Mr. Boone wished me luck in my new enterprise, bade me good-by, and set out for Redstone, where he was to measure a tract for a Revolutioner. The speculator having been rescued from Jim Willis's clutches by the sheriff, the crowd good-naturedly helped us load our stones between pack-horses, and some of them followed us all the way home that they might see the grinding. Half of McAfee's new station had heard the news, and came over likewise. And from that day we ground as much corn as could be brought to us from miles around.
Polly Ann and I ran the mill and kept the accounts. Often of a crisp autumn morning we heard a gobble-gobble above the tumbling of the water and found a wild turkey perched on top of the hopper, eating his fill. Some of our meat we got that way. As for Tom, he was off and on. When the roving spirit seized him he made journeys to the westward with Cowan and Ray. Generally they returned with packs of skins. But sometimes soberly, thanking Heaven that their hair was left growing on their heads. This, and patrolling the Wilderness Road and other militia duties, made up Tom's life. No sooner was the mill fairly started than off he went to the Cumberland. I mention this, not alone because I remember well the day of his return, but because of a certain happening then that had a heavy influence on my after life.
The episode deals with an easy-mannered gentleman named Potts, who was the agent for a certain Major Colfax of Virginia. Tom owned under a Henderson grant; the Major had been given this and other lands for his services in the war. Mr. Potts arrived one rainy afternoon and found me standing alone under the little lean-to that covered the hopper. How we served him, with the aid of McCann and Cowan and other neighbors, and how we were near getting into trouble because of the prank, will be seen later. The next morning I rode into Harrodstown not wholly easy in my mind concerning the wisdom of the thing I had done. There was no one to advise me, for Colonel Clark was far away, building a fort on the banks of the Mississippi. Tom had laughed at the consequences; he cared little about his land, and was for moving into the Wilderness again. But for Polly Ann's sake I wished that we had treated the land agent less cavalierly. I was soon distracted from these thoughts by the sight of Harrodstown itself.
I had no sooner ridden out of the forest shade when I saw that the place was in an uproar, men and women gathering in groups and running here and there between the cabins. Urging on the mare, I cantered across the fields, and the first person I met was James Ray.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Matter enough! An army of redskins has crossed the Ohio, and not a man to take command. My God," cried Ray, pointing angrily at the swarms about the land office, "what trash we have got this last year! Kentucky can go to the devil, half the stations be wiped out, and not a thrip do they care."
"Have you sent word to the Colonel?" I asked.
"If he was here," said Ray, bitterly, "he'd have half of 'em swinging inside of an hour. I'll warrant he'd send 'em to the right-about."
I rode on into the town, Potts gone out of my mind. Apart from the land-office crowds, and looking on in silent rage, stood a group of the old settlers,—tall, lean, powerful, yet impotent for lack of a leader. A contrast they were, these buckskin-clad pioneers, to the ill-assorted humanity they watched, absorbed in struggles for the very lands they had won.
"By the eternal!" said Jack Terrell, "if the yea'th was ter swaller 'em up, they'd keep on a-dickerin in hell."
"Something's got to be done," Captain Harrod put in gloomily; "the red varmints'll be on us in another day. In God's name, whar is Clark?"
"Hold!" cried Fletcher Blount, "what's that?"
The broiling about the land court, too, was suddenly hushed. Men stopped in their tracks, staring fixedly at three forms which had come out of the woods into the clearing.
"Redskins, or there's no devil!" said Terrell.
Redskins they were, but not the blanketed kind that drifted every day through the station. Their war-paint gleamed in the light, and the white edges of the feathered head-dresses caught the sun. One held up in his right hand a white belt,—token of peace on the frontier.
"Lord A'mighty!" said Fletcher Blount, "be they Cricks?"
"Chickasaws, by the headgear," said Terrell. "Davy, you've got a hoss. Ride out and look em over."
Nothing loath, I put the mare into a gallop, and I passed over the very place where Polly Ann had picked me up and saved my life long since. The Indians came on at a dog trot, but when they were within fifty paces of me they halted abruptly. The chief waved the white belt around his head.
"Davy!" says he, and I trembled from head to foot. How well I knew that voice!
"Colonel Clark!" I cried, and rode up to him. "Thank God you are come, sir," said I, "for the people here are land-mad, and the Northern Indians are crossing the Ohio."
He took my bridle, and, leading the horse, began to walk rapidly towards the station.
"Ay," he answered, "I know it. A runner came to me with the tidings, where I was building a fort on the Mississippi, and I took Willis here and Saunders, and came."
I glanced at my old friends, who grinned at me through the berry-stain on their faces. We reached a ditch through which the rain of the night before was draining from the fields Clark dropped the bridle, stooped down, and rubbed his face clean. Up he got again and flung the feathers from his head, and I thought that his eyes twinkled despite the sternness of his look.
"Davy, my lad," said he, "you and I have seen some strange things together. Perchance we shall see stranger to-day."
A shout went up, for he had been recognized. And Captain Harrod and Ray and Terrell and Cowan (who had just ridden in) ran up to greet him and press his hand. He called them each by name, these men whose loyalty had been proved, but said no word more nor paused in his stride until he had reached the edge of the mob about the land court. There he stood for a full minute, and we who knew him looked on silently and waited.
The turmoil had begun again, the speculators calling out in strident tones, the settlers bargaining and pushing, and all clamoring to be heard. While there was money to be made or land to be got they had no ear for the public weal. A man shouldered his way through, roughly, and they gave back, cursing, surprised. He reached the door, and, flinging those who blocked it right and left, entered. There he was recognized, and his name flew from mouth to mouth.
He walked up to the table, strewn with books and deeds.
"Silence!" he thundered. But there was no need,—they were still for once. "This court is closed," he cried "while Kentucky is in danger. Not a deed shall be signed nor an acre granted until I come back from the Ohio. Out you go!"
Out they went indeed, judge, brokers, speculators—the evicted and the triumphant together. And when the place was empty Clark turned the key and thrust it into his hunting shirt. He stood for a moment on the step, and his eyes swept the crowd.
"Now," he said, "there have been many to claim this land—who will follow me to defend it?"
As I live, they cheered him. Hands were flung up that were past counting, and men who were barely rested from the hardships of the Wilderness Trail shouted their readiness to go. But others slunk away, and were found that morning grumbling and cursing the chance that had brought them to Kentucky. Within the hour the news had spread to the farms, and men rode in to Harrodstown to tell the Colonel of many who were leaving the plough in the furrow and the axe in the wood, and starting off across the mountains in anger and fear. The Colonel turned to me as he sat writing down the names of the volunteers.
"Davy," said he, "when you are grown you shall not stay at home, I promise you. Take your mare and ride as for your life to McChesney, and tell him to choose ten men and go to the Crab Orchard on the Wilderness Road. Tell him for me to turn back every man, woman, and child who tries to leave Kentucky."
I met Tom coming in from the field with his rawhide harness over his shoulders. Polly Ann stood calling him in the door, and the squirrel broth was steaming on the table. He did not wait for it. Kissing her, he flung himself into the saddle I had left, and we watched him mutely as he waved back to us from the edge of the woods.
* * * * * * *
In the night I found myself sitting up in bed, listening to a running and stamping near the cabin.
Polly Ann was stirring. "Davy," she whispered, "the stock is oneasy."
We peered out of the loophole together and through the little orchard we had planted. The moon flooded the fields, and beyond it the forest was a dark blur. I can recall the scene now, the rude mill standing by the water-side, the twisted rail fences, and the black silhouettes of the horses and cattle as they stood bunched together. Behind us little Tom stirred in his sleep and startled us. That very evening Polly Ann had frightened him into obedience by telling him that the Shawanees would get him.
What was there to do? McAfee's Station was four miles away, and Ray's clearing two. Ray was gone with Tom. I could not leave Polly Ann alone. There was nothing for it but to wait.
Silently, that the children might not be waked and lurking savage might not hear, we put the powder and bullets in the middle of the room and loaded the guns and pistols. For Polly Ann had learned to shoot. She took the loopholes of two sides of the cabin, I of the other two, and then began the fearful watching and waiting which the frontier knows so well. Suddenly the cattle stirred again, and stampeded to the other corner of the field. There came a whisper from Polly Ann.
"What is it?" I answered, running over to her.
"Look out," she said; "what d'ye see near the mill?"
Her sharp eyes had not deceived her, for mine perceived plainly a dark form skulking in the hickory grove. Next, a movement behind the rail fence, and darting back to my side of the house I made out a long black body wriggling at the edge of the withered corn-patch. They were surrounding us. How I wished that Tom were home!
A stealthy sound began to intrude itself upon our ears. Listening intently, I thought it came from the side of the cabin where the lean-to was, where we stored our wood in winter. The black shadow fell on that side, and into a patch of bushes; peering out of the loophole, I could perceive nothing there. The noise went on at intervals. All at once there grew on me, with horror, the discovery that there was digging under the cabin.
How long the sound continued I know not,—it might have been an hour, it might have been less. Now I thought I heard it under the wall, now beneath the puncheons of the floor. The pitchy blackness within was such that we could not see the boards moving, and therefore we must needs kneel down and feel them from time to time. Yes, this one was lifting from its bed on the hard earth beneath. I was sure of it. It rose an inch—then an inch more. Gripping the handle of my tomahawk, I prayed for guidance in my stroke, for the blade might go wild in the darkness. Upward crept the board, and suddenly it was gone from the floor. I swung a full circle—and to my horror I felt the axe plunging into soft flesh and crunching on a bone. I had missed the head! A yell shattered the night as the puncheon fell with a rattle on the boards, and my tomahawk was gone from my hand. Without, the fierce war-cry of the Shawanees that I knew so well echoed around the log walls, and the door trembled with a blow. The children awoke, crying.
There was no time to think; my great fear was that the devil in the cabin would kill Polly Ann. Just then I heard her calling out to me.
"Hide!" I cried, "hide under the shake-down! Has he got you?"
