Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Gene Smethers and PG Distributed Proofreaders
ROUND ANVIL ROCK
NANCY HUSTON BANKS
AUTHOR OF "OLDFIELD"
[Illustration: "The Angelus was pealing from the bell of the little
TO MY FATHER
In weaving a romance round a real rock and through actual events, this
tale has taken no great liberty with fact. It has, indeed, claimed the
freedom of fiction only in drawing certain localities and incidents
somewhat closer together than they were in reality. And it has done this
notably in but three instances: by allowing the Wilderness Road to seem
nearer the Ohio River than it really was; by anticipating the
establishment of the Sisters of Charity; and by disregarding the
tradition that Philip Alston had gone from the region of Cedar House
before the time of the story, and that he died elsewhere. These
deviations are all rather slight, yet they are, nevertheless, essential
to any faithful description of the country, the time, and the people,
which this tale tries to describe. The Wilderness Road--everywhere--came
so close to the life of the whole country that no true story of the time
can ever be told apart from it. The Sisters of Charity were established
so early and did so much in the making of Kentucky, that a few months
earlier in coming to one locality or a few years later in reaching
another, cannot make their noble work any less vitally a part of every
tale of the wilderness. The influence of Philip Alston over the country
in which he lived, lasted so much longer than his life, and the precise
date and manner of his death are go uncertain, that his romantic career
must always remain inseparably interwoven with all the romance of
southern Kentucky. And it is for these reasons that this story of nearly
a hundred years ago, has thus claimed a few of the many privileges of
I. THE GIRL AND THE BOY
II. THE HOUSE OF CEDAR
III. "PHILIP ALSTON, GENTLEMAN"
IV. THE NIGHT RIDE
V. ON THE WILDERNESS ROAD
VI. THE CAMP-MEETING
VII. A MORNING IN CEDAR HOUSE
VIII. THE LOG TEMPLE OF JUSTICE
IX. PAUL'S FIRST VISIT TO RUTH
X. FATHER ORIN AND TOBY MEET TOMMY DYE
XI. THE DANCE IN THE FOREST
XII. THE EVE OF ALL SOULS'
XIII. SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES
XIV. A SPIRITUAL CENTAUR
XV. THE WEB THAT SEEMED TO BE WOVEN
XVI. LOVE'S TOUCHSTONE
XVII. THE ONCOMING OF THE STORM
XVIII. THE GENTLEST ARE THE BRAVEST
XIX. UNDER THE HUNTER'S MOON
XX. BALANCING LIFE AND DEATH
XXI. THE EAGLE IN THE DOVE'S NEST
XXII. "A COMET'S GLARE FORETOLD THIS SAD EVENT"
XXIII. LOVE CLAIMS HIS OWN
XXIV. OLD LOVE'S STRIVING WITH YOUNG LOVE
XXV. THE PASSING OF PHILIP ALSTON
"The Angelus was pealing from the bell of the little log chapel"
"A dark, confused ... writhing mass of humanity"
"'I wanted to shake the hand of a man like you'"
Father Orin and Toby
"For she also was riding a great race"
"She was making an aeolian harp"
ROUND ANVIL ROCK
THE GIRL AND THE BOY
The Beautiful River grows very wide in making its great bend around
western Kentucky. On the other side, its shores are low for many miles,
but well guarded by giant cottonwoods. These spectral trees stand close
to its brink and stretch their phantom arms far over its broad waters,
as if perpetually warding off the vast floods that rush down from the
But the floods are to be feared only in the winter or spring, never in
the summer or autumn. And nearly a hundred years ago, when the river's
shores were bound throughout their great length by primeval forests,
there was less reason to fear at any season. So that on a day of October
in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, the mighty stream lay safely
within its deep bounds flowing quietly on its way to join the Father of
So gently it went that there was scarcely a ripple to break its silvery
surface. It seemed indeed hardly to move, reflecting the shadowy
cottonwoods like a long, clear, curving mirror which was dimmed only by
the breath of the approaching dusk. Out in the current beyond the
shadows of the trees, there still lingered a faint glimmer of the
afterglow's pale gold. But the red glory of the west was dying behind
the whitening cottonwoods and beyond the dense dark forest--reaching on
and on to the seeming end of the earth--a billowing sea of ever
deepening green. The last bright gleam of golden light was passing away
on the white sail of a little ship which was just turning the distant
bend, where the darkening sky bent low to meet the darkened wilderness.
The night was creeping from the woods to the waters as softly as the
wild creatures crept to the river's brim to drink before sleeping. The
still air was lightly stirred now and then by rushing wings, as the
myriad paroquets settled among the shadowy branches. The soft murmuring
of the reeds that fringed the shores told where the waterfowl had
already found resting-places. The swaying of the cane-brakes--near and
far--signalled the secret movements of the wingless wild things which
had only stealth to guard them against the cruelty of nature and against
one another. The heaviest waves of cane near the great Shawnee Crossing
might have followed a timid red deer. For the Shawnees had vanished from
their town on the other side of the Ohio. Warriors and women and
children--all were suddenly and strangely gone; there was not even a
canoe left to rock among the rushes. The swifter, rougher waving of the
cane farther off may have been in the wake of a bold gray wolf. The
howling of wolves came from the distance with the occasional gusts of
wind, and as often as the wolves howled, a mysterious, melancholy
booming sounded from the deeper shadows along the shores. It was an
uneasy response from the trumpeter swans, resting like some wonderful
silver-white lilies on the quiet bosom of the dark river.
A great river has all the sea's charm and much of its mystery and
sadness. The boy standing on the Kentucky shore was under this spell as
he listened to these sounds of nature at nightfall on the Ohio, and
watched the majestic sweep of its waters--unfettered and
unsullied--through the boundless and unbroken forests. Yet he turned
eagerly to listen to another sound that came from human-kind. It was the
wild music of the boatman's horn winding its way back from the little
ship, now far away and rounding the dusky bend. Partly flying and partly
floating, it stole softly up the shadowed river. The melody echoed from
the misty Kentucky hills, lingered under the overhanging trees, rambled
through the sighing cane-brakes, loitered among the murmuring
rushes--thus growing ever fainter, sweeter, wilder, sadder, as it came.
He did not know why this sound of the boatman's horn always touched him
so keenly and moved him so deeply. He could not have told why his eyes
grew strangely dim as he heard it now, or why a strange tightening came
around his heart. He was but an ignorant lad of the woods. It was not
for him to know that these few notes--so few, so simple, so artlessly
blown by a rude boatman--touched the deep fountain of the soul, loosing
the mighty torrent pent up in every human breast. Pity, tenderness,
yearning, the struggle and the triumph of life,--the boy felt everything
and all unknowingly, but with quivering sensibility. For he was not
merely an ignorant lad; he was also one of those who are set apart
throughout their lives to feel many things which they are never
permitted to comprehend.
When the last echo of the boatman's horn had melted among the darkling
hills, he turned as instinctively as a sun-worshipper faces the east and
drank in another musical refrain. The Angelus was pealing faintly from
the bell of the little log chapel far up the river, hidden among the
trees. The faith which it betokened was not his own faith, nor the faith
of those with whom he lived, but the beauty and sweetness of the token
appealed to him none the less. How beautiful, how sweet it was! As it
thus came drifting down with the river's deepening shadows, he thought
of the little band of Sisters--angels of charity--kneeling under that
rough roof; those brave gentlewomen of high birth and delicate breeding
who were come with the very first to take an heroic part in the making
of Kentucky and, so doing, in the winning of the whole West. As the boy
thought of them with a swelling heart,--for they had been kind to
him,--it seemed that they were braver than the hunters, more courageous
than the soldiers. Listening to the appeal of the Angelus stealing so
tenderly through the twilight, with the strain of poetry that was in him
thrilling in response, he felt that the prayers then going up must fill
the cruel wilderness with holy incense; that the coming of these gentle
Sisters must subdue the very wild beasts, as the presence of the lovely
martyrs subdued the lions of old.
"Ah, David! David!" cried a gay young voice behind him. "Dreaming
again--with your eyes wide open. And seeing visions, too, no doubt."
He turned with a guilty start and looked up at Ruth. She was standing
near by but higher on the river bank, and her slender white form was
half concealed by the drooping foliage of a young willow tree. There was
something about Ruth herself that always made him think of a young
willow with every graceful wand in bloom. And now--as nearly
always--there was a flutter of soft whiteness about her, for the day was
as warm as mid-summer. He could not have told what it was that she wore,
but her fluttering white garments might have been woven of the mists
training over the hills, so ethereal they looked, seen through the
golden green of the delicate willow leaves that were still gilded by
the afterglow which had vanished from the shadowed river. Her smiling
face could not have been more radiant had the sunlight shone full upon
it. The dusk of evening seemed always lingering under the long curling
lashes that made her blue eyes so dark, and her hair was as black at
midday as at midnight. So that now--when she shook her head at the
boy--a wonderful long, thick, silky lock escaped its fastenings, and the
wind caught it and spun it like silk into the finest blue-black floss.
"Yes, sir, you've been dreaming again! You needn't pretend you were
thinking--you don't know how to think. Thinking is not romantic enough.
I have been here watching you for a long time, and I know just how
romantic the dreams are that you have been dreaming. I could tell by the
way you turned,--this way and that,--looking up and down the river. It
always bewitches you when the sun goes and the shadows come. I knew I
should find you here, just like this; and I came on purpose to wake and
She pretended to draw her pretty brow into a frown, but she could not
"Seriously, dear, you must stop dreaming. It is a dreadful thing to be a
dreamer in a new country. State makers should all be wide-awake workers.
You are out of place here; as Uncle Philip Alston says--"
"Then why did he put me here?" the boy burst out bitterly.
"David!" she cried in wounded reproach, "how can you? It hurts me to
hear you say things like that. I can't bear to hear any one say anything
against him--I love him so. And from you--who owe him almost as much as
The tears were very near. But she was a little angry, too, and her blue
"No; no one owes him so much--as myself. He couldn't have been so
good--no one ever could be so good to any one else as he has always been
to me. Still"--softening suddenly, for she was fond of the boy, and
something in his sensitive face went to her tender heart--"think, David,
dear, we owe him everything we have,--our names, our home, our clothes,
our education, our very lives. We must never for a moment forget that it
was he who found us all alone--you in a cabin on the Wilderness Road and
me in a boat at Duff's Fort--and brought us in his own arms to Cedar
House. And you know as well as I do that he would have given us a home
in his own house if it had not been so rough and bare a place, a mere
camp. And then there was no woman in it to take care of us, and we were
only little mites of babies--poor, crying, helpless morsels of humanity.
Where do you think we came from, David? I wonder and wonder and wonder!"
wistfully, with her gaze on the darkening river.
It was an old question, and one that they had been asking themselves
and one another and every one, over and over, ever since they had been
old enough to think. The short story which Philip Alston had told was
all that he or any one knew or ever was to know. The boy silently shook
his head. The girl went on:--
"Sometimes I am sorry that we couldn't live in his house. You would have
understood him better and have loved him more--as he deserves. It is
only that you don't really know each other," she said gently. "And then
I should like to do something for him--something to cheer him--who does
everything for me. It must be very sad to be alone and old. It grieves
me to see him riding away to that desolate cabin, especially on stormy
nights. But he never will let me come to his house, though I beg and
beg. He says it is too rough, and that too many strange men are coming
and going on business."
"Yes; too many strange men on very strange business."
