The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XIII. The Meeting
When Robert revived the wind was still blowing hard, although there had been some decrease in its violence, and it was yet night. He was wet and very cold, and, as he arose, he shivered in a chill. The greatcoat was still wrapped about his body, and although it was soaked he always believed, nevertheless, that in some measure it had protected him while he slept. The pistols, the ammunition and the sword were in his belt, and he believed that the ammunition, fastened securely in a pouch, was dry, though he would look into that later.
He was quite sure that he had not been unconscious long, as the appearance of the sky was unchanged. The bushes among which he had lain were short but tough, and had run their roots down deeply into the sand. They were friendly bushes. He remembered how glad he had been to grasp them when he made that run from the surf, and to some extent they had protected him from the cold wind when he lay among them like one dead.
The big rollers, white at the top, were still thundering on the beach, and directly in front of him he saw a lowering hulk, that of the schooner. The slaver's wicked days were done, as every wave drove it deeper into the sand, and before long it must break up. Robert felt that it had been overtaken by retributive justice, and, despite the chill that was shaking him, he was shaken also by a great thrill of joy. Wet and cold and on a desolate shore, he was, nevertheless, free.
He began to run back and forth with great vigor, until he felt the blood flowing in a warm, strong current through his veins again, and he believed that in time his clothes would dry upon him. He took off the greatcoat, and hung it upon the bushes where the wind would have a fair chance at it, and he believed that in the morning it would be dry, too. Then, finding his powder untouched by the water, he withdrew the wet charges from the pistols and reloaded them.
If he had not been seasoned by a life in the wilderness and countless hardships he probably would have perished from exhaustion and cold, but his strong, enduring frame threw off the chill, and he did not pause for three full hours until he had made a successful fight for his life. Then very tired but fairly warm he stopped for a while, and became conscious that the wind had died to a great extent. The rollers were not half so high and the hulk of the ship showed larger and clearer than ever. He believed that when the storm ceased he could board her and find food, if he did not find it elsewhere. Meanwhile he would explore.
Buckling on his pistols and sword, but leaving the greatcoat to continue its process of drying, he walked inland, finding only a desolate region of sand, bushes and salt marshes, without any sign of human habitation. He believed it was the Jersey coast, and that he could not be any vast distance from New York. But it seemed hopeless to continue in that direction and being worn to the bone he returned to his greatcoat, which had become almost dry in the wind.
Now he felt that he must address himself to the need of the moment, which was sleep, and he hunted a long time for a suitable lair. A high bank of sand was covered with bushes larger and thicker than the others, and at the back of the bank grew a tree of considerable size with two spreading roots partly above ground. The sand was quite dry, and he heaped it much higher along the roots. Then he lay down between them, being amply protected on three sides, while the bushes waved over his head. He was not only sheltered, he was hidden also, and feeling safe, with the greatcoat, now wholly dry, wrapped around him, and the pistols and sword beside him, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The kindly fortune that had taken the lad out of such desperate circumstances remained benevolent. The wind ceased entirely and the air turned much warmer. Day soon came, and with it a bright cheerful sun, that gilded the great expanse of low and desolate shore. The boy slept peacefully while the morning passed and the high sun marked the coming of the afternoon.
He had been asleep about ten hours when he awoke, turned once or twice in his lair and then stood up. It was a beautiful day, in striking contrast with the black night of storm, and he knew by the position of the sun that it was within about three hours of its setting. He tested his body, but there was no soreness. He was not conscious of anything but a ravening hunger, and he believed that he knew where he could satisfy it.
There was no wind and the sea was calm, save for a slight swell. The schooner, its prow out of the water, was in plain view. It was so deeply imbedded in the sand that Robert considered it a firm house of shelter, until it should be broken to pieces by successive storms. But at present he looked upon it as a storehouse of provisions, and he hurried down the beach.
His foot struck against something, and he stopped, shuddering. It was the body of one of the slavers and presently he passed another. The sea was giving up its dead. He reached the schooner, glad to leave these ghastly objects behind him, and, with some difficulty, climbed aboard. The vessel had shipped much water, but she was not as great a wreck as he had expected, and he instantly descended to the cook's galley, where he had given his brief service. In the lockers he found an abundance of food of all kinds, as the ship had been equipped for a long voyage, and he ate hungrily, though sparingly at first. Then he went into the captain's cabin, lay down on a couch, and took a long and luxurious rest.
