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It happened the following afternoon that, having written in my journal, and dressed me in my best, I left the Mohican in the hut a-painting and shining up his weapons, and walked abroad to watch the remaining troops and the artillery start for Otsego Lake.
A foot regiment-- Colonel Gansevoort's-- had struck tents and marched with its drums and colours early that morning, carrying also the regimental wagons and batteaux. However, I had been told that this veteran regiment was not to go with the army into the Iroquois country, but was to remain as a protection to Tryon County. But now Colonel Lamb's remaining section of artillery was to march to the lake; and whether this indicated that our army at last was fairly in motion, nobody knew. Yet, it seemed scarcely likely, because Lieutenant Boyd had been ordered out with a scout of twenty men toward the West branch of the Delaware, and he told me that he expected to be absent for several days. Besides, it was no secret that arms had not yet been issued and distributed to all the recruits in the foot regiments; that Schott's riflemen had not yet drawn their equipment, and that as yet we had not collected half the provisions required for an extensive campaign, although nearly every day the batteaux came up the river with stores from Schenectady and posts below.
Strolling up from the river that afternoon, very fine in my best, and, I confess, content with myself except for the lack of hair powder, queue, and ribbon, which ever disconcerted me, I saw already the two guns of the battalion of artillery moving out of their cantonment, the limbers, chests, and the forge well horsed and bright with polish and paint, the men somewhat patched and ragged, but with queues smartly tied and heads well floured.
Had our cannoneers been properly and newly uniformed, it had been a fine and stirring sight, with the artillery bugle-horn sounding the march, and the camp trumpets answering, and Colonel Lamb riding ahead with his mounted officers, very fine and nobly horsed, the flag flying smartly and most beautiful against the foliage of the terraced woods.
A motley assembly had gathered to see them march out; our General Clinton and his staff, in the blue and buff of the New York Line, had come over, and all the officers and soldiers off duty, too, as well as the people of the vicinity, and a horde of workmen, batteaux-men, and forest runners, including a dozen Oneida Indians of the guides.
Poor Alden's 6th Massachusetts foot regiment, which was just leaving for the lake on its usual road-mending detail, stood in spiritless silence to see the artillery pass; their Major, Whiting, as well as the sullen rank and file, seeming still to feel the disgrace of Cherry Valley, where their former colonel lost his silly life, and Major Stacia was taken, and still remained a prisoner.
As for us of Morgan's, we were very sorry for the mortified New Englanders, yet not at all forgetful of their carping and insolent attitude toward the ragged New York Line-- where at least the majority of our officers were gentlemen and where proper and military regard for rank was most decently maintained. Gad! To hear your New Englander talk, a man might think that this same war was being maintained and fought by New England alone. And, damn them, they got Schuyler laid aside after all. But the New York Line went about its grim and patient business, unheeding their New England arrogance as long as His Excellency understood the truth concerning the wretched situation. And I for one marvelled that the sniffling 'prentices of Massachusetts and the Connecticut barbers and tin-peddlers had the effrontery to boast of New England valour while that arch-malcontent, Ethan Allen, and his petty and selfish yokels of Vermont, openly defied New York and Congress, nor scrupled to conduct most treasonably, to their everlasting and black disgrace. No Ticonderoga, no Bennington, could wipe out that outrageous treachery, or efface the villainy of what was done to Schuyler-- the man who knew no fear, the officer without reproach.
The artillery jolted and clinked away down the rutty road which their wheels and horses cut into new and deeper furrows; a veil of violet dust hung in their wake, through which harness, cannon, and drawn cutlass glittered and glimmered like sunlit ripples through a mist.
Then came our riflemen marching as escort, smart and gay in their brown forest-dress, the green thrums rippling and flying from sleeve and leggin' and open double-cape, and the raccoon-tails all a-bobbing behind their caps like the tails that April lambkins wriggle.
Always the sight of my own corps thrilled me. I thanked God for those big, sun-masked men with their long, silent, gliding stride, their shirts open to their mighty chests, and the heavy rifles all swinging in glancing unison on their caped shoulders, carried as lightly as so many reeds.
I stood at salute as our Major and Captain Simpson strode by; grinned ever so little as Boyd came swinging along, his naked cutlass drawn, scarlet fringes tossing on his painted cape. He whispered as he passed:
"Murphy and Elerson took two scalps last night. They're drying on hoops in the barracks. Look and see if they be truly Seneca."
At that I was both startled and disgusted; but it was well-nigh impossible to prevent certain of our riflemen who had once been wood-runners from treating the Iroquois as the Iroquois treated them. And they continued to scalp them as naturally as they once had clipped pads and ears from panther and wolf. Mount and the rifleman Renard no longer did it, and I had thought to have persuaded Murphy and Elerson to conduct more becoming. But it seemed that I had failed.
My mind was filled with resentful thoughts as I entered the Lower Fort and started across the swarming parade toward the barracks, meaning to have a look at these ghastly trophies and judge to what nation they belonged.
People of every walk in life were passing and repassing where our regimental wagons were being loaded, and I threaded my way with same difficulty amid a busy throng, noticing nobody, unless it were one of my own corps who saluted my cockade.
Halfway across, a young woman bearing a gunny-sack full of linen garments and blankets to be washed blocked my passage, and being a woman I naturally gave her right of way. And the next instant saw it was Lois.
She had averted her head, and was now hurriedly passing on, and I turned sharply on my heel and came up beside her.
"Lois," I managed to say with a voice that was fairly steady, "have you forgotten me?"
Her head remained resolutely averted; and as I continued beside her, she said, without looking at me:
"Do you not understand that you are disgracing yourself by speaking to me on the parade? Pass on, sir, for your own sake,"
"I desire to speak to you," I said obstinately.
"No. Pass on before any officers see you!"
My face, I know, was fiery red, and for an instant all the ridicule, the taunts, the shame which I might well be storing up for myself, burned there for anyone to see. But stronger than fear of ridicule rose a desperate determination not to lose this maid again, and whether what I was doing was worthy, and for her sake, or unworthy, and for my own, I did not understand or even question.
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. Chambers