She did not hear or notice what he said, because the sound of horses'
feet echoing behind them just at that moment caused her to turn her
head. Two horsemen were riding along the river bank, but they were a
long way off and about turning into the forest path as her gaze fell
upon them. She stood still, silently looking after them till they
disappeared among the trees.
"Father Orin and Toby will get home before dark to-night. That is
something uncommon," she said with a smile.
Toby was the priest's horse, but no one ever spoke of the one without
thinking of the other; and then, Toby's was a distinct and widely
"But who is the stranger with them, David? Oh, I remember! It must be
the new doctor,--the young doctor who has lately come and who is curing
the Cold Plague. The Sisters told me. They said that he and Father Orin
often visited the sick together and were already great friends. How tall
he is--even taller than Father Orin, and broader shouldered. I should
like to see his face. And how straight he sits in the saddle. You would
expect a man who holds himself so to carry a lance and tilt fearlessly
at everything that he thought was wrong."
She turned, quickly tossing the willow branches aside and laughing
gayly. "There now, that will set you off thinking of your knights again!
But you must not. Truly, you must not. For it is quite true, dear; you
are a dreamer, a poet. You do indeed belong to the Arcadian Hills. You
should be there now, playing a gentle shepherd's pipe and herding his
peaceful flocks. And instead--alas!"--she looked at him in perplexity
which was partly real and partly assumed--"instead you are here in this
awful wilderness, carrying a rifle longer and heavier than yourself, and
trying to pretend that you like to kill wild beasts, or can endure to
hurt any living thing."
David said nothing; there seemed to be no response for him to make. When
a well-grown youth of eighteen or thereabouts is spoken to by a girl
near his own age as he had just been spoken to by Ruth, he rarely finds
anything to say. No words could do justice to what he feels. And there
is nothing for him to do either, unless it be to take refuge in a
dignified silence which disdains the slightest notice of the offence.
This was what David resorted to, and, bending down, he calmly and
quietly raised his forgotten rifle from the ground to his shoulder. He
did it very slowly and impressively, however, in the hope that Ruth
might realize the fact that he had killed the buck whose huge horns made
the rifle's rest on his cabin walls. But she saw and realized only that
he was wounded, and instantly darted toward him like a swallow. She
caught his rigid rifle arm and clung to it, looking up in his set face.
Her blue eyes were already filling with tears while the smile was still
on her lips. That was Ruth's way; her smiles and tears were even closer
together than most women's are; she was nearly always quiveringly poised
between gayety and sadness; like a living sunbeam continually glancing
across life's shadows.
"What is it, David, dear?" she pleaded, with her sweet lips close to his
ear. "What foolish thing have I said? You must know--whatever it
was--that it was all in fun. Why, I wouldn't have you different, dear,
if I could! I couldn't love you so much if you were not just what you
are. And yet," sighing, "it might be better for you."
She laid her head against his shoulder and drew closer to him in that
soft little nestling way of hers. David looked straight over the lovely
head, keeping his grim gaze as high as he could. He knew how it would be
if his stern gray eyes were to meet Ruth's wet blue ones. He was still a
boy, but trying to be a man--and beginning to understand. No man with
his heart in the right place could hold out against her pretty coaxing.
It was sweet enough to wile the very birds out of the trees. It made no
difference that he had been used to her wiles from babyhood up. To be
used to Ruth's ways only made them harder to resist. No stranger could
possibly have foreseen his defeat as clearly as David foresaw his at the
moment that she started toward him. But self-respect required him to
stand firm as long as possible, although he felt the strength going out
of his rifle arm under her clinging touch. She felt it going, too, and
began to smile through her tears. And then, sure of her victory, she
threw caution to the winds--as older and wiser women have done too
openly in vanquishing stronger and more masterful men. She let him see
that she knew she had conquered, which is always a fatal mistake on the
part of a woman toward a man. Smiling and dimpling, she put up her hand
and patted his cheek--precisely as if he had been a child.
The boy shrunk as if the caress had been a touch of fire. He broke away
and strode off up the hillside with his longest, manliest stride. This
humiliation was past bearing or forgiving. He could have forgiven being
called a dreamer--a useless drone--among the men of clear heads and
strong hands who had already wrested a great state from the wilderness,
and who, through this conquest, were destined to become the immortal
founders of the Empire of the West. He could have overlooked being
spoken to like a child by a girl who might be younger than himself for
all he or she knew to the contrary--though this would have been harder.
He might even have forgiven that pat on his cheek which was downy with
beard, had he been either younger or older. But as it was--well, the
matter may safely be left to the sympathy of the man who remembers the
most sensitive time of his own youth; that trying period when he feels
himself to be no longer a boy and nobody else considers him a man.
David did not know where he was going or what he meant to do. He was
blindly striding up the river bank away from Ruth, fairly aflame with
the determination to do something--anything--to prove his manhood. For
nothing ever makes a boy resolve quite so suddenly and firmly to become
a man instantly as to be treated by a girl as he had been by Ruth. Had
the most desperate danger then come in David's way, he would have hailed
and hazarded it with delight. But he could not think of anything to
overwhelm her with just at that moment, and so he could only stride on
in helpless, angry silence. Ruth flew after him as if her thin white
skirts had been strong, swift wings. She overtook him before he had gone
very far, and clung to him again more than ever like some beautiful
white spirit of the woods wreathed in mist, with her soft blown garments
and her softer blown hair. She merely wound herself around him at first,
breathless and panting. But as soon as she caught her breath the
coaxing, the laughing, and the crying came all together. David kept from
looking down as long as he could, but his pace slackened and his arm
again relaxed. Finally--taken off guard--he glanced at the face so near
his breast. The dusk could not dim its beauty and only made it more
lovely. No more resistance was possible for him--or for any man or
boy--who saw Ruth as she looked then. David's big rough hand was now
surrendered meekly enough to the quick clasp of her little fingers,
and--forgetting all the daring deeds that he meant to do--he was led
like any lamb up the hill to the open door of Cedar House.
THE HOUSE OF CEDAR
So far as they knew, there was no tie of blood or relationship binding
them to the kind people of Cedar House. Yet it was the only home that
they could remember and very dear to them both.
It was a great square of rough, dark logs, and seemed now, seen through
the uncertain light, to stand in the centre of a shadowy hamlet, so many
smaller cabins were clustered around it. The custom of the country was
to add cabin after cabin as the family outgrew the original log house.
The instinct of safety, the love of kindred, and the longing for society
in the perilous loneliness of the wilderness held these first
Kentuckians very close together. So that as their own villages thus grew
around them and only their own dwelt near them, they naturally became as
clannish as their descendants have been ever since.
The cabin nearest Cedar House contained two rooms, and was used by its
master, Judge Knox, for his own bedroom and law office. There was a
still larger cabin somewhat more distant from the main building, which
was intended for the use of his nephew, William Pressley, on the
marriage of that young lawyer to Ruth. But the wedding was some time off
yet, having been set for Christmas Eve, and the cabin which was to
welcome the bride from Cedar House was not quite complete. The smallest
and the oldest cabin was David's. The long black line of cabins
crouching under the hillside where the shadows were deepest, marked the
quarters of the slaves,--a dark storm-cloud already settling heavily on
the fair horizon of the new state.
Cedar House itself was the grandest of its time in all that country.
Built entirely of huge red cedar logs it was two stories in height, the
first house of more than one story standing on the shores of the
southern Ohio. Its roof was the wonder and envy of the whole region for
many years. The shingles were of black walnut, elegantly rounded at the
butt-ends. They were fastened on with solid walnut pegs driven in holes
bored through both the shingles and the laths with a brace and a bit.
For there was not a nail in Cedar House from its firm foundation to its
fine roof. Even the hinges and the latch of the wide front door were
made of wood. The judge often mentioned this fact with much pride, and
never failed to add that the leathern latch-string always hung outside.
But he was still prouder of the massive, towering chimney of Cedar
House, and with good reason. The other houses thinly scattered through
the wilderness had humble chimneys of sticks covered with clay. The
chimney of Cedar House was of rough stone--of one hundred wagon loads,
as the judge boasted--which had been hauled with great difficulty over a
long distance, because there was none near by.
On the wide hearth of this great chimney a fire was always burning. No
matter what the season or the weather might be, there was always a
solemn ceremony around the hearth when the fire was renewed, at the
beginning and the close of every day all the year round. In winter it
was a glorious bonfire consuming great logs. In summer it was the merest
glimmer that could hold a flickering spark. Between winter and summer,
as on this mild October evening, a bright flame sometimes danced gayly
behind the big brass andirons, while all the windows and doors were wide
open. But through cold and heat, and burning high or low, the fire was
never entirely forgotten, never quite permitted to go out. Thus ever
alight it burned like a sacred flame on the altar of home.
Streaming from the doors and windows that night, it gave the youth and
the maiden a cheerful welcome as they came up the darkening hillside.
Lamplight also began to glimmer, and candles flitted here and there
before the windows and door, borne by the dark shapes of the servants
who were laying the table for supper. The main room of Cedar House
opened directly upon the river front; and when brightly lighted, it
could be distinctly seen from without. Ruth and David paused on the
threshold, still unconsciously holding one another's hands, and looked
There were five persons in the room, three men and two women, and they
were all members of the household with the exception of Philip Alston,
the white-haired gentleman, whose appearance bore no other mark of age.
And he also might have been considered as one of the family, since he
had been coming to the house daily for many years. He came usually to
see Ruth, but of late he had found it necessary to see William Pressley
more often; and they were talking eagerly and in a low tone, rather
apart, when the boy and girl paused to see and hear what was taking
place within the great room. William Pressley sat in the easiest chair
in the warmest corner, close to the hearth. There are some men--and a
few women--who always take the softest seat in the best place, and they
do it so naturally that no one ever thinks of their doing anything else
or expects them to sit elsewhere. William Pressley was one of these
persons. In the next easiest chair, on the other side of the hearth, was
his aunt, the widow Broadnax, whose short, broad, shapeless, inert
figure was lying rather than sitting almost buried in a heap of
cushions. This lady was the sister of the judge and the half-sister of
the other lady, Miss Penelope Knox,--the thin, nervous, restless little
old woman,--who was fidgeting back and forth between the hearth and the
doorway leading to the distant kitchen. The relationship of these two
ladies to one another, and the difference in their relationship to the
head of Cedar House, caused much dissension in the household, and gave
rise to certain domestic complications which always rose when least
The fire had been freshly kindled with small twigs of the sugar maple,
that priceless tree often standing fifty to an acre in the wilderness,
and giving the pioneers their best fire-wood, their coolest shade, and
their sweetest food. Vivid blue sparks were still flashing among the
little white stars of the gray moss on the big backlog. From the blazing
ends of the log there came the soft, airy music and the faint, sweet
scent of bubbling sap. This main room of Cedar House was very large,
almost vast, taking up the whole lower floor. It was the dining room as
well as the sitting room; and when some grand occasion arose, it served
even as a drawing-room, and did it handsomely, too. This great room of
Cedar House always reminded David of the ancient halls in "The Famous
History of Montilion," a romance of chivalry from which most of his
ideas of life were taken, and upon which most of his ideals of living
were formed. Surely, he thought, the castle of the "Knight of the
Oracle" could not be grander than this great room of Cedar House.
