresh
courage."

_"Parbleu!_ 'tis not courage I lack," he returned, with something of
his old-time spirit, "but I hate greatly to yield up a chance for life
on so mad an errand. More, Master Wayland, had this firearm been in my
hands when you flouted me in the water yonder, your words should not
have been so easily passed over."

The stars gave me a dim view of him, and there was a look in his face
that caused me to feel it would be best to have our trouble settled
fully, and without delay.

"Monsieur," I said sternly, laying my hand upon his shoulder, and
compelling him to front me fairly, "I for one am going into danger
where I shall require every resource in order to preserve my life
and be of service to others. I have already told you that I care not
whether you accompany me or no. But this I say: we part here, or else
you journey with me willingly, and with no more veiled threats or side
looks of treachery."

"I meant no harm."

"Then act the part of a man, Monsieur, and cease your grumbling. The
very life of Mademoiselle may hang upon our venture; and if you ever
interfere or obstruct my purpose, I will kill you as I would a dog. You
understand that, Monsieur de Croix; now, will you go or stay?"

He looked about him into the lonely, desolate shadows, and I could see
him shrug his shoulders.

"I go with you, of course. _Sacre!_ but I have small choice in the
matter; 'twould be certain death otherwise, for I know not east from
west in this blind waste of sand."

I turned abruptly from him, and strode forward across the sand-ridge
out into the short prairie-grass beyond, shaping my course westward
by the stars. However revengeful the Frenchman might feel at my plain
speaking, I felt no hesitancy in trusting him to follow, as his life
depended upon my guidance through the wilderness.

My mind by this time was fairly settled upon our first movement. The
only spot that gave promise of a safe survey of the Indian camp, where
doubtless such prisoners as there were would be held, I felt sure would
be found amid the shadows of the west bank of that southerly stream
along which the lodges were set up. From that vantage point, if from
any, I should be able to judge how best to proceed on the perilous
mission of rescue.

While we were feeling our way forward through the darkness, a great
burst of flame soared high into the northern sky, the red light
radiating far abroad over the prairie, until even our creeping figures
cast faint shadows on the level plain.

"Saint Guise! They have set fire to the Fort!" exclaimed De Croix,
halting and gazing anxiously northward.

"Ay, either to that or to the agency building," I answered. "It was
not there I expected to find the prisoners, but rather hidden among
those black lodges yonder whence all the shouting comes. 'Tis torture,
De Croix, which has so aroused those devils; and it will soon enough
prove our turn to entertain them, if we linger long within this glare."

"You have a plan, then?"

"Only a partial one at present,--'tis to put the safeguard of the river
between us and those yelling fiends. Beyond that it will all be the
guidance of God."

The stream proved to be a narrow one, and the current was not swift.
We crossed it easily enough, without wetting our stock of powder,
and found the western bank somewhat darkened by the numerous groups
of small stunted trees that lined it. I moved with extreme caution
now, for each step brought us in closer proximity to those infuriated
tribesmen who were holding mad carnival in the midst of their lodges.
I felt sure that our pathway along the western shore was clear, for
the most astute chief among them would hardly look for the approach of
enemies from that quarter; but I was enough of a frontiersman not to
neglect any ordinary precautions, and so we crept like snakes along at
the water's edge, under the shadow of the bank, until much of the wild
scene in the village opposite was revealed to our searching eyes.

It was a mad saturnalia, half light, half shadow, amid which the fierce
figures of the painted warriors passed and repassed in drunken frenzy,
making night hideous with savage clamor and frenzied gesticulations. I
would have crept on farther, seeking a place for crossing unobserved,
had not De Croix suddenly grasped me by the leg. As I turned, the play
of the flames from across the water struck upon his white face, and I
could read thereon a terror that held him motionless.

"For Christ's sake, let us go!" he urged, in an agonized whisper. "See
what those demons are about to do! I fear not battle, Wayland, as you
know; but the scene yonder unmans me."

It is hard for me to describe now what then I saw. The entire centre
of the great encampment was brightly lit by a huge blazing fire,
around which hundreds of Indians were gathered, leaping and shouting
in their frenzy, while above the noise of their discordant voices we
could distinguish the flat notes of the wooden drum, the dull pounding
of which reminded me of the solemn tolling of a funeral bell. What
atrocities had been going on, I know not; but as we gazed across at
them in shuddering horror, forth from the entrance of a lodge a dozen
painted warriors drove a white man, stripped to the waist, his hands
bound behind him. As he stumbled forward, a bevy of squaws lashed him
with corded whips. I caught one glimpse of his face in the light of
the flames; it was that of a young soldier I recalled having seen the
evening before within the Fort, playing a violin. He was a brave lad,
and although his face was pale and drawn by suffering, he fronted the
crazed mob that buffeted him with no sign of fear, his eyes roving
about as if still seeking some possible avenue of escape. Once he
sprang suddenly aside, tripping a giant brave who grasped him, and
disappeared amid the lodges, only to be dragged forth a moment later
and pushed forward, horribly beaten with clubs at every step.

On a sudden, that shrieking, undulating crowd fell away, and we could
see the young man standing alone, bound to a stake, his body leaning
forward as if held to its erect posture merely by the bonds. The limp
drooping of his head made me think him already unconscious, possibly
dead from some chance fatal blow; but as the flames burst out in a
roar at his feet, and shot up, red and glaring, to his waist, he gave
utterance to one terrible cry of agony, and it seemed to me I gazed
fairly into his tortured eyes and could read their pitiful appeal.
Twice I raised my rifle, the sight upon his heart,--but durst not
fire. No consideration of my own peril held back the pressure of the
trigger,--'twas the remembrance of Mademoiselle. It was beyond my
strength of will to withstand such strain long.

"Come," I groaned to De Croix, my hands pressed tightly over my eyes
to shut out the sight, "it will craze us both to stay here longer, nor
dare we aid the poor fellow even by a shot."

He lay face downward on the soft mud of the bank, and I had to shake
him before he so much as moved. We crept on together, until we came
out through the thick bushes into the open prairie, and faced each
other, our lips white and our bodies shaking with the horror of what we
had just seen.

"Mon Dieu!" he faltered, "'twill forever haunt me."

"It has greatly undone me," I answered, striving to control my voice,
for I felt the necessity of coolness if I hoped to command him; "but if
we would save her from meeting a like fate, we must remain men."

"Then, for God's sake, find some spot where I may rest for an hour," he
urged. "My brain seems reeling, and I fear it will give way if I remain
in sight or sound of such horrors."

In spite of all I had seen, it was still my desire to creep in among
the deserted lodges while darkness shrouded the outermost of them;
but I felt that some safe hiding-place must first be found for my
companion. To attempt to take him with me while in such a nervous state
would be only to invite disaster.

"De Croix," I asked, "know you if the Indians have destroyed the house
that stood by the fork of the north river, where the settler Ouilmette
lived?"

"I marked it through Lieutenant Helm's field-glass yesterday. 'Tis
partially burned, yet the walls still stand."

"Then 't will serve us most excellently to hide in, for there will be
naught left within likely to attract marauders. Think you that you
could find it through the night?"

He looked at me, and it was easy to see his nerves were on edge.

"Alone?" he gasped brokenly. "My God, no!"

There was seemingly no way out of it, for it would have been little
short of murder to leave him alone on that black prairie, nor would
harsh words have greatly mended matters. We were fully an hour at it,
creeping cautiously along behind the scattered bushes until we passed
the forks and swam the river's northerly branch. The action did him
good, and greatly helped to steady my own nerves, as the uproar of the
savages died steadily away behind us.

At last we came out upon a slight knoll, and found ourselves close
beside the low charred walls of what remained of Ouilmette's log-cabin.
'Twas a most gloomy and desolate spot, but quiet enough, with never the
rustle of a leaf to awake the night, or startle us.

"Have you got back your nerve, Monsieur?" I asked, as we paused before
the dark outline, "or must I also help you to explore within?"

"'Tis not shadows that terrify me," he answered, no doubt thoroughly
ashamed of his weakness, and eager to make amends; "nor is it likely
that anything to affright me greatly is behind these walls."

I lay prone in the grass at the corner of the cabin, my eyes fixed
upon the distant Indian village, where I could yet plainly distinguish
numberless black figures dodging about between me and the flames; while
further to the east, the greater blaze of the Fort buildings lighted
up, in a wide arc, the deserted prairie. I gave little consideration to
De Croix's exploit,--indeed, I had almost forgotten it, when suddenly
the fellow sprang backward out of the open door, a cry of wild terror
upon his lips, and his hands outstretched as if to ward off some
unearthly vision.

"Mon Dieu!" he sobbed hoarsely, falling upon his knees. "'Twas the face
of Marie!"



CHAPTER XXVIII

AN ANGEL IN THE WILDERNESS


He acted so like a crazed man, grovelling face downward in the grass,
that I had to hold him, fearful lest his noise might attract attention
from our enemies.

"Be quiet, De Croix!" I commanded sternly, my hand hard upon him, my
eyes peering through the darkness to determine if possible the cause
for his mysterious fright. "What is it that has so driven you out of
your senses?"

He half rose, staring back at the black shadow of the dim doorway, his
face white as chalk in the star-light and faint glare of the distant
fires.

"'Twas the face of a dead woman," he gasped, pointing forward, "there,
just within the door! I saw her buried three years ago, I swear; yet,
God be merciful! she awaited me yonder in the gloom."

"Pish!" I exclaimed, thoroughly disgusted at his weakness, and rising
to my feet. "Your nerves are unstrung by what we have been through, and
you dream of the dead."

"It is not so!" he protested, his voice faltering pitifully; "I saw
her, Monsieur,--nor was she once this day in my thought until that
moment."

"Well, I shall soon know if there is a ghost within," I answered
shortly, determined to make quick end of it. "Remain here, while I go
into the house and see what I can find."

For a moment he clung to me like a frightened child; but I shook off
his hands a bit roughly, and stepped boldly across the threshold. That
was an age when faith in ghostly visitations yet lingered to harass
the souls of men. I confess my heart beat more rapidly than usual, as
I paused an instant to peer through the shadowy gloom within. It was a
small, low room, with a litter of broken furniture strewing the earthen
floor; but the log-walls were quite bare. The flicker of the still
blazing Fort illuminated the interior sufficiently to enable me to make
out these simple details, and to see that the place was without living
occupant.

There was only one other apartment in the building, and I walked back
until I came upon the door which separated the two, and flung it open.
As I did so I thought I saw a shadow, the dim flitting of a woman's
form between me and the farther wall; but as I sprang hastily forward,
grasping after the spectral vision, I touched nothing save the rough
logs. Twice I made the circuit of that restricted space, so confident
was I of my own eye-witness; but I found nothing, and could only pause
perplexed, staring about in wonder.

It occurred to me that my own overtaxed nerves were at fault, and that
if I was to accomplish anything before daylight I must say nothing
likely to alarm De Croix further.

"Come, Monsieur!" I said, as I came out and shook him into attention,
"there is naught within more dangerous than shadows, or perchance a
rat. Nor have I any time longer to dally over such boyishness. I had
supposed you a soldier and a brave man, not a nerveless girl to be
frightened in the dark. Come, there is ample hiding-space behind the
walls, and I purpose leaving you here to regain some measure of your
lost courage while I try a new venture of my own."

"Where go you?"

"To learn if I may gain entrance to the Indian camp unobserved. There
can be no better time than while they are occupied yonder."

He looked uneasily about him into the dark corners, shuddering.

"I would rather go with you," he protested, weakly. "I have not the
heart to remain here alone."

"Nevertheless, here you stay," I retorted shortly, thoroughly
exasperated by his continued childishness; "you are in no spirit to
meet the perils yonder. Conquer your foolishness, Monsieur, for I know
well 'tis not part of your nature so to exhibit fear."

"'Tis naught alive that I so shrink from; never have I been affrighted
of living man."

"True; nor have I ever found the dead able greatly to harm. But now I
go forth to a plain duty, and you must wait me here."

I did not glance back at him, although I knew he had sunk dejected
on a bench beside the door; but with careful look at the priming of
my rifle, I stepped forth into the open, and started down the slight
slope leading to the river. A fringe of low, straggling trees hid my
movements from observation by possible watchers along the southern
bank; nor could I perceive with any definiteness what was going on
there. The fires had died down somewhat, and I thought the savage
yelling and clamor were considerably lessened.

I confess I went forward hesitatingly, and was doubtful enough about
the outcome; but I saw no other means by which I might hope to locate
Mademoiselle definitely, and I valued my own life now only as it
concerned hers. The selfish cowardice of De Croix if cowardice it truly
was served merely to stir me to greater recklessness and daring, and
I felt ready to venture all if I might thereby only pluck her from
the grasp of those red fiends. As I crept through the fringe of bushes
which lined the bank, my eyes were on the darkened upper extremity of
the Indian camp, and all my thoughts were concentrated upon a plan
of entrance to it. I may have been somewhat careless, for I had no
conception of any serious peril until after I had crossed the stream,
and it certainly startled me to hear a voice at my very elbow,--a
strange voice, beautifully soft and low.

"You have the movement of an Indian; yet I think you are white. What
seek you here?"

I turned quickly and faced the speaker, my rifle flung forward ready
for action. The light was poor enough there amid the shadows, yet the
single glimpse I had told me instantly I faced the mysterious woman of
the Indian camp. For a moment I made no response, held speechless by
surprise; and she questioned again, almost imperatively.

"I asked, why are you here?"

"I am one, by the grace of God, spared from the massacre," I answered
blindly. "But you?--I saw you within the Indian camp only last night.
Surely you are not a savage?"

"That I know not. I sometimes fear the savage is part of all our
natures, and that I am far removed from the divine image of my Master.
But I am not an Indian, if that is what you mean. If to be white is a
grace in your sight, I am of that race, though there are times when I
would have been prouder to wear the darker skin. The red men kill, but
they do not lie, nor deceive women. I remember you now,--you were with
the White Chief from Dearborn, and tried to approach me when Little
Sauk interfered. Why did you do that?"

Her manner and words were puzzling, but I knew no better way than to
answer frankly.

"I sought Elsa Matherson,--are you she?"

