It was not until my horse slid down a ten-foot bank that I heard a hostile sound—the rush of many feet through last year's dead leaves. I heard the Deckhard fired once, and instantly the side of the ridge was as quiet as a death-chamber. Then came the scream of a panther, Cousin's way of announcing a kill.
They must have attempted rushing him, thinking his rifle was empty; for he fired again, and once more gave voice to his war-cry. Then the old eternal quiet of the forest dropped back in place. Until I heard a Shawnee scalp-cry I could rest easy as to my companion. I slipped into the trace and mounted, and pushed ahead.
The Indians were abreast of me and there was the danger of their cutting into the trace ahead. That they had not followed at my heels made me believe they were concentrating all their energies on making a surround and killing, or capturing their much feared enemy. They would prefer to dance Cousin's scalp than to dance a dozen of men of my caliber.
There were no more shots up the ridge, and I found it hard to decide just what gait I should permit my horse to take. I could not leave the boy behind, nor did I care to risk being intercepted. I was worrying my mind into a fine stew over this point when the bushes stirred ahead. I dropped to the ground behind the horse, but it was young Cousin. He motioned for me to hurry.
"You dodged them!" I said.
"Black Hoof's band. They're hard to dodge," he whispered, striding rapidly along and swinging his head from side to side. "How far to the Grisdol cabin?"
"Then ride for it. I'll run at your stirrup. We'll need that cabin if it ain't been burned. I 'low it'll be a close race."
There was no sign of pursuit. I was no novice in Indian warfare, but in this instance I scarcely believed the Shawnees would draw near enough to make the chase interesting. So far as I could observe Cousin had succeeded in stealing away from them, and there was no Indian who could overtake him, especially if he ran at my stirrup.
"They've took four sculps on this side the valley," he murmured as he loped along at my side. "I bagged three on 'em. You fetched one. Black Hoof is too big a chief to call it quits. He's back there leadin' the chase. So I 'low it'll be close."
A curious little thrill chilled my spine. Catahecassa, or Black Hoof, was one of the most redoubtable and resourceful savages to be found in the Shawnee nation. If below Cornstalk's intellectual plane he made up for much of any such discrepancy by his fiery courage and deep cunning.
The long-drawn howl of a wolf sounded up the slope on our left and was soon answered by a similar call directly in our rear. For a third time the signal menaced us, on our right and at a considerable distance.
"They're still scoutin' the ridge for me," murmured Cousin, his lean face turning to the left. "The heft of 'em are comin' along the trace behind us. Those over to the right are hustlin' to find out what's up. We must git along faster!"
My mount responded eagerly, for he sensed the danger. And it was wonderful to observe how Cousin kept up, with one hand on my stirrup, the other holding the rifle. We were well beyond the brook where I shot my Shawnee, and within half a mile or less of the Grisdol cabin, when our flight was interrupted for a few moments by the behavior of my horse.
It was just as we turned from the main trace to strike into the path leading to the cabin that the animal bolted sidewise, crowding Cousin deep into the bushes. I reined in and stared down on a terrible sight—that of the four Grisdols. They lay in the path, head to head, in the form of a cross. I felt my stirrup shake as Cousin's hand rested on it. He gave a little gasping sob and whispered:
"How near to the cabin now?"
"Less than half a mile," I told him as I soothed my horse and permitted him to pick his way around the dead.
Once more we were off, but now Cousin ran behind, for the way was winding and narrow, and at places the overhanging boughs tried to brush me from the saddle.
There was no need of glancing back to make sure my companion was keeping up, for his impatient voice repeatedly urged me to make greater speed.
"If the cabin ain't standin' we've got to have 'nough of a lead to let us lose 'em in the woods," he reminded.
The path completed a detour of some tangled blackberry bushes and ended in a natural opening, well grassed.
"There it is! The roof is partly burned!" I encouraged.
"The walls stand. The door's in place. Faster!"
Across the opening we raced. From the woods behind arose a ferocious yelling. The Shawnee were confident they had driven us into a trap. We flashed by two dead cows and some butchered hogs, and as yet I had not seen an Indian except the one masked in a bear's pelt. The cabin roof was burned through at the front end. The door was partly open and uninjured.
It was simple reasoning to reconstruct the tragedy even while we hastened to shelter. The family had offered resistance, but had been thrown into a panic at the first danger from fire. Then it was quickly over. Doubtless there had been something of a parley with the usual promise of life if they came out. The fire crackled overhead, the victims opened the door.
Cousin said they had been conducted to the main trace before being slaughtered. As I leaped from my horse a fringe of savages broke from cover and began shooting. Cousin dropped the foremost of them. I led the horse inside the cabin and my companion closed and barred the door.
The interior of the place mutely related the tragic story. It is the homely background of a crime that accents the terrible. On the table was the breakfast of the family, scarcely touched. They had been surprised when just about to eat. An overturned stool told how one of the men had leaped to bar the door at the first alarm. I spied through a peephole but could see nothing of our foes. A low cry from Cousin alarmed me. He was overcome at the sight of a small apron.
"I wish I'd stuck to the open," he whispered. "The air o' this place chokes me."
"If we can stand them off till night we can send the horse galloping toward the woods to draw their fire. Then we can run for it."
"There won't be no darkness to-night," morosely replied Cousin. "They'll make big fires. They'll try to burn us out. We're well forted till they git the roof blazin' ag'in. We'll 'low to stick here s'long we can. They won't dare to hang round too long."
He took a big kettle from the fireplace and thrust it through the hole in the roof. Bullets whistled overhead, with an occasional whang as a piece of lead hit the kettle and ricochetted. After the first volley the Indians refused to waste their ammunition, either realizing it was useless, or suspecting the kettle was some kind of a trick.
"I 'lowed they'd git tired," muttered Cousin, sticking the top of his head into the kettle and lifting the edge a crack so he could scrutinize the forest. After a minute of silence his muffed voice called down to me: "Had a notion that cow we passed nearest the woods was dead. Try a shot that'll just graze the rump."
I fired and a Shawnee began rolling toward the bushes. The iron kettle rattled to the ground, and young Cousin, with head and shoulders thrust through the roof, discharged both barrels of his rifle. The Indian stopped rolling. I was amazed that Black Hoof's men had not instantly fired a volley. I exclaimed as much as he dropped to the floor.
"Here she comes!" he cried as the lead began plunging into the thick logs. "If they keep it up we can dig quite a lot o' lead out the timbers. It took 'em by surprise to see me comin' through the roof, an' it surprised 'em more to see two shoots comin' out of a gun that hadn't been reloaded. Mighty few double barrels out here. Huh! I 'low somethin' cur'ous is goin' to happen."
I could discern nothing to warrant this prophecy. No Indians were to be seen. Cousin called my attention to the sound of their tomahawks. I had heard it before he spoke, but I had been so intent in using my eyes that I had forgotten to interpret what my ears were trying to tell me. There was nothing to do but wait.
Cousin discovered the horse had drunk what water there had happened to be in the bucket, leaving us scarcely a drop. Half an hour of waiting seemed half a day; then something began emerging from the woods. It resolved itself into a barrier of green boughs, measuring some fifteen feet in length and ten feet in height.
Its approach was slow. The noise of the axes was explained. The Indians had chopped saplings and had made a frame and filled it with boughs. Behind it was a number of warriors. About half-way across the clearing were half a dozen long logs scattered about.
"They're thinkin' to make them logs an' while hid by their boughs yank 'em together to make a breastwork. Then they'll pepper us while 'nother party rushes in close. New party will pelt us while the first makes a run to git ag'in' the walls where we can't damage 'em from the loopholes. That Black Hoof is a devil for thinkin' up tricks."
I fired at the green mass. Cousin rebuked me, saying:
"Don't waste lead. There's three braves with long poles to keep the contraption from fallin' backward. They're on their feet, but keepin' low as possible. There's t'others pushin' the bottom along. There's t'others huggin' the ground. You'll notice the ends an' middle o' the top stick up right pert, but between the middle an' each end the boughs sort o' sag down. If the middle pole can be put out o' business I 'low the weight of it will make it cave in. Loaded? Then don't shoot less you see somethin'."
With this warning he fired at the middle of the screen, and the middle support developed a weakness, indicating he had wounded the poleman. He fired again, and the whole affair began to collapse, and a dozen warriors were uncovered. These raced for the woods, two of them dragging a wounded or dead man.
For a few seconds I was incapable of moving a muscle. I was much like a boy trying to shoot his first buck. Or perhaps it was the very abundance of targets that made me behave so foolishly. Cousin screamed in rage. My bonds snapped, and I fired. If I scored a hit it was only to wound, for none of the fleeing foe lessened their speed. "Awful poor fiddlin'!" groaned Cousin, eying me malevolently.
"I don't know what was the matter with me. Something seemed to hold me paralyzed. Couldn't move a finger until you yelled."
"Better luck next time," he growled, his resentment passing away.
He loaded and stood his rifle against the logs and began spying from the rear of the cabin. Whenever he glanced at the apron his eyes would close for a moment. No women had lived there. One of the Grisdols, the father of the two children, had brought it as a reminder of his dead wife. Cousin's great fight was not against the red besiegers, but against his emotions. I knew he was thinking of his sister.
"Come here!" I sharply called. "They want a pow-wow. One's waving a green bough."
Cousin climbed to the hole in the roof, holding his rifle out of sight by the muzzle. He yelled in Shawnee for the man to advance alone. The warrior strode forward, the token of peace held high. So far as I could see he did not have even a knife in his belt. Overhead Cousin's rifle cracked and the Indian went down with never a kick.
"Good God! You've fired on a flag of truce, after agreeing to receive it!" I raged.
