By Winston Churchill
BOOK I. THE BORDERLAND
I. THE BLUE WALL II. WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS III. CHARLESTOWN IV. TEMPLE BOW V. CRAM'S HELL VI. MAN PROPOSES, BUT GOD DISPOSES VII. IN SIGHT OF THE BLUE WALL ONCE MORE VIII. THE NOLLICHUCKY TRACE IX. ON THE WILDERNESS TRAIL X. HARRODSTOWN XI. FRAGMENTARY XII. THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS XIII. KASKASKIA XIV. HOW THE KASKASKIANS WERE MADE CITIZENS XV. DAYS OF TRIAL XVI. DAVY GOES TO CAHOKIA XVII. THE SACRIFICE XVIII. "AN' YE HAD BEEN WHERE I HAD BEEN" XIX. THE HAIR BUYER TRAPPED XX. THE CAMPAIGN ENDS
BOOK II. FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
I. IN THE CABIN II. "THE BEGGARS ARE COME TO TOWN" III. WE GO TO DANVILLE IV. I CROSS THE MOUNTAINS ONCE MORE V. I MEET AN OLD BEDFELLOW VI. THE WIDOW BROWN'S VII. I MEET A HERO VIII. TO ST. LOUIS IX. "CHERCHEZ LA FEMME" X. THE KEEL BOAT XI. THE STRANGE CITY XII. LES ISLES XIII. MONSIEUR AUGUSTE ENTRAPPED XIV. RETRIBUTION
BOOK III. LOUISIANA
I. THE RIGHTS OF MAN II. THE HOUSE ABOVE THE FALLS III. LOUISVILLE CELEBRATES IV. OF A SUDDEN RESOLUTION V. THE HOUSE OF THE HONEYCOMBED TILES VI. MADAME LA VICOMTESSE VII. THE DISPOSAL OF THE SIEUR DE ST. GRE VIII. AT LAMARQUE'S IX. MONSIEUR LE BARON X. THE SCOURGE XI. "IN THE MIDST OF LIFE" XII. VISIONS, AND AN AWAKENINGS XIII. A MYSTERY XIV. "TO UNPATHED WATERS, UNDREAMED SHORES" XV. AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A MAN
THE BLUE WALL
I was born under the Blue Ridge, and under that side which is blue in the evening light, in a wild land of game and forest and rushing waters. There, on the borders of a creek that runs into the Yadkin River, in a cabin that was chinked with red mud, I came into the world a subject of King George the Third, in that part of his realm known as the province of North Carolina.
The cabin reeked of corn-pone and bacon, and the odor of pelts. It had two shakedowns, on one of which I slept under a bearskin. A rough stone chimney was reared outside, and the fireplace was as long as my father was tall. There was a crane in it, and a bake kettle; and over it great buckhorns held my father's rifle when it was not in use. On other horns hung jerked bear's meat and venison hams, and gourds for drinking cups, and bags of seed, and my father's best hunting shirt; also, in a neglected corner, several articles of woman's attire from pegs. These once belonged to my mother. Among them was a gown of silk, of a fine, faded pattern, over which I was wont to speculate. The women at the Cross-Roads, twelve miles away, were dressed in coarse butternut wool and huge sunbonnets. But when I questioned my father on these matters he would give me no answers.
My father was—how shall I say what he was? To this day I can only surmise many things of him. He was a Scotchman born, and I know now that he had a slight Scotch accent. At the time of which I write, my early childhood, he was a frontiersman and hunter. I can see him now, with his hunting shirt and leggings and moccasins; his powder horn, engraved with wondrous scenes; his bullet pouch and tomahawk and hunting knife. He was a tall, lean man with a strange, sad face. And he talked little save when he drank too many "horns," as they were called in that country. These lapses of my father's were a perpetual source of wonder to me,—and, I must say, of delight. They occurred only when a passing traveller who hit his fancy chanced that way, or, what was almost as rare, a neighbor. Many a winter night I have lain awake under the skins, listening to a flow of language that held me spellbound, though I understood scarce a word of it.
"Virtuous and vicious every man must be, Few in the extreme, but all in a degree."
The chance neighbor or traveller was no less struck with wonder. And many the time have I heard the query, at the Cross-Roads and elsewhere, "Whar Alec Trimble got his larnin'?"
The truth is, my father was an object of suspicion to the frontiersmen. Even as a child I knew this, and resented it. He had brought me up in solitude, and I was old for my age, learned in some things far beyond my years, and ignorant of others I should have known. I loved the man passionately. In the long winter evenings, when the howl of wolves and "painters" rose as the wind lulled, he taught me to read from the Bible and the "Pilgrim's Progress." I can see his long, slim fingers on the page. They seemed but ill fitted for the life he led.
The love of rhythmic language was somehow born into me, and many's the time I have held watch in the cabin day and night while my father was away on his hunts, spelling out the verses that have since become part of my life.
As I grew older I went with him into the mountains, often on his back; and spent the nights in open camp with my little moccasins drying at the blaze. So I learned to skin a bear, and fleece off the fat for oil with my hunting knife; and cure a deerskin and follow a trail. At seven I even shot the long rifle, with a rest. I learned to endure cold and hunger and fatigue and to walk in silence over the mountains, my father never saying a word for days at a spell. And often, when he opened his mouth, it would be to recite a verse of Pope's in a way that moved me strangely. For a poem is not a poem unless it be well spoken.
In the hot days of summer, over against the dark forest the bright green of our little patch of Indian corn rippled in the wind. And towards night I would often sit watching the deep blue of the mountain wall and dream of the mysteries of the land that lay beyond. And by chance, one evening as I sat thus, my father reading in the twilight, a man stood before us. So silently had he come up the path leading from the brook that we had not heard him. Presently my father looked up from his book, but did not rise. As for me, I had been staring for some time in astonishment, for he was a better-looking man than I had ever seen. He wore a deerskin hunting shirt dyed black, but, in place of a coonskin cap with the tail hanging down, a hat. His long rifle rested on the ground, and he held a roan horse by the bridle.
"Howdy, neighbor?" said he.
I recall a fear that my father would not fancy him. In such cases he would give a stranger food, and leave him to himself. My father's whims were past understanding. But he got up.
"Good evening," said he.
The visitor looked a little surprised, as I had seen many do, at my father's accent.
"Neighbor," said he, "kin you keep me over night?"
"Come in," said my father.
We sat down to our supper of corn and beans and venison, of all of which our guest ate sparingly. He, too, was a silent man, and scarcely a word was spoken during the meal. Several times he looked at me with such a kindly expression in his blue eyes, a trace of a smile around his broad mouth, that I wished he might stay with us always. But once, when my father said something about Indians, the eyes grew hard as flint. It was then I remarked, with a boy's wonder, that despite his dark hair he had yellow eyebrows.
After supper the two men sat on the log step, while I set about the task of skinning the deer my father had shot that day. Presently I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.
"What's your name, lad?" he said.
I told him Davy.
"Davy, I'll larn ye a trick worth a little time," said he, whipping out a knife. In a trice the red carcass hung between the forked stakes, while I stood with my mouth open. He turned to me and laughed gently.
"Some day you'll cross the mountains and skin twenty of an evening," he said. "Ye'll make a woodsman sure. You've got the eye, and the hand."
This little piece of praise from him made me hot all over.
"Game rare?" said he to my father.
"None sae good, now," said my father.
"I reckon not. My cabin's on Beaver Creek some forty mile above, and game's going there, too."
"Settlements," said my father. But presently, after a few whiffs of his pipe, he added, "I hear fine things of this land across the mountains, that the Indians call the Dark and Bluidy Ground."
"And well named," said the stranger.
"But a brave country," said my father, "and all tramped down with game. I hear that Daniel Boone and others have gone into it and come back with marvellous tales. They tell me Boone was there alone three months. He's saething of a man. D'ye ken him?"
The ruddy face of the stranger grew ruddier still.
"My name's Boone," he said.
"What!" cried my father, "it wouldn't be Daniel?"
"You've guessed it, I reckon."
My father rose without a word, went into the cabin, and immediately reappeared with a flask and a couple of gourds, one of which he handed to our visitor.
"Tell me aboot it," said he.
That was the fairy tale of my childhood. Far into the night I lay on the dewy grass listening to Mr. Boone's talk. It did not at first flow in a steady stream, for he was not a garrulous man, but my father's questions presently fired his enthusiasm. I recall but little of it, being so small a lad, but I crept closer and closer until I could touch this superior being who had been beyond the Wall. Marco Polo was no greater wonder to the Venetians than Boone to me.
He spoke of leaving wife and children, and setting out for the Unknown with other woodsmen. He told how, crossing over our blue western wall into a valley beyond, they found a "Warrior's Path" through a gap across another range, and so down into the fairest of promised lands. And as he talked he lost himself in the tale of it, and the very quality of his voice changed. He told of a land of wooded hill and pleasant vale, of clear water running over limestone down to the great river beyond, the Ohio—a land of glades, the fields of which were pied with flowers of wondrous beauty, where roamed the buffalo in countless thousands, where elk and deer abounded, and turkeys and feathered game, and bear in the tall brakes of cane. And, simply, he told how, when the others had left him, he stayed for three months roaming the hills alone with Nature herself.
"But did you no' meet the Indians?" asked my father.
"I seed one fishing on a log once," said our visitor, laughing, "but he fell into the water. I reckon he was drowned."
My father nodded comprehendingly,—even admiringly.
"And again!" said he.
"Wal," said Mr. Boone, "we fell in with a war party of Shawnees going back to their lands north of the great river. The critters took away all we had. It was hard," he added reflectively; "I had staked my fortune on the venter, and we'd got enough skins to make us rich. But, neighbor, there is land enough for you and me, as black and rich as Canaan."
"'The Lord is my shepherd,'" said my father, lapsing into verse. "'The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He leadeth me into green pastures, and beside still waters.'"
For a time they were silent, each wrapped in his own thought, while the crickets chirped and the frogs sang. From the distant forest came the mournful hoot of an owl.
"And you are going back?" asked my father, presently.
"Aye, that I am. There are many families on the Yadkin below going, too. And you, neighbor, you might come with us. Davy is the boy that would thrive in that country."