Robert was happy. He felt that he had won, or rather that Providence had won for him, a most wonderful victory over adverse fate. His brilliant imagination at once leaped up and painted all things in vivid colors. Tayoga, Willet and the others must be terribly alarmed about him as they had full right to be, but he would soon be back in New York, telling them of his marvelous risk and adventure.
Then he deliberated about taking a supply of provisions to his den in the bushes, but when he went on deck the sun was already setting, and it was becoming so cold again that he decided to remain on the schooner. Why not? It seemed strange to him that he had not thought of it at first. The skies were perfectly clear, and he did not think there was any danger of a storm.
He rummaged about, discovered plenty of blankets and made a bed for himself in the captain's cabin, finding a grim humor in the fact that he should take that sinister man's place. But as it was only three or four hours since he had awakened he was not at all sleepy and he returned to the deck, where he wrapped his treasure, the huge greatcoat, about his body and sat and watched. He saw the big red sun set and the darkness come down again, the air still and very cold.
But he was snug and warm, and bethought himself of what he must undertake on the morrow. If he continued inland long enough he would surely come to somebody, and at dawn, taking an ample supply of provisions, he would start. That purpose settled, he let his mind rest, and remained in a luxurious position on the deck. The rebound from the hopeless case in which he had seemed to be was so great that he was not lonely. He had instead a wholly pervading sense of ease and security. His imagination was able to find beauty in the sand and the bushes and the salt marshes, and he did not need imagination at all to discover it in the great, mysterious ocean, which the moon was now tinting with silver. It was a fine full moon, shedding its largest supply of beams, and swarms of bright stars sparkled in the cold, blue skies. A fine night, thought Robert, suited to his fine future.
It was very late, when he went down to the captain's cabin, ate a little more food and turned in. He soon slept, but not needing sleep much now, he awoke at dawn. His awakening may have been hastened by the footsteps and voices he heard, but in any event he rose softly and buckled on his sword and pistols. One of the voices, high and sharp, he recognized, and he believed that once more he was the child of good fortune, because he had been awakened in time.
He sat on the couch, facing the door, put the sword by his side and held one of the pistols, cocked and resting on his knee. The footsteps and voices came nearer, and then the keen, cruel face appeared at the door.
"Good morning, captain," said Robert, equably. "You left me in command of the ship and I did my best with her. I couldn't keep her afloat, and so I ran her up here on the beach, where, as you see, she is still habitable."
"You're a good seaman, Peter," said the captain, hiding any surprise that he may have felt, "but you haven't obeyed my orders in full. I expected you to keep the ship afloat, and you haven't done so."
"That was too much to expect. I see that you have two men with you. Tell them to step forward where I can cover them as well as you with the muzzle of this pistol. That's right. Now, I'm going to confide in you."
"Go ahead, Peter."
"I haven't liked your manner for a long time, captain. I'm only Peter Smith, a humble seaman, but since you left me in command of the ship last night I mean to keep the place, with all the responsibilities, duties and honors appertaining to it. Take your hands away from your belt. This is a lone coast, and I'm the law, the judge and the executioner. Now, you and the two men back away from the door, and as sure as there's a God in Heaven, if any one of you tries to draw a weapon I'll shoot him. You'll observe that I've two pistols and also a sword. A sailor engaged in a hazardous trade like ours, catching and selling slaves, usually learns how to use firearms, but I'm pretty good with the sword, too, captain, though I've hid the knowledge from you before. Now, just kindly back into the cook's galley there, and you and your comrades make up a good big bag of food for me. I'll tell you what to choose. I warn you a second time to keep your hands away from your belt. I'll really have to shoot off a finger or two as a warning, if you don't restrain your murderous instincts. Murder is always a bad trade, captain. Put in some of those hard biscuits, and some of the cured meats. No, none of the liquors, I have no use for them. By the way, what became of Miguel, with whom I worked so often?"
"He's drowned," replied the captain.
"I'm sorry," said Robert, and he meant it. Miguel was the only one on board the slaver who had shown a ray of human sympathy.
"What do you mean to do?" asked the captain, his face contorted with rage and chagrin.
