SALUTE TO ADVENTURERS
TO MAJOR-GENERAL THE HON. SIR REGINALD TALBOT, K.C.B.
I tell of old Virginian ways; And who more fit my tale to scan Than you, who knew in far-off days The eager horse of Sheridan; Who saw the sullen meads of fate, The tattered scrub, the blood-drenched sod, Where Lee, the greatest of the great, Bent to the storm of God?
I tell lost tales of savage wars; And you have known the desert sands, The camp beneath the silver stars, The rush at dawn of Arab bands, The fruitless toil, the hopeless dream, The fainting feet, the faltering breath, While Gordon by the ancient stream Waited at ease on death.
And now, aloof from camp and field, You spend your sunny autumn hours Where the green folds of Chiltern shield The nooks of Thames amid the flowers: You who have borne that name of pride, In honour clean from fear or stain, Which Talbot won by Henry's side In vanquished Aquitaine.
The reader is asked to believe that most of the characters in this tale and many of the incidents have good historical warrant. The figure of Muckle John Gib will be familiar to the readers of Patrick Walker.
* * * * *
I. THE SWEET-SINGERS II. OF A HIGH-HANDED LADY III. THE CANONGATE TOLBOOTH IV. OF A STAIRHEAD AND A SEA-CAPTAIN V. MY FIRST COMING TO VIRGINIA VI. TELLS OF MY EDUCATION VII. I BECOME AN UNPOPULAR CHARACTER VIII. RED RINGAN IX. VARIOUS DOINGS IN THE SAVANNAH X. I HEAR AN OLD SONG XI. GRAVITY OUT OF BED XII. A WORD AT THE HARBOUR-SIDE XIII. I STUMBLE INTO A GREAT FOLLY XIV. A WILD WAGER XV. I GATHER THE CLANS XVI. THE FORD OF THE RAPIDAN XVII. I RETRACE MY STEPS XVIII. OUR ADVENTURE RECEIVES A RECRUIT XIX. CLEARWATER GLEN XX. THE STOCKADE AMONG THE PINES XXI. A HAWK SCREAMS IN THE EVENING XXII. HOW A FOOL MUST GO HIS OWN ROAD XXIII. THE HORN OF DIARMAID SOUNDS XXIV. I SUFFER THE HEATHEN'S RAGE XXV. EVENTS ON THE HILL-SIDE XXVI. SHALAH XXVII. HOW I STROVE ALL NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL XXVIII. HOW THREE SOULS FOUND THEIR HERITAGE
SALUTE TO ADVENTURERS.
When I was a child in short-coats a spaewife came to the town-end, and for a silver groat paid by my mother she riddled my fate. It came to little, being no more than that I should miss love and fortune in the sunlight and find them in the rain. The woman was a haggard, black-faced gipsy, and when my mother asked for more she turned on her heel and spoke gibberish; for which she was presently driven out of the place by Tarn Roberton, the baillie, and the village dogs. But the thing stuck in my memory, and together with the fact that I was a Thursday's bairn, and so, according to the old rhyme, "had far to go," convinced me long ere I had come to man's estate that wanderings and surprises would be my portion.
It is in the rain that this tale begins. I was just turned of eighteen, and in the back-end of a dripping September set out from our moorland house of Auchencairn to complete my course at Edinburgh College. The year was 1685, an ill year for our countryside; for the folk were at odds with the King's Government, about religion, and the land was full of covenants and repressions. Small wonder that I was backward with my colleging, and at an age when most lads are buckled to a calling was still attending the prelections of the Edinburgh masters. My father had blown hot and cold in politics, for he was fiery and unstable by nature, and swift to judge a cause by its latest professor. He had cast out with the Hamilton gentry, and, having broken the head of a dragoon in the change-house of Lesmahagow, had his little estate mulcted in fines. All of which, together with some natural curiosity and a family love of fighting, sent him to the ill-fated field of Bothwell Brig, from which he was lucky to escape with a bullet in the shoulder. Thereupon he had been put to the horn, and was now lying hid in a den in the mosses of Douglas Water. It was a sore business for my mother, who had the task of warding off prying eyes from our ragged household and keeping the fugitive in life. She was a Tweedside woman, as strong and staunch as an oak, and with a heart in her like Robert Bruce. And she was cheerful, too, in the worst days, and would go about the place with a bright eye and an old song on her lips. But the thing was beyond a woman's bearing; so I had perforce to forsake my colleging and take a hand with our family vexations. The life made me hard and watchful, trusting no man, and brusque and stiff towards the world. And yet all the while youth was working in me like yeast, so that a spring day or a west wind would make me forget my troubles and thirst to be about a kindlier business than skulking in a moorland dwelling.
My mother besought me to leave her. "What," she would say, "has young blood to do with this bickering of kirks and old wives' lamentations? You have to learn and see and do, Andrew. And it's time you were beginning." But I would not listen to her, till by the mercy of God we got my father safely forth of Scotland, and heard that he was dwelling snugly at Leyden in as great patience as his nature allowed. Thereupon I bethought me of my neglected colleging, and, leaving my books and plenishing to come by the Lanark carrier, set out on foot for Edinburgh.
The distance is only a day's walk for an active man, but I started late, and purposed to sleep the night at a cousin's house by Kirknewton. Often in bright summer days I had travelled the road, when the moors lay yellow in the sun and larks made a cheerful chorus. In such weather it is a pleasant road, with long prospects to cheer the traveller, and kindly ale-houses to rest his legs in. But that day it rained as if the floodgates of heaven had opened. When I crossed Clyde by the bridge at Hyndford the water was swirling up to the key-stone. The ways were a foot deep in mire, and about Carnwath the bog had overflowed and the whole neighbourhood swam in a loch. It was pitiful to see the hay afloat like water-weeds, and the green oats scarcely showing above the black floods. In two minutes after starting I was wet to the skin, and I thanked Providence I had left my little Dutch Horace behind me in the book-box. By three in the afternoon I was as unkempt as any tinker, my hair plastered over my eyes, and every fold of my coat running like a gutter.
Presently the time came for me to leave the road and take the short-cut over the moors; but in the deluge, where the eyes could see no more than a yard or two into a grey wall of rain, I began to misdoubt my knowledge of the way. On the left I saw a stone dovecot and a cluster of trees about a gateway; so, knowing how few and remote were the dwellings on the moorland, I judged it wiser to seek guidance before I strayed too far.
The place was grown up with grass and sore neglected. Weeds made a carpet on the avenue, and the dykes were broke by cattle at a dozen places. Suddenly through the falling water there stood up the gaunt end of a house. It was no cot or farm, but a proud mansion, though badly needing repair. A low stone wall bordered a pleasance, but the garden had fallen out of order, and a dial-stone lay flat on the earth.
My first thought was that the place was tenantless, till I caught sight of a thin spire of smoke struggling against the downpour. I hoped to come on some gardener or groom from whom I could seek direction, so I skirted the pleasance to find the kitchen door. A glow of fire in one of the rooms cried welcome to my shivering bones, and on the far side of the house I found signs of better care. The rank grasses had been mown to make a walk, and in a corner flourished a little group of pot-herbs. But there was no man to be seen, and I was about to retreat and try the farm-town, when out of the doorway stepped a girl.
She was maybe sixteen years old, tall and well-grown, but of her face I could see little, since she was all muffled in a great horseman's cloak. The hood of it covered her hair, and the wide flaps were folded over her bosom. She sniffed the chill wind, and held her head up to the rain, and all the while, in a clear childish voice, she was singing.
It was a song I had heard, one made by the great Montrose, who had suffered shameful death in Edinburgh thirty years before. It was a man's song, full of pride and daring, and not for the lips of a young maid. But that hooded girl in the wild weather sang it with a challenge and a fire that no cavalier could have bettered.
"My dear and only love, I pray That little world of thee Be governed by no other sway Than purest monarchy."
"For if confusion have a part, Which virtuous souls abhor, And hold a synod in thy heart, I'll never love thee more."
So she sang, like youth daring fortune to give it aught but the best. The thing thrilled me, so that I stood gaping. Then she looked aside and saw me.
"Your business, man?" she cried, with an imperious voice.
I took off my bonnet, and made an awkward bow.
"Madam, I am on my way to Edinburgh," I stammered, for I was mortally ill at ease with women. "I am uncertain of the road in this weather, and come to beg direction."
"You left the road three miles back," she said.
"But I am for crossing the moors," I said.
She pushed back her hood and looked at me with laughing eyes, I saw how dark those eyes were, and how raven black her wandering curls of hair.
"You have come to the right place," she cried. "I can direct you as well as any Jock or Sandy about the town. Where are you going to?"
I said Kirknewton for my night's lodging.
"Then march to the right, up by yon planting, till you come to the Howe Burn. Follow it to the top, and cross the hill above its well-head. The wind is blowing from the east, so keep it on your right cheek. That will bring you to the springs of the Leith Water, and in an hour or two from there you will be back on the highroad."
She used a manner of speech foreign to our parts, but very soft and pleasant in the ear. I thanked her, clapped on my dripping bonnet, and made for the dykes beyond the garden. Once I looked back, but she had no further interest in me. In the mist I could see her peering once more skyward, and through the drone of the deluge came an echo of her song.
"I'll serve thee in such noble ways, As never man before; I'll deck and crown thy head with bays, And love thee more and more."
The encounter cheered me greatly, and lifted the depression which the eternal drizzle had settled on my spirits. That bold girl singing a martial ballad to the storm and taking pleasure in the snellness of the air, was like a rousing summons or a cup of heady wine. The picture ravished my fancy. The proud dark eye, the little wanton curls peeping from the hood, the whole figure alert with youth and life—they cheered my recollection as I trod that sour moorland. I tried to remember her song, and hummed it assiduously till I got some kind of version, which I shouted in my tuneless voice. For I was only a young lad, and my life had been bleak and barren. Small wonder that the call of youth set every fibre of me a-quiver.