My father did not answer. It was late indeed when we lay down to rest, and the night I spent between waking and dreaming of the wonderland beyond the mountains, hoping against hope that my father would go. The sun was just flooding the slopes when our guest arose to leave, and my father bade him God-speed with a heartiness that was rare to him. But, to my bitter regret, neither spoke of my father's going. Being a man of understanding, Mr. Boone knew it were little use to press. He patted me on the head.
"You're a wise lad, Davy," said he. "I hope we shall meet again."
He mounted his roan and rode away down the slope, waving his hand to us. And it was with a heavy heart that I went to feed our white mare, whinnying for food in the lean-to.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS
And so our life went on the same, but yet not the same. For I had the Land of Promise to dream of, and as I went about my tasks I conjured up in my mind pictures of its beauty. You will forgive a backwoods boy,—self-centred, for lack of wider interest, and with a little imagination. Bear hunting with my father, and an occasional trip on the white mare twelve miles to the Cross-Roads for salt and other necessaries, were the only diversions to break the routine of my days. But at the Cross-Roads, too, they were talking of Kaintuckee. For so the Land was called, the Dark and Bloody Ground.
The next year came a war on the Frontier, waged by Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia. Of this likewise I heard at the Cross-Roads, though few from our part seemed to have gone to it. And I heard there, for rumors spread over mountains, that men blazing in the new land were in danger, and that my hero, Boone, was gone out to save them. But in the autumn came tidings of a great battle far to the north, and of the Indians suing for peace.
The next year came more tidings of a sort I did not understand. I remember once bringing back from the Cross-Roads a crumpled newspaper, which my father read again and again, and then folded up and put in his pocket. He said nothing to me of these things. But the next time I went to the Cross-Roads, the woman asked me:—
"Is your Pa for the Congress?"
"What's that?" said I.
"I reckon he ain't," said the woman, tartly. I recall her dimly, a slattern creature in a loose gown and bare feet, wife of the storekeeper and wagoner, with a swarm of urchins about her. They were all very natural to me thus. And I remember a battle with one of these urchins in the briers, an affair which did not add to the love of their family for ours. There was no money in that country, and the store took our pelts in exchange for what we needed from civilization. Once a month would I load these pelts on the white mare, and make the journey by the path down the creek. At times I met other settlers there, some of them not long from Ireland, with the brogue still in their mouths. And again, I saw the wagoner with his great canvas-covered wagon standing at the door, ready to start for the town sixty miles away. 'Twas he brought the news of this latest war.
One day I was surprised to see the wagoner riding up the path to our cabin, crying out for my father, for he was a violent man. And a violent scene followed. They remained for a long time within the house, and when they came out the wagoner's face was red with rage. My father, too, was angry, but no more talkative than usual.
"Ye say ye'll not help the Congress?" shouted the wagoner.
"I'll not," said my father.
"Ye'll live to rue this day, Alec Trimble," cried the man. "Ye may think ye're too fine for the likes of us, but there's them in the settlement that knows about ye."
With that he flung himself on his horse, and rode away. But the next time I went to the Cross-Roads the woman drove me away with curses, and called me an aristocrat. Wearily I tramped back the dozen miles up the creek, beside the mare, carrying my pelts with me; stumbling on the stones, and scratched by the dry briers. For it was autumn, the woods all red and yellow against the green of the pines. I sat down beside the old beaver dam to gather courage to tell my father. But he only smiled bitterly when he heard it. Nor would he tell me what the word ARISTOCRAT meant.
That winter we spent without bacon, and our salt gave out at Christmas. It was at this season, if I remember rightly, that we had another visitor. He arrived about nightfall one gray day, his horse jaded and cut, and he was dressed all in wool, with a great coat wrapped about him, and high boots. This made me stare at him. When my father drew back the bolt of the door he, too, stared and fell back a step.
"Come in," said he.
"D'ye ken me, Alec?" said the man.
He was a tall, spare man like my father, a Scotchman, but his hair was in a cue.
"Come in, Duncan," said my father, quietly. "Davy, run out for wood."
Loath as I was to go, I obeyed. As I came back dragging a log behind me I heard them in argument, and in their talk there was much about the Congress, and a woman named Flora Macdonald, and a British fleet sailing southward.
"We'll have two thousand Highlanders and more to meet the fleet. And ye'll sit at hame, in this hovel ye've made yeresel" (and he glanced about disdainfully) "and no help the King?" He brought his fist down on the pine boards.
"Ye did no help the King greatly at Culloden, Duncan," said my father, dryly.
Our visitor did not answer at once.
"The Yankee Rebels 'll no help the House of Stuart," said he, presently. "And Hanover's coom to stay. Are ye, too, a Rebel, Alec Ritchie?"
I remember wondering why he said RITCHIE.
"I'll no take a hand in this fight," answered my father.
And that was the end of it. The man left with scant ceremony, I guiding him down the creek to the main trail. He did not open his mouth until I parted with him.
"Puir Davy," said he, and rode away in the night, for the moon shone through the clouds.
I remember these things, I suppose, because I had nothing else to think about. And the names stuck in my memory, intensified by later events, until I began to write a diary.
And now I come to my travels. As the spring drew on I had had a feeling that we could not live thus forever, with no market for our pelts. And one day my father said to me abruptly:—
"Davy, we'll be travelling."
"Where?" I asked.
"Ye'll ken soon enough," said he. "We'll go at crack o' day."
We went away in the wild dawn, leaving the cabin desolate. We loaded the white mare with the pelts, and my father wore a woollen suit like that of our Scotch visitor, which I had never seen before. He had clubbed his hair. But, strangest of all, he carried in a small parcel the silk gown that had been my mother's. We had scant other baggage.
We crossed the Yadkin at a ford, and climbing the hills to the south of it we went down over stony traces, down and down, through rain and sun; stopping at rude cabins or taverns, until we came into the valley of another river. This I know now was the Catawba. My memories of that ride are as misty as the spring weather in the mountains. But presently the country began to open up into broad fields, some of these abandoned to pines. And at last, splashing through the stiff red clay that was up to the mare's fetlocks, we came to a place called Charlotte Town. What a day that was for me! And how I gaped at the houses there, finer than any I had ever dreamed of! That was my first sight of a town. And how I listened open-mouthed to the gentlemen at the tavern! One I recall had a fighting head with a lock awry, and a negro servant to wait on him, and was the principal spokesman. He, too, was talking of war. The Cherokees had risen on the western border. He was telling of the massacre of a settlement, in no mild language.
"Sirs," he cried, "the British have stirred the redskins to this. Will you sit here while women and children are scalped, and those devils" (he called them worse names) "Stuart and Cameron go unpunished?"
My father got up from the corner where he sat, and stood beside the man.
"I ken Alec Cameron," said he.
The man looked at him with amazement.
"Ay?" said he, "I shouldn't think you'd own it. Damn him," he cried, "if we catch him we'll skin him alive."
"I ken Cameron," my father repeated, "and I'll gang with you to skin him alive."
The man seized his hand and wrung it.
"But first I must be in Charlestown," said my father.
The next morning we sold our pelts. And though the mare was tired, we pushed southward, I behind the saddle. I had much to think about, wondering what was to become of me while my father went to skin Cameron. I had not the least doubt that he would do it. The world is a storybook to a lad of nine, and the thought of Charlestown filled me with a delight unspeakable. Perchance he would leave me in Charlestown.
At nightfall we came into a settlement called the Waxhaws. And there being no tavern there, and the mare being very jaded and the roads heavy, we cast about for a place to sleep. The sunlight slanting over the pine forest glistened on the pools in the wet fields. And it so chanced that splashing across these, swinging a milk-pail over his head, shouting at the top of his voice, was a red-headed lad of my own age. My father hailed him, and he came running towards us, still shouting, and vaulted the rails. He stood before us, eying me with a most mischievous look in his blue eyes, and dabbling in the red mud with his toes. I remember I thought him a queer-looking boy. He was lanky, and he had a very long face under his tousled hair.
My father asked him where he could spend the night.
"Wal," said the boy, "I reckon Uncle Crawford might take you in. And again he mightn't."
He ran ahead, still swinging the pail. And we, following, came at length to a comfortable-looking farmhouse. As we stopped at the doorway a stout, motherly woman filled it. She held her knitting in her hand.
"You Andy!" she cried, "have you fetched the milk?"
Andy tried to look repentant.
"I declare I'll tan you," said the lady. "Git out this instant. What rascality have you been in?"
"I fetched home visitors, Ma," said Andy.
"Visitors!" cried the lady. "What 'll your Uncle Crawford say?" And she looked at us smiling, but with no great hostility.
"Pardon me, Madam," said my father, "if we seem to intrude. But my mare is tired, and we have nowhere to stay."
Uncle Crawford did take us in. He was a man of substance in that country,—a north of Ireland man by birth, if I remember right.
I went to bed with the red-headed boy, whose name was Andy Jackson. I remember that his mother came into our little room under the eaves and made Andy say his prayers, and me after him. But when she was gone out, Andy stumped his toe getting into bed in the dark and swore with a brilliancy and vehemence that astonished me.
It was some hours before we went to sleep, he plying me with questions about my life, which seemed to interest him greatly, and I returning in kind.
"My Pa's dead," said Andy. "He came from a part of Ireland where they are all weavers. We're kinder poor relations here. Aunt Crawford's sick, and Ma keeps house. But Uncle Crawford's good, an' lets me go to Charlotte Town with him sometimes."
I recall that he also boasted some about his big brothers, who were away just then.
Andy was up betimes in the morning, to see us start. But we didn't start, because Mr. Crawford insisted that the white mare should have a half day's rest. Andy, being hustled off unwillingly to the "Old Field" school, made me go with him. He was a very headstrong boy.
I was very anxious to see a school. This one was only a log house in a poor, piny place, with a rabble of boys and girls romping at the door. But when they saw us they stopped. Andy jumped into the air, let out a war-whoop, and flung himself into the midst, scattering them right and left, and knocking one boy over and over. "I'm Billy Buck!" he cried. "I'm a hull regiment o' Rangers. Let th' Cherokees mind me!"
"Way for Sandy Andy!" cried the boys. "Where'd you get the new boy, Sandy?"
"His name's Davy," said Andy, "and his Pa's goin' to fight the Cherokees. He kin lick tarnation out'n any o' you."
Meanwhile I held back, never having been thrown with so many of my own kind.
