The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XIV. The Virginia Capital
They were on a large schooner, and while Robert looked forward with eagerness to the campaign, he also looked back with regret at the roofs of New York, as they sank behind the sea. The city suited him. It had seemed to him while he was there that he belonged in it, and now that he was going away the feeling was stronger upon him than ever. He resolved once more that it should be his home when the war was over.
Their voyage down the coast was stormy and long. Baffling winds continually beat them back, and, then they lay for long periods in dead calms, but at last they reached the mouth of the James, going presently the short distance overland to Williamsburg, the town that had succeeded Jamestown as the capital of the great province of Virginia.
Spring was already coming here in the south and in the lowlands by the sea, and the tinge of green in the foliage and the warm winds were grateful after the winter of the cold north. Robert, eager as always for new scenes, and fresh knowledge, anticipated with curiosity his first sight of Williamsburg, one of the oldest British towns in North America. He knew that it was not large, but he found it even smaller than he had expected.
He and his comrades reached it on horseback, and they found that it contained only a thousand inhabitants, and one street, straight and very wide. On this street stood the brick buildings of William and Mary, the oldest college in the country, a new capitol erected in the place of one burned, not long before, and a large building called the Governor's Palace. It looked very small, very quiet, and very content.
Robert was conscious of a change in atmosphere that was not a mere matter of temperature. Keen, commercial New York was gone. Here, people talked of politics and the land. The men who came into Williamsburg on horseback or in their high coaches were owners of great plantations, where they lived as patriarchs, and feudal lords. The human stock was purely British and the personal customs and modes of thought of the British gentry had been transplanted.
"I like it," said Grosvenor. "I feel that I've found England again."
"There appears to be very little town life," said Robert. "It seems strange that Williamsburg is so small, when Virginia has many more people than New York or Pennsylvania or Massachusetts."
"They're spread upon the land," said Willet. "I've been in Virginia before. They don't care much about commerce, but you'll find that a lot of the men who own the great plantations are hard and good thinkers."
Robert soon discovered that in Virginia a town was rather a meeting place for the landed aristocracy than a commercial center. The arrival of the British troops and of Americans from other colonies brought much life into the little capital. The people began to pour in from the country houses, and the single street was thronged with the best horses and the best carriages Virginia could show, their owners, attended by swarms of black men and black women whose mouths were invariably stretched in happy grins, their splendid white teeth glittering.
There was much splendor, a great mingling of the fine and the tawdry, as was inevitable in a society that maintained slavery on a large scale. Nearly all the carriages had been brought from London, and they were of the best. When their owners drove forth in the streets or the country roundabout they were escorted by black coachmen and footmen in livery. The younger men were invariably on horseback, dressed like English country gentlemen, and they rode with a skill and grace that Robert had never before seen equaled. The parsons, as in England, rode with the best, and often drank with them too.
It was a proud little society, exclusive perhaps, and a little bit provincial too, possibly, but it was soon to show to the world a group of men whose abilities and reputation and service to the state have been unequaled, perhaps, since ancient Athens. One warm afternoon as Robert walked down the single street with Tayoga and Grosvenor, he saw a very young man, only three or four years older than himself, riding a large, white horse.
The rider's lofty stature, apparent even on horseback, attracted Robert's notice. He was large of bone, too, with hands and feet of great size, and a very powerful figure. His color was ruddy and high, showing one who lived out of doors almost all the time.
The man, Robert soon learned, was the young officer, George Washington, who had commanded the Virginians in the first skirmish with the French and Indians in the Ohio country.
"One of most grave and sober mien," said Grosvenor. "I take him to be of fine quality."
"There can scarce be a doubt of it," said Robert.
But he did not dream then that succeeding generations would reckon the horseman the first man of all time.
Robert, Willet and Tayoga saw the governor, Dinwiddie, a thrifty Scotchman, and offered to him their services, saying that they wished to go with the Braddock expedition as scouts.
"But I should think, young sir," said Dinwiddie to Robert, "that you, at least, would want a commission. 'Twill be easy to obtain it in the Virginia troops."
"I thank you, sir, for the offer, which is very kind," said Robert, "but I have spent a large part of my life in the woods with Mr. Willet, and I feel that I can be of more use as a scout and skirmisher. You know that they will be needed badly in the forest. Moreover, Mr. Willet would not be separated from Tayoga, who in the land of the Six Nations, known to themselves as the Hodenosaunee, is a great figure."