He stood beside me, a crooked smile on his set face, his eyes gleaming with triumph, his shapely head tilted to enjoy every note of the horrible anger now welling from the forest. "You fired——"
"I 'low I did," he chuckled. Then with awful intentness, "But the folks who lived here an' was happy didn't fire on the Injun fetchin' 'em a bundle o' peace-talk. They believed the Injuns meant it. Do you reckon I treated that dog any worse than the Shawnees treated my father and mother and little sister ten years ago? If you don't 'low that, just keep shet. When a Injun sends you a flag o' truce you want to tie your scalp down, or it'll blow off."
The chorus of howls in the forest suddenly ceased, then were succeeded by sharp yelps of joy. Cousin stared at me in bewilderment. Darting to the back of the cabin, he peered through a chink. "Come here," he softly commanded. I joined him and took his place at the peephole. There was a haze of smoke in the eastern sky.
"That's why Black Hoof an' his men are hangin' round here," he sighed. "He sent a small band farther east. They've made a kill. That's a burnin' over there."
"That would be Edgely's cabin," I decided. "But they moved back to Dunlap's Creek three months ago."
"Thank God for that!" he exclaimed. "But we'll have more Injuns round us mighty soon. I wish it was dark."
"They've stopped their yowling. Look out for fresh deviltry!"
He nodded and walked to the front of the cabin. The horse neighed shrilly. The call was repeated in the forest. The Indians continued silent. I heard it first; that is to recognize it. For I had heard it the day before. The voice of a man shouting fretfully, much as an angry child complains. Cousin understood it when a whimpering note was added.
"Baby Kirst!" he softly cried. "Black Hoof will 'low his medicine is mighty weak. Baby's out there an' in a bad frame o' mind. Somethin' is goin' ag'in' the grain. It's good medicine for us that he wandered up this way."
I began sketching the happenings at Howard's Creek, but before I could finish the bushes on the hem of the woods were violently agitated and Baby Kirst rode into the clearing, his horse in a lather. When he beheld the dead cows and hogs he yelled like a madman and plucked his heavy ax from his belt, and turned back to the woods. He disappeared with a crash, his hoarse voice shouting unintelligible things.
"Now you can go," quietly said Cousin as he unbarred the door. "Be keerful o' the Injuns to the east. They'll be a small band. I 'low I'll foller Kirst. If he don't drive 'em too fast there oughter be good huntin' for me."
That night I rode into the Greenwood clearing on Dunlap's Creek without having seen any Indians along the way.
I REPORT TO MY SUPERIORS
A night at the Greenwood cabin and I resumed my journey to Salem on the Roanoke. Near this hamlet lived Colonel Andrew Lewis, to whom I was to report before carrying or forwarding Doctor Connolly's despatches to Governor Dunmore. The trip was free from any incidents and seemed exceedingly tame after the stress of over-mountain travel. All the settlers I talked with were very anxious to know the true conditions along the border.
As I pressed on and found the cabins more thickly strewn along the various waters I was impressed by the belief of many that the Cherokees would join the Ohio tribes before the war ended. One would expect to find this apprehension to be the keenest where the danger would be the greatest. But not so. Whenever I related how Isaac Crabtree had murdered Cherokee Billy, brother of the powerful Oconostota, the pessimists were positive that the Cherokee nation would lay down a red path.
Notwithstanding these natural fears the war remained popular with practically all the men with whom I talked. Various companies were being formed, and militia captains, to make sure of seeing active service, were not punctilious as to where and by what means they secured their men. There was much ill-natured bickering over this rivalry, with several matters assuming such proportions that only Colonel Lewis could straighten them out.
The war was popular because the people realized a farther western expansion would be impossible until the Indians had been crowded back and firmly held behind the Ohio. Anything short of a permanent elimination of the red menace was cried down.
Much resentment was felt against the hotheads in Pennsylvania for openly accusing the Virginians of inciting the war to establish their land claims. It was widely known that the Pennsylvania Gazette had published charges against Doctor Connolly to the effect that his agents, acting under his orders, had fired on friendly Shawnees who were escorting white traders into Fort Pitt. Among these settlers east of the mountains the common complaint was about the scarcity of powder and lead.
When within a few miles of my destination I came upon a group of settlers who were gathered about a travel-stained stranger. For the first time since leaving Dunlap's Creek I found myself of second importance. This man was tanned by the weather to a deep copper color and wore a black cloth around his head in place of a cap.
I halted on the edge of the group and waited for him to finish his narrative which must have been of lively interest if the rapt attention of the men and women was any gage.
"—and using the ax I jumped over his body, got to the horse and rode away," his deep voice concluded. He spoke with a palpable effort and almost with a sing-song intonation.
I dismounted and pressed forward, and told him:
"You talk like an Indian."
"God's marcy, young sir!" cried an old dame. "An', please sweet grace, why shouldn't he? Isn't he Johnny Ward, took by the Injums when a boy, an' just managed to scoot free of 'em?"
The man slowly looked me over, his face as immovable as any Shawnee chief's. Then with the slightest of hesitation between each two words he calmly informed me:
"Escaped as the white woman says. Named John Ward. Indian name, Red Arrow. Now I am back with my people. Now I am John Ward again. I talk bad. I talked with Indians most the time all these years. With my old friends I will grow to talk better."
I congratulated him on his return to civilization. Many a man holding a high place in the colony's government and in the affection of the people had been held in captivity; but few were the men who returned after spending so many years with the Indians. In that respect Ward's case was unusual.
"Your talk sounds all right to us," said one of the men. "Mayhap you l'arned some things about the red hellions that'll help our boys to give 'em pepper."
"I can lead you to their towns by the shortest trails. I can lead you to their new towns that white men can not find quick," he replied, after a few moments' pause, just as an Indian would wait before answering a question.
Young Cousin flashed into my mind, and I asked:
"Do you know of a white woman—she would be nineteen years old now—named Cousin? She was captured by Shawnees at Keeney's Knob ten years ago."
For half a minute I was doubtful if he understood my query. Then he shook his head. I was disappointed as it seemed to be an excellent chance to learn whether the girl be dead or alive. Still talking in his peculiar, halting way, he said:
"She, the white woman, was killed, probably. If not that she would be taken to Detroit and sold. Now married and living on a Canada farm, probably. Whites taken prisoners were not let to see each other. No whites were ever kept in the village where I lived."
"What village were you kept in?"
"First in Lower Shawnee Town. Then in more towns. As I grew old they took me to the towns farthest from the Ohio. Then came a time when I went where I pleased, but they never took me on their war-paths south the Ohio."
By this time the country folk began to remember that I, too, was a newcomer, and should have much information or gossip. They turned from Ward and plied me with questions. I briefly recited for the twentieth time since leaving Dunlap's Creek the conditions west of the mountains.
Detailed cross-examination brought forth the happenings at Howard's Creek and the murder of the four Grisdols, and the firing of the Edgely cabin. When I said that Black Hoof was in command of the Grisdol raiders my audience displayed nervousness, and more than one glance was cast toward the west. The effect on Ward was pronounced, also. Rising, he asked:
"Catahecassa led that path? I must be going. It was from his band I escaped. His warriors followed me. I will go to the east before camping for the night."
"He'll never dare come east of the mountains!" loudly declared one of the men.
Ward's face was inscrutable as he walked to his horse. As he vaulted into the saddle he remarked:
"Black Hoof has a long arm."
So it happened that John Ward, the returned captive, and I finished the distance to Salem. Temptation assailed me as we reached the edge of the settlement. I had planned all the time to finish my business with Colonel Lewis at his home at Richfield. I had planned this even after learning from Mrs. Davis of the Dales' presence in Salem.
Now, of a sudden, it seemed that I must hunt them up and look on Patricia once more. But Colonel Lewis was waiting for me. I had endured three years without a glimpse of the girl; and leaving Ward to ride on and relate his experience to the Salem people I skirted the town and pressed on to Richfield.
Arriving at the Lewis home I was informed by a colored man that the colonel was not at the house, but somewhere about the grounds.
"An' please goodness, massa, I's gwine to fotch him in two shakes of a houn' dawg's tail," he told me.
I threw myself on the grass and waited. Either the servant's powers of "fotching" had been exaggerated, or else the colonel was quite indifferent to my arrival. Nearly an hour passed before my meditations were interrupted.
This was not my first visit to Richfield to report to the colonel, but I felt no better acquainted at the last meeting than at the first. There was a certain reserve in his manner which held folks at arm's length. This impression of aloofness was increased by his personal appearance. His tall figure and stern dark eyes made for austerity.
In military affairs he was said to be overstrict in discipline; this from those who had served under him in former wars. Yet he stood very high in the esteem of the county militia and his superiors. Perhaps his severe mien was the natural result of a life filled with stormy experiences. From early manhood he had been employed in fighting Indians.
He was a captain of militia at the age of twenty-two. Twelve years later he was a major, serving under Colonel George Washington. He was seriously wounded at Fort Necessity. He would have played a prominent part in Braddock's first and last Indian battle had he not been detailed to complete a chain of frontier forts. He was in the disastrous Sandy Creek expedition the year following Braddock's defeat.
In 1758 he was an officer under Forbes, and was one of those captured with Grant's detachment. He escaped the stake only to be held a prisoner in Montreal. Later he led a force against the Cherokees; and in Pontiac's War he commanded two hundred and fifty riflemen under Colonel Bouquet. Now he was picked to command one of the two armies that Governor Dunmore proposed to send against the Indian towns above the Ohio.
Among the Indians the name of Lewis stood very high. The natives knew the colonel to be the son of that John Lewis who was long famed as an Indian fighter. It was commonly believed by red and white, and I have no reason to doubt the truth of it, that it was John Lewis who introduced red clover to America.
Whether he did or did not, the Ohio Indians credited him with planting the first seed and said the color resulted from the blood of the red men he had slain. William and Charles Lewis, the colonel's brothers, also were noted border men. Charles undoubtedly ranked as high for courage and astuteness as any frontiersman in Virginia.
