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Salute to Adventurers by John Buchan

Part 3 out of 5

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But in that hour I thought little of education. The Doctor boomed away
in his deep voice, and I gave him heedless answers. My eyes were ever
wandering to the slim figure at my side. She wore a broad hat of straw,
I remember, and her skirt and kirtle were of green, the fairies'
colour. I think she was wearied with the sun, for she spoke little; but
her eyes when they met mine were kind. That day I was not ashamed of my
plain clothes or my homely face, for they suited well with the road. My
great boots of untanned buckskin were red with dust, I was bronzed like
an Indian, and the sun had taken the colour out of my old blue coat.
But I smacked of travel and enterprise, which to an honest heart are
dearer than brocade. Also I had a notion that my very homeliness
revived in her the memories of our common motherland. I had nothing to
say, having acquired the woodland habit of silence, and perhaps it was
well. My clumsy tongue would have only broken the spell which the
sunlit forests had woven around us.

As we reached my house a cavalier rode up with a bow and a splendid
sweep of his hat. 'Twas my acquaintance, Mr. Grey, come to greet the
travellers. Elspeth gave me her hand at parting, and I had from the
cavalier the finest glance of hate and jealousy which ever comforted
the heart of a backward lover.

CHAPTER XII.

A WORD AT THE HARBOUR-SIDE.

The next Sunday I was fool enough to go to church, for Doctor Blair was
announced to preach the sermon. Now I knew very well what treatment I
should get, and that it takes a stout fellow to front a conspiracy of
scorn. But I had got new courage from my travels, so I put on my best
suit of murrey-coloured cloth, my stockings of cherry silk, the gold
buckles which had been my father's, my silk-embroidered waistcoat,
freshly-ironed ruffles, and a new hat which had cost forty shillings in
London town. I wore my own hair, for I never saw the sense of a wig
save for a bald man, but I had it deftly tied. I would have cut a great
figure had there not been my bronzed and rugged face to give the lie to
my finery.

It was a day of blistering heat. The river lay still as a lagoon, and
the dusty red roads of the town blazed like a furnace. Before I had got
to the church door I was in a great sweat, and stopped in the porch to
fan myself. Inside 'twas cool enough, with a pleasant smell from the
cedar pews, but there was such a press of a congregation that many were
left standing. I had a good place just below the choir, where I saw the
Governor's carved chair, with the Governor's self before it on his
kneeling-cushion making pretence to pray. Round the choir rail and
below the pulpit clustered many young exquisites, for this was a
sovereign place from which to show off their finery. I could not get a
sight of Elspeth.

Doctor Blair preached us a fine sermon from the text, "_My people shall
dwell in a pleasant habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet
resting-places!"_ But his hearers were much disturbed by the continual
chatter of the fools about the choir rail. Before he had got to the
Prayer of Chrysostom the exquisites were whispering like pigeons in a
dovecot, exchanging snuff-boxes, and ogling the women. So intolerable
it grew that the Doctor paused in his discourse and sternly rebuked
them, speaking of the laughter of fools which is as the crackling of
thorns under a pot. This silenced them for a little, but the noise
broke out during the last prayer, and with the final word of the
Benediction my gentlemen thrust their way through the congregation,
that they might be the first at the church door. I have never seen so
unseemly a sight, and for a moment I thought that Governor Nicholson
would call the halberdiers and set them in the pillory. He refrained,
though his face was dark with wrath, and I judged that there would be
some hard words said before the matter was finished.

I must tell you that during the last week I had been coming more into
favour with the prosperous families of the colony. Some one may have
spoken well of me, perhaps the Doctor, or they may have seen the
justice of my way of trading. Anyhow, I had a civil greeting from
several of the planters, and a bow from their dames. But no sooner was
I in the porch than I saw that trouble was afoot with the young bloods.
They were drawn up on both sides the path, bent on quizzing me. I
sternly resolved to keep my temper, but I foresaw that it would not be
easy.

"Behold the shopman in his Sunday best," said one.

"I thought that Sawney wore bare knees on his dirty hills," said
another.

One pointed to my buckles. "Pinchbeck out of the store," he says.

"Ho, ho, such finery!" cried another. "See how he struts like a
gamecock."

"There's much ado when beggars ride," said a third, quoting the
proverb.

It was all so pitifully childish that it failed to provoke me. I
marched down the path with a smile on my face, which succeeded in
angering them. One young fool, a Norton from Malreward, would have
hustled me, but I saw Mr. Grey hold him back. "No brawling here,
Austin," said my rival.

They were not all so discreet. One of the Kents of Gracedieu tried to
trip me by thrusting his cane between my legs. But! was ready for him,
and, pulling up quick and bracing my knees, I snapped the thing short,
so that he was left to dangle the ivory top.

Then he did a wild thing. He flung the remnant at my face, so that the
ragged end scratched my cheek. When I turned wrathfully I found a
circle of grinning faces.

It is queer how a wound, however slight, breaks a man's temper and
upsets his calm resolves, I think that then and there I would have been
involved in a mellay, had not a voice spoke behind me.

"Mr. Garvald," it said, "will you give me the favour of your arm? We
dine to-day with his Excellency."

I turned to find Elspeth, and close behind her Doctor Blair and
Governor Nicholson.

All my heat left me, and I had not another thought for my tormentors.
In that torrid noon she looked as cool and fragrant as a flower. Her
clothes were simple compared with the planters' dames, but of a far
more dainty fashion. She wore, I remember, a gown of pale sprigged
muslin, with a blue kerchief about her shoulders and blue ribbons
in her wide hat. As her hand lay lightly on my arm I did not think
of my triumph, being wholly taken up with the admiration of her grace.
The walk was all too short, for the Governor's lodging was but a
stone's-throw distant. When we parted at the door I hoped to find some
of my mockers still lingering, for in that hour I think I could have
flung any three of them into the river.

None were left, however, and as I walked homewards I reflected very
seriously that the baiting of Andrew Garvald could not endure for long.
Pretty soon I must read these young gentry a lesson, little though I
wanted to embroil myself in quarrels. I called them "young" in scorn,
but few of them, I fancy, were younger than myself.

Next day, as it happened, I had business with Mercer at the water-side,
and as I returned along the harbour front I fell in with the Receiver
of Customs, who was generally called the Captain of the Castle, from
his station at Point Comfort. He was an elderly fellow who had once
been a Puritan, and still cherished a trace of the Puritan modes of
speech. I had often had dealings with him, and had found him honest,
though a thought truculent in manner. He had a passion against all
smugglers and buccaneers, and, in days to come, was to do good service
in ridding Accomac of these scourges. He feared God, and did not
greatly fear much else.

He was sitting on the low wall smoking a pipe, and had by him a very
singular gentleman. Never have I set eyes on a more decorous merchant.
He was habited neatly and soberly in black, with a fine white cravat
and starched shirt-bands. He wore a plain bob-wig below a huge
flat-brimmed hat, and big blue spectacles shaded his eyes. His mouth
was as precise as a lawyer's, and altogether he was a very whimsical,
dry fellow to find at a Virginian port.

The Receiver called me to him and asked after a matter which we had
spoken of before. Then he made me known to his companion, who was a Mr.
Fairweather, a merchant out of Boston.

"The Lord hath given thee a pleasant dwelling, friend," said the
stranger, snuffling a little through his nose.

From his speech I knew that Mr. Fairweather was of the sect of the
Quakers, a peaceable race that Virginia had long ill-treated.

"The land is none so bad," said the Receiver, "but the people are a
perverse generation. Their hearts are set on vanity, and puffed up with
pride. I could wish, Mr. Fairweather, that my lines had fallen among
your folk in the north, where, I am told, true religion yet
flourisheth. Here we have nothing but the cold harangues of the
Commissary, who seeketh after the knowledge that perisheth rather than
the wisdom which is eternal life."

"Patience, friend," said the stranger. "Thee is not alone in thy
crosses. The Lord hath many people up Boston way, but they are sore
beset by the tribulations of Zion. On land there is war and rumour of
war, and on the sea the ships of the godly are snatched by every manner
of ocean thief. Likewise we have dissension among ourselves, and a
constant strife with the froward human heart. Still is Jerusalem
troubled, and there is no peace within her bulwarks."

"Do the pirates afflict you much in the north?" asked the Receiver with
keen interest. The stranger turned his large spectacles upon him, and
then looked blandly at me. Suddenly I had a notion that I had seen that
turn of the neck and poise of the head before.

"Woe is me," he cried in a stricken voice. "The French have two fair
vessels of mine since March, and a third is missing. Some say it ran
for a Virginian port, and I am here to seek it. Heard thee ever,
friend, of a strange ship in the James or the Potomac?"

"There be many strange ships," said the Receiver, "for this dominion is
the goal for all the wandering merchantmen of the earth. What was the
name of yours?"

"A square-rigged schooner out of Bristol, painted green, with a white
figurehead of a winged heathen god."

"And the name?"

"The name is a strange one. It is called _The Horn of Diarmaid_, but I
seek to prevail on the captain to change it to _The Horn of Mercy_."

"No such name is known to me," and the Receiver shook his head. "But I
will remember it, and send you news."

I hope I did not betray my surprise, but for all that it was
staggering. Of all disguises and of all companies this was the most
comic and the most hazardous. I stared across the river till I had
mastered my countenance, and when I looked again at the two they were
soberly discussing the harbour dues of Boston.

Presently the Receiver's sloop arrived to carry him to Point Comfort.
He nodded to me, and took an affectionate farewell of the Boston man. I
heard some good mouth-filling texts exchanged between them.

Then, when we were alone, the Quaker turned to me. "Man, Andrew," he
said, "it was a good thing that I had a Bible upbringing. I can manage
the part fine, but I flounder among the 'thees' and 'thous.' I would be
the better of a drink to wash my mouth of the accursed pronouns. Will
you be alone to-night about the darkening? Then I'll call in to see
you, for I've much to tell you."

* * * * *

That evening about nine the Quaker slipped into my room.

"How about that tobacco-shed?" he asked. "Is it well guarded?"

"Faulkner and one of the men sleep above it, and there are a couple of
fierce dogs chained at the door. Unless they know the stranger, he will
be apt to lose the seat of his breeches."

The Quaker nodded, well pleased. "That is well, for I heard word in the
town that to-night you might have a visitor or two." Then he walked to
a stand of arms on the wall and took down a small sword, which he
handled lovingly. "A fair weapon, Andrew," said he. "My new sect
forbids me to wear a blade, but I think I'll keep this handy beside me
in the chimney corner."

