To Have and to Hold

XXVIII.

IN WHICH I AM IN PRISON AND AM VISITED.

TIRED of dicing against myself, and of the books that Rolfe had sent me, I betook myself to the gaol window, and, leaning against the bars, looked out in search of entertainment. The nearest if not the merriest thing the prospect had to offer was the pillory. It was built so tall that it was but little lower than the low upper story of the gaol, and it faced my window at so short a distance that I could hear the long, whistling breath of the wretch who happened to occupy it. It was not a pleasant sound ; neither was a livid face, new branded on the cheek with a great R, and with a trickle of dark blood from the mutilated ears staining the board in which the head was immovably fixed, a pleasant sight. A little to one side was the whipping post: a woman had been whipped that morning, and her cries had tainted the air even more effectually than had the decayed matter with which certain small devils had pelted the runaway in the pillory. I looked away from the poor rogue below me into the clear, hard brightness of the March day, and was most heartily weary of the bars between me and it. The wind blew keenly ; the sky was blue as blue could be, and the river a great ribbon of azure sewn with diamonds. All colors were vivid and all distances near. There was no haze over the forest; brown and bare it struck the cloudless blue. The marsh was emerald, the green of the pines deep and rich, the budding maples redder than coral. The church, with the low green graves around it, appeared not a stone’s throw away, and the voices of the children up and down the street sounded clearly, as though they played in the brown square below me. When the drum beat for the nooning the roll was close in my ears. The world looked so bright and keen that it seemed new made, and the brilliant sunshine and the cold wind stirred the blood like wine.

Now and then men and women passed through the square below. Well-nigh all glanced up at the window, and their eyes were friendly. It was known now that Buckingham was paramount at home, and my Lord Carnal’s following in Virginia was much decayed. Young Hamor rode by, bravely dressed and whistling cheerily, and doffed a hat with a most noble broken feather. “ We ’re going to bait a bear below the fort! ” he called. “ Sorry you 'll miss the sport! There will be all the world — and my Lord Carnal.” He whistled himself away, and presently there came along Master Edward Sharpless. He stopped and stared at the rogue in the pillory, — with no prescience, I suppose, of a day when he was to stand there himself; then looked up at me with as much malevolence as his small soul could write upon his mean features, and passed on. He had a jaded look ; moreover, his clothes were swampstained and his cloak had been torn by briers. “ What did you go to the forest for ?” I muttered.

The key grated in the door behind me, and it opened to admit the gaoler and Diccon with my dinner, — which I was not sorry to see. “ Sir George sent the venison, sir,” said the gaoler, grinning, “ and Master Piersey the wild fowl, and Madam West the pasty and the marchpane, and Master Pory the sack. Be there anything you lack, sir ? ”

“ Nothing that you can supply,” I answered curtly.

The fellow grinned again, straightened the things upon the table, and started for the door. “ You can stay until I come for the platters,” he said to Diccon, and went out, locking the door after him with ostentation.

I applied myself to the dinner, and Diccon went to the window, and stood there looking out at the blue sky and the man in the pillory. He had the freedom of the gaol. I was somewhat more straitly confined, though my friends had easy access to me. As for Jeremy Sparrow, he had spent twenty-four hours in gaol, at the end of which time Madam West had a fit of the spleen, declared she was dying, and insisted upon Master Sparrow’s being sent for to administer consolation ; Master Bucke, unfortunately, having gone up to Henricus on business connected with the college. From the bedside of that despotic lady Sparrow was called to bury a man on the other side of the river, and from the grave to marry a couple at Mulberry Island. And the next day being Sunday, and no minister at hand, he preached again in Master Bucke’s pulpit, — and preached a sermon so powerful and moving that its like had never been heard in Virginia. They marched him not back from the pulpit to gaol. There were but five ministers in Virginia, and there were a many more sick to visit and dead to bury. Master Bucke, still feeble in body, tarried up river discussing with Thorpe the latter’s darling project of converting every imp of an Indian this side the South Sea, and Jeremy slipped into his old place. There had been some talk of a public censure, but it died away.

The pasty and sack disposed of, I turned in my seat and spoke to Diccon : “ I looked for Master Rolfe to-day. Have you heard aught of him ? ”

“ No,” he answered. As lie spoke, the door was opened and the gaoler put in his head. “ A messenger from Master Rolfe, captain.” He drew back, and the Indian Nantauquas entered the room.

Rolfe I had seen twice since the arrival of the George at Jamestown, but the Indian had not been with him. The youngchief now came forward and touched the hand I held out to him. " My brother will be here before the sun touches the tallest pine,” he announced in his grave, calm voice. “ He asks Captain Percy to deny himself to any other that may come. He wishes to see him alone.”

“ I shall hardly be troubled with company,” I said. " There ’s a bear-baiting toward.”

Nantauquas smiled. “ My brother asked me to find a bear for to-day. I bought one from the Paspaheghs for a piece of copper, and took him to the ring below the fort.”

“ Where all the town will presently be gone,” I said. “ I wonder what Rolfe did that for ? ”

Filling a cup with sack, I pushed it to the Indian across the table. 44 You are little in the woods nowadays, Nantauquas.”

His fine dark face clouded ever so slightly. " Opechancanough has dreamt that I am Indian no longer. Singingbirds have lied to him, telling him that I love the white man, and hate my own color. He calls me no more his brave, his brother Powhatan’s dear son. I do not sit by his council fire now, nor do I lead his war bands. When I went last to his lodge and stood before him, his eyes burned me like the coals the Monacans once closed my hands upon. He would not speak to me.”

“ It would not fret me if he never spoke again,” I said. " You have been to the forest to-day ? ”

“Yes,” he replied, glancing at the smear of leaf mould upon his beaded moccasins. “Captain Percy’s eyes are quick ; he should have been an Indian. I went to the Paspaheghs to take them the piece of copper. I could tell Captain Percy a curious thing ” —

“ Well ? ” I demanded, as he paused.