The colored man at last turned the corner of the house. Behind him, and not yet in sight, was the colonel, and he was not alone for I could hear his grave voice addressing some companion.
"De c'unel dat stubbo'n I jes' have to talk mighty plain 'fore I could make him pudge erlong," proudly whispered the servant as he passed me.
I sprang to my feet, and Colonel Lewis and His Excellency, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, our royal governor, leisurely strolled into view.
Colonel Lewis wore no wig and was smoking a pipe, of which he was inordinately fond. It was characteristic of him to be more democratic and careless in personal presentment when with his superiors than when meeting the rough and ready people of the border.
Nor was Governor Dunmore given to set forms. He was forty-two years of age and in his prime, a man among men. He could be most democratic, and on this day there was none of the town beau's fastidiousness in his dress. Yet his wig and his coat were a mode in themselves, while his shoe, knee and stock buckles were of gold. Ultra-genteel young bucks would have had such buckles set with brilliants, that they might twinkle and glitter at every mincing step.
His Excellency walked with a man's stride and gave the impression of being careless in dress, whereas, in fact, he always was perfect in his points. He dominated his attire and left you scarcely conscious of it. The two of them had been discussing something with great earnestness for as they drew near me the colonel gestured with his pipe-stem, and His Excellency pushed back his wig and appeared inclined to disagree.
"Lord, man! I tell you it's their cursed provincial jealousy. They malign the man."
"Your Excellency, I am not the judge," Colonel Lewis calmly replied. "I simply repeat what I hear, and suggest how it may be disastrous to the campaign."
"Jealousy and slander!" heatedly declared the governor. Then his lively gaze rested on me. He frowned, as if trying to remember, then smiled with that graciousness he could so charmingly display when he deemed it worth while and said:
"I've been keeping you from your guest, Colonel. He looks brown and lean enough to have traveled far and to have brought a pretty earful. I know the face and ought to be calling him by name."
Colonel Lewis advanced a few steps and bowed slightly, and refreshed the governor's recollection by saying:
"He is Basdel Morris, Your Excellency. Of Prince William County originally. Before Your Excellency came to Virginia he came out here to act as scout and messenger between us and Fort Pitt."
"Fort Dunmore," coldly corrected the governor, giving the name bestowed in honor of his earldom. Then with a genial smile:
"I remember Mr. Morris distinctly. He has brought papers to me. I vow but he should have a good budget of news. If we could retire to the shade and escape this cursed heat——"
"Inside, inside," brusquely interrupted the colonel, and he waved us through the door with his pipe-stem. "We'll find it cool in there."
And we did; and very pleasant too, and with many little comforts for those who wish to be indolent, such as foot-rests, and low tables for holding decanter and glasses and a sheaf of long pipes and some of Virginia's superb tobacco.
"No ceremony here, Mr. Morris. Sit down, man. We will play His Lordship is traveling in disguise."
"Forsooth! He has that which we are hungry to receive! It's more fit we should stand while he takes his ease," gaily exclaimed His Excellency. And he removed his wig and mopped his cropped poll and sipped appreciatively of the tall glass a soft-footed servant placed at his elbow.
This was a most pleasing trait about His Excellency, and one which in happier times should have endeared him even to people who have small use for earls. He could make the young or diffident man feel more at home than could the democratic and autocracy-hating Andrew Lewis. Nor was it any affectation; for we were soon to learn he could keep up with hardy borderers on long forest marches, and at that, proceed afoot and carry his own blanket and equipment like any backwoods volunteer.
Colonel Lewis shot a glance at me and then at the governor, and I verily believed his dark eyes were laughing at one of us. Surely not at me, for I was too insignificant. I obtained an inkling as to the cause of his cynical amusement when he said:
"Young Mr. Morris, while not forest-bred, has lived long enough in the woods as to make him blunt of tongue. Would Your Excellency prefer that he make a verbal report to me and that I reduce it to writing for your consideration?"
"After what the Quakers have said I find my skin to be very thick except when it comes to something touching my personal honor," coldly replied the governor. "Let the man tell what he will. We want the truth."
Until this moment I had barely opened my mouth. Now I produced the despatches committed to my care by Doctor Connolly. In presenting these to Governor Dunmore I remained standing, waiting to be dismissed.
His Excellency, however, made no move to open and read his despatches, but fell to staring at me speculatively. Finally he said:
"Let's have the personal side—the things you observed on your journey back here." And he motioned for me to be seated.
I told them of Bald Eagle's murder, and His Excellency exhibited hot anger, and broke in on my recital long enough to exclaim:
"Curse their black hearts! I drove John Ryan out of the country for murdering on the Cheat, Ohio, and the Monongahela. I've had others arrested, and their crazy neighbors have released them. I offer rewards for still others, and they come and go unmolested!"
"Yes, it's unfortunate that some of our border men are as murderous as the Indians," quietly agreed Colonel Lewis. His Excellency subsided and nodded for me to continue.
I next spoke of young Shelby Cousin, and the colonel's eyes grew hard as I related the youth's lament over his little sister, and, in his behalf, urged that some effort be made to ascertain the girl's fate. The governor wrinkled his nose and brows in an effort to remember something. Then he said:
"I knew the name was familiar. I've sent word to Connolly to seek traces of the girl through the different traders. The war has closed that line of inquiry, I fear, as the traders have come in, or have been slaughtered. Very sad case. Very sad. The young man should go to England to begin life anew and learn to forget. I shall arrange it for him."
"He would die before he would quit the woods, Your Excellency," said the colonel. "If he did consent and did go to England he would die of homesickness inside of ten days. Either that, or he would try to swim back."
"Rather a poor opinion of England's charms," remarked the governor.
When I took up the general scarcity of powder and lead and described how handicapped the settlers were by the lack of these vital necessities, it was Colonel Lewis's turn to show the most feeling.
His anger was almost passionate, and none the less impressive because he held it in check. Staring wide-eyed at the governor he concluded his outburst by demanding:
"What about it, Your Excellency?"
"What about it? Why, that's something to ask of the House of Burgesses, wound all up in their red tape. His gracious Majesty suggested in 'sixty-three that insomuch as the colonies implored England's aid against the French and Indians they should contribute something toward the cost of their defense in that war. Methinks they have taken the suggestion as an affront."
"The French War is ten years old. It was fought so that England might gain Canada. Virginia is still a royal province and her people need powder and lead," the colonel replied. Perhaps he stressed "still" a bit. At least the governor's gaze dropped and concealed any impression he might have received.
The governor drummed his fingers on the low liquor-stand, then lifted his head and stated:
"This war will never be won by isolated groups of settlers fighting on the defensive along the many creeks and rivers. The decisive blow will be struck by the two armies soon to take the field. There will be plenty of powder for the men I lead and the men you are to lead. As to the back-country settlements, the House of Burgesses should have provided for them. His Majesty is eager to aid all his subjects, but there's scant policy in serving our powder and balls to be husbanded along the western slope of the Alleghanies and perhaps later used against England's soldiers."
Colonel Lewis dropped his pipe and stared wrathfully at his noble guest. With an effort he restrained his temper and rejoined:
"The talk seems to touch upon some war other than that with the Ohio tribes."
His Excellency at once was all smiles and graciousness. Leaning forward and placing a hand on the colonel's knee, he earnestly declared:
"The conversation has wandered, foolishly on my part, I admit. I have lacked in tact, but the first fault I swear is due to the attitude of the Burgesses in neglecting to take proper measures for defending the frontier. Before England can send sufficient supplies to Virginia this war will have ended. There is plenty of powder at Williamsburg. Why doesn't the House of Burgesses send it to the border?"
"There is but a small store at the most, Your Excellency."
"But why retain it when it is needed elsewhere?"
"That is hardly a question I can answer," was the stiff reply. Then with a flash of heat:
"It's a shame! We repeatedly urge those families to stick, not to come off their creeks until they've laid by their corn and harvested their oats; and they are denied the simple means of defending their lives. Whether the Burgesses or the royal governor be at fault the fact remains that the settlers pay in blood and anguish."
"If there is any powder at Williamsburg or Norfolk that I can lay hands to, it shall go over the mountains. At least the royal governor will prove his hands are clean," solemnly declared His Excellency.
"I'll warrant that Pennsylvania has traded enough guns and powder to the Shawnee and Mingos," moodily observed the colonel.
"There's too much talk in Williamsburg over peoples' rights, and not enough concern for peoples' lives," declared His Excellency. "It would be a good thing if the House of Burgesses could be locked up in a fort and made to repel an Indian attack."
"Well, well," sighed the colonel, "we'll never lick the Ohio tribes with proclamations and empty hands."
"By gad, sir! We'll whip them with powder and lead! I've set myself to the task of crushing the Indian power. It shall be done!"
They settled back and signaled for me to resume my narrative. When I mentioned Crabtree and the other killers both the governor and the colonel expressed a wish that the Indians might catch them, or else scare them from the border. I closed my story by speaking of John Ward, the returned captive. The military instinct of both my hearers was instantly aroused; for here was a source of inside information our spies could not hope to provide.
"Find that man and send him here," ordered the governor. "But before you go tell us something of conditions about Fort Dunmore. You seem to have skipped that."
This was what I had expected, and I did not relish the task. Had I been talking alone with Colonel Lewis it would have been the first topic I had touched upon.
"Your Excellency has Doctor Connolly's despatches. Doubtless they will give you much more than I can," I faltered.
"There isn't any danger of your duplicating Doctor Connolly's information," said His Excellency sharply.
"His Excellency desires to learn those odds and ends which wouldn't be included in an official report, but which may throw some light on the whole situation," added the colonel, his gaze resting on me very insistently. And somehow I knew he wanted me to talk, and to speak plainly.