Then he gave me the news. Lawrence had been far inland with the
Monacans, and had brought back disquieting tales. The whole nation of
the Cherokees along the line of the mountains was unquiet. Old family
feuds had been patched up, and there was a coming and going of
messengers from Chickamauga to the Potomac.

"Well, we're ready for them," I said, and I told him the full story of
our preparations.

"Ay, but that is not all. I would not give much for what the Cherokees
and the Tuscaroras could do. There might be some blood shed and a good
few blazing roof-trees in the back country, but no Indian raid would
stand against our lads. But I have a notion--maybe it's only a notion,
though Lawrence is half inclined to it himself--that there's more in
this business than a raid from the hills. There's something stirring in
the West, away in the parts that no White man has ever travelled. From
what I learn there's a bigger brain than an Indian's behind it."

"The French?" I asked.

"Maybe, but maybe not. What's to hinder a blackguard like Cosh, with
ten times Cosh's mind, from getting into the Indian councils, and
turning the whole West loose on the Tidewater??

"Have you any proof?" I asked, much alarmed.

"Little at present. But one thing I know. There's a man among the
tribes that speaks English."

"Great God, what a villain!" I cried, "But how do you know?"

"Just this way. The Monacans put an arrow through the neck of a young
brave, and they found this in his belt."

He laid before me a bit of a printed Bible leaf. About half was blank
paper, for it came at the end of the Book of Revelation. On the blank
part some signs had been made in rude ink which I could not understand.

"But this is no proof," I said. "It's only a relic from some plundered
settlement. Can you read those marks?"

"I cannot, nor could the Monacans. But look at the printed part."

I looked again, and saw that some one had very carefully underlined
certain words. These made a sentence, and read, "_John, servant of the
prophecy, is at hand._"

"The underlining may have been done long ago," I hazarded.

"No, the ink is not a month old," he said, and I could do nothing but
gape.

"Well what's your plan?" I said at last.

"None, but I would give my right hand to know what is behind the hills.
That's our weakness, Andrew. We have to wait here, and since we do not
know the full peril, we cannot fully prepare. There may be mischief
afoot which would rouse every sleepy planter out of bed, and turn the
Tidewater into an armed camp. But we know nothing. If we had only a
scout--".

"What about Shalah?" I asked.

"Can you spare him?" he replied; and I knew I could not.

"I see nothing for it," I said, "but to wait till we are ready, and
then to make a reconnaissance, trusting to be in time. This is the
first week of July. In another fortnight every man on our list will be
armed, and every line of communication laid. Then is our chance to make
a bid for news."

He nodded, and at that moment came the growling of dogs from the sheds.
Instantly his face lost its heavy preoccupation, and under his Quaker's
mask became the mischievous countenance of a boy. "That's your
friends," he said. "Now for a merry meeting."

In the sultry weather I had left open window and door, and every sound
came clear from the outside. I heard the scuffling of feet, and some
confused talk, and presently there stumbled into my house half a dozen
wild-looking figures. They blinked in the lamplight, and one begged to
know if "Mr. Garbled" were at home. All had decked themselves for this
play in what they fancied was the dress of pirates--scarlet sashes, and
napkins or turbans round their heads, big boots, and masks over their
eyes. I did not recognize a face, but I was pretty clear that Mr. Grey
was not of the number, and I was glad, for the matter between him and
me was too serious for this tomfoolery. All had been drinking, and one
at least was very drunk. He stumbled across the floor, and all but fell
on Ringan in his chair.

"Hullo, old Square-Toes," he hiccupped; "what the devil are you?"

"Friend, thee is shaky on thy legs," said Ringan, in a mild voice, "It
were well for thee to be in bed."

"Bed," cried the roysterer; "no bed for me this night! Where is that
damnable Scots packman?"

I rose very quietly, and lit another lamp. Then I shut the window, and
closed the shutters. "Here I am," I said, "very much at your service,
gentlemen."

One or two of the sober ones looked a little embarrassed, but the
leader, who I guessed was the youth from Gracedieu, was brave enough.

"The gentlemen of Virginia," he said loudly, "being resolved that the
man Garvald is an offence to the dominion, have summoned the Free
Companions to give him a lesson. If he will sign a bond to leave the
country within a month, we are instructed to be merciful. If not, we
have here tar and feathers and sundry other adornments, and to-morrow's
morn will behold a pretty sight. Choose, you Scots swine." In the
excess of his zeal, he smashed with the handle of his sword a clock I
had but lately got from Glasgow.

Ringan signed to me to keep my temper. He pretended to be in a great
taking.

"I am a man of peace," he cried, "but I cannot endure to see my friend
outraged. Prithee, good folk, go away. See, I will give thee a guinea
each to leave us alone."

This had the desired effect of angering them. "Curse your money," one
cried. "You damned traders think that you can buy a gentleman. Take
that for your insult." And he aimed a blow with the flat of his sword,
which Ringan easily parried.

"I had thought thee a pirate," said the mild Quaker, "but thee tells me
thee is a gentleman."

"Hold your peace, Square-Toes," cried the leader, "and let's get to
business."

"But if ye be gentlefolk," pleaded Ringan, "ye will grant a fair field.
I am no fighter, but I will stand by my friend."

I, who had said nothing, now broke in. "It is a warm evening for
sword-play, but if it is your humour, so be it."

This seemed to them hugely comic. "La!" cried one. "Sawney with a
sword!" And he plucked forth his own blade, and bent it on the floor.

Ringan smiled gently, "Thee must grant me the first favour," he said,
"for I am the challenger, if that be the right word of the carnally
minded." And standing up, he picked up the blade from beside him, and
bowed to the leader from Gracedieu.

Nothing loath he engaged, and the others stood back expecting a high
fiasco. They saw it. Ringan's sword played like lightning round the
wretched youth, it twitched the blade from his grasp, and forced him
back with a very white face to the door. In less than a minute, it
seemed, he was there, and as he yielded so did the door, and he
disappeared into the night. He did not return, so I knew that Ringan
must have spoke a word to Faulkner.

"Now for the next bloody-minded pirate," cried Ringan, and the next
with a very wry face stood up. One of the others would have joined in,
but, crying, "For shame, a fair field," I beat down his sword.

The next took about the same time to reach the door, and disappeared
into the darkness, and the third about half as long. Of the remaining
three, one sulkily declined to draw, and the other two were over drunk
for anything. They sat on the floor and sang a loose song.

"It seems, friends," said the Quaker, "that ye be more ready with words
than with deeds. I pray thee"--this to the sober one--"take off these
garments of sin. We be peaceful traders, and cannot abide the thought
of pirates."

He took them off, sash, breeches, jerkin, turban, and all, and stood up
in his shirt. The other two I stripped myself, and so drunk were they
that they entered into the spirit of the thing, and themselves tore at
the buttons. Then with Ringan's sword behind them, the three marched
out of doors.

There we found their companions stripped and sullen, with Faulkner and
the men to guard them. We made up neat parcels of their clothes, and I
extorted their names, all except one who was too far gone in drink.

"To-morrow, gentlemen," I said, "I will send back your belongings,
together with the tar and feathers, which you may find useful some
other day. The night is mild, and a gentle trot will keep you from
taking chills. I should recommend hurry, for in five minutes the dogs
will be loosed. A pleasant journey to you."

They moved off, and then halted and apparently were for returning. But
they thought better of it, and presently they were all six of them
racing and stumbling down the hill in their shifts.

The Quaker stretched his legs and lit a pipe. "Was it not a scurvy
trick of fate," he observed to the ceiling, "that these poor lads
should come here for a night's fooling, and find the best sword in the
Five Seas?"

CHAPTER XIII.

I STUMBLE INTO A GREAT FOLLY.

I never breathed a word about the night's doings, nor for divers
reasons did Ringan; but the story got about, and the young fools were
the laughing-stock of the place. But there was a good deal of wrath,
too, that a trader should have presumed so far, and I felt that things
were gathering to a crisis with me. Unless I was to suffer endlessly
these petty vexations, I must find a bold stroke to end them. It
annoyed me that when so many grave issues were in the balance I should
have these troubles, as if a man should be devoured by midges when
waiting on a desperate combat.

The crisis came sooner than I looked for. There was to be a great
horse-racing at Middle Plantation the next Monday, which I had half a
mind to attend, for, though I cared nothing for the sport, it would
give me a chance of seeing some of our fellows from the York River. One
morning I met Elspeth in the street of James Town, and she cried
laughingly that she looked to see me at the races. After that I had no
choice but go; so on the Monday morning I dressed myself with care,
mounted my best horse, and rode to the gathering.

'Twas a pretty sight to see the spacious green meadow, now a little
yellowing with the summer heat, set in the girdle of dark and leafy
forest. I counted over forty chariots which had brought the rank of the
countryside, each with its liveried servant and its complement of
outriders. The fringe of the course blazed with ladies' finery, and a
tent had been set up with a wide awning from which the fashionables
could watch the sport. On the edge of the woods a multitude of horses
were picketed, and there were booths that sold food and drink,
merry-go-rounds and fiddlers, and an immense concourse of every
condition of folk, black slaves and water-side Indians, squatters from
the woods, farmers from all the valleys, and the scum and ruck of the
plantations. I found some of my friends, and settled my business with
them, but my eyes were always straying to the green awning where I knew
that Elspeth sat.

I am no judge of racing, but I love the aspect of sleek, slim horses,
and I could applaud a skill in which I had no share. I can keep my
seat on most four-legged beasts, but my horsemanship is a clumsy,
rough-and-ready affair, very different from the effortless grace of your
true cavalier. Mr. Grey's prowess, especially, filled me with awe. He
would leap an ugly fence without moving an inch in his saddle, and both
in skill and the quality of his mounts he was an easy victor. The sight
of such accomplishments depressed my pride, and I do not think I would
have ventured near the tent had it not been for the Governor.

He saw me on the fringe of the crowd, and called me to him. "What
bashfulness has taken you to-day, sir?" he cried, "That is not like
your usual. There are twenty pretty dames here who pine for a word from
you."

I saw his purpose well enough. He loved to make mischief, and knew that
the sight of me among the Virginian gentry would infuriate my
unfriends. But I took him at his word and elbowed my way into the
enclosure.

Then I wished to Heaven I had stayed at home. I got insolent glances
from the youths, and the cold shoulder from the ladies. Elspeth smiled
when she saw me, but turned the next second to gossip with her little
court. She was a devout lover of horses, and had eyes for nothing but
the racing. Her cheeks were flushed, and it was pretty to watch her
excitement; how she hung breathless on the movements of the field, and
clapped her hands at a brave finish. Pretty, indeed, but exasperating
to one who had no part in that pleasant company.