“I went to the lodge of the werowance with the copper, and found him not there. The old men declared that he had gone to the weirs for fish, — he and ten of his braves. The old men lied. I had passed the weirs of the Paspaheghs, and no man was there. I sat and smoked before the lodge, and the maidens brought me chinquapin cakes and pohickory ; for Nantauquas is a prince and a welcome guest to all save Opechancanough. The old men smoked, with their eyes upon the ground, each seeing only the days when he was even as Nantauquas. They never knew when a wife of the werowance, turned child by pride, unfolded a doeskin and showed Nantauquas a silver cup carved all over and set with colored stones.”

“Humph! ”

“The cup was a heavy price to pay,” continued the Indian. “I do not know what great thing it bought.”

“ Humph ! ” I said again. " Did you happen to meet Master Edward Sharpless in the forest ? ”

He shook his head. " The forest is wide, and there are many trails through it. Nantauquas looked for that of the werowance of the Paspaheghs, but found it not. He had no time to waste upon a white man.”

He gathered his otterskin mantle about him and prepared to depart. I rose and gave him my hand, for I thoroughly liked him, and in the past he had made me his debtor. " Tell Rolfe he will find me alone,” I said, " and take my thanks for your pains, Nantauquas. If ever we hunt together again, may I have the chance to serve you! I bear the scars of the wolf’s teeth yet ; you came in the nick of time, that day.”

The Indian smiled. “ It was a fierce old wolf. I wish Captain Percy free with all my heart, and then we will hunt more wolves, he and I.”

When he was gone, and the gaoler and Diccon with him, I returned to the window. The runaway in the pillory was released, and went away homewards, staggering beside his master’s stirrup. Passers-by grew more and more infrequent, and up the street came faint sounds of laughter and hurrahing, — the bear must be making good sport. I could see the half-moon, and the guns, and the flag that streamed in the wind, and on the river a sail or two, white in the sunlight as the gulls that swooped past. Beyond rose the bare masts of the George. The Santa Teresa rode no more forever in the James. The King’s ship was gone home to the King without the freight he looked for. Three days, and the George would spread her white wings and go down the wide river, and I with her, and the King’s ward, and the King’s sometime favorite. I looked down the windruffled stream, and saw the great bay into which it emptied, and beyond the bay the heaving ocean, dark and light, league on league, league on league ; then green England, and London, and the Tower. The vision disturbed me less than once it would have done. Men that I knew and trusted were to be passengers on that ship, as well as one I knew and did not trust. And if, at the journey’s end, I saw the Tower, I saw also his Grace of Buckingham. Where I hated he hated, and was now powerful enough to strike. He would soon know that my Lord Carnal was not of the dead. One of the ships forming the consort of the George, while still in Southern waters, had turned back to England with letters from Sir Francis Wyatt and Master Sandys to the Company, and from my lord to the King. Men said that the knowledge that his rival lived would not greatly disconcert the now all-powerful duke, — might even give a new zest to the dinner of that day on which he should learn the news.

The wind blew from the west, from the unknown. I turned my head, and it beat against my forehead, cold and fragrant with the essence of the forest, — pine and cedar, dead leaves and black mould, fen and hollow and hill, — all the world of woods over which it had passed. The ghost of things long dead, which face or voice could never conjure up, will sometimes start across our path at the beckoning of an odor. A day in the Starving Time came back to me : how I had dragged myself from our broken palisade and crazy huts, and the groans of the famished and the plague-stricken, and the presence of the unburied dead, across the neck and into the woods, and had lain down there to die, being taken with a sick fear and horror of the place of cannibals behind me ; and how weak I was ! — too weak to care any more. I had been a strong man, and it had come to that, and I was content to let it be. The smell of the woods that day, the chill brown earth beneath me, the blowing wind, the long stretch of the river gleaming between the pines, . . . and fair in sight the white sails of the Patience and the Deliverance . . .

I had been too nigh gone then to greatly care that I was saved; now I cared, and thanked God for my life. Come what might in the future, the past was mine. Though I should never see my wife again, I had that hour in the state cabin of the George. I loved, and was loved again.

There was a noise outside the door, and Rolfe’s voice speaking to the gaoler. Impatient for his entrance I started toward the door, but when it opened he made no move to cross the threshold. “I am not coming in,”he said, with a face that he strove to keep grave. “ I only came to bring some one else.” With that he stepped back, and a second figure, coming forward out of the dimness behind him, crossed the threshold. It was a woman, cloaked and hooded. The door was drawn to behind her, and we were alone together.

Beside the cloak and hood she wore a riding mask. “ Do you know who it is? ” she asked, with a low laugh, when she had stood, so shrouded, for a long minute, during which I had found no words with which to welcome her.

“Yea,” I answered: “the princess in the fairy tale.”

She freed her dark hair from its covering, and unclasping her cloak let it drop to the floor. “ Shall I unmask ? ” she asked, with a sigh. “ Faith ! I should keep the bit of silk between your eyes, sir, and my blushes. Am I ever to be the forward one ? Do you not think me too bold a lady ? ” As she spoke, her white hands were busy about the fastening of her mask. “ The knot is too hard,” she murmured, with a little tremulous laugh and a catch of her breath.

I untied the ribbons.

“ May I not sit down ? ” she said plaintively, but with soft merriment in her eyes. “ I am not quite strong yet. My heart — you do not know what pain I have in my heart sometimes. It makes me weep of nights and when none are by, indeed it does ! ”

There was a settle beneath the window. I led her to it, and she sat down.

“You must know that I am walking in the Governor’s garden, that hath only a lane between it and the gaol.” Her eyes were downcast, her cheeks pure rose.

“ When did you first love me ? ” I demanded.

“ Lady Wyatt must have guessed why Master Rolfe alone went not to the bearbaiting, but joined us in the garden. She said the air was keen, and fetched me her mask, and then herself went indoors to embroider Samson in the arms of Delilah.”