I had done better to think of the road. I found the Howe Burn readily enough, and scrambled up its mossy bottom. By this time the day was wearing late, and the mist was deepening into the darker shades of night. It is an eery business to be out on the hills at such a season, for they are deathly quiet except for the lashing of the storm. You will never hear a bird cry or a sheep bleat or a weasel scream. The only sound is the drum of the rain on the peat or its plash on a boulder, and the low surge of the swelling streams. It is the place and time for dark deeds, for the heart grows savage; and if two enemies met in the hollow of the mist only one would go away.
I climbed the hill above the Howe burn-head, keeping the wind on my right cheek as the girl had ordered. That took me along a rough ridge of mountain pitted with peat-bogs into which I often stumbled. Every minute I expected to descend and find the young Water of Leith, but if I held to my directions I must still mount. I see now that the wind must have veered to the south-east, and that my plan was leading me into the fastnesses of the hills; but I would have wandered for weeks sooner than disobey the word of the girl who sang in the rain. Presently I was on a steep hill-side, which I ascended only to drop through a tangle of screes and jumper to the mires of a great bog. When I had crossed this more by luck than good guidance, I had another scramble on the steeps where the long, tough heather clogged my footsteps.
About eight o'clock I awoke to the conviction that I was hopelessly lost, and must spend the night in the wilderness. The rain still fell unceasingly through the pit-mirk, and I was as sodden and bleached as the bent I trod on. A night on the hills had no terrors for me; but I was mortally cold and furiously hungry, and my temper grew bitter against the world. I had forgotten the girl and her song, and desired above all things on earth a dry bed and a chance of supper.
I had been plunging and slipping in the dark mosses for maybe two hours when, looking down from a little rise, I caught a gleam of light. Instantly my mood changed to content. It could only be a herd's cottage, where I might hope for a peat fire, a bicker of brose, and, at the worst, a couch of dry bracken.
I began to run, to loosen my numbed limbs, and presently fell headlong over a little scaur into a moss-hole. When I crawled out, with peat plastering my face and hair, I found I had lost my notion of the light's whereabouts. I strove to find another hillock, but I seemed now to be in a flat space of bog. I could only grope blindly forwards away from the moss-hole, hoping that soon I might come to a lift in the hill.
Suddenly from the distance of about half a mile there fell on my ears the most hideous wailing. It was like the cats on a frosty night; it was like the clanging of pots in a tinker's cart; and it would rise now and then to a shriek of rhapsody such as I have heard at field-preachings. Clearly the sound was human, though from what kind of crazy human creature I could not guess. Had I been less utterly forwandered and the night less wild, I think I would have sped away from it as fast as my legs had carried me. But I had little choice. After all, I reflected, the worst bedlamite must have food and shelter, and, unless the gleam had been a will-o'-the-wisp, I foresaw a fire. So I hastened in the direction of the noise.
I came on it suddenly in a hollow of the moss. There stood a ruined sheepfold, and in the corner of two walls some plaids had been stretched to make a tent. Before this burned a big fire of heather roots and bog-wood, which hissed and crackled in the rain. Round it squatted a score of women, with plaids drawn tight over their heads, who rocked and moaned like a flight of witches, and two—three men were on their knees at the edge of the ashes. But what caught my eye was the figure that stood before the tent. It was a long fellow, who held his arms to heaven, and sang in a great throaty voice the wild dirge I had been listening to. He held a book in one hand, from which he would pluck leaves and cast them on the fire, and at every burnt-offering a wail of ecstasy would go up from the hooded women and kneeling men. Then with a final howl he hurled what remained of his book into the flames, and with upraised hands began some sort of prayer.
I would have fled if I could; but Providence willed it otherwise. The edge of the bank on which I stood had been rotted by the rain, and the whole thing gave under my feet. I slithered down into the sheepfold, and pitched headforemost among the worshipping women. And at that, with a yell, the long man leaped over the fire and had me by the throat.
My bones were too sore and weary to make resistance. He dragged me to the ground before the tent, while the rest set up a skirling that deafened my wits. There he plumped me down, and stood glowering at me like a cat with a sparrow.
"Who are ye, and what do ye here, disturbing the remnant of Israel?" says he.
I had no breath in me to speak, so one of the men answered.
"Some gangrel body, precious Mr. John," he said.
"Nay," said another; "it's a spy o' the Amalekites."
"It's a herd frae Linton way," spoke up a woman. "He favours the look of one Zebedee Linklater."
The long man silenced her. "The word of the Lord came unto His prophet Gib, saying, Smite and spare not, for the cup of the abominations of Babylon is now full. The hour cometh, yea, it is at hand, when the elect of the earth, meaning me and two—three others, will be enthroned above the Gentiles, and Dagon and Baal will be cast down. Are ye still in the courts of bondage, young man, or seek ye the true light which the Holy One of Israel has vouchsafed to me, John Gib, his unworthy prophet?"
Now I knew into what rabble I had strayed. It was the company who called themselves the Sweet-Singers, led by one Muckle John Gib, once a mariner of Borrowstoneness-on-Forth. He had long been a thorn in the side of the preachers, holding certain strange heresies that discomforted even the wildest of the hill-folk. They had clapped him into prison; but the man, being three parts mad had been let go, and ever since had been making strife in the westland parts of Clydesdale. I had heard much of him, and never any good. It was his way to draw after him a throng of demented women, so that the poor, draggle-tailed creatures forgot husband and bairns and followed him among the mosses. There were deeds of violence and blood to his name, and the look of him was enough to spoil a man's sleep. He was about six and a half feet high, with a long, lean head and staring cheek bones. His brows grew like bushes, and beneath glowed his evil and sunken eyes. I remember that he had monstrous long arms, which hung almost to his knees, and a great hairy breast which showed through a rent in his seaman's jerkin. In that strange place, with the dripping spell of night about me, and the fire casting weird lights and shadows, he seemed like some devil of the hills awakened by magic from his ancient grave.
But I saw it was time for me to be speaking up.
"I am neither gangrel, nor spy, nor Amalekite, nor yet am I Zebedee Linklater. My name is Andrew Garvald, and I have to-day left my home to make my way to Edinburgh College. I tried a short road in the mist, and here I am."
"Nay, but what seek ye?" cried Muckle John. "The Lord has led ye to our company by His own good way. What seek ye? I say again, and yea, a third time."
"I go to finish my colleging," I said.
He laughed a harsh, croaking laugh. "Little ye ken, young man. We travel to watch the surprising judgment which is about to overtake the wicked city of Edinburgh. An angel hath revealed it to me in a dream. Fire and brimstone will descend upon it as on Sodom and Gomorrah, and it will be consumed and wither away, with its cruel Ahabs and its painted Jezebels, its subtle Doegs and its lying Balaams, its priests and its judges, and its proud men of blood, its Bible-idolaters and its false prophets, its purple and damask, its gold and its fine linen, and it shall be as Tyre and Sidon, so that none shall know the site thereof. But we who follow the Lord and have cleansed His word from human abominations, shall leap as he-goats upon the mountains, and enter upon the heritage of the righteous from Beth-peor even unto the crossings of Jordan."
In reply to this rigmarole I asked for food, since my head was beginning to swim from my long fast. This, to my terror, put him into a great rage.
"Ye are carnally minded, like the rest of them. Ye will get no fleshly provender here; but if ye be not besotted in your sins ye shall drink of the Water of Life that floweth freely and eat of the honey and manna of forgiveness."
And then he appeared to forget my very existence. He fell into a sort of trance, with his eyes fixed on vacancy. There was a dead hush in the place, nothing but the crackle of the fire and the steady drip of the rain. I endured it as well as I might, for though my legs were sorely cramped, I did not dare to move an inch.
After nigh half an hour he seemed to awake. "Peace be with you," he said to his followers. "It is the hour for sleep and prayer. I, John Gib, will wrestle all night for your sake, as Jacob strove with the angel." With that he entered the tent.
No one spoke to me, but the ragged company sought each their sleeping-place. A woman with a kindly face jogged me on the elbow, and from the neuk of her plaid gave me a bit of oatcake and a piece of roasted moorfowl. This made my supper, with a long drink from a neighbouring burn. None hindered my movements, so, liking little the smell of wet, uncleanly garments which clung around the fire, I made my bed in a heather bush in the lee of a boulder, and from utter weariness fell presently asleep.
OF A HIGH-HANDED LADY.
The storm died away in the night, and I awoke to a clear, rain-washed world and the chill of an autumn morn. I was as stiff and sore as if I had been whipped, my clothes were sodden and heavy, and not till I had washed my face and hands in the burn and stretched my legs up the hill-side did I feel restored to something of my ordinary briskness.
The encampment looked weird indeed as seen in the cruel light of day. The women were cooking oatmeal on iron girdles, but the fire burned smokily, and the cake I got was no better than dough. They were a disjaskit lot, with tousled hair and pinched faces, in which shone hungry eyes. Most were barefoot, and all but two—three were ancient beldames who should have been at home in the chimney corner. I noticed one decent-looking young woman, who had the air of a farm servant; and two were well-fed country wives who had probably left a brood of children to mourn them. The men were little better. One had the sallow look of a weaver, another was a hind with a big, foolish face, and there was a slip of a lad who might once have been a student of divinity. But each had a daftness in the eye and something weak and unwholesome in the visage, so that they were an offence to the fresh, gusty moorland.
All but Muckle John himself. He came out of his tent and prayed till the hill-sides echoed. It was a tangle of bedlamite ravings, with long screeds from the Scriptures intermixed like currants in a bag-pudding. But there was power in the creature, in the strange lift of his voice, in his grim jowl, and in the fire of his sombre eyes. The others I pitied, but him I hated and feared. On him and his kind were to be blamed all the madness of the land, which had sent my father overseas and desolated our dwelling. So long as crazy prophets preached brimstone and fire, so long would rough-shod soldiers and cunning lawyers profit by their folly; and often I prayed in those days that the two evils might devour each other.
