“You know Magdalen Brant?” I asked, impatiently.
“There is a chance,” I said, “that she may return to that house on the hill behind us. If she comes back you will see that she does not leave the house until we return.”
Sir George extinguished the dip once more. Mount turned and set off at a swinging pace along the invisible path; after him strode Sir George; I followed, brooding bitterly on my stupidity, and hopeless now of securing the prisoner in whose fragile hands the fate of the Northland lay.
For a long time we had scented green birch smoke, and now, on hands and knees, we were crawling along the edge of a cliff, the roar of the river in our ears, when Mount suddenly flattened out and I heard him breathing heavily as I lay down close beside him.
“Look!” he whispered, “the ravine is full of fire!”
A dull-red glare grew from the depths of the ravine; crimson shadows shook across the wall of earth and rock. Above the roaring of the stream I heard an immense confused murmur and the smothered thumping rhythm of distant drumming.
“Go on,” I whispered.
Mount crawled forward, Sir George and I after him. The light below burned redder and redder on the cliff; sounds of voices grew more distinct; the dark stream sprang into view, crimson under the increasing furnace glow. Then, as we rounded a heavy jutting crag, a great light flared up almost in our faces, not out of the kindling ravine, but breaking forth among the huge pines on the cliffs.
“Their council-fire!” panted Mount. “See them sitting there!”
“Flatten out,” I whispered. “Follow me!” And I crawled straight towards the fire, where, ink-black against the ruddy conflagration, an enormous pine lay uprooted, smashed by lightning or tempest, I know not which.
Into the dense shadows of the debris I crawled, Mount and Sir George following, and lay there in the dark, staring at the forbidden circle where the secret mysteries of the False-Faces had already begun.
Three great fires roared, set at regular intervals in a cleared space, walled in by the huge black pines. At the foot of a tree sat a white man, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands. The man was Walter Butler.
On his right sat Brant, wrapped in a crimson blanket, his face painted black and scarlet. On his left knelt a ghastly figure wearing a scowling wooden mask painted yellow and black.
Six separate groups of Indians surrounded the fires. They were sachems of the Six Nations, each sachem bearing in his hands the symbol of his nation and of his clan. All were wrapped in black-and-white blankets, and their faces were painted white above the upper lip as though they wore skin-tight masks.
Three young girls, naked save for the beaded clout, and painted scarlet from brow to ankle, beat the witch-drums tump-a-tump! tump-a-tump! while a fourth stood, erect as a vermilion statue, holding a chain belt woven in black-and-white wampum.