“ Was it here at Jamestown, or was it when we were first wrecked, or on the island with the pink hill when you wrote my name in the sand, or ” —

“ The George will sail in three days, and we are to be taken back to England after all. It does not scare me now.”

“ In all my life I have kissed you only once,” I said.

The rose deepened, and in her eyes there was laughter, with tears behind. “ You are a gentleman of determination,” she said. “ If you are bent upon having your way, I do not know that I — that I — can help myself. I do not even know that I want to help myself.”

Outside the wind blew and the sun shone, and the laughter from below the fort was too far away and elfin to jar upon us. The world forgot us, and we were well content. There seemed not much to say: I suppose we were too happy for words. I knelt beside her, and she laid her hands in mine, and now and then we spoke. In her short and lonely life, and in my longer stern and crowded one, there had been little tenderness, little happiness. In her past, to those about her, she had seemed bright and gay ; I had been a comrade whom men liked because I could jest as well as fight. Now we were happy, but we were not gay. Each felt for the other a great compassion ; each knew that though we smiled to day, the groan and the tear might be to-morrow’s due ; the sunshine around us was pure gold, but that the clouds were mounting we knew full well.

“ I must soon be gone,” she said at last. “ It is a stolen meeting. I do not know when we shall meet again.”

She rose from the settle, and I rose with her, and we stood together beside the barred window. There was no danger of her being seen ; street and square were left to the wind and the sunshine. My arm was around her, and she leaned her head against my breast. “ Perhaps we shall never meet again,” she breathed.

“ The winter is over,” I answered. “ Soon the trees will be green and the flowers in bloom. I will not believe that our spring can have no summer.”

She took from her bosom a little flower that had been pinned there. It lay, a purple star, in the hollow of her hand. “ It grew in the sun. It is the first flower of spring.” She put it to her lips, then laid it upon the window ledge beside my hand. “I have brought you evil gifts, — foes and strife and peril. Will you take this little purple flower — and all my heart beside ? ”

I bent and kissed first the tiny blossom, and then the lips that had proffered it. “ I am very rich,” I said.

The sun was now low, and the pines in the square and the upright of the pillory cast long shadows. The wind had fallen and the sounds had died away. It seemed very still. Nothing moved but the creeping shadows until a flight of small white-breasted birds went past the window. “The snow is gone,” I said. “ The snowbirds are flying north.”

“The woods will soon be green,” she murmured wistfully. “ Ah, if we could ride through them once more, back to Weyanoke ” —

“ To home,” I said.
“ Home,” she echoed softly.

There was a low knocking at the door behind us. “It is Master Rolfe’s signal,” she said. “ I must not stay. Tell me that you love me, and let me go.”

I drew her closer to me and pressed my lips upon her bowed head. “ Do you not know that I love you ? ” I asked.

“Yea,” she answered. “I have been taught it. Tell me that you believe that God will be good to us. Tell me that we shall be happy yet; for oh, I have a boding heart this day !”

Her voice broke, and she lay trembling in my arms, her face hidden. “ If the summer never comes for us ” — she whispered. “ Good-by, my lover and my husband. If I have brought you ruin and death, I have brought you, too, a love that is very great. Forgive me and kiss me, and let me go.”

“ Thou art my dearly loved and honored wife,” I said. “ My heart forebodes summer, and joy, and peace, and home.”

We kissed each other solemnly, as those who part for a journey and a warfare. I spoke no word to Rolfe when the door was opened and she had passed out with her cloak drawn about her face, but we clasped hands, and each knew the other for his friend indeed. They were gone, the gaoler closing and locking the door behind them. As for me, I went back to the settle beneath the window, and, falling on my knees beside it, buried my face in my arms.

XXIX.

IN WHICH I KEEP TRYST.

The sun dropped below the forest, blood red, dyeing the river its own color. There were no clouds in the sky, — only a great suffusion of crimson climbing to the zenith ; against it the woods were as black as war paint. The color faded and the night set in, a night of no wind and of numberless stars. On the hearth burned a fire. I left the window and sat beside it, and in the hollows between the red embers made pictures, as I used to make them when. I was a boy.

I sat there long. It grew late, and all sounds in the town were hushed ; only now and then the “ All ’s well! ” of the watch came faintly to my ears. Diccon lodged with me ; he lay in his clothes upon a pallet in the far corner of the room, but whether he slept or not I did not ask. He and I had never wasted words; since chance had thrown us together again we spoke only when occasion required.

The fire was nigh out, and it must have been ten of the clock when, with somewhat more of caution and less of noise than usual, the key grated in the lock ; the door opened, and the gaoler entered, closing it noiselessly behind him. There was no reason why he should intrude himself upon me after nightfall, and I regarded him with a frown and an impatience that presently turned to curiosity.

He began to move about the room, making pretense of seeing that there was water in the pitcher beside my pallet, that the straw beneath the coverlet was fresh, that the bars of the window were firm, and ended by approaching the fire and heaping pine upon it. It flamed up brilliantly, and in the strong red light he half opened a clenched hand and showed me two gold pieces, and beneath them a folded paper. I looked at his furtive eyes and brutal, doltish face, but he kept them blank as a wall. The hand closed again over the treasure within it, and he turned away as if to leave the room. I drew a noble — one of a small store of gold pieces conveyed to me by Rolfe — from my pocket, and stooping made it spin upon the hearth in the red firelight. The gaoler looked at it askance, but continued his progress toward the door. I drew out its fellow, set it too to spinning, then leaned back against the table. “ They hunt in couples,” I said. “There will be no third one.”

He had his foot upon them before they had done spinning. The next moment they had kissed the two pieces already in his possession, and he had transferred all four to his pocket. I held out my hand for the paper, and he gave it to me grudgingly, with a spiteful slowness of movement. He would have stayed beside me as I read it, but I sternly bade him keep his distance ; then kneeling before the fire to get the light, I opened the paper. It was written upon in a delicate, woman’s hand, and it ran thus : —

“ An you hold me dear, come to me at once. Come without tarrying to the deserted hut on the neck of land, nearest to the forest, As you love me, as you are my knight, keep this tryst.

