THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Day broke with a thundering roll of drums. Instinctively I stumbled out of bed, dragged on my clothes, and, half awake and half dressed, crept to the open window. The level morning sun blazed on acres of slanting rifles passing; a solid column of Continental infantry, drums and fifes leading, came swinging along the stockade; knapsacks, cross-belts, gaiters, gray with dust; officers riding ahead with naked swords drawn, color-bearers carrying the beautiful new standard, stars shining, red and white stripes stirring lazily in brilliant, silken billows.
The morning air rang with the gusty music of the fifes, the drums beat steadily in solid cadence to the long, rippling trample of feet.
Within the stockade an incessant clamor filled the air; the grounds around the house were packed with soldiers, some leading out mules, some loading batt-horses, some drawing and carrying water, some forming ranks, shouting their numbers for column of fours.
Sir George Covert’s riders of the Legion had halted under my window, rifles slung, helmets strapped; a trumpeter in embroidered jacket sat his horse in front, corded trumpet reversed flat on his thigh.
Clearing my eyes with unsteady hand, I peered dizzily at the spectacle below; my ears rang with the tumult of arrival and departure; and, through the increasing uproar and the thundering rhythm of the drums, memories of the past night flashed up, livid as flames in darkness.
The endless columns of Continentals were still pouring by the stockade, when, above the dinning drums, I heard my door shaking and a voice calling me by name.
“Ormond! Ormond! Open the door, man!”
With stiff limbs dragging, I made my way to the door and pulled back the bolt. Sir George Covert, in full uniform, sprang in and caught my hands in his.
“Ormond! Ormond!” he cried, in deep reproach. “Why did you not tell me long since that you loved her? You knew she loved you! What blind violence have you and Dorothy done yourselves and each other—and me, Ormond!—and yet another very dear to me—with your mad obstinacy and mistaken chivalry!”
I saw the grave, kind eyes searching mine, I heard his unsteady voice, but I could not respond. An immense fatigue chained mind and tongue; intelligence was there, but the tension had relaxed, and I stood dull, nerveless, my hands limp in his.
“Ormond,” he said, gently, “we ride south in a few moments; you will be leaving for Stillwater in an hour. Gates’s left wing is marching on Balston, and news is in by an Oneida runner that Arnold has swept all before him; Stanwix is safe; St. Leger routed. Do you understand? Every man in Tryon County is marching on Burgoyne! You, too, will be on the way towards headquarters within the hour!”
Trembling from weakness and excitement, I could only look at him in silence.