I heard her answer, and then the sound of a scuffle that maddened me. Knife in hand, I crept slowly about, and put my fingers on a man's neck and side. Next Polly Ann careened against me, and I lost him again. "Davy, Davy," I heard her gasp, "look out fer the floor!"
It was too late. The puncheon rose under me, I stumbled, and it fell again. Once more the awful changing notes of the war-whoop sounded without. A body bumped on the boards, a white light rose before my eyes, and a sharp pain leaped in my side. Then all was black again, but I had my senses still, and my fingers closed around the knotted muscles of an arm. I thrust the pistol in my hand against flesh, and fired. Two of us fell together, but the thought of Polly Ann got me staggering to my feet again, calling her name. By the grace of God I heard her answer.
"Are ye hurt, Davy?"
"No," said I, "no. And you?"
We drifted together. 'Twas she who had the presence of mind.
"The chest—quick, the chest!"
We stumbled over a body in reaching it. We seized the handles, and with all our strength hauled it athwart the loose puncheon that seemed to be lifting even then. A mighty splintering shook the door.
"To the ports!" cried Polly Ann, as our heads knocked together.
To find the rifles and prime them seemed to take an age. Next I was staring through the loophole along a barrel, and beyond it were three black forms in line on a long beam. I think we fired—Polly Ann and I—at the same time. One fell. We saw a comedy of the beam dropping heavily on the foot of another, and he limping off with a guttural howl of rage and pain. I fired a pistol at him, but missed him, and then I was ramming a powder charge down the long barrel of the rifle. Suddenly there was silence,—even the children had ceased crying. Outside, in the dooryard, a feathered figure writhed like a snake towards the fence. The moon still etched the picture in black and white.
Shots awoke me, I think, distant shots. And they sounded like the ripping and tearing of cloth for a wound. 'Twas no new sound to me.
"Davy, dear," said a voice, tenderly.
Out of the mist the tear-stained face of Polly Ann bent over me. I put up my hand, and dropped it again with a cry. Then, my senses coming with a rush, the familiar objects of the cabin outlined themselves: Tom's winter hunting shirt, Polly Ann's woollen shift and sunbonnet on their pegs; the big stone chimney, the ladder to the loft, the closed door, with a long, jagged line across it where the wood was splintered; and, dearest of all, the chubby forms of Peggy and little Tom playing on the trundle-bed. Then my glance wandered to the floor, and on the puncheons were three stains. I closed my eyes.
Again came a far-off rattle, like stones falling from a great height down a rocky bluff.
"What's that?" I whispered.
"They're fighting at McAfee's Station," said Polly Ann. She put her cool hand on my head, and little Tom climbed up on the bed and looked up into my face, wistfully calling my name.
"Oh, Davy," said his mother, "I thought ye were never coming back."
"And the redskins?" I asked.
She drew the child away, lest he hurt me, and shuddered.
"I reckon 'twas only a war-party," she answered. "The rest is at McAfee's. And if they beat 'em off—" she stopped abruptly.
"We shall be saved," I said.
I shall never forget that day. Polly Ann left my side only to feed the children and to keep watch out of the loopholes, and I lay on my back, listening and listening to the shots. At last these became scattered. Then, though we strained our ears, we heard them no more. Was the fort taken? The sun slid across the heavens and shot narrow blades of light, now through one loophole and now through another, until a ray slanted from the western wall and rested upon the red-and-black paint of two dead bodies in the corner. I stared with horror.
"I was afeard to open the door and throw 'em out," said Polly Ann, apologetically.
Still I stared. One of them had a great cleft across his face.
"But I thought I hit him in the shoulder," I exclaimed.
Polly Ann thrust her hand, gently, across my eyes. "Davy, ye mustn't talk," she said; "that's a dear."
Drowsiness seized me. But I resisted.
"You killed him, Polly Ann," I murmured, "you?"
"Hush," said Polly Ann.
And I slept again.
"THE BEGGARS ARE COME TO TOWN"
"They was that destitute," said Tom, "'twas a pity to see 'em."
"And they be grand folks, ye say?" said Polly Ann.
"Grand folks, I reckon. And helpless as babes on the Wilderness Trail. They had two niggers—his nigger an' hers—and they was tuckered, too, fer a fact.
"Lawsy!" exclaimed Polly Ann. "Be still, honey!" Taking a piece of corn-pone from the cupboard, she bent over and thrust it between little Peggy's chubby fingers "Be still, honey, and listen to what your Pa says. Whar did ye find 'em, Tom?"
"'Twas Jim Ray found 'em," said Tom. "We went up to Crab Orchard, accordin' to the Colonel's orders and we was thar three days. Ye ought to hev seen the trash we turned back, Polly Ann! Most of 'em was scared plum' crazy, and they was fer gittin 'out 'n Kaintuckee at any cost. Some was fer fightin' their way through us."
"The skulks!" exclaimed Polly Ann. "They tried to kill ye? What did ye do?"
Tom grinned, his mouth full of bacon.
"Do?" says he; "we shot a couple of 'em in the legs and arms, and bound 'em up again. They was in a t'arin' rage. I'm more afeard of a scar't man,—a real scar't man—nor a rattler. They cussed us till they was hoarse. Said they'd hev us hung, an' Clark, too. Said they hed a right to go back to Virginny if they hed a mind."
"An' what did ye say?" demanded Polly Ann, pausing in her work, her eyes flashing with resentment. "Did ye tell 'em they was cowards to want to settle lands, and not fight for 'em? Other folks' lands, too."
"We didn't tell 'em nothin'," said Tom; "jest sent 'em kitin' back to the stations whar they come from."
"I reckon they won't go foolin' with Clark's boys again," said Polly Ann, resuming a vigorous rubbing of the skillet. "Ye was tellin' me about these fine folks ye fetched home." She tossed her head in the direction of the open door, and I wondered if the fine folks were outside.
"Oh, ay," said Tom, "they was comin' this way, from the Carolinys. Jim Ray went out to look for a deer, and found 'em off 'n the trail. By the etarnal, they WAS tuckered. HE was the wust, Jim said, lyin' down on a bed of laurels she and the niggers made. She has sperrit, that woman. Jim fed him, and he got up. She wouldn't eat nothin', and made Jim put him on his hoss. She walked. I can't mek out why them aristocrats wants to come to Kaintuckee. They're a sight too tender."
"Pore things!" said Polly Ann, compassionately. "So ye fetched 'em home."
"They hadn't a place ter go," said he, "and I reckoned 'twould give 'em time ter ketch breath, an' turn around. I told 'em livin' in Kaintuck was kinder rough."
"Mercy!" said Polly Ann, "ter think that they was use' ter silver spoons, and linen, and niggers ter wait on 'em. Tom, ye must shoot a turkey, and I'll do my best to give 'em a good supper." Tom rose obediently, and seized his coonskin hat. She stopped him with a word.
"Mayhap—mayhap Davy would know 'em. He's been to Charlestown with the gentry there."
"Mayhap," agreed Tom. "Pore little deevil," said he, "he's hed a hard time."
"He'll be right again soon," said Polly Ann. "He's been sleepin' that way, off and on, fer a week." Her voice faltered into a note of tenderness as her eyes rested on me.
"I reckon we owe Davy a heap, Polly Ann," said he.
I was about to interrupt, but Polly Ann's next remark arrested me.
"Tom," said she, "he oughter be eddicated."
"Eddicated!" exclaimed Tom, with a kind of dismay.
"Yes, eddicated," she repeated. "He ain't like you and me. He's different. He oughter be a lawyer, or somethin'."
"Ay," he answered, "the Colonel says that same thing. He oughter be sent over the mountain to git l'arnin'."
"And we'll be missing him sore," said Polly Ann, with a sigh.
I wanted to speak then, but the words would not come.
"Whar hev they gone?" said Tom.
"To take a walk," said Polly Ann, and laughed. "The gentry has sech fancies as that. Tom, I reckon I'll fly over to Mrs. McCann's an' beg some of that prime bacon she has."
Tom picked up his ride, and they went out together. I lay for a long time reflecting. To the strange guests whom Tom in the kindness of his heart had brought back and befriended I gave little attention. I was overwhelmed by the love which had just been revealed to me. And so I was to be educated. It had been in my mind these many years, but I had never spoken of it to Polly Ann. Dear Polly Ann! My eyes filled at the thought that she herself had determined upon this sacrifice.
There were footsteps at the door, and these I heard, and heeded not. Then there came a voice,—a woman's voice, modulated and trained in the perfections of speech and in the art of treating things lightly. At the sound of that voice I caught my breath.
"What a pastoral! Harry, if we have sought for virtue in the wilderness, we have found it."
"When have we ever sought for virtue, Sarah?"
It was the man who answered and stirred another chord of my memory.
"When, indeed!" said the woman; "'tis a luxury that is denied us, I fear me."
"Egad, we have run the gamut, all but that."
I thought the woman sighed.
"Our hosts are gone out," she said, "bless their simple souls! 'Tis Arcady, Harry, 'where thieves do not break in and steal.' That's Biblical, isn't it?" She paused, and joined in the man's laugh. "I remember—" She stopped abruptly.
"Thieves!" said he, "not in our sense. And yet a fortnight ago this sylvan retreat was the scene of murder and sudden death."
"Yes, Indians," said the woman; "but they are beaten off and forgotten. Troubles do not last here. Did you see the boy? He's in there, in the corner, getting well of a fearful hacking. Mrs. McChesney says he saved her and her brats."
"Ay, McChesney told me," said the man. "Let's have a peep at him."
In they came, and I looked on the woman, and would have leaped from my bed had the strength been in me. Superb she was, though her close-fitting travelling gown of green cloth was frayed and torn by the briers, and the beauty of her face enhanced by the marks of I know not what trials and emotions. Little, dark-pencilled lines under the eyes were nigh robbing these of the haughtiness I had once seen and hated. Set high on her hair was a curving, green hat with a feather, ill-suited to the wilderness.
I looked on the man. He was as ill-equipped as she. A London tailor must have cut his suit of gray. A single band of linen, soiled by the journey, was wound about his throat, and I remember oddly the buttons stuck on his knees and cuffs, and these silk-embroidered in a criss-cross pattern of lighter gray. Some had been torn off. As for his face, 'twas as handsome as ever, for dissipation sat well upon it.
My thoughts flew back to that day long gone when a friendless boy rode up a long drive to a pillared mansion. I saw again the picture. The horse with the craning neck, the liveried servant at the bridle, the listless young gentleman with the shiny boots reclining on the horse-block, and above him, under the portico, the grand lady whose laugh had made me sad. And I remembered, too, the wild, neglected lad who had been to me as a brother, warm-hearted and generous, who had shared what he had with a foundling, who had wept with me in my first great sorrow. Where was he?
For I was face to face once more with Mrs. Temple and Mr. Harry Riddle!
The lady started as she gazed at me, and her tired eyes widened. She clutched Mr. Riddle's arm.
"Harry!" she cried, "Harry, he puts me in mind of—of some one—I cannot think."
Mr. Riddle laughed nervously.
"There, there, Sally," says he, "all brats resemble somebody. I have heard you say so a dozen times."
She turned upon him an appealing glance.
"Oh!" she said, with a little catch of her breath, "is there no such thing as oblivion? Is there a place in the world that is not haunted? I am cursed with memory."
"Or the lack of it," answered Mr. Riddle, pulling out a silver snuff-box from his pocket and staring at it ruefully. "Damme, the snuff I fetched from Paris is gone, all but a pinch. Here is a real tragedy."
"It was the same in Rome," the lady continued, unheeding, "when we met the Izards, and at Venice that nasty Colonel Tarleton saw us at the opera. In London we must needs run into the Manners from Maryland. In Paris—"
"In Paris we were safe enough," Mr. Riddle threw in hastily.
"And why?" she flashed back at him.
He did not answer that.
"A truce with your fancies, madam," said he. "Behold a soul of good nature! I have followed you through half the civilized countries of the globe—none of them are good enough. You must needs cross the ocean again, and come to the wilds. We nearly die on the trail, are picked up by a Samaritan in buckskin and taken into the bosom of his worthy family. And forsooth, you look at a backwoods urchin, and are nigh to swooning."
"Hush, Harry," she cried, starting forward and peering into my face; "he will hear you."
"Tut!" said Harry, "what if he does? London and Paris are words to him. We might as well be speaking French. And I'll take my oath he's sleeping."
The corner where I lay was dark, for the cabin had no windows. And if my life had depended upon speaking, I could have found no fit words then.
She turned from me, and her mood changed swiftly. For she laughed lightly, musically, and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Perchance I am ghost-ridden," she said.
"They are not ghosts of a past happiness, at all events," he answered.
She sat down on a stool before the hearth, and clasping her fingers upon her knee looked thoughtfully into the embers of the fire. Presently she began to speak in a low, even voice, he looking down at her, his feet apart, his hand thrust backward towards the heat.
"Harry," she said, "do you remember all our contrivances? How you used to hold my hand in the garden under the table, while I talked brazenly to Mr. Mason? And how jealous Jack Temple used to get?" She laughed again, softly, always looking at the fire.
"Damnably jealous!" agreed Mr. Riddle, and yawned. "Served him devilish right for marrying you. And he was a blind fool for five long years."
"Yes, blind," the lady agreed. "How could he have been so blind? How well I recall the day he rode after us in the woods."
"'Twas the parson told, curse him!" said Mr. Riddle. "We should have gone that night, if your courage had held."
"My courage!" she cried, flashing a look upwards, "my foresight. A pretty mess we had made of it without my inheritance. 'Tis small enough, the Lord knows. In Europe we should have been dregs. We should have starved in the wilderness with you a-farming."
He looked down at her curiously.
"Devilish queer talk," said he, "but while we are in it, I wonder where Temple is now. He got aboard the King's frigate with a price on his head. Williams told me he saw him in London, at White's. Have—have you ever heard, Sarah?"
She shook her head, her glance returning to the ashes.
"No," she answered.
"Faith," says Mr. Riddle, "he'll scarce turn up here."
She did not answer that, but sat motionless.
"He'll scarce turn up here, in these wilds," Mr. Riddle repeated, "and what I am wondering, Sarah, is how the devil we are to live here."
"How do these good people live, who helped us when we were starving?"
Mr. Riddle flung his hand eloquently around the cabin. There was something of disgust in the gesture.
"You see!" he said, "love in a cottage."
"But it is love," said the lady, in a low tone.
He broke into laughter.
"Sally," he cried, "I have visions of you gracing the board at which we sat to-day, patting journey-cakes on the hearth, stewing squirrel broth with the same pride that you once planned a rout. Cleaning the pots and pans, and standing anxious at the doorway staring through a sunbonnet for your lord and master."
"My lord and master!" said the lady, and there was so much of scorn in the words that Mr. Riddle winced.
"Come," he said, "I grant now that you could make pans shine like pier-glasses, that you could cook bacon to a turn—although I would have laid an hundred guineas against it some years ago. What then? Are you to be contented with four log walls? With the intellectual companionship of the McChesneys and their friends? Are you to depend for excitement upon the chances of having the hair neatly cut from your head by red fiends? Come, we'll go back to the Rue St. Dominique, to the suppers and the card parties of the countess. We'll be rid of regrets for a life upon which we have turned our backs forever."
She shook her head, sadly.
"It's no use, Harry," said she, "we'll never be rid of regrets."
"We'll never have a barony like Temple Bow, and races every week, and gentry round about. But, damn it, the Rebels have spoiled all that since the war."
"Those are not the regrets I mean," answered Mrs. Temple.
"What then, in Heaven's name?" he cried. "You were not wont to be thus. But now I vow you go beyond me. What then?"
She did not answer, but sat leaning forward over the hearth, he staring at her in angry perplexity. A sound broke the afternoon stillness,—the pattering of small, bare feet on the puncheons. A tremor shook the woman's shoulders, and little Tom stood before her, a quaint figure in a butternut smock, his blue eyes questioning. He laid a hand on her arm.
Then a strange thing happened. With a sudden impulse she turned and flung her arms about the boy and strained him to her, and kissed his brown hair. He struggled, but when she released him he sat very still on her knee, looking into her face. For he was a solemn child. The lady smiled at him, and there were two splashes like raindrops on her fair cheeks.
As for Mr. Riddle, he went to the door, looked out, and took a last pinch of snuff.
"Here is the mistress of the house coming back," he cried, "and singing like the shepherdess in the opera."
It was Polly Ann indeed. At the sound of his mother's voice, little Tom jumped down from the lady's lap and ran past Mr. Riddle at the door. Mrs. Temple's thoughts were gone across the mountains.
"And what is that you have under your arm?" said Mr. Riddle, as he gave back.
"I've fetched some prime bacon fer your supper, sir," said Polly Ann, all rosy from her walk; "what I have ain't fit to give ye."
Mrs. Temple rose.
"My dear," she said, "what you have is too good for us. And if you do such a thing again, I shall be very angry.
"Lord, ma'am," exclaimed Polly Ann, "and you use' ter dainties an' silver an' linen! Tom is gone to try to git a turkey for ye." She paused, and looked compassionately at the lady. "Bless ye, ma'am, ye're that tuckered from the mountains! 'Tis a fearsome journey."
"Yes," said the lady, simply, "I am tired."
"Small wonder!" exclaimed Polly Ann. "To think what ye've been through—yere husband near to dyin' afore yere eyes, and ye a-reskin' yere own life to save him—so Tom tells me. When Tom goes out a-fightin' red-skins I'm that fidgety I can't set still. I wouldn't let him know what I feel fer the world. But well ye know the pain of it, who love yere husband like that."
The lady would have smiled bravely, had the strength been given her. She tried. And then, with a shudder, she hid her face in her hands.
"Oh, don't!" she exclaimed, "don't!"
Mr. Riddle went out.
"There, there, ma'am," she said, "I hedn't no right ter speak, and ye fair worn out." She drew her gently into a chair. "Set down, ma'am, and don't ye stir tell supper's ready." She brushed her eyes with her sleeve, and, stepping briskly to my bed, bent over me. "Davy," she said, "Davy, how be ye?"
It was the lady's voice. She stood facing us, and never while I live shall I forget that which I saw in her eyes. Some resemblance it bore to the look of the hunted deer, but in the animal it is dumb, appealing. Understanding made the look of the woman terrible to behold,— understanding, ay, and courage. For she did not lack this last quality. Polly Ann gave back in a kind of dismay, and I shivered.
"Yes," I answered, "I am David Ritchie."
"You—you dare to judge me!" she cried.
I knew not why she said this.
"To judge you?" I repeated.
"Yes, to judge me," she answered. "I know you, David Ritchie, and the blood that runs in you. Your mother was a foolish—saint" (she laughed), "who lifted her eyebrows when I married her brother, John Temple. That was her condemnation of me, and it stung me more than had a thousand sermons. A doting saint, because she followed your father into the mountain wilds to her death for a whim of his. And your father. A Calvinist fanatic who had no mercy on sin, save for that particular weakness of his own—"
"Stop, Mrs. Temple!" I cried, lifting up in bed. And to my astonishment she was silenced, looking at me in amazement. "You had your vengeance when I came to you, when you turned from me with a lift of your shoulders at the news of my father's death. And now—"
"And now?" she repeated questioningly.
"Now I thought you were changed," I said slowly, for the excitement was telling on me.
"You listened!" she said.
"I pitied you."
"Oh, pity!" she cried. "My God, that you should pity me!" She straightened, and summoned all the spirit that was in her. "I would rather be called a name than have the pity of you and yours."
"You cannot change it, Mrs. Temple," I answered, and fell back on the nettle-bark sheets. "You cannot change it," I heard myself repeating, as though it were another's voice. And I knew that Polly Ann was bending over me and calling me.
* * * * * * *
"Where did they go, Polly Ann?" I asked.