"First, I'll see that you finish filling that bag as I direct. Put in the packages yourself. I like to watch you work, captain, it's good for you, and after you fill the bag and pass it to me I'm going to hand the ship back to you. I've never really liked her, and I mean to resign the command. I think Peter Smith is fit for better things."
"So, you intend to leave the schooner?"
"Yes, but you won't see me do it. Pass me the bag now. Be careful with your hands. In truth, I think you'd better raise them above your head, and your comrades can do the same. Quick, up with them, or I shoot! That's right. Now, I'll back away. I'm going up the ladder backward, and when I go out I intend to shove in place the grating that covers the entrance to the deck there. You can escape in five minutes, of course, but by that time I'll be off the ship and among the bushes out of your reach. Oh, I know it's humiliating, captain, but you've had your way a long time, and the slaver's trade is not a nice one. The ghosts of the blacks whom you have caused to die must haunt you some time, captain, and since your schooner is lost you'll now have a chance to turn to a better business. For the last time I tell you to be careful with your hands. A sailor man would miss his fingers."
He backed cautiously until his heels touched the ladder, meanwhile watching the eyes of the man. He knew that the captain was consumed with rage, but angry and reckless as he was he would not dare to reach for a weapon of his own, while the pistol confronting him was held with such a steady hand. He also listened for sounds made by other men on the ship, but heard none. Then he began to back slowly up the stairway, continuing his running address.
"I know that your arms must be growing weary, captain," he said, and he enjoyed it as he said it, "but you won't have to keep 'em up much longer. Two more steps will take me out upon the deck, and then you'll be free to do as you please."
It was the last two steps that troubled him most. In order to keep the men covered with the pistol he had to bend far down, and he knew that when he could no longer bend far enough the danger would come. But he solved it by straightening up suddenly and taking two steps at a leap. He heard shouts and oaths, and the report of a pistol, but the bullet was as futile as the cries. He slammed down the grating, fastened it in an instant, ran to the low rail and swiftly lowered himself and his pack over it and into the sand. Then he ran for the bushes.
Robert did not waste his breath. Having managed the affair of the grating, he knew that he was safe for the present. So, when he reached the higher bushes, he stopped, well hidden by them, and looked back. In two or three minutes the captain and the two men appeared on the deck, and he laughed quietly to himself. He could see that their faces were contorted by rage. They could follow his trail some distance at least in the sand, but he knew that they would be cautious. He had shown them his quality and they would fear an ambush.
He was justified in his opinion, as they remained on the deck, evidently searching for a glimpse of him among the bushes, and, after watching them a little while, he set out inland, bearing his burden of weapons and food, and laughing to himself at the manner in which he had made the captain serve him. He felt now that the score between them was even, and he was willing to part company forever.
Youth and success had an enormous effect upon him. When one triumph was achieved his vivid temperament always foresaw others. Willet had often called him the child of hope, and hope is a powerful factor in victory. Now it seemed to him for a little while that his own rescue, achieved by himself, was complete. He had nothing to do but to return to New York and his friends, and that was just detail.
He swung along through the bushes, forgetting the burden of his weapons and his pack of food. In truth, he swaggered a bit, but it was a gay and gallant swagger, and it became him. He walked for some distance, feeling that he had been changed from a seaman into a warrior, and then from a warrior into an explorer, which was his present character. But he did not see at present the variety and majesty that all explorers wish to find. The country continued low, the same alternation of sand and salt marsh, although the bushes were increasing in size, and they were interspersed here and there with trees of some height.
Reaching the crest of a low hill he took his last look backward, and was barely able to see the upper works of the stranded schooner. Then he thought of the captain and his exuberant spirits compelled him to laugh aloud. With the chances a hundred to one against him he had evened the score. While he had been compelled to serve the captain, the captain in turn had been forced to serve him. It was enough to make a sick man well, and to turn despair into confidence. He was in very truth and essence the child of hope.
Another low hill and from its summit he saw nothing but the bushy wilderness, with a strip of forest appearing on the sunken horizon. He searched the sky for a wisp of smoke that might tell of a human habitation, below, but saw none. Yet people might live beyond the strip of forest, where the land would be less sandy and more fertile, and, after a brief rest, he pushed on with the same vigor of the body and elation of the spirit, coming soon to firmer ground, of which he was glad, as he now left no trail, at least none that an ordinary white man could follow.
