"Surround the house," he cried, "and watch this fellow."
I rode on perforce towards the house with Tipton and three others, while his men scattered over the corn-field and cursed the dogs. And then we saw in the open door the figure of a woman shading her eyes with her hand. We pulled up, five of us, before the porch in front of her.
"Good morning, Mrs. Brown," said Tipton, gruffly.
"Good morning, Colonel," answered the widow.
Tipton leaped from his horse, flung the bridle to a companion, and put his foot on the edge of the porch to mount. Then a strange thing happened. The lady turned deftly, seized a chair from within, and pulled it across the threshold. She sat herself down firmly, an expression on her face which hinted that the late lamented Mr. Brown had been a dominated man. Colonel Tipton stopped, staggering from the very impetus of his charge, and gazed at her blankly.
"I have come for Colonel Sevier," he blurted. And then, his anger rising, "I will have no trifling, ma'am. He is in this house."
"La! you don't tell me," answered the widow, in a tone that was wholly conversational.
"He is in this house," shouted the Colonel.
"I reckon you've guessed wrong, Colonel," said the widow.
There was an awkward pause until Tipton heard a titter behind him. Then his wrath exploded.
"I have a warrant against the scoundrel for high treason," he cried, "and, by God, I will search the house and serve it."
Still the widow sat tight. The Rock of Ages was neither more movable nor calmer than she.
"Surely, Colonel, you would not invade the house of an unprotected female."
The Colonel, evidently with a great effort, throttled his wrath for the moment. His new tone was apologetic but firm.
"I regret to have to do so, ma'am," said he, "but both sexes are equal before the law."
"The law!" repeated the widow, seemingly tickled at the word. She smiled indulgently at the Colonel. "What a pity, Mr. Tipton, that the law compels you to arrest such a good friend of yours as Colonel Sevier. What self-sacrifice, Colonel Tipton! What nobility!"
There was a second titter behind him, whereat he swung round quickly, and the crimson veins in his face looked as if they must burst. He saw me with my hand over my mouth.
"You warned him, damn you!" he shouted, and turning again leaped to the porch and tried to squeeze past the widow into the house.
"How dare you, sir?" she shrieked, giving him a vigorous push backwards. The four of us, his three men and myself, laughed outright. Tipton's rage leaped its bounds. He returned to the attack again and again, and yet at the crucial moment his courage would fail him and he would let the widow thrust him back. Suddenly I became aware that there were two new spectators of this comedy. I started and looked again, and was near to crying out at sight of one of them. The others did cry out, but Tipton paid no heed.
Ten years had made his figure more portly, but I knew at once the man in the well-fitting hunting shirt, with the long hair flowing to his shoulders, with the keen, dark face and courtly bearing and humorous eyes. Yes, humorous even now, for he stood, smiling at this comedy played by his enemy, unmindful of his peril. The widow saw him before Tipton did, so intent was he on the struggle.
"Enough!" she cried, "enough, John Tipton!" Tipton drew back involuntarily, and a smile broadened on the widow's face. "Shame on you for doubting a lady's word! Allow me to present to you—Colonel Sevier."
Tipton turned, stared as a man might who sees a ghost, and broke into such profanity as I have seldom heard.
"By the eternal God, John Sevier," he shouted, "I'll hang you to the nearest tree!"
Colonel Sevier merely made a little ironical bow and looked at the gentleman beside him.
"I have surrendered to Colonel Love," he said.
Tipton snatched from his belt the pistol which he might have used on me, and there flashed through my head the thought that some powder might yet be held in its pan. We cried out, all of us, his men, the widow, and myself,—all save Sevier, who stood quietly, smiling. Suddenly, while we waited for murder, a tall figure shot out of the door past the widow, the pistol flew out of Tipton's hand, and Tipton swung about with something like a bellow, to face Mr. Nicholas Temple.
Well I knew him! And oddly enough at that time Riddle's words of long ago came to me, "God help the woman you love or the man you fight." How shall I describe him? He was thin even to seeming frailness,—yet it was the frailness of the race-horse. The golden hair, sun-tanned, awry across his forehead, the face the same thin and finely cut face of the boy. The gray eyes held an anger that did not blaze; it was far more dangerous than that. Colonel John Tipton looked, and as I live he recoiled.
"If you touch him, I'll kill you," said Mr. Temple. Nor did he say it angrily. I marked for the first time that he held a pistol in his slim fingers. What Tipton might have done when he swung to his new bearings is mere conjecture, for Colonel Sevier himself stepped up on the porch, laid his hand on Temple's arm, and spoke to him in a low tone. What he said we didn't hear. The astonishing thing was that neither of them for the moment paid any attention to the infuriated man beside them. I saw Nick's expression change. He smiled,—the smile the landlord had described, the smile that made men and women willing to die for him. After that Colonel Sevier stooped down and picked up the pistol from the floor of the porch and handed it with a bow to Tipton, butt first. Tipton took it, seemingly without knowing why, and at that instant a negro boy came around the house, leading a horse. Sevier mounted it without a protest from any one.
"I am ready to go with you, gentlemen," he said.
Colonel Tipton slipped his pistol back into his belt, stepped down from the porch, and leaped into his saddle, and he and his men rode off into the stump-lined alley in the forest that was called a road. Nick stood beside the widow, staring after them until they had disappeared.
"My horse, boy!" he shouted to the gaping negro, who vanished on the errand.
"What will you do, Mr. Temple?" asked the widow.
"Rescue him, ma'am," cried Nick, beginning to pace up and down. "I'll ride to Turner's. Cozby and Evans are there, and before night we shall have made Jonesboro too hot to hold Tipton and his cutthroats."
"La, Mr. Temple," said the widow, with unfeigned admiration, "I never saw the like of you. But I know John Tipton, and he'll have Colonel Sevier started for North Carolina before our boys can get to Jonesboro."
"Then we'll follow," says Nick, beginning to pace again. Suddenly, at a cry from the widow, he stopped and stared at me, a light in his eye like a point of steel. His hand slipped to his waist.
"A spy," he said, and turned and smiled at the lady, who was watching him with a kind of fascination; "but damnably cool," he continued, looking at me. "I wonder if he thinks to outride me on that beast? Look you, sir," he cried, as Mrs. Brown's negro came back struggling with a deep-ribbed, high-crested chestnut that was making half circles on his hind legs, "I'll give you to the edge of the woods, and lay you a six-forty against a pair of moccasins that you never get back to Tipton."
"God forbid that I ever do," I answered fervently.
"What," he exclaimed, "and you here with him on this sneak's errand!"
"I am here with him on no errand," said I. "He and his crew came on me a quarter of an hour since at the edge of the clearing. Mr. Temple, I am here to find you, and to save time I will ride with you."
"Egad, you'll have to ride like the devil then," said he, and he stooped and snatched the widow's hand and kissed it with a daring gallantry that I had thought to find in him. He raised his eyes to hers.
"Good-by, Mr. Temple," she said,—there was a tremor in her voice,—"and may you save our Jack!"
He snatched the bridle from the boy, and with one leap he was on the rearing, wheeling horse. "Come on," he cried to me, and, waving his hat at the lady on the porch, he started off with a gallop up the trail in the opposite direction from that which Tipton's men had taken.
All that I saw of Mr. Nicholas Temple on that ride to Turner's was his back, and presently I lost sight of that. In truth, I never got to Turner's at all, for I met him coming back at the wind's pace, a huge, swarthy, determined man at his side and four others spurring after, the spume dripping from the horses' mouths. They did not so much as look at me as they passed, and there was nothing left for me to do but to turn my tired beast and follow at any pace I could make towards Jonesboro.
It was late in the afternoon before I reached the town, the town set down among the hills like a caldron boiling over with the wrath of Franklin. The news of the capture of their beloved Sevier had flown through the mountains like seeds on the autumn wind, and from north, south, east, and west the faithful were coming in, cursing Tipton and Carolina as they rode.
I tethered my tired beast at the first picket, and was no sooner on my feet than I was caught in the hurrying stream of the crowd and fairly pushed and beaten towards the court-house. Around it a thousand furious men were packed. I heard cheering, hoarse and fierce cries, threats and imprecations, and I knew that they were listening to oratory. I was suddenly shot around the corner of a house, saw the orator himself, and gasped.
It was Nicholas Temple. There was something awe-impelling in the tall, slim, boyish figure that towered above the crowd, in the finely wrought, passionate face, in the voice charged with such an anger as is given to few men.
"What has North Carolina done for Franklin?" he cried. "Protected her? No. Repudiated her? Yes. You gave her to the Confederacy for a war debt, and the Confederacy flung her back. You shook yourselves free from Carolina's tyranny, and traitors betrayed you again. And now they have betrayed your leader. Will you avenge him, or will you sit down like cowards while they hang him for treason?"
His voice was drowned, but he stood immovable with arms folded until there was silence again.
"Will you rescue him?" he cried, and the roar rose again. "Will you avenge him? By to-morrow we shall have two thousand here. Invade North Carolina, humble her, bring her to her knees, and avenge John Sevier!"