In distress and peril,

THY WIFE.”

Folded with it was a line in the commander’s hand and with his signature : “ The bearer may pass without the palisade at his pleasure,”

I read the first paper again, refolded it, and rose to my feet. “ Who brought this, sirrah ? ” I demanded.

His answer was glib enough : “ One of the Governor’s servants. He said as how there was no harm in the letter, and the gold was good.”

“ When was this ? ”

“Just now. No, I did n’t know the man.”

I saw no way to discover whether or not he lied. Drawing out my handful of gold pieces, I laid two side by side upon the table. He eyed them greedily, edging nearer and nearer.

“For leaving this door unlocked,” I said.

His eyes narrowed and he moistened his lips, shifting from one foot to the other.

I put down another piece. “ For opening the outer door,” I said.

He wet his lips again, made an inarticulate sound in his throat, and finally broke out with, “ The commander will nail my ears to the pillory.”

“ You can lock the doors after me, and know as little as you choose in the morning. No gain without some risk.”

“ That ’s so. ” he agreed, and made a clutch at the gold.

I swept it out of his reach. “ First earn it,” I said dryly. “ Look at the foot of the pillory an hour from now and you ’ll find it. I 'll not pay you this side of the doors.”

He bit his lips and studied the floor. “ You ’re a gentleman,” he growled at last. “ I suppose I can trust ye.”

“ I suppose you can.”

Taking up his lantern he turned toward the door, “ It’s growing late,” he said, with a most uncouth attempt to feign a guileless drowsiness. “ I 'll to bed, captain, when I ’ve locked up. Good-night to ye ! ”

He was gone, and the door was left unlocked. I could walk out of that gaol as I could have walked out of my house at Weyanoke. I was free, but should I take my freedom ? Going back to the light of the fire I unfolded the paper and stared at it, turning its contents this way and that in my mind. The hand — but once had I seen her writing, and then it had been wrought with a shell upon firm sand. I could not judge if this were the same. Had the paper indeed come from her ? Had it not ? If in truth it was a message from my wife, what had befallen in the few hours since our parting ? If it was a forger’s lie, what trap was set, what toils were laid ? I walked up and down, and tried to think it out. The strangeness of it all, the choice of a lonely and distant hut for trysting place, that pass coming from a sworn officer of the Company, certain things I had heard that day ... A trap . . . and to walk into it with my eyes open. . . . An you hold me dear. As you are my knight, keep this tryst. In distress and peril.

. . . Come what might, there was a risk I could not run.

I had no weapons to assume, no preparations to make. Gathering up the gaoler’s gold I started toward the door, opened it, and going out would have closed it softly behind me but that a booted leg thrust across the jamb prevented me. “ I am going with you,” said Diccon in a guarded voice. “ If you try to prevent me, I will rouse the house.” His head was thrown back in the old way ; the old daredevil look was upon his face. “ I don’t know why you are going,” he declared, “ but there ’ll be danger, anyhow.”

“ To the best of my belief I am walking into a trap,” I said.

“ Then it will shut on two instead of one,” he answered doggedly.

By this he was through the door, and there was no shadow of turning on his dark, determined face. I knew my man, and wasted no more words. Long ago it had grown to seem the thing most in nature that the hour of danger should find us side by side.

When the door of the firelit room was shut, the gaol was in darkness that might be felt. It was very still: the few other inmates were fast asleep ; the gaoler was somewhere out of sight, dreaming with open eyes. We groped our way through the passage to the stairs, noiselessly descended them, and found the outer door unchained, unbarred, and slightly ajar.

When I had laid the gold beneath the pillory, we struck swiftly across the square, being in fear lest the watch should come upon us, and took the first lane that led toward the palisade. Beneath the burning stars the town lay stark in sleep. So bright in the wintry air were those far-away lights that the darkness below them was not great. We could see the low houses, the shadowy pines, the naked oaks, the sandy lane glimmering away to the river, starstrewn to match the heavens. The air was cold, but exceedingly clear and still. Now and then a dog barked, or wolves howled in the forest across the river. We kept in the shadow of the houses and the trees, and went with the swiftness, silence, and caution of Indians.

The last house we must pass before reaching the palisade was one that Rolfe owned, and in which he lodged when business brought him to Jamestown. It and some low outbuildings beyond it were as dark as the cedars in which they were set, and as silent as the grave. Rolfe and his Indian brother were sleeping there now, while I stood without. Or did they sleep ? Were they there at all? Might it not have been Rolfe who had bribed the gaoler and procured the pass from West ? Might I not find him at that strange trysting place ? Might not all be well, after all ? I was sorely tempted to rouse that silent house and demand if its master were within. I did it not. Servants were there, and noise would be made, and time that might be more precious than life blood was flying fast. I went on, and Diccon with me.

There was a cabin built almost against the palisade, and here one man was supposed to watch, whilst another slept. To-night we found both asleep. I shook the younger to his feet, and heartily cursed him for his negligence. He listened stupidly, and read as stupidly, by the light of his lantern, the pass which I thrust beneath his nose. Staggering to his feet, and drunk with his unlawful slumber, he fumbled at the fastenings of the gate for full three minutes before the ponderous wood finally swung open and showed the road beyond. " It ’s all right,” he muttered thickly. “ The commander’s pass. Good-night, the three on ye! ”

“ Are you drunk or drugged ? ” I demanded. “ There are only two. It’s not sleep that is the matter with you. What is it ? ”

He made no answer, but stood holding the gate open and blinking at us with dull, unseeing eyes. Something ailed him besides sleep; he may have been drugged, for aught I know. When we had gone some yards from the gate, we heard him say again, in precisely the same tone, “ Good-night, the three on ye! ” Then the gate creaked to, and we heard the bars drawn across it.

