In these months my thoughts were chiefly of trade, and I saw enough to prove the truth of what the man Frew had told me. This richest land on earth was held prisoner in the bonds of a foolish tyranny. The rich were less rich than their estates warranted, and the poor were ground down by bitter poverty. There was little corn in the land, tobacco being the sole means of payment, and this meant no trade in the common meaning of the word. The place was slowly bleeding to death, and I had a mind to try and stanch its wounds. The firm of Andrew Sempill was looked on jealously, in spite of all the bowings and protestations of Mr. Lambie. If we were to increase our trade, it must be at the Englishman's expense, and that could only be done by offering the people a better way of business.
When the harvest came and the tobacco fleet arrived, I could see how the thing worked out. Our two ships, the Blackcock of Ayr and the Duncan Davidson of Glasgow, had some trouble getting their cargoes. We could only deal with the smaller planters, who were not thirled to the big merchants, and it took us three weary weeks up and down the river-side wharves to get our holds filled. There was a madness in the place for things from England, and unless a man could label his wares "London-made," he could not hope to catch a buyer's fancy. Why, I have seen a fellow at a fair at Henricus selling common Virginian mocking-birds as the "best English mocking-birds". My uncle had sent out a quantity of Ayrshire cheeses, mutton hams, pickled salmon, Dunfermline linens, Paisley dimity, Alloa worsted, sweet ale from Tranent, Kilmarnock cowls, and a lot of fine feather-beds from the Clydeside. There was nothing common or trashy in the whole consignment; but the planters preferred some gewgaws from Cheapside or some worthless London furs which they could have bettered any day by taking a gun and hunting their own woods. When my own business was over, I would look on at some of the other ladings. There on the wharf would be the planter with his wife and family, and every servant about the place. And there was the merchant skipper, showing off his goods, and quoting for each a weight of tobacco. The planter wanted to get rid of his crop, and knew that this was his only chance, while the merchant could very well sell his leavings elsewhere. So the dice were cogged from the start, and I have seen a plain kitchen chair sold for fifty pounds of sweet-scented, or something like the price at which a joiner in Glasgow would make a score and leave himself a handsome profit.
* * * * *
The upshot was that I paid a visit to the Governor, Mr. Francis Nicholson, whom my lord Howard had left as his deputy. Governor Nicholson had come from New York not many months before with a great repute for ill-temper and harsh dealing; but I liked the look of his hard-set face and soldierly bearing, and I never mind choler in a man if he have also honesty and good sense. So I waited upon him at his house close by Middle Plantation, on the road between James Town and York River.
I had a very dusty reception. His Excellency sat in his long parlour among a mass of books and papers and saddle-bags, and glared at me from beneath lowering brows. The man was sore harassed by the King's Government on one side and the Virginian Council on the other, and he treated every stranger as a foe.
"What do you seek from me?" he shouted. "If it is some merchants' squabble, you can save your breath, for I am sick of the Shylocks."
I said, very politely, that I was a stranger not half a year arrived in the country, but that I had been using my eyes, and wished to submit my views to his consideration.
"Go to the Council," he rasped; "go to that silken fool, His Majesty's Attorney. My politics are not those of the leather-jaws that prate in this land."
"That is why I came to you," I said.
Then without more ado I gave him my notions on the defence of the colony, for from what I had learned I judged that would interest him most. He heard me with unexpected patience.
"Well, now, supposing you are right? I don't deny it. Virginia is a treasure house with two of the sides open to wind and weather. I told the Council that, and they would not believe me. Here are we at war with France, and Frontenac is hammering at the gates of New York. If that falls, it will soon be the turn of Maryland and next of Virginia. England's possessions in the West are indivisible, and what threatens one endangers all. But think you our Virginians can see it? When I presented my scheme for setting forts along the northern line, I could not screw a guinea out of the miscreants. The colony was poor, they cried, and could not afford it, and then the worshipful councillors rode home to swill Madeira and loll on their London beds. God's truth! were I not a patriot, I would welcome M. Frontenac to teach them decency."
Now I did not think much of the French danger being far more concerned with the peril in the West; but I held my peace on that subject. It was not my cue to cross his Excellency in his present humour.
"What makes the colony poor?" I asked. "The planters are rich enough, but the richest man will grow tired of bearing the whole burden of the government. I submit that His Majesty and the English laws are chiefly to blame. When the Hollanders were suffered to trade here, they paid five shillings on every anker of brandy they brought hither, and ten shillings on every hogshead of tobacco they carried hence. Now every penny that is raised must come out of the Virginians, and the Englishmen who bleed the land go scot free."
"That's true," said he, "and it's a damned disgrace. But how am I to better it?"
"Clap a tax on every ship that passes Point Comfort outward bound," I said. "The merchants can well afford to pay it."
"Listen to him!" he laughed. "And what kind of answer would I get from my lord Howard and His Majesty? Every greasy member would be on his feet in Parliament in defence of what he called English rights. Then there would come a dispatch from the Government telling the poor Deputy-Governor of Virginia to go to the devil!"
He looked at me curiously, screwing up his eyes.
"By the way, Mr. Garvald, what is your trade?"
"I am a merchant like the others," I said; "only my ships run from Glasgow instead of Bristol."
"A very pretty merchant," he said quizzically. "I have heard that hawks should not pick out hawks' eyes. What do you propose to gain, Mr. Garvald?"
"Better business," I said. "To be honest with you, sir, I am suffering from the close monopoly of the Englishman, and I think the country is suffering worse. I have a notion that things can be remedied. If you cannot put on a levy, good and well; that is your business. But I mean to make an effort on my own account."
Then I told him something of my scheme, and he heard me out with a puzzled face.
"Of all the brazen Scots—" he cried.
"Scot yourself," I laughed, for his face and speech betrayed him.
"I'll not deny that there's glimmerings of sense in you, Mr. Garvald. But how do you, a lad with no backing, propose to beat a strong monopoly buttressed by the whole stupidity and idleness of Virginia? You'll be stripped of your last farthing, and you'll be lucky if it ends there. Don't think I'm against you. I'm with you in your principles, but the job is too big for you."
"We will see," said I. "But I can take it that, provided I keep within the law, His Majesty's Governor will not stand in my way?"
"I can promise you that. I'll do more, for I'll drink success to your enterprise." He filled me a great silver tankard of spiced sack, and I emptied it to the toast of "Honest Men."
* * * * *
All the time at the back of my head were other thoughts than merchandise. The picture which Frew had drawn of Virginia as a smiling garden on the edge of a burning pit was stamped on my memory. I had seen on my travels the Indians that dwelled in the Tidewater, remnants of the old great clans of Doeg and Powhatan and Pamunkey. They were civil enough fellows, following their own ways, and not molesting their scanty white neighbours, for the country was wide enough for all. But so far as I could learn, these clanlets of the Algonquin house were no more comparable to the fighting tribes of the West than a Highland caddie in an Edinburgh close is to a hill Macdonald with a claymore. But the common Virginian would admit no peril, though now and then some rough landward fellow would lay down his spade, spit moodily, and tell me a grim tale. I had ever the notion to visit Frew and finish my education.
It was not till the tobacco ships had gone and the autumn had grown late that I got the chance. The trees were flaming scarlet and saffron as I rode west through the forests to his house on the South Fork River. There, by a wood fire in the October dusk, he fed me on wild turkey and barley bread, and listened silently to my tale.
He said nothing when I spoke of my schemes for getting the better of the Englishman and winning Virginia to my side. Profits interested him little, for he grew his patch of corn and pumpkins, and hunted the deer for his own slender needs. Once he broke in on my rigmarole with a piece of news that fluttered me.
"You mind the big man you were chasing that night you and me first forgathered? Well, I've seen him."
"Where?" I cried, all else forgotten.
"Here, in this very place, six weeks syne. He stalked in about ten o' the night, and lifted half my plenishing. When I got up in my bed to face him he felled me. See, there's the mark of it," and he showed a long scar on his forehead. "He went off with my best axe, a gill of brandy, and a good coat. He was looking for my gun, too, but that was in a hidy-hole. I got up next morning with a dizzy head, and followed him nigh ten miles. I had a shot at him, but I missed, and his legs were too long for me. Yon's the dangerous lad."
"Where did he go, think you?" I asked.
"To the hills. To the refuge of every ne'er-do-weel. Belike the Indians have got his scalp, and I'm not regretting it."