"He's shot painters and b'ars," said Andy. "An' skinned 'em. Kin you lick him, Smally? I reckon not."
Now I had not come to the school for fighting. So I held back. Fortunately for me, Smally held back also. But he tried skilful tactics.
"He kin throw you, Sandy."
Andy faced me in an instant.
"Kin you?" said he.
There was nothing to do but try, and in a few seconds we were rolling on the ground, to the huge delight of Smally and the others, Andy shouting all the while and swearing. We rolled and rolled and rolled in the mud, until we both lost our breath, and even Andy stopped swearing, for want of it. After a while the boys were silent, and the thing became grim earnest. At length, by some accident rather than my own strength, both his shoulders touched the ground. I released him. But he was on his feet in an instant and at me again like a wildcat.
"Andy won't stay throwed," shouted a boy. And before I knew it he had my shoulders down in a puddle. Then I went for him, and affairs were growing more serious than a wrestle, when Smally, fancying himself safe, and no doubt having a grudge, shouted out:—
"Tell him he slobbers, Davy."
Andy DID slobber. But that was the end of me, and the beginning of Smally. Andy left me instantly, not without an intimation that he would come back, and proceeded to cover Smally with red clay and blood. However, in the midst of this turmoil the schoolmaster arrived, haled both into the schoolhouse, held court, and flogged Andrew with considerable gusto. He pronounced these words afterwards, with great solemnity:—
"Andrew Jackson, if I catch ye fightin' once more, I'll be afther givin' ye lave to lave the school."
I parted from Andy at noon with real regret. He was the first boy with whom I had ever had any intimacy. And I admired him: chiefly, I fear, for his fluent use of profanity and his fighting qualities. He was a merry lad, with a wondrous quick temper but a good heart. And he seemed sorry to say good-by. He filled my pockets with June apples—unripe, by the way—and told me to remember him when I got TILL Charlestown.
I remembered him much longer than that, and usually with a shock of surprise.
Down and down we went, crossing great rivers by ford and ferry, until the hills flattened themselves and the country became a long stretch of level, broken by the forests only; and I saw many things I had not thought were on the earth. Once in a while I caught glimpses of great red houses, with stately pillars, among the trees. They put me in mind of the palaces in Bunyan, their windows all golden in the morning sun; and as we jogged ahead, I pondered on the delights within them. I saw gangs of negroes plodding to work along the road, an overseer riding behind them with his gun on his back; and there were whole cotton fields in these domains blazing in primrose flower,—a new plant here, so my father said. He was willing to talk on such subjects. But on others, and especially our errand to Charlestown, he would say nothing. And I knew better than to press him.
One day, as we were crossing a dike between rice swamps spread with delicate green, I saw the white tops of wagons flashing in the sun at the far end of it. We caught up with them, the wagoners cracking their whips and swearing at the straining horses. And lo! in front of the wagons was an army,—at least my boyish mind magnified it to such. Men clad in homespun, perspiring and spattered with mud, were straggling along the road by fours, laughing and joking together. The officers rode, and many of these had blue coats and buff waistcoats,—some the worse for wear. My father was pushing the white mare into the ditch to ride by, when one hailed him.
"Hullo, my man," said he, "are you a friend to Congress?"
"I'm off to Charlestown to leave the lad," said my father, "and then to fight the Cherokees."
"Good," said the other. And then, "Where are you from?"
"Upper Yadkin," answered my father. "And you?"
The officer, who was a young man, looked surprised. But then he laughed pleasantly.
"We're North Carolina troops, going to join Lee in Charlestown," said he. "The British are sending a fleet and regiments against it."
"Oh, aye," said my father, and would have passed on. But he was made to go before the Colonel, who plied him with many questions. Then he gave us a paper and dismissed us.
We pursued our journey through the heat that shimmered up from the road, pausing now and again in the shade of a wayside tree. At times I thought I could bear the sun no longer. But towards four o'clock of that day a great bank of yellow cloud rolled up, darkening the earth save for a queer saffron light that stained everything, and made our very faces yellow. And then a wind burst out of the east with a high mournful note, as from a great flute afar, filling the air with leaves and branches of trees. But it bore, too, a savor that was new to me,—a salt savor, deep and fresh, that I drew down into my lungs. And I knew that we were near the ocean. Then came the rain, in great billows, as though the ocean itself were upon us.
The next day we crossed a ferry on the Ashley River, and rode down the sand of Charlestown neck. And my most vivid remembrance is of the great trunks towering half a hundred feet in the air, with a tassel of leaves at the top, which my father said were palmettos. Something lay heavy on his mind. For I had grown to know his moods by a sort of silent understanding. And when the roofs and spires of the town shone over the foliage in the afternoon sun, I felt him give a great sigh that was like a sob.
And how shall I describe the splendor of that city? The sandy streets, and the gardens of flower and shade, heavy with the plant odors; and the great houses with their galleries and porticos set in the midst of the gardens, that I remember staring at wistfully. But before long we came to a barricade fixed across the street, and then to another. And presently, in an open space near a large building, was a company of soldiers at drill.
It did not strike me as strange then that my father asked his way of no man, but went to a little ordinary in a humbler part of the town. After a modest meal in a corner of the public room, we went out for a stroll. Then, from the wharves, I saw the bay dotted with islands, their white sand sparkling in the evening light, and fringed with strange trees, and beyond, of a deepening blue, the ocean. And nearer,—greatest of all delights to me,—riding on the swell was a fleet of ships. My father gazed at them long and silently, his palm over his eyes.
"Men-o'-war from the old country, lad," he said after a while. "They're a brave sight."
"And why are they here?" I asked.
"They've come to fight," said he, "and take the town again for the King."
It was twilight when we turned to go, and then I saw that many of the warehouses along the wharves were heaps of ruins. My father said this was that the town might be the better defended.
We bent our way towards one of the sandy streets where the great houses were. And to my surprise we turned in at a gate, and up a path leading to the high steps of one of these. Under the high portico the door was open, but the house within was dark. My father paused, and the hand he held to mine trembled. Then he stepped across the threshold, and raising the big polished knocker that hung on the panel, let it drop. The sound reverberated through the house, and then stillness. And then, from within, a shuffling sound, and an old negro came to the door. For an instant he stood staring through the dusk, and broke into a cry.
"Marse Alec!" he said.
"Is your master at home?" said my father.
Without another word he led us through a deep hall, and out into a gallery above the trees of a back garden, where a gentleman sat smoking a long pipe. The old negro stopped in front of him.
"Marse John," said he, his voice shaking, "heah's Marse Alec done come back."
The gentleman got to his feet with a start. His pipe fell to the floor, and the ashes scattered on the boards and lay glowing there.
"Alec!" he cried, peering into my father's face, "Alec! You're not dead."
"John," said my father, "can we talk here?"
"Good God!" said the gentleman, "you're just the same. To think of it—to think of it! Breed, a light in the drawing-room."
There was no word spoken while the negro was gone, and the time seemed very long. But at length he returned, a silver candlestick in each hand.
"Careful," cried the gentleman, petulantly, "you'll drop them."
He led the way into the house, and through the hall to a massive door of mahogany with a silver door-knob. The grandeur of the place awed me, and well it might. Boy-like, I was absorbed in this. Our little mountain cabin would almost have gone into this one room. The candles threw their flickering rays upward until they danced on the high ceiling. Marvel of marvels, in the oval left clear by the heavy, rounded cornice was a picture.
The negro set down the candles on the marble top of a table. But the air of the room was heavy and close, and the gentleman went to a window and flung it open. It came down instantly with a crash, so that the panes rattled again.
"Curse these Rebels," he shouted, "they've taken our window weights to make bullets."
Calling to the negro to pry open the window with a walking-stick, he threw himself into a big, upholstered chair. 'Twas then I remarked the splendor of his clothes, which were silk. And he wore a waistcoat all sewed with flowers. With a boy's intuition, I began to dislike him intensely.
"Damn the Rebels!" he began. "They've driven his Lordship away. I hope his Majesty will hang every mother's son of 'em. All pleasure of life is gone, and they've folly enough to think they can resist the fleet. And the worst of it is," cried he, "the worst of it is, I'm forced to smirk to them, and give good gold to their government." Seeing that my father did not answer, he asked: "Have you joined the Highlanders? You were always for fighting."
"I'm to be at Cherokee Ford on the twentieth," said my father. "We're to scalp the redskins and Cameron, though 'tis not known."
"Cameron!" shrieked the gentleman. "But that's the other side, man! Against his Majesty?"
"One side or t'other," said my father, "'tis all one against Alec Cameron."
The gentleman looked at my father with something like terror in his eyes.
"You'll never forgive Cameron," he said.
"I'll no forgive anybody who does me a wrong," said my father.
"And where have you been all these years, Alec?" he asked presently. "Since you went off with—"
"I've been in the mountains, leading a pure life," said my father. "And we'll speak of nothing, if you please, that's gone by."
"And what will you have me do?" said the gentleman, helplessly.
"Little enough," said my father. "Keep the lad till I come again. He's quiet. He'll no trouble you greatly. Davy, this is Mr. Temple. You're to stay with him till I come again."
"Come here, lad," said the gentleman, and he peered into my face. "You'll not resemble your mother."
"He'll resemble no one," said my father, shortly.
"Good-by, Davy. Keep this till I come again." And he gave me the parcel made of my mother's gown. Then he lifted me in his strong arms and kissed me, and strode out of the house. We listened in silence as he went down the steps, and until his footsteps died away on the path. Then the gentleman rose and pulled a cord hastily. The negro came in.
"Put the lad to bed, Breed," said he.
"Oh, anywhere," said the master. He turned to me.
"I'll be better able to talk to you in the morning, David," said he.
I followed the old servant up the great stairs, gulping down a sob that would rise, and clutching my mother's gown tight under my arm. Had my father left me alone in our cabin for a fortnight, I should not have minded. But here, in this strange house, amid such strange surroundings, I was heartbroken. The old negro was very kind. He led me into a little bedroom, and placing the candle on a polished dresser, he regarded me with sympathy.
"So you're Miss Lizbeth's boy," said he. "An' she dade. An' Marse Alec rough an' hard es though he been bo'n in de woods. Honey, ol' Breed'll tek care ob you. I'll git you one o' dem night rails Marse Nick has, and some ob his'n close in de mawnin'."