He trudged bravely on for hours through a wilderness that seemed to be complete so far as man was concerned, although its character steadily changed, merging into a region of forest and good soil. When he came into a real wood, of trees large and many, it was about noon, and finding a comfortable place with his back to a tree he ate from the precious pack.
The day was still brilliant but cold and he wisely kept himself thoroughly wrapped in the greatcoat. As he ate he saw a large black bear walk leisurely through the forest, look at him a moment or two, and then waddle on in the same grave, unalarmed manner. The incident troubled Robert, and his high spirits came down a notch or two.
If a black bear cared so little for the presence of an armed human being then he could not be as near to New York as he had thought. Perhaps he had been unconscious on the schooner a long time. He felt of the lump which was not yet wholly gone from his head, and tried his best to tell how old it was, but he could not do it.
The little cloud in his golden sky disappeared when he rose and started again through a fine forest. His spirits became as high as ever. Looking westward he saw the dim blue line of distant hills, and he turned northward, inferring that New York must lie in that direction. In two hours his progress was barred by a river running swiftly between high banks, and with ice at the edges. He could have waded it as the water would not rise past his waist, but he did not like the look of the chill current, and he did not want another wetting on a winter day.
He followed the stream a long distance, until he came to shallows, where he was able to cross it on stones. His search for a dry ford had caused much delay, but he drew comfort from his observation that the stones making his pathway through the water were large and almost round. He had seen many such about New York, and he had often marveled at their smoothness and roundness, although he did not yet know the geological reason. But the stones in the river seemed to him to be close kin to the stones about New York, and he inferred, or at least he hoped, that it indicated the proximity of the city.
But he believed that he would have to spend another night in the wilderness. Search the sky as he would, and he often did, there was no trace of smoke, and, as the sun went down the zenith and the cold began to increase, his spirits fell a little. But he reasoned with himself. Why should one inured as he was to the forest and winter, armed, provisioned and equipped with the greatcoat, be troubled? The answer to his question was a return of confidence in full tide, and resolving to be leisurely he looked about in the woods for his new camp. What he wanted was an abundance of dead leaves out of which to make a nest. Dead leaves were cold to the touch, but they would serve as a couch and a wall, shutting out further cold from the earth and from the outside air, and with the greatcoat between, he would be warm enough. He would have nothing to fear except snow, and the skies gave no promise of that danger.
He found the leaves in a suitable hollow, and disposed them according to his plan, the whole making a comfortable place for a seasoned forester, and, while he ate his supper, he watched the sun set over the wilderness. Long after it was gone he saw the stars come out and then he looked at the particular one on which Tododaho, Tayoga's patron saint, had been living more than four hundred years. It was glittering in uncommon splendor, save for a slight mist across its face, which must be the snakes in the hair of the great Onondaga chieftain who he felt was watching over him, because he was the friend of Tayoga.
Then he fell asleep, sleeping soundly, all through the night, and although he was a little stiff in the morning a few minutes of exercise relieved him of it and he ate his breakfast. His journey toward the north was resumed, and in an hour he emerged into a little valley, to come almost face to face with the captain and the two sailors. They were sitting on a log, apparently weary and at a loss, but they rose quickly at his coming and the captain's hand slid down to his pistol. Robert's slid to his, making about the same speed. Although his heart pounded a moment or two at first he was surprised to find how soon he became calm. It was perhaps because he had been through so many dangers that one more did not count for much.
"You see, captain," he said, "that neither has the advantage of the other. I did not expect to meet you here, or in truth, anywhere else. I left you in command of the schooner, and you have deserted your post. When I held that position I remained true to my duty."
The captain, who was heavily armed, carrying a cutlass as well as pistols, smiled sourly.
"You're a lad of spirit, Peter," he said. "I've always given you credit for that. In my way I like you, and I think I'll have you to go along with us again."
"I couldn't think of it. We must part company forever. We did it once, but perhaps the second time will count."
"No, my crew is now reduced to two--the ocean has all the others--and I need your help. It would be better anyway for you to come along with us. This Acadia is a desolate coast."