Without the palisade was a space of waste land, marsh and thicket, tapering to the narrow strip of sand and scrub joining the peninsula to the forest, and here and there upon this waste ground rose a mean house, dwelt in by the poorer sort. All were dark. We left them behind, and found ourselves upon the neck, with the desolate murmur of the river on either hand, and before us the deep blackness of the forest. Suddenly Diccon stopped in his tracks and turned his head. “ I did hear something then,” he muttered. “ Look, sir ! ”

The stars faintly lit the road that had been trodden hard and bare by the feet of all who came and went. Down this road something was coming toward us, something low and dark, that moved not fast, and not slow, but with a measured and relentless pace. “ A panther ! ” said Diccon.

We watched the creature with more of curiosity than alarm. Unless brought to bay, or hungry, or wantonly irritated, these great cats were cowardly enough. It would hardly attack the two of us. Nearer and nearer it came, showing no signs of anger and none of fear, and paying no attention to the withered branch with which Diccon tried to scare it off. When it was so close that we could see the white of its breast it stopped, looking at us with large unfaltering eyes, and slightly moving its tail to and fro.

“ A tame panther! ” ejaculated Diccon. “ It must be the one Nantauquas tamed, sir. He would have kept it somewhere near Master Rolfe’s house.”

“ And it heard us, and followed us through the gate,” I said. “ It was the third the warder talked of.”

We walked on, and the beast, addressing itself to motion, followed at our heels. Now and then we looked back at it, but we feared it not.

As for me, I had begun to think that a panther might be the least formidable thing I should meet that night. By this I had scarcely any hope — or fear — that I should find her at our journey’s end. The lonesome path that led only to the nighttime forest, the deep and dark river with its mournful voice, the hard, bright, pitiless stars, the cold, the loneliness, the distance, — how should she be there ? And if not she, who then ?

The hut to which I had been directed stood in an angle made by the neck and the main bank of the river. On one side of it was the water, on the other a deep wood. The place had an evil name, and no man had lived there since the planter who had built it hanged himself upon its threshold. The hut was ruinous : in the summer tall weeds grew up around it, and venomous snakes harbored beneath its rotted and broken floor; in the winter the snow whitened it, and the wild fowl flew screaming in and out of the open door and the windows that needed no barring. To-night the door was shut and the windows in some way obscured. But the interstices between the logs showed red ; the hut was lighted within, and some one was keeping tryst.

The stillness was deadly. It was not silence, for the river murmured in the stiff reeds, and far off in the midnight forest some beast of the night uttered its cry, but a hush, a holding of the breath, an expectant horror. The door, warped and shrunken, was drawn to, but was not fastened, as I could tell by the unbroken line of red light down one side from top to bottom. Making no sound, I laid my hand upon it, pushed it open a little way, and looked within the hut.

I had thought to find it empty or to find it crowded. It was neither. A torch lit it, and on the hearth burned a fire. Drawn in front of the blaze was an old rude chair, and in it sat a slight figure draped from head to foot in a black cloak. The head was bowed and hidden, the whole attitude one of listlessness and dejection. As I looked, there came a long tremulous sigh, and the head drooped lower and lower, as if in a growing hopelessness.

The revulsion of feeling was so great that for the moment I was dazed as by a sudden blow. There had been time during the walk from the gaol for enough of wild and whirling thoughts as to what should greet me in that hut; and now the slight figure by the fire, the exquisite melancholy of its posture, its bent head, the weeping I could divine, — I had but one thought, to comfort her as quickly as I might. Diccon’s hand was upon my arm, but I shook it off, and pushing the door open crossed the uneven and noisy floor to the fire, and bent over the lonely figure beside it. “Jocelyn,” I said, “I have kept tryst.”

As I spoke, I laid my hand upon the bowed and covered head. It was raised, the cloak was drawn aside, and there looked me in the eyes the Italian.

As if it had been the Gorgon’s gaze, I was turned to stone. The filmy eyes, the smile that would have been mocking had it not been so very faint, the pallor, the malignance, — I stared and stared, and my heart grew cold and sick.

It was but for a minute; then a warning cry from Diccon roused me, I sprang backward until the width of the hearth was between me and the Italian, then wheeled and found myself face to face with the King’s late favorite. Behind him was an open door, and beyond it a small inner room, dimly lighted. He stood and looked at me with an insolence and a triumph most intolerable. His drawn sword was in his hand, the jeweled hilt blazing in the firelight, and on his dark, superb face a taunting smile. I met it with one as bold, at least, but I said no word, good or bad. In the cabin of the George I had sworn to myself that thenceforward my sword should speak for me to this gentleman.

“ You came,” he said. “ I thought you would.”

I glanced around the hut, seeking for a weapon. Seeing nothing more promising than the thick, half-consumed torch, I sprang to it and wrested it from the socket. Diccon caught up a piece of rusted iron from the hearth, and together we faced my lord’s drawn sword and a small, sharp, and strangely shaped dagger that the Italian drew from a velvet sheath.

My lord laughed, reading my thoughts. “ You are mistaken.” he declared coolly. “ I am content that Captain Percy knows I do not fear to fight him. This time I play to win.” Turning toward the outer door, he raised his hand with a gesture of command.

In an instant the room was filled. The red - brown figures, naked save for the loincloth and the headdress, the impassive faces dashed with black, the ruthless eyes, — I knew now why Master Edward Sharpless had gone to the forest, and what service had been bought with that silver cup. The Paspaheghs and I were old enemies ; doubtless they would find their task a pleasant one.

“ My own knaves, unfortunately, were out of the way ; sent home on the Santa Teresa,” said my lord, still smiling. “ I am not yet so poor that I cannot hire others. True, Nicolo might have done the work just now, when you bent over him so lovingly and spoke so softly ; but the river might give up your body to tell strange tales. I have heard that the Indians are more ingenious, and leave no such witness anywhere.”