Pandemonium reigned. Hats were flung in the air, rifles fired, shouts and curses rose and blended into one terrifying note. Gradually, in the midst of this mad uproar, the crowd became aware that another man was standing upon the stump from which Nicholas Temple had leaped. "Cozby!" some one yelled, "Cozby!" The cry was taken up. "Huzzay for Cozby! He'll lead us into Caroliny." He was the huge, swarthy man I had seen riding hard with Nick that morning. A sculptor might have chosen his face and frame for a type of the iron-handed leader of pioneers. Will was supreme in the great features,—inflexible, indomitable will. His hunting shirt was open across his great chest, his black hair fell to his shoulders, and he stood with a compelling hand raised for silence. And when he spoke, slowly, resonantly, men fell back before his words.
"I admire Mr. Temple's courage, and above all his loyalty to our beloved General," said Major Cozby. "But Mr. Temple is young, and the heated counsels of youth must not prevail. My friends, in order to save Jack Sevier we must be moderate."
His voice, strong as it was, was lost. "To hell with moderation!" they shouted. "Down with North Carolina! We'll fight her!"
He got silence again by the magnetic strength he had in him.
"Very good," he said, "but get your General first. If we lead you across the mountains now, his blood will be upon your heads. No man is a better friend to Jack Sevier than I. Leave his rescue to me, and I will get him for you." He paused, and they were stilled perforce. "I will get him for you," he repeated slowly, "or North Carolina will pay for the burial of James Cozby."
There was an instant when they might have swung either way.
"How will ye do it?" came in a thin, piping voice from somewhere near the stump. It may have been this that turned their minds. Others took up the question, "How will ye do it, Major Cozby?"
"I don't know," cried the Major, "I don't know. And if I did know, I wouldn't tell you. But I will get Nollichucky Jack if I have to burn Morganton and rake the General out of the cinders!"
Five hundred hands flew up, five hundred voices cried, "I'm with ye, Major Cozby!" But the Major only shook his head and smiled. What he said was lost in the roar. Fighting my way forward, I saw him get down from the stump, put his hand kindly on Nick's shoulder, and lead him into the court-house. They were followed by a score of others, and the door was shut behind them.
It was then I bethought myself of the letter to Mr. Wright, and I sought for some one who would listen to my questions as to his whereabouts. At length the man himself was pointed out to me, haranguing an excited crowd of partisans in front of his own gate. Some twenty minutes must have passed before I could get any word with him. He was a vigorous little man, with black eyes like buttons, he wore brown homespun and white stockings, and his hair was clubbed. When he had yielded the ground to another orator, I handed him the letter. He drew me aside, read it on the spot, and became all hospitality at once. The town was full, and though he had several friends staying in his house I should join them. Was my horse fed? Dinner had been forgotten that day, but would I enter and partake? In short, I found myself suddenly provided for, and I lost no time in getting my weary mount into Mr. Wright's little stable. And then I sat down, with several other gentlemen, at Mr. Wright's board, where there was much guessing as to Major Cozby's plan.
"No other man west of the mountains could have calmed that crowd after that young daredevil Temple had stirred them up," declared Mr. Wright.
I ventured to say that I had business with Mr. Temple.
"Faith, then, I will invite him here," said my host. "But I warn you, Mr. Ritchie, that he is a trigger set on the hair. If he does not fancy you, he may quarrel with you and shoot you. And he is in no temper to be trifled with to-day."
"I am not an easy person to quarrel with," I answered.
"To look at you, I shouldn't say that you were," said he. "We are going to the court-house, and I will see if I can get a word with the young Hotspur and send him to you. Do you wait here."
I waited on the porch as the day waned. The tumult of the place had died down, for men were gathering in the houses to discuss and conjecture. And presently, sauntering along the street in a careless fashion, his spurs trailing in the dust, came Nicholas Temple. He stopped before the house and stared at me with a fine insolence, and I wondered whether I myself had not been too hasty in reclaiming him. A greeting died on my lips.
"Well, sir," he said, "so you are the gentleman who has been dogging me all day."
"I dog no one, Mr. Temple," I replied bitterly.
"We'll not quibble about words," said he. "Would it be impertinent to ask your business—and perhaps your name?"
"Did not Mr. Wright give you my name?" I exclaimed.
"He might have mentioned it, I did not hear. Is it of such importance?"
At that I lost my temper entirely.
"It may be, and it may not," I retorted. "I am David Ritchie."
He changed before my eyes as he stared at me, and then, ere I knew it, he had me by both arms, crying out:—
"David Ritchie! My Davy—who ran away from me—and we were going to Kentucky together. Oh, I have never forgiven you,"—the smile that there was no resisting belied his words as he put his face close to mine—"I never will forgive you. I might have known you—you've grown, but I vow you're still an old man,—Davy, you renegade. And where the devil did you run to?"
"Kentucky," I said, laughing.
"Oh, you traitor—and I trusted you. I loved you, Davy. Do you remember how I clung to you in my sleep? And when I woke up, the world was black. I followed your trail down the drive and to the cross-roads—"
"It was not ingratitude, Nick," I said; "you were all I had in the world." And then I faltered, the sadness of that far-off time coming over me in a flood, and the remembrance of his generous sorrow for me.
"And how the devil did you track me to the Widow Brown's?" he demanded, releasing me.
"A Mr. Jackson had a shrewd notion you were there. And by the way, he was in a fine temper because you had skipped a race with him."
"That sorrel-topped, lantern-headed Mr. Jackson?" said Nick. "He'll be killed in one of his fine tempers. Damn a man who can't keep his temper. I'll race him, of course. And where are you bound now, Davy?"
"For Louisville, in Kentucky, at the Falls of the Ohio. It is a growing place, and a promising one for a young man in the legal profession to begin life."
"When do you leave?" said he.
"To-morrow morning, Nick," said I. "You wanted once to go to Kentucky; why not come with me?"
His face clouded.
"I do not budge from this town," said he, "I do not budge until I hear that Jack Sevier is safe. Damn Cozby! If he had given me my way, we should have been forty miles from here by this. I'll tell you. Cozby is even now picking five men to go to Morganton and steal Sevier, and he puts me off with a kind word. He'll not have me, he says."
"He thinks you too hot. It needs discretion and an old head," said I.
"Egad, then, I'll commend you to him," said Nick.
"Now," I said, "it's time for you to tell me something of yourself, and how you chanced to come into this country."
"'Twas Darnley's fault," said Nick.
"Darnley!" I exclaimed; "he whom you got into the duel with—" I stopped abruptly, with a sharp twinge of remembrance that was like a pain in my side. 'Twas Nick took up the name.
"With Harry Riddle." He spoke quietly, that was the terrifying part of it. "David, I've looked for that man in Italy and France, I've scoured London for him, and, by God, I'll find him before he dies. And when I do find him I swear to you that there will be no such thing as time wasted, or mercy."
I shuddered. In all my life I had never known such a moment of indecision. Should I tell him? My conscience would give me no definite reply. The question had haunted me all the night, and I had lost my way in consequence, nor had the morning's ride from the Widow Brown's sufficed to bring me to a decision. Of what use to tell him? Would Riddle's death mend matters? The woman loved him, that had been clear to me; yet, by telling Nick what I knew I might induce him to desist from his search, and if I did not tell, Nick might some day run across the trail, follow it up, take Riddle's life, and lose his own. The moment, made for confession as it was, passed.
"They have ruined my life," said Nick. "I curse him, and I curse her."
"Hold!" I cried; "she is your mother."
"And therefore I curse her the more," he said. "You know what she is, you've tasted of her charity, and you are my father's nephew. If you have been without experience, I will tell you what she is. A common—" I reached out and put my hand across his mouth.
"Silence!" I cried; "you shall say no such thing. And have you not manhood enough to make your own life for yourself?"
"Manhood!" he repeated, and laughed. It was a laugh that I did not like. "They made a man of me, my parents. My father played false with the Rebels and fled to England for his reward. A year after he went I was left alone at Temple Bow to the tender mercies of the niggers. Mr. Mason came back and snatched what was left of me. He was a good man; he saved me an annuity out of the estate, he took me abroad after the war on a grand tour, and died of a fever in Rome. I made my way back to Charlestown, and there I learned to gamble, to hold liquor like a gentleman, to run horses and fight like a gentleman. We were speaking of Darnley," he said.
"Yes, of Darnley," I repeated.
"The devil of a man," said Nick; "do you remember him, with the cracked voice and fat calves?"
At any other time I should have laughed at the recollection.
"Darnley turned Whig, became a Continental colonel, and got a grant out here in the Cumberland country of three thousand acres. And now I own it."
"You own it!" I exclaimed.
"Rattle-and-snap," said Nick; "I played him for the land at the ordinary one night, and won it. It is out here near a place called Nashboro, where this wild, long-faced Mr. Jackson says he is going soon. I crossed the mountains to have a look at it, fell in with Nollichucky Jack, and went off with him for a summer campaign. There's a man for you, Davy," he cried, "a man to follow through hell-fire. If they touch a hair of his head we'll sack the State of North Carolina from Morganton to the sea."
"But the land?" I asked.
"Oh, a fig for the land," answered Nick; "as soon as Nollichucky Jack is safe I'll follow you into Kentucky." He slapped me on the knee. "Egad, Davy, it seems like a fairy tale. We always said we were going to Kentucky, didn't we? What is the name of the place you are to startle with your learning and calm by your example?"
"Louisville," I answered, laughing, "by the Falls of the Ohio."
"I shall turn up there when Jack Sevier is safe and I have won some more land from Mr. Jackson. We'll have a rare old time together, though I have no doubt you can drink me under the table. Beware of these sober men. Egad, Davy, you need only a woolsack to become a full-fledged judge. And now tell me how fortune has buffeted you."
It was my second night without sleep, for we sat burning candles in Mr. Wright's house until the dawn, making up the time which we had lost away from each other.
I MEET A HERO
When left to myself, I was wont to slide into the commonplace; and where my own dull life intrudes to clog the action I cut it down here and pare it away there until I am merely explanatory, and not too much in evidence. I rode out the Wilderness Trail, fell in with other travellers, was welcomed by certain old familiar faces at Harrodstown, and pressed on. I have a vivid recollection of a beloved, vigorous figure swooping out of a cabin door and scattering a brood of children right and left. "Polly Ann!" I said, and she halted, trembling.
"Tom," she cried, "Tom, it's Davy come back," and Tom himself flew out of the door, ramrod in one hand and rifle in the other. Never shall I forget them as they stood there, he grinning with sheer joy as of yore, and she, with her hair flying and her blue gown snapping in the wind, in a tremor between tears and laughter. I leaped to the ground, and she hugged me in her arms as though I had been a child, calling my name again and again, and little Tom pulling at the skirts of my coat. I caught the youngster by the collar.
"Polly Ann," said I, "he's grown to what I was when you picked me up, a foundling."
"And now it's little Davy no more," she answered, swept me a courtesy, and added, with a little quiver in her voice, "ye are a gentleman now."
"My heart is still where it was," said I.
"Ay, ay," said Tom, "I'm sure o' that, Davy."
I was with them a fortnight in the familiar cabin, and then I took up my journey northward, heavy at leaving again, but promising to see them from time to time. For Tom was often at the Falls when he went a-scouting into the Illinois country. It was, as of old, Polly Ann who ran the mill and was the real bread-winner of the family.
Louisville was even then bursting with importance, and as I rode into it, one bright November day, I remembered the wilderness I had seen here not ten years gone when I had marched hither with Captain Harrod's company to join Clark on the island. It was even then a thriving little town of log and clapboard houses and schools and churches, and wise men were saying of it—what Colonel Clark had long ago predicted—that it would become the first city of commercial importance in the district of Kentucky.
I do not mean to give you an account of my struggles that winter to obtain a foothold in the law. The time was a heyday for young barristers, and troubles in those early days grew as plentifully in Kentucky as corn. In short, I got a practice, for Colonel Clark was here to help me, and, thanks to the men who had gone to Kaskaskia and Vincennes, I had a fairly large acquaintance in Kentucky. I hired rooms behind Mr. Crede's store, which was famed for the glass windows which had been fetched all the way from Philadelphia. Mr. Crede was the embodiment of the enterprising spirit of the place, and often of an evening he called me in to see the new fashionable things his barges had brought down the Ohio. The next day certain young sparks would drop into my room to waylay the belles as they came to pick a costume to be worn at Mr. Nickle's dancing school, or at the ball at Fort Finney.
The winter slipped away, and one cool evening in May there came a negro to my room with a note from Colonel Clark, bidding me sup with him at the tavern and meet a celebrity.
I put on my best blue clothes that I had brought with me from Richmond, and repaired expectantly to the tavern about eight of the clock, pushed through the curious crowd outside, and entered the big room where the company was fast assembling. Against the red blaze in the great chimney-place I spied the figure of Colonel Clark, more portly than of yore, and beside him stood a gentleman who could be no other than General Wilkinson.
He was a man to fill the eye, handsome of face, symmetrical of figure, easy of manner, and he wore a suit of bottle-green that became him admirably. In short, so fascinated and absorbed was I in watching him as he greeted this man and the other that I started as though something had pricked me when I heard my name called by Colonel Clark.
"Come here, Davy," he cried across the room, and I came and stood abashed before the hero. "General, allow me to present to you the drummer boy of Kaskaskia and Vincennes, Mr. David Ritchie."
"I hear that you drummed them to victory through a very hell of torture, Mr. Ritchie," said the General. "It is an honor to grasp the hand of one who did such service at such a tender age."
General Wilkinson availed himself of that honor, and encompassed me with a smile so benignant, so winning in its candor, that I could only mutter my acknowledgment, and Colonel Clark must needs apologize, laughing, for my youth and timidity.
"Mr. Ritchie is not good at speeches, General," said he, "but I make no doubt he will drink a bumper to your health before we sit down. Gentlemen," he cried, filling his glass from a bottle on the table, "a toast to General Wilkinson, emancipator and saviour of Kentucky!"
The company responded with a shout, tossed off the toast, and sat down at the long table. Chance placed me between a young dandy from Lexington—one of several the General had brought in his train—and Mr. Wharton, a prominent planter of the neighborhood with whom I had a speaking acquaintance. This was a backwoods feast, though served in something better than the old backwoods style, and we had venison and bear's meat and prairie fowl as well as pork and beef, and breads that came stinging hot from the Dutch ovens. Toasts to this and that were flung back and forth, and jests and gibes, and the butt of many of these was that poor Federal government which (as one gentleman avowed) was like a bantam hen trying to cover a nestful of turkey's eggs, and clucking with importance all the time. This picture brought on gusts of laughter.
"And what say you of the Jay?" cried one; "what will he hatch?"
Hisses greeted the name, for Mr. Jay wished to enter into a treaty with Spain, agreeing to close the river for five and twenty years. Colonel Clark stood up, and rapped on the table.
"Gentlemen," said he, "Louisville has as her guest of honor to-night a man of whom Kentucky may well be proud [loud cheering]. Five years ago he favored Lexington by making it his home, and he came to us with the laurel of former achievements still clinging to his brow. He fought and suffered for his country, and attained the honorable rank of Major in the Continental line. He was chosen by the people of Pennsylvania to represent them in the august body of their legislature, and now he has got new honor in a new field [renewed cheering]. He has come to Kentucky to show her the way to prosperity and glory. Kentucky had a grievance [loud cries of "Yes, yes!"]. Her hogs and cattle had no market, her tobacco and agricultural products of all kinds were rotting because the Spaniards had closed the Mississippi to our traffic. Could the Federal government open the river? [shouts of "No, no!" and hisses]. Who opened it? [cries of "Wilkinson, Wilkinson!"]. He said to the Kentucky planters, 'Give your tobacco to me, and I will sell it.' He put it in barges, he floated down the river, and, as became a man of such distinction, he was met by Governor-general Miro on the levee at New Orleans. Where is that tobacco now, gentlemen?" Colonel Clark was here interrupted by such roars and stamping that he paused a moment, and during this interval Mr. Wharton leaned over and whispered quietly in my ear:—
"Ay, where is it?"
I stared at Mr. Wharton blankly. He was a man nearing the middle age, with a lacing of red in his cheeks, a pleasant gray eye, and a singularly quiet manner.
"Thanks to the genius of General Wilkinson," Colonel Clark continued, waving his hand towards the smilingly placid hero, "that tobacco has been deposited in the King's store at ten dollars per hundred,—a privilege heretofore confined to Spanish subjects. Well might Wilkinson return from New Orleans in a chariot and four to a grateful Kentucky! This year we have tripled, nay, quadrupled, our crop of tobacco, and we are here to-night to give thanks to the author of this prosperity." Alas, Colonel Clark's hand was not as steady as of yore, and he spilled the liquor on the table as he raised his glass. "Gentlemen, a health to our benefactor."
They drank it willingly, and withal so lengthily and noisily that Mr. Wilkinson stood smiling and bowing for full three minutes before he could be heard. He was a very paragon of modesty, was the General, and a man whose attitudes and expressions spoke as eloquently as his words. None looked at him now but knew before he opened his mouth that he was deprecating such an ovation.
"Gentlemen,—my friends and fellow-Kentuckians," he said, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness, but I assure you that I have done nothing worthy of it [loud protests]. I am a simple, practical man, who loves Kentucky better than he loves himself. This is no virtue, for we all have it. We have the misfortune to be governed by a set of worthy gentlemen who know little about Kentucky and her wants, and think less [cries of "Ay, ay!"]. I am not decrying General Washington and his cabinet; it is but natural that the wants of the seaboard and the welfare and opulence of the Eastern cities should be uppermost in their minds [another interruption]. Kentucky, if she would prosper, must look to her own welfare. And if any credit is due to me, gentlemen, it is because I reserved my decision of his Excellency, Governor-general Miro, and his people until I saw them for myself. A little calm reason, a plain statement of the case, will often remove what seems an insuperable difficulty, and I assure you that Governor-general Miro is a most reasonable and courteous gentleman, who looks with all kindliness and neighborliness on the people of Kentucky. Let us drink a toast to him. To him your gratitude is due, for he sends you word that your tobacco will be received."
"In General Wilkinson's barges," said Mr. Wharton leaning over and subsiding again at once.
The General was the first to drink the toast, and he sat down very modestly amidst a thunder of applause.
The young man on the other side of me, somewhat flushed, leaped to his feet.