I stood gloomily by the rail at the edge of the ladies' awning, acutely
conscious of my loneliness. Presently Mr. Grey, whose racing was over,
came to us, and had a favour pinned in his coat by Elspeth's fingers.
He was evidently high in her good graces, for he sat down by her and
talked gleefully. I could not but admire his handsome eager face, and
admit with a bitter grudge that you would look long to find a comelier
pair.

All this did not soothe my temper, and after an hour of it I was in
desperate ill-humour with the world. I had just reached the conclusion
that I had had as much as I wanted, when I heard Elspeth's voice
calling me.

"Come hither, Mr. Garvald," she said. "We have a dispute which a third
must settle. I favour the cherry, and Mr. Grey fancies the blue; but I
maintain that blue crowds cherry unfairly at the corners. Use your
eyes, sir, at the next turning."

I used my eyes, which are very sharp, and had no doubt of it.

"That is a matter for the Master of the Course," said Mr. Grey. "Will
you uphold your view before him, sir?"

I said that I knew too little of the sport to be of much weight as a
witness. To this he said nothing, but offered to wager with me on the
result of the race, which was now all but ending. "Or no," said he, "I
should not ask you that. A trader is careful of his guineas."

Elspeth did not hear, being intent on other things, and I merely
shrugged my shoulders, though my fingers itched for the gentleman's
ears.

In a little the racing ceased, and the ladies made ready to leave.
Doctor Blair appeared, protesting that the place was not for his cloth,
and gave Elspeth his arm to escort her to his coach. She cried a merry
good-day to us, and reminded Mr. Grey that he had promised to sup with
them on the morrow. When she had gone I spied a lace scarf which she
had forgotten, and picked it up to restore it.

This did not please the other. He snatched it from me, and when I
proposed to follow, tripped me deftly, and sent me sprawling among the
stools. As I picked myself up, I saw him running to overtake the
Blairs.

This time there was no discreet girl to turn the edge of my fury. All
the gibes and annoyances of the past months rushed into my mind, and
set my head throbbing. I was angry, but very cool with it all, for I
saw that the matter had now gone too far for tolerance. Unless I were
to be the butt of Virginia, I must assert my manhood.

I nicked the dust from my coat, and walked quietly to where Mr. Grey
was standing amid a knot of his friends, who talked of the races and
their losses and gains. He saw me coming, and said something which made
them form a staring alley, down which I strolled. He kept regarding me
with bright, watchful eyes.

"I have been very patient, sir," I said, "but there is a limit to what
a man may endure from a mannerless fool." And I gave him a hearty slap
on the face.

Instantly there was a dead silence, in which the sound seemed to linger
intolerably. He had grown very white, and his eyes were wicked.

"I am obliged to you, sir," he said. "You are some kind of ragged
gentleman, so no doubt you will give me satisfaction."

"When and where you please," I said sedately.

"Will you name your friend now?" he asked. "These matters demand quick
settlement."

To whom was I to turn? I knew nobody of the better class who would act
for me. For a moment I thought of Colonel Beverley, but his age and
dignity were too great to bring him into this squabble of youth. Then a
notion struck me.

"If you will send your friend to my man, John Faulkner, he will make
all arrangements. He is to be found any day in my shop."

With this defiance, I walked nonchalantly out of the dumbfoundered
group, found my horse, and rode homewards.

My coolness did not last many minutes, and long ere I had reached James
Town I was a prey to dark forebodings. Here was I, a peaceful trader,
who desired nothing more than to live in amity with all men, involved
in a bloody strife. I had sought it, and yet it had been none of my
seeking. I had graver thoughts to occupy my mind than the punctilios of
idle youth, and yet I did not see how the thing could have been
shunned. It was my hard fate to come athwart an obstacle which could
not be circumvented, but must be broken. No friend could help me in the
business, not Ringan, nor the Governor, nor Colonel Beverley. It was my
own affair, which I must go through with alone. I felt as solitary as a
pelican.

Remember, I was not fighting for any whimsy about honour, nor even for
the love of Elspeth. I had openly provoked Grey because the hostility
of the young gentry had become an intolerable nuisance in my daily
life. So, with such pedestrian reasons in my mind, I could have none of
the heady enthusiasm of passion. I wanted him and his kind cleared out
of my way, like a noisome insect, but I had no flaming hatred of him to
give me heart.

The consequence was that I became a prey to dismal fear. That bravery
which knows no ebb was never mine. Indeed, I am by nature timorous, for
my fancy is quick, and I see with horrid clearness the incidents of a
peril. Only a shamefaced conscience holds me true, so that, though I
have often done temerarious deeds, it has always been because I feared
shame more than the risk, and my knees have ever been knocking together
and my lips dry with fright. I tried to think soberly over the future,
but could get no conclusion save that I would not do murder. My
conscience was pretty bad about the whole business. I was engaged in
the kind of silly conflict which I had been bred to abhor; I had none
of the common gentleman's notions about honour; and I knew that if by
any miracle I slew Grey I should be guilty in my own eyes of murder. I
would not risk the guilt. If God had determined that I should perish
before my time, then perish I must.

This despair brought me a miserable kind of comfort. When I reached
home I went straight to Faulkner.

"I have quarrelled to-day with a gentleman, John, and have promised him
satisfaction. You must act for me in the affair. Some one will come to
see you this evening, and the meeting had better be at dawn to-morrow."

He opened his eyes very wide. "Who is it, then?" he asked.

"Mr. Charles Grey of Grey's Hundred," I replied.

This made him whistle low, "He's a fine swordsman," he said. "I never
heard there was any better in the dominion. You'll be to fight with
swords?"

I thought hard for a minute. I was the challenged, and so had the
choice of weapons. "No," said I, "you are to appoint pistols, for it is
my right."

At this Faulkner slowly grinned. "It's a new weapon for these affairs.
What if they'll not accept? But it's no business of mine, and I'll
remember your wishes." And the strange fellow turned again to his
accounts.

I spent the evening looking over my papers and making various
appointments in case I did not survive the morrow. Happily the work I
had undertaken for Lawrence was all but finished, and of my ordinary
business Faulkner knew as much as myself. I wrote a letter to Uncle
Andrew, telling him frankly the situation, that he might know how
little choice I had. It was a cold-blooded job making these
dispositions, and I hope never to have the like to do again. Presently
I heard voices outside, and Faulkner came to the door with Mr. George
Mason, the younger, of Thornby, who passed for the chief buck in
Virginia. He gave me a cold bow.

"I have settled everything with this gentleman, but I would beg of you,
sir, to reconsider your choice of arms. My friend will doubtless be
ready enough to humour you, but you have picked a barbarous weapon for
Christian use."

"It's my only means of defence," I said.

"Then you stick to your decision?"

"Assuredly," said I, and, with a shrug of the shoulders, he departed.

I did not attempt to sleep. Faulkner told me that we were to meet the
next morning half an hour after sunrise at a place in the forest a mile
distant. Each man was to fire one shot, but two pistols were allowed in
case of a misfire. All that night by the light of a lamp I got my
weapons ready. I summoned to my recollection all the knowledge I had
acquired, and made sure that nothing should be lacking so far as human
skill would go. I had another pistol besides the one I called
"Elspeth," also made in Glasgow, but a thought longer in the barrel.
For this occasion I neglected cartouches, and loaded in the old way. I
tested my bullets time and again, and weighed out the powder as if it
had been gold dust. It was short range, so I made my charges small. I
tried my old device of wrapping each bullet in soft wool smeared with
beeswax. All this passed the midnight hours, and then I lay down for a
little rest, but not for sleep.

I was glad when Faulkner summoned me half an hour before sunrise. I
remember that I bathed head and shoulders in cold water, and very
carefully dressed myself in my best clothes. My pistols lay in the box
which Faulkner carried. I drank a glass of wine, and as we left I took
a long look at the place I had created, and the river now lit with the
first shafts of morning. I wondered incuriously if I should ever see it
again.

My tremors had all gone by now, and I was in a mood of cold,
thoughtless despair. The earth had never looked so bright as we rode
through the green aisles all filled with the happy song of birds. Often
on such a morning I had started on a journey, with my heart grateful
for the goodness of the world. Could I but keep the road, I should come
in time to the swampy bank of the York; and then would follow the
chestnut forest: and the wide marshes towards the Rappahannock; and
everywhere I should meet friendly human faces, and then at night I
should eat a hunter's meal below the stars. But that was all past, and
I was moving towards death in a foolish strife in which I had no heart,
and where I could find no honour, I think I laughed aloud at my
exceeding folly.

We turned from the path into an alley which led to an open space on the
edge of a derelict clearing. There, to my surprise, I found a
considerable company assembled. Grey was there with his second, and a
dozen or more of his companions stood back in the shadow of the trees.
The young blood of Virginia had come out to see the trader punished.

During the few minutes while the seconds were busy pacing the course
and arranging for the signal, I had no cognizance of the world around
me. I stood with abstracted eyes watching a grey squirrel in one of the
branches, and trying to recall a line I had forgotten in a song. There
seemed to be two Andrew Garvalds that morning, one filled with an
immense careless peace, and the other a weak creature who had lived so
long ago as to be forgotten. I started when Faulkner came to place me,
and followed him without a word. But as I stood up and saw Grey twenty
paces off, turning up his wristbands and tossing his coat to a friend,
I realized the business I had come on. A great flood of light was
rolling down the forest aisles, but it was so clear and pure that it
did not dazzle. I remember thinking in that moment how intolerable had
become the singing of birds.

I deadened my heart to memories, took my courage in both hands, and
forced myself to the ordeal. For it is an ordeal to face powder if you
have not a dreg of passion in you, and are resolved to make no return.
I am left-handed, and so, in fronting my opponent, I exposed my heart.
If Grey were the marksman I thought him, now was his chance for
revenge.

My wits were calm now, and my senses very clear. I heard a man say
slowly that he would count three and then drop his kerchief, and at the
dropping we should fire. Our eyes were on him as he lifted his hand and
slowly began,--"One--two--"

Then I looked away, for the signal mattered nothing to me. I suddenly
caught Grey's eyes, and something whistled past my ear, cutting the
lobe and shearing off a lock of hair. I did not heed it. What filled my
mind was the sight of my enemy, very white and drawn in the face,
holding a smoking pistol and staring at me.

I emptied my pistol among the tree-tops.

No one moved. Grey continued to stare, leaning a little forward, with
his lips working.

Then I took from Faulkner my second pistol. My voice came out of my
throat, funnily cracked as if from long disuse.

"Mr. Grey," I cried, "I would not have you think that I cannot shoot."

