Read CHAPTER XXII of Alice of Old Vincennes, free online book, by Maurice Thompson, on


A few days after the surrender of Hamilton, a large boat, the Willing, arrived from Kaskaskia. It was well manned and heavily armed. Clark fitted it out before beginning his march and expected it to be of great assistance to him in the reduction of the fort, but the high waters and the floating driftwood delayed its progress, so that its disappointed crew saw Alice’s flag floating bright and high when their eyes first looked upon the dull little town from far down the swollen river. There was much rejoicing, however, when they came ashore and were enthusiastically greeted by the garrison and populace. A courier whom they picked up on the Ohio came with them. He bore dispatches from Governor Henry of Virginia to Clark and a letter for Beverley from his father. With them appeared also Simon Kenton, greatly to the delight of Oncle Jazon, who had worried much about his friend since their latest fredaine as he called it with the Indians. Meantime an expedition under Captain Helm had been sent up the river with the purpose of capturing a British flotilla from Detroit.

Gaspard Roussillon, immediately after Clark’s victory, thought he saw a good opening favorable to festivity at the river house, for which he soon began to make some of his most ostentatious preparations. Fate, however, as usual in his case, interfered. Fate seemed to like pulling the big Frenchman’s ear now and again, as if to remind him of the fact which he was apt to forget that he lacked somewhat of omnipotence.

“Ziff! Je vais donner un banquet a tout moonde, moi!” he cried, hustling and bustling hither and thither.

A scout from up the river announced the approach of Philip Dejean with his flotilla richly laden, and what little interest may have been gathering in the direction of M. Roussillon’s festal proposition vanished like the flame of a lamp in a puff of wind when this news reached Colonel Clark and became known in the town.

Beverley and Alice sat together in the main room of the Roussillon cabin you could scarcely find them separated during those happy days and Alice was singing to the soft tinkle of a guitar, a Creole ditty with a merry smack in its scarcely intelligible nonsense. She knew nothing about music beyond what M. Roussillon, a jack of all trades, had been able to teach her, a few simple chords to accompany her songs, picked up at hap-hazard. But her voice, like her face and form, irradiated witchery. It was sweet, firm, deep, with something haunting in it the tone of a hermit thrush, marvelously pure and clear, carried through a gay strain like the mocking-bird’s. Of course Beverley thought it divine; and when a message came from Colonel Clark bidding him report for duty at once, he felt an impulse toward mutiny of the rankest sort. He did not dream that a military expedition could be on hand; but upon reaching headquarters, the first thing he heard was:

“Report to Captain Helm. You are to go with him up the river and intercept a British force. Move lively, Helm is waiting for you, probably.”

There was no time for explanations. Evidently Clark expected neither questions nor delay. Beverley’s love of adventure and his patriotic desire to serve his country came to his aid vigorously enough; still, with Alice’s love-song ringing in his heart, there was a cord pulling him back from duty to the sweetest of all life’s joys.

Helm was already at the landing, where a little fleet of boats was being prepared. A thousand things had to be done in short order. All hands were stimulated to highest exertion with the thought of another fight. Swivels were mounted in boats, ammunition and provisions stored abundantly, flags hoisted and oars dipped. Never was an expedition of so great importance more swiftly organized and set in motion, nor did one ever have a more prosperous voyage or completer triumph. Philip Dejean, Justice of Detroit, with his men, boats and rich cargo, was captured easily, with not a shot fired, nor a drop of blood spilled in doing it.

If Alice could have known all this before it happened, she would probably have saved herself from the mortification of a rebuke administered very kindly, but not the less thoroughly, by Colonel Clark.

The rumor came to her a brilliant créole rumor, duly inflated that an overwhelming British force was descending the river, and that Beverley with a few men, not sufficient to base the expedition on a respectable forlorn hope, would be sent to meet them. Her nature, as was its wont, flared into high indignation. What right had Colonel Clark to send her lover away to be killed just at the time when he was all the whole world to her? Nothing could be more outrageous. She would not suffer it to be done; not she!

Colonel Clark greeted her pleasantly, when she came somewhat abruptly to him, where he was directing a squad of men at work making some repairs in the picketing of the fort. He did not observe her excitement until she began to speak, and then it was noticeable only, and not very strongly, in her tone. She forgot to speak English, and her French was Greek to him.

“I am glad to see you, Mademoiselle,” he said, rather inconsequently, lifting his hat and bowing with rough grace, while he extended his right hand cordially. “You have something to say to me? Come with me to my office.”

She barely touched his fingers.

“Yes, I have something to say to you. I can tell it here,” she said, speaking English now with softest Creole accent. “I wanted I came to ” It was not so easy as she had imagined it would be to utter what she had in mind. Clark’s steadfast, inscrutable eyes, kindly yet not altogether sympathetic, met her own and beat them down. Her voice failed.

He offered her his arm and gravely said:

“We will go to my office. I see that you have some important communication to make. There are too many ears here.”

Of a sudden she felt like running home. Somehow the situation broke upon her with a most embarrassing effect. She did not take Clark’s arm, and she began to tremble. He appeared unconscious of this, and probably was, for his mind had a fine tangle of great schemes in it just then; but he turned toward his office, and bidding her follow him, walked away in that direction.

She was helpless. Not the slightest trace of her usual brilliant self-assertion was at her command. Saving the squad of men sawing and hacking, digging and hammering, the fort appeared as deserted as her mind. She stood gazing after Clark. He did not look back, but strode right on. If she would speak with him, she must follow. It was a surprise to her, for heretofore she had always had her own way, even if she found it necessary to use force. And where was Beverley? Where was the garrison? Colonel Clark did not seem to be at all concerned about the approach of the British and yet those repairs perhaps he was making ready for a desperate resistance! She did not move until he reached the door of his office where he stopped and stepped aside, as if to let her pass in first; he even lifted his hat, then looked a trifle surprised when he saw that she was not near him, frowned slightly, changed the frown to a smile and said, lifting his voice so that she felt a certain imperative meaning in it:

“Did I walk too fast for you? I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle.”

He stood waiting for her, as a father waits for a lagging, wilful child.

“Come, please,” he added, “if you have something to say to me; my time just now is precious I have a great deal to do.”

She was not of a nature to retreat under fire, and yet the panic in her breast came very near mastering her will. Clark saw a look in her face which made him speak again:

“I assure you, Mademoiselle, that you need not feel embarrassed. You can rely upon me to ”

She made a gesture that interrupted him; at the same time she almost ran toward him, gathering in breath, as one does who is about to force out a desperately resisting and riotous thought. The strong, grave man looked at her with a full sense of her fascination, and at the same time he felt a vague wish to get away from her, as if she were about to cast unwelcome responsibility upon him.

“Where is Lieutenant Beverley?” she demanded, now close to Clark, face to face, and gazing straight into his eyes. “I want to see him.” Her tone suggested intensest excitement. She was trembling visibly.

Clark’s face changed its expression. He suddenly recalled to mind Alice’s rapturous public greeting of Beverley on the day of the surrender. He was a cavalier, and it did not agree with his sense of high propriety for girls to kiss their lovers out in the open air before a gazing army. True enough, he himself had been hoodwinked by Alice’s beauty and boldness in the matter of Long-Hair. He confessed this to himself mentally, which may have strengthened his present disapproval of her personal inquiry about Beverley. At all events he thought she ought not to be coming into the stockade on such an errand.

“Lieutenant Beverley is absent acting under my orders he said, with perfect respectfulness, yet in a tone suggesting military finality. He meant to set an indefinite yet effective rebuke in his words.

“Absent?” she echoed. “Gone? You sent him away to be killed! You had no right you ”

“Miss Roussillon,” said Clark, becoming almost stern, “you had better go home and stay there; young girls oughtn’t to run around hunting men in places like this.”

His blunt severity of speech was accompanied by a slight frown and a gesture of impatience.

Alice’s face blazed red to the roots of her sunny hair; the color ebbed, giving place to a pallor like death. She began to tremble, and her lips quivered pitifully, but she braced herself and tried to force back the choking sensation in her throat.

“You must not misconstrue my words,” Clark quickly added; “I simply mean that men will not rightly understand you. They will form impressions very harmful to you. Even Lieutenant Beverley might not see you in the right light.”

“What what do you mean?” she gasped, shrinking from him, a burning spot reappearing under the dimpled skin of each cheek.

“Pray, Miss, do not get excited. There is nothing to make you cry.” He saw tears shining in her eyes. “Beverley is not in the slightest danger. All will be well, and he’ll come back in a few days. The expedition will be but a pleasure trip. Now you go home. Lieutenant Beverley is amply able to take care of himself. And let me tell you, if you expect a good man to have great confidence in you, stay home and let him hunt you up instead of you hunting him. A man likes that better.”

It would be impossible to describe Alice’s feelings, as they just then rose like a whirling storm in her heart. She was humiliated, she was indignant, she was abashed; she wanted to break forth with a tempest of denial, self-vindication, resentment; she wanted to cry with her face hidden in her hands. What she did was to stand helplessly gazing at Clark, with two or three bright tears on either cheek, her hands clenched, her eyes flashing. She was going to say some wild thing; but she did not; her voice lodged fast in her throat. She moved her lips, unable to make a sound.

Two of Clark’s officers relieved the situation by coming up to get orders about some matter of town government, and Alice scarcely knew how she made her way home. Every vein in her body was humming like a bee when she entered the house and flung herself into a chair.

She heard Madame Roussillon and Father Beret chatting in the kitchen, whence came a fragrance of broiling buffalo steak besprinkled with garlic. It was Father Beret’s favorite dish, wherefore his tongue ran freely almost as freely as that of his hostess, and when he heard Alice come in, he called gayly to her through the kitchen door:

“Come here, ma fille, and lend us old folks your appetite; nous avons une tranche a la Bordelaise!”

“I am not hungry,” she managed to say, “you can eat it without me.”

The old man’s quick ears caught the quaver of trouble in her voice, much as she tried to hide it. A moment later he was standing beside her with his hand on her head.

“What is the matter now, little one?” he tenderly demanded. “Tell your old Father.”

She began to cry, laying her face in her crossed arms, the tears gushing, her whole frame aquiver, and heaving great sobs. She seemed to shrink like a trodden flower. It touched Father Beret deeply.

He suspected that Beverley’s departure might be the cause of her trouble; but when presently she told him what had taken place in the fort, he shook his head gravely and frowned.

“Colonel Clark was right, my daughter,” he said after a short silence, “and it is time for you to ponder well upon the significance of his words. You can’t always be a wilful, headstrong little girl, running everywhere and doing just as you please. You have grown to be a woman in stature you must be one in fact. You know I told you at first to be careful how you acted with ”

“Father, dear old Father!” she cried, springing from her seat and throwing her arms around his neck. “Have I appeared forward and unwomanly? Tell me, Father, tell me! I did not mean to do anything ”

“Quietly, my child, don’t give way to excitement.” He gently put her from him and crossed himself a habit of his when suddenly perplexed then added:

“You have done no evil; but there are proprieties which a young woman must not overstep. You are impulsive, too impulsive; and it will not do to let a young man see that you that you ”

“Father, I understand,” she interrupted, and her face grew very pale.

Madame Roussillon came to the door, flushed with stooping over the fire, and announced that the steak was ready.

“Bring the wine, Alice,” she added, “a bottle of Bordeaux.”

She stood for a breath of two, her red hands on her hips, looking first at Father Beret, then at Alice.

“Quarreling again about the romances?” she inquired. “She’s been at it again? she’s found ’em again?”

“Yes,” said Father Beret, with a queer, dry smile, “more romance. Yes, she’s been at it again! Now fetch the Bordeaux, little one.”

The following days were cycles of torture to Alice. She groveled in the shadow of a great dread. It seemed to her that Beverley could not love her, could not help looking upon her as a poor, wild, foolish girl, unworthy of consideration. She magnified her faults and crudities, she paraded before her inner vision her fecent improprieties, as they had been disclosed to her, until she saw herself a sort of monstrosity at which all mankind was gazing with disgust. Life seemed dry and shriveled, a mere jaundiced shadow, while her love for Beverley took on a new growth, luxuriant, all-embracing, uncontrollable. The ferment of spirit going on in her breast was the inevitable process of self-recognition which follows the terrible unfolding of the passion-flower, in a nature almost absolutely simple and unsophisticated.

Vincennes held its breath while waiting for news from Helm’s expedition. Every day had its nimble, yet wholly imaginary account of what had happened, skipping from mouth to mouth, and from cabin to cabin. The French folk ran hither and thither in the persistent rain, industriously improving the dramatic interest of each groundless report. Alice’s disturbed imagination reveled in the kaleidoscopic terrors conjured up by these swift changes of the form and color of the stories “from the front,” all of them more or less tragic. To-day the party is reported as having been surprised and massacred to a man to-morrow there has been a great fight, many killed, the result in doubt next day the British are defeated, and so on. The volatile spirit of the Créoles fairly surpassed itself in ringing the changes on stirring rumors.

Alice scarcely left the house during the whole period of excitement and suspense. Like a wounded bird, she withdrew herself from the light and noisy chatter of her friends, seeking only solitude and crepuscular nooks in which to suffer silently. Jean brought her every picturesque bit of the ghastly gossip, thus heaping coals on the fire of her torture. But she did not grow pale and thin. Not a dimple fled from cheek or chin, not a ray of saucy sweetness vanished from her eyes. Her riant health was unalterable. Indeed, the only change in her was a sudden ripening and mellowing of her beauty, by which its colors, its lines, its subtle undercurrents of expression were spiritualized, as if by some powerful clarifying process.