"Down with the Federal government!" he cried; "what have they done for us, indeed? Before General Wilkinson went to New Orleans the Spaniards seized our flat boats and cargoes and flung our traders into prison, ay, and sent them to the mines of Brazil. The Federal government takes sides with the Indians against us. And what has that government done for you, Colonel?" he demanded, turning to Clark, "you who have won for them half of their territory? They have cast you off like an old moccasin. The Continental officers who fought in the East have half-pay for life or five years' full pay. And what have you?"
There was a breathless hush. A swift vision came to me of a man, young, alert, commanding, stern under necessity, self-repressed at all times—a man who by the very dominance of his character had awed into submission the fierce Northern tribes of a continent, who had compelled men to follow him until the life had all but ebbed from their bodies, who had led them to victory in the end. And I remembered a boy who had stood awe-struck before this man in the commandant's house at Fort Sackville. Ay, and I heard again his words as though he had just spoken them, "Promise me that you will not forget me if I am—unfortunate." I did not understand then. And now because of a certain blinding of my eyes, I did not see him clearly as he got slowly to his feet. He clutched the table. He looked around him—I dare not say—vacantly. And then, suddenly, he spoke with a supreme anger and a supreme bitterness.
"Not a shilling has this government given me," he cried. "Virginia was more grateful; from her I have some acres of wild land and—a sword." He laughed. "A sword, gentlemen, and not new at that. Oh, a grateful government we serve, one careful of the honor of her captains. Gentlemen, I stand to-day a discredited man because the honest debts I incurred in the service of that government are repudiated, because my friends who helped it, Father Gibault, Vigo, and Gratiot, and others have never been repaid. One of them is ruined."
A dozen men had sprung clamoring to their feet before he sat down. One, more excited than the rest, got the ear of the company.
"Do we lack leaders?" he cried. "We have them here with us to-night, in this room. Who will stop us? Not the contemptible enemies in Kentucky who call themselves Federalists. Shall we be supine forever? We have fought once for our liberties, let us fight again. Let us make a common cause with our real friends on the far side of the Mississippi."
I rose, sick at heart, but every man was standing. And then a strange thing happened. I saw General Wilkinson at the far end of the room; his hand was raised, and there was that on his handsome face which might have been taken for a smile, and yet was not a smile. Others saw him too, I know not by what exertion of magnetism. They looked at him and they held their tongues.
"I fear that we are losing our heads, gentlemen," he said; "and I propose to you the health of the first citizen of Kentucky, Colonel George Rogers Clark."
I found myself out of the tavern and alone in the cool May night. And as I walked slowly down the deserted street, my head in a whirl, a hand was laid on my shoulder. I turned, startled, to face Mr. Wharton, the planter.
"I would speak a word with you, Mr. Ritchie," he said. "May I come to your room for a moment?"
"Certainly, sir," I answered.
After that we walked along together in silence, my own mind heavily occupied with what I had seen and heard. We came to Mr. Crede's store, went in at the picket gate beside it and down the path to my own door, which I unlocked. I felt for the candle on the table, lighted it, and turned in surprise to discover that Mr. Wharton was poking up the fire and pitching on a log of wood. He flung off his greatcoat and sat down with his feet to the blaze. I sat down beside him and waited, thinking him a sufficiently peculiar man.
"You are not famous, Mr. Ritchie," said he, presently.
"No, sir," I answered.
"Nor particularly handsome," he continued, "nor conspicuous in any way."
I agreed to this, perforce.
"You may thank God for it," said Mr. Wharton.
"That would be a strange outpouring, sir," said I.
He looked at me and smiled.
"What think you of this paragon, General Wilkinson?" he demanded suddenly.
"I have Federal leanings, sir," I answered
"Egad," said he, "we'll add caution to your lack of negative accomplishments. I have had an eye on you this winter, though you did not know it. I have made inquiries about you, and hence I am not here to-night entirely through impulse. You have not made a fortune at the law, but you have worked hard, steered wide of sensation, kept your mouth shut. Is it not so?"
Astonished, I merely nodded in reply.
"I am not here to waste your time or steal your sleep," he went on, giving the log a push with his foot, "and I will come to the point. When I first laid eyes on this fine gentleman, General Wilkinson, I too fell a victim to his charms. It was on the eve of this epoch-making trip of which we heard so glowing an account to-night, and I made up my mind that no Spaniard, however wily, could resist his persuasion. He said to me, 'Wharton, give me your crop of tobacco and I promise you to sell it in spite of all the royal mandates that go out of Madrid.' He went, he saw, he conquered the obdurate Miro as he has apparently conquered the rest of the world, and he actually came back in a chariot and four as befitted him. A heavy crop of tobacco was raised in Kentucky that year. I helped to raise it," added Mr. Wharton, dryly. "I gave the General my second crop, and he sent it down. Mr. Ritchie, I have to this day never received a piastre for my merchandise, nor am I the only planter in this situation. Yet General Wilkinson is prosperous."
My astonishment somewhat prevented me from replying to this, too. Was it possible that Mr. Wharton meant to sue the General? I reflected while he paused. I remembered how inconspicuous he had named me, and hope died. Mr. Wharton did not look at me, but stared into the fire, for he was plainly not a man to rail and rant.
"Mr. Ritchie, you are young, but mark my words, that man Wilkinson will bring Kentucky to ruin if he is not found out. The whole district from Crab Orchard to Bear Grass is mad about him. Even Clark makes a fool of himself—"
"Colonel Clark, sir!" I cried.
He put up a hand.
"So you have some hot blood," he said. "I know you love him. So do I, or I should not have been there tonight. Do I blame his bitterness? Do I blame—anything he does? The treatment he has had would bring a blush of shame to the cheek of any nation save a republic. Republics are wasteful, sir. In George Rogers Clark they have thrown away a general who might some day have decided the fate of this country, they have left to stagnate a man fit to lead a nation to war. And now he is ready to intrigue against the government with any adventurer who may have convincing ways and a smooth tongue."
"Mr. Wharton," I said, rising, "did you come here to tell me this?"
But Mr. Wharton continued to stare into the fire.
"I like you the better for it, my dear sir," said he, "and I assure you that I mean no offence. Colonel Clark is enshrined in our hearts, Democrats and Federalists alike. Whatever he may do, we shall love him always. But this other man,—pooh!" he exclaimed, which was as near a vigorous expression as he got. "Now, sir, to the point. I, too, am a Federalist, a friend of Mr. Humphrey Marshall, and, as you know, we are sadly in the minority in Kentucky now. I came here to-night to ask you to undertake a mission in behalf of myself and certain other gentlemen, and I assure you that my motives are not wholly mercenary." He paused, smiled, and put the tips of his fingers together. "I would willingly lose every crop for the next ten years to convict this Wilkinson of treason against the Federal government."
"Treason!" I repeated involuntarily.
"Mr. Ritchie," answered the planter, "I gave you credit for some shrewdness. Do you suppose the Federal government does not realize the danger of this situation in Kentucky. They have tried in vain to open the Mississippi, and are too weak to do it. This man Wilkinson goes down to see Miro, and Miro straightway opens the river to us through him. How do you suppose Wilkinson did it? By his charming personality?"
I said something, I know not what, as the light began to dawn on me. And then I added, "I had not thought about the General."
"Ah," replied Mr. Wharton, "just so. And now you may easily imagine that General Wilkinson has come to a very pretty arrangement with Miro. For a certain stipulated sum best known to Wilkinson and Miro, General Wilkinson agrees gradually to detach Kentucky from the Union and join it to his Catholic Majesty's dominion of Louisiana. The bribe—the opening of the river. What the government could not do Wilkinson did by the lifting of his finger."
Still Mr. Wharton spoke without heat.
"Mind you," he said, "we have no proof of this, and that is my reason for coming here to-night, Mr. Ritchie. I want you to get proof of it if you can."
"You want me—" I said, bewildered.
"I repeat that you are not handsome,"—I think he emphasized this unduly,—"that you are self-effacing, inconspicuous; in short, you are not a man to draw suspicion. You might travel anywhere and scarcely be noticed,—I have observed that about you. In addition to this you are wary, you are discreet, you are painstaking. I ask you to go first to St. Louis, in Louisiana territory, and this for two reasons. First, because it will draw any chance suspicion from your real objective, New Orleans; and second, because it is necessary to get letters to New Orleans from such leading citizens of St. Louis as Colonel Chouteau and Monsieur Gratiot, and I will give you introductions to them. You are then to take passage to New Orleans in a barge of furs which Monsieur Gratiot is sending down. Mind, we do not expect that you will obtain proof that Miro is paying Wilkinson money. If you do, so much the better; but we believe that both are too sharp to leave any tracks. You will make a report, however, upon the conditions under which our tobacco is being received, and of all other matters which you may think germane to the business in hand. Will you go?"
I had made up my mind.
"Yes, I will go," I answered.
"Good," said Mr. Wharton, but with no more enthusiasm than he had previously shown; "I thought I had not misjudged you. Is your law business so onerous that you could not go to-morrow?"
"I think I could settle what affairs I have by noon, Mr. Wharton," I replied.
"Egad, Mr. Ritchie, I like your manner," said he; "and now for a few details, and you may go to bed."
He sat with me half an hour longer, carefully reviewing his instructions, and then he left me to a night of contemplation.