"Acrost the Mississippi, to the lands of the Spanish King," said Polly Ann.
"And where in those dominions?" I demanded.
"John Saunders took 'em as far as the Falls," Polly Ann answered. "He 'lowed they was goin' to St. Louis. But they never said a word. I reckon they'll be hunted as long as they live."
I had thought of them much as I lay on my back recovering from the fever,—the fever for which Mrs. Temple was to blame. Yet I bore her no malice. And many other thoughts I had, probing back into childhood memories for the solving of problems there.
"I knowed ye come of gentlefolks, Davy," Polly Ann had said when we talked together.
So I was first cousin to Nick, and nephew to that selfish gentleman, Mr. Temple, in whose affectionate care I had been left in Charlestown by my father. And my father? Who had he been? I remembered the speech that he had used and taught me, and how his neighbors had dubbed him "aristocrat." But Mrs. Temple was gone, and it was not in likelihood that I should ever see her more.
WE GO TO DANVILLE
Two years went by, two uneventful years for me, two mighty years for Kentucky. Westward rolled the tide of emigrants to change her character, but to swell her power. Towns and settlements sprang up in a season and flourished, and a man could scarce keep pace with the growth of them. Doctors came, and ministers, and lawyers; generals and majors, and captains and subalterns of the Revolution, to till their grants and to found families. There were gentry, too, from the tide-waters, come to retrieve the fortunes which they had lost by their patriotism. There were storekeepers like Mr. Scarlett, adventurers and ne'er-do-weels who hoped to start with a clean slate, and a host of lazy vagrants who thought to scratch the soil and find abundance.
I must not forget how, at the age of seventeen, I became a landowner, thanks to my name being on the roll of Colonel Clark's regiment. For, in a spirit of munificence, the Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia had awarded to every private in that regiment one hundred and eight acres of land on the Ohio River, north of the Falls. Sergeant Thomas McChesney, as a reward for his services in one of the severest campaigns in history, received a grant of two hundred and sixteen acres! You who will may look at the plat made by William Clark, Surveyor for the Board of Commissioners, and find sixteen acres marked for Thomas McChesney in Section 169, and two hundred more in Section 3. Section 3 fronted the Ohio some distance above Bear Grass Creek, and was, of course, on the Illinois shore. As for my own plots, some miles in the interior, I never saw them. But I own them to this day.
I mention these things as bearing on the story of my life, with which I must get on. And, therefore, I may not dwell upon this injustice to the men who won an empire and were flung a bone long afterwards.
It was early autumn once more, and such a busy week we had had at the mill, that Tom was perforce obliged to remain at home and help, though he longed to be gone with Cowan and Ray a-hunting to the southwest. Up rides a man named Jarrott, flings himself from his horse, passes the time of day as he watches the grinding, helps Tom to tie up a sack or two, and hands him a paper.
"What's this?" says Tom, staring at it blankly.
"Ye won't blame me, Mac," answers Mr. Jarrott, somewhat ashamed of his role of process-server. "'Tain't none of my doin's."
"Read it, Davy," said Tom, giving it to me.
I stopped the mill, and, unfolding the paper, read. I remember not the quaint wording of it, save that it was ill-spelled and ill-writ generally. In short, it was a summons for Tom to appear before the court at Danville on a certain day in the following week, and I made out that a Mr. Neville Colfax was the plaintiff in the matter, and that the suit had to do with land.
"Neville Colfax!" I exclaimed, "that's the man for whom Mr. Potts was agent."
"Ay, ay," said Tom, and sat him down on the meal-bags. "Drat the varmint, he kin hev the land."
"Hev the land?" cried Polly Ann, who had come in upon us. "Hev ye no sperrit, Tom McChesney?"
"There's no chance ag'in the law," said Tom, hopelessly. "Thar's Perkins had his land tuck away last year, and Terrell's moved out, and twenty more I could name. And thar's Dan'l Boone, himself. Most the rich bottom he tuck up the critters hev got away from him."
"Ye'll go to Danville and take Davy with ye and fight it," answered Polly Ann, decidedly. "Davy has a word to say, I reckon. 'Twas he made the mill and scar't that Mr. Potts away. I reckon he'll git us out of this fix."
Mr. Jarrott applauded her courage.
"Ye have the grit, ma'am," he said, as he mounted his horse again. "Here's luck to ye!"
The remembrance of Mr. Potts weighed heavily upon my mind during the next week. Perchance Tom would have to pay for this prank likewise. 'Twas indeed a foolish, childish thing to have done, and I might have known that it would only have put off the evil day of reckoning. Since then, by reason of the mill site and the business we got by it, the land had become the most valuable in that part of the country. Had I known Colonel Clark's whereabouts, I should have gone to him for advice and comfort. As it was, we were forced to await the issue without counsel. Polly Ann and I talked it over many times while Tom sat, morose and silent, in a corner. He was the pioneer pure and simple, afraid of no man, red or white, in open combat, but defenceless in such matters as this.
"'Tis Davy will save us, Tom," said Polly Ann, "with the l'arnin' he's got while the corn was grindin'."
I had, indeed, been reading at the mill while the hopper emptied itself, such odd books as drifted into Harrodstown. One of these was called "Bacon's Abridgment"; it dealt with law and it puzzled me sorely.
"And the children," Polly Ann continued,—"ye'll not make me pick up the four of 'em, and pack it to Louisiana, because Mr. Colfax wants the land we've made for ourselves."
There were four of them now, indeed,—the youngest still in the bark cradle in the corner. He bore a no less illustrious name than that of the writer of these chronicles.
It would be hard to say which was the more troubled, Tom or I, that windy morning we set out on the Danville trace. Polly Ann alone had been serene,—ay, and smiling and hopeful. She had kissed us each good-by impartially. And we left her, with a future governor of Kentucky on her shoulder, tripping lightly down to the mill to grind the McGarrys' corn.
When the forest was cleared at Danville, Justice was housed first. She was not the serene, inexorable dame whom we have seen in pictures holding her scales above the jars of earth. Justice at Danville was a somewhat high-spirited, quarrelsome lady who decided matters oftenest with the stroke of a sword. There was a certain dignity about her temple withal,—for instance, if a judge wore linen, that linen must not be soiled. Nor was it etiquette for a judge to lay his own hands in chastisement on contemptuous persons, though Justice at Danville had more compassion than her sisters in older communities upon human failings.
There was a temple built to her "of hewed or sawed logs nine inches thick"—so said the specifications. Within the temple was a rude platform which served as a bar, and since Justice is supposed to carry a torch in her hand, there were no windows,—nor any windows in the jail next door, where some dozen offenders languished on the afternoon that Tom and I rode into town.
There was nothing auspicious in the appearance of Danville, and no man might have said then that the place was to be the scene of portentous conventions which were to decide the destiny of a State. Here was a sprinkling of log cabins, some in the building, and an inn, by courtesy so called. Tom and I would have preferred to sleep in the woods near by, with our feet to the blaze; this was partly from motives of economy, and partly because Tom, in common with other pioneers, held an inn in contempt. But to come back to our arrival.
It was a sunny and windy afternoon, and the leaves were flying in the air. Around the court-house was a familiar, buzzing scene,—the backwoodsmen, lounging against the wall or brawling over their claims, the sleek agents and attorneys, and half a dozen of a newer type. These were adventurous young gentlemen of family, some of them lawyers and some of them late officers in the Continental army who had been rewarded with grants of land. These were the patrons of the log tavern which stood near by with the blackened stumps around it, where there was much card-playing and roistering, ay, and even duelling, of nights.
"Thar's Mac," cried a backwoodsman who was sitting on the court-house steps as we rode up. "Howdy, Mac; be they tryin' to git your land, too?"
"Howdy, Mac," said a dozen more, paying a tribute to Tom's popularity. And some of them greeted me.
"Is this whar they take a man's land away?" says Tom, jerking his thumb at the open door.
Tom had no intention of uttering a witticism, but his words were followed by loud guffaws from all sides, even the lawyers joining in.
"I reckon this is the place, Tom," came the answer.
"I reckon I'll take a peep in thar," said Tom, leaping off his horse and shouldering his way to the door. I followed him, curious. The building was half full. Two elderly gentlemen of grave demeanor sat on stools behind a puncheon table, and near them a young man was writing. Behind the young man was a young gentleman who was closing a speech as we entered, and he had spoken with such vehemence that the perspiration stood out on his brow. There was a murmur from those listening, and I saw Tom pressing his way to the front.
"Hev any of ye seen a feller named Colfax?" cries Tom, in a loud voice. "He says he owns the land I settled, and he ain't ever seed it."
There was a roar of laughter, and even the judges smiled.
"Whar is he?" cries Tom; "said he'd be here to-day."
Another gust of laughter drowned his words, and then one of the judges got up and rapped on the table. The gentleman who had just made the speech glared mightily, and I supposed he had lost the effect of it.
"What do you mean by interrupting the court?" cried the judge. "Get out, sir, or I'll have you fined for contempt."
Tom looked dazed. But at that moment a hand was laid on his shoulder, and Tom turned.
"Why," says he, "thar's no devil if it ain't the Colonel. Polly Ann told me not to let 'em scar' me, Colonel."
"And quite right, Tom," Colonel Clark answered, smiling. He turned to the judges. "If your Honors please," said he, "this gentleman is an old soldier of mine, and unused to the ways of court. I beg your Honors to excuse him."
The judges smiled back, and the Colonel led us out of the building.
"Now, Tom," said he, after he had given me a nod and a kind word, "I know this Mr. Colfax, and if you will come into the tavern this evening after court, we'll see what can be done. I have a case of my own at present."
Tom was very grateful. He spent the remainder of the daylight hours with other friends of his, shooting at a mark near by, serenely confident of the result of his case now that Colonel Clark had a hand in it. Tom being one of the best shots in Kentucky, he had won two beaver skins before the early autumn twilight fell. As for me, I had an afternoon of excitement in the court, fascinated by the marvels of its procedures, by the impassioned speeches of its advocates, by the gravity of its judges. Ambition stirred within me.
