HotFreeBooks.com
Salute to Adventurers
by John Buchan
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The company had finished dining, for the table was covered with fruits and comfits, and wine in silver goblets. There was sack and madeira, and French claret, and white Rhenish, and ale and cider for those with homelier palates. I saw dimly around me the faces of the guests, for the few candles scarcely illumined the dusk of the great panelled hall hung with dark portraits. One man gave me good-evening, but as I sat at the extreme end of the table I was out of the circle of the company. They talked and laughed, and it seemed to me that I could hear women's voices at the other end. Meantime I was busy with my viands, and no man ever punished a venison pie more heartily. As I ate and drank, I smiled at the strangeness of my fortunes—to come thus straight from the wild seas and the company of outlaws into a place of silver and damask and satin coats and lace cravats and orderly wigs. The soft hum of gentlefolks' speech was all around me, those smooth Virginian voices compared with which my Scots tongue was as strident as a raven's. But as I listened, I remembered Ringan and Lawrence, and, "Ah, my silken friends," thought I, "little you know the judgment that is preparing. Some day soon, unless God is kind, there will be blood on the lace and the war-whoop in these pleasant chambers."

Then a voice said louder than the rest, "Dulcinea will sing to us. She promised this morning in the garden."

At this there was a ripple of "Bravas," and presently I heard the tuning of a lute. The low twanging went on for a little, and suddenly I was seized with a presentiment. I set down my tankard, and waited with my heart in my mouth.

Very clear and pure the voice rose, as fresh as the morning song of birds. There was youth in it and joy and pride—joy of the fairness of the earth, pride of beauty and race and strength, "My dear and only love" it sang, as it had sung before; but then it had been a girl's hope, and now it was a woman's certainty. At the first note, the past came back to me like yesterday. I saw the moorland gables in the rain, I heard the swirl of the tempest, I saw the elfin face in the hood which had cheered the traveller on his way. In that dim light I could not see the singer, but I needed no vision. The strangeness of the thing clutched at my heart, for here was the voice which had never been out of my ears singing again in a land far from the wet heather and the driving mists of home.

As I sat dazed and dreaming, I knew that a great thing had befallen me. For me, Andrew Garvald, the prosaic trader, coming out of the darkness into this strange company, the foundations of the world had been upset. All my cares and hopes, my gains and losses, seemed in that moment no better than dust. Love had come to me like a hurricane. From now I had but the one ambition, to hear that voice say to me and to mean it truly, "My dear and only love." I knew it was folly and a madman's dream, for I felt most deeply my common clay. What had I to offer for the heart of that proud lady? A dingy and battered merchant might as well enter a court of steel-clad heroes and contend for the love of a queen. But I was not downcast. I do not think I even wanted to hope. It was enough to know that so bright a thing was in the world, for at one stroke my drab horizon seemed to have broadened into the infinite heavens.

The song ended in another chorus of "Bravas." "Bring twenty candles, Pompey," my host called out, "and the great punch-bowl. We will pledge my lady in the old Beverley brew."

Servants set on the table a massive silver dish, into which sundry bottles of wine and spirits were poured. A mass of cut fruit and sugar was added, and the whole was set alight, and leaped almost to the ceiling in a blue flame. Colonel Beverley, with a long ladle, filled the array of glasses on a salver, which the servants carried round to the guests. Large branching candelabra had meantime been placed on the table, and in a glow of light we stood to our feet and honoured the toast.

As I stood up and looked to the table's end, I saw the dark, restless eyes and the heavy blue jowl of Governor Nicholson. He saw me, for I was alone at the bottom end, and when we were seated, he cried out to me,—

"What news of trade, Mr. Garvald? You're an active packman, for they tell me you're never off the road."

At the mention of my name every eye turned towards me, and I felt, rather than saw, the disfavour of the looks. No doubt they resented a storekeeper's intrusion into well-bred company, and some were there who had publicly cursed me for a meddlesome upstart. But I was not looking their way, but at the girl who sat on my host's right hand, and in whose dark eyes I thought I saw a spark of recognition.

She was clad in white satin, and in her hair and bosom spring flowers had been set. Her little hand played with the slim glass, and her eyes had all the happy freedom of childhood. But now she was a grown woman, with a woman's pride and knowledge of power. Her exquisite slimness and grace, amid the glow of silks and silver, gave her the air of a fairy-tale princess. There was a grave man in black sat next her, to whom she bent to speak. Then she looked towards me again, and smiled with that witching mockery which had pricked my temper in the Canongate Tolbooth.

The Governor's voice recalled me from my dream.

"How goes the Indian menace, Mr. Garvald?" he cried. "You must know," and he turned to the company, "that our friend combines commerce with high policy, and shares my apprehensions as to the safety of the dominion."

I could not tell whether he was mocking at me or not. I think he was, for Francis Nicholson's moods were as mutable as the tides. In every word of his there lurked some sour irony.

The company took the speech for satire, and many laughed. One young gentleman, who wore a purple coat and a splendid brocaded vest, laughed very loud.

"A merchant's nerves are delicate things," he said, as he fingered his cravat. "I would have said 'like a woman's,' had I not seen this very day Miss Elspeth's horsemanship." And he bowed to her very neatly.

Now I was never fond of being quizzed, and in that company I could not endure it.

"We have a saying, sir," I said, "that the farmyard fowl does not fear the eagle. The men who look grave just now are not those who live snugly in coast manors, but the outland folk who have to keep their doors with their own hands."

It was a rude speech, and my hard voice and common clothes made it ruder. The gentleman fired in a second, and with blazing eyes asked me if I intended an insult. I was about to say that he could take what meaning he pleased, when an older man broke in with, "Tush, Charles, let the fellow alone. You cannot quarrel with a shopman."

"I thank you, George, for a timely reminder," said my gentleman, and he turned away his head with a motion of sovereign contempt.

"Come, come, sirs," Colonel Beverley cried, "remember the sacred law of hospitality. You are all my guests, and you have a lady here, whose bright eyes should be a balm for controversies."

The Governor had sat with his lips closed and his eyes roving the table. He dearly loved a quarrel, and was minded to use me to bait those whom he liked little.

"What is all this talk about gentility?" he said. "A man is as good as his brains and his right arm, and no better. I am of the creed of the Levellers, who would have a man stand stark before his Maker."

He could not have spoken words better calculated to set the company against me. My host looked glum and disapproving, and all the silken gentlemen murmured. The Virginian cavalier had as pretty a notion of the worth of descent as any Highland land-louper. Indeed, to be honest, I would have controverted the Governor myself, for I have ever held that good blood is a mighty advantage to its possessor.

Suddenly the grave man who sat by Miss Elspeth's side spoke up. By this time I had remembered that he was Doctor James Blair, the lately come commissary of the diocese of London, who represented all that Virginia had in the way of a bishop. He had a shrewd, kind face, like a Scots dominie, and a mouth that shut as tight as the Governor's.

"Your tongue proclaims you my countryman, sir," he said. "Did I hear right that your name was Garvald?"

"Of Auchencairn?" he asked, when I had assented.

"Of Auchencairn, or what is left of it," I said.

"Then, gentlemen," he said, addressing the company, "I can settle the dispute on the facts, without questioning his Excellency's dogma. Mr. Garvald is of as good blood as any in Scotland. And that," said he firmly, "means that in the matter of birth he can hold up his head in any company in any Christian land."

I do not think this speech made any man there look on me with greater favour, but it enormously increased my own comfort. I have never felt such a glow of gratitude as then filled my heart to the staid cleric. That he was of near kin to Miss Elspeth made it tenfold sweeter. I forgot my old clothes and my uncouth looks; I forgot, too, my irritation with the brocaded gentleman. If her kin thought me worthy, I cared not a bodle for the rest of mankind.

Presently we rose from table, and Colonel Beverley summoned us to the Green Parlour, where Miss Elspeth was brewing a dish of chocolate, then a newfangled luxury in the dominion. I would fain have made my escape, for if my appearance was unfit for a dining-hall, it was an outrage in a lady's withdrawing-room. But Doctor Blair came forward to me and shook me warmly by the hand, and was full of gossip about Clydesdale, from which apparently he had been absent these twenty years. "My niece bade me bring you to her," he said. "She, poor child, is a happy exile, but she has now and then an exile's longings. A Scots tongue is pleasant in her ear."

So I perforce had to follow him into a fine room with an oaken floor, whereon lay rich Smyrna rugs and the skins of wild beasts from the wood. There was a prodigious number of soft couches of flowered damask, and little tables inlaid with foreign woods and jeweller's work. 'Twas well enough for your fine gentleman in his buckled shoes and silk stockings to enter such a place, but for myself, in my coarse boots, I seemed like a colt in a flower garden. The girl sat by a brazier of charcoal, with the scarlet-coated negro at hand doing her commands. She was so busy at the chocolate making that when her uncle said, "Elspeth, I have brought you Mr. Garvald," she had no hand to give me. She looked up and smiled, and went on with the business, while I stood awkwardly by, the scorn of the assured gentlemen around me.

By and by she spoke: "You and I seem fated to meet in odd places. First it was at Carnwath in the rain, and then at the Cauldstaneslap in a motley company. Then I think it was in the Tolbooth, Mr. Garvald, when you were very gruff to your deliverer. And now we are both exiles, and once more you step in like a bogle out of the night. Will you taste my chocolate?"

She served me first, and I could see how little the favour was to the liking of her little retinue of courtiers. My silken gentleman, whose name was Grey, broke in on us abruptly.

"What is this story, sir, of Indian dangers? You are new to the country, or you would know that it is the old cry of the landless and the lawless. Every out-at-elbows republican makes it a stick to beat His Majesty."