The girl--for she could certainly have been little more--started
perceptibly at the name, and bent eagerly forward, peering with new
interest into my face.

"Elsa Matherson?" she questioned, dwelling upon the words as though
they awoke memories. "It is indeed long since I have heard the name.
Where knew you her?"

"I have never known her; but her father was my father's friend, and I
sought her because of that friendship."

"Here?"

"At Fort Dearborn, where she was left an orphan."

"How strange! how very strange indeed! 'Tis a small world. Elsa
Matherson! and at Dearborn?"

Was it acting, for some purpose unknown to me,--or what might be the
secret of these strange expressions?

"Then you are not the one I seek?"

She hesitated, looking keenly toward me through the dim light.

"I have not said who I may be," she answered evasively. "Whatever
name I may once have borne was long ago forgotten, and to the simple
children about me I am only Sister Celeste. 'Tis enough to live by in
this wilderness, and the recording angel of God knows whether even that
is worthy. But I have been waiting to learn why you are here, creeping
through the bushes like a savage! Nor do I believe you to be altogether
alone. Was there not one with you yonder at the house? Why did he cry
out so loudly, and fall?"

"He imagined he saw a ghost within. He claimed to have recognized the
face of a dead woman he once knew."

"A dead woman? What is the man's name? Who is he?"

"Captain de Croix, an officer of the French army."

She sighed quickly, as if relieved, one hand pressed against her
forehead, and sat thinking.

"I know not the name, but it seems strange that the chance sight of my
face should work such havoc with his nerves. Spoke he not even the name
of the woman?"

"I think he cried some name as he fell, but I recall it not."

"And you? You are only seeking a way of escape from the savages?"

For a moment I hesitated; but surely, I thought, this strange young
woman was of white blood, and seemingly an enthusiast in the religion I
also professed, and I might safely trust her with my purpose.

"I am seeking entrance within the encampment, hoping thus to rescue a
maiden whom I believe to be prisoner in the hands of the Indians."

"A maiden,--Elsa Matherson?"

"Nay, another; one I have learned to love so well that I now willingly
risk even torture for her sake. You are a woman, and have a woman's
heart; you exercise some strange power among these savages. I beg you
to aid me."

She sat with clasped hands, her eyes lowered upon the grass.

"Whatsoever power I have comes from God," she said solemnly; "and there
be times, such as now, when it seems as if He held me unworthy of His
trust."

"But you will aid me in whatever way you can?"

"You are sure you love this maiden?"

"Would I be here, think you, otherwise?"

She did not answer immediately, but crept across the little space
separating us until she could look more closely into my face, scanning
it earnestly with her dark eyes.

"You have the appearance of a true man," she said finally. "Does the
maid love you?"

"I know not," I stammered honestly, confused by so direct a question.
"I fear not; yet I would save her even then."

I felt her hand touch mine as if in sudden sympathy.

"Monsieur," she spoke gravely, "love has never been kind to me, and I
have learned to put small trust in the word as it finds easy utterance
upon men's lips. A man swore once, even at the altar, that he loved me;
and when he had won my heart he left me for another. If I believed you
were such a man I would rather leave this girl to her fate among the
savages yonder."

"I am not of that school," I protested earnestly. "I am of a race that
love once and forever. But you, who are you? Why are you here in the
midst of these savages? You bear a strange likeness to her I would
save, but for the lighter shade of your hair."

She drew back slightly, removing her hand from mine, but with
gentleness.

"It would do you little good to know my story," she said firmly. "I am
no longer of the world, and my life is dedicated to a service you might
deem sacrifice. Moreover, we waste time in such idle converse; and if
it be my privilege to aid you at all, I must learn more, so as to plan
safely."

"You have the freedom of the camp yonder?"

"I hardly know," she responded sadly. "God has placed in my poor
hands, Monsieur, a portion of His work amid those benighted,
sin-stained creatures there. Times come, as now, when the wild wolf
breaks loose, and my life hardly is safe among them. I fled the camp
to-night,--not from fear, Christ knows, but because I am a woman, and
too weak physically to bear the sight of suffering that I am helpless
to relieve. It is indeed Christ's mercy that so few of your company
were spared to be thus tortured; but there was naught left for me but
prayer."

She stooped forward, her hands pressed over her eyes as though she
would shut out the horror.

"Yet know you who among the whites have thus far preserved their
lives?" I urged, in an agony of suspense. "Were any of the women
brought alive to the camp?"

"It was my fortune to see but one; nor was I permitted to approach
her,--a sweet-faced girl, yet she could not be the one you seek, for
she wore a wedding-ring. She was saved through the friendship of Black
Partridge, and I heard that she is a daughter of the Silver-man."

"Ay! Mrs. Helm! Thank God! But was she the only one?"

"Truly, I know not; for I was forced away from sight of much that went
on. Little Sauk has a white maiden hidden in his lodge, who was brought
from the battle. I have not seen the girl, but know this through
others who were angry at his good-fortune."

"Could we reach there, think you, unobserved?"

She rose, and gazed anxiously across the stream, her face showing clear
and fair in the faint light of those distant fires, while I caught the
glimmer of a pearl rosary about her white throat and marked a silver
crucifix resting against her breast.

"It will be life itself you venture in such an attempt," she said
softly, "even its loss through torture; yet 'tis a deed that might be
done, for the Indians are fairly crazed with blood and liquor, and will
pay small heed to aught save their heathen orgies."

"Then let us venture it."

She turned slightly and looked at me intently, her dark eyes filled
with serious thought.

"Yes, we will go," she responded at last, slowly. "If through God's
grace we may thus preserve a life, it will be well worthy the
sacrifice, and must be His desire."

For another moment we waited there silently, standing side by side,
gazing anxiously across the dark water, and listening intently to the
varied discordant sounds borne to us on the night air. I know not what
may have been in her thought; but upon my lips there was a silent
prayer that we might be safely guided in our desperate mission. I
wondered still who this strange young woman could be, so surrounded
by mystery, a companion of savages, and still gentle and refined in
word and manner. I dare not ask again, nor urge her confidence; for
there was that of reserve about her which held me speechless. I glanced
aside, marking again the clear pure contour of her face, and my look
seemed instantly to arouse her from her reverie.

"I expect little trouble until we near the centre of the camp," she
said, thoughtfully. "'Tis dark amid the northern lodges, and we shall
meet with no warriors there unless they be so far gone in intoxication
as to be no longer a source of danger. But come, friend, the longer we
tarry the less bright grows the hope of success."

A slender bark canoe rested close beneath the bank, and she motioned
me into it, grasping the paddle without a word, and sending the narrow
craft with swift, silent strokes across the stream. The other shore was
unprotected; so, hesitating only long enough to listen for a moment,
much as some wild animal might, she crept forward cautiously into the
black lodge-shadows, while I instantly followed, imitating as best I
could her slightest movement. We met no obstacle to our advance,--not
even the snarls and barkings of the innumerable curs, usually the
sleepless guardians of such encampments of savages. I soon saw that as
we crept around lodge after lodge in our progress, the light of the
blazing fires in our front grew constantly brighter and the savage
turbulence more pronounced.

At last the girl came to a sudden pause, peering cautiously forward
from beneath the shadow of the lodge that hid us; and as I glanced over
her shoulder, the wild scene was revealed in each detail of savagery.

"'Tis as far as you will dare venture," she whispered, her lips at
my ear. "I know not the exact limit of our progress, but the lodge
of Little Sauk lies beyond the fire, and I must make the rest of the
distance alone."

"But dare you?" I questioned uneasily. "Will they permit even you to
pass unharmed?"

She smiled almost sadly.

"I have many friends among them, blood-stained as they are, and little
as I have accomplished for the salvation of their souls. I have been
with them much, and my father long held their confidence ere he died.
I have even been adopted into the tribe of the Pottawattomies. None
are my enemies among that nation save the medicine-men, and they will
scarce venture to molest me even in this hour of their power and crime.
Too well they know me to be under protection of their chiefs; nor
are they insensible to the sanctity of my faith. Ay, and even their
superstition has proved my safeguard."

The expression of curiosity in my eyes appealed to her, and as if in
answer she rested one hand upon her uncovered head, the hair of which
shone like dull red gold in the firelight.

"You mean that?" I asked, dimly recalling something I had once heard.

She shook the heavy coiled mass loose from its bondage, until it
rippled in gleaming waves of color over her shoulders, and smiled back
at me, yet not without traces of deep sadness in her eyes.

"'Tis an Indian thought," she explained softly, "that such hair as mine
is a special gift of the Great Spirit, and renders its wearer sacred.
What was often spoken most lightly about in other days has in this
dread wilderness proved my strongest defence. God uses strange means,
Monsieur, to accomplish His purpose with the heathen."

She paused, listening intently to a sudden noise behind us.

"Creep in here, Monsieur," she whispered, quickly lifting an edge of
the skin-covering of the lodge. "A party is returning from the Fort,
perchance with more prisoners. Lie quiet there until I return; it will
not be long."

I crawled through the slight opening into that black interior, turning
to hold open the flap sufficiently to peer forth once more. I knew not
where she vanished, as she faded away like a shadow; but I had hardly
secured refuge, when a dozen painted warriors trooped by, shouting
their fierce greeting. In the midst of them, half-stripped, and
bleeding as if from freshly inflicted wounds, staggered a white man;
and as the firelight fell full upon his haggard face, I recognized De
Croix.



CHAPTER XXIX

A SOLDIER OF FRANCE


What followed was so extraordinary and incredible that I hesitate to
record it, lest there be those who, judging in their own conceit, and
knowing little of savage Indian nature, may question the truth of my
narration. Yet I am now too old a man to permit unjust criticism to
swerve me from the task I have assumed.

The extreme of misery that overwhelmed me at the moment when I beheld
my comrade driven forward like a trapped beast to a death by torture,
found expression in a sudden moan, which, fortunately for me, was
unnoted amid the shouts of greeting that arose around the fire when
those gathered there caught sight of the new-comers. Instantly all was
confusion and uproar; a scene of savage debauchery, unrelieved by a
redeeming feature or a sign of mercy. It was as if poor De Croix had
been hurled, bound and gagged, into a den of infuriated wolves, whose
jaws already dripped with the blood of slaughter. Gleaming weapons,
glaring and lustful eyes, writhing naked bodies, pressed upon him on
every side, hurling him back and forth in brute play, every tongue
mocking him, in every uplifted hand a weapon for a blow.

The fierce animal nature within these red fiends was now uppermost,
fanned into hot flame by hours of diabolical torture of previous
victims, in which they had exhausted every expedient of cruelty to add
to the dying agony of their prey. To this, fiery liquor had yielded its
portion; while the weird incantations of their priests had transformed
the most sober among them into demons of malignity. If ever, earlier
in the night, their chiefs had exercised any control over them, that
time was long since past; and now the inflamed warriors, bursting all
restraint, answered only to the war-drum or made murderous response to
the superstition of their medicine-men.

The entire centre of the encampment was a scene of drunken orgy, a
phantasmagoria of savage figures, satanic in their relentless cruelty
and black barbarity. Painted hundreds, bedecked with tinkling beads
and waving feathers, howled and leaped in paroxysms of fury about the
central fire, hacking at the helpless bodies of the dead victims of
earlier atrocities, tearing their own flesh, beating each other with
whips like wire, their madly brandished weapons flashing angrily in
the flame-lit air.

Squaws, dirty of person and foul of mouth, often more ferocious
in appearance and cruel in action than their masters, were
everywhere, dodging amid the writhing bodies, screaming shrilly from
excitement, their long coarse hair whipping in the wind. Nor were
they all Pottawattomies: others had flocked into this carnival of
blood,--Wyandots and Sacs, even Miamis, until now it had become a
contest for supremacy in savagery. 'Twas as if hell itself had opened,
to vomit forth upon the prairie that blood-stained crew of dancing
demons and shock the night with crime.

A dead white man,--the poor lad whose early torture we had
witnessed,--his half-burnt body still hanging suspended at the stake,
was in the midst of them, a red glare of embers beneath him, the
curling smoke creeping upward into the black sky from about his head
like devil's incense. In front of this hideous spectacle, regardless of
the mutilated body, sat the ferocious old demon I had seen the evening
previous, his head crowned with a bison's horns, his naked breast
daubed with red and yellow figures to resemble crawling snakes, his
face the hideous representation of a grinning skull. Above all other
sounds rang out his yells, inciting his fellows to further atrocities,
and accompanied by the dull booming of his wooden drum.

It was into this pack of ravening beasts that poor De Croix staggered
from the surrounding shadows; and they surged about him, clamoring for
place, greeting their new-found victim with jeers and blows and hoots
of bitter hatred, viciously slashing at him with their knives, so that
the very sight of it turned me sick, and made me sink my head upon my
arms in helplessness and horror. A sudden cessation in the infernal
uproar led me to peer forth once more. They had dragged the charred and
blackened trunk of the dead soldier down from the post where it had
hung suspended, and were fastening De Croix in its place, binding his
hands behind the support, and kicking aside the still glowing embers of
the former fire to give him space to stand. It was brutally, fiendishly
done, with thongs wound about his body so tightly as to lift the flesh
in great welts, and those who labored at it striking cruel blows at
his naked, quivering form, spitting viciously into his face, with
taunting words, seeking through every form of ferocious ingenuity to
wring from their helpless victim some sign of suffering, some shrieking
plea for mercy. Once I marked a red devil stick a sharpened sliver of
wood into the Frenchman's bare shoulder, touched it with fire, and then
stand back laughing as the bound victim sought vainly to dislodge the
torturing brand.

Whatever of shrinking fear De Croix may have exhibited an hour before,
however he may have trembled from ghostly haunting and been made coward
by contact with the dead, he was a man now, a soldier worthy of his
uniform and of his manhood. Merciful God! but it made my heart swell to
see the lad, as he faced those dancing devils and looked coolly into
the eyes of death. His face was indeed ghastly white in the fire-glow,
save where the red stains of blood disfigured it; but there was no
wavering in the bold black eyes, no cowardly shrinking from his fate,
no moan of weakness from between his tightly pressed lips. Scarce
could I think of him then as being the same gentle exquisite that rode
on the westward trail in powdered hair and gaudy waistcoat, worrying
lest a pinch of dust might soil his faultless linen,--this begrimed,
blood-stained, torn figure, naked to the waist, his small-clothes
clinging in rags from his thighs, his head bare and with long black
locks streaming to his shoulders. Yet it was now, not then, he won my
respect and honor.