Before the words were out of his mouth I had sprung upon him, and had caught him by the sword wrist and the throat. He strove to free his hand, to withdraw himself from my grasp. Locked together, we struggled backward and forward in what seemed a blaze of lights and a roaring as of mighty waters, Red hands caught at me, sharp knives panted to drink my blood ; but so fast we turned and writhed, now he uppermost, now I, that for very fear of striking the wrong man hands and knives could not be bold. I heard Diccon fighting, and knew that there would be howling tomorrow among the squaws of the Paspaheghs. With all his might my lord strove to bend the sword against me, and at last did cut me across the arm, causing the blood to flow freely. It made a pool upon the floor, and once my foot slipped in it, and I stumbled and almost fell.

Two of the Paspaheghs were silent for evermore. Diccon had the knife of the first to fall, and it ran red. The Italian, quick and sinuous as a serpent, kept beside my lord and me, striving to bring his dagger to his master’s aid. We two panted hard ; before our eyes blood, within our ears the sea. The noise of the other combatants suddenly fell. The hush could only mean that Diccon was dead or taken. I could not look behind to see. With an access of fury I drove my antagonist toward a corner of the hut, — the corner, so it chanced, in which the panther had taken up its quarters. With his heel he struck the beast out of his way, then made a last desperate effort to throw me. I let him think he was about to succeed, gathered my forces and brought him crashing to the ground. The sword was in my hand and shortened, the point was at his breast, when my arm was jerked backwards. A moment, and half a dozen hands had dragged me from the man beneath me, and a supple savage had passed a thong of deerskin around my arms and pinioned them to my sides. The game was up; there remained only to pay the forfeit without a grimace.

Diccon was not dead ; pinioned, like myself, and breathing hard, he leaned sullenly against the wall, they that he had slain at his feet. My lord rose, and stood over against me. His rich doublet was torn and dragged away at the neck, and my blood stained his hand and arm. A smile was upon the face that had made him master of a kingdom’s master.

“ The game was long,” he said, “ but I have won at last. A long good-night to you, Captain Percy, and a dreamless sleep ! ”

There was a swift backward movement of the Indians, and a loud “ The panther, sir ! Have a care ! ” from Diccon.

I turned. The panther, maddened by the noise and light, the shifting figures, the blocked doors, the sight and smell of blood, the blow that had been dealt it, was crouching for a spring. The redbrown hair was bristling, the eyes were terrible. I was before it, but those glaring eyes had marked me not. It passed me like a bar from a catapult, and the man whose heel it had felt was full in its path. One of its forefeet sank in the velvet of the doublet; the claws of the other entered the flesh below the temple, and tore downwards and across. With a cry as awful as the panther’s scream the Italian threw himself upon the beast and buried his poniard in its neck. The panther and the man it had attacked went down together.

When the Indians had unlocked that dread embrace and had thrust aside the dead brute, there emerged from the dimness of the inner room Master Edward Sharpless, gray with fear, trembling in every limb, to take the reins that had fallen from my lord’s hands. The King’s minion lay in his blood, a ghastly spectacle; unconscious now, but with life before him, — life through which to pass a nightmare vision. The face out of which had looked that sullen, proud, and wicked spirit had been one of great beauty ; it had brought him exceeding wealth and power beyond measure ; the King had loved to look upon it; and it had come to this. He lived, and I was to die : better my death than his life. In every heart there are dark depths, whence at times ugly things creep into the daylight; but at least I could drive back that unmanly triumph, and bid it never come again. I would have killed him, but I would not have had him thus.

The Italian was upon his knees beside his master: even such a creature could love. From his skeleton throat came a low, prolonged, croaking sound, and his bony hands strove to wipe away the blood. The Paspaheghs drew around us closer and closer, and the werowance clutched me by the shoulder. I shook him off. “ Give the word, Sharpless,” I said, “ or nod, if thou art too frightened to speak. Murder is too stern a stuff for such a base kitchen knave as thou to deal in.”

White and shaking, he would not meet my eyes, but beckoned the werowance to him, and began to whisper vehemently ; pointing now to the man upon the floor, now to the town, now to the forest. The Indian listened, nodded, and glided back to his fellows.

“ The white men upon the Powhatan are many,” he said in his own tongue, “ but they build not their wigwams upon the banks of the Pamunkey. The singing birds of the Pamunkey tell no tales. The pine splinters will burn as brightly there, and the white men will smell them not. We will build a five at Uttamussac, between the red hills, before the temple and the graves of the kings.” There was a murmur of assent from his braves.

Uttamussac ! They would probably make a two days’ journey of it. We had that long, then, to live.

Captors and captives, we presently left the hut. On the threshold I looked back, past the poltroon whom I had flung into a brook one midsummer day, to that prone and bleeding figure. As I looked, it groaned and moved. The Indians behind me forced me on ; a moment, and we were out beneath the stars. They shone so very brightly ; there was one — large, steadfast, golden—just over the dark town behind us, over the Governor’s house. Did she sleep or did she wake ? Sleeping or waking, I prayed God to keep her safe and give her comfort. The stars now shone through naked branches, black tree trunks hemmed us round, and under our feet was the dreary rustling of dead leaves. The leafless trees gave way to pines and cedars, and the closely woven, scented roof hid the heavens, and made a darkness of the world beneath.

XXX.

IN WHICH WE START UPON A JOURNEY.

When the dawn broke, it found us traveling through a narrow valley, beside a stream of some width. Upon its banks grew trees of extraordinary height and girth ; cypress and oak and walnut, they towered into the air, their topmost branches stark and black against the roseate heavens. Below that iron tracery glowed the firebrands of the maples, and here and there a willow leaned a pale green cloud above the stream. Mist closed the distances ; we could hear, but not see, the deer where they stood to drink in the shallow places, or couched in the gray and dreamlike recesses of the forest.

Spectral, unreal, and hollow seems the world at dawn. Then, if ever, the heart sickens and the will flags, and life becomes a pageant that hath ceased to entertain. As I moved through the mist and the silence, and felt the tug of the thong that bound me to the wrist of the savage who stalked before me, I cared not how soon they made an end, seeing how stale and unprofitable were all things under the sun.

Diccon, walking behind me, stumbled over a root and fell upon his knees, dragging down with him the Indian to whom he was tied. In a sudden access of fury, aggravated by the jeers with which his fellows greeted his mishap, the savage turned upon his prisoner and would have struck a knife into him, bound and helpless as he was, had not the werowance interfered. The momentary altercation over, and the knife restored to its owner’s belt, the Indians relapsed into their usual menacing silence, and the sullen march was resumed. Presently the stream made a sharp bend across our path, and we forded it as best we might. It ran dark and swift, and the water was of icy coldness. Beyond, the woods had been burnt, the trees rising from the red ground like charred and blackened stakes, with the ghostlike mist between. We left this dismal tract behind, and entered a wood of mighty oaks, standing well apart, and with the earth below carpeted with moss and early wild flowers. The sun rose, the mist vanished, and there set in the March day of keen wind and brilliant sunshine.

Farther on, an Indian bent his bow against a bear shambling across a little sunny glade. The arrow did its errand, and where the creature fell, there we sat down and feasted beside a fire kindled by rubbing two sticks together. According to their wont the Indians ate ravenously, and when the meal was ended began to smoke, each warrior first throwing into the air, as thankoffering to Kiwassa, a pinch of tobacco. They all stared at the fire around which we sat, and the silence was unbroken. One by one, as the pipes were smoked, they laid themselves down upon the brown leaves and went to sleep, only our two guardians and a third Indian over against us remaining wide-eyed and watchful.

There was no hope of escape, and we entertained no thought of it. Diccon sat, biting his nails, staring into the fire, and I stretched myself out, and burying my head in my arms tried to sleep, but could not.

With the midday we were afoot again, and we went steadily on through the bright afternoon. We met with no harsh treatment other than our bonds. Instead, when our captors spoke to us, it was with words of amity and smiling lips. Who accounteth for Indian fashions ? It is a way they have, to flatter and caress the wretch for whom have been provided the torments of the damned. If, when at sunset we halted for supper and gathered around the fire, the werowance began to tell of a foray I had led against the Paspaheghs years before, and if he and his warriors, for all the world like generous foes, loudly applauded some daring that had accompanied that raid, none the less did the red stake wait for us; none the less would they strive, as for heaven, to wring from us groans and cries.

The sun sank, and the darkness entered the forest. In the distance we heard the wolves, so the fire was kept up through the night. Diccon and I were tied to trees, and all the savages save one lay down and slept. I worked awhile at my bonds; but an Indian had tied them, and after a time I desisted from the useless labor. We two could have no speech together ; the fire was between us, and we saw each other but dimly through the flame and wreathing smoke, — as each might see the other to - morrow. What Diccon’s thoughts were I know not; mine were not of the morrow.

There had been no rain for a long time, and the multitude of leaves underfoot were crisp and dry. The wind was loud in them and in the swaying trees. Off in the forest was a bog, and the willo’-the-wisps danced over it, — pale, cold flames, moving aimlessly here and there like ghosts of those lost in the woods. Toward the middle of the night some heavy animal crashed through a thicket to the left of us, and tore away into the darkness over the loud-rustling leaves; and later on wolves’ eyes gleamed from out the ring of darkness beyond the firelight. Far on in the night the wind fell and the moon rose, changing the forest into some dim, exquisite, far-off land, seen only in dreams. The Indians awoke silently and all at once, as at an appointed hour. They spoke for a while among themselves ; then we were loosed from the trees, and the walk toward death began anew.

On this march the werowance himself stalked beside me, the moonlight whitening his dark limbs and relentless face. He spoke no word, nor did I deign to question or reason or entreat. Alike in the darkness of the deep woods, and m the silver of the glades, and in the long twilight stretches of sassafras and sighing grass, there was for me but one vision. Slender and still and white, she moved before me, with her wide dark eyes upon my face. Jocelyn ! Jocelyn !

At sunrise the mist lifted from a low hill before us, and showed an Indian boy, painted white, poised upon the summit, like a spirit about to take its flight. He prayed to the One Over All, and his voice came down to us pure and earnest. At sight of us he bounded down the hillside like a ball, and would have rushed away into the forest had not a Paspahegh, starting out of line, seized him and set him in our midst, where he stood, cool and undismayed, a warrior in miniature. He was of the Pamunkeys, and his tribe and the Paspaheghs were at peace; therefore, when he saw the totem burnt upon the breast of the werowance, he became loquacious enough, and offered to go before us to his village, upon the banks of a stream, some bowshots away. He went, and the Paspaheghs rested under the trees until the old men of the village came forth to lead them through the brown fields and past the ring of leafless mulberries to the strangers’ lodge. Here on the green turf mats were laid for the visitors, and water was brought for their hands. Later on, the women spread a great breakfast of fish and turkey and venison, maize bread, tuckahoe and pohickory. When it was eaten, the Paspaheghs ranged themselves in a semicircle upon the grass, the Pamunkeys faced them, and each warrior and old man drew out his pipe and tobacco pouch. They smoked gravely, in a silence broken only by an occasional slow and stately question or compliment. The blue incense from the pipes mingled with the sunshine falling freely through the bare branches ; the stream which ran by the lodge rippled and shone, and the wind rose and fell in the pines upon its farther bank.

Diccon and I had been freed for the time from our bonds, and placed in the centre of this ring, and when the Indians raised their eyes from the ground it was to gaze steadfastly at us. I knew their ways, and how they valued pride, indifference, and a bravado disregard of the worst an enemy could do. They should not find the white man less proud than the savage.

They gave us readily enough the pipes I asked for. Diccon lit one and I the other, and sitting side by side we smoked in a contentment as absolute as the Indians’ own. With his eyes upon the werowance, Diccon told an old story of a piece of Paspahegh villainy and of the payment which the English exacted, and I laughed as at the most amusing thing in the world. The story ended, we smoked with serenity for a while ; then I drew my dice from my pocket, and, beginning to throw, we were at once as much absorbed in the game as if there were no other stake in the world beside the remnant of gold that I piled between us. The strange people in whose power we found ourselves looked on with grim approval, as at brave men who could laugh in Death’s face.