The big room of the tavern was filled with men in heated talk over the day's doings, some calling out for black betty, some for rum, and some demanding apple toddies. The landlord's slovenly negro came in with candles, their feeble rays reenforcing the firelight and revealing the mud-chinked walls. Tom and I had barely sat ourselves down at a table in a corner, when in came Colonel Clark. Beside him was a certain swarthy gentleman whom I had noticed in the court, a man of some thirty-five years, with a fine, fleshy face and coal-black hair. His expression was not one to give us the hope of an amicable settlement,—in fact, he had the scowl of a thundercloud. He was talking quite angrily, and seemed not to heed those around him.
"Why the devil should I see the man, Clark?" he was saying.
The Colonel did not answer until they had stopped in front of us.
"Major Colfax," said he, "this is Sergeant Tom McChesney, one of the best friends I have in Kentucky. I think a vast deal of Tom, Major. He was one of the few that never failed me in the Illinois campaign. He is as honest as the day; you will find him plain-spoken if he speaks at all, and I have great hopes that you will agree. Tom, the Major and I are boyhood friends, and for the sake of that friendship he has consented to this meeting."
"I fear that your kind efforts will be useless, Colonel," Major Colfax put in, rather tartly. "Mr. McChesney not only ignores my rights, but was near to hanging my agent."
"What?" says Colonel Clark.
I glanced at Tom. However helpless he might be in a court, he could be counted on to stand up stanchly in a personal argument. His retorts would certainly not be brilliant, but they surely would be dogged. Major Colfax had begun wrong.
"I reckon ye've got no rights that I know on," said Tom. "I cleart the land and settled it, and I have a better right to it nor any man. And I've got a grant fer it."
"A Henderson grant!" cried the Major; "'tis so much worthless paper."
"I reckon it's good enough fer me," answered Tom. "It come from those who blazed their way out here and druv the redskins off. I don't know nothin' about this newfangled law, but 'tis a queer thing to my thinkin' if them that fit fer a place ain't got the fust right to it."
Major Colfax turned to Colonel Clark with marked impatience.
"I told you it would be useless, Clark," said he. "I care not a fig for a few paltry acres, and as God hears me I'm a reasonable man." (He did not look it then.) "But I swear by the evangels I'll let no squatter have the better of me. I did not serve Virginia for gold or land, but I lost my fortune in that service, and before I know it these backwoodsmen will have every acre of my grant. It's an old story," said Mr. Colfax, hotly, "and why the devil did we fight England if it wasn't that every man should have his rights? By God, I'll not be frightened or wheedled out of mine. I sent an agent to Kentucky to deal politely and reasonably with these gentry. What did they do to him? Some of them threw him out neck and crop. And if I am not mistaken," said Major Colfax, fixing a piercing eye upon Tom, "if I am not mistaken, it was this worthy sergeant of yours who came near to hanging him, and made the poor devil flee Kentucky for his life."
This remark brought me near to an untimely laugh at the remembrance of Mr. Potts, and this though I was far too sober over the outcome of the conference. Colonel Clark seized hold of a chair and pushed it under Major Colfax.
"Sit down, gentlemen, we are not so far apart," said the Colonel, coolly. The slovenly negro lad passing at that time, he caught him by the sleeve. "Here, boy, a bowl of toddy, quick. And mind you brew it strong. Now, Tom," said he, "what is this fine tale about a hanging?"
"'Twan't nothin'," said Tom.
"You tell me you didn't try to hang Mr. Potts!" cried Major Colfax.
"I tell you nothin'," said Tom, and his jaw was set more stubbornly than ever.
Major Colfax glanced at Colonel Clark.
"You see!" he said a little triumphantly.
I could hold my tongue no longer.
"Major Colfax is unjust, sir," I cried. "'Twas Tom saved the man from hanging."
"Eh?" says Colonel Clark, turning to me sharply. "So you had a hand in this, Davy. I might have guessed as much."
"Who the devil is this?" says Mr. Colfax.
"A sort of ward of mine," answers the Colonel. "Drummer boy, financier, strategist, in my Illinois campaign. Allow me to present to you, Major, Mr. David Ritchie. When my men objected to marching through ice-skimmed water up to their necks, Mr. Ritchie showed them how."
"God bless my soul!" exclaimed the Major, staring at me from under his black eyebrows, "he was but a child."
"With an old head on his shoulders," said the Colonel, and his banter made me flush.
The negro boy arriving with the toddy, Colonel Clark served out three generous gourdfuls, a smaller one for me. "Your health, my friends, and I drink to a peaceful settlement."
"You may drink to the devil if you like," says Major Colfax, glaring at Tom.
"Come, Davy," said Colonel Clark, when he had taken half the gourd, "let's have the tale. I'll warrant you're behind this."
I flushed again, and began by stammering. For I had a great fear that Major Colfax's temper would fly into bits when he heard it.
"Well, sir," said I, "I was grinding corn at the mill when the man came. I thought him a smooth-mannered person, and he did not give his business. He was just for wheedling me. 'And was this McChesney's mill?' said he. 'Ay,' said I. 'Thomas McChesney?' 'Ay,' said I. Then he was all for praise of Thomas McChesney. 'Where is he?' said he. 'He is at the far pasture,' said I,' and may be looked for any moment.' Whereupon he sits down and tries to worm out of me the business of the mill, the yield of the land. After that he begins to talk about the great people he knows, Sevier and Shelby and Robertson and Boone and the like. Ay, and his intimates, the Randolphs and the Popes and the Colfaxes in Virginia. 'Twas then I asked him if he knew Colonel Campbell of Abingdon."
"And what deviltry was that?" demanded the Colonel, as he dipped himself more of the toddy.
"I'll come to it, sir. Yes, Colonel Campbell was his intimate, and ranted if he did not tarry a week with him at Abingdon on his journeys. After that he follows me to the cabin, and sees Polly Ann and Tom and the children on the floor poking a 'possum. 'Ah,' says he, in his softest voice, 'a pleasant family scene. And this is Mr. McChesney?' 'I'm your man,' says Tom. Then he praised the mill site and the land all over again. 'Tis good enough for a farmer,' says Tom. 'Who holds under Henderson's grant,' I cried. 'Twas that you wished to say an hour ago,' and I saw I had caught him fair."
"By the eternal!" cried Colonel Clark, bringing down his fist upon the table. "And what then?"
I glanced at Major Colfax, but for the life of me I could make nothing of his look.
"And what did your man say?" said Colonel Clark.
"He called on the devil to bite me, sir," I answered. The Colonel put down his gourd and began to laugh. The Major was looking at me fixedly.
"And what then?" said the Colonel.
"It was then Polly Ann called him a thief to take away the land Tom had fought for and paid for and tilled. The man was all politeness once more, said that the matter was unfortunate, and that a new and good title might be had for a few skins."
"He said that?" interrupted Major Colfax, half rising in his chair. "He was a damned scoundrel."
"So I thought, sir," I answered.
"The devil you did!" said the Major.
"Tut, Colfax," said the Colonel, pulling him by the sleeve of his greatcoat, "sit down and let the lad finish. And then?"
"Mr. Boone had told me of a land agent who had made off with Colonel Campbell's silver spoons from Abingdon, and how the Colonel had ridden east and west after him for a week with a rope hanging on his saddle. I began to tell this story, and instead of the description of Mr. Boone's man, I put in that of Mr. Potts,—in height some five feet nine, spare, of sallow complexion and a green greatcoat."
Major Colfax leaped up in his chair.
"Great Jehovah!" he shouted, "you described the wrong man."
Colonel Clark roared with laughter, thereby spilling some of his toddy.
"I'll warrant he did so," he cried; "and I'll warrant your agent went white as birch bark. Go on, Davy."
"There's not a great deal more, sir," I answered, looking apprehensively at Major Colfax, who still stood. "The man vowed I lied, but Tom laid hold of him and was for hurrying him off to Harrodstown at once."
"Which would ill have suited your purpose," put in the Colonel. "And what did you do with him?"
"We put him in a loft, sir, and then I told Tom that he was not Campbell's thief at all. But I had a craving to scare the man out of Kentucky. So I rode off to the neighbors and gave them the tale, and bade them come after nightfall as though to hang Campbell's thief, which they did, and they were near to smashing the door trying to get in the cabin. Tom told them the rascal had escaped, but they must needs come in and have jigs and toddies until midnight. When they were gone, and we called down the man from the loft, he was in such a state that he could scarce find the rungs of the ladder with his feet. He rode away into the night, and that was the last we heard of him. Tom was not to blame, sir."
Colonel Clark was speechless. And when for the moment he would conquer his mirth, a glance at Major Colfax would set him off again in laughter. I was puzzled. I thought my Colonel more human than of old.
"How now, Colfax?" he cried, giving a poke to the Major's ribs; "you hold the sequel to this farce."
The Major's face was purple,—with what emotion I could not say. Suddenly he swung full at me.
"Do you mean to tell me that you were the general of this hoax—you?" he demanded in a strange voice.
"The thing seemed an injustice to me, sir," I replied in self-defence, "and the man a rascal."
"A rascal!" cried the Major, "a knave, a poltroon, a simpleton! And he came to me with no tale of having been outwitted by a stripling." Whereupon Major Colfax began to shake, gently at first, and presently he was in such a gale of laughter that I looked on him in amazement, Colonel Clark joining in again. The Major's eye rested at length upon Tom, and gradually he grew calm.
"McChesney," said he, "we'll have no bickerings in court among soldiers. The land is yours, and to-morrow my attorney shall give you a deed of it. Your hand, McChesney."
The stubbornness vanished from Tom's face, and there came instead a dazed expression as he thrust a great, hard hand into the Major's.
"'Twan't the land, sir," he stammered; "these varmints of settlers is gittin' thick as flies in July. 'Twas Polly Ann. I reckon I'm obleeged to ye, Major."
"There, there," said the Major, "I thank the Lord I came to Kentucky to see for myself. Damn the land. I have plenty more,—and little else." He turned quizzically to Colonel Clark, revealing a line of strong, white teeth. "Suppose we drink a health to your drummer boy," said he, lifting up his gourd.
I CROSS THE MOUNTAINS ONCE MORE
"'Tis what ye've a right to, Davy," said Polly Ann, and she handed me a little buckskin bag on which she had been sewing. I opened it with trembling fingers, and poured out, chinking on the table, such a motley collection of coins as was never seen,—Spanish milled dollars, English sovereigns and crowns and shillings, paper issues of the Confederacy, and I know not what else. Tom looked on with a grin, while little Tom and Peggy reached out their hands in delight, their mother vigorously blocking their intentions.
"Ye've earned it yerself," said Polly Ann, forestalling my protest; "'tis what ye got by the mill, and I've laid it by bit by bit for yer eddication."
"And what do you get?" I cried, striving by feigned anger to keep the tears back from my eyes. "Have you no family to support?"
"Faith," she answered, "we have the mill that ye gave us, and the farm, and Tom's rifle. I reckon we'll fare better than ye think, tho' we'll miss ye sore about the place."
I picked out two sovereigns from the heap, dropped them in the bag, and thrust it into my hunting shirt.
"There," said I, my voice having no great steadiness, "not a penny more. I'll keep the bag for your sake, Polly Ann, and I'll take the mare for Tom's."
She had had a song on her lips ever since our coming back from Danville, seven days agone, a song on her lips and banter on her tongue, as she made me a new hunting shirt and breeches for the journey across the mountains. And now with a sudden movement she burst into tears and flung her arms about my neck.
"Oh, Davy, 'tis no time to be stubborn," she sobbed, "and eddication is a costly thing. Ever sence I found ye on the trace, years ago, I've thought of ye one day as a great man. And when ye come back to us so big and l'arned, I'd wish to be saying with pride that I helped ye."
"And who else, Polly Ann?" I faltered, my heart racked with the parting. "You found me a homeless waif, and you gave me a home and a father and mother."
"Davy, ye'll not forget us when ye're great, I know ye'll not. Tis not in ye."
She stood back and smiled at me through her tears. The light of heaven was in that smile, and I have dreamed of it even since age has crept upon me. Truly, God sets his own mark on the pure in heart, on the unselfish.
I glanced for the last time around the rude cabin, every timber of which was dedicated to our sacrifices and our love: the fireplace with its rough stones, on the pegs the quaint butternut garments which Polly Ann had stitched, the baby in his bark cradle, the rough bedstead and the little trundle pushed under it,—and the very homely odor of the place is dear to me yet. Despite the rigors and the dangers of my life here, should I ever again find such happiness and peace in the world? The children clung to my knees; and with a "God bless ye, Davy, and come back to us," Tom squeezed my hand until I winced with pain. I leaped on the mare, and with blinded eyes rode down the familiar trail, past the mill, to Harrodsburg.
There Mr. Neville Colfax was waiting to take me across the mountains.
There is a story in every man's life, like the kernel in the shell of a hickory nut. I am ill acquainted with the arts of a biographer, but I seek to give in these pages little of the shell and the whole of the kernel of mine. 'Twould be unwise and tiresome to recount the journey over the bare mountains with my new friend and benefactor. He was a strange gentleman, now jolly enough to make me shake with laughter and forget the sorrow of my parting, now moody for a night and a day; now he was all sweetness, now all fire; now he was abstemious, now self-indulgent and prodigal. He had a will like flint, and under it a soft heart. Cross his moods, and he hated you. I never thought to cross them, therefore he called me Davy, and his friendliness grew with our journey. His anger turned against rocks and rivers, landlords and emigrants, but never against me. And for this I was silently thankful.
And how had he come to take me over the mountains, and to put me in the way of studying law? Mindful of the kernel of my story, I have shortened the chapter to tell you out of the proper place. Major Colfax had made Tom and me sup with himself and Colonel Clark at the inn in Danville. And so pleased had the Major professed himself with my story of having outwitted his agent, that he must needs have more of my adventures. Colonel Clark gave him some, and Tom,—his tongue loosed by the toddy,—others. And the Colonel added to the debt I owed him by suggesting that Major Colfax take me to Virginia and recommend me to a lawyer there.
"Nay," cried the Major, "I will do more. I like the lad, for he is modest despite the way you have paraded him. I have an uncle in Richmond, Judge Wentworth, to whom I will take him in person. And when the Judge has done with him, if he is not flayed and tattooed with Blackstone, you may flay and tattoo me."
Thus did I break through my environment. And it was settled that I should meet the Major in seven days at Harrodstown.
Once in the journey did the Major make mention of a subject which had troubled me.
"Davy," said he, "Clark has changed. He is not the same man he was when I saw him in Williamsburg demanding supplies for his campaign."
"Virginia has used him shamefully, sir," I answered, and suddenly there came flooding to my mind things I had heard the Colonel say in the campaign.
"Commonwealths have short memories," said the Major, "they will accept any sacrifice with a smile. Shakespeare, I believe, speaks of royal ingratitude—he knew not commonwealths. Clark was close-lipped once, not given to levity and—to toddy. There, there, he is my friend as well as yours, and I will prove it by pushing his cause in Virginia. Is yours Scotch anger? Then the devil fend me from it. A monarch would have given him fifty thousand acres on the Wabash, a palace, and a sufficient annuity. Virginia has given him a sword, eight thousand wild acres to be sure, repudiated the debts of his army, and left him to starve. Is there no room for a genius in our infant military establishment?"
At length, as Christmas drew near, we came to Major Colfax's seat, some forty miles out of the town of Richmond. It was called Neville's Grange, the Major's grandfather having so named it when he came out from England some sixty years before. It was a huge, rambling, draughty house of wood,—mortgaged, so the Major cheerfully informed me, thanks to the patriotism of the family. At Neville's Grange the Major kept a somewhat roisterous bachelor's hall. The place was overrun with negroes and dogs, and scarce a night went by that there was not merrymaking in the house with the neighbors. The time passed pleasantly enough until one frosty January morning Major Colfax had a twinge of remembrance, cried out for horses, took me into Richmond, and presented me to that very learned and decorous gentleman, Judge Wentworth.
My studies began within the hour of my arrival.
I MEET AN OLD BEDFELLOW
I shall burden no one with the dry chronicles of a law office. The acquirement of learning is a slow process in life, and perchance a slower one in the telling. I lacked not application during the three years of my stay in Richmond, and to earn my living I worked at such odd tasks as came my way.
The Judge resembled Major Colfax in but one trait: he was choleric. But he was painstaking and cautious, and I soon found out that he looked askance upon any one whom his nephew might recommend. He liked the Major, but he vowed him to be a roisterer and spendthrift, and one day, some months after my advent, the Judge asked me flatly how I came to fall in with Major Colfax. I told him. At the end of this conversation he took my breath away by bidding me come to live with him. Like many lawyers of that time, he had a little house in one corner of his grounds for his office. It stood under great spreading trees, and there I was wont to sit through many a summer day wrestling with the authorities. In the evenings we would have political arguments, for the Confederacy was in a seething state between the Federalists and the Republicans over the new Constitution, now ratified. Between the Federalists and the Jacobins, I would better say, for the virulence of the French Revolution was soon to be reflected among the parties on our side. Kentucky, swelled into an unmanageable territory, was come near to rebellion because the government was not strong enough to wrest from Spain the free navigation of the Mississippi.
And yet I yearned to go back, and looked forward eagerly to the time when I should have stored enough in my head to gain admission to the bar. I was therefore greatly embarrassed, when my examinations came, by an offer from Judge Wentworth to stay in Richmond and help him with his practice. It was an offer not to be lightly set aside, and yet I had made up my mind. He flew into a passion because of my desire to return to a wild country of outlaws and vagabonds.
"Why, damme," he cried, "Kentucky and this pretty State of Franklin which desired to chip off from North Carolina are traitorous places. Disloyal to Congress! Intriguing with a Spanish minister and the Spanish governor of Louisiana to secede from their own people and join the King of Spain. Bah!" he exclaimed, "if our new Federal Constitution is adopted I would hang Jack Sevier of Franklin and your Kentuckian Wilkinson to the highest trees west of the mountains."
I can see the little gentleman as he spoke, his black broadcloth coat and lace ruffles, his hand clutching the gold head of his cane, his face screwed up with indignation under his white wig. It was on a Sunday, and he was standing by the lilac bushes on the lawn in front of his square brick house.
"David," said he, more calmly, "I trust I have taught you something besides the law. I trust I have taught you that a strong Federal government alone will be the salvation of our country."
"You cannot blame Kentucky greatly, sir," said I, feeling that I must stand up for my friends. "The Federal government has done little enough for its people, and treated them to a deal of neglect. They won that western country for themselves with no Federal nor Virginia or North Carolina troops to help them. No man east of the mountains knows what that fight has been. No man east of the mountains knows the horror of that Indian warfare. This government gives them no protection now. Nay, Congress cannot even procure for them an outlet for their commerce. They must trade or perish. Spain closes the Mississippi, arrests our merchants, seizes their goods, and often throws them into prison. No wonder they scorn the Congress as weak and impotent."
The Judge stared at me aghast. It was the first time I had dared oppose him on this subject.
"What," he sputtered, "what? You are a Separatist,—you whom I have received into the bosom of my family!" Seizing the cane at the middle, he brandished it in my face.
"Don't misunderstand me, sir," said I. "You have given me books to read, and have taught me what may be the destiny of our nation on this continent. But you must forgive a people whose lives have been spent in a fierce struggle for their homes, whose families have nearly all lost some member by massacre, who are separated by hundreds of miles of wilderness from you."
He looked at me speechless, and turned and walked into the house. I thought I had sinned past forgiveness, and I was beyond description uncomfortable, for he had been like a parent to me. But the next morning, at half after seven, he walked into the little office and laid down some gold pieces on my table. Gold was very scarce in those days.
"They are for your journey, David," said he. "My only comfort in your going back is that you may grow up to put some temperance into their wild heads. I have a commission for you at Jonesboro, in what was once the unspeakable State of Franklin. You can stop there on your way to Kentucky." He drew from his pocket a great bulky letter, addressed to "Thomas Wright, Esquire, Barrister-at-law in Jonesboro, North Carolina." For the good gentleman could not bring himself to write Franklin.
It was late in September of the year 1788 when I set out on my homeward way—for Kentucky was home to me. I was going back to Polly Ann and Tom, and visions of that home-coming rose before my eyes as I rode. In a packet in my saddle-bags were some dozen letters which Mr. Wrenn, the schoolmaster at Harrodstown, had writ at Polly Ann's bidding. I have the letters yet. For Mr. Wrenn was plainly an artist, and had set down on the paper the words just as they had flowed from her heart. Ay, and there was news in the letters, though not surprising news among those pioneer families whom God blessed so abundantly. Since David Ritchie McChesney (I mention the name with pride) had risen above the necessities of a bark cradle, two more had succeeded him, a brother and a sister. I spurred my horse onward, and thought impatiently of the weary leagues between my family and me.
I have often pictured myself on that journey. I was twenty-one years of age, though one would have called me older. My looks were nothing to boast of, and I was grown up tall and weedy, so that I must have made quite a comical sight, with my long legs dangling on either side of the pony. I wore a suit of gray homespun, and in my saddle-bags I carried four precious law books, the stock in trade which my generous patron had given me. But as I mounted the slopes of the mountains my spirits rose too at the prospect of the life before me. The woods were all aflame with color, with wine and amber and gold, and the hills wore the misty mantle of shadowy blue so dear to my youthful memory. As I left the rude taverns of a morning and jogged along the heights, I watched the vapors rise and troll away from the valleys far beneath, and saw great flocks of ducks and swans and cackling geese darkening the air in their southward flight. Strange that I fell in with no company, for the trail leading into the Tennessee country was widened and broadened beyond belief, and everywhere I came upon blackened fires and abandoned lean-tos, and refuse bones gnawed by the wolves and bleached by the weather. I slept in some of these lean-tos, with my fire going brightly, indifferent to the howl of wolves in chase or the scream of a panther pouncing on its prey. For I was born of the wilderness. It had no terrors for me, nor did I ever feel alone. The great cliffs with their clinging, gnarled trees, the vast mountains clothed in the motley colors of the autumn, the sweet and smoky smell of the Indian summer,—all were dear to me.
As I drew near to Jonesboro my thoughts began to dwell upon that strange and fascinating man who had entertained Polly Ann and Tom and me so lavishly on our way to Kentucky,—Captain John Sevier. For he had made a great noise in the world since then, and the wrath of such men as my late patron was heavy upon him. Yes, John Sevier, Nollichucky Jack, had been a king in all but name since I had seen him, the head of such a principality as stirred the blood to read about. It comprised the Watauga settlement among the mountains of what is now Tennessee, and was called prosaically (as is the wont of the Anglo-Saxon) the free State of Franklin. There were certain conservative and unimaginative souls in this mountain principality who for various reasons held their old allegiance to the State of North Carolina. One Colonel Tipton led these loyalist forces, and armed partisans of either side had for some years ridden up and down the length of the land, burning and pillaging and slaying. We in Virginia had heard of two sets of courts in Franklin, of two sets of legislators. But of late the rumor had grown persistently that Nollichucky Jack was now a kind of fugitive, and that he had passed the summer pleasantly enough fighting Indians in the vicinity of Nick-a-jack Cave.
It was court day as I rode into the little town of Jonesboro, the air sparkling like a blue diamond over the mountain crests, and I drew deep into my lungs once more the scent of the frontier life I had loved so well. In the streets currents of excited men flowed and backed and eddied, backwoodsmen and farmers in the familiar hunting shirts of hide or homespun, and lawyers in dress less rude. A line of horses stood kicking and switching their tails in front of the log tavern, rough carts and wagons had been left here and there with their poles on the ground, and between these, piles of skins were heaped up and bags of corn and grain. The log meeting-house was deserted, but the court-house was the centre of such a swirling crowd as I had often seen at Harrodstown. Now there are brawls and brawls, and I should have thought with shame of my Kentucky bringing-up had I not perceived that this was no ordinary court day, and that an unusual excitement was in the wind.
Tying my horse, and making my way through the press in front of the tavern door, I entered the common room, and found it stifling, brawling and drinking going on apace. Scarce had I found a seat before the whole room was emptied by one consent, all crowding out of the door after two men who began a rough-and-tumble fight in the street. I had seen rough-and-tumble fights in Kentucky, and if I have forborne to speak of them it is because there always has been within me a loathing for them. And so I sat quietly in the common room until the landlord came. I asked him if he could direct me to Mr. Wright's house, as I had a letter for that gentleman. His answer was to grin at me incredulously.
"I reckoned you wah'nt from these parts," said he. "Wright's-out o' town."
"What is the excitement?" I demanded.
He stared at me.
"Nollichucky Jack's been heah, in Jonesboro, young man," said he.
"What," I exclaimed, "Colonel Sevier?"
"Ay, Sevier," he repeated. "With Martin and Tipton and all the Caroliny men right heah, having a council of mility officers in the court-house, in rides Jack with his frontier boys like a whirlwind. He bean't afeard of 'em, and a bench warrant out ag'in him for high treason. Never seed sech a recklessness. Never had sech a jamboree sence I kept the tavern. They was in this here room most of the day, and they was five fights before they set down to dinner."
"And Colonel Tipton?" I said.
"Oh, Tipton," said he, "he hain't afeard neither, but he hain't got men enough."
"And where is Sevier now?" I demanded.
"How long hev you ben in town?" was his answer.
I told him.
"Wal," said he, shifting his tobacco from one sallow cheek to the other, "I reckon he and his boys rud out just afore you come in. Mark me," he added, "when I tell ye there'll be trouble yet. Tipton and Martin and the Caroliny folks is burnin' mad with Chucky Jack for the murder of Corn Tassel and other peaceful chiefs. But Jack hez a wild lot with him,—some of the Nollichucky Cave traders, and there's one young lad that looks like he was a gentleman once. I reckon Jack himself wouldn't like to get into a fight with him. He's a wild one. Great Goliah," he exclaimed, running to the door, "ef thar ain't a-goin' to be another fight! Never seed sech a day in Jonesboro."
I likewise ran to the door, and this fight interested me. There was a great, black-bearded mountaineer- farmer- desperado in the midst of a circle, pouring out a torrent of abuse at a tall young man.
"That thar's Hump Gibson," said the landlord, genially pointing out the black-bearded ruffian, "and the young lawyer feller hez git a jedgment ag'in him. He's got spunk, but I reckon Hump'll t'ar the innards out'n him ef he stands thar a great while."
"Ye'll git jedgment ag'in me, ye Caroliny splinter, will ye?" yelled Mr. Gibson, with an oath. "I'll pay Bill Wilder the skins when I git ready, and all the pinhook lawyers in Washington County won't budge me a mite."
"You'll pay Bill Wilder or go to jail, by the eternal," cried the young man, quite as angrily, whereupon I looked upon him with a mixture of admiration and commiseration, with a gulping certainty in my throat that I was about to see murder done. He was a strange young man, with the rare marked look that would compel even a poor memory to pick him out again. For example, he was very tall and very slim, with red hair blown every which way over a high and towering forehead that seemed as long as the face under it. The face, too, was long, and all freckled by the weather. The blue eyes held me in wonder, and these blazed with such prodigious wrath that, if a look could have killed, Hump Gibson would have been stricken on the spot. Mr. Gibson was, however, very much alive.
"Skin out o' here afore I kill ye," he shouted, and he charged at the slim young man like a buffalo, while the crowd held its breath. I, who had looked upon cruel sights in my day, was turning away with a kind of sickening when I saw the slim young man dodge the rush. He did more. With two strides of his long legs he reached the fence, ripped off the topmost rail, and his huge antagonist, having changed his direction and coming at him with a bellow, was met with the point of a scantling in the pit of his stomach, and Mr. Gibson fell heavily to the ground. It had all happened in a twinkling, and there was a moment's lull while the minds of the onlookers needed readjustment, and then they gave vent to ecstasies of delight.
"Great Goliah!" cried the landlord, breathlessly, "he shet him up jest like a jack-knife."
Awe-struck, I looked at the tall young man, and he was the very essence of wrath. Unmindful of the plaudits, he stood brandishing the fence-rail over the great, writhing figure on the ground. And he was slobbering. I recall that this fact gave a twinge to something in my memory.
"Come on, Hump Gibson," he cried, "come on!"—at which the crowd went wild with pure joy. Witticisms flew.
"Thought ye was goin' to eat 'im up, Hump?" said a friend.
"Ye ain't hed yer meal yet, Hump," reminded another.
Mr. Hump Gibson arose slowly out of the dust, yet he did not stand straight.
"Come on, come on!" cried the young lawyer-fellow, and he thrust the point of the rail within a foot of Mr. Gibson's stomach.
"Come on, Hump!" howled the crowd, but Mr. Gibson stood irresolute. He lacked the supreme test of courage which was demanded on this occasion. Then he turned and walked away very slowly, as though his pace might mitigate in some degree the shame of his retreat. The young man flung away the fence-rail, and, thrusting aside the overzealous among his admirers, he strode past me into the tavern, his anger still hot.
"Hooray fer Jackson!" they shouted. "Hooray fer Andy Jackson!"
Andy Jackson! Then I knew. Then I remembered a slim, wild, sandy-haired boy digging his toes in the red mud long ago at the Waxhaws Settlement. And I recalled with a smile my own fierce struggle at the schoolhouse with the same boy, and how his slobbering had been my salvation. I turned and went in after him with the landlord, who was rubbing his hands with glee.
"I reckon Hump won't come crowin' round heah any more co't days, Mr. Jackson," said our host.
But Mr. Jackson swept the room with his eyes and then glared at the landlord so that he gave back.
"Where's my man?" he demanded.
"Your man, Mr. Jackson?" stammered the host.
"Great Jehovah!" cried Mr. Jackson, "I believe he's afraid to race. He had a horse that could show heels to my Nancy, did he? And he's gone, you say?"
A light seemed to dawn on the landlord's countenance.
"God bless ye, Mr. Jackson!" he cried, "ye don't mean that young daredevil that was with Sevier?"
"With Sevier?" says Jackson.
"Ay," says the landlord; "he's been a-fightin with Sevier all summer, and I reckon he ain't afeard of nothin' any more than you. Wait—his name was Temple—Nick Temple, they called him."
"Nick Temple!" I cried, starting forward.
"Where's he gone?" said Mr. Jackson. "He was going to bet me a six-forty he has at Nashboro that his horse could beat mine on the Greasy Cove track. Where's he gone?"
"Gone!" said the landlord, apologetically, "Nollichucky Jack and his boys left town an hour ago."
"Is he a man of honor or isn't he?" said Mr. Jackson, fiercely.
"Lord, sir, I only seen him once, but I'd stake my oath on it.
"Do you mean to say Mr. Temple has been here—Nicholas Temple?" I said.
The bewildered landlord turned towards me helplessly.
"Who the devil are you, sir?" cried Mr. Jackson.
"Tell me what this Mr. Temple was like," said I.
The landlord's face lighted up.
"Faith, a thoroughbred hoss," says he; "sech nostrils, and sech a gray eye with the devil in it fer go—yellow ha'r, and ez tall ez Mr. Jackson heah."
"And you say he's gone off again with Sevier?"
"They rud into town" (he lowered his voice, for the room was filling), "snapped their fingers at Tipton and his warrant, and rud out ag'in. My God, but that was like Nollichucky Jack. Say, stranger, when your Mr. Temple smiled—"
"He is the man!" I cried; "tell me where to find him."
Mr. Jackson, who had been divided between astonishment and impatience and anger, burst out again.
"What the devil do you mean by interfering with my business, sir?"
"Because it is my business too," I answered, quite as testily; "my claim on Mr. Temple is greater than yours."
"By Jehovah!" cried Jackson, "come outside, sir, come outside!"
The landlord backed away, and the men in the tavern began to press around us expectantly.
"Gallop into him, Andy!" cried one.
"Don't let him git near no fences, stranger," said another.
Mr. Jackson turned on this man with such truculence that he edged away to the rear of the room.
"Step out, sir," said Mr. Jackson, starting for the door before I could reply. I followed perforce, not without misgivings, the crowd pushing eagerly after. Before we reached the dusty street Jackson began pulling off his coat. In a trice the shouting onlookers had made a ring, and we stood facing each other, he in his shirt-sleeves.
"We'll fight fair," said he, his lips wetting.
"Very good," said I, "if you are still accustomed to this hasty manner. You have not asked my name, my standing, nor my reasons for wanting Mr. Temple."
I know not whether it was what I said that made him stare, or how I said it.
"Pistols, if you like," said he.
"No," said I; "I am in a hurry to find Mr. Temple. I fought you this way once, and it's quicker."
"You fought me this way once?" he repeated. The noise of the crowd was hushed, and they drew nearer to hear.
"Come, Mr. Jackson," said I, "you are a lawyer and a gentleman, and so am I. I do not care to be beaten to a pulp, but I am not afraid of you. And I am in a hurry. If you will step back into the tavern, I will explain to you my reasons for wishing to get to Mr. Temple."
Mr. Jackson stared at me the more.
"By the eternal," said he, "you are a cool man. Give me my coat," he shouted to the bystanders, and they helped him on with it. "Now," said he, as they made to follow him, "keep back. I would talk to this gentleman. By the heavens," he cried, when he had gained the room, "I believe you are not afraid of me. I saw it in your eyes."
Then I laughed.
"Mr. Jackson," said I, "doubtless you do not remember a homeless boy named David whom you took to your uncle's house in the Waxhaws—"
"I do," he exclaimed, "as I live I do. Why, we slept together."
"And you stumped your toe getting into bed and swore," said I.
At that he laughed so heartily that the landlord came running across the room.
"And we fought together at the Old Fields School. Are you that boy?" and he scanned me again. "By God, I believe you are." Suddenly his face clouded once more.
"But what about Temple?" said he.
"Ah," I answered, "I come to that quickly. Mr. Temple is my cousin. After I left your uncle's house my father took me to Charlestown."
"Is he a Charlestown Temple?" demanded Mr. Jackson. "For I spent some time gambling and horse-racing with the gentry there, and I know many of them. I was a wild lad" (I repeat his exact words), "and I ran up a bill in Charlestown that would have filled a folio volume. Faith, all I had left me was the clothes on my back and a good horse. I made up my mind one night that if I could pay my debts and get out of Charlestown I would go into the back country and study law and sober down. There was a Mr. Braiden in the ordinary who staked me two hundred dollars at rattle-and-snap against my horse. Gad, sir, that was providence. I won. I left Charlestown with honor, I studied law at Salisbury in North Carolina, and I have come here to practise it."
"You seem to have the talent," said I, smiling at the remembrance of the Hump Gibson incident.
"That is my history in a nutshell," said Mr. Jackson.
"And now," he added, "since you are Mr. Temple's cousin and friend and an old acquaintance of mine to boot, I will tell you where I think he is."
"Where is that?" I asked eagerly.
"I'll stake a cowbell that Sevier will stop at the Widow Brown's," he replied. "I'll put you on the road. But mind you, you are to tell Mr. Temple that he is to come back here and race me at Greasy Cove."
"I'll warrant him to come," said I.
Whereupon we left the inn together, more amicably than before. Mr. Jackson had a thoroughbred horse near by that was a pleasure to see, and my admiration of his mount seemed to set me as firmly in Mr. Jackson's esteem again as that gentleman himself sat in the saddle. He was as good as his word, rode out with me some distance on the road, and reminded me at the last that Nick was to race him.
THE WIDOW BROWN'S
It was not to my credit that I should have lost the trail, after Mr. Jackson put me straight. But the night was dark, the country unknown to me, and heavily wooded and mountainous. In addition to these things my mind ran like fire. My thoughts sometimes flew back to the wondrous summer evening when I trod the Nollichucky trace with Tom and Polly Ann, when I first looked down upon the log palace of that prince of the border, John Sevier. Well I remembered him, broad-shouldered, handsome, gay, a courtier in buckskin. Small wonder he was idolized by the Watauga settlers, that he had been their leader in the struggle of Franklin for liberty. And small wonder that Nick Temple should be in his following.
Nick! My mind was in a torment concerning him. What of his mother? Should I speak of having seen her? I went blindly through the woods for hours after the night fell, my horse stumbling and weary, until at length I came to a lonely clearing on the mountain side, and a fierce pack of dogs dashed barking at my horse's heels. There was a dark cabin ahead, indistinct in the starlight, and there I knocked until a gruff voice answered me and a tousled man came to the door. Yes, I had missed the trail. He shook his head when I asked for the Widow Brown's, and bade me share his bed for the night. No, I would go on, I was used to the backwoods. Thereupon he thawed a little, kicked the dogs, and pointed to where the mountain dipped against the star-studded sky. There was a trail there which led direct to the Widow Brown's, if I could follow it. So I left him.
Once the fear had settled deeply of missing Nick at the Widow Brown's, I put my mind on my journey, and thanks to my early training I was able to keep the trail. It doubled around the spurs, forded stony brooks in diagonals, and often in the darkness of the mountain forest I had to feel for the blazes on the trees. There was no making time. I gained the notch with the small hours of the morning, started on with the descent, crisscrossing, following a stream here and a stream there, until at length the song of the higher waters ceased and I knew that I was in the valley. Suddenly there was no crown-cover over my head. I had gained the road once more, and I followed it hopefully, avoiding the stumps and the deep wagon ruts where the ground was spongy.
The morning light revealed a milky mist through which the trees showed like phantoms. Then there came stains upon the mist of royal purple, of scarlet, of yellow like a mandarin's robe, peeps of deep blue fading into azure as the mist lifted. The fiery eye of the sun was cocked over the crest, and beyond me I saw a house with its logs all golden brown in the level rays, the withered cornstalks orange among the blackened stumps. My horse stopped of his own will at the edge of the clearing. A cock crew, a lean hound prostrate on the porch of the house rose to his haunches, sniffed, growled, leaped down, and ran to the road and sniffed again. I listened, startled, and made sure of the distant ring of many hoofs. And yet I stayed there, irresolute. Could it be Tipton and his men riding from Jonesboro to capture Sevier? The hoof-beats grew louder, and then the hound in the road gave tongue to the short, sharp bark that is the call to arms. Other dogs, hitherto unseen, took up the cry, and turning in my saddle I saw a body of men riding hard at me through the alley in the forest. At their head, on a heavy, strong-legged horse, was one who might have stood for the figure of turbulence, and I made no doubt that this was Colonel Tipton himself,—Colonel Tipton, once secessionist, now champion of the Old North State and arch-enemy of John Sevier. At sight of me he reined up so violently that his horse went back on his haunches, and the men behind were near overriding him.
"Look out, boys," he shouted, with a fierce oath, "they've got guards out!" He flung back one hand to his holster for a pistol, while the other reached for the powder flask at his belt. He primed the pan, and, seeing me immovable, set his horse forward at an amble, his pistol at the cock.
"Who in hell are you?" he cried.
"A traveller from Virginia," I answered.
"And what are you doing here?" he demanded, with another oath.
"I have just this moment come here," said I, as calmly as I might. "I lost the trail in the darkness."
He glared at me, purpling, perplexed.
"Is Sevier there?" said he, pointing at the house.
"I don't know," said I.
Tipton turned to his men, who were listening.