Once I saw him strain desperately at the cords in a mad endeavor to
break free, his flashing eyes on the demons who were torturing him
beyond endurance. Well I knew how he longed to lay hand on any weapon,
and thus die, battling to the end; had he succeeded, I doubt not I
should have been at his side, forgetful of all else in the struggle.
The deer-skin thongs, as unyielding as iron, held him fast. I ground my
teeth and dug my nails into the earth to hold me from leaping forward
in hopeless attempt at rescue, as a huge brute struck him savagely
with clinched hand across the lips.

Suddenly, as if in response to some low spoken order, the jostling
horde fell aside from before him, leaving a narrow space unoccupied.
I had no time to wonder at this movement before a tomahawk, whirling
rapidly and flashing like a ruby in the red glare, went hurling
forward, and buried its shining blade deep in the post an inch from the
prisoner's head, the handle quivering with the force of impact. Again
and again, amid yells of derision and encouragement, they threw, twice
bringing token of blood from the grazed cheek and once cleaving the ear
nearest me as if by a knife-blow. In spite of all, De Croix sneered at
them, mocked their efforts, taunted them with their lack of skill, no
doubt seeking to infuriate them and cause the striking of a merciful
death-blow.

I trembled as I gazed, held there by a fascination I could not
overcome, shading my eyes when I saw an arm uplifted to make a cast,
and opening them in dread unspeakable as I heard the dull impact of the
blow. Never in my life have I seen such marvellous nerve as this French
gallant displayed in those awful moments; standing there motionless,
with never a tremor, no twitching of a muscle, his scornful eyes
following the deadly steel, his lips jeering at the throwers, as he
coolly played the game whose stake was death. At last some savage cast
from farther back amid the mass of howling contestants; I failed to
see the upraised hand that grasped the weapon, but caught its sudden
gleam as it sped onward, and De Croix was pinned helpless, the steel
blade wedging his long hair deep into the wood.

A dozen screaming squaws now hustled forward the materials for a fire;
I saw branches, roots, and leaves, piled high about his knees, and
marked with a shudder the film of blue smoke as it soared upward ere
the flame caught the green wood. Then suddenly some one kicked the pile
over, hurling it into the faces of those who stooped beside it; and the
fierce clamor ceased as if by magic.

I staggered to my knees, wondering what it could mean,--this strange
silence after all the uproar. Then I saw. Out from the shadows, as if
she herself were one, the strange girl who had been my companion glided
forward into the red radius of the flame, and faced them, her back to
De Croix.

Never shall I fail to recall her as she then appeared,--a veritable
goddess of light fronting the fiends of darkness. With cheeks so white
as to seem touched with death, her dark eyes glowed in consciousness
of power, while her long, sweeping tresses rippled below her waist,
gleaming in a wild red beauty almost supernatural. How womanly she was,
how fair to look upon, and how unconscious of aught save her mission!
One hand she held before her in imperious gesture of command; with the
other she uplifted the crucifix, until the silver Christ sparkled in
the light.

"Back!" she said clearly. "Back! You shall not torture this man! I know
him. He is a soldier of France!"

[Illustration: "You shall not torture this man he is a soldier of
France!'"]



CHAPTER XXX

THE RESCUE AT THE STAKE


The word uttered by the strange woman was one to conjure with even then
in the Illinois country. Many a year had passed since the French flag
ruled those prairies, yet not a warrior there but knew how the men of
that race avenged an injury,--how swift their stroke, how keen their
steel.

I watched the startled throng press closely backward, as if awed by her
mysterious presence, influenced insensibly by her terse sentence of
command, each dusky face a reflex of its owner's perplexity. Drunken
as most of them were, crazed with savage blood-lust and hours of
remorseless torture of their victims, for the moment that sweet vision
of womanly purity held them motionless, as if indeed the figure of the
Christ she uplifted before their faces had taught them abhorrence of
their crimes.

But it was not for long. To hundreds of those present she was merely
an unknown white woman; while even to those who knew her best, the
Pottawattomies, she appeared only as one who came to balk them of their
revenge. They may have held her person inviolate amid their lodges,
and even have countenanced her strange teaching; but now she had
ventured too far in attempting thus to stand between them and their
victim. They held back a single moment, halted by her fearlessness,
rendered cowardly by vague superstitions regarding her religious
power; but after the first breathless pause of dumb astonishment and
irresolution, voice after voice arose in hoarse cries of rage and
shouts of disapproval. There was a surging forward of the straining
red line, while in their front howled and gesticulated the hideous old
medicine-man, his painted face distorted by passion, eager to grasp
this auspicious moment to cast down forever one who had sought to end
his superstitious rule among the tribe. I marked how she drew back as
they advanced, retreating step by step,--not, in deed, as if she feared
them, but rather as if some definite purpose led her movement. Her
eyes never wavered, her hand still uplifted the gleaming cross, as she
retreated slowly, until she stood directly before De Croix, where he
hung helplessly staring at her with an expression of fear in his face
strangely at variance with his late show of desperate courage.

"Back!" she cried again, but now in a deeper and fuller voice that
sounded like a clear-toned bell above the uproar. "I tell you I will
kill this man with my own hand before I permit you to put further
torture upon him!"

An instant only did this threat halt the gathering rush. Some one
voiced an Indian insult, and there came a fierce surging forward,
although no warrior among them seemed eager to lead in the attack. I
saw the woman lift her hand, and caught the glimmer of a steel blade;
and even as I sprang erect, partially flinging aside the obstructing
flap of the lodge, an Indian, stalking silently forth from the shadows,
faced the mob, standing motionless within a foot of the desperate girl,
and with his back toward her. One glance at that tall thin figure, the
stern face, the long white hair, told me it was the great war-chief of
the Pottawattomies, Gomo; and I sank back trembling from the reaction
of that moment's strain.

His words were calm, deliberate, commanding; but the angry roar with
which they were greeted made me fear the horde he faced so resolutely
was now beyond control. He smiled, his thin lips curling in derision as
he gazed with contempt into the threatening faces pressing closer upon
every side.

"Fear not," he murmured aside to the watchful woman, and resting one
hand upon her arm. "Cut loose the prisoner!"

She turned instantly to her task, while he spoke briefly the names
of his chiefs; and as each was called in turn, a warrior came from
among the mass and silently stood beside him. A dozen came forth thus,
stalwart, grim-faced braves, many with fresh scalps dangling at their
belts.

Gomo now spoke again, using the French tongue, that all present might
better grasp his meaning.

"Brothers," he said gravely, "this squaw is Pottawattomie. She was
adopted by our people and lives in our lodges. Pottawattomies are
friends to Frenchmen; there is no war between us. Why should Wyandots
and Sacs wish to burn a Frenchman?"

For a moment no one ventured to reply; the mob stood halted now, robbed
of its leaders and its courage, even the noisy medicine-man silenced
before this stern array of protecting chiefs. Loose as was Indian
discipline and tribal authority, even in drunkenness those desperate
warriors dared not openly disregard such a display of power.

"Have the Pottawattomies spoken well?" questioned the old chief,
sternly, "or have our words wronged our brothers?"

A giant of a fellow, whose broad face and huge head seemed
disproportionate even to his big body, his long coarse hair profusely
ornamented with shells and beads flashing gaudily in the firelight,
pushed his way out from among the silent mass.

"Gomo, the great war-chief of the Pottawattomies, has spoken well," he
said in a deep voice that rolled like distant thunder. "The Wyandots
did not know; they war not with Frenchmen, nor harm the women of the
Pottawattomies. The Great Spirit hath made us brothers, and we have
smoked together the pipe of peace."

Gomo moved forward with Indian dignity, and exchanged solemn greeting
with the new-comer.

"It makes the hearts of the Pottawattomies light to hear the words of
Sau-ga-nash," he said gravely. Then he turned and waved his hand to his
clustered warriors. "Release the Frenchman, and place him for safety in
the council lodge. Pass the woman free. It is the will of our chiefs."

The council lodge! I glanced about me apprehensively; surely this must
be the same tepee in which Captain Heald and I had met the chiefs!
There were no signs of ordinary Indian occupancy, and now as I looked
about me the firelight from without revealed clearly the shading of
those grotesque figures I recalled as having been sketched upon the
outer covering. So it was here that De Croix was to be confined! I
crept back hastily, dropping into place the loosened flap through which
I had been peering. A skin or two were lying on the grassy floor; and
I grasped the larger of these, drawing it over me while I rolled as
closely as possible against the farther wall, hoping desperately that
no Indian guards would be posted within.

The uproar outside continued, as if there were still opposition to
the commands of the chiefs; but presently, as I peeped through a hole
in the skin held over me, I perceived a sudden flash of light as the
flap covering the entrance was drawn aside. I saw a number of dark
hands thrust within, a savage face or two peering for a moment about
the darkened interior; but to my inexpressible relief only one body
was thrust inside, with such violence, however, as to cause the man to
fall face downward at full length. The next instant the lodge was again
wrapped in utter darkness. By God's mercy I remained undiscovered, and
was alone with De Croix.

For a short time, assured as I was of this fact, I did not venture to
creep from my place of concealment, or make my presence known to my
companion. What ears might be listening, I knew not; nor dared I trust
too much to the Frenchman's already overtaxed nerves. He did not move
from the position where he fell; but I could hear him groan and sob,
with now and then a broken ejaculation. Without, the yelling and uproar
grew perceptibly less, although an occasional outburst gave evidence
that the carousal was not wholly ended. Finally I pushed back the robe
that covered me, now grown uncomfortably warm, and crept cautiously
toward the place where I knew him to be lying. It was intensely dark,
and I was still fearful lest he might cry out if I startled him.

"De Croix," I whispered, "make no alarm; I am Wayland."

"Wayland!" I could mark the amazement in his tone, as he instantly sat
upright, peering through the gloom in the direction whence my voice
came. _"Mon Dieu!_ You are here? You saw all of it?"

"Ay," I answered, reaching out and groping in the darkness until I
grasped his hand. "You have had a hard time, my lad; but the worst is
over, and hope remains for us both."

He shuddered so violently I could feel the spasm shake his body.

"'Twas not the dying," he protested; "but did you see her, Wayland?
Merciful God! was it really a living woman who stood there, or a ghost
returned from the other world to haunt me and make living worse than
death?"

"You mean the sister who interposed to save you?" I asked. "' She was
as truly alive as either of us. Think you she is not a stranger?"

He groaned, as if the confession was wrung from him by the terror of
eternal torment.

_"Mon Dieu!_ She is my wife!"

"Your wife?"

"Ay, my wife,--Marie Faneuf, of Montreal."

"But how comes she here, Monsieur, living in the Pottawattomie camp?
And how comes it that you sought another in this wilderness, if you
were already long wedded?"

"Saint Guise! but I cannot tell you," and his voice shook with the
emotion that swept him. "'Tis like a black dream, from which I
must yet awaken. She died, I swear she died; the sisters told me
so at the convent of the Ursulines, whither she fled to escape my
unkindness,--for I did her wrong; and I stood by the grave as the
body they called hers was lowered into the ground. For all these
years have I thought it true; yet the girl yonder was Marie. But you,
Wayland,--know you aught of her?"

"Only that she guided me hither in search of Mademoiselle. On the way
we conversed, and she let me know that she had dedicated her life to
the service of these Indians, seeking to save their souls."

"'Tis like enough; she was ever half a nun, and most religious. Yet
made she no mention of me, and of my crying out at the house?--for I
must indeed have seen her there!"

"She asked me your name, Monsieur, and when I told her she said she
recalled it not. Knew she you by some other?"

He did not answer, though I could mark his heavy breathing, as if he
strove with himself for mastery. Nor did I speak again, eager as I now
was to arrange some plan for the future; for this man was certainly in
no condition to counsel with.

I know not how long I may have rested there in silence, seeking vainly
in my own mind for some opening of escape, or means whereby I might
communicate with Mademoiselle. Would the strange woman forget me now,
or would she venture upon a return with her message? If not, I must
grope forward without her, hampered as I should be by this unnerved and
helpless Frenchman. Outside, the noise had almost wholly ceased,--at
least, close to where we were,--and I could perceive that a slight
tinge of returning day was already in the air, faintly revealing the
interior of the lodge.

As I sat thus, drifting through inaction into a more despairing mood,
the rear covering of the tepee moved almost imperceptibly, and I turned
hastily to seek the cause, my heart in my throat lest it prove an
enemy, perhaps some stealthy savage still seeking the life of De Croix.
It was far from being light as yet, but there was sufficient to show
me the faint outline of a woman's figure. The Frenchman had seemingly
heard nothing; and I rose quickly and faced her eagerly.

"You have found her?" I questioned anxiously. "I beg you tell me that
she yet lives!"

"Hush! you speak too loud," was the low reply. "The one you seek is, I
think, confined within the lodge of Little Sauk, and thus far remains
unharmed. I have not been able to reach her, but she has been described
to me as young, with dark hair and eyes, and as having been dragged
from a horse near the rear of the column. Think you she is the one you
seek?"

"I do indeed!" I cried, in a rapture of relief. "Where is this lodge in
which they hold her?"

She hesitated to answer, as if she somewhat doubted my discretion.

"It is the third from the fire, in the row west of this," she said at
last. "But it is already daylight, and you must lie hidden amid these
skins until another night, when I will strive to aid you. You will be
safe here, if you only keep hidden; and I have brought with me food for
you both."

I had quite forgotten De Croix, in my eagerness to learn news of
Mademoiselle; but now I realized he had risen to his knees, and was
gazing at our visitor through the dim shadows as if half fearful even
yet that she was but a spectre. In that gray dawn his face was ghastly
in its whiteness,--the dark lines under his eyes, his matted hair,
and the traces of blood upon his cheek, yielding a haggardness almost
appalling.

