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Chambers Robert W. Robert William
The Little Red Foot

CHAPTER I
SIR WILLIAM PASSES

The day Sir William died there died the greatest American of his day. Because, on that mid-summer evening, His Excellency was still only a Virginia gentleman not yet famous, and best known because of courage and sagacity displayed in that bloody business of Braddock.

Indeed, all Americans then living, and who since have become famous, were little celebrated, excepting locally, on the day Sir William Johnson died. Few were known outside a single province; scarcely one among them had been heard of abroad. But Sir William was a world figure; a great constructive genius; the greatest land-owner in North America; a wise magistrate, a victorious soldier, a builder of cities amid a wilderness; a redeemer of men.

He was a Baronet of the British Realm; His Majesty's Superintendent of Indian Affairs for all North America. He was the only living white man implicitly trusted by the savages of this continent, because he never broke his word to them. He was, perhaps, the only representative of royal authority in the Western Hemisphere utterly believed in by the dishonest, tyrannical, and stupid pack of Royal Governors, Magistrates and lesser vermin that afflicted the colonies with the British plague.

He was kind and great. All loved him. All mourned him. For he was a very perfect gentleman who practiced truth and honour and mercy; an unassuming and respectable man who loved laughter and gaiety and plain people.

He saw the conflict coming which must drench the land in blood and dry with fire the blackened cinders.

Torn betwixt loyalty to his King whom he had so tirelessly served, and loyalty to his country which he so passionately loved, it has been said that, rather than choose between King and Colony, he died by his own hand.

But those who knew him best know otherwise. Sir William died of a broken heart, in his great Hall at Johnstown, all alone.

His son, Sir John, killed a fine horse riding from Fort Johnson to the Hall. And arrived too late and all of a lather in the starlight.

And I have never ceased marvelling how such a man could have been the son of the great Sir William.

At the Hall the numerous household was all in a turmoil; and, besides Sir William's immediate family, there were a thousand guests – a thousand Iroquois Indians encamped around the Hall, with whom Sir William had been holding fire-council.

For he had determined to restrain his Mohawks, and to maintain tranquillity among all the fierce warriors of the Six Nations, and so pledge the entire Iroquois Confederacy to an absolute neutrality in the imminence of this war betwixt King and Colony, which now seemed to be coming so rapidly upon us that already its furnace breath was heating restless savages to a fever.

All that hot June day, though physically ill and mentally unhappy, – and under a vertical sun and with head uncovered, – Sir William had spoken to the Iroquois with belts.

The day's labour of that accursed council-fire ended at sunset; sachem and chief departed – tall spectres in the flaming west; there was a clash of steel at the guard-house as the guard presented arms; Mr. Duncan saluted the Confederacy with lifted claymore.

Then an old man, bareheaded, alone, turned away from the covered council-fire; and an officer, seeing how feebly he moved, flung an arm about his shoulders.

So Sir William came slowly to his great Hall, and slowly entered. And laid him down in his library on a sofa.

And slowly died there while the sun was going down.

Then the first star came out where, in the ashes of the June sunset, a pale rose tint still lingered.

But Sir William lay dead in his great Hall, all alone.

CHAPTER II
TWO PEERS SANS PEERAGE

Sir John had arrived and I caught sight of his heavy, expressionless face, which seemed more colourless than ever in the candle light.

Consternation reigned in the Hall, – a vast tumult of whispering and guarded gabble among servants, checked by sobs, – and I saw officers come and go, and the tall forms of Mohawks still as pines on a summer night.

The entire household was there – all excepting only Michael Cardigan and Felicity Warren.

The two score farm slaves were there huddled along the wall in dusky clusters, and their great, dark eyes wet with tears.

I saw Sir William's lawyer, Lafferty, come in with Flood, the Baronet's Bouw-Meester.1

His blacksmith, his tailor, and his armourer were there; also his gardener; the German, Frank, his butler; Pontioch, his personal waiter; and those two uncanny and stunted servants, the Bartholomews, with their dead white faces and dwarfish dignity.

Also I saw poor Billy, Sir William's fiddler, gulping down the blubbers; and there was his personal physician, Doctor Daly, very grave; and the servile Wall, schoolmaster to Lady Molly's brood; and I saw Nicholas, his valet, and black Flora, his cook, both sobbing into the same bandanna.

The dark Lady Johnson was there, very quiet in her grief, slow-moving, still beautiful, having by the hands the two youngest girls and boy, while near her clustered the older children, fat Peter and Betsy and pretty Lana.

A great multitude of candles burned throughout the hall; Sir William's silver and mahogany sparkled everywhere; and so did the naked claymores of the Highlanders on guard where the dead man lay in his own chamber, done, at last, with all perplexity and grief.

In the morning came the quality in scores – all the landed gentry of Tryon County, Tory and Whig alike, to show their reverence: – old Colonel John Butler from his seat at Butlersbury near Caughnawaga, and his dark, graceful son Walter, – he of the melancholy golden eyes – an attorney then and sick of a wound which, some said, had been taken in a duel with Michael Cardigan near Fort Pitt.