The rich dark wood of its walls and floor--all rudely smoothed with the
broadaxe and the whipsaw--hung overhead in massive beams. From these
low, blackened timbers there swung many antique lamps, splendid enough
for a palace and strangely out of place in a log house of the
wilderness. On the rough walls there were also large sconces of
burnished silver but poorly filled with tallow candles. In the bare
spaces between these silver sconces were the heads of wild animals
mingled with many rifles, both old and new, and other arms of the
hunter. Over the tall mantelpiece there were crossed two untarnished
swords which had been worn by the judge's father in the Revolution. On
the red cedar of the floor, polished by wear and rubbing, there lay the
skins of wild beasts, together with costly foreign rugs. The same
strange mixture of rudeness and refinement was to be seen everywhere
throughout the room. The table standing in the centre of the floor,
ready for the evening meal, was made of unplaned boards, rudely put
together by the unskilled hands of the backwoods. Yet it was set with
the finest china, the rarest glass, and the richest silver that the
greatest skill of the old world could supply. The chairs placed around
the table were made of unpainted wood from the forest, with seats woven
out of the coarse rushes from the river. And there, between the front
windows, stood Ruth's piano, the first in that part of the wilderness,
and as fine as the finest of its day anywhere.
It is true that something like the same confusion of luxury and wildness
was becoming more or less common throughout the country. The wain trains
which had lately followed the packhorse trains over the
Alleghanies--with the widening of the Wilderness Road--were already
bringing many comforts and even luxuries to the cabins of the well-to-do
settlers. But nothing like those which were fetched constantly to Cedar
House ever came to any other household; and it was not the family who
caused them to be brought there. For while the judge was a man of wealth
for his time and place, and able to give his family greater comfort than
his poorer neighbors could afford, he was far from having the means,
much less the taste and culture, to gather such costly, beautiful, and
rare things as were gathered together in Cedar House. It was through
Philip Alston that everything of this kind had come. It was he who had
chosen everything and paid for it, and ordered it fetched over the
mountains from Virginia or up the river from France or Spain--all as
gifts from him to Ruth. It was natural enough that he should give her
whatever he wished her to have, and there was no reason why she should
not accept any and everything that he gave. She was held by him and by
every one as his adopted daughter. He had no children of his own, no
relations of any degree so far as any one knew, and he was known to be
generous and believed to be very rich. Indeed no one thought much about
his gifts to Ruth; they had long since become a matter of course, a part
of the everyday life of Cedar House. They had begun with Ruth's coming
more than seventeen years before. As a baby she had been rocked in a
cradle such as never before had been seen in the wilderness,--a very gem
of wonderful carving and inlaid work from Spain. As a little child she
had been dressed--as no little one of the wild wood ever had been
before--in the finest fabrics and the daintiest needlework from the
looms and convents of France. Very strange things may become familiar
through use. The simple people of Cedar House and their rude neighbors
were well used to all this. They had seen the beautiful blue-eyed baby
grow to be a more beautiful child, and the child to a most beautiful
maiden, and always surrounded by the greatest refinement and luxury that
love and means could bring into the wilderness. Naturally enough they
now found nothing to wonder at, in the daily presence of this radiant
young figure among them.
It was only for an instant that the girl and boy stood thus unseen on
the threshold of Cedar House, looking into the great room. Philip Alston
saw them almost at once. He had been watching and waiting for Ruth, as
he always was when she was out of his sight even for a moment. He sprang
up, quickly and alertly, like a strong young man, and went to meet her
with his gallant air. She held up her cheek smilingly; he bent and
kissed it, and taking her hand with his grand bow, led her across the
room. The judge and his nephew also arose, as they always did when she
came in or went out. The judge did this unconsciously, without thinking,
and scarcely knowing that he did do it; for he was a plain man, rather
awkward and very absent-minded, and deeply absorbed in the study of his
profession. William Pressley did it with deliberate intention and
self-consciousness, as he did everything that he deemed fitting. It was
his nature to give grave thought to the least thing that he said or did.
It was his sincere conviction that the smallest matter affecting himself
was of infinitely greater importance than the greatest that could
possibly concern any one else. There are plenty of people who believe
this as sincerely as he believed it, but there are few who show the
belief with his candor. When he now stood up to place a chair for Ruth
beside his own, he did the simple service as if the critical eyes of the
world had been upon him. And his manner was so consciously correct that
no one observed that the chair which he gave her was not so comfortable
as his own. He was uncommonly good-looking, also, and tall and shapely,
yet there was something about his full figure--that vague,
indescribable something--which unmistakably marks the lack of virility
in mind or body, no matter how large or handsome a man may be. He stood
for a moment after Ruth was seated, and then, seeing that Philip Alston
was about to lift a candle-stand which was heaped with parcels, he went
to aid him, and the two men together set the little table before her.
She looked at it with soft, excited cries of surprise and delight,
instantly divining that the unopened parcels and sealed boxes contained
more of the gifts which her foster-father was constantly lavishing upon
her. He smiled down at her beaming face and dancing eyes, and then
taking out his pocket-knife he cut the cords and removed the covers of
the boxes. As the wrappings fell away, there was a shimmer of dazzling
tissues, silver and gold.
"Oh! oh!" she cried.
"Just a few pretty trifles, my dear," he said. "You like them?"
Repeating his words she sprang up, and running round the candle-stand,
stood on the very tips of her toes so that she might throw her arms
about his neck. He bent his head to meet her upturned face, and if ever
tenderness shone in a man's pale, grave face, it shone then in his. If
ever love--pure and unselfish--beamed from a man's eyes, it was beaming
now from those looking down in the girl's face. His tender gaze
followed her fondly as she went back to the candle-stand and began to
examine each article again more than once and with lingering and growing
delight. She found new beauties every moment, and pointed them out to
the three men and the boy who were now gathered around her. She called
the ladies also, over and over, but they did not come, although they
cast many glances at the candle-stand.
Miss Penelope was engaged in making the coffee for supper; and while she
did not consider the making of the coffee for supper quite so vital a
matter as the making of the coffee for breakfast, she still could not
think of leaving the hearth under any inducement so long as the
coffee-pot sat on its trivet above the glowing coals. The widow Broadnax
stirred among her cushions once or twice, as if almost on the point of
trying to get out of her chair. She was fonder of finery than her
half-sister was, and she would have liked very much to see these
beautiful things nearer. But she was still fonder of her own ease than
of finery, and it was really a great deal of trouble to get out of her
deep, broad low chair. And then she never moved or took her eyes off her
half-sister while that energetic lady was engaged in making the coffee.
Knowing the ladies' ways, Ruth did not expect them to come. She was
quite satisfied to have the men share her pleasure in the presents.
They were looking at her and not at the gifts lying heaped on the
candle-stand, but she did not notice that. She gave the judge a
priceless piece of lace to hold. He took it with the awkward, helpless
embarrassment of a manly man handling a woman's delicate
belongings,--the awkwardness that goes straight to a woman's heart,
because she sees and feels its true reverence--a reverence just as plain
and just as sweet to the simplest country girl as to the wisest woman of
the world. The perception of it is a matter of intuition, not one of
experience. The least experienced woman instantly distrusts the man who
can touch her garments with ease or composure. Ruth's gay young voice
broke into a sweet chime of delighted laughter when the judge seized the
airy bit of lace as if it had been the heaviest and hottest of crowbars.
She laughed again when she looked at his face. He had an odd trick of
lifting one of his eyebrows very high and at an acute angle when
perplexed or ill at ease. This eccentric left eyebrow--now quite
wedge-shaped--had gone up almost to the edge of his tousled gray hair.
Ruth patted his great clumsy hands with her little deft ones.
"Well, I'll have to take to the woods, if there's no other way of
escape," said the judge, making his greatest threat.
"You dear!" she said, running her arm through his and giving it a little
squeeze. "That's right. Hold it tight--be careful, or it will break.
Here, William," piling the young man's arms full of delicately tinted
gauze, "this is a sunset cloud. And these," casting lengths of exquisite
tissue over the boy's shoulder, "these are the mists of the dawn,
David,--all silvery white and golden rose and jewelled blue. But--oh!
oh!--these are the loveliest of all! A pair of slippers in
orange-blossom kid, spangled with silver! Look at them! Just look,
Holding them in her hand she ran round the table again to throw her arms
about Philip Alston's neck the second time, like a happy, excited child.
The little white slippers went up with her arms and touched his cheek.
And then he drew them down, and clasping her slender wrists, held her
out before him and looked at her with fond, smiling eyes.
"I don't believe that the Empress Josephine has any prettier slippers
than those," he said. "I ordered the prettiest and the finest in Paris."
"Who fetched all these things?" the judge broke in, with something like
a sudden realization of the number and the value of the gifts.
"Oh, a friend of mine," responded Philip Alston, carelessly, and without
turning his head,--"a friend who has many ships constantly going and
coming between New Orleans and France. He orders anything I wish; and
when it comes to him, he sends it on to me by the first flatboat
cordelled up the river."
"What is his name?" asked the judge, with a persistence very uncommon in
Philip Alston turned now and glanced at him with an easy, almost
"I don't like to tell you his name, because you--with a good many other
honestly mistaken people--are most unjustly prejudiced against him. And
then you know well enough that I am speaking of my respected and trusted
friend, Monsieur Jean Lafitte."
The judge dropped the lace as if it had burnt his hand. He went back to
his seat by the window in silence. He sat down heavily and looked at
Philip Alston in perplexity, rubbing his great shock of rough grizzled
hair the wrong way as he always did when worried. His thoughts were
plainly to be read on his open, rugged face. This liking of Philip
Alston's for a man under a national ban was an old subject of worry and
perplexity. Yet Alston was always as frank and as firm about it as he
had been just now, and the judge's confidence in him was absolute.
Robert Knox's own character must have changed greatly before he could
have doubted the sincerity of any one whom he had known as long, as
intimately, and as favorably as he had known Philip Alston. We all judge
others by ourselves,--whether we do it consciously or not,--since we
have no other way of judging. And the judge himself was so simple, so
sincere, so essentially honest, that he could not doubt one who was in a
way a member of his own family. And then he was absent-minded,
unobservant, easy-going, indolent, and the slave of habit, as such a
nature is apt to be. Moreover, he was not always master of the slight
power of observation which had been given him. That very day, while on
his way home from the court-house, he had stopped at a cabin where
liquor was sold. As a consequence, this sudden touch of uneasiness which
aroused him for an instant was forgotten nearly as suddenly as it came.
So that after looking bewilderedly at Philip Alston once or twice, he
now began to nod and doze.
"PHILIP ALSTON, GENTLEMAN"
Philip Alston still stood before the candle-stand. His gaze rested on
the girl's radiant face with wistful tenderness. It was plain that he
thought nothing of all these rich, rare gifts which he had given her,
save only as they gave her pleasure and might win from her another
loving look, another butterfly kiss on his cheek.
As he stood there that night in the great room of Cedar House, before
the firelight and under the beams of the swinging lamps, he scarcely
appeared to need the help of any gift in winning a woman's love. His was
a presence to hold the gaze. He was very tall and straight and slender,
yet most finely proportioned. The heavy hair, falling back from his
handsome face and tied in a queue, must once have been as black as
Ruth's own; surely, no paler shade could have become so silvery white.
His eyes, also, were as blue as hers, and none could have been bluer.
His skin was almost as fair and smooth as hers, his manner as gentle and
kind, his voice as soft and his smile as sweet. He was elegantly
dressed, as he always was, his fine long coat of forest green
broadcloth had a wide velvet collar and large gold buttons. His velvet
knee-breeches and the wide riband which tied his queue were of the same
rich shade of dark green. The most delicate ruffles filled the front of
his swan's-down vest and fell over his hands, which were remarkably
white and small and taper-fingered, like a fine lady's. His white silk
stockings and his low shoes were held by silver buckles. So looked
Philip Alston, Gentleman,--and so he was called,--as he stood in the
great room of Cedar House on that night of October, nearly a hundred
years ago. And thus he is described in the few rare old histories which
touch the romance of this region when he ruled it like a king, by the
power of his intelligence and the might of his will.