"Marie!" he sobbed, catching his breath between the words as if they
choked him, "Marie, in God's name, speak one word to me!"

I saw the girl start, looking around at him with eyes widely opened,
yet with an expression in them I could not fathom; it was neither
hatred nor love, though it might easily have been sorrow.

"Marie," he urged, rendered despairing by her silence, "I have done you
wrong, great wrong; but I thought you dead. They told me so,--they told
me it was your body they buried. Will you not speak a word of mercy
now?"

Dim as the light was, I saw her eyes were moist as she gazed down upon
him; but there was no faltering in her voice.

"You were right, Monsieur le Marquis," she said slowly, "Marie Faneuf
is dead. It is only Sister Celeste who has aided in the preservation of
your life in the name of the Master. Make your acknowledgment to the
Mother of Christ, not to me, for such mercy."

I knew not when she passed out, or how; but we were alone once more,
and De Croix was lying with his face buried in the short grass.



CHAPTER XXXI

A SEARCH, AND ITS REWARD


I slept at last, soundly, for several hours, lying well hidden behind
the skins at the back of the lodge. There seemed nothing else to do;
for poor De Croix had no thought other than that of the woman who had
just left us, and I was exhausted by hours of excitement and toil. He
was asleep when I awoke, lying just as I had left him, his face still
buried in the short trodden grass that carpeted the floor.

It was so quiet without that I listened in vain for a sound to indicate
the presence of Indians. Silence so profound was in strange contrast
with the hideous uproar of the preceding night, and curiosity led me
finally to project my head from beneath the lodge covering and gain
a cautious glimpse of the camp with out. The yellow sunshine of the
calm summer afternoon rested hot and glaring on the draped skins of
the tepees, and on the brown prairie-grass, trampled by hundreds of
passing feet. I could perceive a few squaws working lazily in the shade
of the trees near the bank of the river; but no other moving figures
were visible. Several recumbent forms were within my sight, their faces
toward the sun, evidently sleeping off the heavy potations of the
night. Otherwise the great encampment appeared completely deserted;
there were no spirals of smoke rising above the lodge-poles, no
gossiping groups anywhere about.

It was plain enough to me. Those of the warriors capable of further
action were elsewhere engaged upon some fresh foray, while the
majority, overcome by drinking, were asleep within their darkened
lodges. Surely, daylight though it was, no safer moment could be
expected in which to establish communication with Toinette. With night
the camp would be again astir; and even if I succeeded in reaching her
at some later hour it would leave small margin of darkness for our
escape. Every moment of delay now added to our grave peril, and there
was much planning to be done after we met. Possibly I should have
waited, as I had been told to do; but it was ever in my blood to act
rather than reason, and I am sure that in this case no cause remains
for regret.

I must confess that my heart beat somewhat faster, as I crept slowly
forth and peered cautiously around the bulging side of the big lodge
I had just left, to assure myself no savages were stirring. It was not
that I greatly feared the venture, nor that a sense of danger excited
my nerves; but rather the one thought in my mind was that now my way
lay toward Mademoiselle. How would she greet me? Should I learn my fate
from her tell-tale eyes, or by a sudden gleam of surprise in her lovely
face? These were the reflections that inspired me, for a new hope had
been born within me through the forced confession of De Croix.

There was little danger of exposure while I advanced through the
shelter of the lodges, for I was always under partial cover. But
I waited and watched long before daring to pass across the wide
open space in the centre of which the fire had been kindled. The
torture-post yet stood there, black and charred, while the ground
beneath was littered with dead ashes. The bodies of three white men,
two of them naked and marked by fire, lay close at hand, just as they
had been carelessly flung aside to make room for new victims; yet I
dared not stop to learn who they might have been in life. The sight of
their foul disfigurement only rendered me the more eager to reach the
living with a message of hope.

I moved like a snake, dragging my body an inch at a time by firmly
grasping with extended hands the tough grass-roots, and writhing
forward as noiselessly as if I were stalking some prey. There were
times when I advanced so slowly it would have puzzled a watcher to
determine whether mine was not also the body of the dead. At length,
even at that snail's rate of progress, I gained the protection of the
tepees upon the other side of the camp, and skulked in among them. The
lodge just before me, blackened by paint and weather, must be the one
I sought. I rested close within its shadow, striving to assure myself
there was no possibility of mistake. As my eyes lifted, I could trace
in dim outline the totem of the chief faintly sketched on the taut
skin: it was the same I had noted on the brawny breast of Little Sauk.

Never did I move with greater woodland skill, for I felt that all
depended upon my remaining undiscovered; a single false move now would
defeat all hope. Who might be within, concealed by that black covering,
was a mystery to be solved only by extremest caution.

Inch by inch I worked the skin-covering of the tepee entrance up from
the ground, screwing my eye to the aperture in an effort to penetrate
the shrouded interior. But the glare of the sun was so reflected into
my eyeballs, that it left me almost blind in the semi-gloom beneath
that dark roof, and I could distinguish no object with certainty.
Surely, nothing moved within; and I drew myself slowly forward, until
half my body lay extended upon the beaten dirt-floor. It was then that
I caught a glimpse of a face peering at me from out the shadows,--the
face of Toinette; and, alas for my eager hopes of surprising her heart
and solving its secrets! the witch was actually laughing in silence at
my predicament. The sight made my face flush in sudden indignation; but
before I could find speech, she had hastily accosted me.

"Good faith, Master Wayland! but I greet you gladly!" she said, and
her soft hand was warm upon mine; "yet it truly caused me to smile to
observe the marvellous caution with which you came hither."

"It must have been indeed amusing," I answered, losing all my vain
aspirations in a moment under her raillery; "though it is not every
prisoner in an Indian camp who could find like cause for merriment."

Her eyes grew sober enough as they rested inquiringly on my face, for
all that they still held an irritatingly roguish twinkle in their
depths.

"It was the expression upon your face which so amused me," she
explained. "I am not indifferent to all that your coming means, nor
to the horrors this camp has witnessed. More than that, you appear to
me like one risen from the dead. I have truly mourned for you, John
Wayland. I lost all power, all desire for resistance, when I saw you
stricken from your horse, and often since my eyes have been moist in
thoughts of you. No doubt 'twas but the sudden reaction from seeing you
again alive that made me so forgetful of these dread surroundings as
to smile. I beg you to forgive me; it was not heartlessness, but merely
the way of a thoughtless girl, Monsieur."

It had been impossible for me to resist her cajolery from the
beginning; and now I read in her eyes the truth of all she spoke.

"There is naught for you to forgive, Mademoiselle," I answered, drawing
myself wholly within the tepee and resting on my knees. "But are you
quite alone here, and without guards?"

"For the present, yes. Little Sauk has been gone from the camp for
some hours. They watch me with some care at night, yet of what use can
their guarding be? If I should get without the lodge, escape would be
hopeless for a girl like me. But now tell me about yourself. Are you
also prisoner to the Indians? Surely I saw you struck down in that mad
_mêlée_. 'Twas then I lost heart, and gave up every hope of rescue."

"No, I am not a prisoner, Mademoiselle. I fell, stunned by a blow dealt
me from behind, but was saved from capture by the falling of my horse
across my body. I am here now of my own will, and for no other purpose
than to save you."

"To save me! Oh, Monsieur! it would make me blush really to think I
ranked so high in your esteem. Was it not rather that other girl you
came to seek,--the one you sought so far through the wilderness, only
to find hidden in this encampment of savages? Tell me, Monsieur, was
she by any chance of fate the heroine who last night plucked Captain de
Croix from the flames of torture?"

"You know, then, of his danger and deliverance?" I said, not feeling
eager to answer her query. "'Twas a most brave and womanly act."

"A strange exercise of power, indeed, Monsieur," and she looked
directly into my eyes; "and the savages tell me she claimed to have
knowledge of him."

Surely I had a right to relate the whole story of De Croix's
confession; yet somehow I did not deem it the manly thing to do.
Rather, I would let her learn the truth in God's own time, and from
other lips than mine. Perchance she would respect me more in the end
for keeping silence now. But in this decision I failed to consider that
hasty words of explanation might naturally lead her to believe the
existing friendship mine instead of his.

"We met her across the river in the darkness last night," I answered.
"At my request, she acted as my guide into the Indian camp."

The expression in her eyes puzzled me; nor could I interpret the sudden
flush that lent color to her cheeks.

"You are frank, Monsieur," she said quietly, "and doubtless 'tis better
so. But the strange situation of this young woman has much of romance
about it, and interests me greatly. How chances she to be here? Surely
she cannot be of Indian blood?"

"She holds connection with some sisterhood of the Church, as I
understand, and has lived for some time amid the Pottawattomies,
seeking to win the heathen to Christ."

"A Catholic?" she asked, her eyes brightening with deeper interest.

"Such is my understanding, though in truth she never said as much to
me. Indeed, we spoke little, Mademoiselle, for our path was in the
midst of peril, even before the capture of poor De Croix upset all our
plans."

"Doubtless," she answered with a slight trace of sarcasm in the soft
voice. "But Captain de Croix,--he was not seriously injured, I trust?
Where have the savages confined him? And know you what they in tend as
to his future?"

"He will forever bear some scars, I fear," I answered, wondering dully
at the calmness of her inquiry. "I have just left him sleeping quietly
in the council tent. Know you anything of what fate has befallen other
of our friends of the garrison?"

Her eyes grew sad. "Only what little I have learned through the
taunting of my own captor," she answered, her voice trembling.
"Captain Wells is dead, together with Ensign Ronan and Surgeon Van
Voorhees. Both Captain Heald and his wife were sorely wounded, and
they, with Lieutenant Helm, are prisoners somewhere in the camp; but
the Lieutenant's wife is safe with the Silver-man's family across
the river. The Indians hold these in hope of ransom, and wreak their
vengeance upon the common soldiers who were so unfortunate as to fall
into their hands alive. Yet few, I think, survived the massacre."

"You have doubtless guessed aright. I noted with what fearful spirit of
revenge the savages dealt with some of their captives, while sparing
others. Surely you, for instance, have met with but little hardship
thus far at the hands of Little Sauk?"

She glanced up at me, with a touch of the old coquettishness in her
dark eyes and a quick toss of her head, while one white hand smoothed
her soft hair.

"Think you then, Monsieur, I do not look so ill?"

In spite of every effort at control, my heart swept into my eyes; she
must have read the swift message, for her own drooped instantly, with a
quick flutter of long lashes against her cheeks.

"I have already told you how greatly I admire you," I faltered, "and
you make no less fair a picture now."

"Then I shall not tempt you to add to your compliment," she hastily
responded, rising to her feet, "for I like loyalty in a man better than
mere gallantry of speech. You ask me about Little Sauk. He holds me for
ransom, although Heaven knows 'twill prove but waste of time, for I am
aware of no one in all the East who would invest so much as a dollar
to redeem me from Indian hands. Yet such is his purpose, as told to me
this morning."

"Perchance, then," I urged, doubtfully, "you may prefer remaining
quietly here rather than risk the peril of trying to escape?"

She looked at me keenly, as if in wonder at my words; and I could see
that her eyes were moistening with the sudden rush of feeling.

"You are either dull of comprehension, John Wayland," she said, a bit
pertly, "or else you understand me less than any man I ever knew. If
I seem brave and light of heart amidst all this horror, 'tis merely
that I may not utterly break down, and become an object of contempt. I
feel, Monsieur, I am not devoid of heart nor of the finer qualities of
womanhood. Prefer to remain here? Holy Mother of Christ! It would be
my choice to die out yonder on the prairie, rather than stay here in
these Indian lodges. There is no peril I would not face joyfully, in an
effort to escape from this place of torture and barbarity. I confess
that an hour ago I cared not greatly what my end might be; I had lost
heart and hope. But now your coming, as of one risen from the dead, has
brought back my courage."

"You will go, then, whenever and wherever I say?"

She stepped forward with her old frank confidence, resting both hands
in mine, her eyes upon my face.

"Out yonder in the night, and amid the sand, John Wayland," she said
earnestly, "I remember saying I would travel with you whithersoever you
wished. I know you far better now than I did then, and I hesitate not
at taking upon myself the same vow."

What power then sealed my lips, I know not. Doubtless there is a fate
in such matters, yet 'tis strange the light of invitation in her eyes
did not draw me to lay bare my heart. In naught else had I a drop of
coward blood within my veins; while here I hesitated, fearful lest her
pleading face might change to sudden roguishness, and she laugh lightly
at the love that held my heart in thrall. Truly, the witch had puzzled
me so sorely with her caprices, her quick change of mood, her odd
mixture of girlish frankness and womanly reserve, that I knew not which
might prove the real Toinette,--the one to trust, or the one to doubt.
So I stood there, clasping her soft hands in mine, my heart throbbing,
yet my tongue hesitating to perform its office. But at last the halting
words came in a sudden, irrepressible rush.

"Toinette!" I cried, "Toinette! I could forget all else,--our danger
here, the horrors of the night just passed, the many dead out
yonder,--all else but you."

She gave a sudden startled cry, her affrighted eyes gazing across my
shoulder. I wheeled, with quick intuition of danger; and there, just
within the entrance of the tepee, the flap of which he had let fall
behind him, in grave silence stood an Indian.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE PLEDGE OF A WYANDOT


A single glance told me who our unwelcome visitor must be. That giant
body, surmounted by the huge broad face, could belong to none other
than the Wyandot, Sau-ga-nash,--him who had spoken for the warriors
of his tribe before the torture-stake. He stood erect and rigid, his
stern, questioning eyes upon us, his lips a thin line of repression.
With a quick movement, I thrust the girl behind me, and faced him,
motionless, but with every muscle strained for action. The Indian spoke
slowly, and used perfect English.

"Ugh!" he said. "Who are you? A prisoner? Surely you cannot be that
same Frenchman we helped entertain last night?"

"I am not the Frenchman," I answered deliberately, vainly hoping his
watchful eyes might wander about the lodge long enough to yield me
chance for a spring at his throat, "though I was one of his party. I
only came here to bring comfort to this poor girl."

"No doubt she needs it," he replied drily, "and your way is surely
a good one. Yet I doubt if Little Sauk would approve it, and as his
friend, I must speak for him in the matter. Do you say you are also a
prisoner? To what chief?"