It was time that I was cutting loose from this ill-omened company and continuing my road Edinburgh-wards. We were lying in a wide trough of the Pentland Hills, which I well remembered. The folk of the plains called it the Cauldstaneslap, and it made an easy path for sheep and cattle between the Lothians and Tweeddale. The camp had been snugly chosen, for, except by the gleam of a fire in the dark, it was invisible from any distance. Muckle John was so filled with his vapourings that I could readily slip off down the burn and join the southern highway at the village of Linton.
I was on the verge of going when I saw that which pulled me up. A rider was coming over the moor. The horse leaped the burn lightly, and before I could gather my wits was in the midst of the camp, where Muckle John was vociferating to heaven.
My heart gave a great bound, for I saw it was the girl who had sung to me in the rain. She rode a fine sorrel, with the easy seat of a skilled horsewoman. She was trimly clad in a green riding-coat, and over the lace collar of it her hair fell in dark, clustering curls. Her face was grave, like a determined child's; but the winds of the morning had whipped it to a rosy colour, so that into that clan of tatterdemalions she rode like Proserpine descending among the gloomy Shades. In her hand she carried a light riding-whip.
A scream from the women brought Muckle John out of his rhapsodies. He stared blankly at the slim girl who confronted him with hand on hip.
"What seekest thou here, thou shameless woman?" he roared.
"I am come," said she, "for my tirewoman, Janet Somerville, who left me three days back without a reason. Word was brought me that she had joined a mad company called the Sweet-Singers, that lay at the Cauldstaneslap. Janet's a silly body, but she means no ill, and her mother is demented at the loss of her. So I have come for Janet."
Her cool eyes ran over the assembly till they lighted on the one I had already noted as more decent-like than the rest. At the sight of the girl the woman bobbed a curtsy.
"Come out of it, silly Janet," said she on the horse; "you'll never make a Sweet-Singer, for there's not a notion of a tune in your head."
"It's not singing that I seek, my leddy," said the woman, blushing. "I follow the call o' the Lord by the mouth o' His servant, John Gib."
"You'll follow the call of your mother by the mouth of me, Elspeth Blair. Forget these havers, Janet, and come back like a good Christian soul. Mount and be quick. There's room behind me on Bess."
The words were spoken in a kindly, wheedling tone, and the girl's face broke into the prettiest of smiles. Perhaps Janet would have obeyed, but Muckle John, swift to prevent defection, took up the parable.
"Begone, ye daughter of Heth!" he bellowed, "ye that are like the devils that pluck souls from the way of salvation. Begone, or it is strongly borne in upon me that ye will dree the fate of the women of Midian, of whom it is written that they were slaughtered and spared not."
The girl did not look his way. She had her coaxing eyes on her halting maid. "Come, Janet, woman," she said again. "It's no job for a decent lass to be wandering at the tail of a crazy warlock."
The word roused Muckle John to fury. He sprang forward, caught the sorrel's bridle, and swung it round. The girl did not move, but looked him square in the face, the young eyes fronting his demoniac glower. Then very swiftly her arm rose, and she laid the lash of her whip roundly over his shoulders.
The man snarled like a beast, leaped back and plucked from his seaman's belt a great horse-pistol. I heard the click of it cocking, and the next I knew it was levelled at the girl's breast. The sight of her and the music of her voice had so enthralled me that I had made no plan as to my own conduct. But this sudden peril put fire into my heels, and in a second I was at his side. I had brought from home a stout shepherd's staff, with which I struck the muzzle upwards. The pistol went off in a great stench of powder, but the bullet wandered to the clouds.
Muckle John let the thing fall into the moss, and plucked another weapon from his belt. This was an ugly knife, such as a cobbler uses for paring hides. I knew the seaman's trick of throwing, having seen their brawls at the pier of Leith, and I had no notion for the steel in my throat. The man was far beyond me in size and strength, so I dared not close with him. Instead, I gave him the point of my staff with all my power straight in the midriff. The knife slithered harmlessly over my shoulder, and he fell backwards into the heather.
There was no time to be lost, for the whole clan came round me like a flock of daws. One of the men, the slim lad, had a pistol, but I saw by the way he handled it that it was unprimed. I was most afraid of the women, who with their long claws would have scratched my eyes out, and I knew they would not spare the girl. To her I turned anxiously, and, to my amazement, she was laughing. She recognized me, for she cried out, "Is this the way to Kirknewton, sir?" And all the time she shook with merriment. In that hour I thought her as daft as the Sweet-Singers, whose nails were uncommonly near my cheek.
I got her bridle, tumbled over the countryman with a kick, and forced her to the edge of the sheepfold. But she wheeled round again, crying, "I must have Janet," and faced the crowd with her whip. That was well enough, but I saw Muckle John staggering to his feet, and I feared desperately for his next move. The girl was either mad or extraordinarily brave.
"Get back, you pitiful knaves," she cried. "Lay a hand on me, and I will cut you to ribbons. Make haste, Janet, and quit this folly."
It was gallant talk, but there was no sense in it. Muckle John was on his feet, half the clan had gone round to our rear, and in a second or two she would have been torn from the saddle. A headstrong girl was beyond my management, and my words of entreaty were lost in the babel of cries.
But just then there came another sound. From the four quarters of the moor there closed in upon us horsemen. They came silently and were about us before I had a hint of their presence. It was a troop of dragoons in the king's buff and scarlet, and they rode us down as if we had been hares in a field. The next I knew of it I was sprawling on the ground with a dizzy head, and horses trampling around me, I had a glimpse of Muckle John with a pistol at his nose, and the sorrel curveting and plunging in a panic. Then I bethought myself of saving my bones, and crawled out of the mellay behind the sheepfold.
Presently I realized that this was the salvation I had been seeking. Gib was being pinioned, and two of the riders were speaking with the girl. The women hung together like hens in a storm, while the dragoons laid about them with the flat of their swords. There was one poor creature came running my way, and after her followed on foot a long fellow, who made clutches at her hair. He caught her with ease, and proceeded to bind her hands with great brutality.
"Ye beldame," he said, with many oaths, "I'll pare your talons for ye."
Now I, who a minute before had been in danger from this very crew, was smitten with a sudden compunction. Except for Muckle John, they were so pitifully feeble, a pack of humble, elderly folk, worn out with fasting and marching and ill weather. I had been sickened by their crazy devotions, but I was more sickened by this man's barbarity. It was the woman, too, who had given me food the night before.
So I stepped out, and bade the man release her.
He was a huge, sunburned ruffian, and for answer aimed a clour at my head. "Take that, my mannie," he said. "I'll learn ye to follow the petticoats."
His scorn put me into a fury, in which anger at his brutishness and the presence of the girl on the sorrel moved my pride to a piece of naked folly. I flew at his throat, and since I had stood on a little eminence, the force of my assault toppled him over. My victory lasted scarcely a minute. He flung me from him like a feather, then picked me up and laid on to me with the flat of his sword.
"Ye thrawn jackanapes," he cried, as he beat me. "Ye'll pay dear for playing your pranks wi' John Donald."
I was a child in his mighty grasp, besides having no breath left in me to resist. He tied my hands and legs, haled me to his horse, and flung me sack-like over the crupper. There was no more shamefaced lad in the world than me at that moment, for coming out of the din I heard a girl's light laughter.
THE CANONGATE TOLBOOTH.
"Never daunton youth" was, I remember, a saying of my grandmother's; but it was the most dauntoned youth in Scotland that now jogged over the moor to the Edinburgh highroad. I had a swimming head, and a hard crupper to grate my ribs at every movement, and my captor would shift me about with as little gentleness as if I had been a bag of oats for his horse's feed. But it was the ignominy of the business that kept me on the brink of tears. First, I was believed to be one of the maniac company of the Sweet-Singers, whom my soul abhorred; item, I had been worsted by a trooper with shameful ease, so that my manhood cried out against me. Lastly, I had cut the sorriest figure in the eyes of that proud girl. For a moment I had been bold, and fancied myself her saviour, but all I had got by it was her mocking laughter.
They took us down from the hill to the highroad a little north of Linton village, where I was dumped on the ground, my legs untied, and my hands strapped to a stirrup leather. The women were given a country cart to ride in, and the men, including Muckle John, had to run each by a trooper's leg. The girl on the sorrel had gone, and so had the maid Janet, for I could not see her among the dishevelled wretches in the cart. The thought of that girl filled me with bitter animosity. She must have known that I was none of Gib's company, for had I not risked my life at the muzzle of his pistol? I had taken her part as bravely as I knew how, but she had left me to be dragged to Edinburgh without a word. Women had never come much my way, but I had a boy's distrust of the sex; and as I plodded along the highroad, with every now and then a cuff from a trooper's fist to cheer me, I had hard thoughts of their heartlessness.
We were a pitiful company as, in the bright autumn sun, we came in by the village of Liberton, to where the reek of Edinburgh rose straight into the windless weather. The women in the cart kept up a continual lamenting, and Muckle John, who walked between two dragoons with his hands tied to the saddle of each, so that he looked like a crucified malefactor, polluted the air with hideous profanities. He cursed everything in nature and beyond it, and no amount of clouts on the head would stem the torrent. Sometimes he would fall to howling like a wolf, and folk ran to their cottage doors to see the portent. Groups of children followed us from every wayside clachan, so that we gave great entertainment to the dwellers in Lothian that day. The thing infuriated the dragoons, for it made them a laughing-stock, and the sins of Gib were visited upon the more silent prisoners. We were hurried along at a cruel pace, so that I had often to run to avoid the dragging at my wrists, and behind us bumped the cart full of wailful women. I was sick from fatigue and lack of food, and the South Port of Edinburgh was a welcome sight to me. Welcome, and yet shameful, for I feared at any moment to see the face of a companion in the jeering crowd that lined the causeway. I thought miserably of my pleasant lodgings in the Bow, where my landlady, Mistress Macvittie, would be looking at the boxes the Lanark carrier had brought, and be wondering what had become of their master. I saw no light for myself in the business. My father's ill-repute with the Government would tell heavily in my disfavour, and it was beyond doubt that I had assaulted a dragoon. There was nothing before me but the plantations or a long spell in some noisome prison.