I spent three days with Frew, and each day I had the notion that he was putting me to the test. The first day he took me over the river into a great tangle of meadow and woodland beyond which rose the hazy shapes of the western mountains. The man was twenty years my elder, but my youth was of no avail against his iron strength. Though I was hard and spare from my travels in the summer heat, 'twas all I could do to keep up with him, and only my pride kept me from crying halt. Often when he stopped I could have wept with fatigue, and had no breath for a word, but his taciturnity saved me from shame.
In a hollow among the woods we came to a place which sent him on his knees, peering and sniffing like a wild-cat.
"What make you of that?" he asked.
I saw nothing but a bare patch in the grass, some broken twigs, and a few ashes.
"It's an old camp," I said.
"Ay," said he. "Nothing more? Use your wits, man."
I used them, but they gave me no help.
"This is the way I read it, then," he said. "Three men camped here before midday. They were Cherokees, of the Matabaw tribe, and one was a maker of arrows. They were not hunting, and they were in a mighty hurry. Just now they're maybe ten miles off, or maybe they're watching us. This is no healthy country for you and me."
He took me homeward at a speed which well-nigh foundered me, and, when I questioned him, he told me where he got his knowledge.
They were three men, for there were three different footmarks in the ashes' edge, and they were Cherokees because they made their fire in the Cherokee way, so that the smoke ran in a tunnel into the scrub. They were Matabaws from the pattern of their moccasins. They were in a hurry, for they did not wait to scatter the ashes and clear up the place; and they were not hunting, for they cooked no flesh. One was an arrow-maker, for he had been hardening arrow-points in the fire, and left behind him the arrow-maker's thong.
"But how could you know how long back this had happened?" I asked.
"The sap was still wet in the twigs, so it could not have been much above an hour since they left. Besides, the smoke had blown south, for the grass smelt of it that side. Now the wind was more to the east when we left, and, if you remember, it changed to the north about midday."
I said it was a marvel, and he grunted. "The marvel is what they've been doing in the Tidewater, for from the Tidewater I'll swear they came."
Next day he led me eastward, away back in the direction of the manors. This was an easier day, for he went slow, as if seeking for something. He picked up some kind of a trail, which we followed through the long afternoon. Then he found something, which he pocketed with a cry of satisfaction. We were then on the edge of a ridge, whence we looked south to the orchards of Henricus.
"That is my arrow-maker," he cried, showing me a round stone whorl. "He's a careless lad, and he'll lose half his belongings ere he wins to the hills."
I was prepared for the wild Cherokees on our journey of yesterday, but it amazed me that the savages should come scouting into the Tidewater itself. He smiled grimly when I said this, and took from his pocket a crumpled feather.
"That's a Cherokee badge," he said. "I found that a fortnight back on the river-side an hour's ride out of James Town. And it wasna there when I had passed the same place the day before. The Tidewater thinks it has put the fear of God on the hill tribes, and here's a red Cherokee snowking about its back doors."
The last day he took me north up a stream called the North Fork, which joined with his own river. I had left my musket behind, for this heavy travel made me crave to go light, and I had no use for it. But that day it seemed we were to go hunting.
He carried an old gun, and slew with it a deer in a marshy hollow—a pretty shot, for the animal was ill-placed. We broiled a steak for our midday meal, and presently clambered up a high woody ridge which looked down on a stream and a piece of green meadow.
Suddenly he stopped. "A buck," he whispered. "See what you can do, you that were so ready with your pistol." And he thrust his gun into my hand.
The beast was some thirty paces off in the dusk of the thicket. It nettled me to have to shoot with a strange weapon, and I thought too lightly of the mark. I fired, and the bullet whistled over its back. He laughed scornfully.
I handed it back to him. "It throws high, and you did not warn me. Load quick, and I'll try again."
I heard the deer crashing through the hill-side thicket, and guessed that presently it would come out in the meadow. I was right, and before the gun was in my hands again the beast was over the stream.
It was a long range and a difficult mark, but I had to take the risk, for I was on my trial. I allowed for the throw of the musket and the steepness of the hill, and pulled the trigger. The shot might have been better, for I had aimed for the shoulder, and hit the neck. The buck leaped into the air, ran three yards, and toppled over. By the grace of God, I had found the single chance in a hundred.
Frew looked at me with sincere respect. "That's braw shooting," he said. "I can't say I ever saw its equal."
That night in the smoky cabin he talked freely for once. "I never had a wife or bairn, and I lean on no man. I can fend for myself, and cook my dinner, and mend my coat when it's wanting it. When Bacon died I saw what was coming to this land, and I came here to await it. I've had some sudden calls from the red gentry, but they havena got me yet, and they'll no get me before my time. I'm in the Lord's hands, and He has a job for Simon Frew. Go back to your money-bags, Mr. Garvald. Beat the English merchants, my lad, and take my blessing with you. But keep that gun of yours by your bedside, for the time is coming when a man's hands will have to keep his head."
I BECOME AN UNPOPULAR CHARACTER.
I did not waste time in getting to work. I had already written to my uncle, telling him my plans, and presently I received his consent. I arranged that cargoes of such goods as I thought most suitable for Virginian sales should arrive at regular seasons independent of the tobacco harvest. Then I set about equipping a store. On the high land north of James Town, by the road to Middle Plantation, I bought some acres of cleared soil, and had built for me a modest dwelling. Beside it stood a large brick building, one half fitted as a tobacco shed, where the leaf could lie for months, if need be, without taking harm, and the other arranged as a merchant's store with roomy cellars and wide garrets. I relinquished the warehouse by the James Town quay, and to my joy I was able to relinquish Mr. Lambie. That timid soul had been on thorns ever since I mooted my new projects. He implored me to put them from me; he drew such pictures of the power of the English traders, you would have thought them the prince merchants of Venice; he saw all his hard-won gentility gone at a blow, and himself an outcast precluded for ever from great men's recognition. He could not bear it, and though he was loyal to my uncle's firm in his own way, he sought a change. One day he announced that he had been offered a post as steward to a big planter at Henricus, and when I warmly bade him accept it, he smiled wanly, and said he had done so a week agone. We parted very civilly, and I chose as manager my servant, John Faulkner.
This is not a history of my trading ventures, or I would tell at length the steps I took to found a new way of business. I went among the planters, offering to buy tobacco from the coming harvest, and to pay for it in bonds which could be exchanged for goods at my store. I also offered to provide shipment in the autumn for tobacco and other wares, and I fixed the charge for freight—a very moderate one—in advance. My plan was to clear out my store before the return of the ships, and to have thereby a large quantity of tobacco mortgaged to me. I hoped that thus I would win the friendship and custom of the planters, since I offered them a more convenient way of sale and higher profits. I hoped by breaking down the English monopoly to induce a continual and wholesome commerce in the land. For this purpose it was necessary to get coin into the people's hands, so, using my uncle's credit, I had a parcel of English money from the New York goldsmiths.
In a week I found myself the most-talked-of man in the dominion, and soon I saw the troubles that credit brings. I had picked up a very correct notion of the fortunes of most of the planters, and the men who were most eager to sell to me were just those I could least trust. Some fellow who was near bankrupt from dice and cock-fighting would offer me five hundred hogsheads, when I knew that his ill-guided estate could scarce produce half. I was not a merchant out of charity, and I had to decline many offers, and so made many foes. Still, one way and another, I was not long in clearing out my store, and I found myself with some three times the amount of tobacco in prospect that I had sent home at the last harvest.
That was very well, but there was the devil to pay besides. Every wastrel I sent off empty-handed was my enemy; the agents of the Englishmen looked sourly at me; and many a man who was swindled grossly by the Bristol buyers saw me as a marauder instead of a benefactor. For this I was prepared; but what staggered me was the way that some of the better sort of the gentry came to regard me. It was not that they did not give me their custom; that I did not expect, for gunpowder alone would change the habits of a Virginian Tory. But my new business seemed to them such a downcome that they passed me by with a cock of the chin. Before they had treated me hospitably, and made me welcome at their houses. I had hunted the fox with them—very little to my credit; and shot wildfowl in their company with better success. I had dined with them, and danced in their halls at Christmas. Then I had been a gentleman; now I was a shopkeeper, a creature about the level of a redemptioner. The thing was so childish that it made me angry. It was right for one of them to sell his tobacco on his own wharf to a tarry skipper who cheated him grossly, but wrong for me to sell kebbucks and linsey-woolsey at an even bargain. I gave up the puzzle. Some folks' notions of gentility are beyond my wits.