"To none," I answered shortly, resolved now to venture all in a trial
of strength. He read this decision in my eyes, and stepped back warily.
At the same instant Toinette flung her arms restrainingly about my neck.

"Don't, John!" she urged, using my name thus for the first time; "the
savage has a gun hidden beneath his robe!"

I saw the weapon as she spoke, and saw too the angry glint in the
fellow's eye as he thrust the muzzle menacingly forward. As we stood
thus, glaring at each other, a sudden remembrance made me pause.
"Sau-ga-nash"?--surely it was neither more nor less than a Wyandot
expression signifying "Englishman." That broad face was not wholly
Indian; could this be the half-breed chief of whom I had so often
heard? 'Twas worth the chance to learn.

"You are Sau-ga-nash?" I asked, slowly, Toinette still clinging to me,
her face over her shoulder to front the silent savage. "A chief of the
Wyandots?"

[Illustration: "Don't John! The savage has a gun hidden beneath his
robe!"]

He moved his head slightly, with a mutter of acquiescence, his eyes
expressing wonder at the question.

"The same whom the Americans name Billy Caldwell?"

"'Tis the word used by the whites."

I drew a quick breath of relief, which caused Mademoiselle to release
her grasp a little, as her anxious eyes sought my face for explanation.

"Recall you a day twelve years ago on the River Raisin?" I asked
clearly, feeling confident now that my words were no longer idle. "An
Indian was captured in his canoe by a party of frontiersmen who were
out to revenge a bloody raid along the valley of the Maumee. That
Indian was a Wyandot and a chief. He was bound to a tree beside the
river bank and condemned to torture; when the leader of the rangers,
a man with a gray beard, stood before him rifle in hand, and swore to
kill the first white man who put flint and steel to the wood. Recall
you this, Sau-ga-nash?"

The stolid face of the listening savage changed, the expression of
revengeful hostility merging into one of undisguised amazement.

"That which you picture has not left my memory," he answered gravely.

"Nor the pledge you gave to that white captain when he brought you
safely to Detroit?" I queried, eagerly.

"Nor the pledge. But what has all this to do here?"

"Only, Sau-ga-nash, that I am Major David Wayland's son."

The Indian sprang forward, his eyes burning fiercely; and thinking his
movement to be hostile, I thrust the girl aside that I might be free to
repel his attack. But he did not touch me, merely peering eagerly into
my face with a keen questioning look that read my every feature.

"You have the nose and forehead," he reflected aloud; "yes, and the
eyes. Before the Great Spirit, I will redeem my pledge; a chief of the
Wyandots cannot lie."

He paused, and I could mark the varied emotions that swayed him, so
deeply was he moved by this strange discovery. Unconsciously my hand
clasped Mademoiselle's, for now I felt that our fate hung on his
decision.

"'Tis a hard task, Master Wayland," he admitted at length, almost
wearily, "but for your father's sake it shall be done. I see only one
way for it, and that by water. Know you anything about the management
of boats?"

"Only as I have paddled upon the Maumee," I answered, doubtfully,
"although I handled a small sail when a mere boy in the far East."

"'Twill suffice if the fair weather hold, as is likely at this season.
At least it may be risked. The land trails are crowded by Indians from
far-off tribes, hastening hither in hope of fight and spoils. More than
a hundred came in to-day, painted for war, and angry because too late.
You could not escape encountering such parties, were you to flee by
trail eastward; nor would they show mercy to any white. The Silver-man
has returned to his home north of the river; but 'tis all that we who
are friendly to him can do to keep these warriors from attacking even
there. 'Tis the Indians from far away that make the trouble; and these
grow more numerous and powerful each day. We keep a guard at the house
to save the Silver-man and his family; and were more whites to seek
refuge there, we should lose all control. There is still safety at
the mouth of the Saint Joseph River, and 'tis there you must go. The
venture must be made to-night, and by water. Is it known to any Indian
that you are alive and within this camp?"

"To none."

"That is well; we can work best alone. Now listen. At midnight, Master
Wayland, a boat, pre pared for the trip, will await you, hidden under
the ruins of the Agency building. The river flows under the flooring
deep enough for the purpose, and I will place the boat there with my
own hand. Beyond that, all must rest upon your own skill and good
fortune. You will wait here," and he glanced about anxiously for some
means of concealment, "lying behind those robes yonder, until the hour."

"Here?" I questioned, thinking instantly of my duty to De Croix.
"But I would first have speech with the Frenchman. He is my friend,
Sau-ga-nash. Besides, I have left my rifle in the council lodge."

The face of the savage darkened, and his eyes gleamed ominously as they
roamed questioningly from my face to Toinette's.

"I said you were to stay hidden here," he answered shortly, his tone
showing anger, and his hand pointing at the robes. "Many of the
sleeping Pottawattomies are again astir without, and you could not hope
to gain the council lodge undiscovered. What care I for this Frenchman,
that I should risk my life to save him? I pledge myself only to Major
Wayland's son; and even if I aid you, it is on condition that you go
alone."

"Alone, say you?" and I rested my hand on Mademoiselle's shoulder. "I
would die here, Sau-ga-nash, and by torture, before I would consent to
go one step without this girl."

The half-breed scowled at me, drawing his robe about him in haughty
indifference.

"Then be it so," he said mockingly. "'Tis your own choice. I have
offered redemption of my pledge."

I started to utter some harsh words in answer; but before I could
speak, Toinette pressed her soft palm upon my lips in protest.

"Refuse him not," she murmured hastily. "'Tis the only chance; for my
sake, do not anger him."

What plan her quick wit may have engendered, I did not know; but I
yielded to the entreaty in her pleading eyes, and sullenly muttered the
first conscious lie of my life.

"I accept your terms, Sau-ga-nash, harsh as they are."

He looked from one to the other of us, his face dark with distrust and
doubt.

"You are not mine to dispose of," he said sternly to the trembling
girl, who visibly shrank from his approach, and clung once more to me.
"You are prisoner to Little Sauk; nor will I release one thus held by
the Pottawattomies. They and the Wyandots are brothers. But I trust
you, and not the word of this white man. Pledge me not to go with him,
and I will believe you."

She glanced first at me, then back into the swarthy, merciless face.
Her cheeks were white and her lips trembled, yet her eyes remained
clear and calm.

"I give you my word, Sau-ga-nash," she said quietly. "While I am held
as prisoner by Little Sauk, I will not go away with John Wayland."

Little as I believed these words to be true at the time, the sound
of them so dulled me with apprehension that I could only stare at
her in speechless amazement. It seemed to me then as if the power
of reason had deserted me, as if my brain had been so burdened as to
refuse its office. I recall that Toinette almost compelled me to lie
down against the farther side of the lodge, placing a pile of skins in
front of me and assuming a position herself where she could occasion
ally reach across the barrier and touch me with her soft hand. No
doubt she realized the struggle in my mind, for she spoke little after
the departure of the half-breed, as if anxious to permit me to figure
out the future for myself. Little by little I faced it, and came to
an irrevocable decision. It was to be Toinette or nothing. While it
might be true that she was in no immediate danger, and possibly could
be safely ransomed if I once escaped to civilization, yet the risk of
such venture and delay was too great; nor would my love abide so vast
a sacrifice on her part. I thought to say this to her; but there was
a look of firm decision in her sweet face, as her dark eyes met mine,
that somehow held me silent. I felt that in her own heart she must
already know what action I would choose, and the final moment would
prove sufficient test for her evident determination. Reassured here,
my thoughts turned to De Croix; but that was useless. I could send no
message to him; he was no longer in especial peril, and perhaps would
not willingly desert his newly found wife even to escape the savages.
Nay, it was to be Toinette and I, now and forever.

I do not clearly remember at this day what it was we spoke about in the
brief whispering that passed between us while we waited there. Neither
of us felt like voicing our real thoughts, and so we but dissembled,
making commonplaces fill the gaps between our silences. The night
found us undisturbed, and it shut down so darkly within the narrow
confines of the lodge that I lost all trace of her presence, but for an
occasional movement or the sound of her low voice. Without, the rapidly
increasing noise indicated a return of many savages to the camp, until
at last a fire was kindled in the open space, its red flame sending
some slight illumination where we were, but not enough to reveal the
interior of the lodge. An Indian brought the girl some food, entering
and leaving without uttering a sound; and we two ate together, striving
to speak lightly in order to make the coarse meal more palatable.

Suddenly I became aware of a faint scratching upon the skin of the
lodge, at my back. At first I supposed it to be some wild animal, or
possibly a stray dog; but the regularity of it showed a purpose of
some kind. Could it be De Croix? Or was it the half-breed with some
secret message he dared not deliver openly? I lifted the lodge covering
slightly, and placed my lips to the aperture.

"Is some one there?" I whispered cautiously "Who is it?"

"I am Sister Celeste," came the immediate low reply. "Are you the white
man I guided?"

"Ay," I answered, rejoicing at this rare good for tune, "and I beg you
to listen to what I say. There will be a boat awaiting us beneath the
old Agency building at midnight. You must be there with De Croix."

"De Croix?"

"Yes; I know not if that be his name to you, but I mean the Frenchman
whose life you saved. Will you take him thither at midnight, together
with the rifle I left in the council lodge?"

For a moment she did not answer. Doubtless it was a bitter struggle for
her thus to agree even to meet the man again. At last she made reply,
although I could plainly mark the faltering of her voice.

"The man of whom you speak shall be there," she said, "unless some
accident make it impossible."

As I drew back my head, and sat upright, Mademoiselle spoke
questioningly.

"With whom were you conversing just now, Monsieur?"

"The young woman of whom we have spoken so often," I answered
thoughtlessly. "She has pledged herself to bring De Croix to the
meeting-place."

"Indeed!" she exclaimed, with accent so peculiar I knew not how to
interpret it. "It almost makes me desire to form one of your party."



CHAPTER XXXIII

AN INTERVENTION OF FATE


"Form one of our party?" I echoed, believing I must have misunderstood
her words. "Surely, Mademoiselle, you cannot mean that you take your
promise to the half-breed so seriously as voluntarily to remain in
captivity?"

"Yes, but I do, Monsieur!" and the tone in which she said it was firm
with decision. "The Indian asked my pledge in all solemnity, and has
gone away trusting to it. My conscience could never again be clear did
I prove false in such a matter. You also made a pledge, even before
mine was given; was it not your purpose to abide by it?"

"No," I answered, a bit shortly. "I merely agreed to his proposition
at your expressed desire that I should, and because I believed you
had framed some plan of escape. Have you such small respect for me,
Mademoiselle, as to think I could consent to leave you here alone and
at the mercy of these red fiends? Have I risked my life in coming here
for no other end than this?"

I felt her reach her arm across the pile of skins lying between us, and
grasp my hand within her own.

"But, dear friend, you must!" she said, pleadingly, her softly
modulated voice dwelling upon the words as if they came hard. "Truly
you must, John Wayland, and for my sake as well as your own. I am
comparatively safe here,--safe at least from actual physical harm, so
long as the savages dream that the sparing of my life will yield them
profit. You have no right to remain in such peril as surrounds you
here, when by so doing you benefit no one. You have father and mother
awaiting in prayer your safe return to them yonder on the Maumee;
while I,--I have no one even to ask how sad my fate may be. Think you
that because I am a girl I must therefore be all selfishness? or that
I would ever permit you thus to sacrifice yourself unnecessarily for
me? No, no, Monsieur! I will remain prisoner to Little Sauk, for my
sacred word has been pledged; and you must go, because there are others
to whom your life is of value. Nor need you go empty-handed, for the
one you have sought so far and long seems now ready enough to travel
eastward with you."

Scarcely had her voice ceased, leaving me struggling to find fit words
to change her mad decision, when a rough hand flung back the entrance
flap, and the naked body of an Indian, framed for a single instant
against the light, lurched heavily through the opening. Even that brief
glimpse told me the man had been drinking to excess; while for the
moment, as I huddled down closer behind my robes, I was unable to make
out his identity.

"Where white woman?" he ejaculated gruffly, as he paused, blinded by
the darkness. "Why she not come help me?"

His quick ear evidently caught the slight rustle of the girl's skirt
as she rose hastily to her feet, for with a muttered Indian oath the
savage lurched forward. I could scarcely make out the dimmest shadow of
them in the dense gloom, yet I seemed to know that he had grasped her
roughly, though not the slightest sound of fear or pain came from her
lips.

"Ugh! better come!" he muttered, a veiled savage threat growling in his
tone. "You my squaw; cook in my lodge; get meal now."

"But where? and how?" she asked, her voice trembling perceptibly, yet
striving to placate him by a seeming willingness to obey. "I have
nothing here to cook, nor have I fire."

"Indian squaw no talk back!" he retorted angrily. "This way I show
white squaw to mind chief!"

I heard plainly the brutal blow he struck her, though even as she
reeled back she managed to stifle the scream upon her lips, so that it
was barely audible. With one bound I was over the barrier of robes and
clutching with tingling fingers for the brute. I touched his feathered
head-dress at last, and he must have supposed me his helpless victim,
for with a grunt of satisfaction he struck once again, the blow meeting
my shoulder, where he judged in the dark her face would be.

"White squaw mind now--"

I had him gripped by the throat before he ended, and we went down
together for a death-struggle in the darkness, from which each realized
in an instant both could never rise again. My furious grip sobered him,
and he made desperate efforts to break free, struggling vainly to utter
some cry for rescue. Once I felt him groping at his waist for a knife;
but I got first clasp upon its hilt, though I twisted helplessly for
some minutes before I could loosen his hold at my wrist so as to strike
him with the blade. His teeth closed upon my hand, biting deep into
the flesh like a wild-cat, and the sharp sting of it yielded me the
desperate strength I needed to wrench my hand free, and with one quick
blow the knife I clutched cut deep into his side, so that I could feel
the hot blood spurt forth over my hand. I held him in a death grip, for
I knew a single cry meant ruin to all our plans, until the last breath
sped, and I knew I lay prostrate above a corpse. It had been so swift
and fierce a contest that I staggered half-dazed to my feet, peering
about me as if expecting another attack. I was steadied somewhat by the
sound of a low sob from the darkness.