If I reported according to my sense of duty I feared I was in for an unpleasant experience with His Excellency. If I would ever receive any favors from him it would be because I kept my mouth shut and steered clear of dangerous ground. The situation at Pitt, however, had offended me; and now that I must speak I grew reckless and decided to speak frankly.
"Arthur St. Clair, representing the Pennsylvania proprietors, together with other eminent men in that colony, publicly declared that Your Excellency is in partnership with Doctor Connolly in various land-deals," I began.
"Doctor Connolly has acted as my agent, just as his uncle, Michael Croghan, has acted for Colonel George Washington," easily remarked His Excellency.
"Croghan repudiates the acts of Connolly," I said.
Dunmore frowned and spoke wide of the mark when he said:
"What St. Clair and his friends see fit to believe scarcely constitutes facts. But go on."
"They also say that this war with the Shawnees is being hurried on for the purpose of establishing our boundary-claims and making good our titles to grants under Virginia patents."
"Scarcely news. They've been howling that ever since last April," growled Lewis.
"I've been absent some months. I have no way of knowing what you've heard, or haven't heard. I'm afraid I have nothing new in the way of facts or gossip," I said, and my face flushed.
Governor Dunmore laughed softly and good-naturedly nodded for me to continue. I said:
"It is commonly believed in Pennsylvania that Connolly's circular letter to our frontier was meant to precipitate a war so that he might cover up the costs of rebuilding Fort Pitt. It is said on all sides that the commandant fears the House of Burgesses will repudiate his expenditures even after Your Excellency has endorsed them—providing there is no war."
The governor's face colored, but his voice was quiet as he said:
"Connolly may be a fool in many things, but he is right about the House of Burgesses. There isn't any doubt as to their repudiating anything which looks like a benefit to our frontier."
"Your Excellency, I can scarcely agree to that," cut in Colonel Lewis. It was the second time their counter-views had struck out sparks.
Both remained silent for half a minute, each, I have no doubt, controlling an impulse to explode. Relations between the colonies and England resembled an open powder-keg. With a bow that might indicate he desired to avoid a dangerous subject the governor shifted the conversation by remarking:
"After all, it doesn't matter what Pennsylvania thinks, so long as we know her interests are hostile to Virginia's. I am governor of Virginia. I will serve her interests, and by gad! if the Quakers don't like our way they can chew their thumbs."
"We are one in that!" heartily cried the colonel.
Governor Dunmore frowned down at his gold shoe-buckles and wearily said:
"They say I want war. But the Williamsburg paper has insisted on this war since last March. Truth is, the border wants the war. And let me confess to you, Colonel Lewis, that the Earl of Dartmouth, as Secretary of State for the colonies, will express His Majesty's great displeasure to me before this war is over.
"England does not want his campaign to go through. Taking the position I have means I will meet with disfavor and criticism at home."
Turning to me, he querulously complained.
"And it's you people along the border who make the war necessary. It's the horrible massacres of harmless Indians that brought the trouble upon me."
This was grossly untrue and I countered:
"Even Logan doesn't claim that. It's been give and take as to the killings, with the Indians getting the better of it in scalps. A general war can result only from the Indians' belief that our settlers are crossing the mountains to settle in the Kentucky country."
"Ah! There you go! True to the dot, too!" he cried. "You Americans are restless. You acquire no attachment to any place. Wandering about seems to be engrafted in your natures. It's your great weakness that you should forever be thinking the lands farther off are better than those on which you're already settled."
"But land-grants on the Ohio are worthless without settlers," I meekly reminded. Colonel Lewis indulged in a frosty smile. His Excellency eyed me shrewdly, and said:
"Of course the lands must be settled sometime. The trouble comes from the frontier people's failure to understand that His Majesty's government has any right to forbid backwoodsmen from taking over any Indian lands which happen to hit the fancy.
"They have no idea of the permanent obligation of treaties which His Majesty's government has made with the various Indian nations. Why, some of the frontier people feel so isolated from the colonies that they wish to set up democratic governments of their own. A pretty kettle of fish! Then such creatures as this Crabtree murder such men as the brother of the powerful Cherokee chief. More trouble for the border.
"I shall offer a reward of a hundred pounds for Crabtree's arrest. If he is arrested the border men will release him. And yet they demand that His Majesty supply them with powder to defend their homes. Good God! What inconsistency! And as if we did not have enough trouble inside our colony there is Mr. Penn, to the north. As proprietary governor he sullies the dignity of his communications to the House of Representatives by making the same a conveyance of falsehood, thereby creating trouble between Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"He is even now trying to make my Lord Dartmouth believe that my zeal in carrying on this war is not through any sense of duty to my king, but because of a desire for personal emoluments. If he can make the people of Virginia believe that, then I am helpless." Certainly this defense of his motives was not meant to convert me. My ideas worried His Excellency none. He was testing Colonel Lewis, whose reserve made the broaching of delicate subjects very much of a difficulty. The colonel quickly declared:
"Your Excellency knows that I thoroughly understand the true bias of Pennsylvania. We are with you in this war heart and soul. But I do think, to put it mildly, that Doctor Connolly has been indiscreet."
He had come back to the one phase of the conversation which interested him. The governor hesitated a moment, then asked me:
"What is your personal opinion of Doctor Connolly? Speak freely."
"I consider him to be a very ambitious, intriguing man, and very much of a fire-eater."
Both the gentlemen smiled, His Excellency being less genuine than the colonel. "To be an ambitious fire-eater is not a bad quality in these times," said the governor. "As to intrigue, so long as it is for Virginia I will not condemn it too strongly. What other charges are there in your arraignment?"
"I do not arraign him," I retorted. Believing I had gone too far ever to retrieve myself in the governor's good graces, and being made angry by the thought, I boldly continued: "Connolly is too autocratic. He carries things with too high a hand. He takes measures which neither Your Excellency, nor any other of His Majesty's governors would dream of indulging in. He arrests and imprisons citizens without any pretense at legal procedure. It is because of such actions that many in Pennsylvania expressed the wish we might lose the war. I will add that I heard no such expressions of ill-will since the white families were murdered along the Monongahela."
"It does make a difference as to whose ox is being gored," grimly commented Colonel Lewis.
"Does Pennsylvania still blame Michael Cresap for the death of Logan's people?" asked the governor.
"Many of them do, because Connolly reduced him in rank. His reinstatement at Your Excellency's command is not so generally known."
"Confusion and bickering!" wrathfully exclaimed the governor. "Virginia demanding a decisive war—England opposed to it. Our militia captains stealing each other's men—Sir William Johnson's death is most untimely."
Sir William Johnson dead! For the moment I was stunned. My facial expression was so pronounced that His Excellency kindly added:
"The sad news has just reached us. Never was he needed more and wanted more. The colonies have been so used to having him hold the Iroquois in check that few have paused to picture what might happen if his influence were removed from the Six Nations."
He rose and paced the room for a few turns. Then with a short bow to me he addressed the colonel, saying:
"With your permission, Colonel, I believe I shall retire for an hour. When the man Ward comes I wish to question him."
"By all means, Your Excellency, take a bit of rest. I shall call you if the fellow comes."
I turned to go and the colonel walked with me to the door, urging me to return and remain his guest that night. I thanked him, explaining an acceptance of his kind offer would depend on circumstances. He walked with me to my horse and with a side-glance at the house softly inquired:
"What do the people over the mountains and in Pennsylvania say about the Quebec Bill now before Parliament?"
"I do not remember hearing it mentioned. I do not think any of the settlers are interested in it."
"Not interested!" he groaned. "And if it is approved by Parliament the American colonies will be robbed of hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory. They will lose the lands which already have been given them in their own charters. Think of Virginia and Pennsylvania quarreling over the junction of two rivers when we stand fair to lose all the country west of the Alleghanies. Young man, there's going to be war." This was very softly spoken.
"We're in it now," I stupidly replied.
"I am speaking of war with England," he whispered.
I could scarcely accept it as being a true prophecy. I was not disturbed by it. The quarreling between colonies and the mother-country was an old story. Hiding my skepticism I asked, "When will it begin?"
"It began in 1763, when the English Ministry decided to collect revenues from the colonies," was the quiet reply. "It will soon be open war. I verily believe I am entertaining in my humble home to-day the last royal governor of Virginia."
 The Quebec Bill, to take effect in 1775, was approved June 22, 1774, or before Colonel Lewis and Morris had their conversation.
LOVE COMES A CROPPER
"I am speaking of a war with England." These words of Colonel Lewis rang in my ears as I rode to Salem. They had sounded fantastic when he uttered them. Now that I was alone they repeated themselves most ominously. The flying hoofs of my horse pounded them into my ears. War with England was unthinkable, and yet the colonel's speech lifted me up to a dreary height and I was gazing over into a new and very grim world.
For years, from my first connected thoughts, there had been dissension after dissension between England and America. My father before me had lived through similar disputes. But why talk of war now? Many times the colonies had boiled over a bit; then some concession was made, and what our orators had declared to be a crisis died out and became a dead issue.
To be sure another "crisis" always took the place of the defunct one, but the great fact remained that none of those situations had led to war. Perhaps if some one other than Colonel Lewis had indulged in the dire foreboding it would have made less of an impression. At the time he spoke the words I had not been disturbed. Now that I was remembering what an unemotional level-headed man he was the effect became accumulative. The farther I left Richfield behind and the longer I mulled over his sinister statement the more I worried.
As I neared Salem my meditations continued disquieting and yet were highly pleasing. I was on my way to meet Patricia Dale. I was born on the Mattapony and left an orphan at an early age. I had gone to Williamsburg when turning sixteen, and soon learned to love and wear gold and silver buckles on a pewter income.
In my innocence, rather ignorance, I unwittingly allowed my town acquaintances to believe me to be a chap of means. When I discovered their false estimate I did not have the courage to disillusion them. My true spending-pace was struck on my eighteenth birthday, and inside the year I had wasted my King William County patrimony.