I had taken to going to the church in James Town, first at Mr. Lambie's desire, and then because I liked the sermons. There on a Sunday you would see the fashion of the neighbourhood, for the planters' ladies rode in on pillions, and the planters themselves, in gold-embroidered waistcoats and plush breeches and new-powdered wigs, leaned on the tombstones, and exchanged snuffmulls and gossip. In the old ramshackle graveyard you would see such a parade of satin bodices and tabby petticoats and lace headgear as made it blossom like the rose. I went to church one Sunday in my second summer, and, being late, went up the aisle looking for a place. The men at the seat-ends would not stir to accommodate me, and I had to find rest in the cock-loft. I thought nothing of it, but the close of the service was to enlighten me. As I went down the churchyard not a man or woman gave me greeting, and when I spoke to any I was not answered. These were men with whom I had been on the friendliest terms; women, too, who only a week before had chaffered with me at the store. It was clear that the little society had marooned me to an isle by myself. I was a leper, unfit for gentlefolks' company, because, forsooth, I had sold goods, which every one of them did also, and had tried to sell them fair.
The thing made me very bitter. I sat in my house during the hot noons when no one stirred, and black anger filled my heart. I grew as peevish as a slighted girl, and would no doubt have fretted myself into some signal folly, had not an event occurred which braced my soul again. This was the arrival of the English convoy.
When I heard that the ships were sighted, I made certain of trouble. I had meantime added to my staff two other young men, who, like Faulkner, lived with me at the store. Also I had got four stalwart negro slaves who slept in a hut in my garden. 'Twas a strong enough force to repel a drunken posse from the plantations, and I had a fancy that it would be needed in the coming weeks.
Two days later, going down the street of James Town, I met one of the English skippers, a redfaced, bottle-nosed old ruffian called Bullivant. He was full of apple-jack, and strutted across the way to accost me.
"What's this I hear, Sawney?" he cried. "You're setting up as a pedlar, and trying to cut in on our trade. Od twist me, but we'll put an end to that, my bully-boy. D'you think the King, God bless him, made the laws for a red-haired, flea-bitten Sawney to diddle true-born Englishmen? What'll the King's Bench say to that, think ye?"
He was very abusive, but very uncertain on his legs. I said good-humouredly that I welcomed process of law, and would defend my action. He shook his head, and said something about law not being everything, and England being a long road off. He had clearly some great threat to be delivered of, but just then he sat down so heavily that he had no breath for anything but curses.
But the drunkard had given me a notion. I hurried home and gave instructions to my men to keep a special guard on the store. Then I set off in a pinnace to find my three ships, which were now lading up and down among the creeks.
That was the beginning of a fortnight's struggle, when every man's hand was against me, and I enjoyed myself surprisingly. I was never at rest by land or water. The ships were the least of the business, for the dour Scots seamen were a match for all comers. I made them anchor at twilight in mid-stream for safety's sake, for in that drouthy clime a firebrand might play havoc with them. The worst that happened was that one moonless night a band of rascals, rigged out as Indian braves, came yelling down to the quay where some tobacco was waiting to be shipped, and before my men were warned had tipped a couple of hogsheads into the water. They got no further, for we fell upon them with marling-spikes and hatchets, stripped them of their feathers, and sent them to cool their heads in the muddy river. The ring-leader I haled to James Town, and had the pleasure of seeing him grinning through a collar in the common stocks.
Then I hied me back to my store, which was my worst anxiety, I was followed by ill names as I went down the street, and one day in a tavern, a young fool drew his shabble on me. But I would quarrel with no man, for that was a luxury beyond a trader. There had been an attack on my tobacco shed by some of the English seamen, and in the mellay one of my blacks got an ugly wound from a cutlass. It was only a foretaste, and I set my house in order.
One afternoon John Faulkner brought me word that mischief would be afoot at the darkening. I put each man to his station, and I had the sense to picket them a little distance from the house. The Englishmen were clumsy conspirators. We watched them arrive, let them pass, and followed silently on their heels. Their business was wreckage, and they fixed a charge of powder by the tobacco shed, laid and lit a fuse, and retired discreetly into the bushes to watch their handiwork.
Then we fell upon them, and the hindquarters of all bore witness to our greeting.
I caught the fellow who had laid the fuse, tied the whole thing round his neck, clapped a pistol to his ear, and marched him before me into the town. "If you are minded to bolt," I said, "remember you have a charge of gunpowder lobbing below your chin. I have but to flash my pistol into it, and they will be picking the bits of you off the high trees."
I took the rascal, his knees knocking under him, straight to the ordinary where the English merchants chiefly forgathered. A dozen of them sat over a bowl of punch, when the door was opened and I kicked my Guy Fawkes inside. I may have misjudged them, but I thought every eye looked furtive as they saw my prisoner.
"Gentlemen," said I, "I restore you your property. This is a penitent thief who desires to make a confession."
My pistol was at his temple, the powder was round his neck, and he must have seen a certain resolution in my face. Anyhow, sweating and quaking, he blurted out his story, and when he offered to halt I made rings with the barrel on the flesh of his neck.
"It is a damned lie," cried one of them, a handsome, over-dressed fellow who had been conspicuous for his public insolence towards me.
"Nay," said I, "our penitent's tale has the note of truth. One word to you, gentlemen. I am hospitably inclined, and if any one of you will so far honour me as to come himself instead of dispatching his servant, his welcome will be the warmer. I bid you good-night and leave you this fellow in proof of my goodwill. Keep him away from the candle, I pray you, or you will all go to hell before your time."
That was the end of my worst troubles, and presently my lading was finished and my store replenished. Then came the time for the return sailing, and the last enterprise of my friends was to go off without my three vessels. But I got an order from the Governor, delivered readily but with much profanity, to the commander of the frigates to delay till the convoy was complete. I breathed more freely as I saw the last hulls grow small in the estuary. For now, as I reasoned it out, the planters must begin to compare my prices with the Englishmen's, and must come to see where their advantage lay.
But I had counted my chickens too soon, and was to be woefully disappointed. At that time all the coast of America from New England to the Main was infested by pirate vessels. Some sailed under English letters of marque, and preyed only on the shipping of France, with whom we were at war. Some who had formed themselves into a company called the Brethren of the Coast robbed the Spanish treasure-ships and merchantmen in the south waters, and rarely came north to our parts save to careen or provision. They were mostly English and Welsh, with a few Frenchmen, and though I had little to say for their doings, they left British ships in the main unmolested, and were welcomed as a godsend by our coast dwellers, since they smuggled goods to them which would have been twice the cost if bought at the convoy markets. Lastly, there were one or two horrid desperadoes who ravaged the seas like tigers. Such an one was the man Cosh, and that Teach, surnamed Blackbeard, of whom we hear too much to-day. But, on the whole, we of Virginia suffered not at all from these gentlemen of fortune, and piracy, though the common peril of the seas, entered but little into the estimation of the merchants.
Judge, then, of my disgust when I got news a week later that one of my ships, the Ayr brig, had straggled from the convoy, and been seized, rifled, and burned to the water by pirates almost in sight of Cape Charles. The loss was grievous, but what angered me was the mystery of such a happening. I knew the brig was a slow sailer, but how in the name of honesty could she be suffered in broad daylight to fall into such a fate? I remembered the hostility of the Englishmen, and feared she had had foul play. Just after Christmas-tide I expected two ships to replenish the stock in my store. They arrived safe, but only by the skin of their teeth, for both had been chased from their first entrance into American waters, and only their big topsails and a favouring wind brought them off. I examined the captains closely on the matter, and they were positive that their assailant was not Cosh or any one of his kidney, but a ship of the Brethren, who ordinarily were on the best of terms with our merchantmen.
My suspicions now grew into a fever. I had long believed that there was some connivance between the pirates of the coast and the English traders, and small blame to them for it. 'Twas a sensible way to avoid trouble, and I for one would rather pay a modest blackmail every month or two than run the risk of losing a good ship and a twelve-month's cargo. But when it came to using this connivance for private spite, the thing was not to be endured.
In March my doubts became certainties. I had a parcel of gold coin coming to me from New York in one of the coasting vessels—no great sum, but more than I cared to lose. Presently I had news that the ship was aground on a sandspit on Accomac, and had been plundered by a pirate brigantine. I got a sloop and went down the river, and, sure enough, I found the vessel newly refloated, and the captain, an old New Hampshire fellow, in a great taking. Piracy there had been, but of a queer kind, for not a farthing's worth had been touched except my packet of gold. The skipper was honesty itself, and it was plain that the pirate who had chased the ship aground and then come aboard to plunder, had done it to do me hurt, and me alone.