"Are you a republican, Mr. Garvald?" she asked. "Now that I remember, I have seen you in Whiggamore company."

"Why, no," I said. "I do not meddle with politics. I am a merchant, and am well content with any Government that will protect my trade and my person."

A sudden perversity had taken me to show myself at my most prosaic and unromantic. I think it was the contrast with the glamour of those fine gentlemen. I had neither claim nor desire to be of their company, and to her I could make no pretence.

He laughed scornfully. "Yours is a noble cause," he said. "But you may sleep peacefully in your bed, sir. Be assured that there are a thousand gentlemen of Virginia whose swords will leap from their scabbards at a breath of peril, on behalf of their women and their homes. And these," he added, taking snuff from a gold box, "are perhaps as potent spurs to action as the whims of a busybody or the gains of a house-keeping trader."

I was determined not to be provoked, so I answered nothing. But Miss Elspeth opened her eyes and smiled sweetly upon the speaker.

"La, Mr. Grey, I protest you are too severe. Busybody—well, it may be. I have found Mr. Garvald very busy in other folks' affairs. But I do assure you he is no house-keeper, I have seen him in desperate conflict with savage men, and even with His Majesty's redcoats. If trouble ever comes to Virginia, you will find him, I doubt not, a very bold moss-trooper."

It was the, light, laughing tone I remembered well, but now it did not vex me. Nothing that she could say or do could break the spell that had fallen on my heart, "I pray it may be so," said Mr. Grey as he turned aside.

By this time the Governor had come forward, and I saw that my presence was no longer desired. I wanted to get back to Shalah and solitude. The cold bed on the shore would be warmed for me by happy dreams. So I found my host, and thanked him for my entertainment. He gave me good-evening hastily, as if he were glad to be rid of me.

At the hall door some one tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to find my silken cavalier.

"It seems you are a gentleman, sir," he said, "so I desire a word with you. Your manners at table deserved a whipping, but I will condescend to forget them. But a second offence shall be duly punished." He spoke in a high, lisping voice, which was the latest London importation.

I looked him square in the eyes. He was maybe an inch taller than me, a handsome fellow, with a flushed, petulant face and an overweening pride in his arched brows.

"By all means let us understand each other," I said. "I have no wish to quarrel with you. Go your way and I will go mine, and there need be no trouble."

"That is precisely the point," said he. "I do not choose that your way should take you again to the side of Miss Elspeth Blair. If it does, we shall quarrel."

It was the height of flattery. At last I had found a fine gentleman who did me the honour to regard me with jealous eyes. I laughed loudly with delight.

He turned and strolled back to the company. Still laughing, I passed from the house, lit my lantern, and plunged into the sombre woods.



CHAPTER XI.

GRAVITY OUT OF BED.

A week later I had a visit from old Mercer. He came to my house in the evening just after the closing of the store. First of all, he paid out to me the gold I had lost from my ship at Accomac, with all the gravity in the world, as if it had been an ordinary merchant's bargain. Then he produced some papers, and putting on big horn spectacles, proceeded to instruct me in them. They were lists, fuller than those I had already got, of men up and down the country whom Lawrence trusted. Some I had met, many I knew of, but two or three gave me a start. There was a planter in Henricus who had treated me like dirt, and some names from Essex county that I did not expect. Especially there were several in James Town itself—one a lawyer body I had thought the obedient serf of the London merchants, one the schoolmaster, and another a drunken skipper of a river boat. But what struck me most was the name of Colonel Beverley.

"Are you sure of all these?" I asked.

"Sure as death," he said. "I'm not saying that they're all friends of yours, Mr. Garvald. Ye've trampled on a good wheen toes since you came to these parts. But they're all men to ride the ford with, if that should come which we ken of."

Some of the men on the list were poor settlers, and it was our business to equip them with horse and gun. That was to be my special duty—that and the establishing of means by which they could be summoned quickly. With the first Mercer could help me, for he had his hand on all the lines of the smuggling business, and there were a dozen ports on the coast where he could land arms. Horses were an easy matter, requiring only the doling out of money. But the summoning business was to be my particular care. I could go about the country in my ordinary way of trade without exciting suspicion, and my house was to be the rendezvous of every man on the list who wanted news or guidance.

"Can ye trust your men?" Mercer asked, and I replied that Faulkner was as staunch as cold steel, and that he had picked the others.

"Well, let's see your accommodation," and the old fellow hopped to his feet, and was out of doors before I could get the lantern.

Mercer on a matter of this sort was a different being from the decayed landlord of the water-side tavern. His spectacled eyes peered everywhere, and his shrewd sense judged instantly of a thing's value. He approved of the tobacco-shed as a store for arms, for he could reach it from the river by a little-used road through the woods. It was easy so to arrange, the contents that a passing visitor could guess nothing, and no one ever penetrated to its recesses but Faulkner and myself. I summoned Faulkner to the conference, and told him his duties, which, he undertook with sober interest. He was a dry stick from Fife, who spoke seldom and wrought mightily.

Faulkner attended to Mercer's consignments, and I took once more to the road. I had to arrange that arms from the coast or the river-sides could be sent inland, and for this purpose I had a regiment of pack horses that delivered my own stores as well. I had to visit all the men on the list whom I did not know, and a weary job it was. I repeated again my toil of the first year, and in the hot Virginian summer rode the length and breadth of the land. My own business prospered hugely, and I bought on credit such a stock of tobacco as made me write my uncle for a fourth ship at the harvest sailing. It seemed a strange thing, I remember, to be bargaining for stuff which might never be delivered, for by the autumn the dominion might be at death grips.

In those weeks I discovered what kind of force Lawrence leaned on. He who only knew James Town and the rich planters knew little of the true Virginia. There were old men who had long memories of Indian fights, and men in their prime who had risen with Bacon, and young men who had their eyes turned to the unknown West. There were new-comers from Scotland and North Ireland, and a stout band of French Protestants, most of them gently born, who had sought freedom for their faith beyond the sway of King Louis. You cannot picture a hardier or more spirited race than the fellows I thus recruited. The forest settler who swung an axe all day for his livelihood could have felled the ordinary fine gentleman with one blow of his fist. And they could shoot too, with their rusty matchlocks or clumsy snaphances. In some few the motive was fear, for they had seen or heard of the tender mercies of the savages. But in most, I think, it was a love of bold adventure, and especially the craving to push the white man's province beyond the narrow borders of the Tidewater. If you say that this was something more than defence, I claim that the only way to protect a country is to make sure of its environs. What hope is there of peace if your frontier is the rim of an unknown forest?

My hardest task was to establish some method of sending news to the outland dwellers. For this purpose I had to consort with queer folk. Shalah, who had become my second shadow, found here and there little Indian camps, from which he chose young men as messengers. In one place I would get a settler with a canoe, in another a woodman with a fast horse; and in a third some lad who prided himself on his legs. The rare country taverns were a help, for most of their owners were in the secret. The Tidewater is a flat forest region, so we could not light beacons as in a hilly land. But by the aid of Shalah's woodcraft I concocted a set of marks on trees and dwellings which would speak a language to any initiate traveller. The Indians, too, had their own silent tongue, by which they could send messages over many leagues in a short space. I never learned the trick of it, though I tried hard with Shalah as interpreter; for that you must have been suckled in a wigwam.

When I got back to James Town, Faulkner would report on his visitors, and he seems to have had many. Rough fellows would ride up at the darkening, bringing a line from Mercer, or more often an agreed password, and he had to satisfy their wants and remember their news. So far I had had no word from Lawrence, though Mercer reported that Ringan was still sending arms. That tobacco-shed of mine would have made a brave explosion if some one had kindled it, and, indeed, the thing more than once was near happening through a negro's foolishness. I spent all my evenings, when at home, in making a map of the country. I had got a rough chart from the Surveyor-General, and filled up such parts as I knew, and over all I spread a network of lines which meant my ways of sending news. For instance, to get to a man in Essex county, the word would be passed by Middle Plantation to York Ferry. Thence in an Indian's canoe it would be carried to Aird's store on the Mattaponey, from which a woodman would take it across the swamps to a clump of hemlocks. There he would make certain marks, and a long-legged lad from the Rappahannock, riding by daily to school, would carry the tidings to the man I wanted. And so forth over the habitable dominion. I calculated that there were not more than a dozen of Lawrence's men who within three days could not get the summons and within five be at the proper rendezvous.

One evening I was surprised by a visit from Colonel Beverley. He came openly on a fine bay horse with two mounted negroes as attendants. I had parted from him dryly, and had been surprised to find that he was one of us; but when I had talked with him a little, it appeared that he had had a big share in planning the whole business. We mentioned no names, but I gathered that he knew Lawrence, and was at least aware of Ringan. He warned me, I remember, to be on my guard against some of the young bloods, who might visit me to make mischief. "It's not that they know anything of our affairs," he said, "but that they have got a prejudice against yourself, Mr. Garvald. They are foolish, hot-headed lads, very puffed up by their pride of gentrice, and I do not like the notion of their playing pranks in that tobacco-shed."

I asked him a question which had long puzzled me, why the natural defence of a country should be kept so secret. "The Governor, at any rate," I said, "would approve, and we are not asking the burgesses for a single guinea."