Forty yards from me on the edge of the covert a turkey stood, with its
foolish, inquisitive head. The sound of the shots had brought the bird
out to see what was going on. It stood motionless, blinking its eyes,
the very mark I desired.

I pointed to it with my right hand, flung forward my pistol, and fired.
It rolled over as dead as stone, and Faulkner walked to pick it up. He
put back my pistols in the box, and we turned to seek the horses....

Then Grey came up to me. His mouth was hard-set, but the lines were not
of pride. I saw that he too had been desperately afraid, and I rejoiced
that others beside me had been at breaking-point.

"Our quarrel is at an end, sir?" he said, and his voice was hesitating.

"Why, yes," I said. "It was never my seeking, though I gave the
offence."

"I have behaved like a cub, sir," and he spoke loud, so that all could
hear. "You have taught me a lesson in gentility. Will you give me your
hand?"

I could find no words, and dumbly held out my right hand.

"Nay, sir," he said, "the other, the one that held the trigger. I count
it a privilege to hold the hand of a brave man."

I had been tried too hard, and was all but proving my bravery by
weeping like a bairn.

CHAPTER XIV.

A WILD WAGER.

That July morning in the forest gave me, if not popularity, at any rate
peace. I had made good my position. Henceforth the word went out that I
was to be let alone. Some of the young men, indeed, showed signs of
affecting my society, including that Mr. Kent of Gracedieu who had been
stripped by Ringan. The others treated me with courtesy, and I replied
with my best manners. Most of them were of a different world to mine,
and we could not mix, so 'twas right that our deportment should be that
of two dissimilar but amiable nations bowing to each other across a
frontier.

All this was a great ease, but it brought one rueful consequence.
Elspeth grew cold to me. Women, I suppose, have to condescend, and
protect, and pity. When I was an outcast she was ready to shelter me;
but now that I was in some degree of favour with others the need for
this was gone, and she saw me without illusion in all my angularity and
roughness. She must have heard of the duel, and jumped to the
conclusion that the quarrel had been about herself, which was not the
truth. The notion irked her pride, that her name should ever be brought
into the brawls of men. When I passed her in the streets she greeted me
coldly, and all friendliness had gone out of her eyes.

* * * * *

My days were so busy that I had little leisure for brooding, but at odd
moments I would fall into a deep melancholy. She had lived so
constantly in my thoughts that without her no project charmed me. What
mattered wealth or fame, I thought, if she did not approve? What
availed my striving, if she were not to share in the reward? I was in
this mood when I was bidden by Doctor Blair to sup at his house.

I went thither in much trepidation, for I feared a great company, in
which I might have no chance of a word from her. But I found only the
Governor, who was in a black humour, and disputed every word that fell
from the Doctor's mouth. This turned the meal into one long wrangle, in
which the high fundamentals of government in Church and State were
debated by two choleric gentlemen. The girl and I had no share in the
conversation; indeed, we were clearly out of place: so she could not
refuse when I proposed a walk in the garden. The place was all cool and
dewy after the scorching day, and the bells of the flowers made the air
heavy with fragrance. Somewhere near a man was playing on the
flageolet, a light, pretty tune which set her feet tripping.

I asked her bluntly wherein I had offended.

"Offended!" she cried, "Why should I take offence? I see you once in a
blue moon. You flatter yourself strangely, Mr. Garvald, if you think
you are ever in my thoughts."

"You are never out of mine," I said dismally.

At this she laughed, something of the old elfin laughter which I had
heard on the wet moors.

"A compliment!" she cried, "To be mixed up eternally with the weights
of tobacco and the prices of Flemish lace. You are growing a very
pretty courtier, sir."

"I am no courtier," I said. "I think brave things of you, though I have
not the words to fit them. But one thing I will say to you. Since ever
you sang to the boy that once was me your spell has been on my soul.
And when I saw you again three months back that spell was changed from
the whim of youth to what men call love. Oh, I know well there is no
hope for me. I am not fit to tie your shoe-latch. But you have made a
fire in my cold life, and you will pardon me if I dare warm my hands.
The sun is brighter because of you, and the flowers fairer, and the
birds' song sweeter. Grant me this little boon, that I may think of
you. Have no fears that I will pester you with attentions. No priest
ever served his goddess with a remoter reverence than mine for you."

She stopped in an alley of roses and looked me in the face. In the dusk
I could not see her eyes.

"Fine words," she said. "Yet I hear that you have been wrangling over
me with Mr. Charles Grey, and exchanging pistol shots. Is that your
reverence?"

In a sentence I told her the truth. "They forced my back to the wall,"
I said, "and there was no other way. I have never uttered your name to
a living soul."

Was it my fancy that when she spoke again there was a faint accent of
disappointment?

"You are an uncomfortable being, Mr. Garvald. It seems you are
predestined to keep Virginia from sloth. For myself I am for the roses
and the old quiet ways."

She plucked two flowers, one white and one of deepest crimson.

"I pardon you," she said, "and for token I will give you a rose. It is
red, for that is your turbulent colour. The white flower of peace shall
be mine."

I took the gift, and laid it in my bosom.

* * * * *

Two days later, it being a Monday, I dined with his Excellency at the
Governor's house at Middle Plantation. The place had been built new for
my lord Culpepper, since the old mansion at James Town had been burned
in Bacon's rising. The company was mainly of young men, but three
ladies--the mistresses of Arlington and Cobwell Manors, and Elspeth in
a new saffron gown--varied with their laces the rich coats of the men.
I was pleasantly welcomed by everybody. Grey came forward and greeted
me, very quiet and civil, and I sat by him throughout the meal. The
Governor was in high good humour, and presently had the whole company
in the same mood. Of them all, Elspeth was the merriest. She had the
quickest wit and the deftest skill in mimicry, and there was that in
her laughter which would infect the glummest.

That very day I had finished my preparations. The train was now laid,
and the men were ready, and a word from Lawrence would line the West
with muskets. But I had none of the satisfaction of a completed work.
It was borne in upon me that our task was scarcely begun, and that the
peril that threatened us was far darker than we had dreamed. Ringan's
tale of a white leader among the tribes was always in my head. The hall
where we sat was lined with portraits of men who had borne rule in
Virginia. There was Captain John Smith, trim-bearded and bronzed; and
Argall and Dale, grave and soldierly; there was Francis Wyat, with the
scar got in Indian wars; there hung the mean and sallow countenance of
Sir John Harvey. There, too, was Berkeley, with his high complexion and
his love-locks, the great gentleman of a vanished age; and the gross
rotundity of Culpepper; and the furtive eye of my lord Howard, who was
even now the reigning Governor. There was a noble picture of King
Charles the Second, who alone of monarchs was represented. Soft-footed
lackeys carried viands and wines, and the table was a mingling of
silver and roses. The afternoon light came soft through the trellis,
and you could not have looked for a fairer picture of settled ease. Yet
I had that in my mind which shattered the picture. We were feasting
like the old citizens of buried Pompeii, with the lava even now,
perhaps, flowing hot from the mountains. I looked at the painted faces
on the walls, and wondered which I would summon to our aid if I could
call men from the dead. Smith, I thought, would be best; but I
reflected uneasily that Smith would never have let things come to such
a pass. At the first hint of danger he would have been off to the West
to scotch it in the egg.

I was so filled with sober reflections that I talked little; but there
was no need of me. Youth and beauty reigned, and the Governor was as
gay as the youngest. Many asked me to take wine with them, and the
compliment pleased me. There was singing, likewise--Sir William
Davenant's song to his mistress, and a Cavalier rant or two, and a
throat ditty of the seas; and Elspeth sang very sweetly the old air of
"Greensleeves." We drank all the toasts of fashion--His Majesty of
England, confusion to the French, the health of Virginia, rich
harvests, full cellars, and pretty dames. Presently when we had waxed
very cheerful, and wine had risen to several young heads, the Governor
called on us to brim our glasses.

"Be it known, gentlemen, and you, fair ladies," he cried, "that to-day
is a more auspicious occasion than any Royal festival or Christian holy
day. To-day is Dulcinea's birthday. I summon you to drink to the flower
of the West, the brightest gem in Virginia's coronal."

At that we were all on our feet. The gentlemen snapped the stems of
their glasses to honour the sacredness of the toast, and there was such
a shouting and pledging as might well have turned a girl's head.
Elspeth sat still and smiling. The mockery had gone out of her eyes,
and I thought they were wet. No Queen had ever a nobler salutation, and
my heart warmed to the generous company. Whatever its faults, it did
due homage to beauty and youth.

Governor Francis was again on his feet.

"I have a birthday gift for the fair one. You must know that once at
Whitehall I played at cartes with my lord Culpepper, and the stake on
his part was one-sixth portion of that Virginian territory which is his
freehold. I won, and my lord conveyed the grant to me in a deed
properly attested by the attorneys. We call the place the Northern
Neck, and 'tis all the land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac as
far west as the sunset. It is undivided, but my lord stipulated that my
portion should lie from the mountains westward. What good is such an
estate to an aging bachelor like me, who can never visit it? But 'tis a
fine inheritance for youth, and I propose to convey it to Dulcinea as a
birthday gift. Some day, I doubt not, 'twill be the Eden of America."

At this there was a great crying out and some laughter, which died away
when it appeared that the Governor spoke in all seriousness.

"I make one condition," he went on. "Twenty years back there was an old
hunter, called Studd, who penetrated the mountains. He travelled to the
head-waters of the Rapidan, and pierced the hills by a pass which he
christened Clearwater Gap. He climbed the highest mountain in those
parts, and built a cairn on the summit, in which he hid a powder-horn
with a writing within. He was the first to make the journey, and none
have followed him. The man is dead now, but he told me the tale, and I
will pledge my honour that it is true. It is for Dulcinea to choose a
champion to follow Studd's path and bring back his powder-horn. On the
day I receive it she takes sasine of her heritage. Which of you
gallants offers for the venture?"

To this day I do not know what were Francis Nicholson's motives. He
wished the mountains crossed, but he cannot have expected to meet a
pathfinder among the youth of the Tidewater. I think it was the whim of
the moment. He would endow Elspeth, and at the same time test her
cavaliers. To the ordinary man it seemed the craziest folly. Studd had
been a wild fellow, half Indian in blood and wholly Indian in habits,
and for another to travel fifty miles into the heart of the desert was
to embrace destruction. The company sat very silent. Elspeth, with a
blushing cheek, turned troubled eyes on the speaker.

As for me, I had found the chance I wanted. I was on my feet in a
second. "I will go," I said; and I had hardly spoken when Grey was
beside me, crying, "And I."

Still the company sat silent. 'Twas as if the shadow of a sterner life
had come over their young gaiety. Elspeth did not look at me, but sat
with cast-down eyes, plucking feverishly at a rose. The Governor
laughed out loud.