These things I remember, and likewise sobbing myself to sleep in the four-poster. Often since I have wished that I had questioned Breed of many things on which I had no curiosity then, for he was my chief companion in the weeks that followed. He awoke me bright and early the next day.
"Heah's some close o' Marse Nick's you kin wear, honey," he said.
"Who is Master Nick?" I asked.
Breed slapped his thigh.
"Marse Nick Temple, Marsa's son. He's 'bout you size, but he ain' no mo' laik you den a Jack rabbit's laik an' owl. Dey ain' none laik Marse Nick fo' gittin' into trouble-and gittin' out agin."
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"He at Temple Bow, on de Ashley Ribber. Dat's de Marsa's barony."
"De place whah he lib at, in de country."
"And why isn't the master there?"
I remember that Breed gave a wink, and led me out of the window onto a gallery above the one where we had found the master the night before. He pointed across the dense foliage of the garden to a strip of water gleaming in the morning sun beyond.
"See dat boat?" said the negro. "Sometime de Marse he tek ar ride in dat boat at night. Sometime gentlemen comes heah in a pow'ful hurry to git away, out'n de harbor whah de English is at."
By that time I was dressed, and marvellously uncomfortable in Master Nick's clothes. But as I was going out of the door, Breed hailed me.
"Marse Dave,"—it was the first time I had been called that,—"Marse Dave, you ain't gwineter tell?"
"Tell what?" I asked.
"Bout'n de boat, and Marsa agwine away nights."
"No," said I, indignantly.
"I knowed you wahn't," said Breed. "You don' look as if you'd tell anything."
We found the master pacing the lower gallery. At first he barely glanced at me, and nodded. After a while he stopped, and began to put to me many questions about my life: when and how I had lived. And to some of my answers he exclaimed, "Good God!" That was all. He was a handsome man, with hands like a woman's, well set off by the lace at his sleeves. He had fine-cut features, and the white linen he wore was most becoming.
"David," said he, at length, and I noted that he lowered his voice, "David, you seem a discreet lad. Pay attention to what I tell you. And mark! if you disobey me, you will be well whipped. You have this house and garden to play in, but you are by no means to go out at the front of the house. And whatever you may see or hear, you are to tell no one. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"For the rest," said he, "Breed will give you food, and look out for your welfare."
And so he dismissed me. They were lonely days after that for a boy used to activity, and only the damp garden paths and lawns to run on. The creek at the back of the garden was stagnant and marshy when the water fell, and overhung by leafy boughs. On each side of the garden was a high brick wall. And though I was often tempted to climb it, I felt that disobedience was disloyalty to my father. Then there was the great house, dark and lonely in its magnificence, over which I roamed until I knew every corner of it.
I was most interested of all in the pictures of men and women in quaint, old-time costumes, and I used during the great heat of the day to sit in the drawing-room and study these, and wonder who they were and when they lived. Another amusement I had was to climb into the deep windows and peer through the blinds across the front garden into the street. Sometimes men stopped and talked loudly there, and again a rattle of drums would send me running to see the soldiers. I recall that I had a poor enough notion of what the fighting was all about. And no wonder. But I remember chiefly my insatiable longing to escape from this prison, as the great house soon became for me. And I yearned with a yearning I cannot express for our cabin in the hills and the old life there.
I caught glimpses of the master on occasions only, and then I avoided him; for I knew he had no wish to see me. Sometimes he would be seated in the gallery, tapping his foot on the floor, and sometimes pacing the garden walks with his hands opening and shutting. And one night I awoke with a start, and lay for a while listening until I heard something like a splash, and the scraping of the bottom-boards of a boat. Irresistibly I jumped out of bed, and running to the gallery rail I saw two dark figures moving among the leaves below. The next morning I came suddenly on a strange gentleman in the gallery. He wore a flowered dressing-gown like the one I had seen on the master, and he had a jolly, round face. I stopped and stared.
"Who the devil are you?" said he, but not unkindly.
"My name is David Trimble," said I, "and I come from the mountains."
"Mr. David Trimble-from-the-mountains, who the devil am I?"
"I don't know, sir," and I started to go away, not wishing to disturb him.
"Avast!" he cried. "Stand fast. See that you remember that."
"I'm not here of my free will, sir, but because my father wishes it. And I'll betray nothing."
Then he stared at me.
"How old did you say you were?" he demanded.
"I didn't say," said I.
"And you are of Scotch descent?" said he.
"I didn't say so, sir."
"You're a rum one," said he, laughing again, and he disappeared into the house.
That day, when Breed brought me my dinner on my gallery, he did not speak of a visitor. You may be sure I did not mention the circumstance. But Breed always told me the outside news.
"Dey's gittin' ready fo' a big fight, Marse Dave," said he. "Mister Moultrie in the fo't in de bay, an' Marse Gen'l Lee tryin' for to boss him. Dey's Rebels. An' Marse Admiral Parker an' de King's reg'ments fixin' fo' to tek de fo't, an' den Charlesto'n. Dey say Mister Moultrie ain't got no mo' chance dan a treed 'possum."
"Why, Breed?" I asked. I had heard my father talk of England's power and might, and Mister Moultrie seemed to me a very brave man in his little fort.
"Why!" exclaimed the old negro. "You ain't neber read no hist'ry books. I knows some of de gentlemen wid Mister Moultrie. Dey ain't no soldiers. Some is fine gentlemen, to be suah, but it's jist foolishness to fight dat fleet an' army. Marse Gen'l Lee hisself, he done sesso. I heerd him."
"And he's on Mister Moultrie's side?" I asked.
"Sholy," said Breed. "He's de Rebel gen'l."
"Then he's a knave and a coward!" I cried with a boy's indignation. "Where did you hear him say that?" I demanded, incredulous of some of Breed's talk.
"Right heah in dis house," he answered, and quickly clapped his hand to his mouth, and showed the whites of his eyes. "You ain't agwineter tell dat, Marse Dave?"
"Of course not," said I. And then: "I wish I could see Mister Moultrie in his fort, and the fleet."
"Why, honey, so you kin," said Breed.
The good-natured negro dropped his work and led the way upstairs, I following expectant, to the attic. A rickety ladder rose to a kind of tower (cupola, I suppose it would be called), whence the bay spread out before me like a picture, the white islands edged with the whiter lacing of the waves. There, indeed, was the fleet, but far away, like toy ships on the water, and the bit of a fort perched on the sandy edge of an island. I spent most of that day there, watching anxiously for some movement. But none came.
That night I was again awakened. And running into the gallery, I heard quick footsteps in the garden. Then there was a lantern's flash, a smothered oath, and all was dark again. But in the flash I had seen distinctly three figures. One was Breed, and he held the lantern; another was the master; and the third, a stout one muffled in a cloak, I made no doubt was my jolly friend. I lay long awake, with a boy's curiosity, until presently the dawn broke, and I arose and dressed, and began to wander about the house. No Breed was sweeping the gallery, nor was there any sign of the master. The house was as still as a tomb, and the echoes of my footsteps rolled through the halls and chambers. At last, prompted by curiosity and fear, I sought the kitchen, where I had often sat with Breed as he cooked the master's dinner. This was at the bottom and end of the house. The great fire there was cold, and the pots and pans hung neatly on their hooks, untouched that day. I was running through the wet garden, glad to be out in the light, when a sound stopped me.
It was a dull roar from the direction of the bay. Almost instantly came another, and another, and then several broke together. And I knew that the battle had begun. Forgetting for the moment my loneliness, I ran into the house and up the stairs two at a time, and up the ladder into the cupola, where I flung open the casement and leaned out.
There was the battle indeed,—a sight so vivid to me after all these years that I can call it again before me when I will. The toy men-o'-war, with sails set, ranging in front of the fort. They looked at my distance to be pressed against it. White puffs, like cotton balls, would dart one after another from a ship's side, melt into a cloud, float over her spars, and hide her from my view. And then presently the roar would reach me, and answering puffs along the line of the fort. And I could see the mortar shells go up and up, leaving a scorched trail behind, curve in a great circle, and fall upon the little garrison. Mister Moultrie became a real person to me then, a vivid picture in my boyish mind—a hero beyond all other heroes.
As the sun got up in the heavens and the wind fell, the cupola became a bake-oven. But I scarcely felt the heat. My whole soul was out in the bay, pent up with the men in the fort. How long could they hold out? Why were they not all killed by the shot that fell like hail among them? Yet puff after puff sprang from their guns, and the sound of it was like a storm coming nearer in the heat. But at noon it seemed to me as though some of the ships were sailing. It was true. Slowly they drew away from the others, and presently I thought they had stopped again. Surely two of them were stuck together, then three were fast on a shoal. Boats, like black bugs in the water, came and went between them and the others. After a long time the two that were together got apart and away. But the third stayed there, immovable, helpless.
Throughout the afternoon the fight, kept on, the little black boats coming and going. I saw a mast totter and fall on one of the ships. I saw the flag shot away from the fort, and reappear again. But now the puffs came from her walls slowly and more slowly, so that my heart sank with the setting sun. And presently it grew too dark to see aught save the red flashes. Slowly, reluctantly, the noise died down until at last a great silence reigned, broken only now and again by voices in the streets below me. It was not until then that I realized that I had been all day without food—that I was alone in the dark of a great house.
I had never known fear in the woods at night. But now I trembled as I felt my way down the ladder, and groped and stumbled through the black attic for the stairs. Every noise I made seemed louder an hundred fold than the battle had been, and when I barked my shins, the pain was sharper than a knife. Below, on the big stairway, the echo of my footsteps sounded again from the empty rooms, so that I was taken with a panic and fled downward, sliding and falling, until I reached the hall. Frantically as I tried, I could not unfasten the bolts on the front door. And so, running into the drawing-room, I pried open the window, and sat me down in the embrasure to think, and to try to quiet the thumpings of my heart.
By degrees I succeeded. The still air of the night and the heavy, damp odors of the foliage helped me. And I tried to think what was right for me to do. I had promised the master not to leave the place, and that promise seemed in pledge to my father. Surely the master would come back—or Breed. They would not leave me here alone without food much longer. Although I was young, I was brought up to responsibility. And I inherited a conscience that has since given me much trouble.
From these thoughts, trying enough for a starved lad, I fell to thinking of my father on the frontier fighting the Cherokees. And so I dozed away to dream of him. I remember that he was skinning Cameron,—I had often pictured it,—and Cameron yelling, when I was awakened with a shock by a great noise.