He was foremost in the politics of the time as in everything else, and
he and William Pressley had been discussing this subject at the moment
of Ruth's appearance, which had interrupted their conversation. Philip
Alston had forgotten the unfinished topic, but William Pressley had not.
He, also, had been pleased to look on for a while at the girl's radiant
delight; and he, also, had enjoyed the charming scene. But there was a
lull now, and he at once turned back to the matter in which he was most
deeply interested. Ambition for political preferment was the theme which
most absorbed his mind, and ambition was the one thing which could
always light a spark of fire in his cold, hard, shallow hazel eyes.
This was not for the reason that he cared especially for politics in
itself, which he did not. But he turned to it in preference to warfare,
since the choice of the ambitious young men of the wilderness lay
between the two. Politics seemed to him to open the surest and shortest
road to the prominence which he craved above everything else. He was one
of those unfortunates who can never be happy on a level--even with the
highest--and who must look down in order to be at all content with life.
Yet with this overweening and insatiable craving for distinction and
prominence, he had been given no talent by which distinction may be won;
had been granted no quality, mental, moral, or physical, by which he
might rise above the mass of his fellows. It was a cruel trick for
Nature to play, and one that she plays far too often. The sufferers from
it are certainly far more to be pitied than blamed, and it is harmful
only to the afflicted themselves, so long as it meets, or still expects,
a measure of gratification. When they are permitted to reach any height
from which to look down, the terrible craving appears to be temporarily
appeased; and they become kind, and even generous, to all who look up
with willing, unwandering gaze. It is only when the sufferers fail to
reach any height, or when they lose what little they may have attained,
or when the gaze of the world wanders, that they become hard, sour,
bitter, and merciless toward all who have succeeded where they have
failed. The only mercy that Nature has shown them in their affliction,
is to make most of them slow to realize that they can never gain the one
thing they crave. And this miserable awakening had not yet come to
William Pressley. On that evening he had every reason to be content and
well pleased with himself. The future promised all that he most
earnestly wished for. He was already moderately successful in the
practice of his profession. This was mainly owing to his uncle's
influence, but he was far from suspecting the fact. His domestic life,
also, was admirably settled; he was fond of Ruth and proud of her, as he
was of everything belonging to himself. But the thing which made him
happiest was a suggestion of Philip Alston's, first offered on the
previous day; and it was to this that he now recurred at the first
He spoke with an eagerness curiously apart from his words:
"There seems to be no doubt that the Shawnees are really gone. Men,
women, and children, they have all disappeared from their town on the
other side of the river. A hunter who has been over there told me so
yesterday. It appears reasonably certain that the warriors are gathering
under the Prophet at Tippecanoe."
"Yes, it is undoubtedly true that the Indians are rising," replied
Philip Alston, still looking at Ruth. "Well, it was bound to come,--this
last decisive struggle between the white and the red race,--and the
sooner the better, perhaps. I hear, too, that the troops are already
moving upon the Shawnee encampment."
"Have you heard anything more about the attorney-general's offering his
services? Is it decided that he will go?" asked William Pressley.
He spoke more quickly and with more spirit than was common with him. And
he sank back with an involuntary movement of disappointment when Philip
Alston shook his head.
"However, there is little doubt that he will go. He is almost sure to,"
Philip Alston went on. "It is his way to put his own shoulder to the
wheel. You remember, judge--"
"What's that!" cried the judge, starting up from his doze.
"We are talking about Joseph Hamilton Daviess," said Philip Alston.
"A great man. A great lawyer--the first lawyer west of the Alleghanies
to go to Washington and plead a case before the Supreme Court," said the
"He has certainly been untiring and fearless in the discharge of his
duty as the United States Attorney," Philip Alston said warmly. "I was
just going to remind you of the journey that he made across the
wilderness from Kentucky to St. Louis to find out, if he could, at first
hand, what treason Aaron Burr was plotting over there with the
commandant of the military post as a tool. He didn't find out a great
deal. That old fox knows how to cover his tracks. But the
attorney-general did more than any one else could have done. He hauled
Burr to trial, almost single-handed, and against the greatest public
clamor. He leaves nothing undone in the pursuit of his duty. I
understand that he is to be here soon. He thinks that something should
be done to put down the lawlessness of this country as Andrew Jackson
has subdued it in his territory."
"But he must, of course, resign the office, if he intends going to
Tippecanoe," said William Pressley.
He was so intent upon this one point of interest to himself that he had
scarcely heard what had been said. He now turned with dignified
impatience when his aunt broke in, speaking from the hearth. Miss
Penelope always spoke with a greater or less degree of suddenness and
irrelevance. She commonly said what she had to say at the instant that
the thought occurred to her, regardless of what others might be talking
or thinking about. The tenor of nearly everything that she said was
singularly gloomy. Her mind was full of superstition of a homely,
domestic kind. She was a great believer in signs, and the signs with
which she was most familiar were usually forewarnings of some great and
mysterious public or private calamity. Her voice was remarkably soft,
low, and sweet, so that to hear these alarming threats and these
appalling prophecies uttered in the tones of a cooing dove, was very
"'Pon my word!" she now exclaimed, facing the room, but still keeping
close to the coffee-pot. "How you all can expect anything but terrible
troubles and awful misfortunes is more than I can understand. The
warning of that comet sent a-flying wild across the heavens is enough
No one noticed what she said--which certainly seemed to require no
notice; but it never made any difference to Miss Penelope whether her
remarks were warmly or coolly received. After stooping to turn the
coffee-pot round on its trivet she faced the room again.
"Yes, the warning is plenty plain enough for me!" she cooed. "And just
look at the dreadful things that have happened already! Just look at
what came to pass between the time we first heard of that comet early in
the summer, and the time we first saw it early in September. Didn't all
the wasps and flies go blind and die sooner than common, right in the
middle of the hottest weather? Who ever heard of such a thing before?
And look at the fruit crop,--the apple trees, the peach trees, all kind
of fruit trees--and the grape-vines a-bending and a-breaking clear down
to the ground because they can't bear the weight."
"It is probable that the early dying of the wasps and flies may have
had something to do with the fineness of the fruit," said William
Pressley, quite seriously, with formal politeness and a touch of
impatience at the interruption.
Miss Penelope took him up tartly in her softest tone: "Then, William,
may I ask why the people all over the country are calling this year's
vintage 'comet wines'? For that's the way they are marking it, and
everybody is putting it to itself--as something very uncommon. But never
mind! I am used to having what I say mocked at in this house. It's
nothing new to me to have my words passed over as if they hadn't been
spoken. I can bear it and it don't alter my duty. I am bound to go on
a-doing what I believe to be right just the same, however I am treated.
I can't sit by and say nothing when I know that I ought to lift up my
voice in warning. So I say again--you can mark my word or not as you
think best--that we are all a-going to see some mighty wild sights
before we see the last of that comet's tail."
"Pooh! Pooh! Pooh!" cried the widow Broadnax, roughly and hoarsely, as
she nearly always spoke, and sitting up suddenly among her cushions.
"Who's afraid of a comet with only one tail? I'll have you to know,
sister Penelope, that my grandmother--my own grandmother and Robert's
own grandmother, not yours--could remember the famous comet of
seventeen hundred and forty-four, and that had six tails."
Miss Penelope was daunted and silenced for the moment. She did not mind
the greater number of the rival comet's tails. It was not that which
made her feel herself at a disadvantage. It was the slur at her lesser
relationship to the master of the house. Any reference to that was a
blow which never failed to make her flinch; and one which the widow
never lost a chance to deal. But Miss Penelope had not yielded an inch
through the ceaseless contention of years, and held her ground now;
since there was nothing to say in reply, she ignored the taunt as she
had done all that had gone before. She turned upon William Pressley,
however, as we are prone to turn upon those whom we do not fear, when we
dare not attack those with whom we are really offended.
"Well, William, maybe you think that the early dying and the going blind
of the wasps and the flies caused the breaking out of the 'Jerks,' too.
You and the rest all think you know better than I do. I don't
complain--maybe you all do know better. But some day, when I am dead and
gone, some day, and it mayn't be very long, when my hands are stone cold
and crossed under the coffin-lid, you will think differently about a
good many matters," she cooed, as if saying the mildest, pleasantest
things in the world. "The Jerks have brought many a proud head low.
Others besides myself will see a warning in the Jerks before they are
gone. And now here are the Shawnees a-coming to welter us in our blood.
And the Cold Plague already come to shake the life out of the few that
are left. But it is their own fault. There's nobody but themselves to
blame. It's easy enough to keep from having the plague," Miss Penelope
added confidently. "Anybody can keep from having it, if they will only
take the trouble to blow real hard three times on a blue yarn string
William Pressley turned gravely and was about to protest against such
absurd superstition, but Philip Alston interfered tactfully, to assure
the lady that she was quite right, that it could not fail to benefit
almost any one to breathe on anything, especially if the breathing were
very deep and very early in the morning.
"And then the new doctor knows how to cure the plague, aunt Penelope,
dear," said Ruth, suddenly looking up from the things on the
candle-stand. She was always the peacemaker of the family. "The Sisters
told me. They are not afraid now that he has come. They were never
afraid for themselves; it was for the children--the orphans. They said
that little ones were dying all over the wilderness like frozen lambs."
"This new doctor is a most presumptuous person," said William Pressley,
with the chilly deliberation which invariably marked his irritation. "He
refuses to bleed his patients or to allow them to be bled. These
unheard-of objections of his are levelled at the fundamental principles
of the established practice and calculated to undermine it. Every
physician of reputable standing will tell you that bleeding is the only
efficacious treatment for the Cold Plague, and that it is entirely safe
if no more than eight ounces of blood be taken at a time, and not
oftener than once in two or three hours."
[Footnote 1: "Medical Repository," 1815, p. 222.]
No one said anything for a moment. When William Pressley spoke in that
tone, which he frequently did, there seemed to be nothing left for any
one else to say. The subject appeared to have been done up hard and fast
in a bundle and laid away for good and all. The judge was dozing again,
Philip Alston was still gazing at Ruth, Miss Penelope was busy over the
coffee-pot, and the widow Broadnax was watching every movement that she
made. It was Ruth who replied after a momentary pause. She never lacked
courage to stand by her own opinions, timid and gentle as they were; and
she spoke now firmly though gently:
"But, William, just think! These were little bits of babies. Such poor,
weak, bloodless little mites anyway. And it is said that the greatest
pain and danger from the plague is from weakness and cold. The strongest
men shiver and shiver till they freeze out of the world."
William Pressley bent his head in the courtesy that stings more than
rudeness. He never argued. He had spoken; there was no need to say
anything more. So that with this bow to Ruth he turned to Philip Alston
and again took up the topic which he was so anxious to resume. It had
already been interrupted, he thought, by far too much unimportant talk.
Ruth looked at him expectantly when he started to speak, but he was
looking at Philip Alston and spoke to him.
"You have, I suppose, sir, mentioned to my uncle what you so kindly
suggested to me, in the event that the attorney-general should resign on
going to Tippecanoe."