"'Tis well over with, Toinette," I murmured hastily, my voice trembling
from the strain that still shook me.

"Oh, John! John Wayland! And you are truly unhurt of the struggle?" It
was scarcely her voice speaking, so agitated was it. "Have you killed
him?"

"Yes," I answered, finding my way cautiously toward her, and speaking
in whispers. "I had no other choice. It was either his life or yours
and mine. Knew you the savage?"

"It was Little Sauk," she replied, clinging to me, and growing somewhat
calmer from my presence. "Oh, what can we do now?"

"There remains but one thing, and that is to accept the chance that
Providence has given us. There remains no longer a shadow of excuse
for your staying here, even by your own reasoning. You are no longer
prisoner to Little Sauk. Your pledge has been dissolved by Fate,
and it must be God's will that you go forth with me. What say you,
Mademoiselle?" And I crushed her hands in mine.

I could feel her slight form tremble as I waited her reply, and
believed she peered across my shoulder through the darkness, imagining
she saw the dead Indian's form lying there.

"Do you truly wish it?" she questioned at last, as though warring with
herself. "Think you she would greatly care?"

'Tis a strangely perverse thing, the human mind. As there dimly dawned
upon me a conception of her meaning,--a knowledge that this seemingly
heart-free girl cared enough for me to exhibit such jealousy of
another,--I would not undeceive her by a word of explanation.

"I certainly do wish it," was my grave answer, "nor does it greatly
matter what the desire of any other may be. This is not an invitation
to a ball, Mademoiselle. I beg you answer me; will you go?"

She looked toward me, wondering at my words.

"Yes," she said simply. "Has the time come?"

"I have no certain means of knowing; but it cannot be far from the
hour, and we shall be much safer without."

I took the Indian's knife with me, wiping the long blade upon the pile
of skins, and placing it convenient to my hand within the bosom of my
hunting-shirt. It was dark enough back of the lodge away from the glare
of the fires, and we rested there well within the shadow, for some
time, while I scanned the surroundings and planned as best I might our
future movements.

"Was it from dread of venturing once more upon the water that you held
back so long?" I asked her, seeking rudely to delve into the secret of
her reserve.

"Have you ever found me of cowardly heart, Monsieur?" she questioned in
return, parrying with quick skill, "that you should think any bodily
terror could hold me back? If I had reasons other than those already
given, they were worthy ones."

"You are not afraid of the perils before us?"

"No," she answered; "my heart beats fast, but 'tis not from fear."

Only a few scattered lodges had been raised to the eastward of where
we were, nor did these show any signs of life. We crept forward with
painful slowness, partially hiding our movements by following a
shallow, curving gully, until we had gained the extreme limits of the
encampment, where we crawled out into the gloom of the surrounding
prairie. Not until then did either of us venture to stand erect, or
advance with any degree of freedom.

Directly ahead of us there was nothing by which I could safely guide
our course. The flat sameness of the plain offered no landmarks, while
the night sky was so thickly overcast as to leave no stars visible.
Nor was there light of any kind, save that of the fires in the camp we
had just left. I hesitated to risk the open prairie thus unaided, lest
we should wander astray and lose much valuable time; so, although it
measurably increased our peril of encountering parties of savages,
I turned sharply northward, keeping the bright Indian fires upon our
left, and groping forward through the gloom toward where I knew the
main branch of the river must lie. It was neither the time nor place
for speech. I held her hand closely while we moved onward silently,
carefully guarding each step lest by mischance it should bring
betrayal. Once, after we had reached the river and were moving eastward
again, a party of Indians passed us, coming so silently out of the
black void, in their soft moccasins, that I had barely time to hold her
motionless before they were fairly upon us. I counted nine of them,
moving rapidly in single file, like so many black ghosts. We waited
with wildly throbbing hearts, listening for fear others might follow in
their trail.

We were almost beside the walls of the factory building before
either of us was aware of its proximity. Even then, as I lay prone
on the earth and studied its dim outlines, they possessed nothing
of familiarity, for the high-pitched roof had fallen in and carried
with it the greater portion of the upper walls, leaving a mere shell,
shapeless and empty. I rested there, gazing at it, and wondering how
best we might proceed to find our way beneath where the boat was to
be moored, when I felt Mademoiselle's fingers press my arm warningly.
Scarcely a yard away, on a ridge of higher ground, two dim figures came
to a sudden pause.

"I perceive naught of the presence of your friends as yet, Monsieur,"
spoke a soft voice, "but I will remain until certain of the outcome."

"Then your decision is unchanged?" asked the other, in deeper accent,
full of earnest pleading. "All is to be over between us from this hour?
And you deliberately choose to devote your life to the redemption of
these savages?"

"We have discussed all this at length, Monsieur le Marquis, as we came
along, and, as you fully know, my choice is made beyond recall. I am
here to serve you to-night, because it seems to be a duty given unto
me by some strange Providence; and I have relied upon your courtesy
to make it as little unpleasant as possible. I pray you, beseech me
no more. The girl I once was lives no longer; the woman I now am has
been given a special mission by God, too sacred to be cast aside for
aught that earth has to offer her of happiness. We part in kindness,
Monsieur,--in friendship even; but that which was once between us may
never be again."

There was no answer; even the reckless audacity of a courtier was
silenced by that calm final dismissal. It was Mademoiselle who spoke in
swift whisper, her lips at my ear.

"Speak! who is she?"

"The woman of whom you have heard so often,--the missionary in the
Indian camp."

"Yes, I know," impatiently; "but I mean her name?"

"She calls herself Sister Celeste; I have indeed heard mention of
another, but it abides not in my memory."

"You deceive me, Monsieur; yet I know, and will speak with her," was
the quick decision. "Mother of God! 'tis a voice too dear ever to be
forgotten."

She was beside them with a step, seeming no doubt a most fair vision to
be born so instantly of the night-shadows.

"Marie Faneuf!" she exclaimed, eagerly. "I know not by what strange
fortune I meet you here, but surely you will not refuse greeting to an
old friend?"

The girl drew hastily back a step, as if her first thought was flight;
but ere such end could be accomplished, Mademoiselle had clasped her
arm impetuously.

"Marie!" she pleaded, "can it be possible you would flee from me?"

"Nay," returned the other, her voice trembling painfully, as she
struggled to restrain herself. "It is not that. Dear, dear friend! I
knew you were among the few saved from Dearborn. The American hunter
told me, and ever since have I tried to avoid you in the camp. 'Twas
not for lack of the old love, yet I feared to meet you. Much has
occurred of late to make the keeping of my vow most difficult. I have
been weak, and grievously tempted; and I felt scarce strong enough,
even though protected by prayers, to withstand also my deep love for
you."

Their voices insensibly merged into French, each speaking so rapidly
and low that I could get little meaning of it. Then I noted De Croix,
half lying upon the ground, his head hidden within his hands. With
sudden remembrance of the work before us, I touched his shoulder.

"Come below, Monsieur, and help me search for the boat," I said,
kindly, for I was truly touched by his grief. "It will help clear your
mind to have some labor to accomplish."

"I dare not, Wayland!" he answered hoarsely, and the face he uplifted
toward me was strangely white and drawn. "I must stay with her; I dare
not leave her again alone, lest she escape me once more. She is mine,
truly mine by every law of the Church,--my wife, I tell you, and I
would die here in the wilderness rather than permit her longer to doom
herself to such a fate as this."

His words and manner were so wild they startled me. Surely, in his
present frame of mind he would prove useless on such a mission as that
before us.

"Then remain here, Monsieur!" I said, "and do your best to win her
consent to accompany us. No doubt Mademoiselle will aid you all that is
in her power."



CHAPTER XXXIV

A STUMBLE IN THE DARK


Gloomy as the hole was, there was no help for it. I could perceive
nothing below, not even my hand when held within a foot of my eyes; nor
had I the slightest previous knowledge of the place to guide me, even
had not the fire ruins above effectually blocked every passage-way with
fallen debris. Listening however intently, my ears could distinguish
only the faint lapping of the river as it crept about the log piling on
which the house had been built; but beyond this dim guidance, I had to
feel my way forward with extended hands and groping feet. Swinging to
my back the rifle that De Croix had brought, and casting an inquiring
glance backward at the little group huddled upon the bank, almost
invisible even at that short distance, I grasped the piling nearest me
and slid down into the unknown darkness.

My feet found solid earth, although as I reached out toward the left
my moccasin came in contact with water, which told me at once that
only a narrow path divided the steep bank of the excavation from the
encroaching river. The floor above was originally low, so that I could
easily touch the heavy supporting beams; and I had felt my way scarcely
a yard before coming in contact with a serious obstruction, where the
weakened floor had sagged so as almost to close the narrow passage.
This caused me to wade farther out into the water, testing each step
carefully as I followed the sharp curving of the shore-line. I had no
fear of meeting any living enemy within that silent cave, my sole doubt
being as to whether the half-breed chief had fulfilled his promise and
brought the boat, my gravest anxiety to discover it early and get my
party safely away before the Indian encampment learned the truth.

I must have reached the apex of the little cove, moving so cautiously
that not a ripple of the water revealed my progress, and feeling for
each inch of way like a blind man along city streets, when my knee
suddenly struck some obstacle, and seeking to learn what it might be, I
muttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving as I touched the unmistakable
sides of a boat. It was a lumping, awkward craft, rudely fashioned,
yet of a seeming length of keel and breadth of beam that set my heart
beating with new joy, as I wondered if it was not the same craft in
which the Kinzie family put forth upon the lake the morning of the
massacre. This seemed very likely, for there could hardly be two such
boats at hand, where the Indian water-craft were slender, fragile
canoes, poorly fitted for serious battle with lake waves. Doubtless
this was the only vessel Sau-ga-nash could find suitable for the
venture, or he would never have chosen it for the use of a single man,
as it was of a size to require the services of several paddles. Yet the
thought meant much; for this very lack of water-craft was likely to
render pursuit by the baffled savages impossible, if only once we got
fairly away from the shore.

With these reflections driving swiftly through my brain, I ran one hand
hastily along the thwarts of the boat, seeking to discover if paddles
had been provided, or even a sail of any kind. I touched a coil of
rope, a rude oar-blade so broad as to seem unwieldy, a tightly rolled
cloth,--and then my groping fingers rested on the oddest-feeling thing
that ever a startled man touched in the dark. It was God's mercy I did
not cry out from the sudden nervous fit that seized me. The thing I
touched had a round, smooth, creepy feeling of flesh about it, so that
I believed I fingered a corpse; until it began to turn slowly under my
hand like a huge ball, the loose skin of it twitching yet revealing no
human features to my touch. Saint Andrew! but it frightened me! I knew
not what species of strange animal it might prove to be, nor whence
its grip or sting might come. Yet the odd feeling of it was strangely
fascinating,--I could not let it go; the damp flesh-like skin seemed
to cling to my fingers in a horrible sort of magnetism that bound me
prisoner, the cold perspiration of terror bursting from every pore,
even as my other hand, trembling and unnerved, sought in my shirt for
the knife of Little Sauk.

As I gripped the weapon, the thing began to straighten out, coming up
in the quick odd jerks with which some snakes uncoil their joints after
the torpidity of winter. My hand, finding naught to grasp, slipped from
the smooth round ball, and as it fell touched what seemed an ear, and
then a human nose.

"Merciful God! 'tis a man!" I gasped, in astonishment and yet relief,
as I closed upon his throat, madly determined to shut off his wind
before he could give alarm.

"Cuss the luck!" he gasped hoarsely, and I let go of him, scarcely able
to ejaculate in my intense surprise at that familiar voice.

"Burns? For Heaven's sake, Burns! can this indeed be you?"

For an instant he did not speak, doubtless as greatly perplexed as I at
the strange situation.

"If ye're Injun," he ventured at last gravely, "then I'm a bloody
ghost; but if by any chance ye're the lad, Wayland, which yer voice
sounds like, then it's Ol' Tom Burns as ye're a-maulin' 'round, which
seems ter be yer specialty, a-jumpin' on unoffensive settlers in the
dark, an' a-chokin' the life outer them."

The growling tone of his voice was growing querulous, and it was
evident that his temper, never quite childlike, had not been greatly
improved by his late experiences as an Indian captive.

"But Burns, old friend!" I persisted heartily, my courage returned once
more, "it was surely enough to stir any man to violence to encounter
such a thing in the dark! What in Heaven's name has happened to leave
you with such a poll? What has become of your hair and beard? Is their
loss a part of Indian torture?"

There was a low chuckle in the darkness, as if the old rascal were
laughing to himself.

"Injun nuthin!" he returned with vehemence. "Thet's jist my way of
sarcumventin' the bloody varmints. I shaved the hull blame thing soon
as ever they let me loose, an' then played loony, till thar ain't no
Injun 'long the shore as 'd tech me fer all the wampum in the Illini
country. 'Tain't the fust time I saved my scalp by some sech dern
trick. I tell ye, it's easy 'nough ter beat Injuns if ye only know how.
By snakes! I'm sacred, I am,--specially teched by the Great Spirit.
I tell ye, ter be real loony is dern nigh as good in an Injun camp
as ter hev red hair like thet thar little Sister Celeste with the
Pottawattomies. She knows her business, you bet; an' so does Ol' Burns
know him!"

His mention of her name instantly recalled me to the little group
waiting above us, and doubtless already worried at my prolonged absence.

"Burns," I interrupted, "this is no time for reminiscences. I am here
seeking some means of escape out of this place of horror. What were you
doing down here?"

"Sorter contemplatin' a sea v'yage," he said, dryly. "'Twas rec'mended
by my doctor fer the growth o' my har. So, snoopin' 'round yere in the
dark, an' not over fond o' Injun com'any, I found this yere boat. Jest
got in ter see how 'twas fixed, when ye jumped down yonder. Reckon I'd
kinder like ter wet 'er up an' see wot she's like."

"Good! so would I. This boat was placed here for that very purpose.
Now listen. The young woman you just mentioned, that Indian missionary
with the auburn hair, is above yonder, together with another young
white girl rescued from the massacre, and the Frenchman, De Croix. We
have come here, on pledge of a half-breed chief that this boat would
be ready for our escape. And we have no time to waste, for we may be
followed at any moment."