There was a log opposite the one upon which they had been sitting and Robert took his place upon it easily, not to say confidently. He felt sure that they would not fire upon him now, having perhaps nothing to gain by it, but he kept a calculating eye upon them nevertheless.
"And so this is Acadia," he said. "I've been wondering what land it might be. I did not know that we had come so far. Acadia is a long way from New York."
"A long, long way, Peter."
"But you know the coast well, of course, captain?"
"Of course. I've made several voyages in the neighboring waters. There's only one settlement within fifty miles of us, and you'd never find it, it's so small and the wilderness is such a maze."
"The country does look like much of a puzzle, but I've concluded, captain, that I won't go with you."
"I'm persuaded that you're the very prince of liars, and in your company my morals might be contaminated."
The man's face was too tanned to flush, but his eyes sparkled.
"You're over loose with words, lad," he said, "and it's an expensive habit."
"I can afford it. I know as surely as we're sitting here facing each other that this is not the coast of Acadia."
"Then what coast is it?"
"That I know not, but taking the time, I mean to have, I shall find out. Then I'll tell you if you wish to know. Where shall I deliver my message?"
"I think you're insolent. I say again that it's the coast of Acadia, and you're going with us. We're three to your one, and you'll have to do as I say."
Robert turned his gaze from the captain to his two men. While their faces were far from good they showed no decision of character. He knew at once that they belonged to the large class of men who are always led. Both carried pistols, but he did not think it likely that they would attempt to use them, unless the captain did so first. His gaze came back to the tall man, and, observing again the heavy cutlass he carried, a thought leaped up in his mind.
"You wish me to go with you," he said, "and I don't wish to go, which leaves it an open question. It's best to decide it in clean and decisive fashion, and I suggest that we leave it to your cutlass and my sword."
The close-set eyes of the captain gleamed.
"I don't want to kill you, but to take you back alive," he said. "You were always a strong and handy lad, Peter, and I need your help."
"You won't kill me. That I promise you."
"You haven't a chance on earth."
"You pledge your word that your men will not interfere while the combat is in progress, nor will they do so afterward, if I win."
"They will not stir. Remain where you are, lads."
The two sailors settled themselves back comfortably, clasping their knees with their hands, and Robert knew that he had nothing to fear from them. Their confidence in the captain's prowess and easy victory was sufficient assurance. They were not to be blamed for the belief, as their leader's cutlass was heavy and his opponent was only a youth. The captain was of the same opinion and his mood became light and gay.
"I don't intend to kill you, Peter," he said, "but a goodly cut or two will let out some of your impertinent blood."
"Thanks, captain, for so much saving grace, because I like to live. I make you the same promise. I don't want your death on my hands, but there is poison in the veins of a man who is willing to be a slaver. I will let it out, in order that its place may be taken by pure and wholesome blood."
The captain frowned, and made a few swings with his cutlass. Then he ran a finger along its keen edge, and he felt satisfied with himself. A vast amount of rage and mortification was confined in his system, and not charging any of it to the storm, the full volume of his anger was directed against his cook's former assistant, Peter Smith, who was entirely too jaunty and independent in his manner. He could not understand Robert's presumption in challenging him to a combat with swords, but he would punish him cruelly, while the two sailors looked on and saw it well done.
Robert put his pack, his greatcoat, his coat, and his belt with the pistols and ammunition in a heap, and looked carefully to the sword that he had taken from the captain's cabin. It was a fine weapon, though much lighter than the cutlass. He bent the blade a little, and then made it whistle in curves about his head. He had a purpose in doing so, and it was attained at once. The captain looked at him with rising curiosity.
"Peter," he said, "you don't seem to be wholly unfamiliar with the sword, and you nothing but a cook's helper."
"It's true, captain. The hilt fits lovingly into my hand. In my spare moments and when nobody was looking I've often stolen this sword of yours from the cabin and practiced with it. I mean now to make you feel the result of that practice."
The captain gazed at him doubtfully, but in a moment or two the confident smile returned to his eyes. It was not possible that a mere stripling could stand before him and his cutlass. But he took off his own coat which he had believed hitherto was a useless precaution.
There was a level space about thirty feet across, and Robert, sword in hand, advanced toward the center of it. He had already chosen his course, which would be psychological as well as physical. He intended that the battle should play upon the slaver's mind as well as upon his body.