Governor Dinwiddie regarded the Onondaga, who gave back his gaze steadily. The shrewd Scotchman knew that here stood a man, and he treated him as one.
"Have your way," he said. "Perhaps you are right. Many think that General Braddock has little to fear from ambush, they say that his powerful army of regulars and colonials can brush aside any force the French and Indians may gather, but I've been long enough in this country to know that the wilderness always has its dangers. Such eyes as the eyes of you three will have their value. You shall have the commissions you wish."
Willet was highly pleased. He had been even more insistent than Robert on the point, saying they must not sacrifice their freedom and independence of movement, but Grosvenor was much surprised.
"An army rank will help you," he said.
"It's help that we don't need," said Robert smiling.
The governor showed them great courtesy. He liked them and his penetrating Scotch mind told him that they had quality. Despite his hunter's dress, which he had resumed, Willet's manners were those of the great world, and Dinwiddie often looked at him with curiosity. Robert seemed to him to be wrapped in the same veil of mystery, and he judged that the lad, whose manners were not inferior to those of Willet, had in him the making of a personage. As for Tayoga, Dinwiddie had been too long in America and he knew too much of the Hodenosaunee not to appreciate his great position. An insult or a slight in Virginia to the coming young chief of the Clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga would soon be known in the far land of the Six Nations, and its cost would be so great that none might count it. Just as tall oaks from little acorns grow, so a personal affront may sow the seed of a great war or break a great alliance, and Dinwiddie knew it.
The governor, assisted by his wife and two daughters, entertained at his house, and Robert, Tayoga, Willet, and Grosvenor, arrayed in their best, attended, forming conspicuous figures in a great crowd, as the Virginia gentry, also clad in their finest, attended. Robert, with his adaptable and imaginative mind, was at home at once among them. He liked the soft southern speech, the grace of manner and the good feeling that obtained. They were even more closely related than the great families of New York, and it was obvious that they formed a cultivated society, in close touch with the mother country, intensely British in manner and mode of thought, and devoted in both theory and practice to personal independence.
As the spring was now well advanced the night was warm and the windows and doors of the Governor's Palace were left open. Negroes in livery played violins and harps while all the guests who wished danced. Others played cards in smaller rooms, but there was no such betting as Robert had seen at Bigot's ball in Quebec. There was some drinking of claret and punch, but no intoxication. The general note was of great gayety, but with proper restraints.
Robert noticed that the men, spending their lives in the open air and having abundant and wholesome food, were invariably tall and big of bone. The women looked strong and their complexions were rosy. The same facility of mind that had made him like New York and Quebec, such contrasting places, made him like Williamsburg too, which was different from either.
Quickly at home, in this society as elsewhere, the hours were all too short for him. Both he and Grosvenor, who was also adaptable, seeing good in everything, plunged deep into the festivities. He danced with young women and with old, and Willet more than once gave him an approving glance. It seemed that the hunter always wished him to fit himself into any group with which he might be cast, and to make himself popular, and to do so Robert's temperament needed little encouragement.
The music and the dancing never ceased. When the black musicians grew tired their places were taken by others as black and as zealous, and on they went in a ceaseless alternation. Robert learned that the guests would dance all night and far into the next day, and that frequently at the great houses a ball continued two days and two nights.
About three o'clock in the morning, after a long dance that left him somewhat weary, he went upon one of the wide piazzas to rest and take the fresh air. There, his attention was specially attracted by two young men who were waging a controversy with energy, but without acrimony.
"I tell you, James," said one, who was noticeable for his great shock of fair hair and his blazing red face, "that at two miles Blenheim is unbeatable."
"Unbeatable he may be, Walter," said the other, "but there is no horse so good that there isn't a better. Blenheim, I grant you, is a splendid three year old, but my Cressy is just about twenty yards swifter in two miles. There is not another such colt in all Virginia, and it gives me great pride to be his owner."
The other laughed, a soft drawling laugh, but it was touched with incredulity.
"You're a vain man, James," he said, "not vain for yourself, but vain for your sorrel colt."
"I admit my vanity, Walter, but it rests upon a just basis. Cressy, I repeat, is the best three year old in Virginia, which of course means the best in all the colonies, and I have a thousand weight of prime tobacco to prove it."
"My plantation grows good tobacco too, James, and I also have a thousand weight of prime leaf which talks back to your thousand weight, and tells it that Cressy is the second best three year old in Virginia, not the best."
"Done. Nothing is left but to arrange the time."
Both at this moment noticed Robert, who was sitting not far away, and they hailed him with glad voices. He remembered meeting them earlier in the evening. They were young men, Walter Stuart and James Cabell, who had inherited great estates on the James and they shipped their tobacco in their own vessels to London, and detecting in Robert a somewhat kindred spirit they had received him with great friendliness. Already they were old acquaintances in feeling, if not in time.
"Lennox, listen to this vain boaster!" exclaimed Cabell. "He has a good horse, I admit, but his spirit has become unduly inflated about it. You know, don't you, Lennox, that my colt, Cressy, has all Virginia beaten in speed?"
"You know nothing of the kind, Lennox!" exclaimed Stuart, "but you do know that my three year old Blenheim is the swiftest horse ever bred in the colony. Now, don't you?"
"I can't give an affirmative to either of you," laughed Robert, "as I've never seen your horses, but this I do say, I shall be very glad to see the test and let the colts decide it for themselves."
"A just decision, O Judge!" said Stuart. "You shall have an honored place as a guest when the match is run. What say you to tomorrow morning at ten, James?"
"A fit hour, Walter. You ride Blenheim yourself, of course?"
"Truly, and you take the mount on Cressy?"
"None other shall ride him. I've black boys cunning with horses, but since it's horse against horse it should also be master against master."
"A match well made, and 'twill be a glorious contest. Come, Lennox, you shall be a judge, and so shall be your friend Willet, and so shall that splendid Indian, Tayoga."
Robert was delighted. He had thrown himself with his whole soul into the Virginia life, and he was eager to see the race run. So were all the others, and even the grave eyes of Tayoga sparkled when he heard of it.
It was broad daylight when he went to bed, but he was up at noon, and in the afternoon he went to the House of Burgesses to hear the governor make a speech to the members on the war and its emergencies. Dinwiddie, like Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts, appreciated the extreme gravity of the crisis, and his address was solemn and weighty.
He told them that the shadow in the north was black and menacing. The French were an ambitious people, brave, tenacious and skillful. They had won the friendship of the savages and now they dominated the wilderness. They would strike heavy blows, but their movements were enveloped in mystery, and none knew where or when the sword would fall. The spirit animating them flowed from the haughty and powerful court at Versailles that aimed at universal dominion. It became the Virginians, as it became the people of all the colonies, to gather their full force against them.
The members listened with serious faces, and Robert knew that the governor was right. He had been to Quebec, and he had already met Frenchmen in battle. None understood better than he their skill, courage and perseverance, and the shadow in the north was very heavy and menacing to him too.
But his depression quickly disappeared when he returned to the bright sunshine, and met his young friends again. The Virginians were a singular compound of gayety and gravity. Away from the House of Burgesses the coming horse race displaced the war for a brief space. It was the great topic in Williamsburg and the historic names, Blenheim and Cressy, were in the mouths of everybody.
Robert soon discovered that the horses were well known, and each had its numerous group of partisans. Their qualities were discussed by the women and girls as well as the men and with intelligence. Robert, filled with the spirit of it, laid a small wager on Blenheim, and then, in order to show no partiality, laid another in another quarter, but of exactly the same amount on Cressy.
The evening witnessed more arrivals in Williamsburg, drawn by the news of the race, and young men galloped up and down the wide street in the moonlight, testing their own horses, and riding improvised matches. The rivalry was always friendly, the gentlemen's code that there should be no ill feeling prevailed, and more than ever the entire gathering seemed to Robert one vast family. Grosvenor was intensely interested in the race, and also in the new sights he was seeing.
"Still," he said, "if it were not for the colored people I could imagine with ease that I was back at a country meeting at home. Do you know anything, Lennox, about these horses, Blenheim and Cressy--patriotic fellows their owners must be--and could you give a chap advice about laying a small wager?"
"I know nothing about them except what Stuart and Cabell say."
"What do they say?"
"Stuart knows that Blenheim is the fastest horse in Virginia, and Cabell knows that Cressy is, and so there the matter stands until the race is run."
"I think I'll put a pound on Blenheim, nevertheless. Blenheim has a much more modern sound than Cressy, and I'm all for modernity."
There was an excellent race track, the sport already being highly developed in Virginia, and, the next day being beautiful, the seats were filled very early in the morning. The governor with his wife and daughters was present, and so were many other notables. Robert, Tayoga and Grosvenor were in a group of nearly fifty young Virginians. All about were women and girls in their best spring dresses, many imported from London, and there were several men whom Robert knew by their garb to be clergymen. Colored women, their heads wrapped in great bandanna handkerchiefs, were selling fruits or refreshing liquids.
The whole was exhilarating to the last degree, and all the youth and imagination in Robert responded. Dangers befell him, but delights offered themselves also, and he took both as they came. Several preliminary races, improvised the day before, were run, and they served to keep the crowd amused, while they waited for the great match.
Robert and Tayoga then moved to advanced seats near the Governor, where Willet was already placed, in order that they might fulfill their honorable functions as judges, and the people began to stir with a great breath of expectation. They were packed in a close group for a long distance, and Robert's eye roved over them, noting that their faces, ruddy or brown, were those of an open air race, like the English. Almost unconsciously his mind traveled back to a night in New York, when he had seen another crowd gather in a theater, and then with a thrill he recalled the face that he had beheld there. He could never account for it, although some connection of circumstances was back of it, but he had a sudden instinctive belief that in this new crowd he would see the same face once more.
It obsessed him like a superstition, and, for the moment, he forgot the horses, the race, and all that had brought him there. His eye roved on, and then, down, near the front of the seats he found him, shaved cleanly and dressed neatly, like a gentleman, but like one in poor circumstances. Robert saw at first only the side of his face, the massive jaw, the strong, curving chin, and the fair hair crisping slightly at the temples, but he would have known him anywhere and in any company.
St. Luc sat very still, apparently absorbed in the great race which would soon be run. In an ordinary time any stranger in Williamsburg would have been noticed, but this was far from being an ordinary time. The little town overflowed with British troops, and American visitors known and unknown. Tayoga or Willet, if they saw him, might recognize him, although Robert was not sure, but they, too, might keep silent.
For a little while, he wondered why St. Luc had come to the Virginia capital, a journey so full of danger for him. Was he following him? Was it because of some tie between them? Or was it because St. Luc was now spying upon the Anglo-American preparations? He understood to the full the romantic and adventurous nature of the Frenchman, and knew that he would dare anything. Then he had a consuming desire for the eyes of St. Luc to meet his, and he bent upon him a gaze so long, and of such concentration, that at last the chevalier looked up.
St. Luc showed recognition, but in a moment or two he looked away. Robert also turned his eyes in another direction, lest Tayoga or Willet should follow his gaze, and when he glanced back again in a minute or two St. Luc was gone. His roving eyes, traveling over the crowd once more, could not find him, and he was glad. He believed now that St. Luc had come to Williamsburg to discover the size and preparations of the American force and its plan, and Robert felt that he must have him seized if he could. He would be wanting in his patriotism and duty if he failed to do so. He must sink all his liking for St. Luc, and make every effort to secure his capture.
But there was a sudden murmur that grew into a deep hum of expectation, punctuated now and then by shouts: "Blenheim!" "Cressy!" "Cabell!" "Stuart!" Horses and horsemen alike seemed to have their partisans in about equal numbers. Ladies rose to their feet, and waved bright fans, and men gave suggestions to those on whom they had laid their money.
The race, for a space, crowded St. Luc wholly out of Robert's mind. Stuart and Cabell, each dressed very neatly in jockey attire, came out and mounted their horses, which the grooms had been leading back and forth. The three year olds, excited by the noise and multitude of faces, leaped and strained at their bits. Robert did not know much of races, but it seemed to him that there was little to choose between either horses or riders.
The circular track was a mile in length, and they would round it twice, start and finish alike being made directly in front of the judges' stand. The starter, a tall Virginian, finally brought the horses to the line, neck and neck, and they were away. The whole crowd rose to its feet and shouted approval as they flashed past. Blenheim was a bay and Cressy was a sorrel, and when they began to turn the curve in the distance Robert saw that bay and sorrel were still neck and neck. Then he saw them far across the field, and neither yet had the advantage.
Now, Robert understood why the Virginians loved the sport. The test of a horse's strength and endurance and of a horseman's skill and judgment was thrilling. Presently he found that he was shouting with the shouting multitude, and sometimes he shouted Cressy and sometimes he shouted Blenheim.
They came around the curve, the finish of the first mile being near, and Robert saw the nose of the sorrel creeping past the nose of the bay. A shout of triumph came from the followers of Cressy and Cabell, but the partisans of Blenheim and Stuart replied that the race was not yet half run. Cressy, though it was only in inches, was still gaining. The sorrel nose crept forward farther and yet a little farther. When they passed the judges' stand Cressy led by a head and a neck.
Robert, having no favorite before, now felt a sudden sympathy for Blenheim and Stuart, because they were behind, and he began to shout for them continuously, until sorrel and bay were well around the curve on the second mile, when the entire crowd became silent. Then a sharp shout came from the believers in Blenheim and Stuart. The bay was beginning to win back his loss. The Cressy men were silent and gloomy, as Blenheim, drawing upon the stores of strength that had been conserved, continued to gain, until now the bay nose was creeping past the sorrel. Then the bay was a full length ahead and that sharp shout of triumph burst now from the Blenheim people. Robert found his feelings changing suddenly, and he was all for Cressy and Cabell.
The joy of the Blenheim people did not last long. The sorrel came back to the side of the bay, the second mile was half done, and a blanket would have covered the two. It was yet impossible to detect any sign indicating the winner. The eyes of Tayoga, sitting beside Robert, sparkled. The Indians from time unknown had loved ball games and had played them with extraordinary zest and fire. As soon as they came to know the horse of the white man they loved racing in the same way. Their sporting instincts were as genuine as those of any country gentleman.
"It is a great race," said Tayoga. "The horses run well and the men ride well. Tododaho himself, sitting on his great and shining star, does not know which will win."
"The kind of race I like to see," said Robert. "Stuart and Cabell were justified in their faith in their horses. A magnificent pair, Blenheim and Cressy!"
"It has been said, Dagaeoga, that there is always one horse that can run faster than another, but it seems that neither of these two can run faster than the other. Now, Blenheim thrusts his nose ahead, and now Cressy regains the lead by a few inches. Now they are so nearly even that they seem to be but one horse and one rider."
"A truly great race, Tayoga, and a prettily matched pair! Ah, the bay leads! No, 'tis the sorrel! Now, they are even again, and the finish is not far away!"
The great crowd, which had been shouting, each side for its favorite, became silent as Blenheim and Cressy swept into the stretch. Stuart and Cabell, leaning far over the straining necks, begged and prayed their brave horses to go a little faster, and Blenheim and Cressy, hearing the voices that they knew so well, responded but in the same measure. The heads were even, as if they had been locked fast, and there was still no sign to indicate the winner. Faster and faster they came, their riders leaning yet farther forward, continually urging them, and they thundered past the stand, matched so evenly that not a hair's breadth seemed to separate the noses of the sorrel and the bay.
"It's a dead heat!" exclaimed Robert, as the people, unable to restrain their enthusiasm, swarmed over the track, and such was the unanimous opinion of the judges. Yet it was the belief of all that a finer race was never run in Virginia, and while the horses, covered with blankets, were walked back and forth to cool, men followed them and uttered their admiration.
Stuart and Cabell were eager to run the heat over, after the horses had rested, but the judges would not allow it.
"No! No, lads!" said the Governor. "Be content! You have two splendid horses, the best in Virginia, and matched evenly. Moreover, you rode them superbly. Now, let them rest with the ample share of honor that belongs to each."
Stuart and Cabell, after the heat of rivalry was over, thought it a good plan, shook hands with great warmth three or four times, each swearing that the other was the best fellow in the world, and then with a great group of friends they adjourned to the tavern where huge beakers of punch were drunk.
"And mighty Todadaho himself, although he looks into the future, does not yet know which is the better horse," said Tayoga. "It is well. Some things should remain to be discovered, else the salt would go out of life."
"That's sound philosophy," said Willet. "It's the mystery of things that attracts us, and that race ended in the happiest manner possible. Neither owner can be jealous or envious of the other; instead they are feeling like brothers."
Then Robert's mind with a sudden rush, went back to St. Luc, and his sense of duty tempted him to speak of his presence to Willet, but he concluded to wait a little. He looked around for him again, but he did not see him, and he thought it possible that he had now left the dangerous neighborhood of Williamsburg.
As they walked back to their quarters at a tavern Willet informed them that there was to be, two days later, a grand council of provincial governors and high officers at Alexandria on the Potomac, where General Braddock with his army already lay in camp, and he suggested that they go too. As they were free lances with their authority issuing from Governor Dinwiddie alone, they could do practically as they pleased. Both Robert and Tayoga were all for it, but in the afternoon they, as well as Willet, were invited to a race dinner to be given at the tavern that evening by Stuart and Cabell in honor of the great contest, in which neither had lost, but in which both had won.
"I suppose," said Willet, "that while here we might take our full share of Virginia hospitality, which is equal to any on earth, because, as I see it, before very long we will be in the woods where so much to eat and drink will not be offered to us. March and battle will train us down."
The dinner to thirty guests was spread in the great room of the tavern and the black servants of Stuart and Cabell, well trained, dextrous and clad in livery, helped those of the landlord to serve. The abundance and quality of the food were amazing. Besides the resources of civilization, air, wood and water were drawn upon for game. Virginia, already renowned for hospitality, was resolved that through her young sons, Stuart and Cabell, she should do her best that night.
A dozen young British officers were present, and there was much toasting and conviviality. The tie of kinship between the old country and the new seemed stronger here than in New England, where the England of Cromwell still prevailed, or in New York, where the Dutch and other influences not English were so powerful. They had begun with the best of feeling, and it was heightened by the warmth that food and drink bring. They talked with animation of the great adventure, on which they would soon start, as Stuart and Cabell and most of the Virginians were going with Braddock. They drank a speedy capture of Fort Duquesne, and confusion to the French and their red allies.
Robert, imitating the example of Tayoga, ate sparingly and scarcely tasted the punch. About eleven o'clock, the night being warm, unusually warm for that early period of spring, and nearly all the guests having joined in the singing, more or less well, of patriotic songs, Robert, thinking that his absence would not be noticed, walked outside in search of coolness and air.
It was but a step from the lights and brilliancy of the tavern to the darkness of Williamsburg's single avenue. There were no street lanterns, and only a moon by which to see. He could discern the dim bulk of William and Mary College and of the Governor's Palace, but except near at hand the smaller buildings were lost in the dusk. A breeze touched with salt, as if from the sea, was blowing, and its touch was so grateful on Robert's face that he walked on, hat in hand, while the wind played on his cheeks and forehead and lifted his hair. Then a darker shadow appeared in the darkness, and St. Luc stood before him.
"Why do you come here! Why do you incur such danger? Don't you know that I must give warning of your presence?" exclaimed Robert passionately.
The Frenchman laughed lightly. He seemed very well pleased with himself, and then he hummed:
"Hier sur le pont d'Avignon J'ai oui chanter la belle Lon, la."
"Your danger is great!" repeated Robert.
"Not as great as you think," said St. Luc. "You will not protect me. You will warn the British officers that a French spy is here. I read it in your face at the race today, and moreover, I know you better than you know yourself. I know, too, more about you than you know about yourself. Did I not warn you in New York to beware of Mynheer Adrian Van Zoon?"
"You did, and I know that you meant me well."
"And what happened?"
"I was kidnapped by a slaver, and I was to have been taken to the coast of Africa, but a storm intervened and saved me. Perhaps the slaver was acting for Mynheer Van Zoon, but I talked it over with Mr. Hardy and we haven't a shred of proof."
"Perhaps a storm will not intervene next time. You must look to yourself, Robert Lennox."
"And you to yourself, Chevalier de St. Luc. I'm grateful to you for the warning you gave me, and other acts of friendship, but whatever your mission may have been in New York I'm sure that one of your errands, perhaps the main one, in Williamsburg, is to gather information for France, and, sir, I should be little of a patriot did I not give the alarm, much as it hurts me to do so."
Robert saw very clearly by the moonlight that the blue eyes of St. Luc were twinkling. His situation might be dangerous, but obviously he took no alarm from it.
"You'll bear in mind, Mr. Lennox," he said, "that I'm not asking you to shield me. Consider me a French spy, if you wish--and you'll not be wholly wrong--and then act as you think becomes a man with a commission as army scout from Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia."
There was a little touch of irony in his voice. His adventures and romantic spirit was in the ascendant, and it seemed to Robert that he was giving him a dare. That he would have endured because of his admiration for St. Luc, and also because of his gratitude, but the allusion to his commission from the governor of Virginia recalled him to his sense of duty.
"I can do nothing else!" he exclaimed. "'Tis a poor return for the services you have done me, and I tender my apologies for the action I'm about to take. But guard yourself, St. Luc!"
"And you, Lennox, look well to yourself when Braddock marches! Every twig and leaf will spout danger!"
His light manner was wholly gone for the moment, and his words were full of menace. Up the street, a sentinel walked back and forth, and Robert could hear the faint fall of his feet on the sand.
"Once more I bid you beware, St. Luc!" he exclaimed, and raising his voice he shouted: "A spy! A spy!"
He heard the sentinel drop the butt of his musket heavily against the earth, utter an exclamation and then run toward them. His shout had also been heard at the tavern, and the guests, bareheaded, began to pour out, and look about confusedly to see whence the alarm had come.
Robert looked at the sentinel who was approaching rapidly, and then he turned to see what St Luc would do. But the Frenchman was gone. Near them was a mass of shrubbery and he believed that he had flitted into it, as silently as the passing of a shadow. But the sentinel had caught a glimpse of the dusky figure, and he cried:
"Who was he? What is it?"
"A spy!" replied Robert hastily. "A Frenchman whom I have seen in Canada! I think he sprang into those bushes and flowers!"
The sentinel and Robert rushed into the shrubbery but nothing was there. As they looked about in the dusk, Robert heard a refrain, distant, faint and taunting:
"Hier sur le pont d'Avignon J'ai oui chanter la belle Lon, la."
It was only for an instant, then it died like a summer echo, and he knew that St. Luc was gone. An immense weight rolled from him. He had done what he should have done, but the result that he feared had not followed.
"I can find nothing, sir," said the sentinel, who recognized in Robert one of superior rank.
"Nor I, but you saw the figure, did you not?"
"I did, sir. 'Twas more like a shadow, but 'twas a man, I'll swear."
Robert was glad to have the sentinel's testimony, because in another moment the revelers were upon him, making sport of him for his false alarm, and asserting that not his eyes but the punch he had drunk had seen a French spy.
"I scarce tasted the punch," said Robert, "and the soldier here is witness that I spoke true."
A farther and longer search was organized, but the Frenchman had vanished into the thinnest of thin air. As Robert walked with Willet and Tayoga back to the tavern, the hunter said:
"I suppose it was St. Luc?"
"Yes, but why did you think it was he?"
"Because it was just the sort of deed he would do. Did you speak with him?"
"Yes, and I told him I must give the alarm. He disappeared with amazing speed and silence."
Robert made a brief report the next day to Governor Dinwiddie, not telling that St. Luc and he had spoken together, stating merely that he had seen him, giving his name, and describing him as one of the most formidable of the French forest leaders.
"I thank you, Mr. Lennox," said the Governor. "Your information shall be conveyed to General Braddock. Yet I think our force will be too great for the wilderness bands."
On the following day they were at Alexandria on the Potomac, where the great council was to be held. Here Braddock's camp was spread, and in a large tent he met Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia, Governor de Lancey of New York, Governor Sharpe of Maryland, Governor Dobbs of North Carolina and Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, an elderly lawyer, but the ablest and most energetic of all the governors.
It was the most momentous council yet held in North America, and all the young officers waited with the most intense eagerness the news from the tent. Robert saw Braddock as he went in, a middle-aged man of high color and an obstinate chin. Grosvenor gave him some of the gossip about the general.
"London has many stories of him," he said. "He has spent most of his life in the army. He is a gambler, but brave, rough but generous, irritable, but often very kind. Opposition inflames him, but he likes zeal and good service. He is very fond of your young Mr. Washington, who, I hear is much of a man."
The council in the great tent was long and weighty, and well it might have been, even far beyond the wildest thoughts of any of the participants. These were the beginnings of events that shook not only America but Europe for sixty years. In the tent they agreed upon a great and comprehensive scheme of campaign that had been proposed some time before. Braddock would proceed with his attack upon Fort Duquesne, Shirley would see that the forces of New England seized Beausejour and De Lancey would have Colonel William Johnson to move upon Crown Point and then Niagara. Acadia also would be taken. Dinwiddie after Shirley was the most vigorous of the governors, and he promised that the full force of Virginia should be behind Braddock. But to Shirley was given the great vision. He foresaw the complete disappearance of French power from North America, and, to achieve a result that he desired so much, it was only necessary for the colonists to act together and with vigor. While he recognized in Braddock infirmities of temper and insufficient knowledge of his battlefield, he knew him to be energetic and courageous and he believed that the first blow, the one that he was to strike at Fort Duquesne, would inflict a mortal blow upon France in the New World. In every vigorous measure that he proposed Dinwiddie backed him, and the other governors, overborne by their will, gave their consent.
While Robert sat with his friends in the shade of a grove, awaiting the result of the deliberations in the tent, his attention was attracted by a strong, thick-set figure in a British uniform.
"Colonel Johnson!" he cried, and running forward he shook hands eagerly with Colonel William Johnson.
"Why, Colonel!" he exclaimed, "I didn't dream that you were here, but I'm most happy to see you."
"And I to see you, Mr. Lennox, or Robert, as I shall call you," said Colonel Johnson. "Alexandria is a long journey from Mount Johnson, but you see I'm here, awaiting the results of this council, which I tell you may have vast significance for North America."
"But why are you not in the tent with the others, you who know so much more about conditions on the border than any man who is in there?"
"I am not one of the governors, Robert, my lad, nor am I General Braddock. Hence I'm not eligible, but I'm not to be neglected. I may as well tell you that we are planning several expeditions, and that I'm to lead one in the north."
"And Madam Johnson, and everybody at your home? Are they well?"
"As well of body as human beings can be when I left. Molly told me that if I saw you to give you her special love. Ah, you young blade, if you were older I should be jealous, and then, again, perhaps I shouldn't!"
"Young Thayendanegea? Fierce and warlike as becomes his lineage. He demands if I lead an army to the war that he go with me, and he scarce twelve. What is more, he will demand and insist, until I have to take him. 'Tis a true eagle that young Joseph. But here is Willet! It soothes my eyes to see you again, brave hunter, and Tayoga, too, who is fully as welcome."
He shook hands with them both and the Onondaga gravely asked:
"What news of my people, Waraiyageh?"
Colonel Johnson's face clouded.
"Things do not go well between us and the vale of Onondaga," he replied. "The Hodenosaunee complain of the Indian commissioners at Albany, and with justice. Moreover, the French advance and the superior French vigor create a fear that the British and Americans may lose. Then the Hodenosaunee will be left alone to fight the French and all the hostile tribes. Father Drouillard has come back and is working with his converts."
"The nations of the Hodenosaunee will never go with the French," declared Tayoga with emphasis. "Although the times seem dark, and men's minds may waver for a while, they will remain loyal to their ancient allies. Their doubts will cease, Waraiyageh, when the king across the sea takes away the power of dealing with us from the Dutch commissioners at Albany, and gives it to you, you who know us so well and who have always been our friend."
Colonel Johnson's face flushed with pleasure.
"Your opinion of me is too high, Tayoga," he said, "but I'll not deny that it gratifies me to hear it."
"Have you heard anything from Fort Refuge, and Colden and Wilton and the others?" asked Robert.
"An Oneida runner brought a letter just before I left Mount Johnson. The brave Philadelphia lads still hold the little fortress, and have occasional skirmishes with wandering bands. Theirs has been a good work, well done."
But while Colonel Johnson was not a member of the council and could not sit with it, he had a great reputation with all the governors, and the next day he was asked to appear before them and General Braddock, where he was treated with the consideration due to a man of his achievements, and where the council, without waiting for the authority of the English king, gave him full and complete powers to treat with the Hodenosaunee, and to heal the wounds inflicted upon the pride of the nations by the commissioners at Albany. He was thus made superintendent of Indian affairs in North America, and he was also as he had said to lead the expedition against Crown Point. He came forth from the council exultant, his eyes glowing.
"'Tis even more than I had hoped," he said to Willet, "and now I must say farewell to you and the brave lads with you. We have come to the edge of great things, and there is no time to waste."
He hastened northward, the council broke up the next day, and the visiting governors hurried back to their respective provinces to prepare for the campaigns, leaving Braddock to strike the first blow.