The deepest feeling that Ruth had ever heard in his voice thrilled it
now. She involuntarily bent forward. Her eager lips were apart, her
radiant eyes were upon him. Was he going with the attorney-general to
Tippecanoe? She was afraid, glad, frightened, proud, all in a breath.
She had forgotten the beautiful gifts that lay before her. The mere
mention, the merest thought of the noble and the great, stirred her
heart like the throb of mighty drums.
"No, but I will speak to him about it now," replied Philip Alston.
"Judge, Judge Knox!" raising his voice.
The judge, aroused, sat up, looking round. But William Pressley spoke
again before Philip Alston could explain.
"If the attorney-general really intends to go, he must resign. There
will, of course, be many applicants for the place, and we can hardly be
too prompt in applying for it, if I am to succeed him."
Ruth sank back in her chair. The fabric which she had held unconsciously
now dropped unheeded from her hand. She could not have told why she felt
such a shock of revulsion and disappointment. She had known something
like it before, when this man who was to be her husband had shown some
strange insensibility to great things which had moved her own heart to
its depths. But the feeling had never been so strong as it was now; had
never come so near revealing to her the real character of him with whom
her whole life was to be spent; and she was still more bewildered and
perplexed than shocked or distressed. She thought that she must have
misunderstood; that he could not have meant thus to pass over this great
national crisis,--this noble offering of a great man's life to the
service of his country,--in unfeeling haste to grasp some selfish profit
from it. She looked at him wonderingly, with all the light gone out of
her face. Being what she was, she could not see that he was just as true
to his nature as she was to hers; that he was following it with entire
sincerity in looking at the noblest things in life and the greatest
things in the world, solely as they affected himself and his own
interests. It was not for a nature like hers ever to understand that a
nature like his would, if it could, bend the whole universe to his own
ends without a doubt that such was its best possible use.
Philip Alston, also, was regarding William Pressley with rather an
inscrutable look. But his estimate and understanding were fairer than
Ruth's, for the reason that he could come nearer to giving the young man
his due. He knew that William Pressley was honest and sincere in his
vanity and conceit, and was assured that these traits were the worst he
possessed. Philip Alston knew men, and he had found that those who
honestly thought highly of themselves usually had something, more or
less, to found the opinion upon. He had never known a bad man who
sincerely thought himself a good one. He knew that many dull men really
believed themselves to be intelligent,--but that was a comparatively
harmless mistake,--and he had never observed that a woman thought less
of a man who thought well of himself. Aside from this surface weakness
William Pressley was a most worthy young fellow; far more worthy to be
Ruth's husband than any one else in that rough and thinly settled
country. The nearer the time for the marriage approached, the more
Philip Alston came to believe that he had chosen wisely in selecting
William Pressley. Fully convinced at last that he could not do better
for her future than to intrust it to this serious, conscientious young
man, who was unquestionably fond of her and to whom she was much
attached, he now rested content. He still found, to be sure, some
amusement in the young man's estimate of himself; but he never doubted
its sincerity or questioned its harmlessness. It did not occur to him
that Ruth might be troubled by these matters which merely made him
There would have been a warning for him in the look which she now gave
William Pressley had he seen it. But he was looking at the judge, who
could not grasp the meaning of what had been said; and he tried again to
put the facts before him, but the judge would not allow him to finish.
"Who says Joe Daviess is going away?" he demanded excitedly. "Why, he
can't leave. It's out of the question. There is nobody to take his
place. We can't spare him. It is preposterous to think of his going to
be slaughtered by those red devils. A man like that! when there are
plenty of no-account wretches good enough to make food for powder. He
mustn't go. The country needs him more here than there--or anywhere. And
I will see him to-morrow, for he is coming; tell him so, by ----!"
"You will have your trouble for nothing, then, sir," said Philip Alston,
quietly, interrupting him. "The attorney-general is not a man to let
another man tell him what to do or not to do. And we are merely
considering the probability of his going. If he should go, some one
must, of course, take his place. In that case I can think of no one
more fit than William here," laying his hand on the young man's arm.
"With his qualifications, backed by your influence and mine, there
should not be much difficulty. But we must press his claims in time; the
notice will be short."
The idea was new to the judge and startling. He turned quickly and
looked at his nephew blankly for a moment, and then his left eyebrow
went up. His opinion was easy enough to read on his open, rugged face as
it always was, and Philip Alston read it like large print; but it did
not suit him to show that he did, and no one else saw it. Ruth's face
was buried in her hands as she sat with her elbows on the candle-stand.
William was looking at the floor with the quiet air of one who is calmly
conscious of his own merits, and can afford to await their recognition,
even though it may be tardy. The ladies were deeply absorbed in the
duties binding them to the hearth. The coffee was now ready, and Miss
Penelope lifted the pot from its trivet, and, carrying it to the table,
called everybody to supper. No affairs of state ever were, or ever could
be, of sufficient importance in her eyes to justify letting the coffee
Philip Alston went to her side with his deferential air, and told her
that he could not stay for the evening meal. He explained that he was
expecting several friends that night over the Wilderness Road. It was
possible that they might already have arrived and were now awaiting him
in his cabin. He must hasten homeward as fast as possible. So saying he
took her bony little hand and bowed over it, and made another bow of
precisely the same ceremony over the widow Broadnax's pudgy fingers. He
always brought his finest tact to bear upon his acquaintance with these
He looked around for Ruth and held out his hand. She came to him, and
went with him to the door. They stood close together for a moment,
talking with one another while the others were settling around the
table. When he had mounted his horse and set out, she still stood gazing
after him till the judge's voice, exclaiming, caused her to turn.
"Call Alston back, if he isn't out of hearing!" he said.
Ruth shook her head. Philip Alston always rode very fast. He was already
out of sight in the falling night.
"Pshaw! I never seem able to keep my mind on anything these days," the
judge said, fretted with himself. "I fully meant to ask Alston to take
that money to the salt-works. It wouldn't have been much out of his way.
I don't know what makes me so forgetful lately--and always so drowsy. I
promised faithfully to pay for that cargo of salt to-day, so that it
would be on the river bank ready for loading when the flatboat comes
to-morrow. The owner of the boat sent the money yesterday. I've got it
here in my pocket. And the salt was to be delivered for cash; it will
not be sent till it is paid for." He paused a moment in troubled
thought. "David! Call that boy. He's always hidden off somewhere."
"Here, sir," said David, standing up and coming out of the shadow
beneath the stairs.
"You will have to help me in this matter, my lad," said the judge,
kindly, forgetting his momentary irritation. "I'll have to send the
money by you."
He drew from his pocket a queer-looking roll which he called his wallet.
It was a strip of thin, fine deerskin, bound with a narrow black riband
and tied with a leathern string. The bank-notes were rolled in this, and
the gold pieces and the "bits"--which were small wedges of coin cut from
silver dollars--were in two pouches sewed across the end of the strip.
It was very seldom that this wallet of the judge's contained so large a
sum of money as on that night, for salt was dear in the wilderness. It
required eight hundred gallons of the weak salt water and many cords of
fire-wood, and the work of many men for many days, to make a single
bushel of the precious article. It was still scarce and hard to get
thereabouts at five dollars a bushel, so that a large sum was needed to
pay for an entire cargo. Drops of perspiration stood on the judge's
forehead as he counted out the bank-notes, the gold, and the cut money.
He cared little for his own money, and he rarely had much at a time;
but he was scrupulously careful in his handling of other people's. And
he knew that his eyes were not very clear that night, and that his
fingers were not so sure as they should be of anything that they
touched. Ruth saw how it was with a tender pang at her heart, for she
knew how honest he was and how good, and she loved him. She knelt down
at his side and helped him count the money, over which his clumsy hands
were fumbling pathetically, so that there might be no error in the
"There!" he said, tying the string round the wallet, which was now
almost empty, and putting it back in his pocket. "I want you, David, to
take this and go over to the salt-works very early in the morning, as
soon after daybreak as you can see your way. Take two of the best black
men with you,--they will take care of you and the money, too," he added,
with his easy-going laugh. And then he grew suddenly sobered with a
touch of shame. "I wouldn't give you the money to-night, my boy," he
said hesitatingly, "but--I am hard to wake in the morning. I am afraid
you couldn't wake me early enough for me to give you the money in time
to get you off by dawn. And my client will be here with his boat,
waiting for the cargo, if you are any later in starting. But you can
take just as good care of the money as I could. You are not so likely to
"I will do my best, sir," said the boy, quietly.
He took the money and put it away in his safest pocket. When he had
eaten supper with the family, he went back to his shadowed corner under
the stairs. But he could not read his book; his mind was too full of
thoughts which were fast becoming a purpose. Ruth looked at him and at
his book now and then, while she talked to the others, and her teasing
glances hastened his decision. She would never laugh at him again for
dreaming over romances, if he could prove that he was able to do an
earnest man's part in the world. Yes, this was the chance which he had
been wishing for. He would go to the salt-works at once--that very
night--without waiting for daylight and without calling the black men.
The judge would not care; he never cared for anything that did not give
trouble, and he need not know until afterward. David stood up suddenly
in the shadows under the stairs. He had decided; he would go as soon as
he could get away from the great room and put his saddle on the pony.
Even Ruth must acknowledge that a night's ride over the Wilderness Road
was the work of a man--the work of a strong, brave man.
THE NIGHT RIDE
He left the great room for his own cabin at the usual hour. No one but
Ruth observed his going. She smiled at him as he passed, and caught his
hand and gave it a little teasing, affectionate squeeze. He must leave
"The Famous History of Montilion" unread for one night,--so she
said,--and he must go to bed at once, since he was to be up before the
sun. These little ways of Ruth's were usually very sweet to him, but he
did not find them so that night. He made no reply, and looked at her
gravely, without an answering smile. Had anything been needed to fix his
purpose, this gentle raillery would have been more than enough.
He went straight from the door of Cedar House to the stable under the
hill, stopping at his cabin only long enough to get his rifle. The
stable was very dark within, but he knew where to find the pony that he
always rode, and the saddle and bridle which he always used, without
needing to see. And the pony knew him, too, for all the darkness, and
welcomed him with a friendly whinny which said so as plainly as words.
For the boy and the pony were good friends, and moreover they
understood one another perfectly, which is rarely the case with the best
of friends. And then they were both foundlings, and that may have made
another bond between them. The pony had been a wild colt caught in the
forest on the other side of the river. Nothing was known of his
ancestors, although they were supposed by those who knew best, to have
been the worn-out horses of good blood which had been deserted in the
wilderness by the Spaniards. But then everything cruel was laid at the
door of the hated Spaniards in those days, when they had so lately been
forced to take their throttling grasp from the throat of the Beautiful
River. The pony certainly bore no outward mark of noble ancestry. He was
a homely, humble, rough-coated little beast. Yet David liked him better
than all the other finer horses in the judge's stables, notwithstanding
that some of these had real pedigrees; for good horses were already
appearing in Kentucky. The judge allowed David to claim the pony as his
own. Robert Knox was a kind man when he did not forget, and he never
forgot any one without forgetting himself,--first and most of all,--as
he did sometimes.
David always thought of the pony as an orphan like himself, and his own
bruised feelings were very tender toward the friendless little fellow.
He led him from the stable now as a mark of respect and because it was
dark; for he knew that the pony, with a word, would follow him anywhere,
at any time, like a faithful dog. It was not quite so dark outside, and
springing into the saddle, the boy bent down and stroked the rough neck
and the tangled mane that no brush could ever make smooth. The pony
lifted his head to meet the caress, and then these two orphans of the
wilderness looked out dimly, wondering, over this wonderful new country
into which both were come, without knowing how or why or whence, through
no will or choice of their own.
That portion of Kentucky rises gently but steadily from the river, and
rolls gradually upward toward its eastern hills. On this October night
so close to the very beginning of the commonwealth, these terraced hills
were still covered with the primeval forest. Hill after hill, and forest
after forest, on and on and higher and higher, till the earth and the
heavens came together. Near the river on the natural open spaces, and
where earliest the clearings had been made, the boy could see the widely
scattered rude homes, the young orchards, and the new fields, which the
first Kentuckians had won from the wilderness, from the savage, from the
wild beast and the pestilence. Southward, and a long way off, lay the
great Cypress Swamp. The wavering sable line of its tree-tops spread a
pall across the starless horizon. The deadly white mists which shrouded
its gloomy mystery through the sunniest day were now creeping out to
enshroud the higher land. Through the mingled mist and darkness the
sombre trunks of the towering cypress trees rose with supernatural
blackness. The mysterious "knees," those strange, naked, blackened
roots, so wildly gnarled and twisted about the foot of the cypress,
appeared to writhe out of the swamp's awful dimness like monstrous
serpents seen in a dreadful dream.
And thus these dark fancies swayed the boy's imagination as wind sways
flame, till he suddenly remembered and turned from them more quickly and
firmly than ever before. He had made up his mind to cease dreaming with
his eyes open. He was resolved to see only real sights and to hear only
real sounds from this time on. He did not deceive himself by thinking
that this ever could be easy for him to do. He knew too well that in
place of the cool, steady common-sense which should dwell in every man's
breast, there dwelt something strangely hot and restless in his own. He
had always felt this difference without understanding it; but he had
hoped that no one else knew it--up to the cruel revelation of Ruth's
laughing and kindly meant words. Well, neither Ruth nor any one should
ever again have cause to laugh at him for romantic weakness, if he might
help it by keeping guard over his fancy.
He therefore sternly kept his eyes away from the swamp where mystery
always brooded. He would not look at the wonderful mound near the swamp,
which he never before had passed without wonder. It was then--as it is
now--such an amazing monument to a vanished race. It is so unaccountably
placed, this mountain of earth in the midst of level lowlands; so
astounding in size and so unmistakably the work of unknown human hands.
Never till that night had David's fervid imagination turned toward it
without his beginning forthwith to wonder over the secrets of the ages
which lie buried beneath. He had hitherto always thought of this mound
in association with the mysterious blazed trail through the forest. But
that was much farther off and more directly south, and no one but the
boy had ever found any connection between the two. He, dreaming, would
sometimes imagine that the same vanished race had marked the path
through the forest by cutting the trees on either side--this marvellous
blazed trail which De Soto is sometimes said to have found when he came,
and again to have made himself, regardless of the fact that history does
not mention his being anywhere near. The romance of the buried treasure
which this mystic path was believed to lead to, perpetually held David
under a spell of enchantment. But he would not allow himself to linger
over these mysteries now. He also resisted the horrible fascination of
the Dismal Slough--that long, frightful black pit--linking the swamp to
the river. And most of all he shrunk from giving a thought or a glance
toward the gloom hanging over Duff's Fort, which was still farther off,
and the strongest, most bloody link in the long and unbroken chain of
crime then stretching clear across southwestern Kentucky.
As these uneasy thoughts thronged, a faint sound borne by the wind
caused him to turn his head with a nervous start, and he saw something
moving in the deeper darkness that surrounded the swamp. He pulled up
the pony, tightening his grip on the rifle, and strained his eyes,
trying to make out what this moving object was. The wavering mists were
very thick, and he thought at first that it might be nothing worse than
a denser gathering of the deadly vapor creeping out of the swamp. The
fog suddenly fell like a heavy curtain, and he could see nothing. And
then lifting again, it gave him a fleeting glimpse of a body of horsemen
riding rapidly in the edge of the forest, as if seeking the shadow of
the trees. He could see only the black outline of the swiftly moving
shapes, but he knew that they must be part of the band which was filling
the whole country with terror, violence, and death. None other could be
riding at night toward Duff's Fort. He thought of the money in his
pocket, and felt the thumping of his heart as his hand involuntarily
went up to touch it, making sure that it was still safe. He sat
motionless--scarcely daring to breathe--watching the shadows till he
suddenly realized with a breath of relief that they were going the other
way, in the opposite direction from his own road. And then after waiting
and watching a little longer, in order to make sure that they were out
of sight, he rode on.
The courage and calmness which he had found in himself under this test,
heartened him and made him the more determined to control his wandering
fancy. Looking now neither to the right nor the left, he pressed on
through the clearing toward the buffalo track in the border of the
forest which would lead him into the Wilderness Road. Sternly setting
his thoughts on the errand that was taking him to the salt-works, he
began to think of the place in which they were situated, and to wonder
why so bare, so brown, and so desolate a spot should have been called
Green Lick. There was no greenness about it, and not the slightest sign
that there ever had been any verdure, although it still lay in the very
heart of an almost tropical forest. It must surely have been as it was
now since time immemorial. Myriads of wild beasts coming and going
through numberless centuries to drink the salt water, had trodden the
earth around it as hard as iron, and had worn it down far below the
surface of the surrounding country. The boy had seen it often, but
always by daylight, and never alone, so that he noted many things now
which he had not observed before. The huge bison must have gone over
that well-beaten track one by one, to judge by its narrowness. He could
see it dimly, running into the clearing like a black line beginning far
off between the bordering trees; but as he looked, the darkness
deepened, the mists thickened, and a look of unreality came over
familiar objects. And then through the wavering gloom there suddenly
towered a great dark mass topped by something which rose against the
wild dimness like a colossal blacksmith's anvil. It might have been
Vulcan's own forge, so strange and fabulous a thing it seemed! The boy's
heart leaped with his pony's leap. His imagination spread its swift
wings ere he could think; but in another instant he reminded himself.
This was not an awful apparition, but a real thing, wondrous and
unaccountable enough in its reality. It was Anvil Rock--a great,
solitary rock--rising abruptly from the reckless loam of a level
country, and lifting its single peak, rudely shaped like a blacksmith's
anvil, straight up toward the clouds. It was already serving as a
landmark in the wilderness, and must continue so to serve all that
portion of Kentucky, so long as the levelling hand of man may be
withheld from one of the natural wonders of the world.
Beyond Anvil Rock the night grew blacker. When David reached the buffalo
track he could no longer see even dimly, the forest closing densely in
on both sides of the narrow path, and arching darkly overhead.
Instinctively he put up his hand again and touched the money in his
breast pocket. His grasp on the rifle unconsciously grew firmer, but he
loosed the bridle-rein for a moment to pat the pony. The little beast
entered the shadows of the trees without a tremor; yet there were
dangers therein for him no less than for his rider, and his excited
breathing told that he knew this quite as well as his master. It was so
dark that neither could see the path, and the boy was trusting more to
the pony than to himself, as they went swiftly forward through the still
darkness of the forest. The pony's unshod feet made scarcely a sound on
the soft, moist earth. There had been no frost to thin the thick
branches hanging low over their heads. The few leaves which had drifted
down were still unwithered, and only made the hoof-beats more soundless
on the yielding earth, so that there was not a rustle at the noiseless
passing of the pony and his rider. Only a sudden gust of wind now and
then sent a murmur through the dark tree-tops and gently swayed the
sombre boughs. And so they sped on, drawing nearer and nearer to the
Wilderness Road, till presently the wind brought the strong odor of
boiling salt water. The woods became now still further darkened and
entangled by many fallen trees which had been felled to make fuel for
the furnaces, and by huge heaps of logs piled ready for burning. Here
and there were great whitening giants of the forest still standing
after they had been slain, as soldiers--death-stricken--stand for an
instant on the field of battle. It seemed to the fanciful boy that the
wind sighed most mournfully among these wan ghosts of trees, and that
the dead boughs, moved by the sighing wind, smote one another with
There was no sound other than this moaning of the wind through the
forest and the muffled beating of the pony's feet on the leaf-covered
path. Once a great owl flew across the dark way with a deadened beating
of his heavy wings. Again wolves howled, but so far in the distance that
the sound came as the faintest echo. A stronger gust of the fitful wind
filled the forest with the sulphurous vapors arising from the
evaporating furnaces. A moment more, and the vivid glare of the fires
flared luridly through the wild tangle of the undergrowth. Against this
red glare many black shadows--the dark forms of the firemen--could now
be indistinctly seen moving like evil spirits around the smoking,
It was a wild, strange sight, wild and strange enough to fire a cooler
fancy than David's. He forgot his errand, forgot the money, forgot where
he was--everything but the romance of the scene which had taken him
captive. Every nerve in his tense young body was strung like the cord of
a harp; his young heart was beating as if a heavy hammer swung in his
breast. And then, without so much as the warning rustle of a leaf or a
sound more alarming than the sigh of the wind, two blurred black shapes
burst out of the forest upon him.
ON THE WILDERNESS ROAD
The pony fell back almost to his haunches before the boy could draw the
reins. The two horses recoiled with equal suddenness and violence. An
unexpected encounter with the unknown in the darkness filled even the
dumb brutes with alarm, and brute and human alike had reason to be
alarmed; for this time and this place--stamped in blood on
history--marked the very height and centre of the reign of terror on the
The boy strained his terrified gaze through the dark, but he could see
nothing except those vague, black forms of two horsemen, looming large
and threatening against the lurid glow of the furnace fires which
faintly lit the forest. The men and their horses looked like monstrous
creatures, half human and half beast, both as silent and motionless as
himself. He felt that they also were listening and watching in tense
waiting as he waited and watched, hearing only the frightened panting of
the horses and the faint rustle of the sable leaves overhead. And so all
held for an instant, which seemed endless, till a sudden gust of wind
swung the boughs and sent the glare of the furnace flames far and high
through the forest. The vivid flash came and went like lightning, but it
lasted long enough for the boy to recognize one of the black shapes.
"Father!" he cried. "Father Orin!"
"Bless my soul--it's young David!" exclaimed the priest.
There was as much relief in his tone as in the boy's, and he turned
hastily to the horseman at his side.
"Doctor, this is a young friend of mine--a member of Judge Knox's
family. You have heard of the judge. And, David, this is Doctor Colbert.
You, no doubt, have heard of him."
David murmured something. He had never before been introduced to any
one; and had never before been so acutely conscious that he had no
surname. The doctor sent his horse forward, coming close to the pony's
side. He held out his hand--as David felt rather than saw--and he took
the boy's hand in a warm, kind clasp. It was the first time that a man
had given David his hand as one frank, earnest, fearless man gives it to
another--but never to a woman, and rarely to a boy. David did not know
what it was that he felt as their hands met in the darkness, but he knew
that the touch was like balm to his bruised pride, which had been aching
so sorely throughout the lonely ride. Father Orin now rode nearer on
the other side, and although no more than the dimmest outline of any
object could be seen, the boy saw that the priest continued to turn his
head and cast backward glances into the dark forest. When he spoke, it
was in a low tone, strangely guarded and serious for him, who was always
as outspoken and light-hearted as though his hard life of toil and
self-sacrifice had been the most thoughtless and happiest play.
"But how does it happen that you are here, my son?" he asked, almost in
a whisper. "I can't understand the judge's allowing it. Can it be
possible that he has sent you--on business? Why--! A man isn't safe on
this part of the Wilderness Road at night, and hardly at midday, alone.