"Yes, but the Governor would play a wild hand," was the answer. "He would never permit the thing to go on quietly, but would want to ride at the head of the men, and the whole fat would be in the fire. You must know. Mr. Garvald, that politics run high in our Virginia. There are scores of men who would see in our enterprise a second attempt like Bacon's, and, though they might approve of our aims, would never hear of one of Bacon's folk serving with us. I was never a Bacon's man, for I was with Berkeley in Accomac and at the taking of James Town, but I know the quality of the rough fellows that Bacon led, and I want them all for this adventure. Besides, who can deny that there is more in our plans than a defence against Indians? There are many who feel with me that Virginia can never grow to the fullness of a nation so long as she is cooped up in the Tidewater. New-comers arrive by every ship from England, and press on into the wilderness. But there can be no conquest of the wilderness till we have broken the Indian menace, and pushed our frontier up to the hills—ay, and beyond them. But tell that to the ordinary planter, and he will assign you to the devil. He fears these new-comers, who are simple fellows that do not respect his grandeur. He fears that some day they may control the assembly by their votes. He wants the Tidewater to be his castle, with porters and guards to hound away strangers. Man alive, if you had tried to put reason into some of their heads, you would despair of human nature. Let them get a hint of our preparations, and there will be petitions to Council and a howling about treason, and in a week you will be in gaol, Mr. Garvald. So we must move cannily, as you Scots say."

That conversation made me wary, and I got Faulkner to keep a special guard on the place when I was absent. At the worst, he could summon Mercer, who would bring a rough crew from the water-side to his aid. Then once more I disappeared into the woods.

In these days a new Shalah revealed himself. I think he had been watching me closely for the past months, and slowly I had won his approval. He showed it by beginning to talk as he loped by my side in our forest wanderings. The man was like no Indian I have ever seen. He was a Senecan, and so should have been on the side of the Long House; but it was plain that he was an outcast from his tribe, and, indeed, from the whole Indian brotherhood. I could not fathom him, for he seemed among savages to be held in deep respect, and yet here he was, the ally of the white man against his race. His lean, supple figure, his passionless face, and his high, masterful air had a singular nobility in them. To me he was never the servant, scarcely even the companion, for he seemed like a being from another world, who had a knowledge of things hid from human ken. In woodcraft he was a master beyond all thought of rivalry. Often, when time did not press, he would lead me, clumsy as I was, so that I could almost touch the muzzle of a crouching deer, or lay a hand on a yellow panther, before it slipped like a live streak of light into the gloom. He was an eery fellow, too. Once I found him on a high river bank at sunset watching the red glow behind the blue shadowy forest.

"There is blood in the West," he said, pointing like a prophet with his long arm, "There is blood in the hills which is flowing to the waters. At the Moon of Stags it will flow, and by the Moon of Wildfowl it will have stained the sea."

He had always the hills at the back of his head. Once, when we caught a glimpse of them from a place far up the James River, he stood like a statue gazing at the thin line which hung like a cloud in the west. I am upland bred, and to me, too, the sight was a comfort as I stood beside him.

"The Manitou in the hills is calling," he said abruptly. "I wait a little, but not long. You too will follow, brother, to where the hawks wheel and the streams fall in vapour. There we shall find death or love, I know not which, but it will be a great finding. The gods have written it on my heart."

Then he turned and strode away, and I did not dare to question him. There was that about him which stirred my prosaic soul into a wild poetry, till for the moment I saw with his eyes, and heard strange voices in the trees.

Apart from these uncanny moods he was the most faithful helper in my task. Without him I must have been a mere child. I could not read the lore of the forest; I could not have found my way as he found it through pathless places. From him, too, I learned that we were not to make our preparations unwatched.

Once, as we were coming from the Rappahannock to the York, he darted suddenly into the undergrowth below the chestnuts. My eye could see no clue on the path, and, suspecting nothing, I waited on him to return. Presently he came, and beckoned me to follow. Thirty yards into the coppice we found a man lying dead, with a sharp stake holding him to the ground, and a raw, red mass where had been once his head.

"That was your messenger, brother," he whispered, "the one who was to carry word from the Mattaponey to the north. See, he has been dead for two suns."

He was one of the tame Algonquins who dwelt by Aird's store.

"Who did it?" I asked, with a very sick stomach.

"A Cherokee. Some cunning one, and he left a sign to guide us."

He showed me a fir-cone he had picked up from the path, with the sharp end cut short and a thorn stuck in the middle.

The thing disquieted me horribly, for we had heard no word yet of any movement from the West. And yet it seemed that our enemy's scouts had come far down into the Tidewater, and knew enough to single out for death a man we had enrolled for service. Shalah slipped off without a word, and I was left to continue my journey alone. I will not pretend that I liked the business. I saw an Indian in every patch of shadow, and looked pretty often to my pistols before I reached the security of Aird's house.

Four days later Shalah appeared at James Town. "They were three," he said simply. "They came from the hills a moon ago, and have been making bad trouble on the Rappahannock. I found them at the place above the beaver traps of the Ooniche. They return no more to their people."

After that we sent out warnings, and kept a close eye on the different lodges of the Algonquins. But nothing happened till weeks later, when the tragedy on the Rapidan fell on us like a thunderclap.

* * * * *

All this time I had been too busy to go near the town or the horse-racings and holiday meetings where I might have seen Elspeth. But I do not think she was ever many minutes out of my mind. Indeed, I was almost afraid of a meeting, lest it should shatter the bright picture which comforted my solitude. But one evening in June as I jogged home from Middle Plantation through the groves of walnuts, I came suddenly at the turn of the road on a party. Doctor James Blair, mounted on a stout Flanders cob, held the middle of the path, and at his side rode the girl, while two servants followed with travelling valises. I was upon them before I could rein up, and the Doctor cried a hearty good-day. So I took my place by Elspeth, and, with my heart beating wildly, accompanied them through the leafy avenues and by the green melon-beds in the clearings till we came out on the prospect of the river.

The Doctor had a kindness for me, and was eager to talk of his doings. He was almost as great a moss-trooper as myself, and, with Elspeth for company, had visited near every settlement in the dominion. Education and Christian privileges were his care, and he deplored the backward state of the land. I remember that even then he was full of his scheme for a Virginian college to be established at Middle Plantation, and he wrote weekly letters to his English friends soliciting countenance and funds. Of the happy issue of these hopes, and the great college which now stands at Williamsburg, there is no need to remind this generation.

But in that hour I thought little of education. The Doctor boomed away in his deep voice, and I gave him heedless answers. My eyes were ever wandering to the slim figure at my side. She wore a broad hat of straw, I remember, and her skirt and kirtle were of green, the fairies' colour. I think she was wearied with the sun, for she spoke little; but her eyes when they met mine were kind. That day I was not ashamed of my plain clothes or my homely face, for they suited well with the road. My great boots of untanned buckskin were red with dust, I was bronzed like an Indian, and the sun had taken the colour out of my old blue coat. But I smacked of travel and enterprise, which to an honest heart are dearer than brocade. Also I had a notion that my very homeliness revived in her the memories of our common motherland. I had nothing to say, having acquired the woodland habit of silence, and perhaps it was well. My clumsy tongue would have only broken the spell which the sunlit forests had woven around us.

As we reached my house a cavalier rode up with a bow and a splendid sweep of his hat. 'Twas my acquaintance, Mr. Grey, come to greet the travellers. Elspeth gave me her hand at parting, and I had from the cavalier the finest glance of hate and jealousy which ever comforted the heart of a backward lover.



CHAPTER XII.

A WORD AT THE HARBOUR-SIDE.

The next Sunday I was fool enough to go to church, for Doctor Blair was announced to preach the sermon. Now I knew very well what treatment I should get, and that it takes a stout fellow to front a conspiracy of scorn. But I had got new courage from my travels, so I put on my best suit of murrey-coloured cloth, my stockings of cherry silk, the gold buckles which had been my father's, my silk-embroidered waistcoat, freshly-ironed ruffles, and a new hat which had cost forty shillings in London town. I wore my own hair, for I never saw the sense of a wig save for a bald man, but I had it deftly tied. I would have cut a great figure had there not been my bronzed and rugged face to give the lie to my finery.

It was a day of blistering heat. The river lay still as a lagoon, and the dusty red roads of the town blazed like a furnace. Before I had got to the church door I was in a great sweat, and stopped in the porch to fan myself. Inside 'twas cool enough, with a pleasant smell from the cedar pews, but there was such a press of a congregation that many were left standing. I had a good place just below the choir, where I saw the Governor's carved chair, with the Governor's self before it on his kneeling-cushion making pretence to pray. Round the choir rail and below the pulpit clustered many young exquisites, for this was a sovereign place from which to show off their finery. I could not get a sight of Elspeth.

Doctor Blair preached us a fine sermon from the text, "My people shall dwell in a pleasant habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places!" But his hearers were much disturbed by the continual chatter of the fools about the choir rail. Before he had got to the Prayer of Chrysostom the exquisites were whispering like pigeons in a dovecot, exchanging snuff-boxes, and ogling the women. So intolerable it grew that the Doctor paused in his discourse and sternly rebuked them, speaking of the laughter of fools which is as the crackling of thorns under a pot. This silenced them for a little, but the noise broke out during the last prayer, and with the final word of the Benediction my gentlemen thrust their way through the congregation, that they might be the first at the church door. I have never seen so unseemly a sight, and for a moment I thought that Governor Nicholson would call the halberdiers and set them in the pillory. He refrained, though his face was dark with wrath, and I judged that there would be some hard words said before the matter was finished.

I must tell you that during the last week I had been coming more into favour with the prosperous families of the colony. Some one may have spoken well of me, perhaps the Doctor, or they may have seen the justice of my way of trading. Anyhow, I had a civil greeting from several of the planters, and a bow from their dames. But no sooner was I in the porch than I saw that trouble was afoot with the young bloods. They were drawn up on both sides the path, bent on quizzing me. I sternly resolved to keep my temper, but I foresaw that it would not be easy.

"Behold the shopman in his Sunday best," said one.

"I thought that Sawney wore bare knees on his dirty hills," said another.

One pointed to my buckles. "Pinchbeck out of the store," he says.

