Part 2 out of 12
candles, and spread with bright silver and shining dishes loaded with
dainties, the gentlemen and ladies in brilliant dress, the hurrying
servants,--all were of a new and strange world to me. And presently,
after the ladies were gone, the gentlemen tossed off their wine and
roared over their jokes, and followed into the drawing-room. This I
noticed, that only Mr. Harry Riddle sat silent and morose, and that he
had drunk more than the others.
"Come, Davy," said Nick to me, "let's go and watch them again."
"But how?" I asked, for the drawing-room windows were up some distance
from the ground, and there was no gallery on that side.
"I'll show you," said he, running into the garden. After searching awhile
in the dark, he found a ladder the gardener had left against a tree;
after much straining, we carried the ladder to the house and set it up
under one of the windows of the drawing-room. Then we both clambered
cautiously to the top and looked in.
The company were at cards, silent, save for a low remark now and again.
The little tables were ranged along by the windows, and it chanced that
Mr. Harry Riddle sat so close to us that we could touch him. On his
right sat Mr. Darnley, the stout gentleman, and in the other seats two
ladies. Between Mr. Riddle and Mr. Darnley was a pile of silver and gold
pieces. There was not room for two of us in comfort at the top of the
ladder, so I gave place to Nick, and sat on a lower rung. Presently I
saw him raise himself, reach in, and duck quickly.
"Feel that," he whispered to me, chuckling and holding out his hand.
It was full of money.
"But that's stealing, Nick," I said, frightened.
"Of course I'll give it back," he whispered indignantly.
Instantly there came loud words and the scraping of chairs within the
room, and a woman's scream. I heard Mr. Riddle's voice say thickly, amid
the silence that followed:--
"Mr. Darnley, you're a d--d thief, sir."
"You shall answer for this, when you are sober, sir," said Mr. Darnley.
Then there came more scraping of chairs, all the company talking
excitedly at once. Nick and I scrambled to the ground, and we did the
very worst thing we could possibly have done,--we took the ladder away.
There was little sleep for me that night. I had first of all besought
Nick to go up into the drawing-room and give the money back. But some
strange obstinacy in him resisted.
"'Twill serve Harry well for what he did to-day," said he.
My next thought was to find Mr. Mason, but he was gone up the river to
visit a sick parishioner. I had seen enough of the world to know that
gentlemen fought for less than what had occurred in the drawing-room that
evening. And though I had neither love nor admiration for Mr. Riddle,
and though the stout gentleman was no friend of mine, I cared not to see
either of them killed for a prank. But Nick would not listen to me, and
went to sleep in the midst of my urgings.
"Davy," said he, pinching me, "do you know what you are?"
"No," said I.
"You're a granny," he said. And that was the last word I could get out
of him. But I lay awake a long time, thinking. Breed had whiled away
for me one hot morning in Charlestown with an account of the gentry and
their doings, many of which he related in an awed whisper that I could
not understand. They were wild doings indeed to me. But strangest of
all seemed the duels, conducted with a decorum and ceremony as rigorous
as the law.
"Did you ever see a duel, Breed?" I had asked.
"Yessah," said Breed, dramatically, rolling the whites of his eyes.
"Whah? Down on de riveh bank at Temple Bow in de ea'ly mo'nin'! Dey
mos' commonly fights at de dawn."
Breed had also told me where he was in hiding at the time, and that was
what troubled me. Try as I would, I could not remember. It had sounded
like Clam Shell. That I recalled, and how Breed had looked out at the
sword-play through the cracks of the closed shutters, agonized between
fear of ghosts within and the drama without. At the first faint light
that came into our window I awakened Nick.
"Listen," I said; "do you know a place called Clam Shell?"
He turned over, but I punched him persistently until he sat up.
"What the deuce ails you, Davy?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. "Have you
"Do you know a place called Clam Shell, down on the river bank, Nick?"
"Why," he replied, "you must be thinking of Cram's Hell."
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a house that used to belong to Cram, who was an overseer. The
niggers hated him, and he was killed in bed by a big black nigger chief
from Africa. The niggers won't go near the place. They say it's
"Get up," said I; "we're going there now."
Nick sprang out of bed and began to get into his clothes.
"Is it a game?" he asked.
"Yes." He was always ready for a game.
We climbed out of the window, and made our way in the mist through the
long, wet grass, Nick leading. He took a path through a dark forest
swamp, over logs that spanned the stagnant waters, and at length, just as
the mist was growing pearly in the light, we came out at a tumble-down
house that stood in an open glade by the river's bank.
"What's to do now?" said Nick.
"We must get into the house," I answered. But I confess I didn't care
for the looks of it.
Nick stared at me.
"Very good, Davy," he said; "I'll follow where you go."
It was a Saturday morning. Why I recall this I do not know. It has no
I tried the door. With a groan and a shriek it gave way, disclosing the
blackness inside. We started back involuntarily. I looked at Nick, and
Nick at me. He was very pale, and so must I have been. But such was the
respect we each held for the other's courage that neither dared flinch.
And so I walked in, although it seemed as if my shirt was made of needle
points and my hair stood on end. The crackings of the old floor were to
me like the shots in Charlestown Bay. Our hearts beating wildly, we made
our way into a farther room. It was like walking into the beyond.
"Is there a window here?" I asked Nick, my voice sounding like a shout.