"They ain't seen ye stealin' outer the camp?"

"No, but in doing it I was compelled to kill Little Sauk, and the
others may find his body at any time."

For a moment the sly old borderer made no response, and I knew he
was quietly turning over the complicated situation in his own mind
preparatory to intelligent action. I heard him step from the boat into
the shallow water.

"All right, lad! I understand," he said heartily, his former
indifference vanished. "Derned if I wouldn't jist as soon leave that
Parley-Voo behind; but I'm with ye, an' I reckon Ol' Burns'll give them
thar redskins another dern good jolt. Take hold here, boy, an' we'll
run this yere man-o-war outside, where we kin ship the rest o' her
crew."

The back-water rippling among the old piling was shallow, but the boat
had little aboard and floated free, so that we worked it forward with
little difficulty until we succeeded in rounding the slight promontory
and held its bulging sides close against the mud wall. Leaving Burns to
keep it in place, I crept silently up the bank.

"Come!" I whispered, making my way to the side of Mademoiselle more by
instinct than sight. "The boat we sought is here and ready! I have even
found a boatman to aid us, in the form of Ol' Burns, who, you remember,
aided De Croix and me at the time of our famous race. Let us waste no
more of the night here, but do the rest of your talking in greater
safety on the water."

They came with me down to the edge of the stream without a word
of protest. I had taken Mademoiselle in my arms and lifted her
slight form into the boat, when she turned suddenly, as if by an
unrestrainable impulse, and held out her hands toward the dim figure of
the silent girl who yet remained motionless several feet away.

"Marie!" she said, anxiously, "it may be wrong of me to urge it, but
I beg you to think again in this grave matter. Surely such horrible
massacre as you have witnessed must absolve you from your vow, and
yield you freedom to return eastward with those you love."

The other did not respond to this passionate appeal, but stood facing
us silent as a statue.

"What mean you, Mademoiselle?" I asked. "Will not this Sister Celeste
consent to leave the Indians?"

"Nay, she has made a sacred vow of religion which binds her to this
sacrifice. I implore you, John Wayland, urge her to go with us! 'Tis
but waste of her life here. She is an old schoolmate of mine, and
't will be hard to leave her alone in this wilderness. Captain de
Croix, she was far from being a stranger to you in those other days at
Montreal,--will you not add your entreaties to ours?"

I saw him step forward toward that quiet bowed figure, and she
straightened perceptibly, even in the darkness, as he drew near. His
words were in French, and spoken so low I missed their meaning; yet we
all heard plainly her calm answer, while marking the faltering accents
of her lips.

"Dear, dear friend!" and I felt her eyes, blinded by tears, were
seeking out Mademoiselle through the gloom, "it breaks my heart to
answer you nay in this hour of sore trial to us both. Yet my vow to God
is more sacred than any earthly friendship; nor could peace ever again
abide in my heart were I to break the vow so lightly. My duty is here,
be it for life or death; and here I must abide until the Master sets me
free."

Then, addressing De Croix, she continued sadly, "No, Monsieur, the
sense of duty that presses upon me and yields me such strength is
beyond your comprehension. I bid you go back to that world of light and
gaiety you have always loved so fondly, and think no more of me. To you
I am, even as you have supposed, a dead woman, yet happier far in this
sad exile than I ever was in that gilded social cage where men laugh
while they break the hearts that trust them. My Indians are indeed
cruel, but there is a deeper cruelty than that of bloodshed, and I
prefer the open savagery of the woods and plains to things I have known
in city life. So it must be good-bye, Monsieur!"

I was looking directly at her when she uttered these last words of
dismissal, yet as she ended she vanished into the black night beyond,
I knew not how. A moment before, two figures had been standing there,
De Croix's and hers; and although my eyes never once wavered, suddenly
there remained but one, that of De Croix, peering forward with bent
body as if he also knew not how or when the girl had vanished from his
side. I was staring yet, half believing it was but a trick of my eyes,
when suddenly, like phantoms from the mist, a half-dozen naked figures
topped the high bank before me. It was the work almost of a second. I
caught Burns's low cry of warning from where he sat watching within the
boat.

"Run!" I shouted to De Croix. "To the boat, quick! The savages are upon
us!"

He made no motion, and I grasped him. Rarely have I laid so heavy a
hand on one in friendship; but I lifted him from off his feet and flung
him bodily into the boat's bottom, scarce waiting till he struck before
I had my shoulder against the stern to send the craft free from shore.
I know not what mischance caused it, whether I slipped upon a stone
or tripped over a hidden root; but as I shoved the boat far out into
the dark current of the river, instead of springing after it, as I had
meant to do, I toppled and plunged headlong down at the edge of the
stream.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE BATTLE ON THE SHORE


What followed was long a famous story on the border, and I have even
read it written out most carefully in books purporting to tell the
history of those troublous times. None of them have it as I recall the
details of the incident, although it all occurred so rapidly that I
myself can hardly tell just how 'twas done.

I know that I scrambled again to my knees, resting half in the water,
my purpose being to fling myself into the river in an effort to regain
the boat. But it was already out of sight in the dense gloom, while
not the slightest sound reached me for guidance. Beyond this, I had no
time for much save action. Above me, upon the high bank not three yards
away, I saw several Indian forms peering over; and then others, three
or four, I am uncertain which, sprang lightly down within a yard of
where I crouched in waiting.

My father gave me a frontier maxim once, which ran, "If you must
fight, strike first, and strike hard." The words flashed in my memory,
and I put them to the test straightway. These prowling savages were
apparently unaware of my predicament; their sole thought was with the
boat floating away lakeward down the stream. At all cost, they must
be blocked in any purpose of pursuit. These were the thoughts that
darted through my brain like fire through stubble. How many opposed
me, how desperate would be the struggle, were matters of which I did
not stop to think. I could at least busy them until the fugitives were
safe; after that, it was God's affair, and theirs. My rifle was wet
and useless from my recent tumble; but before the group at the water's
edge even saw me I was fairly upon them, striking fiercely with my
gun-stock, and two savages went down, shrieking from pain and surprise,
before so much as a return blow reached me.

It was not a noisy battle; from the outset it was too fierce and rapid
for any waste of breath. Never did I need my strength of body more, nor
did the long training of my father come in better play. I made that
long rifle-barrel both club and sword, knife and axe in one, striking,
thrusting, clubbing, in the mad fury with which desperation bids a man
battle for his life. I had no thought to live, but was determined that
if I went down to earth many a painted savage should lie there with
me. The enshrouding darkness proved a friendly help; for as I backed in
closer against the bank, I gained a fair view of my opponents, while
keeping myself more hidden. Again and again they charged upon me,
joined now by the others from above; but the circling iron I swung with
tireless arms formed a dead-line no leaping Indian burst through alive.

Once a hurtling tomahawk half buried itself in my shoulder; a
long-knife, thrown by a practised hand, pierced the muscles of my
thigh, and stuck there quivering, till I struck it loose; and twice
they fired at me, the second shot tearing the flesh of my side, searing
it like fire. Yet I scarcely realized I was touched, so fiercely was
the battle-blood now coursing through my veins, so intense the joy with
which I crushed them back. I grew delirious, feeling the rage to slay
sweep over me as never before, giving me the crazed strength of a dozen
men, until I lost all sense of defensive action, and sprang forth into
their midst as might an avenging thunderbolt from the black sky. Never
had I swung flail in peaceful border contest as I did that murderous
iron bar in the dark of the river-shore, driving them back foot by foot
against the high bank which held them helpless victims of my wrath. I
struck again and again, my teeth set together in bulldog tenacity, my
breath coming in gasps, the streaming blood from a deep cut over my
eyes half blinding me, yet guided by fierce instinct to find and smite
my foes. I trod on limp bodies, on writhing forms, and felt my weapon
clash against iron rifle barrels and clang upon uplifted steel; but
nothing stopped me, no cry of terror, no plea for mercy, no clutching
hand, no deadly numbing blow.

God knows the story of that fight,--how long it lasted, by what miracle
'twas won. To me it is--and was--little more than a dim haze of strange
leaping figures, of fierce dark faces, of maddened cries of hate,
of uplifted hands, of dull-clashing weapons. I seemed to see it all
through a red fog whence the blood dripped, and I lost consciousness of
everything save my unswerving duty to strike hard until I fell. At last
out from the maelstrom of that wild _mêlée_ but a single warrior seemed
to face me; and some instinct of the fight caused me to draw back a
pace and wipe the obscuring blood away, that I might see him better.
It came to me that this was to be the end, the final duel which was to
decide that midnight battle. He and I were there alone; and the stars
bursting through the clouds gave me faint view of him, and of those
dark, silent forms that lined the shore where they had fallen.

A chief, a Pottawattomie, this much I knew even in that hasty shrouded
glance. Writers of history affirm my opponent was Peesotum, the same
fierce warrior whose cruel hand slew the brave Captain Wells and
wrenched his still beating heart from out the mutilated body. All I
realized then were his broad sinewy shoulders, his naked brawny body,
his eyes ablaze with malignant hate. He was the first to close, his
wild cry for vengeance piercing the still night; and before I knew it,
the maddened savage was within the guard of my rifle-barrel, and we
were locked in the stern grapple of death.

It was knife to knife, our blades gleaming dull in the dim light of the
stars, each man gripping the uplifted wrist of the other, putting forth
each last reserve of strength, each cunning trick of fence, to break
free and strike the ending blow. Back and forth we strove, straining
like two wild animals, our moccasined feet slipping on the wet earth,
our muscles strained, and sinews cracking with intensity of effort,
our breath coming in labored gasps, our bodies tense as bowstrings.
Such merciless strain could not endure forever, and, strong as I was
in those young days, the savage was far stronger and less exhausted by
the struggle, so that inch by inch he pressed me backward, battling
like a demon, until I could see the cruel gleam of his eyes as I gave
slowly down. It was God who saved me, for as I fell I struck the sharp
shelving of the bank, and the quick stoppage swung the savage to one
side and below me, so that, even as he gave vent to an exulting yell of
triumph, wrenching his hand loose from my weakening clasp to strike the
death-blow, I whirled and forced him downward, his face buried in the
stream.

Those who write history say the rescuing warriors discovered him alive.
I know not; but this I swear,--I held him there until every struggle
ceased, until answering yells from the westward told me others were
already close at hand, and then, breathless and trembling from the
struggle, blinded by blood and faint from wounds, I sprang forward into
the night-shadows, dimly conscious that my sole hope for escape lay
lakeward. I ran but feebly at first, skirting the partially destroyed
stockade of the old Fort, with its litter of debris, and stumbling
constantly in the darkness over the obstructions that lined the river
bank. As my breath returned, and I somewhat cleared my eyes of blood, I
saw better; and at last ran from the darker soil on to the white sand
of the beach.

There were now many stars in the sky, with the moon struggling feebly
to break through the haze; but to my anxious glance nothing was visible
upon the water. Surely the boat must have floated to the river-mouth
by this time,--surely the force of the current would have accomplished
that; nor was it likely that Ol' Burns would draw far away from shore
until assured of my fate. The wild shouting told me that savages from
the camp had already found their dead. A moment more would place them
on my trail, hot for revenge; and there was no course left me but to
take the water, before their keen eyes found me out. I waded out,
seeking thus to get far enough from shore to baffle their search, when
suddenly a quick spark of light winked from the blackness in front of
me. Surely it could be nothing less than a signal, the swift stroke of
flint on steel,--no doubt in the faint hope it would prove a beacon to
me in my need.

Desperate as the chance was, it was still a chance, and to my mind the
only one. I glanced behind; a dim figure or two dotted the white sand,
and my heart lifted a silent prayer to God for guidance. A second later
I was beyond my depth, breasting the unknown waters, swimming steadily
toward the place where that mysterious spark had glimmered. Once again
it flashed, the barest glimpse of light through the intense gloom; and
I pressed on with new vigor, certain now it was a real beacon. But I
was so weakened by wounds and spent from exertion, and such desperate
work is swimming fully clad, that my progress proved slow; and twice I
was compelled to pause, paddling slowly on my back, in the buffeting of
the waves, in order to gain strength to renew the struggle. I almost
lost heart in the black loneliness, as the swirling water swept me back
and confused me with its ever-tossing motion. Once I went down from
sheer weakness, choking in a cloud of spray that swept my face; and
doubtless I should have let the struggle end in despair even then, had
not the spark leaped up once more through the deep haze; and this time
so close was it that my ears caught the clashing of the flint and steel.

With the new hope of life thus given me, I pushed grimly forward, using
the silent Indian stroke that never tires, my eyes at the surface level
where the light of the moon glimmered feebly. At last I saw it,--the
black lumpy shadow of the boat. I must have splashed a little in my
weakness and excitement, for I plainly perceived the figure of a man
hastily leap to his feet, with an oar-blade uplifted threateningly
above his head.

"Don't strike, Burns!" I managed to cry aloud. "It's Wayland."

The next moment, with scarce so much as a breath remaining in my
battered body, I laid hand upon the boat's side, and clung there
panting and well-nigh spent. I felt his hands pressed under my arms,
and then, with the exercise of his great strength, he drew me steadily
up, inch by inch, until I topped the rail, and fell forward into the
bottom of the boat. An instant I rested thus, with tightly closed eyes,
my head reeling, my breath coming in sobs of pain, every muscle of my
strained body throbbing in misery. Scarcely conscious of what was being
done about me, I could still realize that arms touched my neck, that
my head was gently lifted to a softer resting-place, and that a hand,
strangely tender, brushed back from my forehead the wet tangled hair.
The touch was thrilling; and I unclosed my wearied eyes, looking up
into the sympathetic face of Mademoiselle. The faint moonlight rested
upon it gently, touching her crown of hair with silver; and within the
dark depths of her eyes I read clearly the message I had waited for so
long.

"Toinette!" I murmured, half conscious.

She bowed her head above me, and I felt a sudden plash of tears that
could not be restrained.

"Do not try to speak now, John!" she whispered softly, her finger at my
lips. "I can only thank the good God who has brought you back to me."