The sun was high in the heavens when we bade the Pamunkeys farewell. The cleared ground, the mulberry trees and the grass beneath, the few rude lodges with the curling smoke above them, the warriors and women and brown naked children, all vanished, and the forest closed around us. A high wind was blowing, and the branches far above beat at one another furiously, while the pendent, leafless vines swayed against us, and the dead leaves went past in the whirlwind. A monstrous flight of pigeons crossed the heavens, flying from west to east, and darkening the land beneath like a transient cloud. We came to a plain covered with very tall trees that had one and all been ringed by the Indians. Long dead, and partially stripped of the bark, with their branches, great and small, squandered upon the ground, they stood, gaunt and silver gray, ready for their fall. As we passed, the wind brought two crashing to the earth. In the centre of the plain something — deer or wolf or bear or man — lay dead, for to that point the buzzards were sweeping from every quarter of the blue. Beyond was a pine wood, silent and dim, with a high green roof and a smooth and scented floor. We walked through it for an hour, and it led us to the Pamunkey. A tiny village, counting no more than a dozen warriors, stood among the pines that ran to the water’s edge, and tied to the trees that shadowed the slow - moving flood were its canoes. When the people came forth to meet us, the Paspaheghs bought from them, for a string of roanoke, two of these boats ; and we made no tarrying, but, embarking at once, rowed up river toward Uttamussac and its three temples.

Diccon and I were placed in the same canoe. We were not bound: what need of bonds, when we had no friend nearer than the Powhatan, and when Uttamussac was so near ? After a time the paddles were put into our hands, and we were required to row while our captors rested. There was no use in sulkiness ; we laughed as at some huge jest, and bent to the task with a will that sent our canoe well in advance of its mate. Diccon burst into an old song that we had sung in the Low Countries, by camp fires, on the march, before the battle. The forest echoed to the loud and warlike tune, and a multitude of birds rose startled from the trees upon the bank. The Indians frowned, and one in the boat behind called out to strike the singer upon the mouth ; but the werowance shook his head. There were none upon that river who might not know that the Paspaheghs journeyed to Uttamussac with prisoners in their midst. Diccon sang on, his head thrown back, the old bold laugh in his eyes. When he came to the chorus I joined my voice to his, and the woodland rang to the song. A psalm had better befitted our lips than those rude and vaunting words, seeing that we should never sing again upon this earth; but at least we sang bravely and gayly, with minds that were reasonably quiet.

The sun dropped low in the heavens, and the trees cast shadows across the water. The Paspaheghs now began to recount the entertainment they meant to offer us in the morning. All those tortures that they were wont to practice with hellish ingenuity they told over, slowly and tauntingly, watching to see a lip whiten or an eyelid quiver. They boasted that they would make women of us at the stake. At all events, they made not women of us beforehand. We laughed as we rowed, and Diccon whistled to the leaping fish, and the fishhawk, and the otter lying along a fallen tree beneath the bank.

The sunset came, and the river lay beneath the colored clouds like molten gold, with the gaunt forest black upon either hand. From the lifted paddles the water showered in golden drops. The wind died away, and with it all noises, and a dank stillness settled upon the flood and upon the endless forest. We were nearing Uttamussac, and the Indians rowed quietly, with bent heads and fearful glances; for Okee brooded over this place, and he might be angry. It grew colder and stiller, but the light dwelt in the heavens, and was reflected in the bosom of the river. The trees upon the southern bank were all pines ; as if they had been carved from black stone they stood rigid against the saffron sky. Presently, back from the shore, there rose before us a few small hills, treeless, but covered with some low, dark growth. The one that stood the highest bore upon its crest three black houses shaped like coffins. Behind them was the deep yellow of the sunset.

An Indian rowing in the second canoe commenced a chant or prayer to Okee. The notes were low and broken, unutterably wild and melancholy. One by one his fellows took up the strain ; it swelled higher, louder, and sterner, became a deafening cry, then ceased abruptly, making the stillness that followed like death itself. Both canoes swung round from the middle stream and made for the bank. When the boats had slipped from the stripe of gold into the inky shadow of the pines, the Paspaheghs began to divest themselves of this or that which they conceived Okee might desire to possess. One flung into the stream a handful of copper links, another the chaplet of feathers from his head, a third a bracelet of blue beads. The werowance drew out the arrows from a gaudily painted and beaded quiver, stuck them into his belt, and dropped the quiver into the water.

We landed, dragging the canoes into a covert of overhanging bushes and fastening them there ; then struck through the pines toward the rising ground, and presently came to a large village, with many long huts, and a great central lodge where dwelt the emperors when they came to Uttamussac. It was vacant now, Opechancanough being no man knew where.

When the usual stately welcome had been extended to the Paspaheghs, and when they had returned as stately thanks, the werowance began a harangue for which I furnished the matter. When he ceased to speak a great acclamation and tumult arose, and I thought they would scarce wait for the morrow. But it was late, and their werowance and conjurer restrained them. In the end the men drew off, and the yelling of the children and the passionate cries of the women, importunate for vengeance, were stilled. A guard was placed around the vacant lodge, and we two Englishmen were taken within and bound down to great logs, such as the Indians use to roll against their doors when they go from home.

There was revelry in the village ; for hours after the night came, everywhere were bright firelight and the rise and fall of laughter and song. The voices of the women were musical, tender, and plaintive, and yet they waited for the morrow as for a gala day. I thought of a woman who used to sing, softly and sweetly, in the twilight at Weyanoke, in the firelight at the minister’s house. At last the noises ceased, the light died away, and the village slept beneath a heaven that seemed somewhat deaf and blind.

Mary Johnston.

(To be continued.)

  1. Copyright, 1899, by MARY JOHNSTON.