I listened with my heart in my throat. The noise seemed to come from the hall,—a prodigious pounding. Presently it stopped, and a man's voice cried out:—
"Ho there, within!"
My first impulse was to answer. But fear kept me still.
"Batter down the door," some one shouted.
There was a sound of shuffling in the portico, and the same voice:—
"Now then, all together, lads!"
Then came a straining and splitting of wood, and with a crash the door gave way. A lantern's rays shot through the hall.
"The house is as dark as a tomb," said a voice.
"And as empty, I reckon," said another. "John Temple and his spy have got away."
"We'll have a search," answered the first voice.
They stood for a moment in the drawing-room door, peering, and then they entered. There were five of them. Two looked to be gentlemen, and three were of rougher appearance. They carried lanterns.
"That window's open," said one of the gentlemen. "They must have been here to-day. Hello, what's this?" He started back in surprise.
I slid down from the window-seat, and stood facing them, not knowing what else to do. They, too, seemed equally confounded.
"It must be Temple's son," said one, at last. "I had thought the family at Temple Bow. What's your name, my lad?"
"David Trimble, sir," said I.
"And what are you doing here?" he asked more sternly.
"I was left in Mr. Temple's care by my father."
"Oho!" he cried. "And where is your father?"
"He's gone to fight the Cherokees," I answered soberly. "To skin a man named Cameron."
At that they were silent for an instant, and then the two broke into a laugh.
"Egad, Lowndes," said the gentleman, "here is a fine mystery. Do you think the boy is lying?"
The other gentleman scratched his forehead.
"I'll have you know I don't lie, sir," I said, ready to cry.
"No," said the other gentleman. "A backwoodsman named Trimble went to Rutledge with credentials from North Carolina, and has gone off to Cherokee Ford to join McCall."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the first gentleman. He came up and laid his hand on my shoulder, and said:—
"Where is Mr. Temple?"
"That I don't know, sir."
"When did he go away?"
I did not answer at once.
"That I can't tell you, sir."
"Was there any one with him?"
"That I can't tell you, sir."
"The devil you can't!" he cried, taking his hand away. "And why not?"
I shook my head, sorely beset.
"Come, Mathews," cried the gentleman called Lowndes.
"We'll search first, and attend to the lad after."
And so they began going through the house, prying into every cupboard and sweeping under every bed. They even climbed to the attic; and noting the open casement in the cupola, Mr. Lowndes said:—
"Some one has been here to-day."
"It was I, sir," I said. "I have been here all day."
"And what doing, pray?" he demanded.
"Watching the battle. And oh, sir," I cried, "can you tell me whether Mister Moultrie beat the British?"
"He did so," cried Mr. Lowndes. "He did, and soundly."
He stared at me. I must have looked my pleasure.
"Why, David," says he, "you are a patriot, too."
"I am a Rebel, sir," I cried hotly.
Both gentlemen laughed again, and the men with them.
"The lad is a character," said Mr. Lowndes.
We made our way down into the garden, which they searched last. At the creek's side the boat was gone, and there were footsteps in the mud.
"The bird has flown, Lowndes," said Mr. Mathews.
"And good riddance for the Committee," answered that gentleman, heartily. "He got to the fleet in fine season to get a round shot in the middle. David," said he, solemnly, "remember it never pays to try to be two things at once."
"I'll warrant he stayed below water," said Mr. Mathews.
"But what shall we do with the lad?"
"I'll take him to my house for the night," said Mr. Lowndes, "and in the morning we'll talk to him. I reckon he should be sent to Temple Bow. He is connected in some way with the Temples."
"God help him if he goes there," said Mr. Mathews, under his breath. But I heard him.
They locked up the house, and left one of the men to guard it, while I went with Mr. Lowndes to his residence. I remember that people were gathered in the streets as we passed, making merry, and that they greeted Mr. Lowndes with respect and good cheer. His house, too, was set in a garden and quite as fine as Mr. Temple's. It was ablaze with candles, and I caught glimpses of fine gentlemen and ladies in the rooms. But he hurried me through the hall, and into a little chamber at the rear where a writing-desk was set. He turned and faced me.
"You must be tired, David," he said.
"And hungry? Boys are always hungry."
"You had no dinner?"
"No, sir," I answered, off my guard.
"Mercy!" he said. "It is a long time since breakfast."
"I had no breakfast, sir."
"Good God!" he said, and pulled the velvet handle of a cord. A negro came.
"Is the supper for the guests ready?"
"Then bring as much as you can carry here," said the gentleman. "And ask Mrs. Lowndes if I may speak with her."
Mrs. Lowndes came first. And such a fine lady she was that she frightened me, this being my first experience with ladies. But when Mr. Lowndes told her my story, she ran to me impulsively and put her arms about me.
"Poor lad!" she said. "What a shame!"
I think that the tears came then, but it was small wonder. There were tears in her eyes, too.
Such a supper as I had I shall never forget. And she sat beside me for long, neglecting her guests, and talking of my life. Suddenly she turned to her husband, calling him by name.
"He is Alec Ritchie's son," she said, "and Alec has gone against Cameron."
Mr. Lowndes did not answer, but nodded.
"And must he go to Temple Bow?"
"My dear," said Mr. Lowndes, "I fear it is our duty to send him there."
In the morning I started for Temple Bow on horseback behind one of Mr. Lowndes' negroes. Good Mrs. Lowndes had kissed me at parting, and tucked into my pocket a parcel of sweetmeats. There had been a few grave gentlemen to see me, and to their questions I had replied what I could. But tell them of Mr. Temple I would not, save that he himself had told me nothing. And Mr. Lowndes had presently put an end to their talk.
"The lad knows nothing, gentlemen," he had said, which was true.
"David," said he, when he bade me farewell, "I see that your father has brought you up to fear God. Remember that all you see in this life is not to be imitated."
And so I went off behind his negro. He was a merry lad, and despite the great heat of the journey and my misgivings about Temple Bow, he made me laugh. I was sad at crossing the ferry over the Ashley, through thinking of my father, but I reflected that it could not be long now ere I saw him again. In the middle of the day we stopped at a tavern. And at length, in the abundant shade of evening, we came to a pair of great ornamental gates set between brick pillars capped with white balls, and turned into a drive. And presently, winding through the trees, we were in sight of a long, brick mansion trimmed with white, and a velvet lawn before it all flecked with shadows. In front of the portico was a saddled horse, craning his long neck at two panting hounds stretched on the ground. A negro boy in blue clutched the bridle. On the horse-block a gentleman in white reclined. He wore shiny boots, and he held his hat in his hand, and he was gazing up at a lady who stood on the steps above him.
The lady I remember as well—Lord forbid that I should forget her. And her laugh as I heard it that evening is ringing now in my ears. And yet it was not a laugh. Musical it was, yet there seemed no pleasure in it: rather irony, and a great weariness of the amusements of this world: and a note, too, from a vanity never ruffled. It stopped abruptly as the negro pulled up his horse before her, and she stared at us haughtily.
"What's this?" she said.
"Pardon, Mistis," said the negro, "I'se got a letter from Marse Lowndes."
"Mr. Lowndes should instruct his niggers," she said. "There is a servants' drive." The man was turning his horse when she cried: "Hold! Let's have it."
He dismounted and gave her the letter, and I jumped to the ground, watching her as she broke the seal, taking her in, as a boy will, from the flowing skirt and tight-laced stays of her salmon silk to her high and powdered hair. She must have been about thirty. Her face was beautiful, but had no particle of expression in it, and was dotted here and there with little black patches of plaster. While she was reading, a sober gentleman in black silk-breeches and severe coat came out of the house and stood beside her.
"Heigho, parson," said the gentleman on the horse-block, without moving, "are you to preach against loo or lansquenet to-morrow?"
"Would it make any difference to you, Mr. Riddle?"
Before he could answer there came a great clatter behind them, and a boy of my own age appeared. With a leap he landed sprawling on the indolent gentleman's shoulders, nearly upsetting him.
"You young rascal!" exclaimed the gentleman, pitching him on the drive almost at my feet; then he fell back again to a position where he could look up at the lady.
"Harry Riddle," cried the boy, "I'll ride steeplechases and beat you some day."
"Hush, Nick," cried the lady, petulantly, "I'll have no nerves left me." She turned to the letter again, holding it very near to her eyes, and made a wry face of impatience. Then she held the sheet out to Mr. Riddle.
"A pretty piece of news," she said languidly. "Read it, Harry."
The gentleman seized her hand instead. The lady glanced at the clergyman, whose back was turned, and shook her head.
"How tiresome you are!" she said.
"What's happened?" asked Mr. Riddle, letting go as the parson looked around.
"Oh, they've had a battle," said the lady, "and Moultrie and his Rebels have beat off the King's fleet."
"The devil they have!" exclaimed Mr. Riddle, while the parson started forwards. "Anything more?"
"Yes, a little." She hesitated. "That husband of mine has fled Charlestown. They think he went to the fleet." And she shot a meaning look at Mr. Riddle, who in turn flushed red. I was watching them.
"What!" cried the clergyman, "John Temple has run away?"
"Why not," said Mr. Riddle. "One can't live between wind and water long. And Charlestown's—uncomfortable in summer."
At that the clergyman cast one look at them—such a look as I shall never forget—and went into the house.
"Mamma," said the boy, "where has father gone? Has he run away?"
"Yes. Don't bother me, Nick."
"I don't believe it," cried Nick, his high voice shaking. "I'd—I'd disown him."
At that Mr. Riddle burst into a hearty laugh.
"Come, Nick," said he, "it isn't so bad as that. Your father's for his Majesty, like the rest of us. He's merely gone over to fight for him." And he looked at the lady and laughed again. But I liked the boy.
As for the lady, she curled her lip. "Mr. Riddle, don't be foolish," she said. "If we are to play, send your horse to the stables." Suddenly her eye lighted on me. "One more brat," she sighed. "Nick, take him to the nursery, or the stable. And both of you keep out of my sight."
Nick strode up to me.
"Don't mind her. She's always saying, 'Keep out of my sight.'" His voice trembled. He took me by the sleeve and began pulling me around the house and into a little summer bower that stood there; for he had a masterful manner.
