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The waiting guards laid hold of us in a twinkling, and others came crowding the doors. They shackled our hands behind us, and covered our eyes again. Dark misgivings of what was to come filled me, but I bore all in silence. They shoved us roughly out of doors, and there I could tell they were up to no child's play. A loud jeer burst from the mouths of many as we came staggering out. I could hear the voices of a crowd. They hurried us into a carriage.
"We demand the prisoners!" a man shouted near me.
Then I could hear them scuffling with the guards, who, I doubt not, were doing their best to hold them back. In a moment I knew the mob had possession of us and the soldiers were being hustled away. D'ri sat shoulder to shoulder with me. I could feel his muscles tighten; I could hear the cracking of his joints and the grinding of the shackle-chain. "Judas Pr-r-i-e-st!" he grunted, straining at the iron. Two men leaped into the carriage. There was a crack of the whip, and the horses went off bounding. We could hear horsemen all about us and wagons following. I had a stout heart in me those days, but in all my life I had never taken a ride so little to my liking. We went over rough roads, up hill and down, for an hour or more.
I could see in prospect no better destination than our graves, and, indeed, I was not far wrong. Well, by and by we came to a town somewhere--God knows where. I have never seen it, or known the name of it, or even that of the prison where we were first immured. I could tell it was a town by the rumble of the wheels and each echoing hoof-beat. The cavalcade was all about us, and now and then we could hear the sound of voices far behind. The procession slowed up, horsemen jammed to the left of us, the carriage halted. I could hear footsteps on a stone pavement.
"You're late," said a low voice at the carriage door. "It's near eleven."
"Lot o' fooling with the candidates," said one of the horsemen, quietly. "Everything ready?"
"Everything ready," was the answer.
The carriage door swung open.
"We get out here," said one of the men who sat with us.
I alighted. On each side of me somebody put his hand to my shoulder. I could see the glow of a lantern-light close to my face. I knew there was a crowd of men around, but I could hear nothing save now and then a whisper.
"Wall, Ray," said D'ri, who stood by my side, "hol' stiddy 'n' don't be scairt."
"Do as they tell ye," a stranger whispered in my ear. "No matter what 't is, do as they tell ye."
They led us into a long passage and up a steep flight of wooden stairs. I have learned since then it was a building equipped by a well-known secret society for its initiations. We went on through a narrow hall and up a winding night that seemed to me interminable. Above it, as we stopped, the man who was leading me rapped thrice upon a rattling wooden door. It broke the silence with a loud echoing noise. I could hear then the sliding of a panel and a faint whispering and the sound of many feet ascending the stairs below. The door swung open presently, and we were led in where I could see no sign of any light. They took me alone across a wide bare floor, where they set me down upon some sort of platform and left me, as I thought. Then I could hear the whispered challenge at the door and one after another entering and crossing the bare floor on tiptoe. Hundreds were coming in, it seemed to me. Suddenly a deep silence fell in that dark place of evil. The blindfold went whisking off my head as if a ghostly hand had taken it. But all around me was the darkness of the pit. I could see and I could hear nothing but a faint whisper, high above me, like that of pine boughs moving softly in a light breeze. I could feel the air upon my face. I thought I must have been moved out of doors by some magic. It seemed as if I were sitting under trees alone. Out of the black silence an icy hand fell suddenly upon my brow. I flinched, feeling it move slowly downward over my shoulder. I could hear no breathing, no rustle of garments near me. In that dead silence I got a feeling that the hand touching me had no body behind it. I was beyond the reach of fear--I was in a way prepared for anything but the deep, heart-shaking horror that sank under the cold, damp touch of those fingers. They laid hold of my elbow firmly, lifting as if to indicate that I was to rise. I did so, moving forward passively as it drew me on. To my astonishment I was unable to hear my own footfall or that of my conductor. I thought we were walking upon soft earth. Crossing our path in front of me I could see, in the darkness, a gleaming line. We moved slowly, standing still as our toes covered it. Then suddenly a light flashed from before and below us. A cold sweat came out upon me; I staggered back to strong hands that were laid upon my shoulders, forcing me to the line again. By that flash of light I could see that I was standing on the very brink of some black abyss--indeed, my toes had crossed the edge of it. The light came again, flickering and then settling into a steady glow. The opening seemed to have a grassy bottom some ten feet below. In front of me the soil bristled, on that lower level, with some black and pointed plant: there was at least a score of them. As I looked, I saw they were not plants, but a square of bayonets thrust, points up, in the ground. A curse came out of my hot mouth, and then a dozen voices mocked it, going fainter, like a dying echo. I heard a whisper in my ear. A tall figure in a winding-sheet, its face covered, was leaning over me.
"To hesitate is to die," it whispered. "Courage may save you."
Then a skeleton hand came out of the winding-sheet, pointing down at the square of bristling bayonets. The figure put its mouth to my ear.
"Jump!" it whispered, and the bare bones of the dead fingers stirred impatiently.
Some seconds of a brief silence followed. I could hear them slowly dripping out of eternity in the tick of a watch near me. I felt the stare of many eyes invisible to me. A broad beam of bright light shot through the gloom, resting full upon my face. I started back upon the strong hands behind me. Then I felt my muscles tighten as I began to measure the fall and to wonder if I could clear the bayonets. I had no doubt I was to die shortly, and it mattered not to me how, bound as I was, so that it came soon. For a breath of silence my soul went up to the feet of God for help and hope. Then I bent my knees and leaped, I saw much as my body went rushing through the air--an empty grave its heap of earth beside it, an island of light, walled with candles, in a sea of gloom, faces showing dimly in the edge of the darkness, "Thank God! I shall clear the bayonets," I thought, and struck heavily upon a soft mat, covered over with green turf, a little beyond that bristling bed. I staggered backward, falling upon it. To my surprise, it bent beneath me. They were no bayonets, but only shells of painted paper. I got to my feet none the worse for jumping, and as dumfounded as ever a man could be. I stood on a lot of broken turf with which a wide floor had been overlaid. Boards and timbers were cut away, and the grave dug beneath them. I saw one face among others in the gloom beyond the candle rows--that of his Lordship. He was coming up a little flight of stairs to where I stood. He moved the candles, making a small passage, and came up to me.