For a child like you--"
There it was again, like a blow on a bruise! The boy instantly sat
higher in the saddle, trying to look as tall as he could, and forgetting
that no one could see. And replying hastily in his deepest, most manly
voice, he said scornfully, that there was nothing to be afraid of with
his rifle across the saddle-bow, declaring proudly that he knew how to
deal with wild beasts, should any cross his path. As for the Indians, he
scoffed at the idea; there were none in that country, and never had been
any thereabouts, except as they came and went over the Shawnee Crossing.
"But you are mistaken; the Meek boys--James and Charles--were killed
only a few weeks ago, just across the river," said the priest. "And
they were better able to take care of themselves than you are, my child.
Come, you must turn back with us. We cannot go with you, and we must not
allow you to go on alone."
Saying this, Father Orin turned his horse and moved forward. David made
no movement to follow. Tightening the reins on the pony's neck, he did
not try to turn him. Something in the stiff lines of the boy's dark
figure told the doctor part of the truth. He broke in quickly, speaking
not as a man speaks to a child, but as one man to another.
"There are worse things than wild beasts or Indians to be met on the
Wilderness Road," he said. "And the strongest and the bravest are
helpless against a stab in the back, or a trap in the dark."
David felt a sudden wish to see the speaker's face. He longed to see how
a man looked who had a voice like that. It stirred him, and yet soothed
him at the same time. Every tone of it rang clear and true, like a bell
of purest metal. All who heard it felt the strength that it
sounded--strength of body and mind and heart and spirit.
David fell under its influence at once. He was turning the pony's head
when Father Orin in his anxiety erred again.
"I am surprised at the judge," the priest said. "This isn't like
him--forgetful as he is about most things. And what are you here for, my
son? Where were you going?"
"The judge has nothing to do with my coming to-night. He merely told me
to take this money--"
"Hush! Hush!" cried the two men in a breath. At the instant they pressed
closer to the boy's side, as if the same instinct of protection moved
them both at the same moment. "Come on! Let's ride faster," they said
together. "It is not so dark or so dangerous in the buffalo track."
The pony, turning suddenly, pressed forward with the other horses, more
of his own accord than with his rider's consent, and gallantly kept his
place between them, although they were soon going at the top of their
speed. Nothing more was said for several minutes, and then the doctor
spoke to the boy.
"You will give us the pleasure of your company all the way, I trust,
sir," he said ceremoniously, and as no one ever had spoken to David. "It
is a long, lonesome ride, and my home is still farther off than yours."
David murmured a pleased, bashful assent. They had now reached the
buffalo track, which was not wide enough for the three to ride abreast.
It was therefore necessary for them to fall into single file, and David
managed to get the lead. This made him feel better, and more of a man,
for the darkness was still deep, and the black boughs overhead still
hung low and heavy. Neither of the horsemen spoke again for a long time
after entering upon the buffalo track. Once more the only sound was the
steady, muffled beating of the horses' swiftly moving feet. The two men
were buried in their own thoughts of duties and aims far beyond the
boy's understanding, and he was not thinking of these silent companions
by his side--he was scarcely thinking at all; he was merely feeling. He
was held under a spell, dumb and breathless, enchanted by the mystery of
the wilderness at night.
It was so black, so beautiful, so terrible, so soundless, so motionless,
so unfathomable. There was no moon. The few pale stars glimmered dimly
far above the dark arches of the trees. No bird moved among the sable
branches, or even twittered in its sleep as if disturbed by the light,
swift passing of the shadowy horsemen. No wild animal stirred in his
uneasy rest or even breathed less deeply in his hunting dreams, at the
flitting of the shadows across his hidden lair.
The mystery, the beauty, and the terror went beyond the black border of
the forest. Out in the open and over the clearing, the mists from the
swamp mingling with the darkness gave everything a look of fantastic
unreality yet wilder than it had worn earlier in the night. Dense
earth-clouds were thus massed about the base of Anvil Rock. Its
blackened peak loomed through the clouds,--a strange, wild sight,
apparently belonging neither to earth or to heaven. But far beyond and
above was a stranger, wilder sight still; the strangest and wildest of
all; one of the strangest and wildest, surely, that human eyes ever
There across the northern sky sped the great comet. Come, none ever knew
whence, and speeding none ever knew whither, it reached on that
night--on this fifteenth of October--the summit of its swift, awful,
arching flight. It was now at the greatest of its terrible splendor and
appalling beauty. It was now at the very height of its boundless
influence over the hopes and fears of the superstitious, romantic,
emotional, poetic race which was struggling to people the wilderness. As
it thus burst upon the vision of the three horsemen, each felt its power
in his own way,--the man of faith, the man of science, and the fanciful
boy,--each was differently but deeply moved. The men looked at the comet
as the wise and learned of the earth look at the marvels of another
world. The boy gazed quiveringly, like a harp struck by a powerful hand.
He strove to cast his fancies aside, and to remember what he had heard
before the comet had become visible to this country. He tried vainly to
recall the talk about it--not the idle and foolish superstitions which
Miss Penelope had mentioned, and which all the common people
believed--but the scientific facts so far as they were known. Yet even
his imagination failed to realize that this flaming head, with its
strange halo of darkness, and its horrible hair of livid green light,
was four million times greater than the earth; or that its luminous
veil--woven of star-dust so fine that other stars shone
through--streamed across one hundred million of miles, thick strewn with
"Listen!" cried the doctor. "Hear that!" A distant roaring, like the
oncoming of a sudden storm, rolled upward from the mists and darkness
lying thicker around the swamp.
"There it is again!" Doctor Colbert went on, as if he had been waiting
and listening for the sound. "There must be great excitement at the
camp-meeting on this last night. Does it still interest you, Father? It
does me, intensely. This is not the usual peculiar excitement which
seems to belong to a crowd, though that, too, is always curious,
mysterious, and interesting. We all know well enough that for some
unknown reason a crowd will do wild, strange, and foolish things, which
the individuals composing it would never be guilty of alone. But this is
something entirely different and still more curious and mysterious.
Those people down yonder keep this up by themselves when they are
alone--it attacks some of them before they have ever seen one of the
meetings. It is certainly the strangest phenomenon of its kind that the
world ever saw. It never loses its painful fascination for me. I can't
pass it by. How is it with you?"
The priest hesitated before replying. "Any form of faith--the crudest,
the most absurd that any soul ever staked its salvation upon--must
always be the most interesting subject in the world to every thinking
"It seems so to me," the doctor replied. "And I assure you that there is
no irreverence in the scientific curiosity which I feel in this
extraordinary epidemic of religious frenzy; for it is certainly
something of that sort. It is unmistakably contagious. I have become
more and more certain of that as I have watched the poor wretches who
are shrieking down yonder. It is a mental and moral epidemic, and so
highly contagious that it has swept the whole state, till it now sweeps
the remotest corner of the wilderness. And it seems to have originated
in Kentucky. It is something peculiarly our own."
"Yes," said Father Orin, "Kentucky is the pioneer in religion, as well
as politics, for the whole West. But my church came first," he added
with a chuckle. "Remember that! The Catholics always lead the way and
clear up the brush, with the Methodists following close behind. I got a
little the start of brother Peter Cartwright; but that was my good luck,
and not any lack of zeal on his part. And I've got to stir my stumps to
keep ahead of him, I can tell you."
"He is down there at the meeting to-night, no doubt. He is its leading
spirit. I should like to know what he really thinks of it all. He is by
nature a wonderfully intelligent young fellow. And what do you really
think of it, Father?" the doctor pressed. "Is this the same thing that
has come down the ages? Is it the same that we find in the Bible--making
great men and wise ones do such wild things? Is it the same that made a
dignified gentleman, like David, dance--as those fanatics are doing down
there--till he became a laughing-stock? Is it the same that made a
sensible man like Saul join his faith to a witch and believe that he saw
visions? And then, just remember the scandalous capers--even worse than
the others--that the decent Jeremiah cut."
"Tut! Tut! Tut!" exclaimed the priest, in a voice that betrayed a smile.
"Those were holy men, my young friend. I cannot allow them to be laughed
"Oh, come now, Father, be honest," said the doctor, laughing aloud, but
adding quickly in a serious tone: "I am quite in earnest. What do you
make of it all? I should greatly like to have your opinion. Is there
anything in the science of your profession to explain it? There isn't in
mine. The more of it I see, and the longer I study it, the farther I am
from finding its source, its cause, and its real character. There! Just
"Well, well," said Father Orin, with a sigh of evasion, "if you are
going on to the camp-meeting, Toby and I will have to leave you here. We
have a sick call 'way over on the Eagle Creek flats. And it's a ticklish
business, going over there in the dark, isn't it, old man?" he said,
patting his big gray horse. "The last time we went in the night the limb
of a tree, that I couldn't see, dragged me from the saddle." He laughed
as if this were a joke on Toby or himself, or both. "But Toby is a
better swimmer than I am. He's better at a good many things. He got me
out all right that time and a good many other times. He always does his
part of our duty, and never lets me shirk mine, if he can help it. Well,
then, we must be moving along, Toby, old man." He turned suddenly to the
boy. "Will you go with me, David? My way passes close to Cedar House."
"Perhaps, sir, you would like to go on to the meeting," said the doctor
to David. "It would give me pleasure to have you with me--if you prefer
to go with me. Afterward we can ride home together. My cabin is not far
beyond Cedar House."
After a little more talk it was decided that the boy should go with the
doctor, and the priest bade them both a cheerful good night.
"Now, Toby, we must be putting in our best licks. If you don't look out,
old man, we will be getting into idle ways. Keep us up to the
mark--right up to the mark, old man!"
And so, talking to Toby, and chuckling as if Toby made telling replies,
the good man and his good horse vanished in the earth-clouds round Anvil
Rock. But the doctor and the boy sat their horses in motionless silence,
listening to the kind, merry voice and the faithful beat, beat, of the
steady feet, till both gradually died away behind the night's heavy
As they turned and were riding on toward the camp-meeting, the doctor
spoke of the priest and his horse. The boy listened with the wondering
awe that most of us feel, when some stranger points out the heroism of a
simple soul or an everyday deed which we have known, unknowingly, all
"Father Orin and Toby are a pair to take your hat off to," the young
doctor said. "I have come to know them fairly well by this time,
although I have not been here very long. It isn't necessary for any one
to be long in the neighborhood before finding out what those two are
doing. And then my own work among the suffering gives me many
opportunities to know what they are doing and trying to do. The church
side is only one side of their good work. I am not a Catholic, and
consequently see little of that side; but I meet them everywhere
constantly caring for the poor and the afflicted without any regard for
creed. And they never have any money, worth speaking of, to help with.
They have only their time and their strength and their whole laborious,
self-sacrificing lives to give. The expedients that they resort to in a
pinch would make anybody laugh--to keep from crying. They were out the
other day with a brand-new plan. They travelled about fifty miles
through the wilderness trying to find a purchaser for the new overcoat
that a Methodist friend gives Father Orin every fall. He, of course, had
given his old coat to some shivering wretch last spring while it was
still cold, but that didn't make the slightest difference. He didn't
even remember the fact till I reminded him of it. It is only October
now--so that he can do without the overcoat--and a poor fellow who has
come with his wife and baby to live in that deserted cabin near the
court-house, is in sore need of a horse for his fall ploughing. Father
Orin had suggested Toby's drawing the plough, thinking that some of his
own work might be attended to on foot. But Toby, it seems, drew the line
at that. It was a treat to hear Father Orin laugh when he told how Toby
made it plain that he thought there were more important duties for him
to perform, how firmly he refused to drag the plough. He was quite
willing, however, to do his best to sell the overcoat, so that they
might have money to hire a horse for the ploughing."