Tremendous is the effect of a soul surprised by passion and brought hard up against an opposing force which dashes it back upon itself with a flare and explosion of self-revealment. Nor shall we ever be able to foretell just how small a circumstance, just how slight an exigency, will suffice to bring on the great change. The shifting of a smile to the gloom of a frown, the snap of a string on the lute of our imagination, just at the point when a rich melody is culminating; the waving of a hand, a vanishing face any eclipse of tender, joyous expectation dashes a nameless sense of despair into the soul. And a young girl’s soul who shall uncover its sacred depths of sensitiveness, or analyze its capacity for suffering under such a stroke?

On the fifth day of March, back came the victorious Helm, having surrounded and captured seven boats, richly loaded with provisions and goods, and Dejean’s whole force. Then again the little Creole town went wild with rejoicing. Alice heard the news and the noise; but somehow there was no response in her heart. She dreaded to meet Beverley; indeed, she did not expect him to come to her. Why should he?

M. Roussillon, who had volunteered to accompany Helm, arrived in a mood of unlimited proportions, so far as expressing self-admiration and abounding delight was concerned. You would have been sure that he had done the whole deed single-handed, and brought the flotilla and captives to town on his back. But Oncle Jazon for once held his tongue, being too disgusted for words at not having been permitted to fire a single shot. What was the use of going to fight and simply meeting and escorting down the river a lot of non-combatants?

There is something inscrutably delightful about a girl’s way of thinking one thing and doing another. Perversity, thy name is maidenhood; and maidenhood, thy name is delicious inconsequence! When Alice heard that Beverley had come back, safe, victorious, to be greeted as one of the heroes of an important adventure, she immediately ran to her room frightened and full of vague, shadowy dread, to hide from him, yet feeling sure that he would not come! Moreover, she busied herself with the preposterous task of putting on her most attractive gown the buff brocade which she wore that evening at the river house how long ago it seemed! when Beverley thought her the queenliest beauty in the world. And she was putting it on so as to look her prettiest while hiding from him!

It is a toss-up where happiness will make its nest. The palace, the hut, the great lady’s garden, the wild lass’s bower, skip here, alight there, the secret of it may never be told. And love and beauty find lodgment, by the same inexplicable route, in the same extremes of circumstances. The wind bloweth where it listeth, finding many a matchless flower and many a ravishing fragrance in the wildest nooks of the world.

No sooner did Beverley land at the little wharf than, rushing to his quarters, he made a hasty exchange of water-soaked apparel for something more comfortable, and then bolted in the direction of Roussillon place.

Now Alice knew by the beating of her heart that he was coming. In spite of all she could do, trying to hold on hard and fast to her doubt and gloom, a tide of rich sweetness began to course through her heart and break in splendid expectation from her eyes, as they looked through the little unglazed window toward the fort. Nor had she long to wait. He came up the narrow wet street, striding like a tall actor in the height of a melodrama, his powerful figure erect as an Indian’s, and his face glowing with the joy of a genuine, impatient lover, who is proud of himself because of the image he bears in his heart.

When Alice flung wide the door (which was before Beverley could cross the veranda), she had quite forgotten how she had gowned and bedecked herself; and so, without a trace of self-consciousness, she flashed upon him a full-blown flower to his eyes the loveliest that ever opened under heaven.

Gaspard Roussillon, still overflowing with the importance of his part in the capture of Dejean, came puffing homeward just in time to see a man at the door holding Alice a-tiptoe in his arms.

“Ziff!” he cried, as he pushed open the little front gate of the yard, “en voila assez, vogue la galère!”

The two forms disappeared within the house, as if moved by his roaring voice.

The letter to Beverley from his father was somewhat disturbing. It bore the tidings of his mother’s failing health. This made it easier for the young Lieutenant to accept from Clark the assignment to duty with a party detailed for the purpose of escorting Hamilton, Farnsworth and several other British officers to Williamsburg, Virginia. It also gave him a most powerful assistance in persuading Alice to marry him at once, so as to go with him on what proved to be a delightful wedding journey through the great wilderness to the Old Dominion. Spring’s verdure burst abroad on the sunny hills as they slowly went their way; the mating birds sang in every blooming brake and grove by which they passed, and in their joyous hearts they heard the bubbling of love’s eternal fountain.