I made no effort to say more; I could only lie in silence and gaze up
at her, pressing the hands resting so frankly within my own. Indeed, we
needed no words in that hour; our hearts had spoken, and thenceforward
we were one.

Suddenly the heavy boat lurched beneath us, to some quick impetus that
sent a shudder through every inch of it; and I heard a heavy splash
alongside, which instantly brought me upright, anxiously grasping the
rail.

"May Heaven help him!" cried Burns excitedly, and pointing out at the
black waters. "The Frenchman has gone overboard!"

"Overboard?" I echoed, striving to regain my feet. "Did he fall?"

"Fall? No; it was a dive off the back seat here. Save me! but he went
into it like a gull."

We sought for him long and vainly, peering over those dark swirling
waters, calling his name aloud, and striking flint on steel in hope to
guide him by the spark. Nothing appeared along the rolling surface, no
answering cry came from the black void; De Croix had disappeared into
the depths, as desperate men go down to death. Suddenly, as I leaned
over, sick at heart, peering into the dimness, Toinette drew near and
touched me softly.

"Let us not mourn," she said, in strange quietness. "No doubt 'tis
better so."

"How?" I questioned, shocked at her seemingly heartless words. "Surely
you cannot rejoice at such a loss?"

"'Tis not a loss," she answered firmly, and the soft moon-rays were
white upon her face. "He has only gone back to her we left behind; it
was the beckoning hand of love that called him through the waters. Now
it is only ours to pray that he may find her."



CHAPTER XXXVI

IN THE NEW GRAY DAWN


My anxious glance wandered from the face I so dearly loved, out where
those dark restless waters merged into the brooding mystery of the
black night. How unspeakably dreary, lonely, hopeless it all was! Into
what tragic unknown fate had this earliest comrade of my manhood been
remorselessly swept? Was all indeed well with him? or had the Nemesis
of a wrong once done dealt its fatal stroke at last? The voices of the
night were silent; the chambers of the great tossing sea hid their
secret well. Had this gallant and reckless young soldier of France,
this petted courtier of the gayest court in Europe, whose very name
and rank I knew not, succeeded in his desperate deed? Had he reached
yonder blood-stained shore, lined with infuriated savages, and found
safe passage through them to the side of the woman he had once called
wife, and then forgotten? Or had he found, instead, the solemn peace
of death amid the swirling waters of this vast inland sea, so many
leagues to the westward of that sunny land he loved? These were the
thoughts that shook me, as I leaned out above the rail, her dear hand
always on my shoulder. Never have the circling years found voice, nor
the redeemed wilderness made answer.

"Possibly it might be done," I admitted slowly. "'Tis scarce farther
than I swam just now, and he is neither weary nor wounded."

We all realized it was a useless peril to remain there longer, and I
sat at the helm and watched, while Burns, who developed considerable
knowledge in such matters, fitted the heavy sail in place. With the
North Star over the water for our guidance, I headed the blunt nose of
the boat due eastward into the untracked waters.

I confess that my memory was still lingering upon De Croix, and my eyes
turned often enough along our foam-flecked wake in vague wonderment at
his fate. It was Mademoiselle who laid hand softly on my knee at last,
and aroused my attention to her.

"Why did you tell Sister Celeste that you came to Dearborn seeking Elsa
Matherson?" she questioned, her clear eyes intently reading my face.

"I had even forgotten that I mentioned it," I answered, surprised
at this query at such a time. "But it is strictly true. While upon
his death-bed Elsa Matherson's father wrote to mine,--they were old
comrades in the great war,--and I was sent hither to bring the orphan
girl eastward. I sought her as a brother might seek a sister he had
never seen, Mademoiselle; yet have failed most miserably in my mission."

"How failed?"

"In that I have found no trace of the girl, and beyond doubt she
perished in the massacre. I know not how, but I have been strangely
baffled and misled from the first in my search for her, and it was all
to no purpose."

For the first time since I had fallen dripping into the boat, a slight
smile was visible in the dark eyes fronting me.

"Why hid you from me with such care the object of your search?"

"I hid nothing, Mademoiselle. We spoke together about it often."

"Ay, indeed you told me you sought a young girl, and your words led
me to think at first it must be Josette, and later still the Indian
missionary. But not once did you breathe the name of the girl in my
ears. The dwellers at Dearborn were neither so many nor so strange to
me that I could not have aided you in your search."

"You knew this Elsa Matherson?"

"I am not so sure of that, Master Wayland," she returned gravely,
her eyes wandering into the night. "Once I thought I did, but she has
changed so greatly in the last few days that I am hardly sure. A young
girl's life is often filled with mystery, and there are happenings that
turn girlhood to womanhood in a single hour. Love has power to change
the nature as by magic, and sorrow also has a like rare gift. Do you
still greatly wish to find this Elsa Matherson?"

"To find her?" and I gazed about me incredulously into those flitting
shadows where the waves raced by. "Ay, for I have dreamed of her as of
a lost sister, and it will sadly grieve those at home to have me return
thus empty-handed. Yet the thought is foolishness, Mademoiselle, and I
understand not why you should mock me so."

She drew closer, in the gentle caressing way she had, and found my
disengaged hand, her sweet face held upward so that I could mark every
changing expression.

"Never in my useless life was I farther removed from any spirit of
mockery," she insisted, soberly; "for never before have I seen the
presence of God so clearly manifest in His mysterious guidance of men.
You, who sought after poor Elsa Matherson in this wilderness, looking
perchance for a helpless orphan child, have been led to pluck me in
safety out from savage hands, and yet never once dreamed that in doing
so you only fulfilled your earlier mission." I stared at her, grasping
with difficulty the full significance of her speech.

"Your words puzzle me."

"Nay, they need not," and I caught the sudden glitter of tears on her
lashes; "for I am Elsa Matherson."

"You? you?" and I crushed her soft hand within my fingers, as I
peered forward at the quickly lowered face. "Why, you are French,
Mademoiselle, and of a different name!"

She glanced up now into my puzzled face, a bit shyly, yet with some of
the old roguishness visible in her eyes.

"My mother was indeed French, but my father was an American soldier,"
she said rapidly, as if eager to have the explanation ended. "You never
asked my name, save that one night when we first met amid the sand,
and then I gave you only that by which I have been most widely known.
None except my father ever called me Elsa; to all others I was always
Toinette. But I am Roger Matherson's only child."

It was clear enough now, and the deception had been entirely my own,
rendered possible by strange chances of omission, by rare negligence
of speech--aided by my earlier impression that she whom I sought was a
mere child.

"And 'twas Sister Celeste who told you whom I sought?" I asked, for
lack of courage to say more.

"Yes, to-night, while we waited for you beside the ruins of the old
factory. Oh, how far away it all seems now!" and she pointed backward
across the waters. "Poor, poor girl! Poor Captain de Croix! Oh, it
is all so sad, so unutterably sad to me! I knew them both so well,
Monsieur," and she rested her bowed head upon one hand, staring out
into the night, and speaking almost as if to herself alone; "yet I
never dreamed that he was a nobleman of France, or that he had married
Marie Faneuf. She was so sweet a girl then,--and now to be buried alive
in that wilderness! Think you that he truly loved her?"

"I almost have faith that he did, Mademoiselle," I answered gravely.
"He was greatly changed from his first sight of her face, though he
was a difficult man to gauge in such matters. There was a time when I
believed him in love with you."

She tossed her head.

"Nay," she answered, "he merely thought he was, because he found me
hard to understand and difficult of conquest; but 'twas little more
than his own vanity that drew him hither. I trust it may be the deeper
feeling that has taken him back now in face of death to Marie."

"You have indeed proved hard to understand by more than one," I
ventured, for in spite of her graciousness the old wound rankled. "It
has puzzled me much to understand how you so gaily sent me forth to a
mission that might mean death, to save this Captain de Croix."

It was a foolish speech, and she met it bravely, with heightened color
and a flash of dark eyes.

"'Twas no more than the sudden whim of a girl," she answered quickly,
"and regretted before you were out of sight. Nor did I dream you would
meet my conditions by such a sacrifice."

"You showed small interest as you stood on the stockade when we went
forth!"

"You mean when Captain de Croix and I leaned above the eastern
palisades?"

"Ay, not once did your eyes wander to mark our progress."

Her eyes were smiling now, and her face archly uplifted.

"Indeed, Master Wayland, little you know of the struggles of my heart
during that hour. Nor will I tell you; for the secrets of a girl must
be her own. But I marked each step you took onward toward the Indian
camp, until the night hid you,--the night, or else the gathering tears
in my eyes."

The sudden yawing of the boat before a gust of wind drew my thought
elsewhere, and kept back the words ready upon my tongue. When once more
I had my bearings and had turned back the plunging bow, she sat silent,
deep in thought that I hesitated to disturb. Soon I noted her head
droop slightly to the increased movement of the boat.

"You are worn out!" I said tenderly. "Lean here against me, and sleep."

"Indeed, I feel most weary," was her drowsy reply. "Yes, I will rest
for a few moments."

How clear remains the memory of those hours, while I sat watchful of
the helm, her head resting peacefully on my lap, and all about us those
lonely tossing waters! What a mere chip was our boat in the midst of
that desolate sea; how dark and dreary the changeless night-shadows!
Over and over again I pictured the details of each scene I have here
set forth so poorly, to dream at the end of a final home coming which
should not be alone. It was with heart thankful to God, that I watched
the slow stealing upward of the gray dawn as the early rays of light
crept toward us across the heaving of the waters. It was typical of all
I had hoped,--this, and the black shadows fleeing away into the west.
Brighter and brighter grew the crimsoning sky over the boat's bow,
where Burns lay sleeping, until my eyes could distinguish a far-off
shore-line heavily crowned with trees. I thought to rouse her to the
glorious sight; but even as I glanced downward into the fair young
face, her dark eyes opened in instant smile of greeting.

"'Tis the morning," she said gladly, "and that dark, dark night has
passed away."

"For ever, Mademoiselle; and there is even a land of promise to be seen
out yonder!"

She sat up quickly, shading her eyes with her hand as she gazed with
eagerness toward where I pointed.

"Think you we shall find shelter and friends there?"

"The half-breed chief said there were yet white settlers upon the Saint
Joseph, Mademoiselle; and the mouth of that river should be easily
found."

She turned toward me, a slight frown darkening her face.

"I wish you would not call me Mademoiselle," she said slowly. "It is as
if we were still mere strangers; and you said Elsa Matherson was to be
as your sister."

I bent over her suddenly, all my repressed love glowing in my face.

"Toinette!" I whispered passionately, "I would call you by a dearer
name than that,--by the dearest of all dear names if I might, for you
have won my heart in the wilderness."

For a single instant she glanced shyly up into my face, her own crimson
at my sudden ardor. Her eyes drooped and hid themselves behind their
long lashes.

"Those who sent you forth seeking a sister might not thus wish to
welcome Elsa Matherson," she said softly.

"'Tis a venture I most gladly make," I insisted, "and would seal it
with a kiss."

Her eyes flashed up at me, full of sudden merriment.

"The unpaid wager leaves me helpless to resist, Monsieur."

The soft haze of Indian summer rested over the valley of the Maumee. We
rode slowly along the narrow winding trail that hugged the river bank;
for our journey had been a long one, and the horses were wearied. Burns
was riding just in advance of Toinette and me, his cap pulled low over
his eyes, his new growth of hair standing out stiff and black beneath
its covering. Once he twisted his seamed face about in time to catch us
smiling at his odd figure, and growled to himself as he kicked at his
horse's flanks.

It was thus we rounded the bend and saw before us the little clearing
with the cabin in the centre of its green heart. At sight of it my eyes
grew moist and I rested my fingers gently upon the white hand that lay
against her saddle-pommel.

"Fear not, dear heart!" I whispered tenderly. "It is home for both
alike, and the welcome of love awaits you as well as me."

She glanced up at me, half shyly as in the old way, and there was a
mist of tears clinging to the long lashes.

"Those who love you, John, I will love," she said solemnly.

It was Rover who saw us first, and came charging forth with savage
growl and ruffled fur, until he scented me, and changed his fierceness
into barks of frantic welcome. Then it was I saw them, even as when I
last rode forth, my father seated in his great splint chair, my mother
with her arm along the carved back, one hand shading her eyes as she
watched our coming.

This is not a memory to be written about for stranger eyes to read, but
as I turned from them after that first greeting, their glances were
upon her who stood waiting beside me, so sweet and pure in her young
womanhood.

"And this, my son?" questioned my father kindly. "We would bid her
welcome also; yet surely she cannot be that little child for whose sake
we sent you forth?"

I took her by the hand as we faced them.

"You sent me in search of one whom you would receive even as your own
child," I answered simply. "This is Roger Matherson's daughter, and the
dear wife of your son."

What need have I to dwell upon the love that bade her welcome? And so
it was that out of all the suffering and danger, forth from the valley
of the shadow of death, Toinette and I came home.

THE END


       ====================================================

              _Uniform with "When Wilderness Was King"_

           Each with six full-page pictures in color and
              other decorations by the Kinneys, $1.50

      The striking appearance of these volumes is due to the
  appropriate character of the type, initials, end-papers, etc.,
              and to the wonderful pictures in color.

       ----------------------------------------------------

                    By OTTILIE A. LILJENCRANTZ


                      The Ward of King Canute

                 _A Romance of the Danish Conquest_

A stalwart and beautiful tale a fine, big thing, full of men's
strength and courage and a girl's devotion, the atmosphere of great
days and primitive human passions.--_Philadelphia. Ledger._

                           THIRD EDITION


                   The Thrall of Leif the Lucky

                      _A Story of Viking Days_

A tale which moves among stalwart men, and in the palaces of
leaders.--_New York Mail and Express._

One of the best constructed historical romances that has appeared
in America in some years.--_Brooklyn Eagle_.

The atmosphere of the old days of fighting and adventure glows in
the book.--_Springfield Republican._

                           SIXTH EDITION

       ----------------------------------------------------
                  A. C. McCLURG & CO., Publishers
       ====================================================

       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber Notes


All illustrations were positioned so as to not split paragraphs. Minor
typos corrected.





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