"What's your name?" he demanded.
"David Trimble," I said.
"Have you seen my father in town?"
The intense earnestness of the question surprised an answer out of me.
"Where?" he demanded.
"In his house. My father left me with your father."
"Tell me about it."
I related as much as I dared, leaving out Mr. Temple's double dealing; which, in truth, I did not understand. But the boy was relentless.
"Why," said he, "my father was a friend of Mr. Lowndes and Mr. Mathews. I have seen them here drinking with him. And in town. And he ran away?"
"I do not know where he went," said I, which was the truth.
He said nothing, but hid his face in his arms over the rail of the bower. At length he looked up at me fiercely.
"If you ever tell this, I will kill you," he cried. "Do you hear?"
That made me angry.
"Yes, I hear," I said. "But I am not afraid of you."
He was at me in an instant, knocking me to the floor, so that the breath went out of me, and was pounding me vigorously ere I recovered from the shock and astonishment of it and began to defend myself. He was taller than I, and wiry, but not so rugged. Yet there was a look about him that was far beyond his strength. A look that meant, NEVER SAY DIE. Curiously, even as I fought desperately I compared him with that other lad I had known, Andy Jackson. And this one, though not so powerful, frightened me the more in his relentlessness.
Perhaps we should have been fighting still had not some one pulled us apart, and when my vision cleared I saw Nick, struggling and kicking, held tightly in the hands of the clergyman. And it was all that gentleman could do to hold him. I am sure it was quite five minutes before he forced the lad, exhausted, on to the seat. And then there was a defiance about his nostrils that showed he was undefeated. The clergyman, still holding him with one hand, took out his handkerchief with the other and wiped his brow.
I expected a scolding and a sermon. To my amazement the clergyman said quietly:—
"Now what was the trouble, David?"
"I'll not be the one to tell it, sir," I said, and trembled at my temerity.
The parson looked at me queerly.
"Then you are in the right of it," he said. "It is as I thought; I'll not expect Nicholas to tell me."
"I will tell you, sir," said Nicholas. "He was in the house with my father when—when he ran away. And I said that if he ever spoke of it to any one, I would kill him."
For a while the clergyman was silent, gazing with a strange tenderness at the lad, whose face was averted.
"And you, David?" he said presently.
"I—I never mean to tell, sir. But I was not to be frightened."
"Quite right, my lad," said the clergyman, so kindly that it sent a strange thrill through me. Nicholas looked up quickly.
"You won't tell?" he said.
"No," I said.
"You can let me go now, Mr. Mason," said he. Mr. Mason did. And he came over and sat beside me, but said nothing more.
After a while Mr. Mason cleared his throat.
"Nicholas," said he, "when you grow older you will understand these matters better. Your father went away to join the side he believes in, the side we all believe in—the King's side."
"Did he ever pretend to like the other side?" asked Nick, quickly.
"When you grow older you will know his motives," answered the clergyman, gently. "Until then; you must trust him."
"You never pretended," cried Nick.
"Thank God I never was forced to do so," said the clergyman, fervently.
It is wonderful that the conditions of our existence may wholly change without a seeming strangeness. After many years only vivid snatches of what I saw and heard and did at Temple Bow come back to me. I understood but little the meaning of the seigniorial life there. My chief wonder now is that its golden surface was not more troubled by the winds then brewing. It was a new life to me, one that I had not dreamed of.
After that first falling out, Nick and I became inseparable. Far slower than he in my likes and dislikes, he soon became a passion with me. Even as a boy, he did everything with a grace unsurpassed; the dash and daring of his pranks took one's breath; his generosity to those he loved was prodigal. Nor did he ever miss a chance to score those under his displeasure. At times he was reckless beyond words to describe, and again he would fall sober for a day. He could be cruel and tender in the same hour; abandoned and freezing in his dignity. He had an old negro mammy whose worship for him and his possessions was idolatry. I can hear her now calling and calling, "Marse Nick, honey, yo' supper's done got cole," as she searched patiently among the magnolias. And suddenly there would be a shout, and Mammy's turban go flying from her woolly head, or Mammy herself would be dragged down from behind and sat upon.
We had our supper, Nick and I, at twilight, in the children's dining room. A little white room, unevenly panelled, the silver candlesticks and yellow flames fantastically reflected in the mirrors between the deep windows, and the moths and June-bugs tilting at the lights. We sat at a little mahogany table eating porridge and cream from round blue bowls, with Mammy to wait on us. Sometimes there floated in upon us the hum of revelry from the great drawing-room where Madame had her company. Often the good Mr. Mason would come in to us (he cared little for the parties), and talk to us of our day's doings. Nick had his lessons from the clergyman in the winter time.
Mr. Mason took occasion once to question me on what I knew. Some of my answers, in especial those relating to my knowledge of the Bible, surprised him. Others made him sad.
"David," said he, "you are an earnest lad, with a head to learn, and you will. When your father comes, I shall talk with him." He paused—"I knew him," said he, "I knew him ere you were born. A just man, and upright, but with a great sorrow. We must never be hasty in our judgments. But you will never be hasty, David," he added, smiling at me. "You are a good companion for Nicholas."
Nicholas and I slept in the same bedroom, at a corner of the long house, and far removed from his mother. She would not be disturbed by the noise he made in the mornings. I remember that he had cut in the solid shutters of that room, folded into the embrasures, "Nicholas Temple, His Mark," and a long, flat sword. The first night in that room we slept but little, near the whole of it being occupied with tales of my adventures and of my life in the mountains. Over and over again I must tell him of the "painters" and wildcats, of deer and bear and wolf. Nor was he ever satisfied. And at length I came to speak of that land where I had often lived in fancy—the land beyond the mountains of which Daniel Boone had told. Of its forest and glade, its countless herds of elk and buffalo, its salt-licks and Indians, until we fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
"I will go there," he cried in the morning, as he hurried into his clothes; "I will go to that land as sure as my name is Nick Temple. And you shall go with me, David."
"Perchance I shall go before you," I answered, though I had small hopes of persuading my father.
He would often make his exit by the window, climbing down into the garden by the protruding bricks at the corner of the house; or sometimes go shouting down the long halls and through the gallery to the great stairway, a smothered oath from behind the closed bedroom doors proclaiming that he had waked a guest. And many days we spent in the wood, playing at hunting game—a poor enough amusement for me, and one that Nick soon tired of. They were thick, wet woods, unlike our woods of the mountains; and more than once we had excitement enough with the snakes that lay there.
I believe that in a week's time Nick was as conversant with my life as I myself. For he made me tell of it again and again, and of Kentucky. And always as he listened his eyes would glow and his breast heave with excitement.
"Do you think your father will take you there, David, when he comes for you?"
I hoped so, but was doubtful.
"I'll run away with you," he declared. "There is no one here who cares for me save Mr. Mason and Mammy."
And I believe he meant it. He saw but little of his mother, and nearly always something unpleasant was coupled with his views. Sometimes we ran across her in the garden paths walking with a gallant,—oftenest Mr. Riddle. It was a beautiful garden, with hedge-bordered walks and flowers wondrously massed in color, a high brick wall surrounding it. Frequently Mrs. Temple and Mr. Riddle would play at cards there of an afternoon, and when that musical, unbelieving laugh of hers came floating over the wall, Nick would say:—
"Mamma is winning."
Once we heard high words between the two, and running into the garden found the cards scattered on the grass, and the couple gone.
Of all Nick's escapades,—and he was continually in and out of them,—I recall only a few of the more serious. As I have said, he was a wild lad, sobered by none of the things which had gone to make my life, and what he took into his head to do he generally did,—or, if balked, flew into such a rage as to make one believe he could not live. Life was always war with him, or some semblance of a struggle. Of his many wild doings I recall well the time when—fired by my tales of hunting—he went out to attack the young bull in the paddock with a bow and arrow. It made small difference to the bull that the arrow was too blunt to enter his hide. With a bellow that frightened the idle negroes at the slave quarters, he started for Master Nick. I, who had been taught by my father never to run any unnecessary risk, had taken the precaution to provide as large a stone as I could comfortably throw, and took station on the fence. As the furious animal came charging, with his head lowered, I struck him by a good fortune between the eyes, and Nicholas got over. We were standing on the far side, watching him pawing the broken bow, when, in the crowd of frightened negroes, we discovered the parson beside us.
"David," said he, patting me with a shaking hand, "I perceive that you have a cool head. Our young friend here has a hot one. Dr. Johnson may not care for Scotch blood, and yet I think a wee bit of it is not to be despised."
I wondered whether Dr. Johnson was staying in the house, too.
How many slaves there were at Temple Bow I know not, but we used to see them coming home at night in droves, the overseers riding beside them with whips and guns. One day a huge Congo chief, not long from Africa, nearly killed an overseer, and escaped to the swamp. As the day fell, we heard the baying of the bloodhounds hot upon his trail. More ominous still, a sound like a rising wind came from the direction of the quarters. Into our little dining-room burst Mrs. Temple herself, slamming the door behind her. Mr. Mason, who was sitting with us, rose to calm her.
"The Rebels!" she cried. "The Rebels have taught them this, with their accursed notions of liberty and equality. We shall all be murdered by the blacks because of the Rebels. Oh, hell-fire is too good for them. Have the house barred and a watch set to-night. What shall we do?"
"I pray you compose yourself, Madame," said the clergyman. "We can send for the militia."
"The militia!" she shrieked; "the Rebel militia! They would murder us as soon as the niggers."
"They are respectable men," answered Mr. Mason, "and were at Fanning Hall to-day patrolling."
"I would rather be killed by whites than blacks," said the lady. "But who is to go for the militia?"
"I will ride for them," said Mr. Mason. It was a dark, lowering night, and spitting rain.
"And leave me defenceless!" she cried. "You do not stir, sir."
"It is a pity," said Mr. Mason—he was goaded to it, I suppose—"'tis a pity Mr. Riddle did not come to-night."
She shot at him a withering look, for even in her fear she would brook no liberties. Nick spoke up:—
"I will go," said he; "I can get through the woods to Fanning Hall—"
"And I will go with him," I said.