"Ho, ho, such finery!" cried another. "See how he struts like a gamecock."

"There's much ado when beggars ride," said a third, quoting the proverb.

It was all so pitifully childish that it failed to provoke me. I marched down the path with a smile on my face, which succeeded in angering them. One young fool, a Norton from Malreward, would have hustled me, but I saw Mr. Grey hold him back. "No brawling here, Austin," said my rival.

They were not all so discreet. One of the Kents of Gracedieu tried to trip me by thrusting his cane between my legs. But! was ready for him, and, pulling up quick and bracing my knees, I snapped the thing short, so that he was left to dangle the ivory top.

Then he did a wild thing. He flung the remnant at my face, so that the ragged end scratched my cheek. When I turned wrathfully I found a circle of grinning faces.

It is queer how a wound, however slight, breaks a man's temper and upsets his calm resolves, I think that then and there I would have been involved in a mellay, had not a voice spoke behind me.

"Mr. Garvald," it said, "will you give me the favour of your arm? We dine to-day with his Excellency."

I turned to find Elspeth, and close behind her Doctor Blair and Governor Nicholson.

All my heat left me, and I had not another thought for my tormentors. In that torrid noon she looked as cool and fragrant as a flower. Her clothes were simple compared with the planters' dames, but of a far more dainty fashion. She wore, I remember, a gown of pale sprigged muslin, with a blue kerchief about her shoulders and blue ribbons in her wide hat. As her hand lay lightly on my arm I did not think of my triumph, being wholly taken up with the admiration of her grace. The walk was all too short, for the Governor's lodging was but a stone's-throw distant. When we parted at the door I hoped to find some of my mockers still lingering, for in that hour I think I could have flung any three of them into the river.

None were left, however, and as I walked homewards I reflected very seriously that the baiting of Andrew Garvald could not endure for long. Pretty soon I must read these young gentry a lesson, little though I wanted to embroil myself in quarrels. I called them "young" in scorn, but few of them, I fancy, were younger than myself.

Next day, as it happened, I had business with Mercer at the water-side, and as I returned along the harbour front I fell in with the Receiver of Customs, who was generally called the Captain of the Castle, from his station at Point Comfort. He was an elderly fellow who had once been a Puritan, and still cherished a trace of the Puritan modes of speech. I had often had dealings with him, and had found him honest, though a thought truculent in manner. He had a passion against all smugglers and buccaneers, and, in days to come, was to do good service in ridding Accomac of these scourges. He feared God, and did not greatly fear much else.

He was sitting on the low wall smoking a pipe, and had by him a very singular gentleman. Never have I set eyes on a more decorous merchant. He was habited neatly and soberly in black, with a fine white cravat and starched shirt-bands. He wore a plain bob-wig below a huge flat-brimmed hat, and big blue spectacles shaded his eyes. His mouth was as precise as a lawyer's, and altogether he was a very whimsical, dry fellow to find at a Virginian port.

The Receiver called me to him and asked after a matter which we had spoken of before. Then he made me known to his companion, who was a Mr. Fairweather, a merchant out of Boston.

"The Lord hath given thee a pleasant dwelling, friend," said the stranger, snuffling a little through his nose.

From his speech I knew that Mr. Fairweather was of the sect of the Quakers, a peaceable race that Virginia had long ill-treated.

"The land is none so bad," said the Receiver, "but the people are a perverse generation. Their hearts are set on vanity, and puffed up with pride. I could wish, Mr. Fairweather, that my lines had fallen among your folk in the north, where, I am told, true religion yet flourisheth. Here we have nothing but the cold harangues of the Commissary, who seeketh after the knowledge that perisheth rather than the wisdom which is eternal life."

"Patience, friend," said the stranger. "Thee is not alone in thy crosses. The Lord hath many people up Boston way, but they are sore beset by the tribulations of Zion. On land there is war and rumour of war, and on the sea the ships of the godly are snatched by every manner of ocean thief. Likewise we have dissension among ourselves, and a constant strife with the froward human heart. Still is Jerusalem troubled, and there is no peace within her bulwarks."

"Do the pirates afflict you much in the north?" asked the Receiver with keen interest. The stranger turned his large spectacles upon him, and then looked blandly at me. Suddenly I had a notion that I had seen that turn of the neck and poise of the head before.

"Woe is me," he cried in a stricken voice. "The French have two fair vessels of mine since March, and a third is missing. Some say it ran for a Virginian port, and I am here to seek it. Heard thee ever, friend, of a strange ship in the James or the Potomac?"

"There be many strange ships," said the Receiver, "for this dominion is the goal for all the wandering merchantmen of the earth. What was the name of yours?"

"A square-rigged schooner out of Bristol, painted green, with a white figurehead of a winged heathen god."

"And the name?"

"The name is a strange one. It is called The Horn of Diarmaid, but I seek to prevail on the captain to change it to The Horn of Mercy."

"No such name is known to me," and the Receiver shook his head. "But I will remember it, and send you news."

I hope I did not betray my surprise, but for all that it was staggering. Of all disguises and of all companies this was the most comic and the most hazardous. I stared across the river till I had mastered my countenance, and when I looked again at the two they were soberly discussing the harbour dues of Boston.

Presently the Receiver's sloop arrived to carry him to Point Comfort. He nodded to me, and took an affectionate farewell of the Boston man. I heard some good mouth-filling texts exchanged between them.

Then, when we were alone, the Quaker turned to me. "Man, Andrew," he said, "it was a good thing that I had a Bible upbringing. I can manage the part fine, but I flounder among the 'thees' and 'thous.' I would be the better of a drink to wash my mouth of the accursed pronouns. Will you be alone to-night about the darkening? Then I'll call in to see you, for I've much to tell you."

* * * * *

That evening about nine the Quaker slipped into my room.

"How about that tobacco-shed?" he asked. "Is it well guarded?"

"Faulkner and one of the men sleep above it, and there are a couple of fierce dogs chained at the door. Unless they know the stranger, he will be apt to lose the seat of his breeches."

The Quaker nodded, well pleased. "That is well, for I heard word in the town that to-night you might have a visitor or two." Then he walked to a stand of arms on the wall and took down a small sword, which he handled lovingly. "A fair weapon, Andrew," said he. "My new sect forbids me to wear a blade, but I think I'll keep this handy beside me in the chimney corner."

Then he gave me the news. Lawrence had been far inland with the Monacans, and had brought back disquieting tales. The whole nation of the Cherokees along the line of the mountains was unquiet. Old family feuds had been patched up, and there was a coming and going of messengers from Chickamauga to the Potomac.

"Well, we're ready for them," I said, and I told him the full story of our preparations.

"Ay, but that is not all. I would not give much for what the Cherokees and the Tuscaroras could do. There might be some blood shed and a good few blazing roof-trees in the back country, but no Indian raid would stand against our lads. But I have a notion—maybe it's only a notion, though Lawrence is half inclined to it himself—that there's more in this business than a raid from the hills. There's something stirring in the West, away in the parts that no White man has ever travelled. From what I learn there's a bigger brain than an Indian's behind it."

"The French?" I asked.

"Maybe, but maybe not. What's to hinder a blackguard like Cosh, with ten times Cosh's mind, from getting into the Indian councils, and turning the whole West loose on the Tidewater??

"Have you any proof?" I asked, much alarmed.

"Little at present. But one thing I know. There's a man among the tribes that speaks English."

"Great God, what a villain!" I cried, "But how do you know?"

"Just this way. The Monacans put an arrow through the neck of a young brave, and they found this in his belt."

He laid before me a bit of a printed Bible leaf. About half was blank paper, for it came at the end of the Book of Revelation. On the blank part some signs had been made in rude ink which I could not understand.

"But this is no proof," I said. "It's only a relic from some plundered settlement. Can you read those marks?"

"I cannot, nor could the Monacans. But look at the printed part."

I looked again, and saw that some one had very carefully underlined certain words. These made a sentence, and read, "John, servant of the prophecy, is at hand."

"The underlining may have been done long ago," I hazarded.

"No, the ink is not a month old," he said, and I could do nothing but gape.

"Well what's your plan?" I said at last.

"None, but I would give my right hand to know what is behind the hills. That's our weakness, Andrew. We have to wait here, and since we do not know the full peril, we cannot fully prepare. There may be mischief afoot which would rouse every sleepy planter out of bed, and turn the Tidewater into an armed camp. But we know nothing. If we had only a scout—".

"What about Shalah?" I asked.

"Can you spare him?" he replied; and I knew I could not.

"I see nothing for it," I said, "but to wait till we are ready, and then to make a reconnaissance, trusting to be in time. This is the first week of July. In another fortnight every man on our list will be armed, and every line of communication laid. Then is our chance to make a bid for news."

He nodded, and at that moment came the growling of dogs from the sheds. Instantly his face lost its heavy preoccupation, and under his Quaker's mask became the mischievous countenance of a boy. "That's your friends," he said. "Now for a merry meeting."

In the sultry weather I had left open window and door, and every sound came clear from the outside. I heard the scuffling of feet, and some confused talk, and presently there stumbled into my house half a dozen wild-looking figures. They blinked in the lamplight, and one begged to know if "Mr. Garbled" were at home. All had decked themselves for this play in what they fancied was the dress of pirates—scarlet sashes, and napkins or turbans round their heads, big boots, and masks over their eyes. I did not recognize a face, but I was pretty clear that Mr. Grey was not of the number, and I was glad, for the matter between him and me was too serious for this tomfoolery. All had been drinking, and one at least was very drunk. He stumbled across the floor, and all but fell on Ringan in his chair.

"Hullo, old Square-Toes," he hiccupped; "what the devil are you?"

"Friend, thee is shaky on thy legs," said Ringan, in a mild voice, "It were well for thee to be in bed."