The women were sent to the House of Correction to be whipped and dismissed, for there was little against them but foolishness; all except one, a virago called Isobel Bone, who was herded with the men. The Canongate Tolbooth was our portion, the darkest and foulest of the city prisons; and presently I found myself forced through a gateway and up a narrow staircase, into a little chamber in which a score of beings were already penned. A small unglazed window with iron bars high up on one wall gave us such light and air as was going, but the place reeked with human breathing, and smelled as rank as a kennel. I have a delicate nose, and I could not but believe on my entrance that an hour of such a hole would be the death of me. Soon the darkness came, and we were given a tallow dip in a horn lantern hung on a nail to light us to food. Such food I had never dreamed of. There was a big iron basin of some kind of broth, made, as I judged, from offal, from which we drank in pannikins; and with it were hunks of mildewed rye-bread. One mouthful sickened me, and I preferred to fast. The behaviour of the other prisoners was most seemly, but not so that of my company. They scrambled for the stuff like pigs round a trough, and the woman Isobel threatened with her nails any one who would prevent her. I was black ashamed to enter prison with such a crew, and withdrew myself as far distant as the chamber allowed me.
I had no better task than to look round me at those who had tenanted the place before our coming. There were three women, decent-looking bodies, who talked low in whispers and knitted. The men were mostly countryfolk, culled, as I could tell by their speech, from the west country, whose only fault, no doubt, was that they had attended some field-preaching. One old man, a minister by his dress, sat apart on a stone bench, and with closed eyes communed with himself. I ventured to address him, for in that horrid place he had a welcome air of sobriety and sense.
He asked me for my story, and when he heard it looked curiously at Muckle John, who was now reciting gibberish in a corner.
"So that is the man Gib," he said musingly. "I have heard tell of him, for he was a thorn in the flesh of blessed Mr. Cargill. Often have I heard him repeat how he went to Gib in the moors to reason with him in the Lord's name, and got nothing but a mouthful of devilish blasphemies. He is without doubt a child of Belial, as much as any proud persecutor. Woe is the Kirk, when her foes shall be of her own household, for it is with the words of the Gospel that he seeks to overthrow the Gospel work. And how is it with you, my son? Do you seek to add your testimony to the sweet savour which now ascends from moors, mosses, peat-bogs, closes, kennels, prisons, dungeons, ay, and scaffolds in this distressed land of Scotland? You have not told me your name."
When he heard it he asked for my father, whom he had known in old days at Edinburgh College. Then he inquired into my religious condition with so much fatherly consideration that I could take no offence, but told him honestly that I was little of a partisan, finding it hard enough to keep my own feet from temptation without judging others. "I am weary," I said, "of all covenants and resolutions and excommunications and the constraining of men's conscience either by Government or sectaries. Some day, and I pray that it may be soon, both sides will be dead of their wounds, and there will arise in Scotland men who will preach peace and tolerance, and heal the grievously irritated sores of this land."
He sighed as he heard me. "I fear you are still far from grace, lad," he said. "You are shaping for a Laodicean, of whom there are many in these latter times. I do not know. It may be that God wills that the Laodiceans have their day, for the fires of our noble covenant have flamed too smokily. Yet those fires die not, and sometime they will kindle up, purified and strengthened, and will burn the trash and stubble and warm God's feckless people."
He was so old and gentle that I had no heart for disputation, and could only beseech his blessing. This he gave me and turned once more to his devotions. I was very weary, my head was splitting with the foul air of the place, and I would fain have got me to sleep. Some dirty straw had been laid round the walls of the room for the prisoners to lie on, and I found a neuk close by the minister's side.
But sleep was impossible, for Muckle John got another fit of cursing He stood up by the door with his eyes blazing like a wild-cat's, and delivered what he called his "testimony." His voice had been used to shout orders on shipboard, and not one of us could stop his ears against it. Never have I heard such a medley of profane nonsense. He cursed the man Charles Stuart, and every councillor by name; he cursed the Persecutors, from his Highness of York down to one Welch of Borrowstoneness, who had been the means of his first imprisonment; he cursed the indulged and tolerated ministers; and he cursed every man of the hill-folk whose name he could remember. He testified against all dues and cesses, against all customs and excises, taxes and burdens; against beer and ale and wines and tobacco; against mumming and peep-shows and dancing, and every sort of play; against Christmas and Easter and Pentecost and Hogmanay. Then most nobly did he embark on theology. He made short work of hell and shorter work of heaven. He raved against idolaters of the Kirk and of the Bible, and against all preachers who, by his way of it, had perverted the Word. As he went on, I began to fancy that Muckle John's true place was with the Mussulmans, for he left not a stick of Christianity behind him.
Such blasphemy on the open hill-side had been shocking enough, but in that narrow room it was too horrid to be borne. The minister stuck his fingers in his ears, and, advancing to the maniac, bade him be silent before God should blast him. But what could his thin old voice do against Gib's bellowing? The mariner went on undisturbed, and gave the old man a blow with his foot which sent him staggering to the floor.
The thing had become too much for my temper. I cried on the other men to help me, but none stirred, for Gib seemed to cast an unholy spell on ordinary folk. But my anger and discomfort banished all fear, and I rushed at the prophet in a whirlwind. He had no eyes for my coming till my head took him fairly in the middle, and drove the breath out of his chest. That quieted his noise, and he turned on me with something like wholesome human wrath in his face.
Now, I was no match for this great being with my ungrown strength, but the lesson of my encounter with the dragoon was burned on my mind, and I was determined to keep out of grips with him. I was light on my feet, and in our country bouts had often worsted a heavier antagonist by my quickness in movement. So when Muckle John leaped to grab me, I darted under his arm, and he staggered half-way across the room. The women scuttled into a corner, all but the besom Isobel, who made clutches at my coat.
Crying "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," Gib made a great lunge at me with his fist. But the sword of Gideon missed its aim, and skinned its knuckles on the stone wall. I saw now to my great comfort that the man was beside himself with fury, and was swinging his arms wildly like a flail. Three or four times I avoided his rushes, noting with satisfaction that one of the countrymen had got hold of the shrieking Isobel. Then my chance came, for as he lunged I struck from the side with all my force on his jaw. I am left-handed, and the blow was unlocked for. He staggered back a step, and I deftly tripped him up, so that he fell with a crash on the hard floor.
In a second I was on the top of him, shouting to the others to lend me a hand. This they did at last, and so mazed was he with the fall, being a mighty heavy man, that he scarcely resisted. "If you want a quiet night," I cried, "we must silence this mountebank." With three leathern belts, one my own and two borrowed, we made fast his feet and arms, I stuffed a kerchief into his mouth, and bound his jaws with another, but not so tight as to hinder his breathing. Then we rolled him into a corner where he lay peacefully making the sound of a milch cow chewing her cud. I returned to my quarters by the minister's side, and presently from utter weariness fell into an uneasy sleep.
* * * * *
I woke in the morning greatly refreshed for all the closeness of the air, and, the memory of the night's events returning, was much concerned as to the future. I could not be fighting with Muckle John all the time, and I made no doubt that once his limbs were freed he would try to kill me. The others were still asleep while I tiptoed over to his corner. At first sight I got a fearsome shock, for I thought he was dead of suffocation. He had worked the gag out of his mouth, and lay as still as a corpse. But soon I saw that he was sleeping quietly, and in his slumbers the madness had died out of his face. He looked like any other sailorman, a trifle ill-favoured of countenance, and dirty beyond the ordinary of sea-folk.
When the gaoler came with food, we all wakened up, and Gib asked very peaceably to be released. The gaoler laughed at his predicament, and inquired the tale of it; and when he heard the truth, called for a vote as to what he should do. I was satisfied, from the look of Muckle John, that his dangerous fit was over, so I gave my voice for release. Gib shook himself like a great dog, and fell to his breakfast without a word. I found the thin brose provided more palatable than the soup of the evening before, and managed to consume a pannikin of it. As I finished, I perceived that Gib had squatted by my side. There was clearly some change in the man, for he gave the woman Isobel some very ill words when she started ranting.
Up in the little square of window one could see a patch of clear sky, with white clouds crossing it, and a gust of the clean air of morning was blown into our cell. Gib sat looking at it with his eyes abstracted, so that I feared a renewal of his daftness.
"Can ye whistle 'Jenny Nettles,' sir?" he asked me civilly.
It was surely a queer request in that place and from such a fellow. But I complied, and to the best of my skill rendered the air.
He listened greedily. "Ay, you've got it," he said, humming it after me. "I aye love the way of it. Yon's the tune I used to whistle mysel' on shipboard when the weather was clear."
He had the seaman's trick of thinking of the weather first thing in the morning, and this little thing wrought a change in my view of him. His madness was seemingly like that of an epileptic, and when it passed he was a simple creature with a longing for familiar things.
"The wind's to the east," he said. "I could wish I were beating down the Forth in the Loupin' Jean. She was a trim bit boat for him that could handle her."
"Man," I said, "what made you leave a clean job for the ravings of yesterday?"
"I'm in the Lord's hands," he said humbly. "I'm but a penny whistle for His breath to blow on." This he said with such solemnity that the meaning of a fanatic was suddenly revealed to me. One or two distorted notions, a wild imagination, and fierce passions, and there you have the ingredients ready. But moments of sense must come, when the better nature of the man revives. I had a thought that the clout he got on the stone floor had done much to clear his wits.
"What will they do wi' me, think ye?" he asked. "This is the second time I've fallen into the hands o' the Amalekites, and it's no likely they'll let me off sae lightly."
"What will they do with us all?" said I. "The Plantations maybe, or the Bass! It's a bonny creel you've landed me in, for I'm as innocent as a newborn babe."
The notion of the Plantations seemed to comfort him. "I've been there afore, once in the brig John Rolfe o' Greenock, and once in the Luckpenny o' Leith. It's a het land but a bonny, and full o' all manner o' fruits. You can see tobacco growin' like aits, and mair big trees in one plantin' than in all the shire o' Lothian. Besides—"
But I got no more of Muckle John's travels, for the door opened on that instant, and the gaoler appeared. He looked at our heads, then singled me out, and cried on me to follow. "Come on, you," he said. "Ye're wantit in the captain's room."