"You're a brave man," said he, in that low, careless tone of his.
"And you a coward," was my answer, for the sight of him had made me burn with anger.
"Don't commit yourself on a point like that," said he, quickly, "for, you know, we are not well acquainted. I like your pluck, and I offer you what is given to few here--an explanation."
He paused, lighting a cigarette. I stood looking at him. The cold politeness of manner with which he had taken my taunt, his perfect self-mastery, filled me with wonder. He was no callow youth, that man, whoever he might be. He was boring at the floor with the end of a limber cane as he continued to address me.
"Now, look here," he went on, with a little gesture of his left hand, between the fingers of which a cigarette was burning. "You are now in the temple of a patriotic society acting with no letters patent, but in the good cause of his Most Excellent Majesty King George III, to whom be health and happiness."
As he spoke the name he raised his hat, and a cheer came from all sides of us.
"It is gathered this night," he continued, "to avenge the death of Lord Ronley, a friend of his Majesty, and of many here present, and an honored member of this order. For his death you, and you alone, are responsible, and, we suspect, under circumstances of no credit to your sword. Many of our people have been cut off from their comrades and slain by cowardly stealth, have been led into ambush and cruelly cut to pieces by an overwhelming number, have been shut in prison and done to death by starvation or by stabs of a knife there in your country. Not content with the weapons of a soldier, you have even resorted to the barbarity of the poison-wasp. Pardon me, but you Yankees do not seem to have any mercy or fairness for a foe. We shall give you better treatment. You shall not be killed like a rat in a trap. You shall have a chance for your life. Had you halted, had you been a coward, you would not have been worthy to fight in this arena. You would not have come where you are standing, and possibly even now your grave would have been filled. If you survive the ordeal that is to come, I hope it will prove an example to you of the honor that is due to bravery, of the fairness due a foe."
Many voices spoke the word "Amen" as he stopped, turning to beckon into the gloom about us. I was now quite over my confusion. I began to look about me and get my bearings. I could hear a stir in the crowd beyond the lights, and a murmur of voices. Reflecting lanterns from many pillars near by shot their rays upon me. I stood on a platform, some thirty feet square, in the middle of a large room. Its floor was on a level with the faces of the many who stood pressing to the row of lights, Here, I took it, I was to fight for my life, I was looking at the yawning grave in the corner of this arena, when four men ascended with swords and pistols. One of them removed the shackles, letting my hands free. I thanked him as he tossed them aside. I was thinking of D'ri, and, shading my eyes, looked off in the gloom to see if I could discover him. I called his name, but heard no answer. His Lordship came over to me, bringing a new sword. He held the glittering blade before me, its hilt in his right hand, its point resting on the fingers of his left. "It's good," said he, quietly; "try it."
It was a beautiful weapon, its guard and pommel and quillons sparkling with wrought-silver, its grip of yellow leather laced with blue silk. The glow and the feel of it filled me with a joy I had not known since my father gave me the sword of my childhood. It drove the despair out of me, and I was a new man. I tried the blade, its point upon my toe. It was good metal, and the grip fitted me.
"Well, how do you find it?" said he, impatiently.
"I am satisfied," was my reply.
He helped me take off my blouse and waistcoat, and then I rolled my sleeves to the elbow. The hum of voices had grown louder. I could hear men offering to bet and others bantering for odds.
"We'll know soon," said a voice near me, "whether he could have killed Ronley in a fair fight."
I turned to look at those few in the arena. There were half a dozen of them now, surrounding my adversary, a man taller than the rest, with a heavy neck and brawny arms and shoulders. He had come out of the crowd unobserved by me. He also was stripped to the shirt, and had rolled up his sleeves, and was trying the steel. He had a red, bristling mustache and overhanging brows and a vulgar face--not that of a man who settles his quarrel with the sword. I judged a club or a dagger would have been better suited to his genius. But, among fighters, it is easy to be fooled by a face. In a moment the others had gone save his Lordship and that portly bald-headed man I had heard him rebuke as "Sir Charles." My adversary met me at the centre of the arena, where we shook hands. I could see, or thought I could, that he was entering upon a business new to him, for there was in his manner an indication of unsteady nerves.
"Gentlemen, are you ready?" said his Lordship.
But there are reasons why the story of what came after should be none of my telling. I leave it to other and better eyes that were not looking between flashes of steel, as mine were. And then one has never a fair view of his own fights.
 The intrepid Fitzgibbon, the most daring leader on the Canadian frontier those days, told me long afterward that he knew the building--a tall frame structure on the high shore of a tributary of the St. Lawrence. It was built on a side of the bluff and used originally as a depot for corn, oats, rye, and potatoes, that came down the river in bateaux. The slide was a slanting box through which the sacks of grain were conveyed to sloops and schooners below. It did not pay and was soon abandoned, whereupon it was rented by the secret order referred to above. The slide bottom was coated with lard and used for the hazing of candidates. A prize fight on the platform was generally a feature of the entertainment. A man was severely injured in a leap on the bayonets, after which that feature of the initiation was said to have been abandoned.
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