"Yes, ahead of us."
Groping for it, I suddenly received a shock that set me reeling. Human
nature could stand no more. We both turned tail and ran out of the house
as fast as we could, and stood in the wet grass, panting. Then shame
"Let's open the window first," I suggested. So we walked around the
house and pried the solid shutter from its fastenings. Then, gathering
our courage, we went in again at the door. In the dim light let into the
farther room we saw a four-poster bed, old and cheap, with ragged
curtains. It was this that I had struck in my groping.
"The chief killed Cram there," said Nick, in an awed voice, "in that bed.
What do you want to do here, Davy?"
"Wait," I said, though I had as little mind to wait as ever in my life.
"Stand here by the window."
We waited there. The mist rose. The sun peeped over the bank of dense
green forest and spread rainbow colors on the still waters of the river.
Now and again a fish broke, or a great bird swooped down and slit the
surface. A far-off snatch of melody came to our ears,--the slaves were
going to work. Nothing more. And little by little grave misgivings
gnawed at my soul of the wisdom of coming to this place. Doubtless there
were many other spots.
"Davy," said Nick, at last, "I'm sorry I took that money. What are we
"Hush!" I whispered; "do you hear anything?"
I did, and distinctly. For I had been brought up in the forest.
"I hear voices," he said presently, "coming this way."
They were very clear to me by then. Emerging from the forest path were
five gentlemen. The leader, more plainly dressed than the others,
carried a leather case. Behind him was the stout figure of Mr. Darnley,
his face solemn; and last of all came Mr. Harry Riddle, very pale, but
cutting the tops of the long grass with a switch. Nick seized my arm.
"They are going to fight," said he.
"Yes," I replied, "and we are here to stop them, now."
"No, not now," he said, holding me still. "We'll have some more fun out
of this yet."
"Fun?" I echoed.
"Yes," he said excitedly. "Leave it to me. I shan't let them fight."
And that instant we changed generals, David giving place to Nicholas.
Mr. Riddle retired with one gentleman to a side of the little patch of
grass, and Mr. Darnley and a friend to another. The fifth gentleman took
a position halfway between the two, and, opening the leather case, laid
it down on the grass, where its contents glistened.
"That's Dr. Ball," whispered Nick. And his voice shook with excitement.
Mr. Riddle stripped off his coat and waistcoat and ruffles, and his
sword-belt, and Mr. Darnley did the same. Both gentlemen drew their
swords and advanced to the middle of the lawn, and stood opposite one
another, with flowing linen shirts open at the throat, and bared heads.
They were indeed a contrast. Mr. Riddle, tall and white, with closed
lips, glared at his opponent. Mr. Darnley cut a merrier figure,--rotund
and flushed, with fat calves and short arms, though his countenance was
sober enough. All at once the two were circling their swords in the air,
and then Nick had flung open the shutter and leaped through the window,
and was running and shouting towards the astonished gentlemen, all of
whom wheeled to face him. He jingled as he ran.
"What in the devil's name now?" cried Mr. Riddle, angrily. "Here's this
Nicholas stopped in front of him, and, thrusting his hand in his breeches
pocket, fished out a handful of gold and silver, which he held out to the
confounded Mr. Riddle.
"Harry," said he, "here's something of yours I found last night."
"You found?" echoed Mr. Riddle, in a strange voice, amidst a dead
silence. "You found where?"
"On the table beside you."
"And where the deuce were you?" Mr. Riddle demanded.
"In the window behind you," said Nick, calmly.
This piece of information, to Mr. Riddle's plain discomfiture, was
greeted with a roar of laughter, Mr. Darnley himself laughing loudest.
Nor were these gentlemen satisfied with that. They crowded around Mr.
Riddle and slapped him on the back, Mr. Darnley joining in with the rest.
And presently Mr. Riddle flung away his sword, and laughed, too, giving
his hand to Mr. Darnley.
At length Mr. Darnley turned to Nick, who had stood all this while behind
"My friend," said he, seriously, "such is your regard for human life, you
will probably one day--be a pirate or an outlaw. This time we've had a
laugh. The next time somebody will be weeping. I wish I were your
"I wish you were," said Nick.
This took Mr. Darnley's breath. He glanced at the other gentlemen, who
returned his look significantly. He laid his hand kindly on the lad's
"Nick," said he, "I wish to God I were your father."
After that they all went home, very merry, to breakfast, Nick and I
coming after them. Nick was silent until we reached the house.
"Davy," said he, then, "how old are you?"
"Ten," I answered. "How old did you believe me?"
"Eighty," said he.
The next day, being Sunday, we all gathered in the little church to hear
Mr. Mason preach. Nick and I sat in the high box pew of the family with
Mrs. Temple, who paid not the least attention to the sermon. As for me,
the rhythm of it held me in fascination. Mr. Mason had written it out
and that afternoon read over this part of it to Nick. The quotation I
recall, having since read it many times, and the gist of it was in this
"And he said unto him, 'What thou wilt have thou wilt have, despite the
sin of it. Blessed are the stolid, and thrice cursed he who hath
imagination,--for that imagination shall devour him. And in thy life a
sin shall be presented unto thee with a great longing. God, who is in
heaven, gird thee for that struggle, my son, for it will surely come.
That it may be said of you, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with
silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." