The Bushfighters/Chapter 7
THROUGH THE LINES
ONCE Ephraim Willis arrived in Albany he regretted coming, His leg bothered him, but not sufficiently to prevent his taking to the bush. Captain Putnam's orders had directed him to proceed to Fort Edward or Albany. He would have been obeying the letter of his instructions had he turned about after reaching the fort and made off into the forest.
That had been his intention. But on reaching Fort Edward he was sadly pestered by all the officers, from General Lyman down, for news of the enemy, and only the fiction that he was on a mission of secret service in Albany had afforded an avenue of escape.
Fort Edward with its overwhelming masculine atmosphere was no place for one in love and impelled to brood over a tantalizing and disloyal Elizabeth. On starting for Albany his mood had improved, for it seemed as if memories were drawing him there. He proposed remaining a day or so, and then scouting back to join Putnam in the neighborhood of Fort William Henry, giving the inquisitive staff at Edward a wide berth.
During the journey, however, he found the opportunity to review his experience with the girl, which had been denied him under the constant cross-examination of Lyman and his officers; and the retrospection revealed nothing but dead ashes. He was sorry to be there. He now realized she could not change her nature. He was nothing but an uncouth woodsman to her, and his abrupt surrender to her charms could only amuse her.
He found the hill town seething with activity and excitement. The most absurd rumors were being passed along the street; so grotesque that Willis would not bother to deny them unless asked pointblank.
The Three Fires, or the league composed of the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi, were sending their entire warrior force to participate in a last drive against the English. Albany was doomed to capture and sack. Schenectady might fall any hour.
Loudoun's ten thousand men were strung all the way from the Hudson to Lake George, and by coming down the Mohawk River the Western hordes would cut this line in two rolling one demoralized fragment back on the Hudson, while a superior force from Ticonderoga would nail down by the head at Fort William Henry the remainder of the troops.
The Iroquois were so strongly impressed by the fall of Oswego, following on the defeat of Braddock, that they would offer no assistance. These and similar rumors were frantically repeated and for the most part believed by the civilians.
Naturally the citizens of the town clamored for more adequate defenses and the withholding of sufficient troops to protect the place. This panic did not permeate the army, however, and regulars and provincials with much purring of drums marched in and out, followed by artillery.
With a slight limp in his walk Willis repaired to a tap-room and called for a mug of cider. A boisterous group filled the place, the flushed faces of untried rustics accentuating the leathern visages of men made old at the game by twelve months' experience. The red and blue uniforms were worn and stained, and the men in homespun sought to give themselves an air of military smartness through the medium of boastful speech. Could the tap-room threats have been transmuted into military efficacy Louis the Fifteenth would have lost his throne forthwith.
Willis heard the fiery speeches with lips curled in disgust. He knew these loiterers and braggarts formed an infinitesimal percentage of the army, yet it angered him exceedingly that they could not be sent to the front lines.
“Our chaplain preached that we should love our enemies,” guffawed one raw recruit who had yet to hear a gun fired in battle. “Just wait till old Kill-Sure gits a line on 'em!”
And he patted his firelock.
“Wait till they get you trussed up to a stake and nicely barbecued,” broke in Willis, his quarrel with the world in general driving him to criticize those bits of braggadocio he was usually pleased to accept as being humorous. The young man stared. at him with startled eyes. Another, a swaggering, muscular chap, lowered his mug with a thump and turned to glare balefully.
“Who might you be to be telling his Majesty's soldiers that they'll be barbecued?” he demanded. “—— me, but your loyalty'll be the better for your giving a cheer for King George.”
“—— your ignorant hides,” growled Willis. “I've fought for King George. I've dodged death a hundred times for King George, and I'll do it as many times more if I'm lucky; but there ain't anything in my line of duty that calls me to yowl hoorays for King George every time a crowd of tavern loungers take the notion to tell me to. If you folks be so bloodthirsty to slaughter the French and their Indians why ain't you out where there's plenty of fighting?”
“Babble, bibble! By the same word why ain't you there instead of being here swilling cider?” challenged the other, sweeping his mug aside and leaning his gun against the wall where it would be out of his way should he decide to leave the table hurriedly.
“I've been there, sir. I'll be there again as soon as a hole in my leg mends. I was there on the Ohio. I was there on the Monongahela. I've already been at Lake George; and next time I'm going right through to Montreal. Now, you blood-drinker, go out and show you can do something besides killing New England rum.”
The speech had been softly uttered, and until the derisive close the company believed that the ranger was anxious to avoid trouble. The conclusion left them silent for a second; then rose a hum of anger. The man addressed choked over a suitably violent retort and struggled to his feet. A voice from the back of the low room called out—
“I guess he's a spy!”
“That's it! Spy! Spy!” yelled several.
The soldier who had demanded a cheer for the king rushed round the table and fell upon Willis, crying—
“I've got him, fellers!”
The table crashed over. Willis was knocked from his stool. He landed on his back, his assailant on top of him trying to choke him. With a grunt of rage the ranger raised his pewter mug and brought it against the man's head, and then threw the limp form aside and leaped to his feet before the onlookers could take any action against him.
It was not until he was making for his long rifle that the mob came to its senses and advanced to seize him. Sweeping up the overturned stool, he threw it, knocking down two men and driving the others back. He followed up the stool with the table. The crowd began to reply with bottles and mugs, one missile knocking off his hat and another striking him on the chest.
With a roar of unbridled fury he grabbed up his rifle and cracked a man over the head with the barrel, and then swept the muzzle back and forth, warning:
“You don't have to go to Lake George to get shot. You'll get it right here in another second.”
“And I'll lend him a ball or two,” cried a lusty voice from the doorway; and a soldier in scarlet uniform and wearing a silver-laced hat forced his way to the ranger's side.
“One of the Jersey Blues!” some one exclaimed.
“Right! A man who loves fair play. I'm Sergeant Enoch Champers of the Fiftieth, Shirley's old regiment. Now fetch on your trouble.”
THE men wavered and sullenly drew back. The sergeant made a very martial figure as he stood beside the ranger, a long pistol in his hand. The Jersey Blues although made up of provincials were paid by the king and rated as regulars.
The year before they had made the futile Oswego campaign under Shirley. They had worn their flashy uniforms awkwardly enough at the first and had powdered their hair or wigs once a week under protest. A year's experience had turned them out smart and trim. Their status was undeniably above that of many provincial troops.
The lace on the sergeant's hat was worth several dollars. He was issued two pairs of good shoes and two pairs of fine worsted stockings in addition to his gallant uniform. All this when many soldiers were fighting in the clothes they wore from home. He could hold up his head in the presence of a provincial lieutenant.
“He wouldn't give a cheer for the king,” protested the young man whose bombast had precipitated the trouble.
“It isn't for you to tell him when to cheer,” replied the sergeant, cocking his hat and standing with feet apart and hands on his hips, the long pistol held carelessly. “Can't you see he is one of Rogers' Rangers? Can't you see he has been wounded?
“While you've been guzzling ale and telling what you'd do he's been fighting and getting hurt. The cheers his gracious Majesty wants aren't shouted in boozing-kens.”
The man who had been cracked over the head with the mug and who from his reclining position had listened to the sergeant's words now crawled to his feet and frankly admitted:
“It was the drink that made a hot-headed fool of me. Hope I didn't do any hurt to your leg, mister.”
Ashamed to have permitted himself to be dragged into a brawl, Willis readily accepted the apology and offered to buy cider for the company. His late assailant objected, saying:
“We've had more'n enough, and it's high time we was proving we can fight as hard as we drink. Come on, lads.”
The men trooped out, leaving Willis and the sergeant alone. Willis hastily said:
“I'm much obliged to you. I was wrong to notice them. But things haven't gone well with me lately, and I've got as finicky as a sick cat.”
“Things must have gone very much wrong when they can make one of Rogers' Rangers talk like that,” said the sergeant soothingly.
“You're well spoken,” remarked Willis, “You're a scholar.”
“Oh, nothing like that. Just fond of books. I'm Maryland born and bred. Maryland didn't seem to be sending the men up here that she should, so I joined the Jersey Blues. If it hadn't been for this trouble I should have kept on at Yale College.”
“You've been there, then? Then you must know General Phineas Lyman at Fort Edward, who was tutor there.”
“Very well indeed. But how did you get wounded? French Mohawk or Western Indian?”
“Neither. I feel ashamed at sailing under false colors.”
And Willis briefly related his encounter with young Brant. In finishing he said:
“It's really all right now. I shall go back to the bush in another day.”
“I'm to go up to the lake. We'll meet there, I hope. I suppose the Oswego affair has dampened the men's courage a bit. Seems to have frightened the town here.”
“Not the rangers,” Willis quickly replied. “We still know the only way to lick the French is to go after them. We could have whipped them last year and taken Ticonderoga after Dieskau was captured, but we didn't.”
“Hindsight is always better than foresight,” said the sergeant.
“I'm not criticizing Sir William Johnson any. He's the best man to handle the Iroquois we ever had. It isn't his fault that he'd had no experience in war when Shirley picked him to lead. We won something as it was. We captured Dieskau and sent his men flying. Will you have a mug of cider?”
“No, thank you. I must be going to look after some stragglers. I thought some of my men were in here. Some of the provincial troops were telling in here last night that General Wilson had been ordered to fall back and join General Lyman at Fort Edward.”
“Fool's talk. I was at Edward yesterday. Nothing of the kind has happened and won't unless our commanders go crazy. Why, we can drive the French out of old Ti any time we go after them in earnest. Their militia won't fight except in the bush. They can't manage their savages. Once they hear our big guns they'll start for the St. Lawrence.”
“But some of your fellow rangers say the French have some stiff defenses at the foot of the lake.”
“Just entrenchments and the usual abatis. Of course they have defenses, but a few hours' play with our artillery would make an opening.”
“Of course, of course. I lost last season's fun by taking the Oswego march. I was with Shirley when he heard his son was killed at Braddock's side. Left me pretty green about this section of the country. Well, best of luck.”
“I don't feel I've thanked you for the hearty way you joined me,” warmly declared Willis. “But I guess you know how I feel about it. I shall look for you up Fort William Henry way.”
With a hearty handshake they parted, and the sergeant's brave figure became lost in the streams of soldiers. Willis remained and bitterly arraigned himself for the day's adventure.
“Why stay here even a night?” he mused, at last rising and limping into the street. “I was a fool to come. —— that tavern fracas! It's given a wrench to my leg that'll put me back a day.
He wandered down the hill and sunned himself for an hour where he could watch the bustle and confusion of departing troops. Moving along the river-bank, he paused to wonder at the arrangement of sloops and bateaux strung across the Hudson above the town.
The sloops were anchored in line in the middle of the river. On each side bateaux were kept abreast of them. A citizen pointed them out to a neighbor and excitedly cried that they were there to stop an enemy flotilla from descending the river to attack the town. Willis smiled in quiet amusement. But at that he had no idea why the boats were strung across the river.
LATE in the afternoon he discovered that he was hungry and set about procuring some food. After eating he leisurely ascended the hill street to the town-house, and, repairing to headquarters, identified himself and offered to carry any dispatches to Forts Edward or William Henry.
The lieutenant on duty in the outer room eyed him sharply, then smiled and stretched forth a cordial hand.
“I remember you now; Ephraim Willis of Connecticut. Saw you with Putnam. Lucky I can vouch for you, or you might be detained.
“Wait a minute and I'll fix you out.”
He entered another room, and as the heavy door swung open the clink of glasses and loud talk could be heard. Willis was slightly puzzled by the officer's words, but took it for granted he had referred to dispatches. Finally he emerged and winked an eye and jerked his head back as he closed the door.
“Suspicious as a ——,” he chuckled. “Had to pledge my word that you are what you claim to be. But I got it.”
And he handed out a pass which stated that the bearer, Ephraim Willis, was to be allowed to leave town at any hour.
Willis blinked and reread it.
“Leave the town at any hour! God's mercy! Does any one want to keep me here?”
“The town's sealed up for the next twenty-four hours, perhaps longer. All depends on the finding of a certain paper,” whispered the lieutenant. “We've even thrown boats across the river above and below the town. No chance for a man to get out of Albany tonight unless he goes with troops, and each commander is held responsible for the men under him.”
“The ——! Some one stole a valuable paper? Do they know who did it?”
The lieutenant glanced toward the closed door and murmured:
“Any friend of Captain Putnam's must be a stanch man. The paper is very important if it reaches Montcalm. Gives the details of our strength and location of the troops and guns. Of course the French know in round numbers what we've got, thanks to spies, but they don't know how the army's placed. We've moved lots of men back and forth just to blind them—the spies.”
“But you must have some idea who took the paper. Who had a chance?”
“That's the mystery. It was on a certain officer's desk. He was called to the door for a few moments to receive an order from his superior's orderly. When he turned back the paper was gone. They're examining him now—just wasting time. He's told all he knows, but they're still baiting him.”
“I hope they get it back,” sighed Willis, “If they won't take old Ti they ought to keep a good grip on their papers. Much obliged for the pass, lieutenant, but between you and me I can quit this town with a drove of cattle at almost any hour and not be stopped.”
The officer laughed and agreed:
“One of Roberts' Rangers can do wonderful things, I admit. But perhaps the pass will make it easier. When you see old Wolf Putnam remember me to him. My name is Watkins. Rhode Island man.”
Warmly appreciative of his courtesy, Willis returned to wander the streets until he should make up his mind whether to sleep in town or find a bed in the bush. He began to doubt the wisdom of leaving town that night, as the scuffle in the tavern had lamed his wounded leg.
He mounted the hill to the fort and watched the two lines of boats fade from view beneath the gathering darkness, only to reassert their presence by bobbing lights. From the lower town came the murmur of busy life, punctuated by the occasional rumble of gun-carriages. Somewhere in the town was the spy and the stolen paper; or had the spy escaped before the guards could be set?
“Likely enough he got away before any order was given,”-muttered Willis. “Once he got his paw on that paper he wouldn't stay round here. Yet there must have been some plan, some idea that there was such a paper. He had to know where it was and be ready to pounce on it the minute the officer turned his back. Well, wish I could get a chance to grab some of old Montcalm's papers.”
He rose and started down the street. The night was bright under the starlight, and once more the fancyhim that the sharp-roofed houses were so many witches. Finding his leg tiring, he seated himself under a shade-tree and wondered where the girl was this night. In Ticonderoga? In Montreal? With a start he swept his gaze over the broad street and discovered he was in the neighborhood of the Lidindick house. At first he could not decide whether he was above or below it.
“Trifle above it,” he decided, taking his bearings by the lighted town-house. “Didn't suppose I'd ever want to see it again. Lord, how she dressed me down!”
He writhed in mortification at his thoughts and fought against his inclination to view the place again. And she so wild and incomprehensible! In what did she charm him? He had seen other women in New York and Philadelphia who were much more beautiful than she. In truth, she always reminded him of a boy, and this was not because his first glimpse of her was when she was masquerading in breeches.
Yet no other woman had interested him. In a conventional fashion he always had supposed that some time he would select a Connecticut girl and settle down near his people. That would be their wish; mate with some one they knew and understood. But this flighty, incorrigible maid, who repulsed him, then lured him on; who had been soft and lovable with him and in the next moment had taunted and flouted him.
“It's because she's so different from me, so different from the women I've always known,” he groaned. “That must be it. It's because I could never tell what she would be up to next—soft or with her claws out.
“God help me, a poor fool! I can't help loving her. But I can keep away from that house and everything that reminds me of her. At least I can do that.”
Curiously enough this was one of the very things he could not do. The dead house attracted and drew him although he knew the sight of it would only put a new edge on his misery.
Reason told him he was absurd. He had seen her that one night in New York. He had seen her twice in Albany. Her conduct was most questionable.
His New England Puritanism had been weakened none by his experience as an Indian-fighter. Putnam had spoken to his common sense in saying she was not the kind of a girl for him to marry. She was his antithesis. He had been brought up to believe that harmony could never be built up out of contradictions.
And still that unconquerable and unreasonable thing called love gripped his soul, and he knew he could never escape its thrall. And he rose and sought the house.
There were no red lights to advertise it this night. He halted and stared at the darkened windows. He trespassed on the little green and placed a foot where he had found her cloak on the night of her flight. The house had died with its master, Jan the Rogue. This somber thought appealed to his mood. More the pity his love had not died that night——
THE noise made by the door-latch would have been imperceptible to ears untrained to catch the minutiæ of sound. It startled him more than would the explosion of all of Lord Loudoun's cannon.
Could the Rogue's ghost be back in the house? Only ghosts had no need to lift latches. He felt swept with fire as he stole toward the door and halted at the edge of the porch. His heart, which always beat evenly in a forest foray, began pounding like a smithy's sledge.
He could swear the door was slowly opening. The porch shut out the starlight and his eyes were of no use. Yet he was positive he sensed a motion in the door. He believed he could feel it opening.
With a light bound, and entirely forgetting his wounded leg, he was across the porch. The latch clicked harshly. As he lifted it and pulled he heard the tardy rasping of a bolt.
With a yank he threw the door open and sprang inside, one hand holding the rifle, the other flung out ahead of him. The butt of his rifle smashed against some article of furniture.
There sounded a faint patter of feet, and her presence filled the room with a wonderful fragrance.
“Elizabeth!” he whispered, yet so softly that the sound did not pass beyond his lips.
The stairs betrayed her, and he was bounding upward in pursuit. There would be a back exit of course, but he trusted himself to keep so close that she could not gain it without being caught. At the head of the garret stairs he was confused for a moment; then a board squeaked and he glided to a door and through it and bumped his head against a beam.
Unconscious of the bruise, he followed the telltale squeak of the warped boards until he knew he must be at the end of the garret. Then directly ahead of him he heard her.
He advanced confidently and found himself between two high walls of discarded furnishings, the general miscellany of a garret. She had taken refuge in a cul-de-sac, and he opened his arms wide.
A low, mocking laugh, and the entire mass of heaped-up relics and heirlooms came crashing down upon him. She had lured him there and from the opposite side of the mass had pushed it upon him. Again her low laughter, and with a mighty heave of his strong shoulders he tossed the odds and ends aside and plunged through the débris and after her.
She laughed no more, as the pursuit was renewed more quickly than she had dreamed could be possible. As she went through the door she et it behind her, Se panels against his nose.
With a ave of his rifle-butt he sent the door flying open and gained the head of the stairs. She wason the run and had no time to practise stealth.
He leaped recklessly, clearing neatly the whole flight. His heel caught on a tread, precipitating him headlong, his rifle flying to one side. He would have collided with her had she not turned at right angles; as it was his pawing hands stripped loose her long cloak.
He got to his knees when he was seized in a powerful grasp. This was no maid who sought his throat. Striking the savage hands apart, he came to his feet and closed in on the unknown. They were about equally matched, but the ranger was mad to discover the girl and the man together.
With an oath and wrench he flung the man about. They struck a door that readily gave way, and were in a small apartment lighted by a single candle.
Skilled in the ferocious border style of wrestling, Willis had the man on his hands and knees the moment they went through the doorway. Grunting viciously, he began to draw the man's arm up behind his back, and for the first time noticed the brilliant scarlet uniform. With his left hand he clawed into the fellow's forehead and yanked back his head and got a glimpse of his features.
“Good ——! Sergeant Champers! Jersey Blues. ——!”
With a worrying sound like a wildcat tormenting his prey he might have killed his man with his bare hands had not the fellow managed to yell out:
“Help! For France!”
“I'll help you, you —— spy,” growled Willis, grabbing for his windpipe and tearing open the coat.
A folded paper fell out and he caught it up and thrust it inside his coat, at the same time using his own head as a ram and jamming the fellow's face into the floor.
“Help! For France!” gasped the spy.
There was a movement behind Willis, but before he could turn his head he received a blow that sent the world dark for a second.
“Come! There are men at the front door,” warned the girl's voice, sounding far off
“—— Let me breathe!” choked the spy, staggering to his feet and clawing at his throat.
“The back door or we're caught. This soldier— Why, he's no soldier!”
With a little scream she dropped beside him. Although half-stunned Willis was conscious of her presence. He felt a slim, firm hand slip under his neck, then a round arm was cradling his head.
The spy must have extinguished the light, for Willis could not see her, although he opened his eyes. His lips formed her name, but he could not tell whether he spoke aloud or not. But unless his ears were playing him tricks she was whispering
“Dear lad! Poor lad!”
And for a heavenly moment his head rested against her breast and soft lips were touching his thin cheek.
He struggled to a sitting posture and threw out his arms to find her and saw faces staring at him through the doorway. As his wits returned he saw these were citizens.
“What is the matter with you? What are you doing in the house of Jan the Rogue?” suspiciously demanded a man.
Willis got to his feet and looked about him. By the light of the tiny candle he observed he was in a small room which had no windows, and decided it had been the secret den of Jan Lidindick, who had had no intention of being spied upon.
Besides the door through which the neighbors were watching him there was another at the back of the small compartment. He threw it open and a current of fresh night air soothed his hot head.
“Who are you? Why are you here in the house of a dead man?” repeated a citizen.
“Softly, softly, friend,” mumbled Willis. “The devil's to pay.”
With this blind avowal he staggered toward the group, which fell back, intimidated by his bruised and bleeding countenance and wild gaze. Ignoring them, he found his rifle at the foot of the stairs and without any further explanation passed out of the front door.
His brain still throbbed with the marvel of it all, and his one desire was to find her again and make sure his brief Elysian experience was real and not a prank of his befuddled senses. Next his sturdy common sense began arranging the whole scene of the adventure and refused to allow the delectable maid's compassion to blot out the rest of the picture.
This orderly view of the amazing situation opened the door for jealousy and rage. The house had been made a rendezvous between the girl and Sergeant Champers, alias French Spy. They had met there by arrangement; they had fled together. At the desperate pleading of the man she had struck him down from behind.
True, he did not believe she knew whom she was assaulting, but her readiness and courage to strike the blow evidenced how closely the two had linked their interests together. Still he could have forgiven the blow—that was nothing—if only Champers, or whoever he was hadn't presented such an attractive figure in his scarlet uniform and silver-laced hat.
“But she knows his good looks were in for a spoiling if she hadn't given me that clout over the head,” he told himself as he sped down the street, seeking the fugitives. “If I'd only 'a' known! I'll see him swing yet. He must 'a' stole the paper through the window when the officer was at the door.”
Out of this galling misery one fact stood bedazzling. Jan the Rogue's girl had kissed him; and a few days before she had scorned him when he but touched her hand.
All this was very bewildering to the ranger's honest and simple mind. It savored of enchantment. How many maids were there in her small person? Was it the real maid who took his head in her arms and mothered him?
HE HAD started down the hill instinctively. The two would most surely endeavor to escape from the town. As he neared the river street he turned to search the northern limits of the town, where he believed the fugitives would essay to run the guard.
Ahead of him some roisterers were entering a drinking-den, and the outpouring light for a moment revealed a figure flitting along under the trees, a slim form that seemed to be enveloped in a long, dark cloak. Astounded at his rare fortune, Willis quickened his gait, running noiselessly on his toes and keeping on the alert against a surprize attack by the girl's companion.
Drawing close to his quarry, he leaped like a cat and his long brown fingers were clutching an arm. Instantly his captive wheeled and lunged at him viciously and as luck ruled the knife struck the barrel of the rifle, emitting sparks.
“You'd kill me?” he sorrowfully asked, retaining his hold on the slim wrist.
“I think I shall some time,” was the angry retort.
“—— my kidneys! Young Brant!” roared Willis.
“Joseph Brant of the Mohawks,” was the haughty correction. “Let go my hand.”
Willis released him and demanded—
“Where is Elizabeth Lidindick?”
“How should I know?”
“You are wearing her cloak.”
“You have eyes like a weasel. Ask the cloak. Perhaps it can tell you,” snarled the boy.
“Enough of blind words, Joseph Brant. Either tell me or say you won't. I'm on the king's business. The girl and a Frenchman, a French spy, just escaped from me up the hill——”
“A Frenchman!” exclaimed the boy. “The girl tricked me! She wanted to come here and, get something from her father's house. I was to wait at the Van Woerts' farm. I waited two days. She did not come. Then I came to find her.
“This Frenchman? Shall I know him for that when I see him? The girl shall not be harmed, but the Mohawks shall dance on the Frenchman's roasted body.”
“He is dressed in a scarlet uniform. He pretends to be a sergeant of the Jersey Blues. He speaks perfect English,” informed the ranger.
“We'll make him whine in French before we finish killing him,” boasted the boy, drawing away.
“Wait, How came you by her cloak?”
“She left it with me at the farm. I trusted her and she has fooled me. But her Frenchman shall pay for it.”
Willis gritted his teeth over the boy's characterization.
He hoped the Mohawks would get him. They were still clamoring for victims to cover the bones of Hendrick and others of their chiefs killed in the war.
“Yes, let him roast—roast slow,” he muttered.
Then to the boy—
“He must not get through to Ticonderoga.”
“Talking with you won't find him,” the boy reminded him.
With that he darted away with the lightness of a leaf blown by the wind. The ranger ran after him and for several rods kept at his heels; then called out:
“The town is closed. No one can leave it without a pass.”
Young Brant laughed mockingly, and out of sheer deviltry raised the terrible scalp-cry of the Mohawks and vanished in the darkness.
The cry, and the public's taut state of nerves, brought soldiers pounding down the street and sent straggling householders scurrying to cover. For half an hour it was persistently believed by many that the Caughnawaga Iroquois had stolen into Albany. Fires were built in the street; watchman were sent up and down to proclaim all was well.
Effacing himself to escape the necessity of answering many questions, Willis found himself near headquarters. Here a big bonfire was burning, and by its light he examined the paper he had taken from the bogus sergeant. The first glance told him it was a list of the English forces, together with the details of their distribution. Hurrying to the friendly lieutenant, he handed over the paper and explained:
“Had a fight with a man who calls himself Sergeant Enoch Champers, Fiftieth Regiment, Jersey Blues. He is a French spy. Took the paper from him. He escaped. Is it the missing paper?”
“——! Its the full list! I must report this and send out an alarm for the spy! Wait for me.”
Impatiently the ranger waited while the lieutenant repaired to the inner room. In a few moments he came out, saying:
“Chief isn't in. I must find him. His orderly says this is a copy of the stolen paper. Looks like a woman's writing. The original is still missing.”
“Then I'm off after the original,” cried Willis, bounding away.
He hoped to overtake the girl as she would surely travel north; and he had no desire to be detained in town for several days to be officially cross-examined.
He was wrathfully picturing the girl and man fleeing through the forests together when he was brought to his senses by the loud command—
At first he was unable to comprehend the challenge, so deeply were his thoughts concentrated on the girl. Then the darkness was lighted by the flare of a pine torch and he found himself surrounded by soldiers. He rapidly gave his name and produced his pass.
“Rogers' Rangers are doing keen work,” enviously remarked one of the guards. “I've heard of you. They say you were with Braddock.”
“It so happened. Who else has passed here within the last hour?”
“Another, a ranger, a young fellow. You'll probably overtake him, as he will camp along the river.”
“He had a pass?”
“Not a written one. But Sergeant Enoch Champers, of the Jersey Blues, spoke for him. Of course a pass is only a form where those serving the king are concerned.”
“You have done well, young man,” bitterly upbraided Willis. “You have let two spies get by right under your nose. Your Sergeant Champers is a French spy, and he carries information to the French which will be disastrous to the colonies.”
“Oh, my ——! But how was I to know?” groaned the corporal in charge of the guard.
Willis remembered his own friendly chat with the plausible Champers and his own lack of suspicion.
“He has fooled better men than you. It isn't for me to blame you,” he said.
“Curse his pelt!” moaned the corporal. “Just let him come again! Who's the young rip with him?”
“That I can't tell you,” hastily answered Willis. “But I shall try to find out. Send a message to headquarters that the spy has a through the lines and that I am after him.”