All this made me feel pretty solemn. My uncle was a rich man, but no firm could afford these repeated losses. I was the most unpopular figure in Virginia, hated by many, despised by the genteel, whose only friends were my own servants and a few poverty-stricken landward folk. I had found out a good way of trade, but I had set a hornet's nest buzzing about my ears, and was on the fair way to be extinguished. This alliance between my rivals and the Free Companions was the last straw to my burden. If the sea was to be shut to him, then a merchant might as well put up his shutters.
It made me solemn, but also most mightily angry. If the stars in their courses were going to fight against Andrew Garvald, they should find him ready. I went to the Governor, but he gave me no comfort. Indeed, he laughed at me, and bade me try the same weapon as my adversaries. I left him, very wrathful, and after a night's sleep I began to see reason in his words. Clearly the law of Virginia or of England would give me no redress. I was an alien from the genteel world; why should I not get the benefit of my ungentility? If my rivals went for their weapons into dark places, I could surely do likewise. A line of Virgil came into my head, which seemed to me to contain very good counsel: "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo", which means that if you cannot get Heaven on your side, you had better try for the Devil.
But how was I to get into touch with the Devil? And then I remembered in a flash my meeting with the sea-captain on the Glasgow stairhead and his promise to help me, I had no notion who he was or how he could aid, but I had a vague memory of his power and briskness. He had looked like the kind of lad who might conduct me into the wild world of the Free Companions.
I sought Mercer's tavern by the water-side, a melancholy place grown up with weeds, with a yard of dark trees at the back of it. Old Mercer was an elder in the little wooden Presbyterian kirk, which I had taken to attending since my quarrels with the gentry. He knew me and greeted me with his doleful smile, shaking his foolish old beard.
"What's your errand this e'en, Mr. Garvald?" he said in broad Scots. "Will you drink a rummer o' toddy, or try some fine auld usquebaugh I hae got frae my cousin in Buchan?"
I sat down on the settle outside the tavern door. "This is my errand. I want you to bring me to a man or bring that man to me. His name is Ninian Campbell."
Mercer looked at me dully.
"There was a lad o' that name was hanged at Inveraray i' '68 for stealin' twae hens and a wether."
"The man I mean is long and lean, and his head is as red as fire. He gave me your name, so you must know him."
His eyes showed no recognition. He repeated the name to himself, mumbling it toothlessly. "It sticks i' my memory," he said, "but when and where I canna tell. Certes, there's no man o' the name in Virginia."
I was beginning to think that my memory had played me false, when suddenly the whole scene in the Saltmarket leaped vividly to my brain. Then I remembered the something else I had been enjoined to say.
"Ninian Campbell," I went on, "bade me ask for him here, and I was to tell you that the lymphads are on the loch and the horn of Diarmaid has sounded."
In a twinkling his face changed from vacancy to shrewdness and from senility to purpose. He glanced uneasily round.
"For God's sake, speak soft," he whispered. "Come inside, man. We'll steek the door, and then I'll hear your business."
Once at Edinburgh College I had read the Latin tale of Apuleius, and the beginning stuck in my memory: "Thraciam ex negotio petebam"—"I was starting off for Thrace on business." That was my case now. I was about to plunge into a wild world for no more startling causes than that I was a trader who wanted to save my pocket. It is to those who seek only peace and a quiet life that adventures fall; the homely merchant, jogging with his pack train, finds the enchanted forest and the sleeping princess; and Saul, busily searching for his father's asses, stumbles upon a kingdom.
"What seek ye with Ringan?" Mercer asked, when we had sat down inside with locked doors.
"The man's name is Ninian Campbell," I said, somewhat puzzled.
"Well, it's the same thing. What did they teach you at Lesmahagow if ye don't know that Ringan is the Scots for Ninian? Lord bless me, laddie, don't tell me ye've never heard of Red Ringan?"
To be sure I had; I had heard of little else for a twelvemonth. In every tavern in Virginia, when men talked of the Free Companions, it was the name of Red Ringan that came first to their tongues. I had been too occupied by my own affairs to listen just then to fireside tales, but I could not help hearing of this man's exploits. He was a kind of leader of the buccaneers, and by all accounts no miscreant like Cosh, but a mirthful fellow, striking hard when need be, but at other times merciful and jovial. Now I set little store by your pirate heroes. They are for lads and silly girls and sots in an ale-house, and a merchant can have no kindness for those who are the foes of his trade. So when I heard that the man I sought was this notorious buccaneer I showed my alarm by dropping my jaw.
Mercer laughed. "I'll not conceal from you that you take a certain risk in going to Ringan. Ye need not tell me your business, but it should be a grave one to take you down to the Carolina keys. There's time to draw back, if ye want; but you've brought me the master word, and I'm bound to set you on the road. Just one word to ye, Mr. Garvald. Keep a stout face whatever you see, for Ringan has a weakness for a bold man. Be here the morn at sunrise, and if ye're wise bring no weapon. I'll see to the boat and the provisioning."
I was at the water-side next day at cock-crow, while the mist was still low on the river. Mercer was busy putting food and a keg of water into a light sloop, and a tall Indian was aboard redding out the sails. My travels had given me some knowledge of the red tribes, and I spoke a little of their language, but this man was of a type not often seen in the Virginian lowlands. He was very tall, with a skin clear and polished like bronze, and, unlike the ordinary savage, his breast was unmarked, and his hair unadorned. He was naked to the waist, and below wore long leather breeches, dyed red, and fringed with squirrels' tails. In his wampum belt were stuck a brace of knives and a tomahawk. It seemed he knew me, for as I approached he stood up to his full height and put his hands on his forehead. "Brother," he said, and his grave eyes looked steadily into mine.
Then I remembered. Some months before I had been riding back the road from Green Springs, and in a dark, woody place had come across an Indian sore beset by three of the white scum which infested the river-side. What the quarrel was I know not, but I liked little the villainous look of the three, and I liked much the clean, lithe figure of their opponent. So I rode my horse among them, and laid on to them with the butt of my whip. They had their knives out, but I managed to disarm the one who attacked me, and my horse upset a second, while the Indian, who had no weapon but a stave, cracked the head of the last. I got nothing worse than a black eye, but the man I had rescued bled from some ugly cuts which I had much ado stanching. He shook hands with me gravely when I had done, and vanished into the thicket. He was a Seneca Indian, and I wondered what one of that house was doing in the Tidewater.
Mercer told me his name. "Shalah will take you to the man you ken. Do whatever he tells you, Mr. Garvald, for this is a job in which you're nothing but a bairn." We pushed off, the Indian taking the oars, and in five minutes James Town was lost in the haze.
On the Surrey shore we picked up a breeze, and with the ebbing tide made good speed down the estuary. Shalah the Indian had the tiller, and I sat luxuriously in the bows, smoking my cob pipe, and wondering what the next week held in store for me. The night before I had had qualms about the whole business, but the air of morning has a trick of firing my blood, and I believe I had forgotten the errand which was taking me to the Carolina shores. It was enough that I was going into a new land and new company. Last night I had thought with disfavour of Red Ringan the buccaneer; that morning I thought only of Ninian Campbell, with whom I had forgathered on a Glasgow landing.
My own thoughts kept me silent, and the Indian never opened his mouth. Like a statue he crouched by the tiller, with his sombre eyes looking to the sea. That night, when we had rounded Cape Henry in fine weather, we ran the sloop into a little bay below a headland, and made camp for the night beside a stream of cold water. Next morning it blew hard from the north, and in a driving rain we crept down the Carolina coast. One incident of the day I remember. I took in a reef or two, and adjusted the sheets, for this was a game I knew and loved. The Indian watched me closely, and made a sign to me to take the helm. He had guessed that I knew more than himself about the handling of a boat in wind, and since we were in an open sea, where his guidance was not needed, he preferred to trust the thing to me. I liked the trait in him, for I take it to be a mark of a wise man that he knows what he can do, and is not ashamed to admit what he cannot.
That evening we had a cold bed; but the storm blew out in the night, and the next day the sun was as hot as summer, and the wind a point to the east. Shalah once again was steersman, for we were inside some very ugly reefs, which I took to be the beginning of the Carolina keys. On shore forests straggled down to the sea, so that sometimes they almost had their feet in the surf; but now and then would come an open, grassy space running far inland. These were, the great savannahs where herds of wild cattle and deer roamed, and where the Free Companions came to fill their larders. It was a wilder land than the Tidewater, for only once did we see a human dwelling. Far remote on the savannahs I could pick out twirls of smoke rising into the blue weather, the signs of Indian hunting fires. Shalah began now to look for landmarks, and to take bearings of a sort. Among the maze of creeks and shallow bays which opened on the land side it needed an Indian to pick out a track.