"Brave hearts!" he cried. "Will you travel together?"

I looked at Grey. "That can hardly be," he said.

"Well, we must spin for it," said Nicholson, taking a guinea from his
pocket. "Royals for Mr. Garvald, quarters for Mr. Grey," he cried as he
spun it.

It fell Royals. We had both been standing, and Grey now bowed to me and
sat down. His face was very pale and his lips tightly shut.

The Governor gave a last toast "Let us drink," he called, "to
Dulcinea's champion and the fortunes of his journey." At that there was
such applause you might have thought me the best-liked man in the
dominion. I looked at Elspeth, but she averted her eyes.

As we left the table I stepped beside Grey. "You must come with me," I
whispered. "Nay, do not refuse. When you know all you will come
gladly." And I appointed a meeting on the next day at the Half-way
Tavern.

I got to my house at the darkening, and found Ringan waiting for me.

This time he had not sought a disguise, but he kept his fiery head
covered with a broad hat, and the collar of his seaman's coat enveloped
his lower face. To a passer-by in the dusk he must have seemed an
ordinary ship's captain stretching his legs on land.

He asked for food and drink, and I observed that his manner was very
grave.

"Are things in train, Andrew?" he asked.

I told him "to the last stirrup buckle."

"It's as well," said he, "for the trouble has begun."

Then he told me a horrid tale. The Rapidan is a stream in the north of
the dominion, flowing into the Rappahannock on its south bank. Two
years past a family of French folk--D'Aubigny was their name--had made
a home in a meadow by that stream and built a house and a strong
stockade, for they were in dangerous nearness to the hills, and had no
neighbours within forty miles. They were gentlefolk of some substance,
and had carved out of the wilderness a very pretty manor with orchards
and flower gardens. I had never been to the place, but I had heard the
praise of it from dwellers on the Rappahannock. No Indians came near
them, and there they abode, happy in their solitude--a husband and
wife, three little children, two French servants, and a dozen negroes.

A week ago tragedy had come like a thunderbolt. At night the stockade
was broke, and the family woke from sleep to hear the war-whoop and see
by the light of their blazing byres a band of painted savages. It seems
that no resistance was possible, and they were butchered like sheep.
The babes were pierced with stakes, the grown folk were scalped and
tortured, and by sunrise in that peaceful clearing there was nothing
but blood-stained ashes.

Word had come down the Rappahannock. Ringan said he had heard it in
Accomac, and had sailed to Sabine to make sure. Men had ridden out from
Stafford county, and found no more than a child's toy and some bloody
garments.

"Who did it?" I asked, with fury rising in my heart.

"It's Cherokee work. There's nothing strange in it, except that such a
deed should have been dared. But it means the beginning of our
business. D'you think the Stafford folk will sleep in their beds after
that? And that's precisely what perplexes me. The Governor will be
bound to send an expedition against the murderers, and they'll not be
easy found. But while the militia are routing about on the Rapidan,
what hinders the big invasion to come down the James or the
Chickahominy or the Pamunkey or the Mattaponey and find a defenceless
Tidewater? As I see it, there's deep guile in this business. A Cherokee
murder is nothing out of the way, but these blackguards were not
killing for mere pleasure. As I've said before, I would give my right
hand to have better information. It's this land business that fickles
one. If it were a matter of islands and ocean bays, I would have long
ago riddled out the heart of it."

"We're on the way to get news," I said, and I told him of my wager that
evening.

"Man, Andrew!" he cried, "it's providential. There's nothing to hinder
you and me and a few others to ride clear into the hills, with the
Tidewater thinking it no more than a play of daft young men. You must
see Nicholson, and get him to hold his hand till we send him word. In
two days Lawrence will be here, and we can post our lads on each of the
rivers, for it's likely any Indian raid will take one of the valleys.
You must see that Governor of yours first thing in the morning, and get
him to promise to wait on your news. Then he can get out his militia,
and stir up the Tidewater. Will he do it, think you?"

I said I thought he would.

"And there's one other thing. Would he agree to turning a blind eye to
Lawrence, if he comes back? He'll not trouble them in James Town, but
he's the only man alive to direct our own lads."

I said I would try, but I was far from certain. It was hard to forecast
the mind of Governor Francis.

"Well, Lawrence will come whether or no. You can sound the man, and if
he's dour let the matter be. Lawrence is now on the Roanoke, and his
plan is to send out the word to-morrow and gather in the posts. He'll
come to Frew's place on the South Fork River, which is about the middle
of the frontier line. To-day is Monday, to-morrow the word will go out,
by Friday the men will be ready, and Lawrence will be in Virginia. The
sooner you're off the better, Andrew. What do you say to Wednesday?"

"That day will suit me fine," I said; "but what about my company?"

"The fewer the better. Who were you thinking of?"

"You for one," I said, "and Shalah for a second."

He nodded.

"I want two men from the Rappahannock--a hunter of the name of
Donaldson and the Frenchman Bertrand."

"That makes five. Would you like to even the number?"

"Yes," I said. "There's a gentleman of the Tidewater, Mr. Charles Grey,
that I've bidden to the venture."

Ringan whistled. "Are you sure that's wise? There'll be little use for
braw clothes and fine manners in the hills."

"All the same there'll be a use for Mr. Grey. When will you join us?"

"I've a bit of business to do hereaways, but I'll catch you up. Look
for me at Aird's store on Thursday morning."

CHAPTER XV.

I GATHER THE CLANS.

I was at the Governor's house next day before he had breakfasted. He
greeted me laughingly.

"Has the champion come to cry forfeit?" he asked. "It is a long, sore
road to the hills, Mr. Garvald."

"I've come to make confession," I said, and I plunged into my story of
the work of the last months.

He heard me with lowering brows, "Who the devil made you Governor of
this dominion, sir? You have been levying troops without His Majesty's
permission. Your offence is no less than high treason. I've a pretty
mind to send you to the guard-house."

"I implore you to hear me patiently," I cried. Then I told him what I
had learned in the Carolinas and at the outland farms. "You yourself
told me it was hopeless to look for a guinea from the Council. I was
but carrying out your desires. Can you blame me if I've toiled for the
public weal and neglected my own fortunes?"

He was scarcely appeased. "You're a damnable kind of busybody, sir, the
breed of fellow that plunges states into revolutions. Why, in Heaven's
name, did you not consult me?"

"Because it was wiser not to," I said stoutly. "Half my recruits are
old soldiers of Bacon. If the trouble blows past, they go back to their
steadings and nothing more is heard of it. If trouble comes, who are
such natural defenders of the dominion as the frontier dwellers? All I
have done is to give them the sinews of war. But if Governor Nicholson
had taken up the business, and it were known that he had leaned on old
rebels, what would the Council say? What would have been the view of my
lord Howard and the wiseacres in London?"

He said nothing, but knit his brows. My words were too much in tune
with his declared opinions for him to gainsay them.

"It comes to this, then," he said at length. "You have raised a body of
men who are waiting marching orders. What next, Mr. Garvald?"

"The next thing is to march. After what befell on the Rapidan, we
cannot sit still."

He started. "I have heard nothing of it."

Then I told him the horrid tale. He got to his feet and strode up and
down the room, with his dark face working.

"God's mercy, what a calamity! I knew the folk. They came here with
letters from his Grace of Shrewsbury. Are you certain your news is
true?"

"Alas! there is no doubt. Stafford county is in a ferment, and the next
post from the York will bring you word."

"Then, by God, it is for me to move. No Council or Assembly will dare
gainsay me. I can order a levy by virtue of His Majesty's commission."

"I have come to pray you to hold your hand till I send you better
intelligence," I said.

His brows knit again. "But this is too much. Am I to refrain from doing
my duty till I get your gracious consent, sir?"

"Nay, nay," I cried. "Do not misunderstand me. This thing is far graver
than you think, sir. If you send your levies to the Rapidan, you leave
the Tidewater defenceless, and while you are hunting a Cherokee party
in the north, the enemy will be hammering at your gates."

"What enemy?" he asked.

"I do not know, and that is what I go to find out." Then I told him all
I had gathered about the unknown force in the hills, and the apparent
strategy of a campaign which was beyond an Indian's wits. "There is a
white man at the back of it," I said, "a white man who talks in Bible
words and is mad for devastation."

His face had grown very solemn. He went to a bureau, unlocked it, and
took from a drawer a bit of paper, which he tossed to me.

"I had that a week past to-morrow. My servant got it from an Indian in
the woods."

It was a dirty scrap, folded like a letter, and bearing the
superscription, "_To the man Francis Nicholson, presently Governor in
Virginia_." I opened it and read:--

"_Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield:
but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the
armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied_."

"There," I cried, "there is proof of my fears. What kind of Indian
sends a message like that? Trust me, sir, there is a far more hellish
mischief brewing than any man wots of."

"It looks not unlike it," he said grimly. "Now let's hear what you
propose."

"I can have my men at their posts by the week end. We will string them
out along the frontier, and hold especially the river valleys. If
invasion comes, then at any rate the Tidewater will get early news of
it. Meantime I and my friends, looking for Studd's powder-horn, with a
mind to confirm your birthday gift to Miss Elspeth Blair, will push on
to the hills and learn what is to be learned there."

"You will never come back," he said tartly. "An Indian stake and a
bloody head will be the end of all of you."

"Maybe," I said, "though I have men with me that can play the Indian
game. But if in ten days' time from now you get no word, then you can
fear the worst, and set your militia going. I have a service of posts
which will carry news to you as quick as a carrier pigeon. Whatever we
learn you shall hear of without delay, and you can make your
dispositions accordingly. If the devils find us first, then get in
touch with my men at Frew's homestead on the South Fork River, for that
will be the headquarters of the frontier army."

"Who will be in command there when you are gallivanting in the hills?"
he asked.

"One whose name had better not be spoken. He lies under sentence of
death by Virginian law; but, believe me, he is an honest soul and a
good patriot, and he is the one man born to lead these outland troops."

He smiled, "His Christian name is Richard, maybe? I think I know your
outlaw. But let it pass. I ask no names. In these bad times we cannot
afford to despise any man's aid."

He pulled out a chart of Virginia, and I marked for him our posts, and
indicated the line of my own journey.

"Have you ever been in the wars, Mr. Garvald?" he asked.

I told him no.

"Well, you have a very pretty natural gift for the military art. Your
men will screen the frontier line, and behind that screen I will get
our militia force in order, while meantime you are reconnoitring the
enemy. It's a very fair piece of strategy. But I am mortally certain
you yourself will never come back."