TO ST. LOUIS
By eleven o'clock the next morning I had wound up my affairs, having arranged with a young lawyer of my acquaintance to take over such cases as I had, and I was busy in my room packing my saddle-bags for the journey. The warm scents of spring were wafted through the open door and window, smells of the damp earth giving forth the green things, and tender shades greeted my eyes when I paused and raised my head to think. Purple buds littered the black ground before my door-step, and against the living green of the grass I saw the red stain of a robin's breast as he hopped spasmodically hither and thither, now pausing immovable with his head raised, now tossing triumphantly a wriggling worm from the sod. Suddenly he flew away, and I heard a voice from the street side that brought me stark upright.
"Hold there, neighbor; can you direct me to the mansion of that celebrated barrister, Mr. Ritchie?"
There was no mistaking that voice—it was Nicholas Temple's. I heard a laugh and an answer, the gate slammed, and Mr. Temple himself in a long gray riding-coat, booted and spurred, stood before me.
"Davy," he cried, "come out here and hug me. Why, you look as if I were your grandmother's ghost."
"And if you were," I answered, "you could not have surprised me more. Where have you been?"
"At Jonesboro, acting the gallant with the widow, winning and losing skins and cow-bells and land at rattle-and-snap, horse-racing with that wild Mr. Jackson. Faith, he near shot the top of my head off because I beat him at Greasy Cove."
I laughed, despite my anxiety.
"And Sevier?" I demanded.
"You have not heard how Sevier got off?" exclaimed Nick. "Egad, that was a crowning stroke of genius! Cozby and Evans, Captains Greene and Gibson, and Sevier's two boys whom you met on the Nollichucky rode over the mountains to Morganton. Greene and Gibson and Sevier's boys hid themselves with the horses in a clump outside the town, while Cozby and Evans, disguised as bumpkins in hunting shirts, jogged into the town with Sevier's racing mare between them. They jogged into the town, I say, through the crowds of white trash, and rode up to the court-house where Sevier was being tried for his life. Evans stood at the open door and held the mare and gaped, while Cozby stalked in and shouldered his way to the front within four feet of the bar, like a big, awkward countryman. Jack Sevier saw him, and he saw Evans with the mare outside. Then, by thunder, Cozby takes a step right up to the bar and cries out, 'Judge, aren't you about done with that man?' Faith, it was like judgment day, such a mix-up as there was after that, and Nollichucky Jack made three leaps and got on the mare, and in the confusion Cozby and Evans were off too, and the whole State of North Carolina couldn't catch 'em then." Nick sighed. "I'd have given my soul to have been there," he said.
"Come in," said I, for lack of something better.
"Cursed if you haven't given me a sweet reception, Davy," said he. "Have you lost your practice, or is there a lady here, you rogue," and he poked into the cupboard with his stick. "Hullo, where are you going now?" he added, his eye falling on the saddle-bags.
I had it on my lips to say, and then I remembered Mr. Wharton's injunction.
"I'm going on a journey," said I.
"When?" said Nick.
"I leave in about an hour," said I.
He sat down. "Then I leave too," he said.
"What do you mean, Nick?" I demanded.
"I mean that I will go with you," said he.
"But I shall be gone three months or more," I protested.
"I have nothing to do," said Nick, placidly.
A vague trouble had been working in my mind, but now the full horror of it dawned upon me. I was going to St. Louis. Mrs. Temple and Harry Riddle were gone there, so Polly Ann had avowed, and Nick could not help meeting Riddle. Sorely beset, I bent over to roll up a shirt, and refrained from answering.
He came and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"What the devil ails you, Davy?" he cried. "If it is an elopement, of course I won't press you. I'm hanged if I'll make a third."
"It is no elopement," I retorted, my face growing hot in spite of myself.
"Then I go with you," said he, "for I vow you need taking care of. You can't put me off, I say. But never in my life have I had such a reception, and from my own first cousin, too."
I was in a quandary, so totally unforeseen was this situation. And then a glimmer of hope came to me that perhaps his mother and Riddle might not be in St. Louis after all. I recalled the conversation in the cabin, and reflected that this wayward pair had stranded on so many beaches, had drifted off again on so many tides, that one place could scarce hold them long. Perchance they had sunk,—who could tell? I turned to Nick, who stood watching me.
"It was not that I did not want you," I said, "you must believe that. I have wanted you ever since that night long ago when I slipped out of your bed and ran away. I am going first to St. Louis and then to New Orleans on a mission of much delicacy, a mission that requires discretion and secrecy. You may come, with all my heart, with one condition only—that you do not ask my business."
"Done!" cried Nick. "Davy, I was always sure of you; you are the one fixed quantity in my life. To St. Louis, eh, and to New Orleans? Egad, what havoc we'll make among the Creole girls. May I bring my nigger? He'll do things for you too."
"By all means," said I, laughing, "only hurry."
"I'll run to the inn," said Nick, "and be back in ten minutes." He got as far as the door, slapped his thigh, and looked back. "Davy, we may run across—"
"Who?" I asked, with a catch of my breath.
"Harry Riddle," he answered; "and if so, may God have mercy on his soul!"
He ran down the path, the gate clicked, and I heard him whistling in the street on his way to the inn.
After dinner we rode down to the ferry, Nick on the thoroughbred which had beat Mr. Jackson's horse, and his man, Benjy, on a scraggly pony behind. Benjy was a small, black negro with a very squat nose, alert and talkative save when Nick turned on him. Benjy had been born at Temple Bow; he worshipped his master and all that pertained to him, and he showered upon me all the respect and attention that was due to a member of the Temple family. For this I was very grateful. It would have been an easier journey had we taken a boat down to Fort Massac, but such a proceeding might have drawn too much attention to our expedition. I have no space to describe that trip overland, which reminded me at every stage of the march against Kaskaskia, the woods, the chocolate streams, the coffee-colored swamps flecked with dead leaves,—and at length the prairies, the grass not waist-high now, but young and tender, giving forth the acrid smell of spring. Nick was delighted. He made me recount every detail of my trials as a drummer boy, or kept me in continuous spells of laughter over his own escapades. In short, I began to realize that we were as near to each other as though we had never been parted.
We looked down upon Kaskaskia from the self-same spot where I had stood on the bluff with Colonel Clark, and the sounds were even then the same,—the sweet tones of the church bell and the lowing of the cattle. We found a few Virginians and Pennsylvanians scattered in amongst the French, the forerunners of that change which was to come over this country. And we spent the night with my old friend, Father Gibault, still the faithful pastor of his flock; cheerful, though the savings of his lifetime had never been repaid by that country to which he had given his allegiance so freely. Travelling by easy stages, on the afternoon of the second day after leaving Kaskaskia we picked our way down the high bluff that rises above the American bottom, and saw below us that yellow monster among the rivers, the Mississippi. A blind monster he seemed, searching with troubled arms among the islands for his bed, swept onward by an inexorable force, and on his heaving shoulders he carried great trees pilfered from the unknown forests of the North.
Down in the moist and shady bottom we came upon the log hut of a half-breed trapper, and he agreed to ferry us across. As for our horses, a keel boat must be sent after these, and Monsieur Gratiot would no doubt easily arrange for this. And so we found ourselves, about five o'clock on that Saturday evening, embarked in a wide pirogue on the current, dodging the driftwood, avoiding the eddies, and drawing near to a village set on a low bluff on the Spanish side and gleaming white among the trees. And as I looked, the thought came again like a twinge of pain that Mrs. Temple and Riddle might be there, thinking themselves secure in this spot, so removed from the world and its doings.
"How now, my man of mysterious affairs?" cried Nick, from the bottom of the boat; "you are as puckered as a sour persimmon. Have you a treaty with Spain in your pocket or a declaration of war? What can trouble you?"
"Nothing, if you do not," I answered, smiling.
"Lord send we don't admire the same lady, then," said Nick. "Pierrot," he cried, turning to one of the boatmen, "il y a des belles demoiselles la, n'est-ce pas?"
The man missed a stroke in his astonishment, and the boat swung lengthwise in the swift current.
"Dame, Monsieur, il y en a," he answered.
"Where did you learn French, Nick?" I demanded.
"Mr. Mason had it hammered into me," he answered carelessly, his eyes on the line of keel boats moored along the shore. Our guides shot the canoe deftly between two of these, the prow grounded in the yellow mud, and we landed on Spanish territory.
We looked about us while our packs were being unloaded, and the place had a strange flavor in that year of our Lord, 1789. A swarthy boatman in a tow shirt with a bright handkerchief on his head stared at us over the gunwale of one of the keel boats, and spat into the still, yellow water; three high-cheeked Indians, with smudgy faces and dirty red blankets, regarded us in silent contempt; and by the water-side above us was a sled loaded with a huge water cask, a bony mustang pony between the shafts, and a chanting negro dipping gourdfuls from the river. A road slanted up the little limestone bluff, and above and below us stone houses could be seen nestling into the hill, houses higher on the river side, and with galleries there. We climbed the bluff, Benjy at our heels with the saddle-bags, and found ourselves on a yellow-clay street lined with grass and wild flowers. A great peace hung over the village, an air of a different race, a restfulness strange to a Kentuckian. Clematis and honeysuckle climbed the high palings, and behind the privacy of these, low, big-chimneyed houses of limestone, weathered gray, could be seen, their roofs sloping in gentle curves to the shaded porches in front; or again, houses of posts set upright in the ground and these filled between with plaster, and so immaculately whitewashed that they gleamed against the green of the trees which shaded them. Behind the houses was often a kind of pink-and-cream paradise of flowering fruit trees, so dear to the French settlers. There were vineyards, too, and thrifty patches of vegetables, and lines of flowers set in the carefully raked mould.
We walked on, enraptured by the sights around us, by the heavy scent of the roses and the blossoms. Here was a quaint stone horse-mill, a stable, or a barn set uncouthly on the street; a baker's shop, with a glimpse of the white-capped baker through the shaded doorway, and an appetizing smell of hot bread in the air. A little farther on we heard the tinkle of the blacksmith's hammer, and the man himself looked up from where the hoof rested on his leather apron to give us a kindly "Bon soir, Messieurs," as we passed. And here was a cabaret, with the inevitable porch, from whence came the sharp click of billiard balls.
We walked on, stopping now and again to peer between the palings, when we heard, amidst the rattling of a cart and the jingling of bells, a chorus of voices:—
"A cheval, a cheval, pour aller voir ma mie, Lon, lon, la!"
A shaggy Indian pony came ambling around the corner between the long shafts of a charette. A bareheaded young man in tow shirt and trousers was driving, and three laughing girls were seated on the stools in the cart behind him. Suddenly, before I quite realized what had happened, the young man pulled up the pony, the girls fell silent, and Nick was standing in the middle of the road, with his hat in his hand, bowing elaborately.
"Je vous salue, Mesdemoiselles," he cried, "mes anges a char-a-banc. Pouvez-vous me diriger chez Monsieur Gratiot?"
"Sapristi!" exclaimed the young man, but he laughed. The young women stood up, giggling, and peered at Nick over the young man's shoulder. One of them wore a fresh red-and-white calamanco gown. She had a complexion of ivory tinged with red, raven hair, and dusky, long-lashed, mischievous eyes brimming with merriment.
"Volontiers, Monsieur," she answered, before the others could catch their breath, "premiere droite et premiere gauche. Allons, Gaspard!" she cried, tapping the young man sharply on the shoulder, "es tu fou?"
Gaspard came to himself, flicked the pony, and they went off down the road with shouts of laughter, while Nick stood waving his hat until they turned the corner.
"Egad," said he, "I'd take to the highway if I could be sure of holding up such a cargo every time. Off with you, Benjy, and find out where she lives," he cried, and the obedient Benjy dropped the saddle-bags as though such commands were not uncommon.
"Pick up those bags, Benjy," said I, laughing.
Benjy glanced uncertainly at his master.
"Do as I tell you, you black scalawag," said Nick, "or I'll tan you. What are you waiting for?"
"Marse Dave—" began Benjy, rolling his eyes in discomfiture.
"Look you, Nick Temple," said I, "when you shipped with me you promised that I should command. I can't afford to have the town about our ears."
"Oh, very well, if you put it that way," said Nick. "A little honest diversion—Pick up the bags, Benjy, and follow the parson."
Obeying Mademoiselle's directions, we trudged on until we came to a comfortable stone house surrounded by trees and set in a half-block bordered by a seven-foot paling. Hardly had we opened the gate when a tall gentleman of grave demeanor and sober dress rose from his seat on the porch, and I recognized my friend of Cahokia days, Monsieur Gratiot. He was a little more portly, his hair was dressed now in an eelskin, and he looked every inch the man of affairs that he was. He greeted us kindly and bade us come up on the porch, where he read my letter of introduction.
"Why," he exclaimed immediately, giving me a cordial grasp of the hand, "of course. The strategist, the John Law, the reader of character of Colonel Clark's army. Yes, and worse, the prophet, Mr. Ritchie."
"And why worse, sir?" I asked.
"You predicted that Congress would never repay me for the little loan I advanced to your Colonel."
"It was not such a little loan, Monsieur," I said.
"N'importe," said he; "I went to Richmond with my box of scrip and promissory notes, but I was not ill repaid. If I did not get my money, I acquired, at least, a host of distinguished acquaintances. But, Mr. Ritchie, you must introduce me to your friend."
"My cousin. Mr. Nicholas Temple," I said.
Monsieur Gratiot looked at him fixedly.
"Of the Charlestown Temples?" he asked, and a sudden vague fear seized me.
"Yes," said Nick, "there was once a family of that name."
"And now?" said Monsieur Gratiot, puzzled.
"Now," said Nick, "now they are become a worthless lot of refugees and outlaws, who by good fortune have escaped the gallows."
Before Monsieur Gratiot could answer, a child came running around the corner of the house and stood, surprised, staring at us. Nick made a face, stooped down, and twirled his finger. Shouting with a terrified glee, the boy fled to the garden path, Nick after him.
"I like Mr. Temple," said Monsieur Gratiot, smiling. "He is young, but he seems to have had a history."
"The Revolution ruined many families—his was one," I answered, with what firmness of tone I could muster. And then Nick came back, carrying the shouting youngster on his shoulders. At that instant a lady appeared in the doorway, leading another child, and we were introduced to Madame Gratiot.
"Gentlemen," said Monsieur Gratiot, "you must make my house your home. I fear your visit will not be as long as I could wish, Mr. Ritchie," he added, turning to me, "if Mr. Wharton correctly states your business. I have an engagement to have my furs in New Orleans by a certain time. I am late in loading, and as there is a moon I am sending off my boats to-morrow night. The men will have to work on Sunday."
"We were fortunate to come in such good season," I answered.
After a delicious supper of gumbo, a Creole dish, of fricassee, of creme brule, of red wine and fresh wild strawberries, we sat on the porch. The crickets chirped in the garden, the moon cast fantastic shadows from the pecan tree on the grass, while Nick, struggling with his French, talked to Madame Gratiot; and now and then their gay laughter made Monsieur Gratiot pause and smile as he talked to me of my errand. It seemed strange to me that a man who had lost so much by his espousal of our cause should still be faithful to the American republic. Although he lived in Louisiana, he had never renounced the American allegiance which he had taken at Cahokia. He regarded with no favor the pretensions of Spain toward Kentucky. And (remarkably enough) he looked forward even then to the day when Louisiana would belong to the republic. I exclaimed at this.
"Mr. Ritchie," said he, "the most casual student of your race must come to the same conclusion. You have seen for yourself how they have overrun and conquered Kentucky and the Cumberland districts, despite a hideous warfare waged by all the tribes. Your people will not be denied, and when they get to Louisiana, they will take it, as they take everything else."
He was a man strong in argument, was Monsieur Gratiot, for he loved it. And he beat me fairly.
"Nay," he said finally, "Spain might as well try to dam the Mississippi as to dam your commerce on it. As for France, I love her, though my people were exiled to Switzerland by the Edict of Nantes. But France is rotten through the prodigality of her kings and nobles, and she cannot hold Louisiana. The kingdom is sunk in debt." He cleared his throat. "As for this Wilkinson of whom you speak, I know something of him. I have no doubt that Miro pensions him, but I know Miro likewise, and you will obtain no proof of that. You will, however, discover in New Orleans many things of interest to your government and to the Federal party in Kentucky. Colonel Chouteau and I will give you letters to certain French gentlemen in New Orleans who can be trusted. There is Saint-Gre, for instance, who puts a French Louisiana into his prayers. He has never forgiven O'Reilly and his Spaniards for the murder of his father in sixty-nine. Saint-Gre is a good fellow,—a cousin of the present Marquis in France,—and his ancestors held many positions of trust in the colony under the French regime. He entertains lavishly at Les Iles, his plantation on the Mississippi. He has the gossip of New Orleans at his tongue's tip, and you will be suspected of nothing save a desire to amuse yourselves if you go there." He paused interrupted by the laughter of the others. "When strangers of note or of position drift here and pass on to New Orleans, I always give them letters to Saint-Gre. He has a charming daughter and a worthless son."
Monsieur Gratiot produced his tabatiere and took a pinch of snuff. I summoned my courage for the topic which had trembled all the evening on my lips.
"Some years ago, Monsieur Gratiot, a lady and a gentleman were rescued on the Wilderness Trail in Kentucky. They left us for St. Louis. Did they come here?"
Monsieur Gratiot leaned forward quickly.
"They were people of quality?" he demanded.
"And their name?"
"They—they did not say."
"It must have been the Clives," he cried "it can have been no other. Tell me—a woman still beautiful, commanding, of perhaps eight and thirty? A woman who had a sorrow?—a great sorrow, though we have never learned it. And Mr. Clive, a man of fashion, ill content too, and pining for the life of a capital?"
"Yes," I said eagerly, my voice sinking near to a whisper, "yes—it is they. And are they here?"
Monsieur Gratiot took another pinch of snuff. It seemed an age before he answered:—
"It is curious that you should mention them, for I gave them letters to New Orleans,—amongst others, to Saint-Gre. Mrs. Clive was—what shall I say?—haunted. Monsieur Clive talked of nothing but Paris, where they had lived once. And at last she gave in. They have gone there."
"To Paris?" I said, taking breath.
"Yes. It is more than a year ago," he continued, seeming not to notice my emotion; "they went by way of New Orleans, in one of Chouteau's boats. Mrs. Clive seemed a woman with a great sorrow."
"CHERCHEZ LA FEMME"
Sunday came with the soft haziness of a June morning, and the dew sucked a fresh fragrance from the blossoms and the grass. I looked out of our window at the orchard, all pink and white in the early sun, and across a patch of clover to the stone kitchen. A pearly, feathery smoke was wafted from the chimney, a delicious aroma of Creole coffee pervaded the odor of the blossoms, and a cotton-clad negro a pieds nus came down the path with two steaming cups and knocked at our door. He who has tasted Creole coffee will never forget it. The effect of it was lost upon Nick, for he laid down the cup, sighed, and promptly went to sleep again, while I dressed and went forth to make his excuses to the family. I found Monsieur and Madame with their children walking among the flowers. Madame laughed.
"He is charming, your cousin," said she. "Let him sleep, by all means, until after Mass. Then you must come with us to Madame Chouteau's, my mother's. Her children and grandchildren dine with her every Sunday."
"Madame Chouteau, my mother-in-law, is the queen regent of St. Louis, Mr. Ritchie," said Monsieur Gratiot, gayly. "We are all afraid of her, and I warn you that she is a very determined and formidable personage. She is the widow of the founder of St. Louis, the Sieur Laclede, although she prefers her own name. She rules us with a strong hand, dispenses justice, settles disputes, and—sometimes indulges in them herself. It is her right."
"You will see a very pretty French custom of submission to parents," said Madame Gratiot. "And afterwards there is a ball."
"A ball!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"It may seem very strange to you, Mr. Ritchie, but we believe that Sunday was made to enjoy. They will have time to attend the ball before you send them down the river?" she added mischievously, turning to her husband.
"Certainly," said he, "the loading will not be finished before eight o'clock."
Presently Madame Gratiot went off to Mass, while I walked with Monsieur Gratiot to a storehouse near the river's bank, whence the skins, neatly packed and numbered, were being carried to the boats on the sweating shoulders of the negroes, the half-breeds, and the Canadian boatmen,—bulky bales of yellow elk, from the upper plains of the Missouri, of buffalo and deer and bear, and priceless little packages of the otter and the beaver trapped in the green shade of the endless Northern forests, and brought hither in pirogues down the swift river by the red tribesmen and Canadian adventurers.
Afterwards I strolled about the silent village. Even the cabarets were deserted. A private of the Spanish Louisiana Regiment in a dirty uniform slouched behind the palings in front of the commandant's quarters,—a quaint stone house set against the hill, with dormer windows in its curving roof, with a wide porch held by eight sturdy hewn pillars; here and there the muffled figure of a prowling Indian loitered, or a barefooted negress shuffled along by the fence crooning a folk-song. All the world had obeyed the call of the church bell save these—and Nick. I bethought myself of Nick, and made my way back to Monsieur Gratiot's.
I found my cousin railing at Benjy, who had extracted from the saddle-bags a wondrous gray suit of London cut in which to array his master. Clothes became Nick's slim figure remarkably. This coat was cut away smartly, like a uniform, towards the tails, and was brought in at the waist with an infinite art.
"Whither now, my conquistador?" I said.
"To Mass," said he.
"To Mass!" I exclaimed; "but you have slept through the greater part of it."
"The best part is to come," said Nick, giving a final touch to his neck-band. Followed by Benjy's adoring eyes, he started out of the door, and I followed him perforce. We came to the little church, of upright logs and plaster, with its crudely shingled, peaked roof, with its tiny belfry crowned by a cross, with its porches on each side shading the line of windows there. Beside the church, a little at the back, was the cure's modest house of stone, and at the other hand, under spreading trees, the graveyard with its rough wooden crosses. And behind these graves rose the wooded hill that stretched away towards the wilderness.
What a span of life had been theirs who rested here! Their youth, perchance, had been spent amongst the crooked streets of some French village, streets lined by red-tiled houses and crossing limpid streams by quaint bridges. Death had overtaken them beside a monster tawny river of which their imaginations had not conceived, a river which draws tribute from the remote places of an unknown land,—a river, indeed, which, mixing all the waters, seemed to symbolize a coming race which was to conquer the land by its resistless flow, even as the Mississippi bore relentlessly towards the sea.
These were my own thoughts as I listened to the tones of the priest as they came, droningly, out of the door, while Nick was exchanging jokes in doubtful French with some half-breeds leaning against the palings. Then we heard benches scraping on the floor, and the congregation began to file out.
Those who reached the steps gave back, respectfully, and there came an elderly lady in a sober turban, a black mantilla wrapped tightly about her shoulders, and I made no doubt that she was Monsieur Gratiot's mother-in-law, Madame Chouteau, she whom he had jestingly called the queen regent. I was sure of this when I saw Madame Gratiot behind her. Madame Chouteau indeed had the face of authority, a high-bridged nose, a determined chin, a mouth that shut tightly. Madame Gratiot presented us to her mother, and as she passed on to the gate Madame Chouteau reminded us that we were to dine with her at two.
After her the congregation, the well-to-do and the poor alike, poured out of the church and spread in merry groups over the grass: keel boatmen in tow shirts and party-colored worsted belts, the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the farmer of a small plot in the common fields in large cotton pantaloons and light-wove camlet coat, the more favored in skull-caps, linen small-clothes, cotton stockings, and silver-buckled shoes,—every man pausing, dipping into his tabatiere, for a word with his neighbor. The women, too, made a picture strange to our eyes, the matrons in jacket and petticoat, a Madras handkerchief flung about their shoulders, the girls in fresh cottonade or calamanco.
All at once cries of "'Polyte! 'Polyte!" were heard, and a nimble young man with a jester-like face hopped around the corner of the church, trundling a barrel. Behind 'Polyte came two rotund little men perspiring freely, and laden down with various articles,—a bird-cage with two yellow birds, a hat-trunk, an inlaid card box, a roll of scarlet cloth, and I know not what else. They deposited these on the grass beside the barrel, which 'Polyte had set on end and proceeded to mount, encouraged by the shouts of his friends, who pressed around the barrel.
"It's an auction," I said.
But Nick did not hear me. I followed his glance to the far side of the circle, and my eye was caught by a red ribbon, a blush that matched it. A glance shot from underneath long lashes,—but not for me. Beside the girl, and palpably uneasy, stood the young man who had been called Gaspard.
"Ah," said I, "your angel of the tumbrel."
But Nick had pulled off his hat and was sweeping her a bow. The girl looked down, smoothing her ribbon, Gaspard took a step forward, and other young women near us tittered with delight. The voice of Hippolyte rolling his r's called out in a French dialect:—
"M'ssieurs et Mesdames, ce sont des effets d'un pauvre officier qui est mort. Who will buy?" He opened the hat-trunk, produced an antiquated beaver with a gold cord, and surveyed it with a covetousness that was admirably feigned. For 'Polyte was an actor. "M'ssieurs, to own such a hat were a patent of nobility. Am I bid twenty livres?"
There was a loud laughter, and he was bid four.
"Gaspard," cried the auctioneer, addressing the young man of the tumbrel, "Suzanne would no longer hesitate if she saw you in such a hat. And with the trunk, too. Ah, mon Dieu, can you afford to miss it?"
The crowd howled, Suzanne simpered, and Gaspard turned as pink as clover. But he was not to be bullied. The hat was sold to an elderly person, the red cloth likewise; a pot of grease went to a housewife, and there was a veritable scramble for the box of playing cards; and at last Hippolyte held up the wooden cage with the fluttering yellow birds.
"Ha!" he cried, his eyes on Gaspard once more, "a gentle present—a present to make a heart relent. And Monsieur Leon, perchance you will make a bid, although they are not gamecocks."
Instantly, from somewhere under the barrel, a cock crew. Even the yellow birds looked surprised, and as for 'Polyte, he nearly dropped the cage. One elderly person crossed himself. I looked at Nick. His face was impassive, but suddenly I remembered his boyhood gift, how he had imitated the monkeys, and I began to shake with inward laughter. There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Peste, c'est la magie!" said an old man at last, searching with an uncertain hand for his snuff.
"Monsieur," cried Nick to the auctioneer, "I will make a bid. But first you must tell me whether they are cocks or yellow birds."
"Parbleu," answered the puzzled Hippolyte, "that I do not know, Monsieur."
Everybody looked at Nick, including Suzanne.
"Very well," said he, "I will make a bid. And if they turn out to be gamecocks, I will fight them with Monsieur Leon behind the cabaret. Two livres!"
There was a laugh, as of relief.
"Three!" cried Gaspard, and his voice broke.
Hippolyte looked insulted.
"M'ssieurs," he shouted, "they are from the Canaries. Diable, un berger doit etre genereux."
Another laugh, and Gaspard wiped the perspiration from his face.
"Five!" said he.
"Six!" said Nick, and the villagers turned to him in wonderment. What could such a fine Monsieur want with two yellow birds?
"En avant, Gaspard," said Hippolyte, and Suzanne shot another barbed glance in our direction.
"Seven," muttered Gaspard.
"Eight!" said Nick, immediately.
"Nine," said Gaspard.
"Ten," said Nick.
"Ten," cried Hippolyte, "I am offered ten livres for the yellow birds. Une bagatelle! Onze, Gaspard! Onze! onze livres, pour l'amour de Suzanne!"
But Gaspard was silent. No appeals, entreaties, or taunts could persuade him to bid more. And at length Hippolyte, with a gesture of disdain, handed Nick the cage, as though he were giving it away.
"Monsieur," he said, "the birds are yours, since there are no more lovers who are worthy of the name. They do not exist."
"Monsieur," answered Nick, "it is to disprove that statement that I have bought the birds. Mademoiselle," he added, turning to the flushing Suzanne, "I pray that you will accept this present with every assurance of my humble regard."
Mademoiselle took the cage, and amidst the laughter of the village at the discomfiture of poor Gaspard, swept Nick a frightened courtesy,—one that nevertheless was full of coquetry. And at that instant, to cap the situation, a rotund little man with a round face under a linen biretta grasped Nick by the hand, and cried in painful but sincere English:—
"Monsieur, you mek my daughter ver' happy. She want those bird ever sence Captain Lopez he die. Monsieur, I am Jean Baptiste Lenoir, Colonel Chouteau's miller, and we ver' happy to see you at the pon'."
"If Monsieur will lead the way," said Nick, instantly, taking the little man by the arm.
"But you are to dine at Madame Chouteau's," I expostulated.
"To be sure," said he. "Au revoir, Monsieur. Au revoir, Mademoiselle. Plus tard, Mademoiselle; nous danserons plus tard."
"What devil inhabits you?" I said, when I had got him started on the way to Madame Chouteau's.
"Your own, at present, Davy," he answered, laying a hand on my shoulder, "else I should be on the way to the pon' with Lenoir. But the ball is to come," and he executed several steps in anticipation. "Davy, I am sorry for you."
"Why?" I demanded, though feeling a little self-commiseration also.
"You will never know how to enjoy yourself," said he, with conviction.
Madame Chouteau lived in a stone house, wide and low, surrounded by trees and gardens. It was a pretty tribute of respect her children and grandchildren paid her that day, in accordance with the old French usage of honoring the parent. I should like to linger on the scene, and tell how Nick made them all laugh over the story of Suzanne Lenoir and the yellow birds, and how the children pressed around him and made him imitate all the denizens of wood and field, amid deafening shrieks of delight.
"You have probably delayed Gaspard's wooing another year, Mr. Temple. Suzanne is a sad coquette," said Colonel Auguste Chouteau, laughing, as we set out for the ball.
The sun was hanging low over the western hills as we approached the barracks, and out of the open windows came the merry, mad sounds of violin, guitar, and flageolet, the tinkle of a triangle now and then, the shouts of laughter, the shuffle of many feet over the puncheons. Within the door, smiling and benignant, unmindful of the stifling atmosphere, sat the black-robed village priest talking volubly to an elderly man in a scarlet cap, and several stout ladies ranged along the wall: beyond them, on a platform, Zeron, the baker, fiddled as though his life depended on it, the perspiration dripping from his brow, frowning, gesticulating at them with the flageolet and the triangle. And in a dim, noisy, heated whirl the whole village went round and round and round under the low ceiling in the valse, young and old, rich and poor, high and low, the sound of their laughter and the scraping of their feet cut now and again by an agonized squeak from Zeron's fiddle. From time to time a staggering, panting couple would fling themselves out, help themselves liberally to pink sirop from the bowl on the side table, and then fling themselves in once more, until Zeron stopped from sheer exhaustion, to tune up for a pas de deux.
Across the room, by the sirop bowl, a pair of red ribbons flaunted, a pair of eyes sent a swift challenge, Zeron and his assistants struck up again, and there in a corner was Nick Temple, with characteristic effrontery attempting a pas de deux with Suzanne. Though Nick was ignorant, he was not ungraceful, and the village laughed and admired. And when Zeron drifted back into a valse he seized Suzanne's plump figure in his arms and bore her, unresisting, like a prize among the dancers, avoiding alike the fat and unwieldy, the clumsy and the spiteful. For a while the tune held its mad pace, and ended with a shriek and a snap on a high note, for Zeron had broken a string. Amid a burst of laughter from the far end of the room I saw Nick stop before an open window in which a prying Indian was framed, swing Suzanne at arm's length, and bow abruptly at the brave with a grunt that startled him into life.
"Va-t'en, mechant!" shrieked Suzanne, excitedly.
Poor Gaspard! Poor Hippolyte! They would gain Suzanne for a dance only to have her snatched away at the next by the slim and reckless young gentleman in the gray court clothes. Little Nick cared that the affair soon became the amusement of the company. From time to time, as he glided past with Suzanne on his shoulder, he nodded gayly to Colonel Chouteau or made a long face at me, and to save our souls we could not help laughing.
"The girl has met her match, for she has played shuttle-cock with all the hearts in the village," said Monsieur Chouteau. "But perhaps it is just as well that Mr. Temple is leaving to-night. I have signed a bond, Mr. Ritchie, by which you can obtain money at New Orleans. And do not forget to present our letter to Monsieur de Saint Gre. He has a daughter, by the way, who will be more of a match for your friend's fascinations than Suzanne."
The evening faded into twilight, with no signs of weariness from the dancers. And presently there stood beside us Jean Baptiste Lenoir, the Colonel's miller.
"B'soir, Monsieur le Colonel," he said, touching his skull-cap, "the water is very low. You fren'," he added, turning to me, "he stay long time in St. Louis?"
"He is going away to-night,—in an hour or so," I answered, with thanksgiving in my heart.
"I am sorry," said Monsieur Lenoir, politely, but his looks belied his words. "He is ver' fond Suzanne. Peut etre he marry her, but I think not. I come away from France to escape the fine gentlemen; long time ago they want to run off with my wife. She was like Suzanne."
"How long ago did you come from France, Monsieur?" I asked, to get away from an uncomfortable subject.
"It is twenty years," said he, dreamily, in French. "I was born in the Quartier Saint Jean, on the harbor of the city of Marseilles near Notre Dame de la Nativite." And he told of a tall, uneven house of four stories, with a high pitched roof, and a little barred door and window at the bottom giving out upon the rough cobbles. He spoke of the smell of the sea, of the rollicking sailors who surged through the narrow street to embark on his Majesty's men-of-war, and of the King's white soldiers in ranks of four going to foreign lands. And how he had become a farmer, the tenant of a country family. Excitement grew on him, and he mopped his brow with his blue rumal handkerchief.
"They desire all, the nobles," he cried, "I make the land good, and they seize it. I marry a pretty wife, and Monsieur le Comte he want her. L'bon Dieu," he added bitterly, relapsing into French. "France is for the King and the nobility, Monsieur. The poor have but little chance there. In the country I have seen the peasants eat roots, and in the city the poor devour the refuse from the houses of the rich. It was we who paid for their luxuries, and with mine own eyes I have seen their gilded coaches ride down weak men and women in the streets. But it cannot last. They will murder Louis and burn the great chateaux. I, who speak to you, am of the people, Monsieur, I know it."
The sun had long set, and with flint and tow they were touching the flame to the candles, which flickered transparent yellow in the deepening twilight. So absorbed had I become in listening to Lenoir's description that I had forgotten Nick. Now I searched for him among the promenading figures, and missed him. In vain did I seek for a glimpse of Suzanne's red ribbons, and I grew less and less attentive to the miller's reminiscences and arraignments of the nobility. Had Nick indeed run away with his daughter?
The dancing went on with unabated zeal, and through the open door in the fainting azure of the sky the summer moon hung above the hills like a great yellow orange. Striving to hide my uneasiness, I made my farewells to Madame Chouteau's sons and daughters and their friends, and with Colonel Chouteau I left the hall and began to walk towards Monsieur Gratiot's, hoping against hope that Nick had gone there to change. But we had scarce reached the road before we could see two figures in the distance, hazily outlined in the mid-light of the departed sun and the coming moon. The first was Monsieur Gratiot himself, the second Benjy. Monsieur Gratiot took me by the hand.
"I regret to inform you, Mr. Ritchie," said he, politely, "that my keel boats are loaded and ready to leave. Were you on any other errand I should implore you to stay with us."
"Is Temple at your house?" I asked faintly.
"Why, no," said Monsieur Gratiot; "I thought he was with you at the ball."
"Where is your master?" I demanded sternly of Benjy.
"I ain't seed him, Marse Dave, sence I put him inter dem fine clothes 'at he w'ars a-cou'tin'."
"He has gone off with the girl," put in Colonel Chouteau, laughing.
"But where?" I said, with growing anger at this lack of consideration on Nick's part.
"I'll warrant that Gaspard or Hippolyte Beaujais will know, if they can be found," said the Colonel. "Neither of them willingly lets the girl out of his sight."
As we hurried back towards the throbbing sounds of Zeron's fiddle I apologized as best I might to Monsieur Gratiot, declaring that if Nick were not found within the half-hour I would leave without him. My host protested that an hour or so would make no difference. We were about to pass through the group of loungers that loitered by the gate when the sound of rapid footsteps arrested us, and we turned to confront two panting and perspiring young men who halted beside us. One was Hippolyte Beaujais, more fantastic than ever as he faced the moon, and the other was Gaspard. They had plainly made a common cause, but it was Hippolyte who spoke.