I followed in bewilderment; for I knew something of the law's delays, and I could not believe that my hour of trial had come already. The man took me down the turret stairs and through a long passage to a door where stood two halberdiers. Through this he thrust me, and I found myself in a handsome panelled apartment with the city arms carved above the chimney. A window stood open, and I breathed the sweet, fresh air with delight. But I caught a reflection of myself in the polished steel of the fireplace, and my spirits fell, for a more woebegone ruffian my eyes had never seen. I was as dirty as a collier, my coat was half off my back from my handling on the moor, and there were long rents at the knees of my breeches.
Another door opened, and two persons entered. One was a dapper little man with a great wig, very handsomely dressed in a plum-coloured silken coat, with a snowy cravat at his neck. At the sight of the other my face crimsoned, for it was the girl who had sung Montrose's song in the rain.
The little gentleman looked at me severely, and then turned to his companion. "Is this the fellow, Elspeth?" he inquired. "He looks a sorry rascal."
The minx pretended to examine me carefully. Her colour was high with the fresh morning, and she kept tapping her boot with her whip handle.
"Why, yes, Uncle Gregory," she said, "It is the very man, though none the better for your night's attentions."
"And you say he had no part in Gib's company, but interfered on your behalf when the madman threatened you?"
"Such was his impertinence," she said, "as if I were not a match for a dozen crazy hill-folk. But doubtless the lad meant well."
"It is also recorded against him that he assaulted one of His Majesty's servants, to wit, the trooper John Donald, and offered to hinder him in the prosecution of his duty."
"La, uncle!" cried the girl, "who is to distinguish friend from foe in a mellay? Have you never seen a dog in a fight bite the hand of one who would succour him?"
"Maybe, maybe," said the gentleman. "Your illustrations, Elspeth, would do credit to His Majesty's advocate. Your plea is that this young man, whose name I do not know and do not seek to hear, should be freed or justice will miscarry? God knows the law has enough to do without clogging its wheels with innocence."
The girl nodded. Her wicked, laughing eyes roamed about the apartment with little regard for my flushed face.
"Then the Crown assoilzies the panel and deserts the diet," said the little gentleman. "Speak, sir, and thank His Majesty for his clemency and this lady for her intercession."
I had no words, for if I had been sore at my imprisonment, I was black angry at this manner of release. I did not reflect that Miss Elspeth Blair must have risen early and ridden far to be in the Canongate at this hour. 'Twas justice only that moved her, I thought, and no gratitude or kindness. To her I was something so lowly that she need not take the pains to be civil, but must speak of me in my presence as if it were a question of a stray hound. My first impulse was to refuse to stir, but happily my good sense returned in time and preserved me from playing the fool.
"I thank you, sir," I said gruffly—"and the lady. Do I understand that I am free to go?"
"Through the door, down the left stairway, and you will be in the street," said the gentleman.
I made some sort of bow and moved to the door.
"Farewell, Mr. Whiggamore," the girl cried, "Keep a cheerful countenance, or they'll think you a Sweet-Singer. Your breeches will mend, man."
And with her laughter most unpleasantly in my ears I made my way into the Canongate, and so to my lodgings at Mrs. Macvittie's.
* * * * *
Three weeks later I heard that Muckle John was destined for the Plantations in a ship of Mr. Barclay of Urie's, which traded to New Jersey. I had a fancy to see him before he went, and after much trouble I was suffered to visit him. His gaoler told me he had been mighty wild during his examination before the Council, and had had frequent bouts of madness since, but for the moment he was peaceable. I found him in a little cell by himself, outside the common room of the gaol. He was sitting in an attitude of great dejection, and when I entered could scarcely recall me to his memory. I remember thinking that, what with his high cheek-bones, and lank black hair, and brooding eyes, and great muscular frame, Scotland could scarcely have furnished a wilder figure for the admiration of the Carolinas, or wherever he went to. I did not envy his future master.
But with me he was very friendly and quiet. His ailment was home-sickness; for though he had been a great voyager, it seemed he was loath to quit our bleak countryside for ever. "I used aye to think o' the first sight o' Inchkeith and the Lomond hills, and the smell o' herrings at the pier o' Leith. What says the Word? 'Weep not for the dead, neither bemoan him; but weep sore for him that goeth away, for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.'"
I asked him if I could do him any service.
"There's a woman at Cramond," he began timidly. "She might like to ken what had become o' me. Would ye carry a message?"
I did better, for at Gib's dictation I composed for her a letter, since he could not write. I wrote it on some blank pages from my pocket which I used for College notes. It was surely the queerest love-letter ever indited, for the most part of it was theology, and the rest was instructions for the disposing of his scanty plenishing. I have forgotten now what I wrote, but I remember that the woman's name was Alison Steel.
OF A STAIRHEAD AND A SEA-CAPTAIN.
With the escapade that landed me in the Tolbooth there came an end to the nightmare years of my first youth. A week later I got word that my father was dead of an ague in the Low Countries, and I had to be off post-haste to Auchencairn to see to the ordering of our little estate. We were destined to be bitter poor, what with dues and regalities incident on the passing of the ownership, and I thought it best to leave my mother to farm it, with the help of Robin Gilfillan the grieve, and seek employment which would bring me an honest penny. Her one brother, Andrew Sempill, from whom I was named, was a merchant in Glasgow, the owner of three ships that traded to the Western Seas, and by repute a man of a shrewd and venturesome temper. He was single, too, and I might reasonably look to be his heir; so when a letter came from him offering me a hand in his business, my mother was instant for my going. I was little loath myself, for I saw nothing now to draw me to the profession of the law, which had been my first notion. "Hame's hame," runs the proverb, "as the devil said when he found himself in the Court of Session," and I had lost any desire for that sinister company. Besides, I liked the notion of having to do with ships and far lands; for I was at the age when youth burns fiercely in a lad, and his fancy is as riotous as a poet's.
Yet the events I have just related had worked a change in my life. They had driven the unthinking child out of me and forced me to reflect on my future. Two things rankled in my soul—a wench's mocking laughter and the treatment I had got from the dragoon. It was not that I was in love with the black-haired girl; indeed, I think I hated her; but I could not get her face out of my head or her voice out of my ears. She had mocked me, treated me as if I was no more than a foolish servant, and my vanity was raw. I longed to beat down her pride, to make her creep humbly to me, Andrew Garvald, as her only deliverer; and how that should be compassed was the subject of many hot fantasies in my brain. The dragoon, too, had tossed me about like a silly sheep, and my manhood cried out at the recollection. What sort of man was I if any lubberly soldier could venture on such liberties?
I went into the business with the monstrous solemnity of youth, and took stock of my equipment as if I were casting up an account. Many a time in those days I studied my appearance in the glass like a foolish maid. I was not well featured, having a freckled, square face, a biggish head, a blunt nose, grey, colourless eyes, and a sandy thatch of hair, I had great square shoulders, but my arms were too short for my stature, and—from an accident in my nursing days—of indifferent strength. All this stood on the debit side of my account. On the credit side I set down that I had unshaken good health and an uncommon power of endurance, especially in the legs. There was no runner in the Upper Ward of Lanark who was my match, and I had travelled the hills so constantly in all weathers that I had acquired a gipsy lore in the matter of beasts and birds and wild things, I had long, clear, unerring eyesight, which had often stood me in good stead in the time of my father's troubles. Of moral qualities, Heaven forgive me, I fear I thought less; but I believed, though I had been little proved, that I was as courageous as the common run of men.
All this looks babyish in the writing, but there was a method in this self-examination. I believed that I was fated to engage in strange ventures, and I wanted to equip myself for the future. The pressing business was that of self-defence, and I turned first to a gentleman's proper weapon, the sword. Here, alas! I was doomed to a bitter disappointment. My father had given me a lesson now and then, but never enough to test me, and when I came into the hands of a Glasgow master my unfitness was soon manifest. Neither with broadsword nor small sword could I acquire any skill. My short arm lacked reach and vigour, and there seemed to be some stiffness in wrist and elbow and shoulder which compelled me to yield to smaller men. Here was a pretty business, for though gentleman born I was as loutish with a gentleman's weapon as any country hind.
This discovery gave me some melancholy weeks, but I plucked up heart and set to reasoning. If my hand were to guard my head it must find some other way of it. My thoughts turned to powder and shot, to the musket and the pistol. Here was a weapon which needed only a stout nerve, a good eye, and a steady hand; one of these I possessed to the full, and the others were not beyond my attainment. There lived an armourer in the Gallowgate, one Weir, with whom I began to spend my leisure. There was an alley by the Molendinar Burn, close to the archery butts, where he would let me practise at a mark with guns from his store. Soon to my delight I found that here was a weapon with which I need fear few rivals. I had a natural genius for the thing, as some men have for sword-play, and Weir was a zealous teacher, for he loved his flint-locks.
"See, Andrew," he would cry, "this is the true leveller of mankind. It will make the man his master's equal, for though your gentleman may cock on a horse and wave his Andrew Ferrara, this will bring him off it. Brains, my lad, will tell in coming days, for it takes a head to shoot well, though any flesher may swing a sword."
The better marksman I grew the less I liked the common make of guns, and I cast about to work an improvement. I was especially fond of the short gun or pistol, not the bell-mouthed thing which shot a handful of slugs, and was as little precise in its aim as a hailstorm, but the light foreign pistol which, shot as true as a musket. Weir had learned his trade in Italy, and was a neat craftsman, so I employed him to make me a pistol after my own pattern. The butt was of light, tough wood, and brass-bound, for I did not care to waste money on ornament. The barrel was shorter than the usual, and of the best Spanish metal, and the pan and the lock were set after my own device. Nor was that all, for I became an epicure in the matter of bullets, and made my own with the care of a goldsmith. I would weigh out the powder charges as nicely as an apothecary weighs his drugs, for I had discovered that with the pistol the weight of bullet and charge meant much for good marksmanship. From Weir I got the notion of putting up ball and powder in cartouches, and I devised a method of priming much quicker and surer than the ordinary. In one way and another I believe I acquired more skill in the business than anybody then living in Scotland. I cherished my toy like a lover; I christened it "Elspeth "; it lay by my bed at night, and lived by day in a box of sweet-scented foreign wood given me by one of my uncle's skippers. I doubt I thought more of it than of my duty to my Maker.