Just what process of reasoning I followed during that foolish year I have never been able to determine. I must have believed it to be imperative that I live up to the expectations of my new friends. As a complement to this idiotic obsession there must have been a grotesque belief that somehow, by accident or miracle, I would be kept in funds indefinitely. I do recall my amazement at the abrupt ending of my dreams. I woke up one morning to discover I had no money, no assets. There were no odds and ends, even, of wreckage which I could salvage for one more week of the old life.
Among my first friends had been Ericus Dale and his daughter, Patricia. To her intimates she was known as Patsy. As was to be expected when an awkward boy meets a dainty and wonderful maid, I fell in love completely out of sight. At nineteen I observed that the girl, eighteen, was becoming a toast among men much older and very, very much more sophisticated than I.
She was often spoken of as the belle of Charles City County, and I spent much time vainly wishing she was less attractive. Her father, engaged in the Indian-trade, and often away from home for several months at a time, had seemed to be very kindly disposed to me.
I instinctively hurried to the Dales to impart the astounding fact that I was bankrupt. One usually speaks of financial reverses as "crashing about" one's head. My wind-up did not even possess that poor dignity; for there was not enough left even to rattle, let alone crash.
The youth who rode so desperately to the Dale home that wonderful day tragically to proclaim his plight, followed by fervid vows to go away and make a new fortune, has long since won my sympathy. I have always resented Ericus Dale's attitude toward that youth on learning he was a pauper. It is bad enough to confess to a girl that one has not enough to marry on; but it is hell to be compelled to add that one has not enough to woo on.
How it wrung my heart to tell her I was an impostor, that I was going to the back-country and begin life all over. Poor young devil! How many like me have solemnly declared their intentions to begin all over, whereas, in fact, they never had begun at all.
And why does youth in such juvenile cataclysms feel forced to seek new fields in making the fresh start? Shame for having failed, I suppose. An unwillingness to toe the scratch under the handicap of having his neighbors know it is his second trial.
But so much had happened since that epochal day back in Williamsburg that it seemed our parting had been fully a million years ago. It made me smile to remember how mature Patsy had been when I meekly ran her errands and gladly wore her yoke in the old days.
Three years of surveying, scouting and despatch-bearing through the trackless wilderness had aged me. I prided myself I was an old man in worldly wisdom. Patsy Dale had only added three years to her young life. I could even feel much at ease in meeting Ericus Dale. And yet there had been no day during my absence that I did not think of her, still idealizing her, and finding her fragrant memory an anodyne when suffering in the wilderness.
The sun was casting its longest shadows as I inquired for the house and rode to it. If my heart went pit-a-pat when I dismounted and walked to the veranda it must have been because of anticipation. As I was about to rap on the casing of the open door I heard a deep voice exclaim:
"This country's going to the dogs! We need the regulars over here. Using volunteers weakens a country. Volunteers are too damned independent. They'll soon get the notion they're running things over here. Put me in charge of Virginia, and I'd make some changes. I'd begin with Dunmore and wind up with the backwoodsmen. Neither Whigs nor Tories can save this country. It's trade we want, trade with the Indians."
I could not hear that any one was answering him, and after a decent interval I rapped again. At last I heard a slow heavy step approaching from the cool twilight of the living-room.
"Aye? You have business with me, my man?" demanded Dale, staring into my face without appearing to recognize me. He had changed none that I could perceive. Short, square as though chopped out of an oak log. His dark hair still kinked a bit and suggested great virility. His thick lips were pursed as of old, and the bushy brows, projecting nearly an inch from the deep-set eyes, perhaps had a bit more gray in them than they showed three years back.
"Ericus Dale, you naturally have forgotten me," I began. "I am Basdel Morris. I knew you and your daughter three years ago in Williamsburg."
"Oh, young Morris, eh? I'm better at remembering Indian faces than white. Among 'em so much. So you're young Morris, who made a fool of himself trying to be gentry. Sit down. Turned to forest-running, I should say." And he advanced to the edge of the veranda and seated himself. He had not bothered to shake hands.
"I had business with Colonel Lewis and I wished to see you and Patsy before going back," I explained. I had looked for bluntness in his greeting, but I had expected to be invited inside the house.
"Pat's out," he mumbled, his keen gaze roaming up and down my forest garb. "But she'll be back. Morris, you don't seem to have made much of a hit at prosperity since coming out this way."
"I'm dependent only on myself," I told him. "Personal appearance doesn't go for much when you're in the woods."
"Ain't it the truth?" he agreed. "In trade?"
"Carrying despatches between Fort Pitt and Governor Dunmore just now. Surveying before that."
"Then, by Harry, sir! You could be in better business," he snapped. "What with Dunmore at the top, and thieving, land-grabbing settlers at the bottom, this country is going to the devil! Dunmore cooks up a war to make a profit out of his land-jobbing! Settlers quit good lands on this side the mountains to go land-stealing in the Kentucky country and north of the Ohio. It riles my blood! I say you could be in better business than helping along the schemes of Dunmore and that trained skunk of his, Jack Connolly."
I smiled pleasantly, beginning to remember that Ericus Dale was always a freely spoken man.
"Do you mean that there is no need of this war? You say it is cooked up."
"Need of war?" he wrathfully repeated. "In God's mercy why should we have war with the Indians? All they ask is to be let alone! Ever see a single piaster of profit made out of a dead Indian unless you could sell his hair? Of course not. The Indians don't want war. What they want is trade. I've lived among 'em. I know. It's Dunmore and the border scum who want war. They want to steal more land."
I had no wish to quarrel with the man, but I, too, had been among the Indians; and I could not in decency to myself allow his ridiculous statements to go unchallenged.
"How can the country expand unless the settlers have land? And if the Indians block the trail how can we get the land without fighting for it? Surely it was never intended that five or more square miles of the fairest country on earth should be devoted to keeping alive one naked red hunter."
He fairly roared in disgust. Then with an effort to be calm he began:
"Land? Settlers? You can't build a profit on land and settlers. Why, the colonies already refuse to pay any revenue to England. Line both sides of the Ohio with log cabins and stick a white family in each and what good does it do? Did the French try to settle Canada? No! The French weren't fools. They depended on trade."
"But they lost Canada," I reminded.
"Bah! For a purely military reason. The future of this country is trade. England's greatness is built up on trade." His trick of jumping his voice on that word "trade" was very offensive to the ears.
"Pennsylvania has the right idea. Pennsylvania is prosperous. Pennsylvania doesn't go round chopping down bee-trees and then killing the bees to get the honey. What good is this land over here if you can't get fur from it? Settlers chop down the timber, burn it, raise measly patches of corn, live half-starved, die. That's all."
His crazy tirade nettled me. It was obvious I could not keep in his good books, even with Patricia as the incentive, without losing my self-respect. I told him:
"This country can never develop without settled homes. We're building rudely now, but a hundred years from now——"
"Yah!" And his disgust burst through the thick lips in a deep howl. "Who of us will be alive a hundred years from now? Were we put on earth to slave and make fortunes for fools not yet born? Did any fools work and save up so we could take life soft and easy? You make me sick!"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Dale, to hear you say that. However, the war is here——"
"The war may be here, in Virginia, among the backwoodsmen. It is also in Dunmore's heart, but it ain't in the hearts of the Indians," he passionately contradicted. "The Indians only ask to be let alone, to be allowed to trade with us. Some canting hypocrites are whining for us to civilize the Indians. Why should they be civilized? Do they want to be? Ever hear of Indians making a profit out of our civilization? Did the Conestoga Indians make a profit when they tried to live like the whites near Lancaster, and the Paxton boys killed fourteen of them, men, women and children, then broke into the Lancaster jail where the others had been placed for their safety, and butchered the rest of them?
"Did the ancient Virginia Indians prosper by civilization? I reckon if the old Powhatans could return they'd have some mighty warm things to say on that score. Why shouldn't the Indians insist we live as they do? They were here first. The only way to help the Indian is to trade with him. And when you help him that way you're helping yourself. That's the only point you can ever make a red man see.
"I know the Indians. I can go into their towns now, be they Cherokee, Mingo, Shawnee or Delaware, and they'll welcome me as a brother. They know I don't want their land. They know I'm their true friend. They want me to make a profit when I trade with them, so I'll come again with more rum and blankets and guns, and gay cloth for their women."
"You have the trader's point of view, and very naturally so," I said.
"Thank God I ain't got the land-grabber's point of view! Nor the canting hypocrite's point of view! Nor a thick-headed forest-runner's point of view!" he loudly stormed, rising to end the discussion.
But I was not to be balked, and I reminded him:
"I called to pay my respects to Mistress Dale. I hope I may have the pleasure."
"She's in the field back of the house. I'll call her," he grumbled. "I have a man in my kitchen, a white man, who has lived with the Indians ever since he was a boy. He knows more about them than all you border-folks could learn in a million years. He's the most sensible white man I ever met. He agrees with me perfectly that trade is what the Indian wants; not settlers nor Bibles."
"Your guest would be John Ward!" I exclaimed, remembering the governor's errand. "I was asked by Colonel Lewis to find him and send him to Richfield. The colonel and Governor Dunmore wish to talk with him."
"Ho! Ho! That's the way the cat jumps, eh? Want to milk him for military information, eh? Well, I reckon I'll go along with him and see they don't play no tricks on him. I've taken a strong liking to Ward. He's the one white man that's got my point of view."
"He lived with the Indians so long he may have the Indians' point of view," I warned.
"The sooner white men learn the Indians' point of view the better it'll be for both white and red. Ward knows the Indians well enough to know I'm their friend. He knows I'm more'n welcome in any of their towns. I'm going to carry a talk to Cornstalk and Black Hoof. If I can't stop this war I can fix it so's there'll never be any doubt who's to blame for it."