The doctor broke off suddenly. The roar coming from the darkness around
the swamp rose high on the gusty wind. He and David were now riding
fast, and the roaring grew rapidly more continuous and distinct. The
vast volume of inarticulate sound presently began to break into many
human voices. At last a single voice pierced all the rest. Its shrill
cry of spiritual anguish filled the dark forest with the wailing of a
soul in extremity.
"And it's a woman, too!" cried the doctor.
He spoke shortly, almost angrily, but something in his tone told David
that he also was shivering, although the night was warm, and that his
heart was full of pity. They were now drawing near the camp-meeting, but
they could not see it, nor even the light from it. They had reentered
the forest, which was here made darker and wilder by many fallen trees,
blown down and tossed together by the fierce tempests which often rent
the swamp. The torn roots, the decaying trunks, and the shattered
branches of the dead giants of the ancient wood, were dank with
water-moss. Rank poison vines writhed everywhere, and crept like vipers
beyond the deadly borders of the great Cypress Swamp. Through such dark
and tangled density as this the smoky torches, burning dimly around the
camp, could cast their light but a little way. And thus it was by
hearing and not by seeing, that they came at last upon the spot almost
by accident. They had scarcely got hurriedly down from their horses, and
hastily tied them to a swinging bough when the scene burst upon them--a
wild vision revealed by the dim flickering torchlight.
[Illustration: "A dark, confused ... writhing mass of humanity."]
There was a long, low shed of vast extent. It was covered with rough
boards, and upheld by tree-trunks which still bore the bark. There was
no floor other than the bare earth, and there were no seats other than
unhewn logs. Here, under the deep shadows of this great shed, all darkly
shut in by the black wilderness and dimly lit by a wide circle of
smoking, flaring torches, there surged a dark, confused, convulsed,
roaring, writhing mass of humanity. And there were many hundreds in that
shadowy multitude--swaying, struggling, groaning, laughing, weeping,
shouting, praying, dancing, leaping, and falling.
"It does not seem possible that there can be so many in all the
wilderness," said the doctor. "But they come from long distances, from
as far as fifty and sixty miles around. And they have been coming for
weeks--day and night--just like this."
He spoke sadly, and with deep feeling. He laid his firm, gentle hand on
David's shaking arm, knowing how the awful spectacle must affect the
sensitive boy. David instinctively drew nearer to his side feeling the
support of his calm, sane, strong presence, and began gradually to see
with clearer eyes, so that this awful vision became by degrees a more
"Listen!" cried the doctor. "They are beginning to sing!"
Ah, listen indeed! For a stranger, wilder chant than this which now
went swelling up from that frenzied, swaying mass of humanity surely
never stirred all that is most mystical in the soul of man! Pealing
grandly, awfully upward through the star-lit spaces of a grander temple
than ever was reared by human hands, it rolled heavenward, on and on,
and higher and higher, to the very dome of the firmament.
With the wild chanting, the madness of the multitude increased. Many men
and women--ay, and little children, too--all dropped to their knees,
heedless of being trodden underfoot by the unfallen frenzied, and thus
crept the length of the earthen floor to the foot of the rude altar.
Here, before the pulpit of rough-hewn logs, great heaps of straw were
strewn thick and broadcast. On these straw heaps men and women fell
prostrate side by side, and lay as if they were dead. Others, both men
and women, were suddenly seized with the unnatural, convulsive jerking
which gave this mysterious visitation its best-known name. Under this
dreadful tremor the long hair of delicate ladies poured unnoticed over
the most modest shoulders and flew back and forth with the sound of a
whip; for those so wildly wrought upon were not solely of the humble and
the ignorant. The highest and the most refined of the whole country were
there. The earth was strewn with costly raiment. Gentlemen rent the fine
ruffles from their wrists and their bosoms; gentlewomen cast their
richest ornaments to the winds. And all the while that this awful,
majestic, soul-stirring chant was thus mounting higher and growing
wilder, many were whirling and dancing.
David shrunk back, and the doctor drew him closer to his side, as a man
suddenly burst out of the swirling mass of maddened humanity, and dashed
past them into the forest. There, still within the wide circle of
flaring, smoking, torchlight, the poor creature threw his arms around a
tree, and uttering strange, savage cries like the barking of a dog, he
dashed his head against the tree-trunk till the blood gushed out and
poured down his ghastly face. David clung closer to the doctor's arm and
turned his eyes away, feeling sick and faint with horror.
"Don't look at him. Turn your head. I must go to him and help him if I
can," the doctor said, gently loosing the boy's grasp. "I shouldn't have
brought you here. But--Good God! Who is that?" he cried sharply. "Look!
Quick! Do you know that girl? Over there by the last pillar--yonder,
yonder, with her face turned this way!"
In his eagerness he seized the boy, fairly lifting him from the ground,
and held him up so that he could see over all the heads of the surging,
swirling crowd. The girl was still there, and David recognized Ruth. She
was standing not far off and near the edge of the shed. Close behind her
the torches threw out gloomy banners of smoke and vivid streamers of
flame, and against them she appeared a quiet, white spirit among many
tossed dark shades. When David first saw her, he thought she was looking
at him. But in another moment her beautiful face, which had been pale
enough before, turned as white as her frock and her large eyes widened
with terror. And then David knew that she was looking beyond him and had
seen the horror by the tree. He forgot his own horrified faintness, he
forgot where he was, the doctor--everything but Ruth and that look in
her dear face. He sprang toward her with a piercing cry and outstretched
"Ruth!" he cried. "Here I am, Ruth, dear. I am coming to you. I'll take
It was a single voice raised against the deafening roar of a hurricane.
Only the doctor heard or heeded, and he laid a restraining hand on
"You are right," he said. "Take her away as soon as you can. She should
not have come. Is she your sister? Come this way. We will go round," he
went on, without waiting for an answer. "We may be able to reach her
from the other side of the shed."
The firm touch and calm tone partly brought the boy to himself, and he
followed as closely as he could, but only to be beaten back again and
again. That terrific chant was now at its highest and wildest, and he
and the doctor were caught in the human maelstrom and swirled hither
and thither like straws. They were swept far apart, and when they were
quickly driven together again, they had lost sight of Ruth. They were
tossed once more, and thrown outside the fiercest swirl. Standing still,
they held to a tree, gasping, and searched the crowd with their gaze,
trying to find her. She was nowhere to be seen. But while they thus
paused, waiting for breath to go on, they saw a tall man near by,
leaning against a pillar and quietly overlooking the wild scene. He
stood within the circle of torchlight, and they could see him
distinctly. Neither the doctor nor David had ever seen him before and
neither ever saw him again, but they never forgot just how he looked
He was a very tall man of more than six feet in height. He was very
erect and very slender, with the slenderness that gives a look of youth
as well as grace. There was no tinge of gray in his tawny hair, which
fell heavily back from his high, narrow forehead, without any of the
stiffness seen in his later portraits. He was not more than thirty-five
years of age at this time, but his face was already lined with care and
trouble and exposure. It was naturally pale and thin, almost haggard.
Its sole redeeming feature was the wonderful brilliance of his blue
eyes. The doctor and David could not see the color of his eyes, and yet
he seemed to them a singularly handsome man, as he did to almost every
one. There was something about him that may be called a presence, for
lack of a better term, something which drew the gaze of the crowd and
held it everywhere. Many eyes were upon him that night in the very
height and centre of all the frenzy. Glances were cast at him even from
the pulpit, which was not far away. One of the ministering preachers
gave him a look of recognition, and then, bending down, whispered in the
ear of another preacher, a very young man who stood below the pulpit
among the fallen, exhorting them to repentance. The exhorter shook off
the whisperer and went on with his impassioned plea. He, too, was well
worth looking at, and better worth listening to--this inspired young
backwoodsman, Peter Cartwright. His swarthy face was pale with the
pallor of fanaticism, and his dark eyes were aflame with some mystic
fire. His long black hair was wildly blown by the wind which bore his
broken words still more brokenly:--
"Such a time as this has not been seen since the day of Pentecost.... A
sacred flame is surely sweeping sin from the earth.... Come all ye. Take
up your cross and follow Him.... Heaven's gate stands wide to-night....
Praise the Lord!... Come in.... Come at once.... Do not delay--or the
gate may close, never to open again. Come! Come with me to the mercy
seat. I was once like you. My soul, like yours, was rent in agony. I
wept, I strove, I prayed, I was in utter despair ... just as you are
now.... Sometimes it seemed as if I could almost lay hold on the
Saviour.... Then--all of a sudden--such a fear of the devil fell upon me
that he appeared to stand right by my side ready to drag me down to
hell. But I prayed on, and said, 'Lord if there be mercy for me, let me
find it!' ... At last, in the midst of this awful struggle of soul, I
came to the foot of the altar--here--where I am begging you to come....
And then it was as if a voice out of heaven said to me, 'Thy sins are
forgiven thee.' ... Glory! Glory! Delight flashed all around me. Joy
unspeakable sprung up in my soul. It seemed to me that I was already in
paradise. The very trees, the very leaves on the trees, seemed to be
singing together and praising God.... Will you share this divine peace
with me? Will you come with me this night to the foot of the cross?...
Then come now--now--for this may be the accepted hour of your
salvation.... Come.... If you wait, you are lost ... lost!"
But these simple, broken words are only the cold and lifeless echo of
Peter Cartwright's fiery, living eloquence. Nothing can ever bring that
back as it really was. None may hope to tell those who never heard him
what it was like. No one, perhaps among the numberless thousands who did
hear him, ever knew what the power was, by which this unlettered
backwoodsman swayed multitudes at his will. Perhaps David afterward
described it as nearly as any one could, when he said that the mere
sound of Peter Cartwright's voice that night--when he could not hear the
words--made him feel so sorry, so grieved, so ashamed, that he wanted to
fall down on the earth and hide his face and weep like a woman, for his
own sins and the sins of the whole world.
"There she is!" cried the doctor. "We can reach her now."
But another roaring wave of humanity dashed over them, sweeping them
farther from Ruth and nearer the pulpit. They were so near that they
could see the fire that flashed over the pale darkness of the young
preacher's face as his brother preacher bent down for the second time
and touched him warningly, and whispered again. Peter Cartwright, who
was still bending over the men and women lying at his feet, suddenly
stood erect. He threw back his long black hair, and flung a flaming
glance at the tall man leaning against the pillar. And then his voice
rang out like a trumpet calling to combat.
"What if it _is_ General Jackson?" he cried. "What is Andrew Jackson but
a sinner, too? Let him come with the rest of these poor sinners to beg
for pardon before the throne of grace. And let him make haste--or a just
and offended God will punish him as if he were the lowest of earth!"
The challenge sounded clear and far. It must have reached the ears of
Andrew Jackson, the proud and feared hero of many battles. No man living
was more intolerant of indignity or quicker to resent the slightest
affront. An alarmed murmur circled through all the tumult; the doctor
and David heard it distinctly, and turned with those about them to look
at the man thus challenged. But Andrew Jackson himself stood quite still
and gave no sign that he had heard. He barely bowed his head when a
short, thick-set man pressed through the crowd and touched his arm. The
man was a henchman of his, widely and not favorably known in the
country, a gambler and adventurer whose name was Tommy Dye. He was
leading the general's horse. There were a few words between them, and