All the time I was very busy at Uncle Andrew's counting-house in the Candleriggs, and down by the river-side among the sailors. It was the day when Glasgow was rising from a cluster of streets round the High Kirk and College to be the chief merchants' resort in Scotland. Standing near the Western Seas, she turned her eyes naturally to the Americas, and a great trade was beginning in tobacco and raw silk from Virginia, rich woods and dye stuffs from the Main, and rice and fruits from the Summer Islands. The river was too shallow for ships of heavy burthen, so it was the custom to unload in the neighbourhood of Greenock and bring the goods upstream in barges to the quay at the Broomielaw. There my uncle, in company with other merchants, had his warehouse, but his counting-house was up in the town, near by the College, and I spent my time equally between the two places. I became furiously interested in the work, for it has ever been my happy fortune to be intent on whatever I might be doing at the moment. I think I served my uncle well, for I had much of the merchant's aptitude, and the eye to discern far-away profits. He liked my boldness, for I was impatient of the rule-of-thumb ways of some of our fellow-traders. "We are dealing with new lands," I would say, "and there is need of new plans. It pays to think in trading as much as in statecraft," There were plenty that looked askance at us, and cursed us as troublers of the peace, and there were some who prophesied speedy ruin. But we discomforted our neighbours by prospering mightily, so that there was talk of Uncle Andrew for the Provost's chair at the next vacancy.
They were happy years, the four I spent in Glasgow, for I was young and ardent, and had not yet suffered the grave miscarriage of hope which is our human lot. My uncle was a busy merchant, but he was also something of a scholar, and was never happier than when disputing some learned point with a college professor over a bowl of punch. He was a great fisherman, too, and many a salmon I have seen him kill between the town and Rutherglen in the autumn afternoons. He treated me like a son, and by his aid I completed my education by much reading of books and a frequent attendance at college lectures. Such leisure as I had I spent by the river-side talking with the ship captains and getting news of far lands. In this way I learned something of the handling of a ship, and especially how to sail a sloop alone in rough weather, I have ventured, myself the only crew, far down the river to the beginning of the sealocks, and more than once escaped drowning by a miracle. Of a Saturday I would sometimes ride out to Auchencairn to see my mother and assist with my advice the work of Robin Gilfillan. Once I remember I rode to Carnwath, and looked again on the bleak house where the girl Elspeth had sung to me in the rain. I found it locked and deserted, and heard from a countrywoman that the folk had gone. "And a guid riddance," said the woman. "The Blairs was aye a cauld and oppressive race, and they were black Prelatists forbye. But I whiles miss yon hellicat lassie. She had a cheery word for a'body, and she keepit the place frae languor."
But I cannot linger over the tale of those peaceful years when I have so much that is strange and stirring to set down. Presently came the Revolution, when King James fled overseas, and the Dutch King William reigned in his stead. The event was a godsend to our trade, for with Scotland in a bicker with Covenants and dragoonings, and new taxes threatened with each new Parliament, a merchant's credit was apt to be a brittle thing. The change brought a measure of security, and as we prospered I soon began to see that something must be done in our Virginian trade. Years before, my uncle had sent out a man, Lambie by name, who watched his interests in that country. But we had to face such fierce rivalry from the Bristol merchants that I had small confidence in Mr. Lambie, who from his letters was a sleepy soul. I broached the matter to my uncle, and offered to go myself and put things in order. At first he was unwilling to listen. I think he was sorry to part with me, for we had become close friends, and there was also the difficulty of my mother, to whom I was the natural protector. But his opposition died down when I won my mother to my side, and when I promised that I would duly return. I pointed out that Glasgow and Virginia were not so far apart. Planters from the colony would dwell with us for a season, and their sons often come to Glasgow for their schooling. You could see the proud fellows walking the streets in brave clothes, and marching into the kirk on Sabbath with a couple of servants carrying cushions and Bibles. In the better class of tavern one could always meet with a Virginian or two compounding their curious drinks, and swearing their outlandish oaths. Most of them had gone afield from Scotland, and it was a fine incentive to us young men to see how mightily they had prospered. My uncle yielded, and it was arranged that I should sail with the first convoy of the New Year. From the moment of the decision I walked the earth in a delirium of expectation. That February, I remember, was blue and mild, with soft airs blowing up the river. Down by the Broomielaw I found a new rapture in the smell of tar and cordage, and the queer foreign scents in my uncle's warehouse. Every skipper and greasy sailor became for me a figure of romance. I scanned every outland face, wondering if I should meet it again in the New World. A negro in cotton drawers, shivering in our northern dune, had more attraction for me than the fairest maid, and I was eager to speak with all and every one who had crossed the ocean. One bronzed mariner with silver earrings I entertained to three stoups of usquebaugh, hoping for strange tales, but the little I had from him before he grew drunk was that he had once voyaged to the Canaries. You may imagine that I kept my fancies to myself, and was outwardly only the sober merchant with a mind set on freights and hogsheads. But whoever remembers his youth will know that such terms to me were not the common parlance of trade. The very names of the tobaccos Negro's Head, Sweet-scented, Oronoke, Carolina Red, Gloucester Glory, Golden Rod sang in my head like a tune, that told of green forests and magic islands.
But an incident befell ere I left which was to have unforeseen effects on my future. One afternoon I was in the shooting alley I have spoken of, making trial of a new size of bullet I had moulded. The place was just behind Parlane's tavern, and some gentlemen, who had been drinking there, came out to cool their heads and see the sport. Most of them were cock-lairds from the Lennox, and, after the Highland fashion, had in their belts heavy pistols of the old kind which folk called "dags." They were cumbrous, ill-made things, gaudily ornamented with silver and Damascus work, fit ornaments for a savage Highland chief, but little good for serious business, unless a man were only a pace or two from his opponent. One of them, who had drunk less than the others, came up to me and very civilly proposed a match. I was nothing loath, so a course was fixed, and a mutchkin of French eau de vie named as the prize. I borrowed an old hat from the landlord which had stuck in its side a small red cockade. The thing was hung as a target in a leafless cherry tree at twenty paces, and the cockade was to be the centre mark. Each man was to fire three shots apiece.
Barshalloch—for so his companions called my opponent after his lairdship—made a great to-do about the loading, and would not be content till he had drawn the charge two—three times. The spin of a coin gave him first shot, and he missed the mark and cut the bole of the tree.
"See," I said, "I will put my ball within a finger's-breadth of his." Sure enough, when they looked, the two bullets were all but in the same hole.
His second shot took the hat low down on its right side, and clipped away a bit of the brim. I saw by this time that the man could shoot, though he had a poor weapon and understood little about it. So I told the company that I would trim the hat by slicing a bit from the other side. This I achieved, though by little, for my shot removed only half as much cloth as its predecessor. But the performance amazed the onlookers. "Ye've found a fair provost at the job, Barshalloch," one of them hiccupped. "Better quit and pay for the mutchkin."
My antagonist took every care with his last shot, and, just missing the cockade, hit the hat about the middle, cut the branch on which it rested, and brought it fluttering to the ground a pace or two farther on. It lay there, dimly seen through a low branch of the cherry tree, with the cockade on the side nearest me. It was a difficult mark, but the light was good and my hand steady. I walked forward and brought back the hat with a hole drilled clean through the cockade.
At that there was a great laughter, and much jocosity from the cock-lairds at their friend's expense. Barshalloch very handsomely complimented me, and sent for the mutchkin. His words made me warm towards him, and I told him that half the business was not my skill of shooting but the weapon I carried.
He begged for a look at it, and examined it long and carefully.
"Will ye sell, friend?" he asked. "I'll give ye ten golden guineas and the best filly that ever came out o' Strathendrick for that pistol."
But I told him that the offer of Strathendrick itself would not buy it.
"No?" said he. "Well, I won't say ye're wrong. A man should cherish his weapon like his wife, for it carries his honour."
Presently, having drunk the wager, they went indoors again, all but a tall fellow who had been a looker-on, but had not been of the Lennox company. I had remarked him during the contest, a long, lean man with a bright, humorous blue eye and a fiery red head. He was maybe ten years older than me, and though he was finely dressed in town clothes, there was about his whole appearance a smack of the sea. He came forward, and, in a very Highland voice, asked my name.
"Why should I tell you?" I said, a little nettled.
"Just that I might carry it in my head. I have seen some pretty shooting in my day, but none like yours, young one. What's your trade that ye've learned the pistol game so cleverly?"
Now I was flushed with pride, and in no mood for a stranger's patronage. So I told him roundly that it was none of his business, and pushed by him to Parlane's back-door. But my brusqueness gave no offence to this odd being. He only laughed and cried after me that, if my manners were the equal of my marksmanship, I would be the best lad he had seen since his home-coming.
I had dinner with my uncle in the Candleriggs, and sat with him late afterwards casting up accounts, so it was not till nine o'clock that I set out on my way to my lodgings. These were in the Saltmarket, close on the river front, and to reach them I went by the short road through the Friar's Vennel. It was an ill-reputed quarter of the town, and not long before had been noted as a haunt of coiners; but I had gone through it often, and met with no hindrance.
In the vennel stood a tall dark bit of masonry called Gilmour's Lordship, which was pierced by long closes from which twisting stairways led to the upper landings. I was noting its gloomy aspect under the dim February moon, when a man came towards me and turned into one of the closes. He swung along with a free, careless gait that marked him as no townsman, and ere he plunged into the darkness I had a glimpse of fiery hair. It was the stranger who had accosted me in Parlane's alley, and he was either drunk or in wild spirits, for he was singing:—
"We're a' dry wi' the drinkin' o't, We're a' dry wi' the drinkin' o't. The minister kissed the fiddler's wife, And he couldna preach for thinkin' o't."
The ribald chorus echoed from the close mouth.
Then I saw that he was followed by three others, bent, slinking fellows, who slipped across the patches of moonlight, and eagerly scanned the empty vennel. They could not see me, for I was in shadow, and presently they too entered the close.
The thing looked ugly, and, while I had no love for the red-haired man, I did not wish to see murder or robbery committed and stand idly by. The match of the afternoon had given me a fine notion of my prowess, though. Had I reflected, my pistol was in its case at home, and I had no weapon but a hazel staff. Happily in youth the blood is quicker than the brain, and without a thought I ran into the close and up the long stairway.
The chorus was still being sung ahead of me, and then it suddenly ceased. In dead silence and in pitchy darkness I struggled up the stone steps, wondering what I should find at the next turning. The place was black as night, the steps were uneven, and the stairs corkscrewed most wonderfully. I wished with all my heart that I had not come, as I groped upwards hugging the wall.
Then a cry came and a noise of hard breathing. At the same moment a door opened somewhere above my head, and a faint glow came down the stairs. Presently with a great rumble a heavy man came rolling past me, butting with his head at the stair-side. He came to anchor on a landing below me, and finding his feet plunged downwards as if the devil were at his heels. He left behind him a short Highland knife, which I picked up and put in my pocket.
On his heels came another with his hand clapped to his side, and he moaned as he slithered past me. Something dripped from him on the stone steps.
The light grew stronger, and as I rounded the last turning a third came bounding down, stumbling from wall to wall like a drunk man. I saw his face clearly, and if ever mortal eyes held baffled murder it was that fellow's. There was a dark mark on his shoulder.
Above me as I blinked stood my red-haired friend on the top landing. He had his sword drawn, and was whistling softly through his teeth, while on the right hand was an open door and an old man holding a lamp.
"Ho!" he cried. "Here comes a fourth. God's help, it's my friend the marksman!"
I did not like that naked bit of steel, but there was nothing for it but to see the thing through. When he saw that I was unarmed he returned his weapon to its sheath, and smiled broadly down on me.
"What brings my proud gentleman up these long stairs?" he asked.
"I saw you entering the close and three men following you. It looked bad, so I came up to see fair play."
"Did ye so? And a very pretty intention, Mr. What's-your-name. But ye needna have fashed yourself. Did ye see any of our friends on the stairs?"
"I met a big man rolling down like a football," I said.
"Ay, that would be Angus. He's a clumsy stot, and never had much sense."
"And I met another with his hand on his side," I said.
"That would be little James. He's a fine lad with a skean-dhu on a dark night, but there was maybe too much light here for his trade."
"And I met a third who reeled like a drunk man," I said.
"Ay," said he meditatively, "that was Long Colin. He's the flower o' the flock, and I had to pink him. At another time and in a better place I would have liked a bout with him, for he has some notion of sword-play."
"Who were the men?" I asked, in much confusion, for this laughing warrior perplexed me.
"Who but just my cousins from Glengyle. There has long been a sort of bicker between us, and they thought they had got a fine chance of ending it."
"And who, in Heaven's name, are you," I said, "that treats murder so lightly?"
"Me?" he repeated. "Well, I might give ye the answer you gave me this very day when I speired the same question. But I am frank by nature, and I see you wish me well. Come in bye, and we'll discuss the matter."
He led me into a room where a cheerful fire crackled, and got out from a press a bottle and glasses. He produced tobacco from a brass box and filled a long pipe.
"Now," said he, "we'll understand each other better. Ye see before you a poor gentleman of fortune, whom poverty and a roving spirit have driven to outland bits o' the earth to ply his lawful trade of sea-captain. They call me by different names. I have passed for a Dutch skipper, and a Maryland planter, and a French trader, and, in spite of my colour, I have been a Spanish don in the Main. At Tortuga you will hear one name, and another at Port o' Spain, and a third at Cartagena. But, seeing we are in the city o' Glasgow in the kindly kingdom o' Scotland, I'll be honest with you. My father called me Ninian Campbell, and there's no better blood in Breadalbane."
What could I do after that but make him a present of the trivial facts about myself and my doings? There was a look of friendly humour about this dare-devil which captured my fancy. I saw in him the stuff of which adventurers are made, and though I was a sober merchant, I was also young. For days I had been dreaming of foreign parts and an Odyssey of strange fortunes, and here on a Glasgow stairhead I had found Ulysses himself.
"Is it not the pity," he cried, "that such talents as yours should rust in a dark room in the Candleriggs? Believe me, Mr. Garvald, I have seen some pretty shots, but I have never seen your better."
Then I told him that I was sailing within a month for Virginia, and he suddenly grew solemn.
"It looks like Providence," he said, "that we two should come together. I, too, will soon be back in the Western Seas, and belike we'll meet. I'm something of a rover, and I never bide long in the same place, but I whiles pay a visit to James Town, and they ken me well on the Eastern Shore and the Accomac beaches."
He fell to giving me such advice as a traveller gives to a novice. It was strange hearing for an honest merchant, for much of it was concerned with divers ways of outwitting the law. By and by he was determined to convoy me to my lodgings, for he pointed out that I was unarmed; and I think, too, he had still hopes of another meeting with Long Colin, his cousin.
"I leave Glasgow the morrow's morn," he said, "and it's no likely we'll meet again in Scotland. Out in Virginia, no doubt, you'll soon be a great man, and sit in Council, and hob-nob with the Governor. But a midge can help an elephant, and I would gladly help you, for you had the goodwill to help me. If ye need aid you will go to Mercer's Tavern at James Town down on the water front, and you will ask news of Ninian Campbell. The man will say that he never heard tell of the name, and then you will speak these words to him. You will say 'The lymphads are on the loch, and the horn of Diarmaid has sounded.' Keep them well in mind, for some way or other they will bring you and me together."
Without another word he was off, and as I committed the gibberish to memory I could hear his song going up the Saltmarket:—
"The minister kissed the fiddler's wife, And he couldna preach for thinkin' o't."
MY FIRST COMING TO VIRGINIA.
There are few moments in life to compare with a traveller's first sight of a new land which is destined to be for short or long his home. When, after a fair and speedy voyage, we passed Point Comfort, and had rid ourselves of the revenue men, and the tides bore us up the estuary of a noble river, I stood on deck and drank in the heady foreign scents with a boyish ecstasy. Presently we had opened the capital city, which seemed to me no more than a village set amid gardens, and Mr. Lambie had come aboard and greeted me. He conveyed me to the best ordinary in the town which stood over against the Court-house. Late in the afternoon, just before the dark fell, I walked out to drink my fill of the place.
You are to remember that I was a country lad who had never set foot forth of Scotland. I was very young, and hot on the quest of new sights and doings. As I walked down the unpaven street and through the narrow tobacco-grown lanes, the strange smell of it all intoxicated me like wine.
There was a great red sunset burning over the blue river and kindling the far forests till they glowed like jewels. The frogs were croaking among the reeds, and the wild duck squattered in the dusk. I passed an Indian, the first I had seen, with cock's feathers on his head, and a curiously tattooed chest, moving as light as a sleep-walker. One or two townsfolk took the air, smoking their long pipes, and down by the water a negro girl was singing a wild melody. The whole place was like a mad, sweet-scented dream to one just come from the unfeatured ocean, and with a memory only of grim Scots cities and dour Scots hills. I felt as if I had come into a large and generous land, and I thanked God that I was but twenty-three.
But as I was mooning along there came a sudden interruption on my dreams. I was beyond the houses, in a path which ran among tobacco-sheds and little gardens, with the river lapping a stone's-throw off. Down a side alley I caught a glimpse of a figure that seemed familiar.
'Twas that of a tall, hulking man, moving quickly among the tobacco plants, with something stealthy in his air. The broad, bowed shoulders and the lean head brought back to me the rainy moorlands about the Cauldstaneslap and the mad fellow whose prison I had shared. Muckle John had gone to the Plantations, and 'twas Muckle John or the devil that was moving there in the half light.
I cried on him, and ran down the side alley.
But it seemed that he did not want company, for he broke into a run.
Now in those days I rejoiced in the strength of my legs, and I was determined not to be thus balked. So I doubled after him into a maze of tobacco and melon beds.
But it seemed he knew how to run. I caught a glimpse of his hairy legs round the corner of a shed, and then lost him in a patch of cane. Then I came out on a sort of causeway floored with boards which covered a marshy sluice, and there I made great strides on him. He was clear against the sky now, and I could see that he was clad only in shirt and cotton breeches, while at his waist flapped an ugly sheath-knife.
Rounding the hut corner I ran full into a man.
"Hold you," cried the stranger, and laid hands on my arm; but I shook him off violently, and continued the race. The collision had cracked my temper, and I had a mind to give Muckle John a lesson in civility. For Muckle John it was beyond doubt; not two men in the broad earth had that ungainly bend of neck.
The next I knew we were out on the river bank on a shore of hard clay which the tides had created. Here I saw him more clearly, and I began to doubt. I might be chasing some river-side ruffian, who would give me a knife in my belly for my pains.
The doubt slackened my pace, and he gained on me. Then I saw his intention. There was a flat-bottomed wherry tied up by the bank, and for this he made. He flung off the rope, seized a long pole, and began to push away.
The last rays of the westering sun fell on his face, and my hesitation vanished. For those pent-house brows and deep-set, wild-cat eyes were fixed for ever in my memory.
I cried to him as I ran, but he never looked my road. Somehow it was borne in on me that at all costs I must have speech with him. The wherry was a yard or two from the shore when I jumped for its stern.
I lighted firm on the wood, and for a moment looked Muckle John in the face. I saw a countenance lean like a starved wolf, with great weals as of old wounds on cheek and brow. But only for a, second, for as I balanced myself to step forward he rammed the butt of the pole in my chest, so that I staggered and fell plump in the river.
The water was only up to my middle, but before I could clamber back he had shipped his oars, and was well into the centre of the stream.