"I'm ready, captain," he said. "Don't keep us waiting. It's winter as you well know, and we'll both grow cold standing here. In weather like this we need work quick and warm."
The angry blood surged into the captain's face, although it did not show through his tan. But he made an impatient movement, and stepped forward hastily.
"It can't be told of me that I kept a lad waiting," he said. "I'll warrant you you'll soon be warm enough."
"Then we're both well suited, captain, and it should be a fine passage at arms."
The two sailors, sitting on the log, looked at each other and chuckled. It was evident to Robert that they had supreme confidence in the captain and expected to see Peter Smith receive a lesson that would put him permanently in his place. The mutual look and the mutual chuckle aroused some anger in Robert, but did not impair his certainty of victory. Nevertheless he neglected no precaution.
The captain advanced, holding the heavy cutlass with ease and lightness. He was a tall and very strong man, and Robert noted the look of cruelty in the close-set eyes. He knew what he must expect in case of defeat, and again telling himself to be careful he recalled all the cunning that Willet had taught him.
"Are you ready?" he asked quietly.
"Aye, Peter, and your bad quarter of an hour is upon you."
Again the two sailors on the log looked at each other and chuckled.
"I don't think so, captain," said Robert. "Perhaps the bad quarter of an hour is yours."
He stared straight into the close-set cruel eyes so fixedly and so long that the captain lowered his gaze, proving that the superior strength of will lay with his younger opponent. Then he shook himself angrily, his temper stirred, because his eyes had given way.
"Begin!" said Robert.
The captain slashed with the heavy cutlass, and Robert easily turned aside the blow with his lighter weapon. He saw then that the captain was no swordsman in the true sense, and he believed he had nothing to fear. He waited until the man attacked again, and again he deftly turned aside the blow.
The two sailors sitting on the log looked at each other once more, but they did not chuckle.
Robert, still watching the close-set cruel eyes, saw a look of doubt appear there.
"My bad quarter of an hour seems to be delayed, captain," he said with irony.
The man, stung beyond endurance, attacked with fury, the heavy cutlass singing and whistling as he slashed and thrust. Robert contented himself with the defense, giving ground slowly and moving about in a circle. The captain's eye at first glittered with a triumphant light as he saw his foe retreat, and the two sailors sitting on the log and exchanging looks found cause to chuckle once more.
But the light sank as they completed the circle, leaving Robert untouched, and breathing as easily as ever, while the captain was panting. Now he decided that his own time had come and knowing that the combat was mental as well as physical he taunted his opponent.
"In truth, captain," he said, "my bad quarter of an hour did not arrive, but yours, I think, is coming. Look! Look! See the red spot on your waistcoat!"
Despite himself the captain looked down. The sword flickered in like lightning, and then flashed away again, but when it was gone the red spot on the waistcoat was there. His flesh stung with a slight wound, but the wound to his spirit was deeper. He rushed in and slashed recklessly.
"Have a care, captain!" cried Robert. "You are fencing very wildly! I tell you again that your play with the cutlass is bad. You can't see it, but there is now a red spot on your cheek to match the one on your waistcoat."
His sword darted by the other's guard, and when it came away it's point was red with blood. A deep and dripping gash in the captain's left cheek showed where it had passed. The two sailors sitting on the log exchanged looks once more, but there was no sign of a chuckle.
"That's for being a slaver, captain," said Robert. "It's a bad occupation, and you ought to quit it. But your wound will leave a scar, and you will not like to say that it was made by one whom you kidnapped, and undertook to carry away to his death."
The captain in a long career of crime and cruelty had met with but few checks, and to experience one now from the hands of a lad was bitter beyond endurance. The sting was all the greater because of his knowledge that the two sailors who still exchanged looks but no chuckles, were witnesses of it. The blood falling from his left cheek stained his left shoulder and he was a gruesome sight. He rushed in again, mad with anger.
"Worse and worse, captain," said his young opponent. "You're not showing a single quality of a swordsman. You've nothing but strength. I bade you have a care! Now your right cheek is a match for your left!"
The captain uttered a cry, drawn as much by anger as by pain. The deep point of his opponent's sword had passed across his right cheek and the red drops fell on both shoulders. The two sailors looked at each other in dismay. The man paused for breath and he was a ghastly sight.
"I told you more than once to beware, captain," said Robert, "but you would not heed me. Your temper has been spoiled by success, but in time nearly every slaver meets his punishment. I'm grateful that it's been permitted to me to inflict upon you a little of all that's owing to you. Wounds in the face are very painful and they leave scars, as you'll learn."
He had already decided upon his finishing stroke, and his taunts were meant to push the captain into further reckless action. They were wholly successful as the man sprang forward, and slashed almost at random. Now, Robert, light of foot and agile, danced before him like a fencing master. The captain cut and thrust at the flitting form but always it danced away, and the heavy slashes of his cutlass cut the empty air, his dripping wounds and his vain anger making him weaker and weaker. But he would not stop. Losing all control of his temper he rushed continually at his opponent.
The two sailors looked once more at each other, half rose to their feet, but sat down again, and were silent.
Now the captain saw a flash of light before him, and he felt a darting pain across his brow, as the keen point of the sword passed there. The blood ran down into his eyes, blinding him for the time. He could not see the figure before him, but he knew that it was tense and waiting. He groped with his cutlass, but touching only thin air he threw it away, and clapped his hands to his eyes to keep away the trickling blood.
"You'll have three scars, captain," came the maddening voice, "one on each cheek and one on the forehead. It's not enough punishment for a slaver, but, in truth, it's something. And now I'm going. You can't see to follow me, or even to take care of yourself but I leave you in the hands of your two sailors."
Robert put on his coat and greatcoat, resumed all his weapons and his pack and turned away. The sailors were still sitting on the log, gazing at each other in amazement and awe. Neither had spoken throughout the duel, nor did they speak now. The victor did not look back, but walked swiftly toward the north, glad that he had been the instrument in the hands of fate to give to the slaver at least a part of the punishment due him.
He kept steadily on several hours, until he saw a smoke on the western sky, when he changed his course and came in another half hour to a small log house, from which the smoke arose. A man standing on the wooden step looked at him with all the curiosity to which he had a right.
"Friend," said Robert, "how far is it to New York?"
"About ten miles."
"And this is not the coast of Acadia."
"Acadia! What country is that? I never heard of it."
"It exists, but never mind. And New York is so near? Tell me that distance again. I like to hear it."
"Ten miles, stranger. When you reach the top of the hill there you can see the houses of Paulus Hook."
Robert felt a great sense of elation, and then of thankfulness. While fortune had been cruel in putting him into the hands of the slaver, it had relented and had taken him out of them, when the chance of escape seemed none.
"Stranger," said the man, "you look grateful about something."
"I am. I have cause to be grateful. I'm grateful that I have my life, I'm grateful that I have no wounds and I'm grateful that from the top of the hill there I shall be able to see the houses of Paulus Hook. And I say also that yours is the kindliest and most welcome face I've looked upon in many a day. Farewell."
"Farewell," said the man, staring after him.
Two hours later Robert was being rowed across the Hudson by a stalwart waterman. As he passed by the spot where his boat had been cut down by the schooner he took off his hat.
"Why do you do that?" asked the waterman.
"Because at this spot my life was in great peril a few days ago, or rather, here started the peril from which I have been delivered most mercifully."
An hour later he stood on the solid stone doorstep of Master Benjamin Hardy, important ship owner, merchant and financier. The whimsical fancy that so often turned his troubles and hardships into little things seized Robert again. He adjusted carefully his somewhat bedraggled clothing, set the sword and pistols in his belt at a rakish slant, put the pack on the step beside him, and, lifting the heavy brass knocker, struck loudly. He heard presently the sound of footsteps inside, and Master Jonathan Pillsbury, looking thinner and sadder than ever, threw open the door. When he saw who was standing before him he stared and stared.
"Body o' me!" he cried at last, throwing up his hands. "Is it Mr. Lennox or his ghost?"
"It's Mr. Lennox and no ghost," said Robert briskly. "Let me in, Mr. Pillsbury. I've grown cold standing here on the steps."
"Are you sure you're no ghost?"
"Quite sure. Here pinch me on the arm and see that I'm substantial flesh. Not quite so hard! You needn't take out a piece. Are you satisfied now?"
"More than satisfied, Mr. Lennox! I'm delighted, Overjoyed! We feared that you were dead! Where have you been?"