"Let the brats go," she said, and cut short Mr. Mason's expostulations. She drew Nick to her and kissed him. He wriggled away, and without more ado we climbed out of the dining-room windows into the night. Running across the lawn, we left the lights of the great house twinkling behind us in the rain. We had to pass the long line of cabins at the quarters. Three overseers with lanterns stood guard there; the cabins were dark, the wretches within silent and cowed. Thence we felt with our feet for the path across the fields, stumbled over a sty, and took our way through the black woods. I was at home here, and Nick was not to be frightened. At intervals the mournful bay of a bloodhound came to us from a distance.
"Suppose we should meet the Congo chief," said Nick, suddenly.
The idea had occurred to me.
"She needn't have been so frightened," said he, in scornful remembrance of his mother's actions.
We pressed on. Nick knew the path as only a boy can. Half an hour passed. It grew brighter. The rain ceased, and a new moon shot out between the leaves. I seized his arm.
"What's that?" I whispered.
But I, cradled in woodcraft, had heard plainly a man creeping through the underbrush beside us. Fear of the Congo chief and pity for the wretch tore at my heart. Suddenly there loomed in front of us, on the path, a great, naked man. We stood with useless limbs, staring at him.
Then, from the trees over our heads, came a chittering and a chattering such as I had never heard. The big man before us dropped to the earth, his head bowed, muttering. As for me, my fright increased. The chattering stopped, and Nick stepped forward and laid his hand on the negro's bare shoulder.
"We needn't be afraid of him now, Davy," he said. "I learned that trick from a Portuguese overseer we had last year."
"You did it!" I exclaimed, my astonishment overcoming my fear.
"It's the way the monkeys chatter in the Canaries," he said. "Manuel had a tame one, and I heard it talk. Once before I tried it on the chief, and he fell down. He thinks I'm a god."
It must have been a weird scene to see the great negro following two boys in the moonlight. Indeed, he came after us like a dog. At length we were in sight of the lights of Fanning Hall. The militia was there. We were challenged by the guard, and caused sufficient amazement when we appeared in the hall before the master, who was a bachelor of fifty.
"'Sblood, Nick Temple!" he cried, "what are you doing here with that big Congo for a dog? The sight of him frightens me."
The negro, indeed, was a sight to frighten one. The black mud of the swamps was caked on him, and his flesh was torn by brambles.
"He ran away," said Nick; "and I am taking him home."
"You—you are taking him home!" sputtered Mr. Fanning.
"Do you want to see him act?" said Nick. And without waiting for a reply he filled the hall with a dozen monkeys. Mr. Fanning leaped back into a doorway, but the chief prostrated himself on the floor. "Now do you believe I can take him home?" said Nick.
"'Swounds!" said Mr. Fanning, when he had his breath. "You beat the devil, Nicholas Temple. The next time you come to call I pray you leave your travelling show at home."
"Mamma sent me for the militia," said Nick.
"She did!" said Mr. Fanning, looking grim. "An insurrection is a bad thing, but there was no danger for two lads in the woods, I suppose."
"There's no danger anyway," said Nick. "The niggers are all scared to death."
Mr. Fanning burst out into a loud laugh, stopped suddenly, sat down, and took Nick on his knee. It was an incongruous scene. Mr. Fanning almost cried.
"Bless your soul," he said, "but you are a lad. Would to God I had you instead of—"
He paused abruptly.
"I must go home," said Nick; "she will be worried."
"SHE will be worried!" cried Mr. Fanning, in a burst of anger. Then he said: "You shall have the militia. You shall have the militia." He rang a bell and sent his steward for the captain, a gawky country farmer, who gave a gasp when he came upon the scene in the hall.
"And mind," said Nick to the captain, "you are to keep your men away from him, or he will kill one of them."
The captain grinned at him curiously.
"I reckon I won't have to tell them to keep away," said he.
Mr. Fanning started us off for the walk with pockets filled with sweetmeats, which we nibbled on the way back. We made a queer procession, Nick and I striding ahead to show the path, followed by the now servile chief, and after him the captain and his twenty men in single file. It was midnight when we saw the lights of Temple Bow through the trees. One of the tired overseers met us near the kitchen. When he perceived the Congo his face lighted up with rage, and he instinctively reached for his whip. But the chief stood before him, immovable, with arms folded, and a look on his face that meant danger.
"He will kill you, Emory," said Nick; "he will kill you if you touch him."
Emory dropped his hand, limply.
"He will go to work in the morning," said Nick; "but mind you, not a lash."
"Very good, Master Nick," said the man; "but who's to get him in his cabin?"
"I will," said Nick. He beckoned to the Congo, who followed him over to quarters and went in at his door without a protest.
The next morning Mrs. Temple looked out of her window and saw the militiamen on the lawn.
"Pooh!" she said, "are those butternuts the soldiers that Nick went to fetch?"
After that my admiration for Nick Temple increased greatly, whether excited by his courage and presence of mind, or his ability to imitate men and women and creatures, I know not. One of our amusements, I recall, was to go to the Congo's cabin to see him fall on his face, until Mr. Mason put a stop to it. The clergyman let us know that we were encouraging idolatry, and he himself took the chief in hand.
Another incident comes to me from those bygone days. The fear of negro insurrections at the neighboring plantations being temporarily lulled, the gentry began to pluck up courage for their usual amusements. There were to be races at some place a distance away, and Nick was determined to go. Had he not determined that I should go, all would have been well. The evening before he came upon his mother in the garden. Strange to say, she was in a gracious mood and alone.
"Come and kiss me, Nick," she said. "Now, what do you want?"
"I want to go to the races," he said.
"You have your pony. You can follow the coach."
"David is to ride the pony," said Nick, generously. "May I go in the coach?"
"No," she said, "there is no room for you."
Nicholas flared up. "Harry Riddle is going in the coach. I don't see why you can't take me sometimes. You like him better than me."
The lady flushed very red.
"How dare you, Nick!" she cried angrily. "What has Mr. Mason been putting into your head?"
"Nothing," said Nick, quite as angrily. "Any one can see that you like Harry. And I WILL ride in the coach."
"You'll not," said his mother.
I had heard nothing of this. The next morning he led out his pony from the stables for me to ride, and insisted. And, supposing he was to go in the coach, I put foot in the stirrup. The little beast would scarce stand still for me to mount.
"You'll not need the whip with her," said Nick, and led her around by the side of the house, in view of the portico, and stood there at her bridle. Presently, with a great noise and clatter of hoofs, the coach rounded the drive, the powdered negro coachman pulling up the four horses with much ceremony at the door. It was a wondrous great vehicle, the bright colors of its body flashing in the morning light. I had examined it more than once, and with awe, in the coach-house. It had glass windows and a lion on a blue shield on the door, and within it was all salmon silk, save the painted design on the ceiling. Great leather straps held up this house on wheels, to take the jolts of the road. And behind it was a platform. That morning two young negroes with flowing blue coats stood on it. They leaped to the ground when the coach stopped, and stood each side of the door, waiting for my lady to enter.
She came down the steps, laughing, with Mr. Riddle, who was in his riding clothes, for he was to race that day. He handed her in, and got in after her. The coachman cracked his whip, the coach creaked off down the drive, I in the trees one side waiting for them to pass, and wondering what Nick was to do. He had let go my bridle, folded his whip in his hand, and with a shout of "Come on, Davy," he ran for the coach, which was going slowly, caught hold of the footman's platform, and pulled himself up.
What possessed the footman I know not. Perchance fear of his mistress was greater than fear of his young master; but he took the lad by the shoulders—gently, to be sure—and pushed him into the road, where he fell and rolled over. I guessed what would happen. Picking himself up, Nick was at the man like a hurricane, seizing him swiftly by the leg. The negro fell upon the platform, clutching wildly, where he lay in a sheer fright, shrieking for mercy, his cries rivalled by those of the lady within. The coachman frantically pulled his horses to a stand, the other footman jumped off, and Mr. Harry Riddle came flying out of the coach door, to behold Nicholas beating the negro with his riding-whip.
"You young devil," cried Mr. Riddle, angrily, striding forward, "what are you doing?"
"Keep off, Harry," said Nicholas. "I am teaching this nigger that he is not to lay hands on his betters." With that he gave the boy one more cut, and turned from him contemptuously.
"What is it, Harry?" came in a shrill voice from within the coach.
"It's Nick's pranks," said Mr. Riddle, grinning in spite of his anger; "he's ruined one of your footmen. You little scoundrel," cried Mr. Riddle, advancing again, "you've frightened your mother nearly to a swoon."
"Serves her right," said Nick.
"What!" cried Mr. Riddle. "Come down from there instantly."
Nick raised his whip. It was not that that stopped Mr. Riddle, but a sign about the lad's nostrils.
"Harry Riddle," said the boy, "if it weren't for you, I'd be riding in this coach to-day with my mother. I don't want to ride with her, but I will go to the races. If you try to take me down, I'll do my best to kill you," and he lifted the loaded end of the whip.
Mrs. Temple's beautiful face had by this time been thrust out of the door.
"For the love of heaven, Harry, let him come in with us. We're late enough as it is."
Mr. Riddle turned on his heel. He tried to glare at Nick, but he broke into a laugh instead.
"Come down, Satan," says he. "God help the woman you love and the man you fight."
And so Nicholas jumped down, and into the coach. The footman picked himself up, more scared than injured, and the vehicle took its lumbering way for the race-course, I following.
I have seen many courses since, but none to equal that in the gorgeous dress of those who watched. There had been many, many more in former years, so I heard people say. This was the only sign that a war was in progress,—the scanty number of gentry present,—for all save the indifferent were gone to Charlestown or elsewhere. I recall it dimly, as a blaze of color passing: merrymaking, jesting, feasting,—a rare contrast, I thought, to the sight I had beheld in Charlestown Bay but a while before. Yet so runs the world,—strife at one man's home, and peace and contentment at his neighbor's; sorrow here, and rejoicing not a league away.
Master Nicholas played one prank that evening that was near to costing dear. My lady Temple made up a party for Temple Bow at the course, two other coaches to come and some gentlemen riding. As Nick and I were running through the paddock we came suddenly upon Mr. Harry Riddle and a stout, swarthy gentleman standing together. The stout gentleman was counting out big gold pieces in his hand and giving them to Mr. Riddle.
"Lucky dog!" said the stout gentleman; "you'll ride back with her, and you've won all I've got." And he dug Mr. Riddle in the ribs.
"You'll have it again when we play to-night, Darnley," answered Mr. Riddle, crossly. "And as for the seat in the coach, you are welcome to it. That firebrand of a lad is on the front seat."