I stood staring like a zany, while black anger filled my heart. I plucked my pistol forth, and for a second was on the verge of murder, for I could have shot him like a rabbit. But God mercifully restrained my foolish passion, and presently the boat and the rower vanished in the evening haze.
"This is a bonny beginning!" thought I, as I waded through the mud to the shore. I was wearing my best clothes in honour of my arrival, and they were all fouled and plashing.
Then on the bank above me I saw the fellow who had run into me and hindered my catching Muckle John on dry land. He was shaking with laughter.
I was silly and hot-headed in those days, and my wetting had not disposed me to be laughed at. In this fellow I saw a confederate of Gib's, and if I had lost one I had the other. So I marched up to him and very roundly damned his insolence.
He was a stern, lantern-jawed man of forty or so, dressed very roughly in leather breeches and a frieze coat. Long grey woollen stockings were rolled above his knees, and slung on his back was an ancient musket.
"Easy, my lad," he said. "It's a free country, and there's no statute against mirth."
"I'll have you before the sheriff," I cried. "You tripped me up when I was on the track of the biggest rogue in America."
"So!" said he, mocking me. "You'll be a good judge of rogues. Was it a runaway redemptioner, maybe? You'd be looking for the twenty hogsheads reward."
This was more than I could stand. I was carrying a pistol in my hand, and I stuck it to his ear. "March, my friend," I said. "You'll walk before me to a Justice of the Peace, and explain your doings this night."
I had never threatened a man with a deadly weapon before, and I was to learn a most unforgettable lesson. A hand shot out, caught my wrist, and forced it upwards in a grip of steel. And when I would have used my right fist in his face another hand seized that, and my arms were padlocked.
Cool, ironical eyes looked into mine.
"You're very free with your little gun, my lad. Let me give you a word in season. Never hold a pistol to a man unless you mean to shoot. If your eyes waver you had better had a porridge stick."
He pressed my wrist back till my fingers relaxed, and he caught my pistol in his teeth. With a quick movement of the head he dropped it inside his shirt.
"There's some would have killed you for that trick, young sir," he said. "It's trying to the temper to have gunpowder so near a man's brain. But you're young, and, by your speech, a new-comer. So instead I'll offer you a drink."
He dropped my wrists, and motioned me to follow him. Very crestfallen and ashamed, I walked in his wake to a little shanty almost on the wateredge. The place was some kind of inn, for a negro brought us two tankards of apple-jack, and tobacco pipes, and lit a foul-smelling lantern, which he set between us.
"First," says the man, "let me tell you that I never before clapped eyes on the long piece of rascality you were seeking. He looked like one that had cheated the gallows."
"He was a man I knew in Scotland," I said grumpily.
"Likely enough. There's a heap of Scots redemptioners hereaways. I'm out of Scotland myself, or my forbears were, but my father was settled in the Antrim Glens. There's wild devils among them, and your friend looked as if he had given the slip to the hounds in the marshes. There was little left of his breeches.... Drink, man, or you'll get fever from your wet duds."
I drank, and the strong stuff mounted to my unaccustomed brain; my tongue was loosened, my ill-temper mellowed, and I found myself telling this grim fellow much that was in my heart.
"So you're a merchant," he said. "It's not for me to call down an honest trade, but we could be doing with fewer merchants in these parts. They're so many leeches that suck our blood. Are you here to make siller?"
I said I was, and he laughed. "I never heard of your uncle's business, Mr. Garvald, but you'll find it a stiff task to compete with the lads from Bristol and London. They've got the whole dominion by the scruff of the neck."
I replied that I was not in awe of them, and that I could hold my own with anybody in a fair trade.
"Fair trade!" he cried scornfully. "That's just what you won't get. That's a thing unkenned in Virginia. Look you here, my lad. The Parliament in London treats us Virginians like so many puling bairns. We cannot sell our tobacco except to English merchants, and we cannot buy a horn spoon except it comes in an English ship. What's the result of that? You, as a merchant, can tell me fine. The English fix what price they like for our goods, and it's the lowest conceivable, and they make their own price for what they sell us, and that's as high as a Jew's. There's a fine profit there for the gentlemen-venturers of Bristol, but it's starvation and damnation for us poor Virginians."
"What's the result?" he cried again. "Why, that there's nothing to be had in the land except what the merchants bring. There's scarcely a smith or a wright or a cobbler between the James and the Potomac. If I want a bed to lie in, I have to wait till the coming of the tobacco convoy, and go down to the wharves and pay a hundred pounds of sweet-scented for a thing you would buy in the Candleriggs for twenty shillings. How, in God's name, is a farmer to live if he has to pay usury for every plough and spade and yard of dimity!"
"Remember you're speaking to a merchant," I said. "You've told me the very thing to encourage me. If prices are high, it's all the better for me."
"It would be," he said grimly, "if your name werena what it is, and you came from elsewhere than the Clyde. D'you think the proud English corporations are going to let you inside? Not them. The most you'll get will be the scraps that fall from their table, my poor Lazarus, and for these you'll have to go hat in hand to Dives."
His face grew suddenly earnest, and he leaned on the table and looked me straight in the eyes.
"You're a young lad and a new-comer, and the accursed scales of Virginia are not yet on your eyes. Forbye, I think you've spirit, though it's maybe mixed with a deal of folly. You've your choice before you, Mr. Garvald. You can become a lickspittle like the rest of them, and no doubt you'll gather a wheen bawbees, but it will be a poor shivering soul will meet its Maker in the hinder end. Or you can play the man and be a good Virginian. I'll not say it's an easy part. You'll find plenty to cry you down, and there will be hard knocks going; but by your face I judge you're not afraid of that. Let me tell you this land is on the edge of hell, and there's sore need for stout men. They'll declare in this town that there's no Indians on this side the mountains that would dare to lift a tomahawk. Little they ken!"
In his eagerness he had gripped my arm, and his dark, lean face was thrust close to mine.
"I was with Bacon in '76, in the fray with the Susquehannocks. I speak the Indian tongues, and there's few alive that ken the tribes like me. The folk here live snug in the Tidewater, which is maybe a hundred miles wide from the sea, but of the West they ken nothing. There might be an army thousands strong concealed a day's journey from the manors, and never a word would be heard of it."
"But they tell me the Indians are changed nowadays," I put in. "They say they've settled down to peaceful ways like any Christian."
"Put your head into a catamount's mouth, if you please," he said grimly, "but never trust an Indian. The only good kind is the dead kind. I tell you we're living on the edge of hell. It may come this year or next year or five years hence, but come it will. I hear we are fighting the French, and that means that the tribes of the Canadas will be on the move. Little you know the speed of a war-party. They would cut my throat one morning, and be hammering at the doors of James Town before sundown. There should be a line of forts in the West from the Roanoke to the Potomac, and every man within fifty miles should keep a gun loaded and a horse saddled. But, think you the Council will move? It costs money, say the wiseacres, as if money were not cheaper than a slit wizzand!"
I was deeply solemnized, though I scarce understood the full drift of his words, and the queer thing was that I was not ill-pleased. I had come out to seek for trade, and it looked as if I were to find war. And all this when I was not four hours landed.
"What think you of that?" he asked, as I kept silent, "I've been warned. A man I know on the Rappahannock passed the word that the Long House was stirring. Tell that to the gentry in James Town. What side are you going for, young sir?"
"I'll take my time," I said, "and see for myself. Ask me again this day six months."
He laughed loud. "A very proper answer for a Scot," he cried. "See for yourself, travel the country, and use the wits God gave you to form your judgment."
He paid the lawing, and said he would put me on the road back. "These alleys are not very healthy at this hour for a young gentleman in braw clothes."
Once outside the tavern he led me by many curious by-paths till I found myself on the river-side just below the Court-house. It struck me that my new friend was not a popular personage in the town, for he would stop and reconnoitre at every turning, and he chose the darkest side of the road.
"Good-night to you," he said at length. "And when you have finished your travels come west to the South Fork River and ask for Simon Frew, and I'll complete your education."
I went to bed in a glow of excitement. On the morrow I should begin a new life in a world of wonders, and I rejoiced to think that there was more than merchandise in the prospect.
TELLS OF MY EDUCATION.
I had not been a week in the place before I saw one thing very clear— that I should never get on with Mr. Lambie. His notion of business was to walk down the street in a fine coat, and to sleep with a kerchief over his face in some shady veranda. There was no vice in the creature, but there was mighty little sense. He lived in awe of the great and rich, and a nod from a big planter would make him happy for a week. He used to deafen me with tales of Colonel Randolph, and worshipful Mr. Carew, and Colonel Byrd's new house at Westover, and the rare fashion in cravats that young Mr. Mason showed at the last Surrey horse-racing. Now when a Scot chooses to be a sycophant, he is more whole-hearted in the job than any one else on the globe, and I grew very weary of Mr. Lambie. He was no better than an old wife, and as timid as a hare forbye. When I spoke of fighting the English merchants, he held up his hands as if I had uttered blasphemy. So, being determined to find out for myself the truth about this wonderful new land, I left him the business in the town, bought two good horses, hired a servant, by name John Faulkner, who had worked out his time as a redemptioner, and set out on my travels.
This is a history of doings, not of thoughts, or I would have much to tell of what I saw during those months, when, lean as a bone, and brown as a hazelnut, I tracked the course of the great rivers. The roads were rough, where roads there were, but the land smiled under the sun, and the Virginians, high and low, kept open house for the chance traveller. One night I would eat pork and hominy with a rough fellow who was carving a farm out of the forest; and the next I would sit in a fine panelled hall and listen to gentlefolks' speech, and dine off damask and silver. I could not tire of the green forests, or the marshes alive with wild fowl, or the noble orchards and gardens, or even the salty dunes of the Chesapeake shore. My one complaint was that the land was desperate flat to a hill-bred soul like mine. But one evening, away north in Stafford county, I cast my eyes to the west, and saw, blue and sharp against the sunset, a great line of mountains. It was all I sought. Somewhere in the west Virginia had her high lands, and one day, I promised myself, I would ride the road of the sun and find their secret.