The sun had all but set when, with a grunt of satisfaction, he swung round the tiller and headed shorewards. Before me in the twilight I saw only a wooded bluff which, as we approached, divided itself into two. Presently a channel appeared, a narrow thing about as broad as a cable's length, into which the wind carried us. Here it was very dark, the high sides with their gloomy trees showing at the top a thin line of reddening sky. Shalah hugged the starboard shore, and as the screen of the forest caught the wind it weakened and weakened till it died away, and we moved only with the ingoing tide. I had never been in so eery a place. It was full of the sharp smell of pine trees, and as I sniffed the air I caught the savour of wood smoke. Men were somewhere ahead of us in the gloom.
Shalah ran the sloop into a little creek so overgrown with vines that we had to lie flat on the thwarts to enter. Then, putting his mouth to my ear, he spoke for the first time since we had left James Town. "It is hard to approach the Master, and my brother must follow me close as the panther follows the deer. Where Shalah puts his foot let my brother put his also. Come."
He stepped from the boat to the hill-side, and with incredible speed and stillness began to ascend. His long, soft strides were made without noise or effort, whether the ground were moss, or a tangle of vines, or loose stones, or the trunks of fallen trees, I had prided myself on my hill-craft, but beside the Indian I was a blundering child, I might have made shift to travel as fast, but it was the silence of his progress that staggered me, I plunged, and slipped, and sprawled, and my heart was bursting before the ascent ceased, and we stole to the left along the hill shoulder.
Presently came a gap in the trees, and I looked down in the last greyness of dusk on a strange and beautiful sight. The channel led to a landlocked pool, maybe a mile around, and this was as full of shipping as a town's harbour. The water was but a pit of darkness, but I could make out the masts rising into the half light, and I counted more than twenty vessels in that port. No light was shown, and the whole place was quiet as a grave.
We entered a wood of small hemlocks, and I felt rather than saw the ground slope in front of us. About two hundred feet above the water the glen of a little stream shaped itself into a flat cup, which was invisible from below, and girdled on three sides by dark forest. Here we walked more freely, till we came to the lip of the cup, and there, not twenty paces below me, I saw a wonderful sight. The hollow was lit with the glow of a dozen fires, round which men clustered. Some were busy boucanning meat for ship's food, some were cooking supper, some sprawled in idleness, and smoked or diced. The night had now grown very black around us, and we were well protected, for the men in the glow had their eyes dazed, and could not spy into the darkness. We came very close above them, so that I could hear their talk. The smell of roasting meat pricked my hunger, and I realized that the salt air had given me a noble thirst. They were common seamen from the pirate vessels, and, as far as I could judge, they had no officer among them. I remarked their fierce, dark faces, and the long knives with which they slashed and trimmed the flesh for their boucanning.
Shalah touched my hand, and I followed him into the wood. We climbed again, and from the tinkle of the stream on my left I judged that we were ascending to a higher shelf in the glen. The Indian moved very carefully, as noiseless as the flight of an owl, and I marvelled at the gift. In after days I was to become something of a woodsman, and track as swiftly and silently as any man of my upbringing. But I never mastered the Indian art by which the foot descending in the darkness on something that will crackle checks before the noise is made. I could do it by day, when I could see what was on the ground, but in the dark the thing was beyond me. It is an instinct like a wild thing's, and possible only to those who have gone all their days light-shod in the forest.
Suddenly the slope and the trees ceased, and a new glare burst on our eyes. This second shelf was smaller than the first, and as I blinked at the light I saw that it held about a score of men. Torches made of pine boughs dipped in tar blazed at the four corners of the assembly, and in the middle on a boulder a man was sitting. He was speaking loudly, and with passion, but I could not make him out. Once more Shalah put his mouth to my ear, with a swift motion like a snake, and whispered, "The Master."
We crawled flat on our bellies round the edge of the cup. The trees had gone, and the only cover was the long grass and the low sumach bushes. We moved a foot at a time, and once the Indian turned in his tracks and crawled to the left almost into the open. My sense of smell, as sharp almost as a dog's, told me that horses were picketed in the grass in front of us. Our road took us within, hearing of the speaker, and though I dared not raise my head, I could hear the soft Highland voice of my friend. He seemed now to be speaking humorously, for a laugh came from the hearers.
Once at the crossing of a little brook, I pulled a stone into the water, and we instantly lay as still as death. But men preoccupied with their own concerns do not keep anxious watch, and our precautions were needless. Presently we had come to the far side of the shelf abreast of the boulder on which he sat who seemed to be the chief figure. Now I could raise my head, and what I saw made my eyes dazzle.
Red Ringan sat on a stone with a naked cutlass across his knees. In front stood a man, the most evil-looking figure that I had ever beheld. He was short but very sturdily built, and wore a fine laced coat not made for him, which hung to his knees, and was stretched tight at the armpits. He had a heavy pale face, without hair on it. His teeth had gone, all but two buck-teeth which stuck out at each corner of his mouth, giving him the look of a tusker. I could see his lips moving uneasily in the glare of the pine boughs, and his eyes darted about the company as if seeking countenance.
Ringan was speaking very gravely, with his eyes shining like sword points. The others were every make and manner of fellow, from well-shaped and well-clad gentlemen to loutish seamen in leather jerkins. Some of the faces were stained dark with passion and crime, some had the air of wild boys, and some the hard sobriety of traders. But one and all were held by the dancing eyes of the man that spoke.
"What is the judgment," he was saying, "of the Free Companions? By the old custom of the Western Seas I call upon you, gentlemen all, for your decision."
Then I gathered that the evil-faced fellow had offended against some one of their lawless laws, and was on his trial.
No one spoke for a moment, and then one grizzled seaman raised his hand, "The dice must judge," he said. "He must throw for his life against the six."
Another exclaimed against this. "Old wives' folly," he cried, with an oath. "Let Cosh go his ways, and swear to amend them. The Brethren of the Coast cannot be too nice in these little matters. We are not pursy justices or mooning girls."
But he had no support. The verdict was for the dice, and a seaman brought Ringan a little ivory box, which he held out to the prisoner. The latter took it with shaking hand, as if he did not know how to use it.
"You will cast thrice," said Ringan. "Two even throws, and you are free."
The man fumbled a little and then cast. It fell a four.
A second time he threw, and the dice lay five.
In that wild place, in the black heart of night, the terror of the thing fell on my soul. The savage faces, the deadly purpose in Ringan's eyes, the fumbling miscreant before him, were all heavy with horror. I had no doubt that Cosh was worthy of death, but this cold and merciless treatment froze my reason. I watched with starting eyes the last throw, and I could not hear Ringan declare it. But I saw by the look on Cosh's face what it had been.
"It is your privilege to choose your manner of death and to name your successor," I heard Ringan say.
But Cosh did not need the invitation. Now that his case was desperate, the courage in him revived. He was fully armed, and in a second he had drawn a knife and leaped for Ringan's throat.
Perhaps he expected it, perhaps he had learned the art of the wild beast so that his body was answerable to his swiftest wish. I do not know, but I saw Cosh's knife crash on the stone and splinter, while Ringan stood by his side.
"You have answered my question," he said quietly. "Draw your cutlass, man. You have maybe one chance in ten thousand for your life."
I shut my eyes as I heard the steel clash. Then very soon came silence. I looked again, and saw Ringan wiping his blade on a bunch of grass, and a body lying before him.
He was speaking—speaking, I suppose, about the successor to the dead man, whom two negroes had promptly removed. Suddenly at my shoulder Shalah gave the hoot of an owl, followed at a second's interval by a second and a third. I suppose it was some signal agreed with Ringan, but at the time I thought the man had gone mad.
I was not very sane myself. What I had seen had sent a cold grue through me, for I had never before seen a man die violently, and the circumstances of the place and hour made the thing a thousandfold more awful. I had a black fright on me at that whole company of merciless men, and especially at Ringan, whose word was law to them. Now the worst effect of fear is that it obscures good judgment, and makes a man in desperation do deeds of a foolhardiness from which at other times he would shrink. All I remembered in that moment was that I had to reach Ringan, and that Mercer had told me that the safest plan was to show a bold front. I never remembered that I had also been bidden to follow Shalah, nor did I reflect that a secret conclave of pirates was no occasion to choose for my meeting. With a sudden impulse I forced myself to my feet, and stalked, or rather shambled, into the light.