The odd thing was that at that moment I did not fear for myself. I had
lived so long with my scheme that I had come to look upon it almost
like a trading venture, in which one calculates risks and gains on
paper, and thinks no more of it. I had none of the black fright which I
had suffered before my meeting with Grey. Happily, though a young man's
thoughts may be long, his fancy takes short views. I was far more
concerned with what might happen in my absence in the Tidewater than
with our fate in the hills.

"It is a gamble," I said, "but the stakes are noble, and I have a
private pride in its success."

"Also the goad of certain bright eyes," he said, smiling. "Little I
thought, when I made that offer last night, I was setting so desperate
a business in train. There was a good Providence in that. For now we
can give out that you are gone on a madcap ploy, and there will be no
sleepless nights in the Tidewater. I must keep their souls easy, for
once they are scared there will be such a spate of letters to New York
as will weaken the courage of our Northern brethren. For the militia I
will give the excuse of the French menace. The good folk will laugh at
me for it, but they will not take fright. God's truth, but it is a
devilish tangle. I could wish I had your part, sir, and be free to ride
out on a gallant venture. Here I have none of the zest of war, but only
a thousand cares and the carking task of soothing fools."

We spoke of many things, and I gave him a full account of the
composition and strength of our levies. When I left he paid me a
compliment, which, coming from so sardonic a soul, gave me peculiar
comfort.

"I have seen something of men and cities, sir," he said, "and I know
well the foibles and the strength of my countrymen; but I have never
met your equal for cold persistence. You are a trader, and have turned
war into a trading venture. I do believe that when you are at your last
gasp you will be found calmly casting up your accounts with life. And I
think you will find a balance on the right side. God speed you, Mr.
Garvald. I love your sober folly."

* * * * *

I had scarcely left him when I met a servant of the Blairs, who handed
me a letter. 'Twas from Elspeth--the first she had ever written me. I
tore it open, and found a very disquieting epistle. Clearly she had
written it in a white heat of feeling. "_You spoke finely of
reverence_," she wrote, "_and how you had never named my name to a
mortal soul. But to-night you have put me to open shame. You have
offered yourself for a service which I did not seek. What care I for
his Excellency's gifts? Shall it be said that I was the means of
sending a man into deadly danger to secure me a foolish estate? You
have offended me grossly, and I pray you spare me further offence, I
command you to give up this journey. I will not have my name bandied
about in this land as a wanton who sets silly youth by the ears to
gratify her pride. If you desire to retain a shred of my friendship, go
to his Excellency and tell him that by my orders you withdraw from the
wager."_

This letter did not cloud my spirits as it should. For one thing, she
signed it "Elspeth," and for another, I had the conceited notion that
what moved her most was the thought that I was running into danger. I
longed to have speech with her, but I found from the servant that
Doctor Blair had left that morning on a journey of pastoral visitation,
and had taken her with him. The man did not know their destination, but
believed it to be somewhere in the north. The thought vaguely
disquieted me. In these perilous times I wished to think of her as safe
in the coastlands, where a ship would give a sure refuge.

I met Grey that afternoon at the Half-way Tavern. In the last week he
seemed to have aged and grown graver. There was now no hint of the
light arrogance of old. He regarded me curiously, but without
hostility.

"We have been enemies," I said, "and now, though there may be no
friendship, at any rate there is a truce to strife. Last night I begged
of you to come with me on this matter of the Governor's wager, but
'twas not the wager I thought of."

Then I told him the whole tale. "The stake is the safety of this land,
of which you are a notable citizen. I ask you, because I know you are a
brave man. Will you leave your comfort and your games for a season, and
play for higher stakes at a more desperate hazard?"

I told him everything, even down to my talk with the Governor. I did
not lessen the risks and hardships, and I gave him to know that his
companions would be rough folk, whom he may well have despised. He
heard me out with his eyes fixed on the ground. Then suddenly he raised
a shining face.

"You are a generous enemy, Mr. Garvald. I behaved to you like a peevish
child, and you retaliate by offering me the bravest venture that man
ever conceived. I am with you with all my heart. By God, sir, I am sick
of my cushioned life. This is what I have been longing for in my soul
since I was born...."

That night I spent making ready. I took no servant, and in my
saddle-bags was stored the little I needed. Of powder and shot I had
plenty, and my two pistols and my hunting musket. I gave Faulkner
instructions, and wrote a letter to my uncle to be sent if I did not
return. Next morning at daybreak we took the road.

CHAPTER XVI.

THE FORD OF THE RAPIDAN.

'Twas the same high summer weather through which I had ridden a
fortnight ago with a dull heart on my way to the duel. Now Grey rode by
my side, and my spirits were as light as a bird's. I had forgotten the
grim part of the enterprise, the fate that might await me, the horrors
we should certainly witness. I thought only of the joys of movement
into new lands with tried companions. These last months I had borne a
pretty heavy weight of cares. Now that was past. My dispositions
completed, the thing was in the hands of God, and I was free to go my
own road. Mocking-birds and thrushes cried in the thickets, squirrels
flirted across the path, and now and then a shy deer fled before us.
There come moments to every man when he is thankful to be alive, and
every breath drawn is a delight; so at that hour I praised my Maker for
His good earth, and for sparing me to rejoice in it.

Grey had met me with a certain shyness; but as the sun rose and the
land grew bright he, too, lost his constraint, and fell into the same
happy mood. Soon we were smiling at each other in the frankest
comradeship, we two who but the other day had carried ourselves like
game-cocks. He had forgotten his fine manners and his mincing London
voice, and we spoke of the outland country of which he knew nothing,
and of the hunting of game of which he knew much, exchanging our
different knowledges, and willing to learn from each other. Long ere we
had reached York Ferry I had found that there was much in common
between the Scots trader and the Virginian cavalier, and the chief
thing we shared was youth.

Mine, to be sure, was more in the heart, while Grey wore his open and
fearless. He plucked the summer flowers and set them in his hat. He was
full of catches and glees, so that he waked the echoes in the forest
glades. Soon I, too, fell to singing in my tuneless voice, and I
answered his "My lodging is on the cold ground" with some Scots ballad
or a song of Davie Lindsay. I remember how sweetly he sang Colonel
Lovelace's ode to Lucasta, writ when going to the wars:--

"True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield."

"Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore:
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more."

I wondered if that were my case--if I rode out for honour, and not for
the pure pleasure of the riding. And I marvelled more to see the two of
us, both lovers of one lady and eager rivals, burying for the nonce our
feuds, and with the same hope serving the same cause.

We slept the night at Aird's store, and early the next morning found
Ringan. A new Ringan indeed, as unlike the buccaneer I knew as he was
unlike the Quaker. He was now the gentleman of Breadalbane, dressed for
the part with all the care of an exquisite. He rode a noble roan, in
his Spanish belt were stuck silver-hafted pistols, and a long sword
swung at his side. When I presented Grey to him, he became at once the
cavalier, as precise in his speech and polite in his deportment as any
Whitehall courtier. They talked high and disposedly of genteel matters,
and you would have thought that that red-haired pirate had lived his
life among proud lords and high-heeled ladies. That is ever the way of
the Highlander. He alters like a clear pool to every mood of the sky,
so that the shallow observer might forget how deep the waters are.

Presently, when we had ridden into the chestnut forests of the
Mattaponey, he began to forget his part. Grey, it appeared, was a
student of campaigns, and he and Ringan were deep in a discussion of
Conde's battles, in which both showed surprising knowledge. But the
glory of the weather and of the woodlands, new as they were to a
seafarer, set his thoughts wandering, and he fell to tales of his past
which consorted ill with his former decorum. There was a madcap zest in
his speech, something so merry and wild, that Grey, who had fallen back
into his Tidewater manners, became once more the careless boy. We
stopped to eat in a glade by a slow stream, and from his saddle-bags
Ringan brought out strange delicacies. There were sugared fruits from
the Main, and orange sirop from Jamaica, and a kind of sweet punch made
by the Hispaniola Indians. As we ate and drank he would gossip about
the ways of the world; and though he never mentioned his own doings,
there was such an air of mastery about him as made him seem the centre
figure of his tales, I could see that Grey was mightily captivated, and
all afternoon he plied him with questions, and laughed joyously at his
answers. As we camped that night, while Grey was minding his horse
Ringan spoke of him to me.

"I like the lad, Andrew. He has the makings of a very proper gentleman,
and he has the sense to be young. What I complain of in you is that
you're desperate old. I wonder whiles if you ever were a laddie. For
me, though I'm ten years the elder of the pair of you, I've no more
years than your friend, and I'm a century younger than you. That's the
Highland way. There's that in our blood that keeps our eyes young
though we may be bent double. With us the heart is aye leaping till
Death grips us. To my mind it's a lovable character that I fain would
cherish. If I couldn't sing on a spring morning or say a hearty grace
over a good dinner I'd be content to be put away in a graveyard."

And that, I think, is the truth. But at the time I was feeling pretty
youthful, too, though my dour face and hard voice were a bad clue to my
sentiments.

Next day on the Rappahannock we found Shalah, who had gone on to warn
the two men I proposed to enlist. One of them, Donaldson, was a big,
slow-spoken, middle-aged farmer, the same who had been with Bacon in
the fight at Occaneechee Island. He just cried to his wife to expect
him back when she saw him, slung on his back an old musket, cast a long
leg over his little horse, and was ready to follow. The other, the
Frenchman Bertrand, was a quiet, slim gentleman, who was some kin to
the murdered D'Aubignys. I had long had my eye on him, for he was very
wise in woodcraft, and had learned campaigning under old Turenne. He
kissed his two children again and again, and his wife clung to his
arms. There were tears in the honest fellow's eyes as he left, and I
thought all the more of him, for he is the bravest man who has most to
risk. I mind that Ringan consoled the lady in the French tongue, which
I did not comprehend, and would not be hindered from getting out his
saddle-bags and comforting the children with candied plums. He had near
as grave a face as Bertrand when we rode off, and was always looking
back to the homestead. He spoke long to the Frenchman in his own
speech, and the sad face of the latter began to lighten.

I asked him what he said.

"Just that he was the happy man to have kind hearts to weep for him. A
fine thing for a landless, childless fellow like me to say! But it's
gospel truth, Andrew. I told him that his bairns would be great folks
some day, and that their proudest boast would be that their father had
ridden on this errand. Oh, and all the rest of the easy consolations.
If it had been me, I would not have been muckle cheered. It's well I
never married, for I would not have had the courage to leave my
fireside."