"Bed," cried the roysterer; "no bed for me this night! Where is that damnable Scots packman?"

I rose very quietly, and lit another lamp. Then I shut the window, and closed the shutters. "Here I am," I said, "very much at your service, gentlemen."

One or two of the sober ones looked a little embarrassed, but the leader, who I guessed was the youth from Gracedieu, was brave enough.

"The gentlemen of Virginia," he said loudly, "being resolved that the man Garvald is an offence to the dominion, have summoned the Free Companions to give him a lesson. If he will sign a bond to leave the country within a month, we are instructed to be merciful. If not, we have here tar and feathers and sundry other adornments, and to-morrow's morn will behold a pretty sight. Choose, you Scots swine." In the excess of his zeal, he smashed with the handle of his sword a clock I had but lately got from Glasgow.

Ringan signed to me to keep my temper. He pretended to be in a great taking.

"I am a man of peace," he cried, "but I cannot endure to see my friend outraged. Prithee, good folk, go away. See, I will give thee a guinea each to leave us alone."

This had the desired effect of angering them. "Curse your money," one cried. "You damned traders think that you can buy a gentleman. Take that for your insult." And he aimed a blow with the flat of his sword, which Ringan easily parried.

"I had thought thee a pirate," said the mild Quaker, "but thee tells me thee is a gentleman."

"Hold your peace, Square-Toes," cried the leader, "and let's get to business."

"But if ye be gentlefolk," pleaded Ringan, "ye will grant a fair field. I am no fighter, but I will stand by my friend."

I, who had said nothing, now broke in. "It is a warm evening for sword-play, but if it is your humour, so be it."

This seemed to them hugely comic. "La!" cried one. "Sawney with a sword!" And he plucked forth his own blade, and bent it on the floor.

Ringan smiled gently, "Thee must grant me the first favour," he said, "for I am the challenger, if that be the right word of the carnally minded." And standing up, he picked up the blade from beside him, and bowed to the leader from Gracedieu.

Nothing loath he engaged, and the others stood back expecting a high fiasco. They saw it. Ringan's sword played like lightning round the wretched youth, it twitched the blade from his grasp, and forced him back with a very white face to the door. In less than a minute, it seemed, he was there, and as he yielded so did the door, and he disappeared into the night. He did not return, so I knew that Ringan must have spoke a word to Faulkner.

"Now for the next bloody-minded pirate," cried Ringan, and the next with a very wry face stood up. One of the others would have joined in, but, crying, "For shame, a fair field," I beat down his sword.

The next took about the same time to reach the door, and disappeared into the darkness, and the third about half as long. Of the remaining three, one sulkily declined to draw, and the other two were over drunk for anything. They sat on the floor and sang a loose song.

"It seems, friends," said the Quaker, "that ye be more ready with words than with deeds. I pray thee"—this to the sober one—"take off these garments of sin. We be peaceful traders, and cannot abide the thought of pirates."

He took them off, sash, breeches, jerkin, turban, and all, and stood up in his shirt. The other two I stripped myself, and so drunk were they that they entered into the spirit of the thing, and themselves tore at the buttons. Then with Ringan's sword behind them, the three marched out of doors.

There we found their companions stripped and sullen, with Faulkner and the men to guard them. We made up neat parcels of their clothes, and I extorted their names, all except one who was too far gone in drink.

"To-morrow, gentlemen," I said, "I will send back your belongings, together with the tar and feathers, which you may find useful some other day. The night is mild, and a gentle trot will keep you from taking chills. I should recommend hurry, for in five minutes the dogs will be loosed. A pleasant journey to you."

They moved off, and then halted and apparently were for returning. But they thought better of it, and presently they were all six of them racing and stumbling down the hill in their shifts.

The Quaker stretched his legs and lit a pipe. "Was it not a scurvy trick of fate," he observed to the ceiling, "that these poor lads should come here for a night's fooling, and find the best sword in the Five Seas?"



CHAPTER XIII.

I STUMBLE INTO A GREAT FOLLY.

I never breathed a word about the night's doings, nor for divers reasons did Ringan; but the story got about, and the young fools were the laughing-stock of the place. But there was a good deal of wrath, too, that a trader should have presumed so far, and I felt that things were gathering to a crisis with me. Unless I was to suffer endlessly these petty vexations, I must find a bold stroke to end them. It annoyed me that when so many grave issues were in the balance I should have these troubles, as if a man should be devoured by midges when waiting on a desperate combat.

The crisis came sooner than I looked for. There was to be a great horse-racing at Middle Plantation the next Monday, which I had half a mind to attend, for, though I cared nothing for the sport, it would give me a chance of seeing some of our fellows from the York River. One morning I met Elspeth in the street of James Town, and she cried laughingly that she looked to see me at the races. After that I had no choice but go; so on the Monday morning I dressed myself with care, mounted my best horse, and rode to the gathering.

'Twas a pretty sight to see the spacious green meadow, now a little yellowing with the summer heat, set in the girdle of dark and leafy forest. I counted over forty chariots which had brought the rank of the countryside, each with its liveried servant and its complement of outriders. The fringe of the course blazed with ladies' finery, and a tent had been set up with a wide awning from which the fashionables could watch the sport. On the edge of the woods a multitude of horses were picketed, and there were booths that sold food and drink, merry-go-rounds and fiddlers, and an immense concourse of every condition of folk, black slaves and water-side Indians, squatters from the woods, farmers from all the valleys, and the scum and ruck of the plantations. I found some of my friends, and settled my business with them, but my eyes were always straying to the green awning where I knew that Elspeth sat.

I am no judge of racing, but I love the aspect of sleek, slim horses, and I could applaud a skill in which I had no share. I can keep my seat on most four-legged beasts, but my horsemanship is a clumsy, rough-and-ready affair, very different from the effortless grace of your true cavalier. Mr. Grey's prowess, especially, filled me with awe. He would leap an ugly fence without moving an inch in his saddle, and both in skill and the quality of his mounts he was an easy victor. The sight of such accomplishments depressed my pride, and I do not think I would have ventured near the tent had it not been for the Governor.

He saw me on the fringe of the crowd, and called me to him. "What bashfulness has taken you to-day, sir?" he cried, "That is not like your usual. There are twenty pretty dames here who pine for a word from you."

I saw his purpose well enough. He loved to make mischief, and knew that the sight of me among the Virginian gentry would infuriate my unfriends. But I took him at his word and elbowed my way into the enclosure.

Then I wished to Heaven I had stayed at home. I got insolent glances from the youths, and the cold shoulder from the ladies. Elspeth smiled when she saw me, but turned the next second to gossip with her little court. She was a devout lover of horses, and had eyes for nothing but the racing. Her cheeks were flushed, and it was pretty to watch her excitement; how she hung breathless on the movements of the field, and clapped her hands at a brave finish. Pretty, indeed, but exasperating to one who had no part in that pleasant company.

I stood gloomily by the rail at the edge of the ladies' awning, acutely conscious of my loneliness. Presently Mr. Grey, whose racing was over, came to us, and had a favour pinned in his coat by Elspeth's fingers. He was evidently high in her good graces, for he sat down by her and talked gleefully. I could not but admire his handsome eager face, and admit with a bitter grudge that you would look long to find a comelier pair.

All this did not soothe my temper, and after an hour of it I was in desperate ill-humour with the world. I had just reached the conclusion that I had had as much as I wanted, when I heard Elspeth's voice calling me.

"Come hither, Mr. Garvald," she said. "We have a dispute which a third must settle. I favour the cherry, and Mr. Grey fancies the blue; but I maintain that blue crowds cherry unfairly at the corners. Use your eyes, sir, at the next turning."

I used my eyes, which are very sharp, and had no doubt of it.

"That is a matter for the Master of the Course," said Mr. Grey. "Will you uphold your view before him, sir?"

I said that I knew too little of the sport to be of much weight as a witness. To this he said nothing, but offered to wager with me on the result of the race, which was now all but ending. "Or no," said he, "I should not ask you that. A trader is careful of his guineas."

Elspeth did not hear, being intent on other things, and I merely shrugged my shoulders, though my fingers itched for the gentleman's ears.

In a little the racing ceased, and the ladies made ready to leave. Doctor Blair appeared, protesting that the place was not for his cloth, and gave Elspeth his arm to escort her to his coach. She cried a merry good-day to us, and reminded Mr. Grey that he had promised to sup with them on the morrow. When she had gone I spied a lace scarf which she had forgotten, and picked it up to restore it.

This did not please the other. He snatched it from me, and when I proposed to follow, tripped me deftly, and sent me sprawling among the stools. As I picked myself up, I saw him running to overtake the Blairs.

This time there was no discreet girl to turn the edge of my fury. All the gibes and annoyances of the past months rushed into my mind, and set my head throbbing. I was angry, but very cool with it all, for I saw that the matter had now gone too far for tolerance. Unless I were to be the butt of Virginia, I must assert my manhood.

I nicked the dust from my coat, and walked quietly to where Mr. Grey was standing amid a knot of his friends, who talked of the races and their losses and gains. He saw me coming, and said something which made them form a staring alley, down which I strolled. He kept regarding me with bright, watchful eyes.

"I have been very patient, sir," I said, "but there is a limit to what a man may endure from a mannerless fool." And I gave him a hearty slap on the face.

Instantly there was a dead silence, in which the sound seemed to linger intolerably. He had grown very white, and his eyes were wicked.

"I am obliged to you, sir," he said. "You are some kind of ragged gentleman, so no doubt you will give me satisfaction."

"When and where you please," I said sedately.

"Will you name your friend now?" he asked. "These matters demand quick settlement."

