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We now approached the door of the manor house, where we named ourselves to the sentry, who presently fetched an officer of Minute Men, who looked us over somewhat coldly.
"You wish to see Major Lockwood?" he asked.
"Yes," said Boyd, "and you may say to him that we are come from headquarters express to speak with him on private business."
"From whom in Albany do you come, sir?"
"Well, sir, if you must have it, from General Clinton," returned Boyd in a lower voice. "But we would not wish it gossipped aloud."
The man seemed to be perplexed, but he went away again, leaving us standing in the crowded hall where officers, ladies of the family, and black servants were continually passing and repassing.
Very soon a door opened on our left, and we caught a glimpse of a handsome room full of officers and civilians, where maps were scattered in confusion over tables, chairs, and even on the floor. An officer in buff and blue came out of the room, glanced keenly at us, made a slight though courteous inclination, but instead of coming forward to greet us turned into another room on the right, which was a parlour.
Then the minute officer returned, directed us where to place our rifles, insisted firmly that we also leave under his care our war axes and the pistol which Boyd carried, and then ushered us into the parlour. And it occurred to me that the gentleman on whose head the British had set a price was very considerably inclined toward prudence.
Now this same gentleman, Major Lockwood, who had been seated behind a table when we entered the parlour, rose and received us most blandly, although I noted that he kept the table between himself and us, and also that the table drawer was open, where I could have sworn that the papers so carelessly heaped about covered a brace of pistols.
For to this sorry pass the Westchester folk had come, that they trusted no stranger, nor were like to for many a weary day to come. Nor could I blame this gentleman with a heavy price on his head, and, as I heard later, already the object of numerous and violent attempts in which, at times, entire regiments had been employed to take him.
But after he had carefully read the letter which Boyd bore from our General of Brigade, he asked us to be seated, and shut the table drawer, and came over to the silk-covered sofa on which we had seated ourselves.
"Do you know the contents of this letter?" he asked Boyd bluntly.
"Yes, Major Lockwood."
"And does Mr. Loskiel know, also?"
"Yes, sir," I answered.
The Major sat musing, turning over and over the letter between thumb and forefinger.
He was a man, I should say, of forty or a trifle more, with brown eyes which sometimes twinkled as though secretly amused, even when his face was gravest and most composed; a gentleman of middle height, of good figure and straight, and of manners so simple that the charm of them struck one afterward as a pleasant memory.
"Gentlemen," he said, looking up at us from his momentary abstraction, "for the first part of General Clinton's letter I must be brief with you and very frank. There are no recruits to be had in this vicinity for Colonel Morgan's Rifles. Riflemen are of the elite; and our best characters and best shots are all enlisted-- or dead or in prison----" He made a significant gesture toward the south. And we thought of the Prison Ships and the Provost, and sat silent.
"There is," he added, "but one way, and that is to pick riflemen from our regiments here; and I am not sure that the law permits it in the infantry. It would be our loss, if we lose our best shots to your distinguished corps; but of course that is not to be considered if the interests of the land demand it. However, if I am not mistaken, a recruiting party is to follow you."
"Then, sir, you may report accordingly. And now for the other matters. General Clinton, in this letter, recommends that we speak very freely together. So I will be quite frank, gentlemen. The man you seek, Luther Kinnicut, is a spy whom our Committee of Safety maintains within the lines of the lower party. If it be necessary I can communicate with him, but it may take a week. Might I ask why you desire to question him so particularly?"
Boyd said: "There is a Siwanois Indian, one Mayaro, a Sagamore, with whom we have need to speak. General Clinton believes that this man Kinnicut knows his whereabouts."
"I believe so, too," said the Major smiling. "But I ask your pardon, gentlemen; the Sagamore, Mayaro, although a Siwanois, was adopted by the Mohicans, and should be rated one."
"Do you know him, sir?"
"Very well indeed. May I inquire what it is you desire of Mayaro?"
"This," said Boyd slowly; "and this is the real secret with which I am charged-- a secret not to be entrusted to paper-- a secret which you, sir, and even my comrade, Mr. Loskiel, now learn for the first time. May I speak with safety in this room, Major?"
The Major rose, opened the door into the hall, dismissed the sentry, closed and locked the door, and returned to us.
"I am," he said smiling, "almost ashamed to make so much circumstance over a small matter of which you have doubtless heard. I mean that the lower party has seen fit to distinguish me by placing a price upon my very humble head; and as I am not only Major in Colonel Thomas's regiment, but also a magistrate, and also, with my friend Lewis Morris, a member of the Provincial Assembly, and of the Committee of Safety, I could not humour the lower party by permitting them to capture so many important persons in one net," he added, laughing. "Now, sir, pray proceed. I am honoured by General Clinton's confidence."
"Then, sir," said Boyd very gravely, "this is the present matter as it stands. His Excellency has decided on a daring stroke to be delivered immediately; General Sullivan has been selected to deal it, General Clinton is to assist. A powerful army is gathering at Albany, and another at Easton and Tioga. The enemy know well enough that we are concentrating, and they have guessed where the blow is to be struck. But, sir, they have guessed wrong!"
"Not Canada, then?" inquired the Major quietly.
"No, sir. We demonstrate northward; that is all. Then we wheel west by south and plunge straight into the wilderness, swift as an arrow files, directly at the heart of the Long House!"
"Sir!" he exclaimed, astonished.
"Straight at the heart o! the Iroquois Confederacy, Major! That is what is to be done-- clean out, scour out, crush, annihilate those hell-born nations which have so long been terrorizing the Northland. Major Lockwood, you have read in the New England and Pennsylvania papers how we have been threatened, how we have been struck, how we have fought and suffered. But you, sir, have only heard; you have not seen. So I must tell you now that it is far worse with us than we have admitted. The frontier of New York State is already in ashes; the scalp yell rings in our forests day and night; and the red destructives under Brant, and the painted Tories under Walter Butler, spare neither age nor sex-- for I myself have seen scalps taken from the tender heads of cradled infants-- nay, I have seen them scalp the very hound on guard at the cabin door! And that is how it goes with us, sir. God save you, here, from the blue-eyed Indians!"
He stopped, hesitated, then, softly smiting one fist within the other:
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. Chambers