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How empty and weak are my words that try to tell of that day! I doubt if there is in them anywhere what may suggest, even feebly, the height and depth of that experience or one ray of the light in her face. There are the words nearly as we said them; there are the sighs, the glances, the tears: but everywhere there is much missing--that fair young face and a thousand things irresistible that drift in with every tide of high feeling. Of my history there is not much more to write, albeit some say the best is untold.
I had never such a heart of lead as went with me to my work that afternoon. What became of me I cared not a straw then, for I knew my love was hopeless. D'ri met me as I got off my horse at the Harbor. His keen eye saw my trouble quickly--saw near to the bottom of it.
"Be'n hit?" said he, his great hand on my shoulder.
"With trouble," I answered. "Torn me up a little inside."
"Thought so," he remarked soberly. "Judas Priest! ye luk es ef a shell 'ad bu'st 'n yer cockpit. Ain' nuthin' 'll spile a man quicker. Sheer off a leetle an' git out o' range. An' 'member, Ray, don't never give up the ship. Thet air 's whut Perry tol' us."
I said nothing and walked away, but have always remembered his counsel, there was so much of his big heart in it. The army was to move immediately, in that foolish campaign of Wilkinson that ended with disaster at Chrysler's Farm. They were making the boats, small craft with oars, of which three hundred or more would be needed to carry us. We were to go eastward on the river and join Hampden, whose corps was to march overland to Plattsburg, at some point on the north shore. Word came, while I was away, that down among the islands our enemy had been mounting cannon. It looked as if our plan had leaked, as if, indeed, there were good chance of our being blown out of water the first day of our journey. So, before the army started, I was to take D'ri and eleven others, with four boats, and go down to reconnoitre.
We got away before sundown that day, and, as dark came, were passing the southwest corner of Wolf Island. I was leading the little fleet, and got ashore, intending to creep along the edge and rejoin them at the foot of the island. I had a cow-bell, muted with cork, and was to clang it for a signal in case of need. Well, I was a bit more reckless that night than ever I had been. Before I had gone twenty rods I warned them to flee and leave me. I heard a move in the brush, and was backing off, when a light flashed on me, and I felt the touch of a bayonet. Then quickly I saw there was no help for me, and gave the signal, for I was walled in. Well, I am not going to tell the story of my capture. My sabre could serve me well, but, heavens! it was no magic wand such as one may read of in the story-books. I knew then it would serve me best in the scabbard. There were few words and no fighting in the ceremony. I gave up, and let them bind my arms. In two hours they had me in jail, I knew not where. In the morning they let me send a note to Lord Ronley, who was now barely two days out of his own trouble. A week passed; I was to be tried for a spy, and saw clearly the end of it all. Suddenly, a morning when my hopes were gone, I heard the voice of his Lordship in the little corridor. A keeper came with him to the door of my cell, and opened it.
"The doctor," said he.
"Well, well, old fellow," said Ronley, clapping me on the shoulder, "you are ill, I hear."
"Really, I do not wish to alarm you," I said, smiling, "but--but it does look serious."
He asked me to show my tongue, and I did so.
"Cheer up," said he, presently; "I have brought you this pill. It is an excellent remedy."
He had taken from his pocket a brown pill of the size of a large pea, and sat rolling it in his palm. Had he brought me poison?
"I suppose it is better than--"
He shot a glance at me as if to command silence, then he put the pill in my palm. I saw it was of brown tissue rolled tightly.
"Don't take it now," said he; "too soon after breakfast. Wait half an hour. A cup of water," he added, turning to the guard, who left us for a moment.
He leaned to my ear and whispered:--
"Remember," said he, "2 is a, and 3 is b, and so on. Be careful until the guard changes."
He handed me a small watch as he was leaving.
"It may be good company," he remarked.
I unrolled the tissue as soon as I was alone. It was covered with these figures:--
21-24-6-13-23-6 21-16-15-10-8-9-21 4-6-13-13 5-16-16-19 22-15-13-16-4-12-6-5 13-10-7-21 20-14-2-13-13 24-10-15-5-16-24 10-15 4-16-19-19-10-5-16-19 3-2-4-12 21-16 24-2-13-13 8-16 19-10-8-9-21 21-16 19-16-2-5 13-6-7-21 200 17-2-4-6-20 21-16 17-2-21-9 13-6-7-21 21-16 19-10-23-6-19 19-10-8-9-21 21-24-6-15-21-26 21-16 21-9-10-4-12-6-21.
I made out the reading, shortly, as follows:--
"Twelve to-night cell door unlocked. Lift small window in corridor. Back to wall go right to road. Left two hundred paces to path. Left to river. Right twenty to thicket."
Having read the figures, I rolled the tissue firmly, and hid it in my ear. It was a day of some excitement, I remember, for that very afternoon I was condemned to death. A priest, having heard of my plight, came in that evening, and offered me the good ministry of the church. The words, the face, of that simple man, filled me with a deep tenderness for all who seek in the shadows of this world with the lantern of God's mercy. Never, so long as I live, shall an ill word of them go unrebuked in my hearing. He left me at 10.30, and as he went away, my jailer banged the iron door without locking it. Then I lay down there in the dark, and began to tell off the time by my heartbeats, allowing forty-five hundred to the hour, and was not far wrong. I thought much of his Lordship as I waited. To him I had been of some service, but, surely, not enough to explain this tender regard, involving, as it must have done, bribery and no small degree of peril to himself. My counting over, I tried the door, which swung easily as I put my hand upon it, The little corridor was dark and I could hear no sound save the snoring of a drunken soldier, committed that day for fighting, as the turnkey had told me. I found the small window, and slid the sash, and let my boots fall to the ground, then climbing through and dropping on them. It was a dark night, but I was not long in reaching the road and pacing my way to the path and river. His Lordship and a boatman lay in the thicket waiting for me.
"This way," the former whispered, taking my arm and leading me to the mouth of a little brook, where a boat was tied, the bottom muffled with blankets. I took the stern seat, his Lordship the bow, and we pushed off. The boatman, a big, husky fellow, had been rowing a long hour when we put into a cove under the high shore of an island. I could see a moving glow back in the bushes. It swung slowly, like a pendulum of light, with a mighty flit and tumble of shadows. We tied our boat, climbed the shore, and made slowly for the light. Nearing it, his Lordship whistled twice, and got answer. The lantern was now still; it lighted the side of a soldier in high boots; and suddenly I saw it was D'ri. I caught his hand, raising it to my lips. We could not speak, either of us. He stepped aside, lifting the lantern. God! there stood Louise. She was all in black, her head bent forward.
"Dear love!" I cried, grasping her hands, "why--why have you come here?"
She turned her face away, and spoke slowly, her voice trembling with emotion.
"To give my body to be burned," said she.
I turned, lifting my arm to smite the man who had brought me there; but lo! some stronger hand had struck him, some wonder-working power of a kind that removes mountains. Lord Ronley was wiping his eyes.
"I cannot do this thing," said he, in a broken voice. "I cannot do this thing. Take her and go."
D'ri had turned away to hide his feelings.
"Take them to your boat," said his Lordship.
"Wait a minute," said D'ri, fixing his lantern. "Judas Priest! I ain't got no stren'th. I 'm all tore t' shoe-strings."
I took her arm, and we followed D'ri to the landing. Lord Ronley coming with us.
"Good-by," said he, leaning to push us off. "I am a better man for knowing you. Dear girl, you have put all the evil out of me."
He held a moment to the boat, taking my hand as I came by him.
"Bell," said he, "henceforward may there be peace between you and me."
"And between your country and mine," I answered.
And, thank God! the war was soon over, and ever since there has been peace between the two great peoples. I rejoice that even we old men have washed our hearts of bitterness, and that the young have now more sense of brotherhood.
Above all price are the words of a wise man, but silence, that is the great counsellor. In silence wisdom enters the heart and understanding puts forth her voice. In the hush of that night ride I grew to manhood; I put away childish things. I saw, or thought I saw, the two great powers of good and evil. One was love, with the power of God in it to lift up, to ennoble; the other, love's counterfeit, a cunning device of the devil, with all his power to wreck and destroy, deceiving him that has taken it until he finds at last he has neither gold nor silver, but only base metal hanging as a millstone to his neck.
At dawn we got ashore on Battle Point. We waited there, Louise and I, while D'ri went away to bring horses. The sun rose clear and warm; it was like a summer morning, but stiller, for the woods had lost their songful tenantry. We took the forest road, walking slowly. Some bugler near us had begun to play the song of Yankee-land. Its phrases travelled like waves in the sea, some high-crested, moving with a mighty rush, filling the valleys, mounting the hills, tossing their spray aloft, flooding all the shores of silence. Far and near, the trees were singing in praise of my native land.
"Ramon," said Louise, looking up at me, a sweet and queenly dignity in her face, "I have come to love this country."
"And you could not have done so much for me unless you had loved--"
She looked up at me quickly, and put her finger to her lips. My tongue faltered, obeying the command. How sweet and beautiful she was then, her splendid form erect, the light of her eyes softened by long lashes! She looked down thoughtfully as she gave the bottom of her gown a shake.
"Once upon a time," said she, slowly, as our eyes met again, "there was a little country that had a cruel king. And he commanded that none of all his people should speak until--until--"
She hesitated, stirring the dead leaves with her dainty foot.
"Until a great mountain had been removed and buried in the sea," she added in a low tone.
"Ah, that was hard."
"Especially for the ladies," she went on, sighing. "Dieu! they could only sit and hold their tongues and weep and feel very foolish. And the longer they were silent the more they had to say."
"And those who broke the law?" I inquired.
"Were condemned to silence for their lives," she answered. "Come, we are both in danger; let us go."
A bit farther on we came to a log house where a veteran of the old war sat playing his bugle, and a motherly woman bade us sit awhile at the door-step.
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