To whom was I to turn? I knew nobody of the better class who would act for me. For a moment I thought of Colonel Beverley, but his age and dignity were too great to bring him into this squabble of youth. Then a notion struck me.

"If you will send your friend to my man, John Faulkner, he will make all arrangements. He is to be found any day in my shop."

With this defiance, I walked nonchalantly out of the dumbfoundered group, found my horse, and rode homewards.

My coolness did not last many minutes, and long ere I had reached James Town I was a prey to dark forebodings. Here was I, a peaceful trader, who desired nothing more than to live in amity with all men, involved in a bloody strife. I had sought it, and yet it had been none of my seeking. I had graver thoughts to occupy my mind than the punctilios of idle youth, and yet I did not see how the thing could have been shunned. It was my hard fate to come athwart an obstacle which could not be circumvented, but must be broken. No friend could help me in the business, not Ringan, nor the Governor, nor Colonel Beverley. It was my own affair, which I must go through with alone. I felt as solitary as a pelican.

Remember, I was not fighting for any whimsy about honour, nor even for the love of Elspeth. I had openly provoked Grey because the hostility of the young gentry had become an intolerable nuisance in my daily life. So, with such pedestrian reasons in my mind, I could have none of the heady enthusiasm of passion. I wanted him and his kind cleared out of my way, like a noisome insect, but I had no flaming hatred of him to give me heart.

The consequence was that I became a prey to dismal fear. That bravery which knows no ebb was never mine. Indeed, I am by nature timorous, for my fancy is quick, and I see with horrid clearness the incidents of a peril. Only a shamefaced conscience holds me true, so that, though I have often done temerarious deeds, it has always been because I feared shame more than the risk, and my knees have ever been knocking together and my lips dry with fright. I tried to think soberly over the future, but could get no conclusion save that I would not do murder. My conscience was pretty bad about the whole business. I was engaged in the kind of silly conflict which I had been bred to abhor; I had none of the common gentleman's notions about honour; and I knew that if by any miracle I slew Grey I should be guilty in my own eyes of murder. I would not risk the guilt. If God had determined that I should perish before my time, then perish I must.

This despair brought me a miserable kind of comfort. When I reached home I went straight to Faulkner.

"I have quarrelled to-day with a gentleman, John, and have promised him satisfaction. You must act for me in the affair. Some one will come to see you this evening, and the meeting had better be at dawn to-morrow."

He opened his eyes very wide. "Who is it, then?" he asked.

"Mr. Charles Grey of Grey's Hundred," I replied.

This made him whistle low, "He's a fine swordsman," he said. "I never heard there was any better in the dominion. You'll be to fight with swords?"

I thought hard for a minute. I was the challenged, and so had the choice of weapons. "No," said I, "you are to appoint pistols, for it is my right."

At this Faulkner slowly grinned. "It's a new weapon for these affairs. What if they'll not accept? But it's no business of mine, and I'll remember your wishes." And the strange fellow turned again to his accounts.

I spent the evening looking over my papers and making various appointments in case I did not survive the morrow. Happily the work I had undertaken for Lawrence was all but finished, and of my ordinary business Faulkner knew as much as myself. I wrote a letter to Uncle Andrew, telling him frankly the situation, that he might know how little choice I had. It was a cold-blooded job making these dispositions, and I hope never to have the like to do again. Presently I heard voices outside, and Faulkner came to the door with Mr. George Mason, the younger, of Thornby, who passed for the chief buck in Virginia. He gave me a cold bow.

"I have settled everything with this gentleman, but I would beg of you, sir, to reconsider your choice of arms. My friend will doubtless be ready enough to humour you, but you have picked a barbarous weapon for Christian use."

"It's my only means of defence," I said.

"Then you stick to your decision?"

"Assuredly," said I, and, with a shrug of the shoulders, he departed.

I did not attempt to sleep. Faulkner told me that we were to meet the next morning half an hour after sunrise at a place in the forest a mile distant. Each man was to fire one shot, but two pistols were allowed in case of a misfire. All that night by the light of a lamp I got my weapons ready. I summoned to my recollection all the knowledge I had acquired, and made sure that nothing should be lacking so far as human skill would go. I had another pistol besides the one I called "Elspeth," also made in Glasgow, but a thought longer in the barrel. For this occasion I neglected cartouches, and loaded in the old way. I tested my bullets time and again, and weighed out the powder as if it had been gold dust. It was short range, so I made my charges small. I tried my old device of wrapping each bullet in soft wool smeared with beeswax. All this passed the midnight hours, and then I lay down for a little rest, but not for sleep.

I was glad when Faulkner summoned me half an hour before sunrise. I remember that I bathed head and shoulders in cold water, and very carefully dressed myself in my best clothes. My pistols lay in the box which Faulkner carried. I drank a glass of wine, and as we left I took a long look at the place I had created, and the river now lit with the first shafts of morning. I wondered incuriously if I should ever see it again.

My tremors had all gone by now, and I was in a mood of cold, thoughtless despair. The earth had never looked so bright as we rode through the green aisles all filled with the happy song of birds. Often on such a morning I had started on a journey, with my heart grateful for the goodness of the world. Could I but keep the road, I should come in time to the swampy bank of the York; and then would follow the chestnut forest: and the wide marshes towards the Rappahannock; and everywhere I should meet friendly human faces, and then at night I should eat a hunter's meal below the stars. But that was all past, and I was moving towards death in a foolish strife in which I had no heart, and where I could find no honour, I think I laughed aloud at my exceeding folly.

We turned from the path into an alley which led to an open space on the edge of a derelict clearing. There, to my surprise, I found a considerable company assembled. Grey was there with his second, and a dozen or more of his companions stood back in the shadow of the trees. The young blood of Virginia had come out to see the trader punished.

During the few minutes while the seconds were busy pacing the course and arranging for the signal, I had no cognizance of the world around me. I stood with abstracted eyes watching a grey squirrel in one of the branches, and trying to recall a line I had forgotten in a song. There seemed to be two Andrew Garvalds that morning, one filled with an immense careless peace, and the other a weak creature who had lived so long ago as to be forgotten. I started when Faulkner came to place me, and followed him without a word. But as I stood up and saw Grey twenty paces off, turning up his wristbands and tossing his coat to a friend, I realized the business I had come on. A great flood of light was rolling down the forest aisles, but it was so clear and pure that it did not dazzle. I remember thinking in that moment how intolerable had become the singing of birds.

I deadened my heart to memories, took my courage in both hands, and forced myself to the ordeal. For it is an ordeal to face powder if you have not a dreg of passion in you, and are resolved to make no return. I am left-handed, and so, in fronting my opponent, I exposed my heart. If Grey were the marksman I thought him, now was his chance for revenge.

My wits were calm now, and my senses very clear. I heard a man say slowly that he would count three and then drop his kerchief, and at the dropping we should fire. Our eyes were on him as he lifted his hand and slowly began,—"One—two—"

Then I looked away, for the signal mattered nothing to me. I suddenly caught Grey's eyes, and something whistled past my ear, cutting the lobe and shearing off a lock of hair. I did not heed it. What filled my mind was the sight of my enemy, very white and drawn in the face, holding a smoking pistol and staring at me.

I emptied my pistol among the tree-tops.

No one moved. Grey continued to stare, leaning a little forward, with his lips working.

Then I took from Faulkner my second pistol. My voice came out of my throat, funnily cracked as if from long disuse.

"Mr. Grey," I cried, "I would not have you think that I cannot shoot."

Forty yards from me on the edge of the covert a turkey stood, with its foolish, inquisitive head. The sound of the shots had brought the bird out to see what was going on. It stood motionless, blinking its eyes, the very mark I desired.

I pointed to it with my right hand, flung forward my pistol, and fired. It rolled over as dead as stone, and Faulkner walked to pick it up. He put back my pistols in the box, and we turned to seek the horses....

Then Grey came up to me. His mouth was hard-set, but the lines were not of pride. I saw that he too had been desperately afraid, and I rejoiced that others beside me had been at breaking-point.

"Our quarrel is at an end, sir?" he said, and his voice was hesitating.

"Why, yes," I said. "It was never my seeking, though I gave the offence."

"I have behaved like a cub, sir," and he spoke loud, so that all could hear. "You have taught me a lesson in gentility. Will you give me your hand?"

I could find no words, and dumbly held out my right hand.

"Nay, sir," he said, "the other, the one that held the trigger. I count it a privilege to hold the hand of a brave man."

I had been tried too hard, and was all but proving my bravery by weeping like a bairn.



CHAPTER XIV.

A WILD WAGER.

That July morning in the forest gave me, if not popularity, at any rate peace. I had made good my position. Henceforth the word went out that I was to be let alone. Some of the young men, indeed, showed signs of affecting my society, including that Mr. Kent of Gracedieu who had been stripped by Ringan. The others treated me with courtesy, and I replied with my best manners. Most of them were of a different world to mine, and we could not mix, so 'twas right that our deportment should be that of two dissimilar but amiable nations bowing to each other across a frontier.

All this was a great ease, but it brought one rueful consequence. Elspeth grew cold to me. Women, I suppose, have to condescend, and protect, and pity. When I was an outcast she was ready to shelter me; but now that I was in some degree of favour with others the need for this was gone, and she saw me without illusion in all my angularity and roughness. She must have heard of the duel, and jumped to the conclusion that the quarrel had been about herself, which was not the truth. The notion irked her pride, that her name should ever be brought into the brawls of men. When I passed her in the streets she greeted me coldly, and all friendliness had gone out of her eyes.

* * * * *

My days were so busy that I had little leisure for brooding, but at odd moments I would fall into a deep melancholy. She had lived so constantly in my thoughts that without her no project charmed me. What mattered wealth or fame, I thought, if she did not approve? What availed my striving, if she were not to share in the reward? I was in this mood when I was bidden by Doctor Blair to sup at his house.

