The Bushfighters/Chapter 8

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Bushfighters by Hugh Pendexter
VIII. The Little Man in Black

pp. 42–50.

CHAPTER VIII

THE LITTLE MAN IN BLACK

THE flight of Rogers and Putnam down the lake was followed by no untoward incidents. There was no time, so far as they could perceive, that any of the hostile Indians were on their trail.

They traveled parallel to the western shore until near North West Bay, when they struck across to the head of the little inlet. There Rogers uncovered a birch canoe in the brush, kept concealed for such emergencies.

He purposed to travel direct to Fort William Henry with his news. Putnam, who had intended to accompany him, now found his preference was to continue along the woods trail on the chance of finding signs of some of the enemy's scouts.

“It don't take more'n one to get the information into General Winslow,” he remarked. “I'll meet you at the fort. Might as well make a clean job of it.”

Rogers readily acquiesced, and after he had set out, his graceful craft taking the waters of the lake at a rare pace under his powerful strokes, the Connecticut man swung back to the trail again. For ten miles he advanced slowly and carefully, and by the time he was abreast of Sloop Island he was satisfied that none of the Canadians or Montcalm's Indians was near the southern end of the lake.

Throwing off his concern, he shifted his gait to a brisk trot, when a pistol-shot at one side of the trail brought his attention on edge. Leaving the trail, he crept through the woods until the sound of voices guided him to a tiny opening. He beheld a startling spectacle.

An officer wearing the uniform of the troupes de terre was leaning against a tree, the white shoulder of his coat showing a dark stain where he had been wounded. Facing him were two of Rogers' Rangers, one of them holding a long pistol, the other aiming a rifle. As Putnam gained a position behind the officer the latter angrily demanded in excellent English:

“You villains! Why did you shoot me? I had surrendered.”

“How'd I know you didn't have a pistol hid in them gay clothes?” defended the man with the pistol. “I'd rather kill the devil then to have him kill me. We ain't particular how we treat spies.”

“I am no spy, you idiot. I am Captain Claude Raymond Pean, aid to Chevalier de Levis. I am here in my uniform, detailed to make discoveries.”

“Well, I guess you ain't hurt much if you can talk as fast as that. By the way you handle the king's English I'd say you was a renegade, and that's worse than being a spy.”

—— your distinctions, you imbecile! Take me to a surgeon where I can have this clumsy wound dressed. You not only knock a hole in my shoulder but you must spoil my coat, as though white coats grew on bushes out here. Given I had you in Ticonderoga I'd turn you over to our young petits-maîtres to be drilled in the use of firearms.”

As he finished taunting them he reeled and all but fell. The rangers sprang to assist him, one dropping his rifle, the other thrusting his empty pistol into his belt.

With a low laugh of triumph the Frenchman whipped out two pistols, covered 'the astounded men and gloated:

“What children! I come and I go. I visit your town of Albany. I procure important papers. I come here alone and I pick up two prisoners, No one stops me. And yet the pig of a Loudoun says he will take Ticonderoga.

“Now ahead of me, little ones. I have a canoe on the lake. You shall paddle me to the Carrying-Place in great state.”

The ranger with the pistol caught a glimpse of Putnam's face in the bushes and only his woods. training enabled him to conceal his joy. With a wink to his companion he mournfully said:

“Guess you fooled us fine, Mr. Frenchy. I for one don't go for to take any chances. You're too smooth for me. Here we go.”

And with his hands clasped behind his neck he started toward Putnam's hiding-place. His friend, realizing some game was on, fell in behind him. The French officer strode after them, his pistols raised and ready, his wounded in no way seeming to inconvenience him.

He chuckled as he herded them into the bush, taunting them with being the only Englishmen who had dared leave the fort. With never a swerve of the head toward Putnam's ambush the rangers passed into the undergrowth, keeping close together and only a few feet ahead of their captor.

The lake was near and so presumably was the officer's hidden canoe. He stuck one of his pistols into his belt and commenced ridiculing his prisoners, demanding how they had dared to venture into the woods alone. He was in the midst of his ironical remarks when two muscular hands shot from the bushes and seized his hands, and with a vicious twist caused the pistol to drop to the ground. The officer's exclamation of rage was his prisoners' cue to wheel about and shout triumphantly.

“Stand back, you two,” ordered Putnam, who had closed in with his man. “You had your chance and he made fools of you.”

Then to his struggling opponent:

“You are hurt. If you do not give up I shall have to hurt you some more. Your case is hopeless.”

“I make honorable surrender to you,” sighed the Frenchman. “—— only knows why I should be punished thus and not allowed to at least surrender to an equal in rank. I am aid to Chevalier ——

“Yes, yes. I know all that,” dryly cut in Putnam. “Also that you enter and leave Albany at your pleasure. It may make your mind easy to know I hold commission as captain. You must have cut a brave figure in Albany.”

“I did but make game of these simple ones. Of course I have not been in Albany. It was said to throw them off their guard. But we shall all be in Albany soon, please God!”

“Certainly when it does please Him,” sternly said Putnam. “You make so free with the Almighty in your talk I wonder if your talk about a certain paper is just another way of talking.”

The officer's face grew ghastly.

“I did but jest with the men. Take me to a surgeon.”

“Fasten his arms behind him with his belt, Whitten,” Putnam directed the tall ranger. “He's a slippery varmint. Good. Now see if he has any little paper upon him. I've a notion he spoke truthfully in his boasting.”


THE rangers searched but brought to light only another pistol, small and mounted with silver, quite unlike any weapon any of the three had ever seen.

“Release my arms. I feel very faint. I give my parole not to try to escape,” said the officer in a weak voice.

“The paper first,” gently replied Putnam. “Whitten couldn't find. it, but perhaps he didn't look close enough.”

As he spoke he passed his hands over the white coat and was rewarded by a faint rustling sound in the hem of the skirt.

“This is much better, much better,” murmured Putnam.

He ripped open the skirt and pulled forth a narrow strip of paper folded to the width of the hem. Opening this he read it through and whistled softly.

“'Mount to much, cap'n?” curiously asked one of the rangers.

“Only a noose unless he can prove it was given to him out here in the woods and while he was wearing his uniform. It's a list of our forces and it tells where they're stationed. Cap'n Pean, you're in a desperate situation.”

“Not so. One of our spies got that in Albany and gave it to me.”

“Who was the spy?”

“I can't tell that.”

“Then you'll swing,” was the cold reply.

Putnam again looked at the paper, and now he knew it had been written by a woman. Although not versed in scholarly attainments there was no denying the femininity of the writing. He could think of no one but Elizabeth Lidindick.

“Well, Cap'n Pean, you're caught. It's for General Winslow to say whether you're spy or rate as a ranger. You men take him to the fort. His wound is only a flesh wound. Very poor shooting. Whitten, you're to carry the paper. Report to General Winslow how it all happened and say I shall be in shortly if he cares to question me. By the way, cap'n, you speak good English. Better than I do.”

“I am a Frenchman. It is natural I should do things better than you, a beggarly provincial,” was the haughty rejoinder.

“I admire to see you going down with your colors flying,” said Putnam.

Then he motioned the men to start with the prisoner to the fort.

Putnam felt deeply concerned over the Lidindick girl. Although a lion in battle the sight of suffering in women and children easily reduced him to tears.

To know that Jan the Rogue's daughter was supplying information to the enemy was most distressing. So long as nothing more serious than a deep sympathy for the French cause, and at the worst a mischievous activity in embarrassing the English, could be proved against her she stood in danger of nothing more grave than temporary restraint.

It was bad enough to believe she had obtained the information of General Webb's proposed advance to succor Oswego, but in that case there was the possibility that she had turned the information over to her father, and that he, not she, had passed it on to Vaudreuil. Putnam knew this was splitting hairs, yet his hearty sympathy for youth would force him to build up some sort of a defense whenever possible.

But this detailed report he had just examined, revealing Lord Loudoun's strength and weaknesses, struck at the very heart of the colonies. It evidenced deep premeditation and carefully thought-out plans. The very fact it had been secured proved the spy realized its importance. There was no belittling this action.

“She's getting dangerous as a rattlesnake,” he mumbled as he continued along the trail toward the end of the lake; “Pretty as a picture.

“I don't like to be harsh with girls. Wouldn't want any one to be harsh with any of my four at home. But she must be stopped. Yes, she must be stopped or she'll run that white neck of hers into a noose sure's chain lightning.”

Without a sound to preface the intrusion an Indian, naked except for his clout, appeared in the trail before Putnam and raised an empty hand. He was oiled and painted for war and freshly shaven. Not a muscle of Putnam's strong face quivered at the unexpected appearance, although his heart had a a jump when the Indian stepped before him

“You don't need to show empty hands to your white brother, Running Wolf. You were at Albany with Sir William Johnson when the war began.”

“My brother goes to the fort?” asked the Indian, speaking slowly and distinctly in English.

“To the fort, red brother.”

“They say my brother killed a sorcerer.”

“It is so. Joseph Brant, the young Mohawk, heard me say it. The sorcerer was a Potawatomi.”

“They say the Potawatomi's orenda is so strong it lets him live again.”

“He is dead. My knife let out his life. I threw his scalp at the feet of his friends.”

“They say he is now a little black man. He walks the woods at night to find my white brother and have his life.”

Putnam sought to put these enigmatic words together. That the Iroquois—he was one of Johnson's Mohawks—wished to warn him against some peril was obvious. The ranger knew it would be useless to question him. Whatever the Indian desired to reveal would be given voluntarily. Putnam repeated:

“A little black man. He walks these woods at night. Then he can not be seen.”

The Mohawk traced an outline on the forest floor with the toe of his moccasin, and said:

“After the sun goes down and before the night comes, then he is seen. The Mohawks have seen him and he has done them no harm.

“The Great Heads flew over our castles, their hair streaming behind them, before Oswego was taken. They flew toward Albany. Now again they have been seen, flying toward Albany. It is bad.”

He was gone as quietly as a shadow is blotted out by a sunbeam. It was useless to seek him and to question him.

His reference to the Great Heads, the evil spirits which rode the heavens, their viperous hair snapping behind them, when disaster was about to fall, was meant as a warning against some danger from the French and their red allies. Very possibly this was the result of Mohawk scouts bringing back word to Sir William Johnson that the French were rushing reenforcements to Ticonderoga. A comet or a falling star would then be translated as a Great Head.

But the “little black man” was baffling. The boy Brant had told his people of Putnam's attack on the sorcerer's lodge.

“Now something had been seen that impressed the Mohawks with the fancy that the Potawatomi had merely changed his shape and now walked the earth, seeking revenge. Something had been seen at dusk by the Mohawk scouts; something so evasive that after repeated efforts to run it down the Indians had explained their failures by pronouncing it supernatural. But as there must be a definite explanation for its presence near the lake the next step was to link it with Putnam's slaying of the sorcerer, the most recent event of interest to the friendly Indians. Now the nature of the phenomenon and the reason for its being were adequately explained.


THAT'S the Indian of it,” he mused. “See something; try to catch it and can't. It becomes a spirit—spirit of man just killed. Back to kill some one. That some one is me.

“They try to catch it just after sundown several times, but it gets away. Then it must have a mighty good hiding-place. Then they must 'a' seen it in the same place every time. Couldn't have hiding-places all over the country promiscuous that a Mohawk couldn't find. Yet I guess after the first time or so they didn't hunt very close. Now where did they see it?”

His lowered gaze noticed the rude outlines traced in the earth by Running Wolf. As he looked down on the marks they became familiar. Stepping to where the Indian had stood, he beheld:

“Stubborn. Wouldn't speak right out in meeting. Probably afraid it would bring him bad luck. So he drew a map with his foot,” mused Putnam. “That irregular line on the right is Shone Creek. The dab at the bottom of it is old Fort Anne. Then the straight up-and-down line must be the road from Fort Edward to the lake. And the horseshoe is the head of the lake. And that's where the mysterious little critter of a black man walks at sunset.

“Well, we must see if he's walking tonight. The Mohawk must 'a' been impressed mighty strong to hunt me up and give me the warning.”

The distance to the creek was about ten miles, and the sun was four hours high. Examining his gun and tightening his belt, he set off at a round pace. Where the trail swung in toward Fort William Henry he made a détour and struck into the Fort Edward road below the fort. The road ran through a swamp, and once clear of this he struck off southeast in a direct line for the abandoned fort.

The more he turned it over the more puzzling it became. The appearance of the man in black had been persistent and confined to one locality, else the superstitious fears of the Mohawks would not have been aroused.

The disappearance of the mysterious being must have been marked by an abruptness and a completeness that had nonplused the Indians. In fact, inimitable hunters of men as they were, the Mohawks must have been so thoroughly startled that they could account for their failure only by ascribing it to the supernatural.

Putnam approached the clearing around the fort with all his cunning, hoping to glimpse the man in black although the sun still rode the horizon. So softly did he tread that he all but stepped on a fox dozing behind a log. Rabbits hopped across his path without taking fright.

On reaching the end of the woods he halted and from behind the shelter of a tree looked out on the bush-ground clearing. On the banks of the creek and directly opposite his position were the remains of log ramparts and earthwords and fallen timbers—all that were left of the old post.

From his hidden position he studied each clump of bushes, seeking some sign of motion among their branches. Except, as a bird lighted on topmost twig or hunted for seeds on the ground, there was no suggestion of life. Insect life droned heavily over the sun-soaked spot, but no birds took the air in fear of what was hidden under alder and cherry branches.

“Deader'n last year's fires,” decided Putnam, hesitating whether to cross the clearing by one of the winding paths or to circle it under cover of the forest.

While he was debating the question he pricked his ears to a shrill, sweet bird-call. A few months back he would have accepted it as genuine. But a mating-song at the end of Summer?

“Cleverly done,” he softly whispered. “And yet not so clever after all. An Indian would know better. If that's the ghost in black then it never gave that signal within hearing of a Mohawk. Expecting some one. Perhaps seen me and thinks I'm that some one.”

He was tempted to essay an answer to the call, but instead began moving around the clearing and keeping well within the forest.

He discoverd nothing to increase his suspicions until he came to a narrow lane that marked an early road from the Hudson to the old fort. This was grown up to briers and bushes and was slashed by the last rays of the sun.

He had halted and was weighing the risk of being seen should he cross it, when he was startled to discern a figure slip behind a tree across the way. It was only a glimpse, scarcely more than a consciousness of motion, as one gets from the corner of the eve. He believed the figure was thin and garbed in black, but whether his eye told him this, or his imagination, he could not decide.

He watched the spot where the figure disappeared and as minutes passed began to doubt if he had seen anything. It might have been a falling leaf, the swaying of a branch or the flight of a bird, distorted and misinterpreted by his oblique vision.

Then it came again, only this time it was much farther away, near where the old road ended at the clearing. As before it came and went before he could analyze it. Still, it was his belief that it was a black figure.

“Damme!” he muttered, ruefully rubbing his nose. “No wonder the Mohawks believe it's devil's work and talk of the Great Heads and go home to dance the Witches' Dance. Just a flicker, that's all. And each time out of the tail of my eye. Bird hopping? No, no. I saw it. Now I must see it fair and square.”

Dropping on his hands and knees, he swiftly made his way through the ancient tree-stumps and through the brambles until he had diagonally crossed the lane. Once in the woods, he rose and hastened to where he had seen the figure vanish.

Now as he pressed forward toward the clearing something impelled him to turn and look back across the road. His eyes bulged in amazement. For an instant he was incapable of action.

Standing by a tree was the figure. It was a man dressed all in black and it did not seem to have any face. He stared at it squarely, but before his brain could function it was gone.

—— full of fiddlers!” he wrathfully exclaimed; and discarding finesse he bounded across the open space in pursuit.

He found nothing. He looked for tracks, but so far as any signs could prove to the contrary the figure might have been an apparition.

“Ghosts don't give bird-calls out of season,” he grimly insisted.


RESUMING his old cunning, he penetrated deeper into the gloomy depths. Here the trees were free from underbrush and grew huge of bole and with much room between their massive trunks. A fan of aisles radiated from any position he might take up. Twilight was well advanced under the thick arch, and yet he could see clearly; more so, he believed, than when the high sun stirred up shimmering heat-waves.

There was a quality in the atmosphere which permitted objects on the edge of his vision to stand out clear cut. And distinctly he beheld it—a slim figure in black, leisurely passing from tree to tree and making toward the Fort William Henry road.

He threw up his rifle and as quickly lowered it. The fellow had not offered him, any harm. It had not resented the pursuit of the friendly Mohawks. It would scarcely be sportsmanlike to fire. The figure passed behind a tree, then reappeared, moving even more slowly. With a yell of “Halt!” Putnam raced after it, whereat it vanished.

Its deliberate retreat, its failure to seek concealment until he gave chase, reminded him of the mother bird fluttering from her nest and simulating a broken wing to decoy some intruder away from her young. Instead of keeping up the pursuit Putnam stole back to the clearing and entered one of the game-paths. The unknown was eager to toll him far into the woods.

But what was there to draw him away from? The woods were open to any scout or prowler. If there was a secret place, a hidden camp where one could rest and cook food, the rather open withdrawal of the strange figure might be understood.

The ranger closed his eyes and reviewed the surrounding country, passing over each possible covert. He could recall no hollow nor cave that was licensed to remain unobserved. On opening his eyes he found himself staring at the ruins of the fort, and his heart gave a little jump of exultation. Many times he had passed the mound of earth and the débris of decaying timbers, but he could not recall any investigation of the ruins.

“Now that would make some sense to all this foolishness,” he told himself as he began crawling closer to the creek.

The sun lost its balance on the rugged horizon and slipped below the grim mountain wall. In swarmed the dusk.

Putnam remained motionless, his eyes fixed on the ruins. He counted until he had measured off a score of minutes, then stopped.

Before him stood the man in black. He was several rods away and his thin figure blended with the dark background and the straight lines of fallen and fire-charred beams. If the ranger had not been watching for such an appearance he would have mistaken it for an upright timber. As he watched the figure moved over some earthworks and was gone.

“If it ain't a ghost it'll get hungry and have to eat,” mused Putnam, shifting his gun to his left hand and drawing his ax.

The twilight now crept above the crown of the forest and became leavened with dusk. It was impossible to make out objects across the clearing. The ranger sniffed several times and nodded his head triumphantly. The reek of burning wood was perceptible. The unknown was cooking rations.

Creeping to the edge of the ruins, Putnam began reconnoitering the en rampart. Selecting a section that seemed free of débris, he crawled to the top and ducked his head and stifled a cough. Directly under his nose was issuing a thin stream of smoke.

The situation was clear to him now. Some one had a hiding-place beneath the rampart. Some one was risking a small fire, knowing the smoke could not be seen in the darkness.

Gingerly feeling his way, Putnam descended the other side of the rampart and began feeling about. It was several minutes before he discovered a hole. In the daylight it would have appeared to be an opening formed by timbers falling and piling up in a criss-cross jumble with the earth caving in over the mass. But as he passed his hand over the lip of the hole he noted it was worn smooth.

He remembered the time he had crawled underground to get the wolf that had been killing his sheep. Something more than sheep was at stake this time. Finding a rest for his hands, he lowed himself downward until his moccasins rested on hard-packed earth. He was standing upright with his head barely flush with the top of the hole and apparently surrounded by a solid wall of dirt and buried logs. He knew this could not be, and the first pass of his hand located a blanket stretched over an opening.

With the point of his knife he cut a tiny three-cornered opening, and a ray of light rewarded him. Applying an eye, he beheld an underground retreat about a dozen feet square. A handful of dry sticks was burning in a tiny rock fireplace and giving off a minimum of smoke. The smoke found a way out through a crack in the roof.

By the fireplace and with back to the blanket crouched a figure in black. Stuck in a bottle at one side burned-a candle. Near it and suspended from a peg hung a black mask. Putnam now understood why the figure he had stalked seemed to be minus a face, or, as the Mohawk had said, was “without a head.”

Along the earthen wall were various garments hanging from pegs. Prominent in the strange wardrobe was a vividly scarlet coat and breeches and a silver-lace hat. He pronounced it to be the uniform of an English officer. But beside it hung the white and violet of the French regulars; next came the rough garb worn by Rogers Rangers, then the more picturesque fringed hunting-shirt and trousers of a Southern forest-runner. The last was almost identical with the woods clothes worn by Ephraim Willis.

Some fir boughs at one side evidenced frequent occupany of the place. With a sweep of his hand Putnam tore the blanket aside and with his ax half-raised stepped inside.


WITH a shrill scream the figure at the fire twisted about and reached to upset the candle. With a leap Putnam seized the outstretched arm, then released his hold, snatched up the light and stared in amazement at the fear-stricken face.

“”The Lidindick girl!” he exclaimed in huge disgust.

“And you? Who are you?” she hoarsely demanded, drawing back from him.

He held the candle close to his own face and dryly replied—

“I'm the man who caught you going in swimming near the Dieskau Path, and who was silly enough to believe you when you said you'd come to him.”

“Captain Putnam,” she whispered, her face softening in relief. 'Thank —— it's you and not some other.”

He frowned in disapproval of her masculine attire. It was like Willis' ranger's dress except it was made of black cloth and had no fringe.

Round the slim waist was a belt with a loop for an ax. The ax, a knife and a gun stood against the wall near the couch of boughs.

“You oughter be ashamed of yourself,” he gruffly told her, fighting to keep pity out of his voice as he stared into the small face and the big blue eyes. “We caught your partner, Cap'n Pean.”

“Caught him?” she whispered tremulously. “And he's——

“Not yet. Probably will be although he says he isn't a spy. But we found a paper on him that oughter send him to the noose.”

“Oh, not that!” she passionately cried. “He was just acting as messenger.”

“He boasted of being in Albany.”

“It was I who got the paper. I swear it.”

“Whose scarlet uniform is that?”

“Mine.”

“Nonsense. Ten times too big for you. If you can't do, it well don't try to lie at all, little woman.'

“They are my father's,” she sadly confessed.

He glanced over the array and nodded his head slowly. Then he advanced the light to the scarlet uniform and picked a blackberry leaf from under a button and gave it a glance.

“Your father did not wear this coat in here,” he accused. “It's not many hours since this leaf grew on the bush. I'm afraid your friend Cap'n Pean spoke the truth when he said he had been in Albany.”

She refused to speak but stood before him, her small hands clenched.

“It makes it bad for you—that paper I took from him. Bad, whether you or he got it.”

He watched her warily but she lowered her eyes that he might not read her thoughts, and he continued:

“The paper I took from Pean was in a woman's hand of write. You copied the 'riginal and gave him the copy. I want the 'riginal—now.”

“I don't suppose you'll search me,” she said, her voice suddenly becoming mocking and her eyes dancing recklessly. “You with four girls of your own.”

“I'll have that paper,” vowed Putnam, his anger rising. “You young she-devil, do you know what your meddling will do if it ain't stopped? It'll bring a second Braddock's defeat with the Indians killing and burning right up to the hill fort in Albany. Now hand over that paper.”

She darted toward the opening, but he caught her with his free hand and drew her back.

“Release me! You have daughters, you said.” And this time there was no defiance in her voice.

“Aye; and there are other fathers along the upper Hudson who have little girls. And by the grace of God they're going to keep them from the ax and stake of Montcalm's hair-dressers.”

“The English use Indians,” she cried. “That they don't use more is simply because they can't get them. Do you think I love thoughts of bloodshed? Do I risk my neck as a spy because I enjoy it? It is my duty. It is for my mother's country. I'm French. You' can't have the paper. I dare you to touch me.”

“You—you young hussy!” groaned Putnam, bewildered by her rapid change of front. “What you need is a good birching. You little fool! Do you think Loudoun'll spare that slim neck of yours if he knows the desperate chance you're trying to force on him?

“No, I can't search you. But I can take you to Fort William Henry and the sutler's wife shall search you.”

Her eyes blazed in triumph. She dropped her lids, but not quickly enough to prevent his reading her great joy.

“Oh, you won't have any chance to talk with Cap'n Pean,” he warned. “He was the man you was whistling to, I take it. Only birds don't sound their mating-call after their families have grown up and are getting their own living.”

He paused and studied her keenly. Now the small face was under control but he knew she was secretly gloating over something. No; it did not disappoint her to hear she could not see the Frenchman. Yet she was pleased to be taken a prisoner to the fort, he believed.

“Are you ready?” he harshly asked.

She betrayed herself by eagerly taking a step toward the exit. He pulled her back, and, placing a hand under her chin, gently lifted her head until he could stare steadily into the small oval face.

“Tickled into fits to go to the fort and be searched by the sutler's wife,” he muttered. “Mighty well pleased to leave this hole. Why? Because you're keen to get me away from here. Because the paper isn't on you. It's here somewhere. Ah! A bull's-eye! Dead center!” he cried as her eyes dilated in great fear.

“Warm! Now let's see.”

He swept his gaze back along the row of garments and discovered a dress of homespun, the only feminine gear there.

“Your gown. Uniform worn by Pean. Rest belong to Jan the—Jan Lidindick.”

“What of it? You can't hurt him now. I'm proud of what he did to help my mother's country,” she sullenly said.

“Now we've found the hiding-place the clothes ain't much importance,” Putnam admitted. “Now to find the paper. It's here. You're keen to risk the trip to the fort to get me out of this place. You're hoping to escape and get back here or to get word to some frog-eater to come here and get the paper.”

She laughed derisively.

“Very good. Find it if it's here.”

Now she was composed and confident.

Putnam frowned and rubbed his nose. He had lost ground. He had had her near the breaking-point. Now she had a fresh grip on herself and it would be difficult to obtain any help from-her.

“You had better——

She halted and bit her lip. A drop of the melted tallow fell on his hand and completed the warning she had thoughtlessly commenced.

“—hurry, as the candle won't last but a couple of minutes longer, eh?” he mused. “Started to tell me before you thought. Shows that either you're honest at heart, Elizabeth Lidindick, or else fear we'll have trouble in quitting this place in the dark. Last don't make any sense. Guess there's an honest spot in your heart. Poor Ephraim Willis has grieved a heap on your account.”

“Poor Ephraim Willis?” she faltered, her eyes widening with terror. “He is well? Quite well?”

“I suppose so. Had a knife-wound in his leg last time I saw him. We was near this clearing. Huh! We shot a Indian carrying a message from you. Now I know why he was so far south of the lake. He come here to get it. We caught him going away.”

She shuddered and twisted her fingers together convulsively.

“Poor lad! Poor Ephraim Willis!” she whispered, burying her face in her hands.

“More play-acting to kill time till the candle goes out——

“How dare you?” she hissed; lifting her head and revealing eyes that blazed through tears.

“Good Lord, child! What next?” roared the exasperated ranger. “Enough of this foolishness. We're going to get out of this hole. And we're going to take the paper with us. Then I'll see if you can't be shut up somewhere so you can't give any more help to Montcalm or get yourself hung.”

“How will you find it?” she taunted.

“You'll tell me where it is.”

“Not to save my life. Kill me if you will.”

“You little fool. You'll tell me without opening your lips. You'll tell me and I won't do nothing but hold your hand gently, like this.”

And as he spoke he took her limp hand and slid his grasp up along the wrist.

Much puzzled and a bit fearful, she stared at him, then threw back her head and laughed scornfully.

“Are you crazy? Or do you think you can read my thoughts? Or perhaps you're one of those Salem witches?”

“Some of my folks helped stop that cruel business,” he simply replied. “Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think so. Now we'll begin. I'll ask questions, but it ain't necessary for you to bother with answering them. Just to hear myself talk, I guess.”

“I'm glad you don't expect me to talk,” she politely remarked.


HE SET the candle to one side and drew the girl back so she could not extinguish it, and then began—

“You hid the paper in the clothes, in some of the clothes.” He paused and as he had expected her pulse continued beating smoothly. He laughed quietly and shifted his attack by saying:

“You dug a hole in the wall and put the paper in it. Wrong? I'm not surprized.”

“What are you trying to do with me?” she asked, her voice strained and worried.

“I'm just waiting for you to tell me where the paper is.”

“You'll never know that from my lips.”

“I don't expect to. But we'll have patience,” he soothed.

Then suddenly:

“Its under the fir bough. No? Wrong again of course. Now let's see. “A small kettle on the fire. Not in that. Of course, it couldn't be. You didn't expect me to come here and you haven't hid it since you came here.

“So you must have had it hidden when you come in. But not on your person, else you wouldn't be so keen to be searched at the fort. Yet you brought it with you, hid in its usual place. Ah! That does tell on you! Getting warmer now.”

And without glancing at her he felt her pulse race madly for a part of a minute. Gradually it quieted down but did not quite return to normal.

“Brought it with you in the place you've been carrying it,” he repeated slowly. “I've thought of everything in this hole and it ain't in anything you found here: when you come in. Brought it with you, but not on your person. Brought it tucked in something you fetched in here. It can't be in your ax or your knife.”

He waited and felt the telltale life-current surge and beat most madly.

“But there is your gun!” he sharply completed.

With a shrill cry she endeavored to wrench her wrist loose. He held her fast, saying:

“I don't want to hurt you, so don't hurt yourself. But I must, have that paper, child. You've done your best, but your blood can't lie no matter how much you train your tongue.”

“Let me go! Let me go!” she shrieked, kicking madly toward the fragment of candle.

He held her at arm's length and stooped and snatched up the gun and fired it against the wall.

She screamed in pain as he released his hold, not in physical pain, but in anguish that he should have discovered the prize. As he grabbed up the fragments of smoldering paper she ducked under his arm and kicked the dying candle from the bottle.

The scream and the explosion of the gun had been heard by some one outside, for now both the girl and the ranger heard the sound of heavy pounding on the roof of the underground chamber, and loose dirt began falling into the fire. With a bound the girl was under the blanket and swarming from the hole, shrilly calling:

“Help! Help! Who will help a woman!”

Stuffing the bits of paper inside his hunting-shirt, Putnam followed after her and gained the well just as strong hands lifted her over the edge.

“If you love me stop him!” he heard her plead.

With a bound Putnam leaped up and caught his hands on a beam and drew himself half out of the hole when a heavy body fell upon him and violent hands fumbled at his throat. Over and over they rolled, Putnam fighting for his life and taken at a disadvantage because his assailant had half a grip on his throat and seemed possessed of the devils' own nimbleness.

At last Putnam got his knees under him, violently bucked up his back, all but dislodging his antagonist, and succeeded in breaking the clutch at his throat. With a deep, bull-like roar he began a smashing offensive that carried his man backward. They were in the bottom of a trench and could see nothing. Each furious lunge invited impalement on some sharp stake.

“Now, you frog-eater!'” roared Putnam, securing both hands in a branny throat.

—— my blood!” choked the other.

“What?” yelled Putnam. “Ephraim Willis! You big fool!”

“Israel Putnam!” choked Willis, crawling blindly to his feet and caressing his throat. “In ——'s name, what were you doing to that poor girl?”

“Saving the little fool from the noose,” snapped Putnam. “What the —— do you mean by pitching into your officer, sir?”

“I didn't know it was you,” moaned Willis. “There was the gunshot, then the scream. I knew it was a woman. I believed she was in terrible danger. Then she crawled out of the earth at my feet. I spoke and she knew me. She asked me to save her. I thought— Heaven knows what I thought.”

“Well, I suppose you're satisfied by this time I wasn't trying to shoot her,” growled Putnam. “And she's satisfied, seeing as how she got us two to fighting so she could have a chance to get away.”

“I'm after her——

“You're not. Not now. No more chance then you have of being named governor of New France. I took a paper away from her. One that would have put us all in pickle if it fell into Montcalm's hands. It is a list of our troops, giving our full strength and showing where the men are distributed. There were two of them——

“Three, unless you're counting the one I got back in Albany. I had my head nearly knocked-off. There's a spy, dresses in a scarlet uniform of the Jersey Blues. Is he down in that hole? —— his liver, I'll kill him.”

“Softly. None of that, lad, or I'll put you under guard for the rest of the war. Cap'n Pean may hang for a spy, but he mustn't have any Indian tricks played on him.”

“Pean? Oh, Lord! What luck! Such —— luck!” groaned Willis. “I've just come from Fort William Henry. They told me to tell you, if we met, that your prisoner escaped from the guard-house. And I never suspected he was Sergeant Enoch Champers of the Jersey Blues, and the man who I would have bagged in Albany if not for that little spit-fire.”

“Did he get the paper back?”

“I guess not. They didn't mention it. He got away right after they put him under guard. Slippery devil. Now he's loose. The girl may meet him. I must find her.”

“Let her go. Why follow her? I have her paper.”

“I must find her because she nearly stove my head in—and—and was sorry for doing it. Said she was sorry——

“Sorry she didn't do a good job, I guess,” fumed Putnam, feeling about and finding his rifle. “Mighty little she cared for our feelings when she got us to fighting each other like she did. Well, this hiding-place won't serve her any more, and I don't believe she'll steal any more papers in Albany.”

“She didn't steal this paper. Pean, dressed as a sergeant in Shirley's old regiment, walked up to the window and reached in and took it off a desk. Hark! A signal!”

It was the bird-call Putnam had heard a few hours before. It ended and then a sweet young voice mellowly called across the clearing:

“Ephraim Willis! Ephraim Willis! I love you, Ephraim Willis!”