"I tell you, Dale, that no white men, except it be Ward or Tavenor Ross and others like them, are safe for a minute with Logan's Cayugas, Cornstalk's Shawnees, Red Hawk's Delawares, or Chiyawee's Wyandots."
"Three years ain't even made a tomahawk improvement on you," he sneered. "You mean to tell me that after all my years of friendship with the Indians I won't be safe among them, or that any friends I take along won't be safe among them? You talk worse'n a fool! I can send my girl alone into the Scioto villages, and once she gives belts from me she will be as safe as she would be in Williamsburg or Norfolk."
"Such talk is madness," I cried. "The one message your cousin, Patrick Davis' wife, on Howard's Creek, asked me to deliver to your daughter is for her not to cross the mountains until the Indian trouble is over."
"An old biddy whose husband is scared at every Indian he sees because he knows he's squatting on their lands. My cousin may not be safe on Howard's Creek, but my daughter would be. I'll say more; once the Indians know I am at Howard's Creek, they'll spare that settlement."
It was useless to argue with the man. It was almost impossible to believe that he meant his vaporings for seriousness. With a scowl he walked to the rear of the house and entered the kitchen. All the windows were open, and his voice was deep and heavy. I heard him say:
"Ward, I want you. We're going to have a talk with two white men, who don't understand Indians. Pat, that young cub of a forest-running Morris is out front. Hankers to see you, I 'low."
My leather face was still on fire when I heard the soft swish of skirts. Then she stood before me, more beautiful than even my forest-dreaming had pictured her, more desirable than ever. She courtesied low, and the amazing mass of blue-black hair seemed an over-heavy burden for the slim white neck to carry.
She smiled on me and I found my years dropping away like the leaves of the maple after its first mad dance to the tune of the autumn's wind. I felt fully as young as when I saw her in Williamsburg. And time had placed a distance other than that of years between us: it had destroyed the old familiarity.
To my astonishment we were meeting as casual acquaintances, much as if a chin-high barrier was between us. It was nothing like that I had pictured. I had supposed we would pick up the cordiality at the first exchange of glances. I stuck out my hand and she placed her hand in it for a moment.
"Basdel, I would scarcely have known you. Taller and thinner. And you're very dark."
"Wind and weather," I replied. "It was at Howard's Creek I learned you were here. I was very anxious to see you."
"Don't stand." And she seated herself and I took a chair opposite her. "So nice of you to have us in mind. It's some three years since."
"I reckon your father doesn't fancy me much."
"He's displeased with you about something," she readily agreed. "You mustn't mind what he says. He's excitable."
"If I minded it I've forgotten it now," I told her. I now had time to note the cool creamy whiteness of her arms and throat and to be properly amazed. She had been as sweet and fresh three years before, but I was used to town maids then, and accepted their charms as I did the sunshine and spring flowers. But for three years I had seen only frontier women, and weather and worry and hard work had made sad work of delicate complexions.
"Now tell me about yourself," she commanded.
There was not much to tell; surveying, scouting, despatch-bearing. When I finished my brief recital she made a funny little grimace, too whimsical to disturb me, and we both laughed. Then quite seriously she reminded me:
"But, Basdel, your last words were that you were to make a man of yourself."
In this one sentence she tagged my forest work as being valueless. Had I been the boy who rode through the May sunshine frantically to announce his poverty, I might have accepted her verdict as a just sentence. Now there was a calculating light in her dark blue eyes that put me on my mettle. She was throwing down a red ax.
"I am self-dependent," I said. "I never was that in Williamsburg. I have risked much. Before crossing the mountains, I did not dare risk even your displeasure. I have done things that men on the frontier think well of. When you knew me back East I only succeeded in making a fool of myself. The carrying of despatches between Fort Pitt and Botetourt County is considered to be rather important."
"But, please mercy, there's more important things for young men to do than these you've mentioned," she softly rebuked.
"If the work of surveying lands for homes and settlements, if the scouting of wild country to protect settlements already established, if keeping a line of communication open between the Ohio and the James are not important tasks, then tell me what are?" I demanded.
She was displeased at my show of heat.
"There's no call for your defending to me your work over the mountains," she coldly reminded. "As an old friend I was interested in you."
"But tell me what you would consider to have been more important work," I persisted. "I honestly believed I was working into your good opinion. I believed that once you knew how seriously I was taking life, you would be glad of me."
"Poor Basdel," she soothed. "I mustn't scold you."
"Pitying me is worse," I corrected. "If you can't understand a man doing a man's work at least withhold your sympathy. I am proud of the work I have done."
This ended her softer mood.
"You do right to think well of your work," she sweetly agreed. "But there are men who also take pride in being leaders of affairs, of holding office and the like."
"And going into trade," I was rash enough to suggest.
With a stare that strongly reminded me of her father she slowly said:
"In trade? Why not? Trade is most honorable. The world is built up on trade. Men in trade usually have means. They have comfortable homes. They can give advantages to those dependent upon them. Trade? Why, the average woman would prefer a trader to the wanderer, who owns only his rifle and what game he shoots."
"Patsy, that is downright savagery," I warmly accused. "Come, be your old self. We used to be mighty good friends three years ago. Be honest with me. Didn't you like me back in Williamsburg?"
The pink of her cheeks deepened, but she quietly countered:
"Why, Basdel, I like you now. If I didn't I never would bother to speak plainly to you."
Three years' picture-painting was turning out to be dream-stuff. I tried to tell myself I was foolish to love one so much like Ericus Dale; but the lure was there and I could no more resist it than a bear can keep away from a honey-tree.
She had shown herself to be contemptuous in reviewing the little I had done. She was blind to the glory of to-morrow and more than filled with absurd crotchets, and yet there was but one woman in America who could make my heart run away from control. If it couldn't be Patsy Dale it could be no one.
"Back in Williamsburg, before I made such a mess of my affairs, you knew I loved you."
"We were children—almost."
"But I've felt the same about you these three years. I've looked ahead to seeing you. I've—well, Patsy, you can guess how I feel. Do I carry any hope with me when I go back to the forest?"
The color faded from her face and her eyes were almost wistful as she met my gaze unflinchingly, and gently asked:
"Basdel, is it fair for a man going back to the forest to carry hope with him? The man goes once and is gone three years. What if he goes a second time and is gone another three years? And then what if he comes back, rifle in hand, and that's all? What has he to offer her? A home in the wilderness? But what if she has always lived in town and isn't used to that sort of life?"
"But if she loves the man——"
"But what if she believes she doesn't love him quite enough to take him and his rifle and live in the woods? Has he any more right to expect that sacrifice than she has the right to expect him to leave the forest and rifle and make his home where she always has lived?"
"I suppose not. But I, too, like the scenes and things you like. I don't intend spending all my life fighting Indians and living in the forest."
"If your absence meant something definite," she sighed.
"Meaning if I were in trade," I bitterly said.
The kindly mood was gone. She defiantly exclaimed:
"And why not? Trade is honorable. It gets one somewhere. It has hardships but it brings rewards. You come to me with your rifle. You talk sentiment. I listen because we were fond of each other in a boy-and-girl way. We mustn't talk this way any more. You always have my best wishes, but I never would make a frontier woman. I like the softer side of life too much."
"Then you will not wait? Will not give me any hope?"
"Wait for what? Another three years; and you coming back with your long rifle and horse. Is that fair to ask any woman?"
"No. Not when the woman questions the fairness. 'Another three years' are your words, not mine. I shall see this war through, and then turn selfish. What I have done is good for me. It will serve to build on."
"I'm sure of it," she agreed. "And you always have my best—my best wishes."
"And down in your heart you dare care some, or you wouldn't talk it over with me," I insisted.
"We liked each other as boy and girl. Perhaps our talk is what I believe I owe to that friendship. Now tell me something about our backwoods settlements."
In story-writing the lover should, or usually does, fling himself off the scene when his attempt at love-making is thwarted. Not so in life with Patsy. I believed she cared for me, or would care for me if I could only measure up to the standard provided for her by her father's influence.
So instead of running away I remained and tried to give her a truthful picture of border conditions. She understood my words but she could not visualize what the cabins stood for. They were so many humble habitations, undesirable for the town-bred to dwell in, rather than the symbols of many, happy American homes. She pretended to see when she was blind, but her nods and bright glances deceived me none. She had no inkling of what a frontier woman must contend with every day, and could she have glimpsed the stern life, even in spots, it would be to draw back in disgust at the hardships involved.
So I omitted all descriptions of how the newly married were provided with homes by a few hours' work on the part of the neighbors, how the simple furniture was quickly fashioned from slabs and sections of logs, how a few pewter dishes and the husband's rifle constituted the happy couple's worldly possessions. She wished to be nice to me, I could see. She wished to send me away with amiable thoughts.
"It sounds very interesting," she said. "Father must take me over the mountains before we return to town."
"Do not ask him to do that," I cried. And I repeated the message sent by Mrs. Davis.
She was the one person who always had her own way with Ericus Dale. She smiled tolerantly and scoffed:
"Father's cousin sees danger where there isn't any. No Indian would ever bother me once he know I was my father's daughter."
"Patsy Dale," I declared in my desperation. "I've loved you from the day I first saw you. I love you now. It's all over between us because you have ended it. But do not for your own sake cross the mountains until the Indian danger is ended. Howard's Creek is the last place you should visit. Why, even this side of the creek I had to fight for my life. The Indians had murdered a family of four, two of them children."
She gave a little shudder but would not surrender her confidence in her father.
"One would think I intended going alone. I know the Indians are killing white folks, and are being killed by white folks. But with my father beside me——"
"If you love your father keep him on this side of the Alleghanies!"