I went thither in much trepidation, for I feared a great company, in which I might have no chance of a word from her. But I found only the Governor, who was in a black humour, and disputed every word that fell from the Doctor's mouth. This turned the meal into one long wrangle, in which the high fundamentals of government in Church and State were debated by two choleric gentlemen. The girl and I had no share in the conversation; indeed, we were clearly out of place: so she could not refuse when I proposed a walk in the garden. The place was all cool and dewy after the scorching day, and the bells of the flowers made the air heavy with fragrance. Somewhere near a man was playing on the flageolet, a light, pretty tune which set her feet tripping.

I asked her bluntly wherein I had offended.

"Offended!" she cried, "Why should I take offence? I see you once in a blue moon. You flatter yourself strangely, Mr. Garvald, if you think you are ever in my thoughts."

"You are never out of mine," I said dismally.

At this she laughed, something of the old elfin laughter which I had heard on the wet moors.

"A compliment!" she cried, "To be mixed up eternally with the weights of tobacco and the prices of Flemish lace. You are growing a very pretty courtier, sir."

"I am no courtier," I said. "I think brave things of you, though I have not the words to fit them. But one thing I will say to you. Since ever you sang to the boy that once was me your spell has been on my soul. And when I saw you again three months back that spell was changed from the whim of youth to what men call love. Oh, I know well there is no hope for me. I am not fit to tie your shoe-latch. But you have made a fire in my cold life, and you will pardon me if I dare warm my hands. The sun is brighter because of you, and the flowers fairer, and the birds' song sweeter. Grant me this little boon, that I may think of you. Have no fears that I will pester you with attentions. No priest ever served his goddess with a remoter reverence than mine for you."

She stopped in an alley of roses and looked me in the face. In the dusk I could not see her eyes.

"Fine words," she said. "Yet I hear that you have been wrangling over me with Mr. Charles Grey, and exchanging pistol shots. Is that your reverence?"

In a sentence I told her the truth. "They forced my back to the wall," I said, "and there was no other way. I have never uttered your name to a living soul."

Was it my fancy that when she spoke again there was a faint accent of disappointment?

"You are an uncomfortable being, Mr. Garvald. It seems you are predestined to keep Virginia from sloth. For myself I am for the roses and the old quiet ways."

She plucked two flowers, one white and one of deepest crimson.

"I pardon you," she said, "and for token I will give you a rose. It is red, for that is your turbulent colour. The white flower of peace shall be mine."

I took the gift, and laid it in my bosom.

* * * * *

Two days later, it being a Monday, I dined with his Excellency at the Governor's house at Middle Plantation. The place had been built new for my lord Culpepper, since the old mansion at James Town had been burned in Bacon's rising. The company was mainly of young men, but three ladies—the mistresses of Arlington and Cobwell Manors, and Elspeth in a new saffron gown—varied with their laces the rich coats of the men. I was pleasantly welcomed by everybody. Grey came forward and greeted me, very quiet and civil, and I sat by him throughout the meal. The Governor was in high good humour, and presently had the whole company in the same mood. Of them all, Elspeth was the merriest. She had the quickest wit and the deftest skill in mimicry, and there was that in her laughter which would infect the glummest.

That very day I had finished my preparations. The train was now laid, and the men were ready, and a word from Lawrence would line the West with muskets. But I had none of the satisfaction of a completed work. It was borne in upon me that our task was scarcely begun, and that the peril that threatened us was far darker than we had dreamed. Ringan's tale of a white leader among the tribes was always in my head. The hall where we sat was lined with portraits of men who had borne rule in Virginia. There was Captain John Smith, trim-bearded and bronzed; and Argall and Dale, grave and soldierly; there was Francis Wyat, with the scar got in Indian wars; there hung the mean and sallow countenance of Sir John Harvey. There, too, was Berkeley, with his high complexion and his love-locks, the great gentleman of a vanished age; and the gross rotundity of Culpepper; and the furtive eye of my lord Howard, who was even now the reigning Governor. There was a noble picture of King Charles the Second, who alone of monarchs was represented. Soft-footed lackeys carried viands and wines, and the table was a mingling of silver and roses. The afternoon light came soft through the trellis, and you could not have looked for a fairer picture of settled ease. Yet I had that in my mind which shattered the picture. We were feasting like the old citizens of buried Pompeii, with the lava even now, perhaps, flowing hot from the mountains. I looked at the painted faces on the walls, and wondered which I would summon to our aid if I could call men from the dead. Smith, I thought, would be best; but I reflected uneasily that Smith would never have let things come to such a pass. At the first hint of danger he would have been off to the West to scotch it in the egg.

I was so filled with sober reflections that I talked little; but there was no need of me. Youth and beauty reigned, and the Governor was as gay as the youngest. Many asked me to take wine with them, and the compliment pleased me. There was singing, likewise—Sir William Davenant's song to his mistress, and a Cavalier rant or two, and a throat ditty of the seas; and Elspeth sang very sweetly the old air of "Greensleeves." We drank all the toasts of fashion—His Majesty of England, confusion to the French, the health of Virginia, rich harvests, full cellars, and pretty dames. Presently when we had waxed very cheerful, and wine had risen to several young heads, the Governor called on us to brim our glasses.

"Be it known, gentlemen, and you, fair ladies," he cried, "that to-day is a more auspicious occasion than any Royal festival or Christian holy day. To-day is Dulcinea's birthday. I summon you to drink to the flower of the West, the brightest gem in Virginia's coronal."

At that we were all on our feet. The gentlemen snapped the stems of their glasses to honour the sacredness of the toast, and there was such a shouting and pledging as might well have turned a girl's head. Elspeth sat still and smiling. The mockery had gone out of her eyes, and I thought they were wet. No Queen had ever a nobler salutation, and my heart warmed to the generous company. Whatever its faults, it did due homage to beauty and youth.

Governor Francis was again on his feet.

"I have a birthday gift for the fair one. You must know that once at Whitehall I played at cartes with my lord Culpepper, and the stake on his part was one-sixth portion of that Virginian territory which is his freehold. I won, and my lord conveyed the grant to me in a deed properly attested by the attorneys. We call the place the Northern Neck, and 'tis all the land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac as far west as the sunset. It is undivided, but my lord stipulated that my portion should lie from the mountains westward. What good is such an estate to an aging bachelor like me, who can never visit it? But 'tis a fine inheritance for youth, and I propose to convey it to Dulcinea as a birthday gift. Some day, I doubt not, 'twill be the Eden of America."

At this there was a great crying out and some laughter, which died away when it appeared that the Governor spoke in all seriousness.

"I make one condition," he went on. "Twenty years back there was an old hunter, called Studd, who penetrated the mountains. He travelled to the head-waters of the Rapidan, and pierced the hills by a pass which he christened Clearwater Gap. He climbed the highest mountain in those parts, and built a cairn on the summit, in which he hid a powder-horn with a writing within. He was the first to make the journey, and none have followed him. The man is dead now, but he told me the tale, and I will pledge my honour that it is true. It is for Dulcinea to choose a champion to follow Studd's path and bring back his powder-horn. On the day I receive it she takes sasine of her heritage. Which of you gallants offers for the venture?"

To this day I do not know what were Francis Nicholson's motives. He wished the mountains crossed, but he cannot have expected to meet a pathfinder among the youth of the Tidewater. I think it was the whim of the moment. He would endow Elspeth, and at the same time test her cavaliers. To the ordinary man it seemed the craziest folly. Studd had been a wild fellow, half Indian in blood and wholly Indian in habits, and for another to travel fifty miles into the heart of the desert was to embrace destruction. The company sat very silent. Elspeth, with a blushing cheek, turned troubled eyes on the speaker.

As for me, I had found the chance I wanted. I was on my feet in a second. "I will go," I said; and I had hardly spoken when Grey was beside me, crying, "And I."

Still the company sat silent. 'Twas as if the shadow of a sterner life had come over their young gaiety. Elspeth did not look at me, but sat with cast-down eyes, plucking feverishly at a rose. The Governor laughed out loud.

"Brave hearts!" he cried. "Will you travel together?"

I looked at Grey. "That can hardly be," he said.

"Well, we must spin for it," said Nicholson, taking a guinea from his pocket. "Royals for Mr. Garvald, quarters for Mr. Grey," he cried as he spun it.

It fell Royals. We had both been standing, and Grey now bowed to me and sat down. His face was very pale and his lips tightly shut.

The Governor gave a last toast "Let us drink," he called, "to Dulcinea's champion and the fortunes of his journey." At that there was such applause you might have thought me the best-liked man in the dominion. I looked at Elspeth, but she averted her eyes.

As we left the table I stepped beside Grey. "You must come with me," I whispered. "Nay, do not refuse. When you know all you will come gladly." And I appointed a meeting on the next day at the Half-way Tavern.

I got to my house at the darkening, and found Ringan waiting for me.

This time he had not sought a disguise, but he kept his fiery head covered with a broad hat, and the collar of his seaman's coat enveloped his lower face. To a passer-by in the dusk he must have seemed an ordinary ship's captain stretching his legs on land.

He asked for food and drink, and I observed that his manner was very grave.

"Are things in train, Andrew?" he asked.

I told him "to the last stirrup buckle."

"It's as well," said he, "for the trouble has begun."

Then he told me a horrid tale. The Rapidan is a stream in the north of the dominion, flowing into the Rappahannock on its south bank. Two years past a family of French folk—D'Aubigny was their name—had made a home in a meadow by that stream and built a house and a strong stockade, for they were in dangerous nearness to the hills, and had no neighbours within forty miles. They were gentlefolk of some substance, and had carved out of the wilderness a very pretty manor with orchards and flower gardens. I had never been to the place, but I had heard the praise of it from dwellers on the Rappahannock. No Indians came near them, and there they abode, happy in their solitude—a husband and wife, three little children, two French servants, and a dozen negroes.