"Ninian," I cried, "Ninian Campbell! I'm here to claim your promise."
The whole company turned on me, and I was gripped by a dozen hands and flung on the ground. Ringan came forward to look, but there was no recognition in his eyes. Some one cried out, "A spy!" and there was a fierce murmur of voices, which were meaningless to me, for fear had got me again, and I had neither ears nor voice. Dimly it seemed that he gave some order, and I was trussed up with ropes. Then I was conscious of being carried out of the glare of torches into the cool darkness. Presently I was laid in some kind of log-house, carpeted with fir boughs, for the needles tickled my face.
Bit by bit my senses came back to me, and I caught hold of my vagrant courage.
A big negro in seaman's clothes with a scarlet sash round his middle was squatted on the floor watching me by the light of a ship's lantern. He had a friendly, foolish face, and I remember yet how he rolled his eyeballs.
"I won't run away," I said, "so you might slacken these ropes and let me breathe easy."
Apparently he was an accommodating gaoler, for he did as I wished.
"And give me a drink," I said, "for my tongue's like a stick."
He mixed me a pannikin of rum and water. Perhaps he hocussed it, or maybe 'twas only the effect of spirits on a weary body; but three minutes after I had drunk I was in a heavy sleep.
VARIOUS DOINGS IN THE SAVANNAH.
I awoke in broad daylight, and when my wits came back to me, I saw I was in a tent of skins, with my limbs unbound, and a pitcher of water beside me placed by some provident hand. Through the tent door I looked over a wide space of green savannah. How I had got there I knew not; but, as my memory repeated the events of the night, I knew I had travelled far, for the sea showed miles away at a great distance beneath me. On the water I saw a ship in full sail, diminished to a toy size, careering northward with the wind.
Outside a man was seated whistling a cheerful tune. I got to my feet and staggered out to clear my head in the air, and found the smiling face of Ringan.
"Good-morning, Andrew," he cried, as I sat down beside him. "Have you slept well?"
I rubbed my eyes and took long draughts of the morning breeze.
"Are you a warlock, Mr. Campbell, that you can spirit folk about the country at your pleasure? I have slept sound, but my dreams have been bad."
"Yes," he said; "what sort of dreams, maybe?"
"I dreamed I was in a wild place among wild men, and that I saw murder done. The look of the man who did it was not unlike your own."
"You have dreamed true," he said gravely; "but you have the wrong word for it. Others would call it justice."
"What sort of justice?" said I, "when you had no court or law but just what you made yourself."
"Is it not a stiff Whiggamore?" he said, looking skywards. "Why, man, all justice is what men make themselves. What hinders the Free Companions from making as honest laws as any cackling Council in the towns? Did you see the man Cosh? Have you heard anything of his doings, and will you deny that the world was well quit of him? There's a decency in all trades, and Cosh fair stank to heaven. But I'm glad the thing ended as it did. I never get to like a cold execution. 'Twas better for everybody that he should fly at my face and get six inches of kindly steel in his throat. He had a gentleman's death, which was more than his crimes warranted."
I was only half convinced. Here was I, a law-abiding merchant, pitchforked suddenly into a world of lawlessness. I could not be expected to adjust my views in the short space of a night.
"You gave me a rough handling," I said, "Where was the need of it?"
"And you showed very little sense in bursting in on us the way you did! Could you not have bided quietly till Shalah gave the word? I had to be harsh with you, or they would have suspected something and cut your throat. Yon gentry are not to take liberties with. What made you do it, Andrew?"
"Just that I was black afraid. That made me more feared of being a coward, so I forced myself to yon folly."
"A very honourable reason," he said.
"Are you the leader of those men?" I asked. "They looked a scurvy lot. Do you call that a proper occupation for the best blood in Breadalbane?"
It was a silly speech, and I could have bitten my tongue out when I had uttered it. But I was in a vile temper, for the dregs of the negro's rum still hummed in my blood. His face grew dark, till he looked like the man I had seen the night before.
"I allow no man to slight my race," he said in a harsh voice.
"It's the truth whether you like it or not. And you that claimed to be a gentleman! What is it they say about the Highlands?" And I quoted a ribald Glasgow proverb.
What moved me to this insolence I cannot say, I was in the wrong, and I knew it, but I was too much of a child to let go my silly pride.
Ringan got up very quickly and walked three steps. The blackness had gone from his face, and it was puzzled and melancholy.
"There's a precious lot of the bairn in you, Mr. Garvald," he said, "and an ugly spice of the Whiggamore. I would have killed another man for half your words, and I've got to make you pay for them somehow." And he knit his brow and pondered.
"I'm ready," said I, with the best bravado I could muster, though the truth is I was sick at heart. I had forced a quarrel like an ill-mannered boy on the very man whose help I had come to seek. And I saw, too, that I had gone just that bit too far for which no recantation would win pardon.
"What sort of way are you ready?" he asked politely. "You would fight me with your pistols, but you haven't got them, and this is no a matter that will wait. I could spit you in a jiffy with my sword, but it wouldna be fair. It strikes me that you and me are ill matched. We're like a shark and a wolf that cannot meet to fight in the same element."
Then he ran his finger down the buttons of his coat, and his eyes were smiling. "We'll try the old way that laddies use on the village green. Man, Andrew, I'm going to skelp you, as your mother skelped you when you were a breechless bairn," And he tossed his coat on the grass.
I could only follow suit, though I was black ashamed at the whole business. I felt the disgrace of my conduct, and most bitterly the disgrace of the penalty.
My arm was too short to make a fighter of me, and I could only strive to close, that I might get the use of my weight and my great strength of neck and shoulder. Ringan danced round me, tapping me lightly on nose and cheek, but hard enough to make the blood flow, I defended myself as best I could, while my temper rose rapidly and made me forget my penitence. Time and again I looked for a chance to slip in, but he was as wary as a fox, and was a yard off before I could get my arm round him.
At last in extreme vexation, I lowered my head and rushed blindly for his chest. Something like the sails of a windmill smote me on the jaw, and I felt myself falling into a pit of great darkness where little lights twinkled.
The next I knew I was sitting propped against the tent-pole with a cold bandage round my forehead, and Ringan with a napkin bathing my face.
"Cheer up, man," he cried; "you've got off light, for there's no a scratch on your lily-white cheek, and the blood-letting from the nose will clear out the dregs of Moro's hocus."
I blinked a little, and tried to recall what had happened. All my ill-humour had gone, and I was now in a hurry to set myself right with my conscience. He heard my apology with an embarrassed face.
"Say no more, Andrew. I was as muckle to blame as you, and I've been giving myself some ill names for that last trick. It was ower hard, but, man, the temptation was sore."
He elbowed me to the open air.
"Now for the questions you've a right to ask. We of the Brethren have not precisely a chief, as you call it, but there are not many of them would gainsay my word. Why? you ask. Well, it's not for a modest man to be sounding his own trumpet. Maybe it's because I'm a gentleman, and there's that in good blood which awes the commonalty. Maybe it's because I've no fish of my own to fry. I do not rob for greed, like Calvert and Williams, or kill for lust, like the departed Cosh. To me it's a game, which I play by honest rules. I never laid finger on a bodle's worth of English stuff, and if now and then I ease the Dons of a pickle silver or send a Frenchman or two to purgatory, what worse am I doing than His Majesty's troops in Flanders, or your black frigates that lie off Port Royal? If I've a clear conscience I can more easily take order with those that are less single-minded. But maybe the chief reason is that I've some little skill of arms, so that the lad that questions me is apt to fare like Cosh."
There was a kind of boastful sincerity about the man which convinced me. But his words put me in mind of my own business.
"I came seeking you to ask help. Your friends have been making too free with my belongings. I would never complain if it were the common risk of my trade, but I have a notion that there's some sort of design behind it." Then I told him of my strife with the English merchants.
"What are your losses?" he asked.
"The Ayr brig was taken off Cape Charles, and burned to the water. God help the poor souls in her, for I fear they perished."
He nodded. "I know. That was one of Cosh's exploits. He has paid by now for that and other things."
"Two of my ships were chased through the Capes and far up the Tidewater of the James not two months back," I went on.
He laughed. "I did that myself," he said.
Astonishment and wrath filled me, but I finished my tale.
"A week ago there was a ship ashore on Accomac. Pirates boarded her, but they took nothing away save a sum of gold that was mine. Was that your doing also, Mr. Campbell?"
"Yes," he said; "but the money's safe. I'll give you a line to Mercer, and he'll pay it you."
"I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Campbell," I said, choking with anger. "But who, in Heaven's name, asked you to manage my business? I thought you were my friend, and I came to you as such, and here I find you the chief among my enemies."
"Patience, Andrew," he said, "and I'll explain everything, for I grant you it needs some explaining. First, you are right about the English merchants. They and the Free Companions have long had an understanding, and word was sent by them to play tricks on your ships. I was absent at the time, and though the thing was dirty work, as any one could see, some of the fools thought it a fair ploy, and Cosh was suffered to do his will. When I got back I heard the story, and was black angry, so I took the matter into my own keeping. I have ways and means of getting the news of Virginia, and I know pretty well what you have been doing, young one. There's spirit in you and some wise notions, but you want help in the game. Besides, there's a bigger thing before you. So I took steps to bring you here."
"You took a roundabout road," said I, by no means appeased.
"It had to be. D'you think I could come marching into James Town and collogue with you in your counting-house? Now that you're here, you have my sworn word that the Free Companions will never lay hand again on your ventures. Will that content you?"
"It will," I said; "but you spoke of a bigger thing before me."
"Yes, and that's the price you are going to pay me for my goodwill. It's what the lawyers call consideratio for our bargain, and it's the reason I brought you here. Tell me, Andrew, d'you ken a man Frew who lives on the South Fork River?" "A North Ireland fellow, with a hatchet face and a big scar? I saw him a year ago."
"It stuck in my mind that you had. And d'you mind the advice he gave you?"
I remembered it very well, for it was Frew who had clinched my views on the defencelessness of our West. "He spoke God's truth," I said, "but I cannot get a Virginian to believe it."
"They'll believe in time," he said, "though maybe too late to save some of their scalps. Come to this hillock, and I will show you something."
From the low swell of ground we looked west to some little hills, and in the hollow of them a spire of smoke rose into the blue.
"I'm going to take you there, that you may hear and see something to your profit. Quick, Moro," he cried to a servant. "Bring food, and have the horses saddled."
We breakfasted on some very good beefsteaks, and started at a canter for the hills. My headache had gone, and I was now in a contented frame of mind; for I saw the purpose of my errand accomplished, and I had a young man's eagerness to know what lay before me. As we rode Ringan talked.
"You'll have heard tell of Bacon's rising in '76? Governor Berkeley had ridden the dominion with too harsh a hand, and in the matter of its defence against the Indians he was slack when he should have been tight. The upshot was that Nathaniel Bacon took up the job himself, and after giving the Indians their lesson, turned his mind to the government of Virginia. He drove Berkeley into Accomac, and would have turned the whole place tapsalteery if he had not suddenly died of a bowel complaint. After that Berkeley and his tame planters got the upper hand, and there were some pretty homings and hangings. There were two men that were lieutenants to Bacon, and maybe put the notion into his head. One was James Drummond, a cousin of my own mother's, and he got the gallows for his trouble. The other was a man Richard Lawrence, a fine scholar, and a grand hand at planning, though a little slow in a fight. He kept the ordinary at James Town, and was the one that collected the powder and kindled the fuse. Governor Berkeley had a long score to settle with him, but he never got him, for when the thing was past hope Mr. Richard rode west one snowy night to the hills, and Virginia saw him no more. They think he starved in the wilderness, or got into the hands of the wild Indians, and is long ago dead."
I knew all about Dick Lawrence, for I had heard the tale twenty times. "But surely they're right," I said, "It's fifteen years since any man had word of him."
"Well, you'll see him within an hour," said Ringan, "It's a queer story, but it seems he fell in with a Monacan war party, and since he and Bacon had been fighting their deadly foes, the Susquehannocks, they treated him well, and brought him south into Carolina. You must know, Andrew, that all this land hereaways, except for the little Algonquin villages on the shore, is Sioux country, with as many tribes as there are houses in Clan Campbell. But cheek by jowl is a long strip held by the Tuscaroras, a murdering lot of devils, of whom you and I'll get news sooner than we want. The Tuscaroras are bad enough in themselves, but the worst part is that all the back country in the hills belongs to their cousins the Cherokees, and God knows how far north their sway holds. The Long House of the Iroquois controls everything west of the coast land from Carolina away up through Virginia to New York and the Canadas. That means that Virginia has on two sides the most powerful tribes of savages in the world, and if ever the Iroquois found a general and made a common attack things would go ill with the Tidewater. I tell you that so that you can understand Lawrence's doings. He hates the Iroquois like hell, and so he likes their enemies. He has lived for fifteen years among the Sioux, whiles with the Catawbas, whiles with the Manahoacs, but mostly with the Monacans. We of the Free Companions see him pretty often, and bring him the news and little comforts, like good tobacco and eau de vie, that he cannot get among savages. And we carry messages between him and the Tidewater, for he has many friends still alive there. There's no man ever had his knowledge of Indians, and I'm taking you to him, for he has something to tell you."
By this time we had come to a place where a fair-sized burn issued from a shallow glen in the savannah. There was a peeled wand stuck in a burnt tree above the water, and this Ringan took and broke very carefully into two equal pieces, and put them back in the hole. From this point onwards I had the feeling that the long grass and the clumps of bushes held watchers. They made no noise, but I could have sworn to the truth of my notion. Ringan, whose senses were keener than mine, would stop every now and again and raise his hand as if in signal. At one place we halted dead for five minutes, and at another he dismounted and cut a tuft of sumach, which he laid over his saddle. Then at the edge of a thicket he stopped again, and held up both hands above his head. Instantly a tall Indian stepped from the cover, saluted, and walked by our side. In five minutes more we rounded a creek of the burn and were at the encampment.
'Twas the first time I had ever seen an Indian village. The tents, or teepees, were of skins stretched over poles, and not of bark, like those of the woodland tribes. At a great fire in the centre women were grilling deer's flesh, while little brown children strove and quarrelled for scraps, I saw few men, for the braves were out hunting or keeping watch at the approaches. One young lad took the horses, and led us to a teepee bigger than the others, outside of which stood a finely-made savage, with heron's feathers in his hair, and a necklace of polished shells. On his Iron face there was no flicker of welcome or recognition, but he shook hands silently with the two of us, and struck a blow on a dry gourd. Instantly three warriors appeared, and took their place by his side. Then all of us sat down and a pipe was lit and handed by the chief to Ringan. He took a puff and gave it to one of the other Indians, who handed it to me. With that ceremony over, the tongue of the chief seemed to be unloosed. "The Sachem comes," he said, and an old man sat himself down beside us.
He was a strange figure to meet in an Indian camp. A long white beard hung down to his middle, and his unshorn hair draped his shoulders like a fleece. His clothing was of tanned skin, save that he had a belt of Spanish leather, and on his feet he wore country shoes and not the Indian moccasins. The eyes in his head were keen and youthful, and though he could not have been less than sixty he carried himself with the vigour of a man in his prime. Below his shaggy locks was a high, broad forehead, such as some college professor might have borne who had given all his days to the philosophies. He seemed to have been disturbed in reading, for he carried in his hand a little book with a finger marking his place. I caught a glimpse of the title, and saw that it was Mr. Locke's new "Essay on the Human Understanding."
Ringan spoke to the chief in his own tongue, but the Sioux language was beyond me. Mr. Lawrence joined in, and I saw the Indian's eyes kindle. He shook his head, and seemed to deny something. Then he poured forth a flood of talk, and when he had finished Ringan spoke to me.
"He says that the Tuscaroras are stirring. Word has come down from the hills to be ready for a great ride between the Moon of Stags and the Corngathering."
Lawrence nodded. "That's an old Tuscarora habit; but somehow these ridings never happen." He said something in Sioux to one of the warriors, and got an emphatic answer, which he translated to me. "He thinks that the Cherokees have had word from farther north. It looks like a general stirring of the Long House."
"Is it the fighting in Canada?" I asked.
"God knows," he said, "but I don't think so. If that were the cause we should have the Iroquois pushed down on the top of the Cherokees. But my information is that the Cherokees are to move north themselves, and then down to the Tidewater. It is not likely that the Five Nations have any plan of conquering the lowlands. They're a hill people, and they know the white man's mettle too well. My notion is that some devilry is going on in the West, and I might guess that there's a white man in it." He spoke to the chief, who spoke again to his companion, and Lawrence listened with contracting brows, while Ringan whistled between his teeth.
"They've got a queer story," said Lawrence at last. "They say that when last they hunted on the Roanoke their young men brought a tale that a tribe of Cherokees, who lived six days' journey into the hills, had found a great Sachem who had the white man's magic, and that God was moving him to drive out the palefaces and hold his hunting lodge in their dwellings. That is not like an ordinary Indian lie. What do you make of it, Mr. Campbell?"
Ringan looked grave, "It's possible enough. There's a heap of renegades among the tribes, men that have made the Tidewater and even the Free Companies too warm for them. There's no knowing the mischief a strong-minded rascal might work. I mind a man at Norfolk, a Scots redemptioner, who had the tongue of a devil and the strength of a wolf. He broke out one night and got clear into the wilderness."
Lawrence turned to me briskly. "You see the case, sir. There's trouble brewing in the hills, black trouble for Virginia, but we've some months' breathing space. For Nat Bacon's sake, I'm loath to see the war paint at James Town. The question is, are you willing to do your share?"
"I'm willing enough," I said, "but what can I do? I'm not exactly a popular character in the Tidewater. If you want me to hammer sense into the planters, you could not get a worse man for the job. I have told Governor Nicholson my fears, and he is of my opinion, but his hands are tied by a penurious Council. If he cannot screw money for troops out of the Virginians, it's not likely that I could do much."
Lawrence nodded his wise head. "All you say is true, but I want a different kind of service from you. You may have noticed in your travels, Mr. Garvald—for they tell me you are not often out of the saddle—that up and down the land there's a good few folk that are not very easy in their minds. Many of these are former troopers of Bacon, some are new men who have eyes in their heads, some are old settlers who have been soured by the folly of the Government. With such poor means as I possess I keep in touch with these gentlemen, and in them we have the rudiments of a frontier army. I don't say they are many; but five hundred resolute fellows, well horsed and well armed, and led by some man who knows the Indian ways, might be a stumbling-block in the way of an Iroquois raid. But to perfect this force needs time, and, above all, it needs a man on the spot; for Virginia is not a healthy place for me, and these savannahs are a trifle distant, I want a man in James Town who will receive word when I send it, and pass it onto those who should hear it, I want a discreet man, whose trade takes him about the country. Mr. Campbell tells me you are such an one. Will you accept the charge?"
I was greatly flattered, but a little perplexed. "I'm a law-abiding citizen," I said, "and I can have no hand in rebellions. I've no ambition to play Bacon's part."
Lawrence smiled. "A proof of your discretion, sir. But believe me, there is no thought of rebellion. We have no quarrel with the Council and less with His Majesty's Governor. We but seek to set the house in order against perils which we alone know fully, I approve of your scruples, and I give you my word they shall not be violated."
"So be it," I said, "I will do what I can."
"God be praised," said Mr. Lawrence, "I have here certain secret papers which Will give you the names of the men we can trust. Messages will come to you, which I trust you to find the means of sending on. Mercer has our confidence, and will arrange with you certain matters of arms. He will also supply you with what money is needed. There are many in the Tidewater who would look askance at this business, so it must be done in desperate secrecy; but if there should be trouble I counsel you to play a bold hand with the Governor. They tell me that you and he are friendly, and, unless I mistake the man, he can see reason if he is wisely handled. If the worst comes to the worst, you can take Nicholson into your confidence."
"How long have we to prepare?" I asked.
"The summer months, according to my forecast. It may be shorter or longer, but I will know better when I get nearer the hills."
"And what about the Carolina tribes?" I asked. "If we are to hold the western marches of Virginia, we cannot risk being caught on the flank."
"That can be arranged," he said. "Our friends the Sioux are not over-fond of the Long House. If the Tuscaroras ride, I do not think they will ever reach the James."
The afternoon was now ending, and we were given a meal of corn-cakes and roast deer's flesh. Then we took our leave, and Mr. Lawrence's last word to me was to send him any English books of a serious cast which came under my eye. This request he made with so much hesitation, but with so hungry a desire in his face, that I was moved to pity this ill-fated scholar, wandering in Indian lodges, and famished for lack of the society of his kind.
Ringan took me by a new way which bore north of that we had ridden, and though the dusk began soon to fall, he never faltered in his guiding. Presently we left the savannah for the woods of the coast, and, dropping down hill by a very meagre path, we came in three hours to a creek of the sea. There by a little fire we found Shalah, and the sloop riding at anchor below a thick covert of trees.
"Good-bye to you, Andrew," cried Ringan. "You'll be getting news of me soon, and maybe see me in the flesh on the Tidewater. Remember the word I told you in the Saltmarket, for I never mention names when I take the road."
I HEAR AN OLD SONG.
When we sailed at daybreak next morning I had the glow of satisfaction with my own doings which is a safe precursor of misfortunes. I had settled my business with the Free Companions, and need look for no more trouble on that score. But what tickled my vanity was my talk with Ringan and Lawrence at the Monacan lodge and the momentous trust they had laid on me. With a young man's vanity, I saw myself the saviour of Virginia, and hailed as such by the proud folk who now scorned me. My only merits, as I was to learn in time, are a certain grasp of simple truths that elude cleverer men, and a desperate obstinacy which is reluctant to admit defeat. But it is the fashion of youth to glory in what it lacks, and I flattered myself that I had a natural gift for finesse and subtlety, and was a born deviser of wars. Again and again I told myself how I and Lawrence's Virginians—grown under my hand to a potent army—should roll back the invaders to the hills and beyond, while the Sioux of the Carolinas guarded one flank and the streams of the Potomac the other. In those days the star of the great Marlborough had not risen; but John Churchill, the victor of Blenheim, did not esteem himself a wiser strategist than the raw lad Andrew Garvald, now sailing north in the long wash of the Atlantic seas.
The weather grew spiteful, and we were much buffeted about by the contrary spring winds, so that it was late in the afternoon of the third day that we turned Cape Henry and came into the Bay of Chesapeake. Here a perfect hurricane fell upon us, and we sought refuge in a creek on the shore of Norfolk county. The place was marshy, and it was hard to find dry land for our night's lodging. Our provisions had run low, and there seemed little enough for two hungry men who had all day been striving with salt winds. So, knowing that this was a neighbourhood studded with great manors, and remembering the hospitality I had so often found, I left Shalah by the fire with such food as remained, and set out with our lantern through the woods to look for a human habitation.
I found one quicker than I had hoped. Almost at once I came on a track which led me into a carriage-road and out of the thickets to a big clearing. The daylight had not yet wholly gone, and it guided me to two gate-posts, from which an avenue of chestnut trees led up to a great house. There were lights glimmering in the windows, and when I reached the yard and saw the size of the barns and outbuildings, I wished I had happened on a place of less pretensions. But hunger made me bold, and I tramped over the mown grass of the yard, which in the dusk I could see to be set with flower-beds, till I stood before the door of as fine a mansion as I had found in the dominion. From within came a sound of speech and laughter, and I was in half a mind to turn back to my cold quarters by the shore. I had no sooner struck the knocker than I wanted to run away.
The door was opened instantly by a tall negro in a scarlet livery. He asked no questions, but motioned me to enter as if I had been an invited guest. I followed him, wondering dolefully what sort of figure I must cut in my plain clothes soaked and stained by travel; for it was clear that I had lighted on the mansion of some rich planter, who was even now entertaining his friends. The servant led me through an outer hall into a great room full of people. A few candles in tall candlesticks burned down the length of a table, round which sat a score of gentlemen. The scarlet negro went to the tablehead, and said something to the master, who rose and came to meet me.
"I am storm-stayed," I said humbly, "and I left my boat on the shore and came inland to look for a supper."
"You shall get it," he said heartily. "Sit down, and my servants will bring you what you need."
"But I am not fit to intrude, sir. A weary traveller is no guest for such a table."
"Tush, man," he cried, "when did a Virginian think the worse of a man for his clothes? Sit down and say no more. You are heartily welcome."
He pushed me into a vacant chair at the bottom of the table, and gave some orders to the negro. Now I knew where I was, for I had seen before the noble figure of my host. This was Colonel Beverley, who in his youth had ridden with Prince Rupert, and had come to Virginia long ago in the Commonwealth time. He sat on the Council, and was the most respected of all the magnates of the dominion, for he had restrained the folly of successive Governors, and had ever teen ready to stand forth alike on behalf of the liberties of the settlers and their duties to the Crown. His name was highly esteemed at Whitehall, and more than once he had occupied the Governor's place when His Majesty was slow in filling it. His riches were large, but he was above all things a great gentleman, who had grafted on an old proud stock the tolerance and vigour of a new land.