"D—n the lad," said the stout gentleman. "I'll take it, and you can ride my horse. He'll—he'll carry you, I reckon." His voice had a way of cracking into a mellow laugh.
At that Mr. Riddle went off in a towering bad humor, and afterwards I heard him cursing the stout gentleman's black groom as he mounted his great horse. And then he cursed the horse as it reared and plunged, while the stout gentleman stood at the coach door, cackling at his discomfiture. The gentleman did ride home with Mrs. Temple, Nick going into another coach. I afterwards discovered that the gentleman had bribed him with a guinea. And Mr. Riddle more than once came near running down my pony on his big charger, and he swore at me roundly, too.
That night there was a gay supper party in the big dining room at Temple Bow. Nick and I looked on from the gallery window. It was a pretty sight. The long mahogany board reflecting the yellow flames of the candles, and spread with bright silver and shining dishes loaded with dainties, the gentlemen and ladies in brilliant dress, the hurrying servants,—all were of a new and strange world to me. And presently, after the ladies were gone, the gentlemen tossed off their wine and roared over their jokes, and followed into the drawing-room. This I noticed, that only Mr. Harry Riddle sat silent and morose, and that he had drunk more than the others.
"Come, Davy," said Nick to me, "let's go and watch them again."
"But how?" I asked, for the drawing-room windows were up some distance from the ground, and there was no gallery on that side.
"I'll show you," said he, running into the garden. After searching awhile in the dark, he found a ladder the gardener had left against a tree; after much straining, we carried the ladder to the house and set it up under one of the windows of the drawing-room. Then we both clambered cautiously to the top and looked in.
The company were at cards, silent, save for a low remark now and again. The little tables were ranged along by the windows, and it chanced that Mr. Harry Riddle sat so close to us that we could touch him. On his right sat Mr. Darnley, the stout gentleman, and in the other seats two ladies. Between Mr. Riddle and Mr. Darnley was a pile of silver and gold pieces. There was not room for two of us in comfort at the top of the ladder, so I gave place to Nick, and sat on a lower rung. Presently I saw him raise himself, reach in, and duck quickly.
"Feel that," he whispered to me, chuckling and holding out his hand.
It was full of money.
"But that's stealing, Nick," I said, frightened.
"Of course I'll give it back," he whispered indignantly.
Instantly there came loud words and the scraping of chairs within the room, and a woman's scream. I heard Mr. Riddle's voice say thickly, amid the silence that followed:—
"Mr. Darnley, you're a d—d thief, sir."
"You shall answer for this, when you are sober, sir," said Mr. Darnley.
Then there came more scraping of chairs, all the company talking excitedly at once. Nick and I scrambled to the ground, and we did the very worst thing we could possibly have done,—we took the ladder away.
There was little sleep for me that night. I had first of all besought Nick to go up into the drawing-room and give the money back. But some strange obstinacy in him resisted.
"'Twill serve Harry well for what he did to-day," said he.
My next thought was to find Mr. Mason, but he was gone up the river to visit a sick parishioner. I had seen enough of the world to know that gentlemen fought for less than what had occurred in the drawing-room that evening. And though I had neither love nor admiration for Mr. Riddle, and though the stout gentleman was no friend of mine, I cared not to see either of them killed for a prank. But Nick would not listen to me, and went to sleep in the midst of my urgings.
"Davy," said he, pinching me, "do you know what you are?"
"No," said I.
"You're a granny," he said. And that was the last word I could get out of him. But I lay awake a long time, thinking. Breed had whiled away for me one hot morning in Charlestown with an account of the gentry and their doings, many of which he related in an awed whisper that I could not understand. They were wild doings indeed to me. But strangest of all seemed the duels, conducted with a decorum and ceremony as rigorous as the law.
"Did you ever see a duel, Breed?" I had asked.
"Yessah," said Breed, dramatically, rolling the whites of his eyes.
"Whah? Down on de riveh bank at Temple Bow in de ea'ly mo'nin'! Dey mos' commonly fights at de dawn."
Breed had also told me where he was in hiding at the time, and that was what troubled me. Try as I would, I could not remember. It had sounded like Clam Shell. That I recalled, and how Breed had looked out at the sword-play through the cracks of the closed shutters, agonized between fear of ghosts within and the drama without. At the first faint light that came into our window I awakened Nick.
"Listen," I said; "do you know a place called Clam Shell?"
He turned over, but I punched him persistently until he sat up.
"What the deuce ails you, Davy?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. "Have you nightmare?"
"Do you know a place called Clam Shell, down on the river bank, Nick?"
"Why," he replied, "you must be thinking of Cram's Hell."
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a house that used to belong to Cram, who was an overseer. The niggers hated him, and he was killed in bed by a big black nigger chief from Africa. The niggers won't go near the place. They say it's haunted."
"Get up," said I; "we're going there now."
Nick sprang out of bed and began to get into his clothes.
"Is it a game?" he asked.
"Yes." He was always ready for a game.
We climbed out of the window, and made our way in the mist through the long, wet grass, Nick leading. He took a path through a dark forest swamp, over logs that spanned the stagnant waters, and at length, just as the mist was growing pearly in the light, we came out at a tumble-down house that stood in an open glade by the river's bank.
"What's to do now?" said Nick.
"We must get into the house," I answered. But I confess I didn't care for the looks of it.
Nick stared at me.
"Very good, Davy," he said; "I'll follow where you go."
It was a Saturday morning. Why I recall this I do not know. It has no special significance.
I tried the door. With a groan and a shriek it gave way, disclosing the blackness inside. We started back involuntarily. I looked at Nick, and Nick at me. He was very pale, and so must I have been. But such was the respect we each held for the other's courage that neither dared flinch. And so I walked in, although it seemed as if my shirt was made of needle points and my hair stood on end. The crackings of the old floor were to me like the shots in Charlestown Bay. Our hearts beating wildly, we made our way into a farther room. It was like walking into the beyond.
"Is there a window here?" I asked Nick, my voice sounding like a shout.
"Yes, ahead of us."
Groping for it, I suddenly received a shock that set me reeling. Human nature could stand no more. We both turned tail and ran out of the house as fast as we could, and stood in the wet grass, panting. Then shame came.
"Let's open the window first," I suggested. So we walked around the house and pried the solid shutter from its fastenings. Then, gathering our courage, we went in again at the door. In the dim light let into the farther room we saw a four-poster bed, old and cheap, with ragged curtains. It was this that I had struck in my groping.
"The chief killed Cram there," said Nick, in an awed voice, "in that bed. What do you want to do here, Davy?"
"Wait," I said, though I had as little mind to wait as ever in my life. "Stand here by the window."
We waited there. The mist rose. The sun peeped over the bank of dense green forest and spread rainbow colors on the still waters of the river. Now and again a fish broke, or a great bird swooped down and slit the surface. A far-off snatch of melody came to our ears,—the slaves were going to work. Nothing more. And little by little grave misgivings gnawed at my soul of the wisdom of coming to this place. Doubtless there were many other spots.
"Davy," said Nick, at last, "I'm sorry I took that money. What are we here for?"
"Hush!" I whispered; "do you hear anything?"
I did, and distinctly. For I had been brought up in the forest.
"I hear voices," he said presently, "coming this way."
They were very clear to me by then. Emerging from the forest path were five gentlemen. The leader, more plainly dressed than the others, carried a leather case. Behind him was the stout figure of Mr. Darnley, his face solemn; and last of all came Mr. Harry Riddle, very pale, but cutting the tops of the long grass with a switch. Nick seized my arm.
"They are going to fight," said he.
"Yes," I replied, "and we are here to stop them, now."
"No, not now," he said, holding me still. "We'll have some more fun out of this yet."
"Fun?" I echoed.
"Yes," he said excitedly. "Leave it to me. I shan't let them fight."
And that instant we changed generals, David giving place to Nicholas.
Mr. Riddle retired with one gentleman to a side of the little patch of grass, and Mr. Darnley and a friend to another. The fifth gentleman took a position halfway between the two, and, opening the leather case, laid it down on the grass, where its contents glistened.
"That's Dr. Ball," whispered Nick. And his voice shook with excitement.
Mr. Riddle stripped off his coat and waistcoat and ruffles, and his sword-belt, and Mr. Darnley did the same. Both gentlemen drew their swords and advanced to the middle of the lawn, and stood opposite one another, with flowing linen shirts open at the throat, and bared heads. They were indeed a contrast. Mr. Riddle, tall and white, with closed lips, glared at his opponent. Mr. Darnley cut a merrier figure,—rotund and flushed, with fat calves and short arms, though his countenance was sober enough. All at once the two were circling their swords in the air, and then Nick had flung open the shutter and leaped through the window, and was running and shouting towards the astonished gentlemen, all of whom wheeled to face him. He jingled as he ran.
"What in the devil's name now?" cried Mr. Riddle, angrily. "Here's this imp again."
Nicholas stopped in front of him, and, thrusting his hand in his breeches pocket, fished out a handful of gold and silver, which he held out to the confounded Mr. Riddle.
"Harry," said he, "here's something of yours I found last night."
"You found?" echoed Mr. Riddle, in a strange voice, amidst a dead silence. "You found where?"
"On the table beside you."
"And where the deuce were you?" Mr. Riddle demanded.
"In the window behind you," said Nick, calmly.
This piece of information, to Mr. Riddle's plain discomfiture, was greeted with a roar of laughter, Mr. Darnley himself laughing loudest. Nor were these gentlemen satisfied with that. They crowded around Mr. Riddle and slapped him on the back, Mr. Darnley joining in with the rest. And presently Mr. Riddle flung away his sword, and laughed, too, giving his hand to Mr. Darnley.
At length Mr. Darnley turned to Nick, who had stood all this while behind them, unmoved.
"My friend," said he, seriously, "such is your regard for human life, you will probably one day—be a pirate or an outlaw. This time we've had a laugh. The next time somebody will be weeping. I wish I were your father."
"I wish you were," said Nick.
This took Mr. Darnley's breath. He glanced at the other gentlemen, who returned his look significantly. He laid his hand kindly on the lad's head.
"Nick," said he, "I wish to God I were your father."
After that they all went home, very merry, to breakfast, Nick and I coming after them. Nick was silent until we reached the house.