A week ago tragedy had come like a thunderbolt. At night the stockade was broke, and the family woke from sleep to hear the war-whoop and see by the light of their blazing byres a band of painted savages. It seems that no resistance was possible, and they were butchered like sheep. The babes were pierced with stakes, the grown folk were scalped and tortured, and by sunrise in that peaceful clearing there was nothing but blood-stained ashes.

Word had come down the Rappahannock. Ringan said he had heard it in Accomac, and had sailed to Sabine to make sure. Men had ridden out from Stafford county, and found no more than a child's toy and some bloody garments.

"Who did it?" I asked, with fury rising in my heart.

"It's Cherokee work. There's nothing strange in it, except that such a deed should have been dared. But it means the beginning of our business. D'you think the Stafford folk will sleep in their beds after that? And that's precisely what perplexes me. The Governor will be bound to send an expedition against the murderers, and they'll not be easy found. But while the militia are routing about on the Rapidan, what hinders the big invasion to come down the James or the Chickahominy or the Pamunkey or the Mattaponey and find a defenceless Tidewater? As I see it, there's deep guile in this business. A Cherokee murder is nothing out of the way, but these blackguards were not killing for mere pleasure. As I've said before, I would give my right hand to have better information. It's this land business that fickles one. If it were a matter of islands and ocean bays, I would have long ago riddled out the heart of it."

"We're on the way to get news," I said, and I told him of my wager that evening.

"Man, Andrew!" he cried, "it's providential. There's nothing to hinder you and me and a few others to ride clear into the hills, with the Tidewater thinking it no more than a play of daft young men. You must see Nicholson, and get him to hold his hand till we send him word. In two days Lawrence will be here, and we can post our lads on each of the rivers, for it's likely any Indian raid will take one of the valleys. You must see that Governor of yours first thing in the morning, and get him to promise to wait on your news. Then he can get out his militia, and stir up the Tidewater. Will he do it, think you?"

I said I thought he would.

"And there's one other thing. Would he agree to turning a blind eye to Lawrence, if he comes back? He'll not trouble them in James Town, but he's the only man alive to direct our own lads."

I said I would try, but I was far from certain. It was hard to forecast the mind of Governor Francis.

"Well, Lawrence will come whether or no. You can sound the man, and if he's dour let the matter be. Lawrence is now on the Roanoke, and his plan is to send out the word to-morrow and gather in the posts. He'll come to Frew's place on the South Fork River, which is about the middle of the frontier line. To-day is Monday, to-morrow the word will go out, by Friday the men will be ready, and Lawrence will be in Virginia. The sooner you're off the better, Andrew. What do you say to Wednesday?"

"That day will suit me fine," I said; "but what about my company?"

"The fewer the better. Who were you thinking of?"

"You for one," I said, "and Shalah for a second."

He nodded.

"I want two men from the Rappahannock—a hunter of the name of Donaldson and the Frenchman Bertrand."

"That makes five. Would you like to even the number?"

"Yes," I said. "There's a gentleman of the Tidewater, Mr. Charles Grey, that I've bidden to the venture."

Ringan whistled. "Are you sure that's wise? There'll be little use for braw clothes and fine manners in the hills."

"All the same there'll be a use for Mr. Grey. When will you join us?"

"I've a bit of business to do hereaways, but I'll catch you up. Look for me at Aird's store on Thursday morning."



CHAPTER XV.

I GATHER THE CLANS.

I was at the Governor's house next day before he had breakfasted. He greeted me laughingly.

"Has the champion come to cry forfeit?" he asked. "It is a long, sore road to the hills, Mr. Garvald."

"I've come to make confession," I said, and I plunged into my story of the work of the last months.

He heard me with lowering brows, "Who the devil made you Governor of this dominion, sir? You have been levying troops without His Majesty's permission. Your offence is no less than high treason. I've a pretty mind to send you to the guard-house."

"I implore you to hear me patiently," I cried. Then I told him what I had learned in the Carolinas and at the outland farms. "You yourself told me it was hopeless to look for a guinea from the Council. I was but carrying out your desires. Can you blame me if I've toiled for the public weal and neglected my own fortunes?"

He was scarcely appeased. "You're a damnable kind of busybody, sir, the breed of fellow that plunges states into revolutions. Why, in Heaven's name, did you not consult me?"

"Because it was wiser not to," I said stoutly. "Half my recruits are old soldiers of Bacon. If the trouble blows past, they go back to their steadings and nothing more is heard of it. If trouble comes, who are such natural defenders of the dominion as the frontier dwellers? All I have done is to give them the sinews of war. But if Governor Nicholson had taken up the business, and it were known that he had leaned on old rebels, what would the Council say? What would have been the view of my lord Howard and the wiseacres in London?"

He said nothing, but knit his brows. My words were too much in tune with his declared opinions for him to gainsay them.

"It comes to this, then," he said at length. "You have raised a body of men who are waiting marching orders. What next, Mr. Garvald?"

"The next thing is to march. After what befell on the Rapidan, we cannot sit still."

He started. "I have heard nothing of it."

Then I told him the horrid tale. He got to his feet and strode up and down the room, with his dark face working.

"God's mercy, what a calamity! I knew the folk. They came here with letters from his Grace of Shrewsbury. Are you certain your news is true?"

"Alas! there is no doubt. Stafford county is in a ferment, and the next post from the York will bring you word."

"Then, by God, it is for me to move. No Council or Assembly will dare gainsay me. I can order a levy by virtue of His Majesty's commission."

"I have come to pray you to hold your hand till I send you better intelligence," I said.

His brows knit again. "But this is too much. Am I to refrain from doing my duty till I get your gracious consent, sir?"

"Nay, nay," I cried. "Do not misunderstand me. This thing is far graver than you think, sir. If you send your levies to the Rapidan, you leave the Tidewater defenceless, and while you are hunting a Cherokee party in the north, the enemy will be hammering at your gates."

"What enemy?" he asked.

"I do not know, and that is what I go to find out." Then I told him all I had gathered about the unknown force in the hills, and the apparent strategy of a campaign which was beyond an Indian's wits. "There is a white man at the back of it," I said, "a white man who talks in Bible words and is mad for devastation."

His face had grown very solemn. He went to a bureau, unlocked it, and took from a drawer a bit of paper, which he tossed to me.

"I had that a week past to-morrow. My servant got it from an Indian in the woods."

It was a dirty scrap, folded like a letter, and bearing the superscription, "To the man Francis Nicholson, presently Governor in Virginia." I opened it and read:—

"Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied."

"There," I cried, "there is proof of my fears. What kind of Indian sends a message like that? Trust me, sir, there is a far more hellish mischief brewing than any man wots of."

"It looks not unlike it," he said grimly. "Now let's hear what you propose."

"I can have my men at their posts by the week end. We will string them out along the frontier, and hold especially the river valleys. If invasion comes, then at any rate the Tidewater will get early news of it. Meantime I and my friends, looking for Studd's powder-horn, with a mind to confirm your birthday gift to Miss Elspeth Blair, will push on to the hills and learn what is to be learned there."

"You will never come back," he said tartly. "An Indian stake and a bloody head will be the end of all of you."

"Maybe," I said, "though I have men with me that can play the Indian game. But if in ten days' time from now you get no word, then you can fear the worst, and set your militia going. I have a service of posts which will carry news to you as quick as a carrier pigeon. Whatever we learn you shall hear of without delay, and you can make your dispositions accordingly. If the devils find us first, then get in touch with my men at Frew's homestead on the South Fork River, for that will be the headquarters of the frontier army."

"Who will be in command there when you are gallivanting in the hills?" he asked.

"One whose name had better not be spoken. He lies under sentence of death by Virginian law; but, believe me, he is an honest soul and a good patriot, and he is the one man born to lead these outland troops."

He smiled, "His Christian name is Richard, maybe? I think I know your outlaw. But let it pass. I ask no names. In these bad times we cannot afford to despise any man's aid."

He pulled out a chart of Virginia, and I marked for him our posts, and indicated the line of my own journey.

"Have you ever been in the wars, Mr. Garvald?" he asked.

I told him no.

"Well, you have a very pretty natural gift for the military art. Your men will screen the frontier line, and behind that screen I will get our militia force in order, while meantime you are reconnoitring the enemy. It's a very fair piece of strategy. But I am mortally certain you yourself will never come back."

The odd thing was that at that moment I did not fear for myself. I had lived so long with my scheme that I had come to look upon it almost like a trading venture, in which one calculates risks and gains on paper, and thinks no more of it. I had none of the black fright which I had suffered before my meeting with Grey. Happily, though a young man's thoughts may be long, his fancy takes short views. I was far more concerned with what might happen in my absence in the Tidewater than with our fate in the hills.

"It is a gamble," I said, "but the stakes are noble, and I have a private pride in its success."

"Also the goad of certain bright eyes," he said, smiling. "Little I thought, when I made that offer last night, I was setting so desperate a business in train. There was a good Providence in that. For now we can give out that you are gone on a madcap ploy, and there will be no sleepless nights in the Tidewater. I must keep their souls easy, for once they are scared there will be such a spate of letters to New York as will weaken the courage of our Northern brethren. For the militia I will give the excuse of the French menace. The good folk will laugh at me for it, but they will not take fright. God's truth, but it is a devilish tangle. I could wish I had your part, sir, and be free to ride out on a gallant venture. Here I have none of the zest of war, but only a thousand cares and the carking task of soothing fools."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse