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Our Sunday morning gun had scarce been fired when from up the river came the answering thunder of artillery. Thirteen times did the distant cannon bellow their salute, announcing Clinton's advance, our camp swarmed like an excited hive, mounted officers galloping, foot officers running, troops tumbling out as the drums rattled the "general" in every regimental bivouac.
Colonel Proctor's artillery band marched out toward the landing place as I entered No. 2 Block-House and ran up the ladder, and I heard the ford-guard hurrahing and the garrison troops on the unfinished parapets answering them with cheer after cheer.
At my loud rapping on the flooring, Lois opened the trap for me, her lovely, youthful features flushed with excitement; Lana, behind her, beckoned me; and I sprang up into the loft and paid my duty to them both.
"What a noble earthquake of artillery up the river!" said Lois. "Butler has no cannon, has he?"
"Not even a grasshopper!" said I gaily. "Those cannon shot are Clinton's how d'ye do!"
"Poor's guns, were they not?" asked Lana, striving to smile. "And that means you march away and leave us with 'The World Turned Upside Down!'" And she shrugged her shoulders and whistled a bar of the old-time British air.
"Come to the parapet!" said Lois impatiently. "For the last few minutes there has been a sound in the woods-- very far away, Euan-- yet, if one could hear so far I would swear that I heard the conch-horn of your rifles!"
"Did I not tell you she knew it well?" said Lana with her pallid smile, as we opened the massive guard-door, squeezed through the covered way, and came out along the rifle-platform among our noisy soldiers.
"Listen!" murmured Lois, close at my elbow. "There! It comes again! Do you not hear it, Euan! That low, long, sustained and heart-thrilling undertone droning in the air through all this tumult!"
And presently I heard the sound-- the wondrous melancholy, yet seductive music of our conch-horn. Its magic call set my every pulse a-throbbing. All the alluring mystery and solitude, all the sorrow of the wilderness were in those long-drawn blasts; all the enchantment of the woodland, too, calling, calling to the sons of the forest, riflemen, hunter, Coureur-de-Bois.
For its elfin monotone was the very voice of the forest itself-- the deep, sweet whisper of virgin wilds, sacred, impenetrable, undefiled, tempting forever the sons of men.
And now, across the misty river, there was a great tumult of shouting as the first Otsego batteaux came into view; louder boomed our jolly cohorn, leaping high in its sulphurous powder-cloud; and the artillery band at the landing began to play "Iunadilla," which so deeply pleasured me that I forgot and caught Lois's hands between my own and pressed them there while her shoulder trembled against mine, and her breath came faster as the music swung into "The Huron" with a barbaric clash of cymbals.
It was a wondrous spectacle to see the navy of our Right Wing coming on, the waves slapping on bow and quarter-- two hundred and ten loaded batteaux in line falling grandly down with the smooth and sunlit current, three men to every boat. Then, opposite, a wild flurry of bugle-horns announced our light infantry; and on they came, our merry General Hand riding ahead. And we saw him dismount, fling his bridle to an orderly, and lifting his sword and belt above his head, wade straight into the ford. And Asa Chapman and Justus Gaylord guided him.
After these came the light troops in their cocked hats, guided by Frederick Eveland; then a dun-coloured and dusty column emerged from the brilliant green of the woods, a mass of tossing fringes and ringed coon-tails and flashing rifle-barrels.
"The Rifles! hurrah for Morgan's men! Ha-i! The Eleventh Virginia!" roared the soldiery all about us, while Lois tightened her arm around mine and almost crushed my fingers with her own.
"There is Major Parr-- and Captain Simpson-- oh, and yonder minces my macaroni Ensign!" cried Lois, as the brown column swung straight into the ford, every rifle lifted, powder-horn and cartouche-box high swinging and glittering in the sun.
I turned to look for Lana; and first caught sight of the handsome wench, Dolly Glenn. And, following her restless gaze, I saw that Boyd had come up to the rifle-platform to join Lana, and that they stood together at a little distance from us. Also, I noticed that Lana's hand was resting an his arm. In sharp contrast to the excited, cheering soldiery thronging the platform, the attitude of these two seemed dull and spiritless; and Boyd looked more frequently at her than on the stirring pageant below; and once, under cover of the movement and tumult, I saw her pale cheek press for a moment against his green fringed shoulder cape-- lightly-- only for one brief moment. Yonder was no coquetry, no caprice of audacity. There was a heart there as heavy as the cheek was pale. It was love and nothing less-- the pitiful devotion of a lass in love whose lover marches on the morrow. Lord-- Lord! Had we but known!
As I stood beside Lois, I could not refrain from glancing toward them at moments, not meaning to spy, yet somehow held fascinated and troubled by what I had seen; for it seemed plain to me that if there was love there, little of happiness flavored it. Also, whenever I looked at them always I saw Dolly Glenn watching Boyd out of her darkly beautiful and hostile eyes.
And afterward, when our big riflemen marched on to the parade below, and we all hastened down, and the whole fort was a hubbub of cries and cheers and the jolly voices of friends greeting friends-- even then I could scarce keep my eyes from these two and from the Glenn girl. And I was glad when a large, fat dame came a-waddling, who proved to be Mrs. Sabin; and she had a cold and baleful eye for Boyd, which his gay spirits and airy blandishments neither softened nor abated.
Lois made me known to her very innocently and discreetly, and I made her my best manners; but to my mortification, the disdain in her gaze increased, as did her stiffness with Boyd and her chilling hauteur. Lord! Here was no friend to men-- at least, no friend to young men! That I comprehended in a trice; and my chagrin was nothing mended as I caught a sly glance from the merry and slightly malicious eyes of Boyd.
"Her husband is a fussy fat-head and she's a basalisk," he whispered. "I thought she'd bite my head of when the ladies came on under my protection."
She was more square and heavily solid than fat, like a squat block-house; and as I stole another glance at her I wondered how she was to mount the ladder and get her through the trap above. And by heaven! When the moment came to try it, she could not. She attempted it thrice; and the third effort hung her there, wedged in, squeaking like a fat doe-rabbit-- and Boyd and I, stifling with laughter, now pushing, now tugging at her fat ankles. And finally got her out upon the ladder platform, crimson and speechless in her fury; and we lingered not, but fled together, not daring to face the lady at whose pudgy and nether limbs we had pulled so heartily.
"Lord!" said Boyd. "If she complains of us to her Commissary husband, there'll be a new issue not included in his department!"
And it doubled us with laughter to think on't, so that for lack o' breath I sat down upon a log to hold my aching sides.
"Now, she'll be ever on their heels," muttered Boyd, "hen-like, malevolent, and unaccountable. No man dare face and flout that lady, whose husband also is utterly subjected. It was Betty Bleecker who set her on me. Well, so no more of yonder ladies save in her bristling presence."
Yet, as it happened, one thing barred Mistress Sabin from a perpetual domination and sleepless supervision of her charges, and that was the trap-door. Through it she could not force herself, nor could she come around by the guard-door, for the covered way would not admit her ample proportions. She could but mount her guard at the ladder's foot. And there were two exits to that garret room.
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. Chambers