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The shooting and shouting and the tramp of horse and man had roused everybody in the big house. Even the general came down to know what was the matter. The young ladies came, pale and frightened, but in faultless attire. I put an armed guard by the prisoners at the door, under command of D'ri. Then I had them bare the feet of the four Britishers, knowing they could not run bootless in the brush. We organized a convoy,--the general and I,--and prepared to start for the garrison. We kept the smudges going, for now and then we could hear the small thunder of hornet-wings above us. There is a mighty menace in it, I can tell you, if they are angry.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" said D'ri, as he sat, rifle on his knee, looking at his prisoners. "Never thought nobody c'u'd luk s' joemightyful cur'us. Does mek a man humly t' hev any trouble with them air willy-come-bobs." He meant wasps.
I had had no opportunity for more than a word with the young ladies. I hoped it might come when I went in for a hasty breakfast with the baroness, the count, the general, and Mr. Parish. As we were eating, Louison came in hurriedly. She showed some agitation.
"What is the trouble, my dear?" said the baroness, in French.
"Eh bien, only this," said she: "I have dropped my ring in the brook. It is my emerald. I cannot reach it."
"Too bad! She has dropped her ring in the brook," said the baroness, in English, turning to me.
"If she will have the kindness to take me there," I said to the hostess, rising as I spoke, "I shall try to get it for her."
"M'sieur le Capitaine, you are very obliging," said she. Then, turning to Louison, she added in French: "Go with him. He will recover it for you."
It pleased and flattered me, the strategy of this wonderful young creature. She led me, with dainty steps, through a dewy garden walk into the trail.
"Parbleu!" she whispered, "is it not a shame to take you from your meat? But I could not help it. I had to see you; there is something I wish to say."
"A pretty girl is better than meat," I answered quickly. "I am indebted to you."
"My! but you have a ready tongue," said she. "It is with me a pleasure to listen. You are going away? You shall not return--perhaps?"
She was trying to look very gay and indifferent, but in her voice I could detect a note of trouble. The flame of passion, quenched for a little time by the return of peril and the smoke of gunpowder, flashed up in me.
"It is this," she went on: "I may wish you to do me a favor. May I have your address?"
"And you may command me," I said as I gave it to her.
"Have a care!" she said, laughing. "I may ask you to do desperate things--you may need all your valor. The count and the baroness--they may send us back to France."
"Which will please you," I remarked.
"Perhaps," she said quickly. "Mon Dieu! I do not know what I want; I am a fool. Take this. Wear it when you are gone. Not that I care--but--it will make you remember."
She held in her fingers a flashing emerald on a tiny circlet of gold. Before I could answer she had laid it in my hard palm and shut my hand upon it.
"Dieu!" she exclaimed, whispering, "I must return--I must hurry. Remember, we did not find the ring."
I felt a great impulse to embrace her and confess my love. But I was not quick enough. Before I could speak she had turned away and was running. I called to her, but she did not turn or seem to hear me. She and my opportunity were gone.
We stowed the prisoners in the big coach at the baroness, behind a lively team of four. Then my horse and one for D'ri were brought up.
"Do not forget," said the baroness, holding my hand, "you are always welcome in my house. I hope, ma foi! that you will never find happiness until you return."
The young ladies came not to the step where we were, but stood by the count waving adieux. Louison had a merry smile and a pretty word of French for me; Louise only a sober look that made me sad, if it did not speak for the same feeling in her. The count was to remain at the Hermitage, having sent to the chateau for a squad of his armed retainers. They were to defend the house, if, by chance, the British should renew their attack. Mr. Parish and his footman and the general went with us, the former driving. D'ri and I rode on behind as the coach went off at a gallop.
He was a great whip, that man David Parish, who had built a big mansion at Ogdensburg and owned so much of the north country those days. He was a gentleman when the founders of the proud families of to-day were dickering in small merchandise. Indeed, one might look in vain for such an establishment as his north of Virginia. This side the Atlantic there was no stable of horses to be compared with that he had--splendid English thoroughbreds, the blood of which is now in every great family of American horses. And, my faith! he did love to put them over the road. He went tearing up hill and down at a swift gallop, and the roads were none too smooth in that early day. Before leaving home he had sent relays ahead to await his coming every fifteen miles of the journey: he always did that if he had far to go. This time he had posted them clear to the Harbor. The teams were quickly shifted; then we were off again with a crack of the whip and a toot of the long horn. He held up in the swamps, but where footing was fair, the high-mettled horses had their heads and little need of urging. We halted at an inn for a sip of something and a bite to eat.
"Parish," said the general, rising on stiffened legs, "I like your company and I like your wine, but your driving is a punishment."
D'ri was worn out with lack of sleep and rest, but he had hung doggedly to his saddle.
"How do you feel?" I asked him as we drew up on each side of the coach.
"Split t' the collar," said he, soberly, as he rested an elbow on his pommel.
We got to headquarters at five, and turned over the prisoners. We had never a warmer welcome than that of the colonel.
"I congratulate you both," he said as he brought the rum-bottle after we had made our report. "You've got more fight in you than a wolverene. Down with your rum and off to your beds, and report here at reveille. I have a tough job for you to-morrow."
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