Colonel Claus was there, too, son-in-law to Sir William, and battered much by frontier battles: and Guy Johnson, a cousin, and a son-in-law, too, had come from his fine seat at Guy Park to look upon a face as tranquil in death as a sleeping child's.

The McDonald, of damned memory, was there in his tartan and kilts and bonnet; and the Albany Patroon, very modest; and God knows how many others from far and near, all arrived to honour a man who had died very tired in the service of our Lord, who knows and pardons all.

The pretty lady of Sir John, who was Polly Watts of New York, came to me where I stood in the noon breeze near the lilacs; and I kissed her hand, and, straightening myself, retained it, looking into her woeful face of a child, all marred with tears.

"I had not thought to be mistress of the Hall for many years," said she, her lips a-tremble. "But yesterday, at this hour, he was living: and, today, in this hour, the heavy importunities of strange new duties are already crushing me… I count on you, Jack."

I made no answer.

"May we not count on you?" she said. "Sir John and I expect it."

As I stood silent there in the breezy sunshine by the porch, there came across the grass Billy Alexander, who is Lord Stirling, a man much older than I, but who seemed young enough; and made his reverence to Lady Johnson, kissing the hand which I very gently released.

"Oh, Billy," says she, the tears starting again, "why should death take him at such a time, when God's wrath darkens all the world?"

"God's convenience is not always ours," he replied, looking at me sideways, with a certain curiosity which I understood if Lady Johnson did not.

She turned and gazed out across the sunny grass where, beyond the hedge fence, the primeval forest loomed like a dark cloud along the sky, far as the eye could see.

"Well," says she, half to herself, "the storm is bound to break, now. And we women of County Tryon may need your swords, gentlemen, before snow flies."

Lord Stirling stole another look at me. He knew as well as I how loosely in their scabbards lay our two swords. He knew, also, as well as I, in which cause would flash the swords of the landed gentry of County Tryon. And he knew, too, that his blade as well as mine must, one day, be unsheathed against them and against the stupid King they served.

Something of this Lady Johnson had long since suspected, I think; but Billy Alexander, for all his years, was a childhood friend; and I, too, a friend, although more recent.

She looked at my Lord Stirling with that troubled sweetness I have seen so often in her face, alas! and she said in a low voice:

"It would be unthinkable that Lord Stirling's sword could lay a-rusting when the Boston rabble break clear out o' bounds."

She turned to me, touched my arm confidingly, child that she seemed and was, God help her.

"A Stormont," she said, "should never entertain any doubts. And so I count on you, Lord Stormont, as I count upon my Lord Stirling – "

"I am not Lord Stormont," said I, striving to force a smile at the old and tiresome contention. "Lord Stormont is the King's Ambassador in Paris – if it please you to recollect – "

"You are as surely Viscount Stormont as is Billy Alexander, here, Lord Stirling – and as I am Lady Johnson," she said earnestly. "What do you care if your titles be disputed by a doddering committee on privileges in the House of Lords? What difference does it make if usurpers wear your honours as long as you know these same stolen titles are your own?"

"A pair o' peers sans peerage," quoth Billy Alexander, with that boyish grin I loved to see.

"I care nothing," said I, still smiling, "but Billy Alexander does – pardon! – my Lord Stirling, I should say."

Said he: "Sure I am Lord Stirling and no one else; and shall wear my title however they dispute it who deny me my proper seat in their rotten House of Lords!"

"I think you are very surely the true Lord Stirling," said I, "but I, on the other hand, most certainly am not a Stormont Murray. My name is John Drogue; and if I be truly also Viscount Stormont, it troubles me not at all, for my ambition is to be only American and to let the Stormonts glitter as they please and where."

Lady Johnson came close to me and laid both hands upon my shoulders.

"Jack," she pleaded, "be true to us. Be true to your gentle blood. Be true to your proper caste. God knows the King will have a very instant need of his gentlemen in America before we three see another summer here in County Tryon."

I made no reply. What could I say to her? And, indeed, the matter of the Stormont Viscounty was distasteful, stale, and wearisome to me, and I cared absolutely nothing about it, though the landed gentry of Tryon were ever at pains to place me where I belonged, – if some were right, – and where I did not belong if others were righter still.

For Lady Johnson, like many of her caste, believed that the second Viscount Stormont died without issue, – which was true, – and that the third Viscount had a son, – which is debatable.

At any rate, David Murray became the fourth Viscount, and the claims of my remote ancestor went a-glimmering for so many years that, in 1705, we resumed our family name of the Northesks, which is Drogue; and in this natural manner it became my proper name. God knows I found it good enough to eat and sleep with, so that my Lord Stormont's capers in Paris never disturbed my dreams. Thank Heaven for that, too; and it was a sad day for my Lord Stormont when he tried to bully Benjamin Franklin; for the whole world is not yet done a-laughing at him.

No, I have no desire to claim a Viscounty which our witty Franklin has made ridiculous with a single shaft of satire from his bristling repertoire.

Thinking now of this, and reddening a little at the thought, – for no Stormont even of remotest kinship to the family can truly relish Mr. Franklin's sauce, though it dressed an undoubted goose, – I become far more than reconciled to the decision rendered in the House of Lords.

Two people who had come from the house, and who were advancing slowly toward us across the clipped grass, now engaged our full attention.

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