"I've been serving on board a slaver on the Guinea coast. That's a long distance from here, and it was an exciting life, but I'm back again safe and sound, Master Jonathan."
"I don't understand you. You jest, Mr. Lennox."
"And so I do, but I tell you, Master Jonathan, I'm glad to be back again, you don't know how glad. Do you hear me, Master Jonathan? The sight of you is as welcome as that of an angel!"
The air grew black before him, and he reeled and would have fallen, but the strong arm of Jonathan Pillsbury caught him. In a moment or two his eyes cleared and he became steady.
"It was not altogether a pleasure voyage of yours," said Master Jonathan, dryly.
"No, Mr. Pillsbury, it wasn't. But I came near fainting then, because I was so glad to see you. Is Mr. Hardy here?"
"No, he has gone to the Royal Exchange. He has been nigh prostrated with grief, but I persuaded him that business might lighten it a little, and he went out today for the first time. Oh, young sir, he will be truly delighted to find that you have come back safely, because, although you may know it not, he has a strong affection for you!"
"And I have a high regard for him, Master Jonathan. He has been most kind to me."
"Come in, Mr. Lennox. Sit down in the drawingroom and rest yourself, while I hurry forth with the welcome news."
Robert saw that his prim and elderly heart was in truth rejoiced, and his own heart warmed in turn. Obscure and of unknown origin though he might be, friends were continually appearing for him everywhere. A servant took his weapons and what was left of his pack, Master Jonathan insisted upon his drinking a small glass of wine to refresh himself, and then he was left alone in the imposing drawing-room of Mr. Hardy.
He sank back in a deep chair of Spanish leather, and shutting his eyes took several long breaths of relief. He had come back safely and his escape seemed marvelous even to himself. As he opened his eyes a mild voice said:
"And so Dagaeoga who went, no one knows where, has returned no one knows how."
Tayoga, smiling but grave, and looking taller and more majestic than ever, stood before him.
"Aye, I'm back, and right glad I am to be here!" exclaimed Robert, springing to his feet and seizing Tayoga's hand. "Oh, I've been on a long voyage, Tayoga! I've been to the coast of Africa on a slaver, though we caught no slaves, and I was wrecked on the coast of Acadia, and I fought and walked my way back to New York! But it's a long tale, and I'll not tell it till all of you are together. I hope you were not too much alarmed about me, Tayoga."
"I know that Dagaeoga is in the keeping of Manitou. I have seen too many proofs of it to doubt. I was sure that at the right time he would return."
Mr. Hardy came presently and then Willet. They made no display of emotion, but their joy was deep. Then Robert told his story to them all.
"Did you see any name on the wrecked schooner?" asked Mr. Hardy.
"None at all," replied Robert. "If she had borne a name at any time I'm sure it was painted out."
"Nor did you hear the captain called by name, either?"
"No, sir. It was always just 'captain' when the men addressed him."
"That complicates our problem. There's no doubt in my mind that you were the intended victim of a conspiracy, from which you were saved by the storm. I can send a trusty man down the North Jersey coast to examine the wreck of the schooner, but I doubt whether he could learn anything from it."
He drew Willet aside and the two talked together a while in a low voice, but with great earnestness.
"We have our beliefs," said Willet at length, "but we shall not be able to prove anything, no, not a thing, and, having nothing upon which to base an accusation against anybody, we shall accuse nobody."
"'Tis the prudent way," Hardy concurred, "though there is no doubt in my mind about the identity of the man who set this most wicked pot to brewing."
Robert had his own beliefs, too, but he remained silent.
"We'll keep the story of your absence to ourselves," said Mr. Hardy. "We did not raise any alarm, believing that you would return, a belief due in large measure to the faith of Tayoga, and we'll explain that you were called away suddenly on a mission of a somewhat secret nature to the numerous friends who have been asking about you."
Willet concurred, and he also said it was desirable that they should depart at once for Virginia, where the provincial governors were to meet in council, and from which province Braddock's force, or a considerable portion of it, would march. Then Robert, after a substantial supper, went to his room and slept. The next morning, both Charteris and Grosvenor came to see him and expressed their delight at his return. A few days later they were at sea with Grosvenor and other young English officers, bound for the mouth of the James and the great expedition against Fort Duquesne.