We were now getting into a new and far lovelier country. The heavy
forests and swamps which line the James and the York had gone, and
instead we had rolling spaces of green meadowland, and little hills
which stood out like sentinels of the great blue chain of mountains
that hung in the west. Instead of the rich summer scents of the
Tidewater, we had the clean, sharp smell of uplands, and cool winds
relieved the noontide heat. By and by we struck the Rapidan, a water
more like our Scots rivers, flowing in pools and currents, very
different from the stagnant reaches of the Pamunkey. We were joined for
a little bit by two men from Stafford county, who showed us the paths
that horses could travel.

It was late in the afternoon that we reached a broad meadow hemmed in
by noble cedars. I knew without telling that we were come to the scene
of the tragedy, and with one accord we fell silent. The place had been
well looked after, for a road had been made through the woods, and had
been carried over marshy places on a platform of cedar piles. Presently
we came to a log fence with a gate, which hung idly open. Within was a
paddock, and beyond another fence, and beyond that a great pile of
blackened timber. The place was so smiling and homelike under the
westering sun that one looked to see a trim steading with the smoke of
hearth fires ascending, and to hear the cheerful sounds of labour and
of children's voices. Instead there was this grim, charred heap, with
the light winds swirling the ashes.

Every man of us uncovered his head as he rode towards the melancholy
place. I noticed a little rosary, which had been carefully tended, but
horses had ridden through it, and the blossoms were trailing crushed on
the ground. There was a flower garden too, much trampled, and in one
corner a little stream of water had been led into a pool fringed with
forget-me-nots. A tiny water-wheel was turning in the fall, a
children's toy, and the wheel still turned, though its owners had gone.
The sight of that simple thing fairly brought my heart to my mouth.

That inspection was a gruesome business. One of the doorposts of the
house still stood, and it was splashed with blood. On the edge of the
ashes were some charred human bones. No one could tell whose they were,
perhaps a negro's, perhaps the little mistress of the water-wheel. I
looked at Ringan, and he was smiling, but his eyes were terrible. The
Frenchman Bertrand was sobbing like a child.

We took the bones, and made a shallow grave for them in the rosary. We
had no spades, but a stake did well enough to dig a resting-place for
those few poor remains. I said over them the Twenty-third Psalm: "_Yea,
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff shall comfort me_."

Then suddenly our mood changed. Nothing that we could do could help the
poor souls whose bones lay among the ashes. But we could bring their
murderers to book, and save others from a like fate.

We moved away from the shattered place to the ford in the river where
the road ran north. There we looked back. A kind of fury seized me as I
saw that cruel defacement. In a few hours we ourselves should be beyond
the pale, among those human wolves who were so much more relentless
than any beasts of the field. As I looked round our little company, I
noted how deep the thing had bitten into our souls. Ringan's eyes still
danced with that unholy blue light. Grey was very pale, and his jaw was
set grimly. Bertrand had ceased from sobbing, and his face had the
far-away wildness of the fanatic, such a look as his forbears may have
worn at the news of St. Bartholomew. The big man Donaldson looked
puzzled and sombre. Only Shalah stood impassive and aloof, with no
trace of feeling on the bronze of his countenance.

"This is the place for an oath," I said. "We are six men against an
army, but we fight for a holy cause. Let us swear to wipe out this deed
of blood in the blood of its perpetrators. God has made us the
executors of His judgments against horrid cruelty."

We swore, holding our hands high, that, when our duty to the dominion
was done, we should hunt down the Cherokees who had done this deed till
no one of them was left breathing. At that moment of tense nerves, no
other purpose would have contented us.

"How will we find them?" quoth Ringan. "To sift a score of murderers
out of a murderous nation will be like searching the ocean for a wave."

Then Shalah spoke.

"The trail is ten suns old, but I can follow it. The men were of the
Meebaw tribe by this token." And he held up a goshawk's feather. "The
bird that dropped that lives beyond the peaks of Shubash. The Meebaw
are quick hunters and gross eaters, and travel slow. We will find them
by the Tewawha."

"All in good time," I said. "Retribution must wait till we have
finished our task. Can you find the Meebaw men again?"

"Yea," said Shalah, "though they took wings and flew over the seas I
should find them."

Then we hastened away from that glade, none speaking to the other. We
camped an hour's ride up the river, in a place secure against surprises
in a crook of the stream with a great rock at our back. We were outside
the pale now, and must needs adopt the precautions of a campaign; so we
split the night into watches, I did my two hours sentry duty at that
dead moment of the dark just before the little breeze which is the
precursor of dawn, and I reflected very soberly on the slender chances
of our returning from this strange wild world and its cruel mysteries.

CHAPTER XVII.

I RETRACE MY STEPS.

Next morning we passed through the foothills into an open meadow
country. As I lifted up my eyes I saw for the first time the mountains
near at hand. There they lay, not more than ten miles distant, woody
almost to the summit, but with here and there a bold finger of rock
pointing skywards. They looked infinitely high and rugged, far higher
than any hills I had ever seen before, for my own Tinto or Cairntable
would to these have been no more than a footstool. I made out a clear
breach in the range, which I took to be old Studd's Clearwater Gap. The
whole sight intoxicated me. I might dream of horrors in the low coast
forests among their swampy creeks, but in that clear high world of the
hills I believed lay safety. I could have gazed at them for hours, but
Shalah would permit of no delay. He hurried us across the open meadows,
and would not relax his pace till we were on a low wooded ridge with
the young waters of the Rapidan running in a shallow vale beneath.

Here we halted in a thick clump of cedars, while he and Ringan went
forward to spy out the land. In that green darkness, save by folk
travelling along the ridge, we could not be detected, and I knew
enough of Indian ways to believe that any large party would keep the
stream sides. We lit a fire without fear, for the smoke was hid in the
cedar branches, and some of us roasted corn-cakes. Our food in the
saddle-bags would not last long, and I foresaw a ticklish business when
it came to hunting for the pot. A gunshot in these narrow glens would
reverberate like a cannon.

We dozed peacefully in the green shade, and smoked our pipes, waiting
for the return of our envoys. They came towards sundown, slipping among
us like ghosts.

Ringan signalled to me, and we put our coats over the horses' heads to
prevent their whinnying. He stamped out the last few ashes of the fire,
and Shalah motioned us all flat on our faces. Then I crawled to the
edge of the ridge, and looked down through a tangle of vines on the
little valley.

Our precautions had been none too soon, for a host was passing below,
as stealthily as if it had been an army of the sheeted dead. Most were
mounted, and it was marvellous to see the way in which they managed
their horses, so that the beasts seemed part of the riders, and partook
of their vigilance. Some were on foot, and moved with the long, loping,
in-toed Indian stride. I guessed their number at three hundred, but
what awed me was their array. This was no ordinary raid, but an
invading army. My sight, as I think I have said, is as keen as a
hawk's, and I could see that most of them carried muskets as well as
knives and tomahawks. The war-paint glistened on each breast and
forehead, and in the oiled hair stood the crested feathers, dyed
scarlet for battle. My spirits sank as I reflected that now we were cut
off from the Tidewater.

When the last man had gone we crawled back to the clump, now gloomy
with the dusk of evening. I saw that Ringan was very weary, but Shalah,
after stretching his long limbs, seemed fresh as ever.

"Will you come with me, brother?" he said. "We must warn the
Rappahannock."

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Cherokees. More follow them. The assault is dearly by the line of the
Rappahannock. If we hasten we may yet be in time."

I knew what Shalah's hastening meant. I suppose I was the one of us
best fitted for a hot-foot march, and that that was the reason why the
Indian chose me. All the same my heart misgave me. He ate a little
food, while I stripped off the garments I did not need, carrying only
the one pistol. I bade the others travel slowly towards the mountains,
scouting carefully ahead, and promised that we should join them before
the next sundown. Then Shalah beckoned me, and I plunged after him into
the forest.

On our first visit to Ringan at the land-locked Carolina harbour I had
thought Shalah's pace killing, but that was but a saunter to what he
now showed me. We seemed to be moving at right angles to the Indian
march. Once out of the woods of the ridge, we crossed the meadows,
mostly on our bellies, taking advantage of every howe and crinkle. I
followed him as obediently as a child. When he ran so did I; when he
crawled my forehead was next his heel. After the grass-lands came
broken hillocks with little streams in the bottoms. Through these we
twisted, moving with less care, and presently we had left the hills and
were looking over a wide, shadowy plain.

The moon was three-quarters full, and was just beginning to climb the
sky. Shalah sniffed the wind, which blew from the south-west, and set
off at a sharp angle towards the north. We were now among the woods
again, and the tangled undergrowth tried me sore. We had been going for
about three hours, and, though I was hard and spare from much travel in
the sun, my legs were not used to this furious foot marching. My feet
grew leaden, and, to make matters worse, we dipped presently into a big
swamp, where we mired to the knees and often to the middle. It would
have been no light labour at any time to cross such a place, pulling
oneself by the tangled shrubs on to the rare patches of solid ground.
But now, when I was pretty weary, the toil was about the limit of my
strength. When we emerged on hard land I was sobbing like a stricken
deer. But Shalah had no mercy. He took me through the dark cedars at
the same tireless pace, and in the gloom I could see him flitting
ahead of me, his shoulders squared, and his limbs as supple as a
race-horse's. I remember I said over in my head all the songs and verses
I knew, to keep my mind from my condition. I had long ago got and lost
my second wind and whatever other winds there be, and was moving less by
bodily strength than by sheer doggedness of spirit. Weak tears were
running down my cheeks, my breath rasped in my throat, but I was in the
frame of mind that if death had found me next moment my legs would
still have twitched in an effort to run.

At an open bit of the forest Shalah stopped and looked at the sky. I
blundered into him, and then from sheer weakness rolled on the ground.
He grunted and turned to me. I felt his cool hand passing over my brow
and cheek, and his fingers kneading the muscles of my forlorn legs.
'Twas some Indian device, doubtless, but its power was miraculous.
Under his hands my body seemed to be rested and revived. New strength
stole into my sinews, new vigour into my blood. The thing took maybe
five minutes--not more; but I scrambled to my feet a man again. Indeed
I was a better man than when I started, for this Indian wizardry had
given me an odd lightness of head and heart. When we took up the
running, my body, instead of a leaden clog, seemed to be a thing of air
and feathers.

It was now hard on midnight, and the moon was high in the heavens. We
bore somewhat to the right, and I judged that our circuit was
completed, and that the time had come to steal in front of the Indian
route. The forest thinned, and we traversed a marshy piece, of country
with many single great trees. Often Shalah would halt for a second,
strain his ears, and sniff the light wind like a dog. He seemed to find
guidance, but I got none, only the hoot of an owl or the rooty smell of
the woodland.

At last we struck a little stream, and followed its course between high
banks of pine. Suddenly Shalah's movements became stealthy. Crouching
in every patch of shade, and crossing open spaces on our bellies, we
turned from the stream, surmounted a knoll, and came down on a wooded
valley. Shalah looked westwards, held up his hand, and stood poised for
a minute like a graven image. Then he grunted and spoke. "We are safe,"
he said. "They are behind us, and are camped for the night," How he
knew that I cannot tell; but I seemed to catch on the breeze a whiff of
the rancid odour of Indian war-paint.

For another mile we continued our precautions, and then moved more
freely in the open. Now that the chief peril was past, my fatigue came
back to me worse than ever. I think I was growing leg-weary, as I had
seen happen to horses, and from that ailment there is no relief. My
head buzzed like a beehive, and when the moon set I had no power to
pick my steps, and stumbled and sprawled in the darkness. I had to ask
Shalah for help, though it was a sore hurt to my pride, and, leaning on
his arm, I made the rest of the journey.

I found myself splashing in a strong river. We crossed by a ford, so we
had no need to swim, which was well for me, for I must have drowned.
The chill of the water revived me somewhat, and I had the strength to
climb the other bank. And then suddenly before me I saw a light, and a
challenge rang out into the night.

The voice was a white man's, and brought me to my bearings. Weak as I
was, I had the fierce satisfaction that our errand had not been idle. I
replied with the password, and a big fellow strode out from a stockade.

"Mr. Garvald!" he said, staring. "What brings you here? Where are the
rest of you?" He looked at Shalah and then at me, and finally took my
arm and drew me inside.

There were a score in the place--Rappahannock farmers, a lean, watchful
breed, each man with his musket. One of them, I mind, wore a rusty
cuirass of chain armour, which must have been one of those sent out by
the King in the first days of the dominion. They gave me a drink of rum
and water, and in a little I had got over my worst weariness and could
speak.

"The Cherokees are on us," I said, and I told them of the army we had
followed.

"How many?" they asked.

"Three hundred for a vanguard, but more follow."

One man laughed, as if well pleased. "I'm in the humour for Cherokees
just now. There's a score of scalps hanging outside, if you could see
them, Mr. Garvald."

"What scalps?" I asked, dumbfoundered.

"The Rapidan murderers. We got word of them in the woods yesterday, and
six of us went hunting. It was pretty shooting. Two got away with some
lead in them, the rest are in the Tewawha pools, all but their
topknots. I've very little notion of Cherokees."

Somehow the news gave me intense joy. I thought nothing of the
barbarity of it, or that white men should demean themselves to the
Indian level. I remembered only the meadow by the Rapidan, and the
little lonely water-wheel. Our vow was needless, for others had done
our work.

"Would I had been with you!" was all I said. "But now you have more
than a gang of Meebaw raiders to deal with. There's an invasion coming
down from the hills, and this is the first wave of it, I want word sent
to Governor Nicholson at James Town. I was to tell him where the
trouble was to be feared, and in a week you'll have a regiment at your
backs. Who has the best horse? Simpson? Well, let Simpson carry the
word down the valley. If my plans are working well, the news should be
at James Town by dawn to-morrow."

The man called Simpson got up, saddled his beast, and waited my
bidding. "This is the word to send," said I. "Say that the Cherokees
are attacking by the line of the Rappahannock. Say that I am going into
the hills to find if my fears are justified. Never mind what that
means. Just pass on the words. They will understand them at James Town.
So much for the Governor. Now I want word sent to Frew's homestead on
the South Fork. Who is to carry it?"

One old fellow, who chewed tobacco without intermission, spat out the
leaf, and asked me what news I wanted to send.

"Just that we are attacked," I said.

"That's a simple job," he said cheerfully. "All down the Border posts
we have a signal. Only yesterday we got word of it from the place you
speak of. A mile from here is a hillock within hearing of the stockade
at Robertson's Ford. One shot fired there will tell them what you want
them to know. Robertson's will fire twice for Appleby's to hear, and
Appleby's will send on the message to Dopple's. There are six posts
between here and the South Fork, so when the folk at Frew's hear seven
shots they will know that the war is on the Rappahannock."

I recognized old Lawrence's hand in this. It was just the kind of
device that he would contrive. I hoped it would not miscarry, for I
would have preferred a messenger; but after all the Border line was his
concern.

Then I spoke aside to Shalah. In his view the Cherokees would not
attack at dawn. They were more likely to wait till their supports
overtook them, and then, to make a dash for the Rappahannock farms.
Plunder was more in the line of these gentry than honest fighting. I
spoke to the leader of the post, and he was for falling upon them in
the narrows of the Rapidan. Their victory over the Meebaws had fired
the blood of the Borderers, and made them contemptuous of the enemy.
Still, in such a predicament, when we had to hold a frontier with a
handful, the boldest course was likely to be the safest. I could only
pray that Nicholson's levies would turn up in time to protect the
valley.

"Time passes, brother," said Shalah. "We came by swiftness, but we
return by guile. In three hours it will be dawn. Sleep till then, for
there is much toil before thee."

I saw the wisdom of his words, and went promptly to bed in a corner of
the stockade. As I was lying down a man spoke to me, one Rycroft, at
whose cabin I had once sojourned for a day.

"What brings the parson hereaways in these times?" he asked.

"What parson?" I asked.

"The man they call Doctor Blair."

"Great God!" I cried, "what about him?"

"He was in Stafford county when I left, hunting for schoolmasters. Ay,
and he had a girl with him."

I sat upright with a start. "Where is he now?" I asked.

"I saw him last at Middleton's Ford. I think he was going down the
river. I warned him this was no place for parsons and women, but he
just laughed at me. It's time he was back in the Tidewater."

So long as they were homeward-bound I did not care; but it gave me a
queer fluttering of the heart to think that Elspeth but yesterday
should have been near this perilous Border. I soon fell asleep, for I
was mighty tired, but I dreamed evilly. I seemed to see Doctor Blair
hunted by Cherokees, with his coat-tails flying and his wig blown away,
and what vexed me was that I could not find Elspeth anywhere in the
landscape.

CHAPTER XVIII.

OUR ADVENTURE RECEIVES A RECRUIT.

At earliest light, with the dew heavy on the willows and the river line
a coil of mist, Shalah woke me for the road. We breakfasted off fried
bacon, some of which I saved for the journey, for the Indian was
content with one meal a day. As we left the stockade I noted the row of
Meebaw scalps hanging, grim and bloody, from the poles. The Borderers
were up and stirring, for they looked to take the Indians in the river
narrows before the morning was old.

No two Indian war parties ever take the same path, so it was Shalah's
plan to work back to the route we had just travelled, by which the
Cherokees had come yesterday. This sounds simple enough, but the danger
lay in the second party. By striking to right or left we might walk
into it, and then good-bye to our hopes of the hills. But the whole
thing was easier to me than the cruel toil of yesterday. There was need
of stealth and woodcraft, but not of yon killing speed.

For the first hour we went up a northern fork of the Rappahannock, then
crossed the water at a ford, and struck into a thick pine forest. I was
feeling wonderfully rested, and found no discomfort in Shalah's long
strides. My mind was very busy on the defence of the Borders, and I
kept wondering how long the Governor's militia would take to reach the
Rappahannock, and whether Lawrence could reinforce the northern posts
in time to prevent mischief in Stafford county. I cast back to my
memory of the tales of Indian war, and could not believe but that the
white man, if warned and armed, would roll back the Cherokees. 'Twas
not them I feared, but that other force now screened behind the
mountains, who had for their leader some white madman with a fire in
his head and Bible words on his lips. Were we of Virginia destined to
fight with such fanatics as had distracted Scotland--fanatics naming
the name of God, but leading in our case the armies of hell?

It was about eleven in the forenoon, I think, that Shalah dropped his
easy swing and grew circumspect. The sun was very hot, and the noon
silence lay dead on the woodlands. Scarcely a leaf stirred, and the
only sounds were the twittering grasshoppers and the drone of flies.
But Shalah found food for thought. Again and again he became rigid, and
then laid an ear to the ground. His nostrils dilated like a horse's,
and his eyes were restless. We were now in a shallow vale, through
which a little stream flowed among broad reed-beds. At one point he
kneeled on the ground and searched diligently.

"See," he said, "a horse's prints not two hours old--a horse going
west."

Presently I myself found a clue. I picked up from a clump of wild
onions a thread of coloured wool. This was my own trade, where I knew
more than Shalah. I tested the thing in my mouth and between my
fingers.

"This is London stuff," I said. "The man who had this on his person
bought his clothes from the Bristol merchants, and paid sweetly for
them. He was no Rappahannock farmer."

Shalah trailed like a bloodhound, following the hoof-marks out of the
valley meadow to a ridge of sparse cedars where they showed clear on
the bare earth, and then to a thicker covert where they were hidden
among strong grasses. Suddenly he caught my shoulder, and pulled me to
the ground. We crawled through a briery place to where a gap opened to
the vale on our left.

A party of Indians were passing. They were young men with the fantastic
markings of young braves. All were mounted on the little Indian horses.
They moved at leisure, scanning the distance with hands shading eyes.

We wormed our way back to the darkness of the covert. "The advance
guard of the second party," Shalah whispered. "With good fortune, we
shall soon see the rest pass, and then have a clear road for the
hills."

"I saw no fresh scalps," I said, "so they seem to have missed our man
on the horse." I was proud of my simple logic.

All that Shalah replied was, "The rider was a woman.'

"How, in Heaven's name, can you tell?" I asked.

He held out a long hair. "I found it among the vines at the level of a
rider's head."

This was bad news indeed. What folly had induced a woman to ride so far
across the Borders? It could be no settler's wife, but some dame from
the coast country who had not the sense to be timid. 'Twas a grievous
affliction for two men on an arduous quest to have to protect a foolish
female with the Cherokees all about them.

There was no help for it, and as swiftly as possible and with all
circumspection Shalah trailed the horse's prints. They kept the high
ground, in very broken country, which was the reason why the rider had
escaped the Indians' notice. Clearly they were moving slowly, and from
the frequent halts and turnings I gathered that the rider had not much
purpose about the road.

Then we came on a glade where the rider had dismounted and let the
beast go. The horse had wandered down the ridge to the right in search
of grazing, and the prints of a woman's foot led to the summit of a
knoll which raised itself above the trees.

There, knee-deep in a patch of fern, I saw what I had never dreamed of,
what sent the blood from my heart in a cold shudder of fear: a girl,
pale and dishevelled, was trying to part some vines. A twig crackled
and she looked round, showing a face drawn with weariness and eyes
large with terror.

It was Elspeth!

At the sight of Shalah she made to scream, but checked herself. It was

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