"You will make me angry, Basdel. I don't want to be displeased with you. My father has known the Indians for years. He has warm friends in every tribe. He is as safe among them as he is here in Salem. And if Howard's Creek is in danger he can request the Indians to keep away from it."
"Good God! Are you as blind as all that?" I groaned.
"Forest-running, Basdel, has made you violent and rough in your talk," she icily rebuked. "You hate the Indians simply because you do not understand them. Now I'm positive that the best thing for you to do is to keep away from the frontier and see if you can't start right on this side of the mountains."
It would be folly to argue with her longer. I fished a pair of moccasins, absurdly small, from the breast of my hunting-shirt and placed them on the table. I had bought them from a squaw in White Eyes' village, and they were lavishly embroidered with gay beads. The squaw had laughed when I told the size I wanted.
"If you will forget these came from the forest and will let me leave them, I shall be pleased," I said. "If you don't care for them, just chuck them aside. I had to guess at the size."
"Oh, they are beautiful," she softly exclaimed, snatching them from the table. "Basdel, why not stay on this side of the mountains? You're a very clever young man if you would only give yourself a chance. Very soon you could go to the House of Burgesses. If you don't care to go into trade you could speculate in land. Father is against it, but if it will be done, you might as well do it as to leave the cream for others."
"Even if I wished to stay, I could not," I replied. "I have much to do over there. Unfinished work. I have promised Colonel Lewis to carry despatches when not scouting. If they can send some one to Fort Pitt in my place I shall serve as scout in the Clinch River Valley. The people down there are badly upset."
"Well, giving yourself for others may be very Christian-like. One must decide for one's self," she said.
"The people over there help one another. They stand together. If I can help them, I shall be helping myself."
"I wish my father could go there and make them see how silly they are," she impatiently declared. "If they would only be friendly with the Indians! It is so simple——"
"I know a fellow about your age," I broke in. "The Indians killed his people on Keeney's Knob ten years ago and stole his little sister. He doesn't know whether she is dead or a captive. His folks were friendly. They were butchered after making a feast for Cornstalk and his warriors. There are many such cases. It would do no good for your father to tell young Cousin and others, who happened to survive, that they are silly."
"Do you mean they would resent it?" she demanded, her chin going up in a very regal manner.
"He could scarcely change their opinions," I mumbled.
We were interrupted by a colored woman bustling in with Colonel Lewis' servant in tow. The man bowed profoundly before Patsy and then informed me:
"Please, Massa Morris, de c'unel 'mires fo' to see yo' at de house right erway. I 'spects it's business fo' de gun'ner. De c'unel mos' 'tic'lar dat say he wants to see yo' to once. Yas, sah. Please, sah."
I dismissed him with a word of my immediate attendance on the colonel. Then I gave my hand to Patsy and said:
"This ends it then. Patsy, my thoughts of you have helped me out of many tight places."
"If you'd only be sensible, Basdel, and stay back here where you belong. Just say the word and father will place you in his office. I'm sure of it."
"So am I sure of it, if you asked it. No, Patsy, it can't be that way. I thank you. I may be an awful failure, but I can always fool myself with hoping for better things. If I was pushed into trade, that would end me."
"Of course you know your limitations better than I do," she coldly said. "Thanks for the pretty moccasins. I may have a chance to wear them soon."
"Do not wear them over the mountains," I begged. "You were never meant for the frontier. Good-by."
I had mounted my horse and was galloping back to Richfield almost before I had realized how definitely I had separated from her. There was so much I had intended to say. My thoughts grew very bitter as I repeatedly lived over our short and unsatisfactory meeting. I recalled patches of the bright dreams filling my poor noodle when I was riding to meet her, and I smiled in derision at myself.
I had carried her in my heart for three years, and because daily I had paid my devotion to her I had been imbecile enough to imagine she was thinking of me in some such persistent way. Patsy Dale was admired by many men. Her days had been filled with compliments and flattery.
My face burned as though a whip had been laid across it when I recalled her frank skepticism of my ability to support a wife. I had a rifle. Several times she had thrust that ironical reminder at me, which meant I had nothing else. I came to her carrying my rifle. It was unfair to tie a girl with a promise when the wooer had only his rifle.
The damnable repetition kept crawling through my mind. She wanted to impress the fact of my poverty upon me. I worked up quite a fine bit of anger against Patsy. I even told myself that had I come back with profits derived from peddling rum to the Indians, I might have found her more susceptible to my approach. Altogether I made rather a wicked game of viewing the poor girl in an unsavory light.
With a final effort I declared half-aloud that she was not worth a serious man's devotion. And it got me nowhere. For after all, the remembrance of her as she stood there, with her slim white neck and the mass of blue-black hair towering above the upturned face, told me she must ever fill my thoughts.
I reached Richfield early in the evening. Governor Dunmore had retired against an early start for Williamsburg. It was Colonel Lewis' wish that I ride without delay to Charles Lewis' place at Staunton, something better than eighty miles, and confer with him over the situation on the frontier.
"My brother has recently received intelligences from Fort Pitt which state the Indians are anxious for peace," explained the colonel.
"A parcel of lies," I promptly denounced.
"So say I. But the written statements are very plausible. They have made an impression on Charles. It is very important that he know the truth. It will be much better for you to talk with him than for me to try to send him your statements in writing. Haste is necessary. Leave your horse and take one of mine."
"Have your man bring out the horse. I will start now."
"A prompt response," he said. "And most pleasing. But to-morrow early will do. Spend the night here."
"To-night. Now," I insisted. "I need action."
He gave me a sharp glance, then called his man and gave the order. While my saddle was being shifted he informed me:
"Ericus Dale and John Ward paid us a call. Dale and His Excellency had a rare bout of words. The fellow Ward didn't say much, but he agreed to everything Dale said."
"I know about the way Dale talked," I gloomily said. "I talked with him before he came here. He thinks that Virginia is made up of fools, that only Pennsylvania knows how to handle the Indians."
I swung into the saddle and the colonel kindly said:
"I hope this business of mine isn't taking you away from something more pleasant."
"I thank you, Colonel, but I am quite free. All I ask is action and an early return to the frontier."
I knew the colonel knew the truth. He knew I had paid my respects to the girl and had been dismissed. He stretched out a hand in silence and gave me a hearty handshake; and I shook the reins and thundered up the road to Staunton.
THE PACK-HORSE-MAN'S MEDICINE
Charles Lewis was as popular as he was widely known. He had the gift of attracting men to him on short acquaintance and of holding them as life-long friends. His fame as an Indian-fighter was known throughout the South, his adventures possessing those picturesque elements which strongly appeal to border-folk. During the Braddock and Pontiac Wars his service was practically continuous.
In his home-life he was a kindly, gentle man. I found him playing with his five small children. He greeted me warmly and displayed none of his brother's austerity. During the greater part of two days which I was in his hospitable home I succeeded, I pride myself, in showing him the truth concerning the various reports sent over the line from Pennsylvania.
I know that when I left him he was convinced the war must be fought to a decisive finish before any of our western valleys could be safe. On one point he was very positive: the Cherokees, he insisted, would not join the Ohio tribes, despite the murder of Oconostota's brother. Could the people of the Clinch and Holston have felt the same confidence, they would have spared themselves much nagging.
I took my time in returning to Salem, for there was much to think over. The bulk of my meditations concerned Patsy Dale. I decided to see her once more before crossing the mountains. I had no hope of finding her changed, but I did not intend to leave a shadow of a doubt in my own mind. I would leave no room for the torturing thought that had I been less precipitate she would have been more kindly.
Yet I had no foolish expectations; I knew Patricia. This last interview was to be an orderly settlement of the whole affair, and assurance that self-accusation should not accompany me to the wilderness. Then with the war over there would be no over-mountain ties to hold me back from the Kentucky country, or the Natchez lands.
I reached Richfield just as Colonel Lewis was setting forth to settle some wrangling between two of his captains. It was the old contention over enlistments, each leader charging the other with stealing men. I stopped only long enough to get my horse and to induce the colonel to let me have twenty pounds of powder and ten pounds of lead for the settlers. The lead was sufficient for seven hundred rounds and, divided into one-fourth portions, the powder would give a consciousness of power of eighty riflemen.
It was late afternoon when my fresh mount brought me to Salem, and without any hesitation—for I must move while my resolve was high—I galloped out to the Dale house. The low sun extended my shadow to a grotesque length as I flung myself from the saddle and with an attempt at a bold swagger advanced to find the maid. I am sure my bearing suggested confidence, but it was purely physical.
Inwardly I was quaking and wondering how I should begin my explanation for this second call. I was a most arrant coward when I mounted the veranda. The carefully rehearsed calm of my leather face vanished and I made the discouraging discovery that my features were out of control. The door of the house was open. I rapped loudly and frowned. A shuffling step, which never could be Patricia's, nor yet heavy enough for Dale, finally rewarded by efforts. A colored woman came to the door and ducked her portly form.
I began asking for Patricia, but she recognized me as a recent caller and broke in:
"De massa 'n' de young missy done gwine 'way. Dat onery white man gone wif dem."
"Gone away? John Ward went with them?" I mumbled. "Which way did they ride, Aunty?"
"Dat a-way." And she pointed to the sun, now sliced in half by Walker's Mountain.
"You are sure they made for the mountains?"
"Dey gwine to slam right ag'in' 'em, den ride ober dem," she declared.
So after all my warnings the Dales were foolhardy enough to ride into danger. Ericus Dale would not only stake his own life but even his daughter's on his faith in red men. I recalled Cornstalk's pretended friendship for the whites at Carr's Creek and on Jackson's River and the price the settlers paid for their trustfulness.
"When did they ride?"
"Two days ergo. Bright 'n' early in de mornin'."
I ran to my horse and mounted. As I yanked his head about the servant called after me:
"De missy have dem mogasums wif her."
The first stage of my journey was to Dunlap's Creek, although there was no certainty that the Dales and Ward were taking that route. I had small doubt, however, but that Dale was bound for the home of his cousin on Howard's Creek. Unless he knew of some secret trace over the mountains he would follow the open trail.
He would be more likely to go boldly and openly, I reasoned, because of his belief there was nothing for him to fear. His daughter's convenience would be better suited by the main traveled trails. As I hurried to the west I paused at every habitation and inquired for the travelers. Always the same reply; two men and a woman had been observed.
When I finally reached the Greenwood cabin at Dunlap's Creek I learned I had gained a day because of Patricia's need for rest. She was an odd bundle of contradictions. She felt superior to frontier women, and how they would have smiled at the thought of recuperating after the easy travel from Salem to the creek! Many of the women on the Greenbriar had walked the entire distance over the mountains so that the pack-animals might be used in carrying the jealously guarded and pitiably few household-goods.
It was amazing to contemplate what a difference two or three hundred miles could make in one's environment. Patricia Dale, soft and dainty, was used to the flattery of the town, and, I feared, the attention of many beaux. Her parents had known none of the comfortable places in life at her age; and yet she had responded to her environment, had been petted by it, and now she was a domestic kitten. I wondered if she would respond to her ancestry if placed among arduous experiences. I knew the kitten would, and therein I found hope for Patsy Dale.
I had been greatly shocked when told the girl was being taken over the mountains. Now by some peculiar mental twist I was beginning to enjoy secretly the prospect of seeing her again and in surroundings which harmonized with long rifles and hunting-shirts. On the surface I persisted in my anger at Dale and vehemently wished her back at Salem. Yet my guilty anticipation endured, and as a sop to conscience I tried to make myself believe there was no danger.
Howard's Creek could not be conquered so long as the settlers kept close to the cabins and fort. I believed that or I should have urged a return of all the women to the east side of the mountains. If the enemy, in force, should lay a protracted siege, Howard's Creek would be remembered among other bloody annals.
But I knew there would be no prolonged attempt to massacre the settlement. Cornstalk was too wise a warrior to weaken his forces for a score of scalps when a general engagement was pending. Let him win that and he could take his time in blotting out every cabin west of the Alleghanies. So after all it was neither difficult nor illogical to convince myself the girl would be safe as long as she kept close to the creek.
Even Dale would not plan to take his daughter beyond the creek. If he attempted it there were men enough to prevent the mad act. Across this line of thought came the recollection of the Grisdols' fate. The girl would be safe at Howard's Creek, but death lined the trace leading thereto. My reason assured me Black Hoof's band had long since departed from the mountains.
My fear that the girl was being led into an ambush threw me into a fine sweat; and I pushed on the faster. I reviewed all the circumstances which would preclude the possibility of an Indian attack on the three travelers. There could be no Indians between Dunlap's and Howard's. Black Hoof's losses at the Grisdol cabin, the venomous hatred of young Cousin stalking them day and night and the appearance of Baby Kirst would surely hasten their retreat.
But there would obtrude the terrible possibility of a few raiders hiding along the trace, determined to strengthen their medicine with more white scalps. But never once did I count in favor of the girl Dale's boasted friendship with the Shawnees. Even my most visionary listing of assets could not include that. I made a night-camp half-way across the mountains and dined on cold provisions procured from the Greenwoods.
The morning brought optimism. By this time the girl was safe in the Davis cabin. I finished my prepared food and resumed my journey. I had covered a mile when a mounted figure turning a twist in the trace ahead sent me to the ground. The two of us struck the ground at about the same moment. Our rifles slid across the saddles as if we were puppets worked by the same string. Then a voice called out:
"I won't shoot if you won't."
Of course he was white.
"Jesse Hughes!" I exclaimed, vaulting into the saddle. "These are queer hunting-grounds for you." Then in sudden terror, "Are the Indians back here in the mountains?"
"Devil take worse luck! No," he grumbled as he trotted to meet me. "I'm going out to Greenwood's to see if I can't git a few shoots of powder."
"Have you seen Ericus Dale, the trader?" I anxiously asked.
"Yes, I seen the fool. He was making the creek when I come off. His gal was with him and John Ward. Come pretty nigh potting that Ward feller. He's a white man, but I can't git it out of my noodle that he ain't a' Injun."
"How did Dale's girl stand the journey?"
The query surprised him, and he looked puzzled.
"Stand it?" he slowly repeated. "Why, she ain't sick or hurt, is she?"
I said something about her not being used to riding long distances.
"Long distances!" he snorted. "Wal, if a woman can't foller a smooth trace on a good hoss for a day's ride, she ain't got no business west of the mountains. I can't stick here swapping talk. I've got to push on and git that powder. Curse the luck!"
"The Greenwoods have no powder to spare. He has less than half a pound."
"Black devils in a pipe! Howard's Creek will have to go to making bows and arrers!"
"I've brought twenty pounds of powder and ten of lead from Salem," I added. "Howard's Creek is welcome to it after I've outfitted myself."
"Hooray! That ends that cussed trip. Twenty pounds! Wal, I declare if there won't be some rare killings! Now I'll hustle right back along with you. I've felt all the time that some one would be gitting hair that belonged to me if I come off the creek. Ten pounds of lead! Seven hundred little pills! That'll let Runner, Hacker, Scott 'n' me strike for the Ohio, where we can catch some of them red devils as they beat back home. They'll be keerless and we oughter nail quite a few."
"Crabtree isn't going with you?"
"Ike ain't got no stummick for a reg'lar stand-up fight. He'll hang round the creek and kill when he catches a red along."
"He'll get no powder from my stock to use around the creek," I declared.
Hughes eyed me moodily.
"What odds where they're killed so long as they're rubbed out?" he harshly demanded.
"Women and children are the odds," I retorted. "Crabtree kills friendly Indians. Even young Cousin, who hates reds as much as any man alive, won't make a kill in a settlement unless the Indians are attacking it."
"That's the one weak spot in Cousin," regretted Hughes. "He's a good hater. But he'd have a bigger count for that little sister of his if he'd take them wherever he finds them. It's all damn foolishness to pick and choose your spot for killing a red skunk. And this friendly Injun talk makes me sick! Never was a time but what half the Shawnees and other tribes was loafing 'round the settlements, pretending to be friends, while t'other half was using the tomahawk and scalping-knife.
"That sort of medicine won't do for me. No, siree! Injuns are a pest, just like wolves and painters, only worse. They must be wiped out. That's my belief and I make it my business to wipe them out. Few men that's got more'n me."
It's a waste of time to talk with a bloody-minded man. Hughes' brother was killed by the Indians. As for that, there was hardly a settler in Virginia who had not lost some dear friend or relative. When the history of the country is written, it will surprise the coming generations to read the many names having opposite them, "Killed by the Indians."
I was sorry I had met Hughes. His company grated on me. It was impossible to think of Patsy Dale with the fellow's cruel babble ringing in my ears. I remained silent and he garrulously recounted some of his many exploits, and with gusto described how he had trapped various victims. It was his one ambition of life. He cared nothing for land.
Offer him all of Colonel Washington's thirty-odd thousand acres on the Ohio and Great Kanawha as a gift, and he would have none of them unless they contained red men to slaughter. He had laid down a red path and it was his destiny to follow it. I had no love for Shawnee or Mingo, but my mind held room for something besides schemes for bloodletting.
And yet it was well for me that I had met Hughes the Indian-hater, and doubly well that I had brought powder and lead so that he had turned back with me. We were riding down the western slope and about clear of the mountains, I trying to think my own thoughts and he talking, talking, his words dripping blood, when ahead in the trace I spied something on the ground that caused me to exclaim aloud.
It was a brightly beaded moccasin, very small, and strangely familiar even at a distance. Hughes saw it and stared at it through half-closed lids. I leaped from my horse and started forward to pick it up.
"Don't touch it;" yelled Hughes. "Come back! Come back!"
I heard him and understood his words, and yet I continued advancing while I mechanically endeavored to guess his reason for stopping me.
"Jump, you fool!" he yelled as I stretched out my hand to pick up the moccasin. And his horse was almost upon me and covering me with dirt as he pivoted and slid into the bushes, his hindquarters hitting me and hurling me over, half a dozen feet beyond the little moccasin. I landed on my head and shoulders with the crack of a rifle echoing in my dazed ears.
Instinct sent me rolling out of the trace and into the bushes. By the time I gained my knees and had cleared the dirt from my eyes Hughes was working rapidly up the right-hand slope. His horse stood at the edge of the bushes, rubbing noses with my animal. I kept under cover of the growth and halted abreast of the moccasin.
There was a furrow within a few inches of its embroided toe. I broke a branch and pawed the moccasin toward me and picked it up and went back to the horses. Then I took time to examine my prize. It was one of the pair I had given to Patsy Dale. She must have carried it carelessly to drop it in the trace without discovering her loss. I slipped it into my hunting-shirt and sat down to wait for Hughes. It was fully an hour before he came back.
"Couldn't git a crack at him," he growled, his face grim and sullen. "But you was a fool to be took in by such a clumsy trick as that."
"It's an old trick," I conceded, taking the moccasin from my shirt. "If it had been any Indian finery I would have kept clear of it. But this happens to belong to Ericus Dale's girl. She dropped it coming down the slope."
He heard this in astonishment and scratched his head helplessly.
"Then I must 'a' been asleep, or in a hell of a hurry when I come to this slope," he muttered. "And it ain't just the right kind of a slope to go galloping over. I don't understand it a bit. They was riding into the settlement when I come out. I called to Dale and asked if he'd seen any Injun signs. He told me he hadn't seen any. Then that feller Ward come trotting out the woods, looking like a' Injun, and I was bringing up my rifle to give him his needings when Dale let out a yelp and said he was a white man. Wal, it'll tickle the gal to learn how near her moccasin come to killing you."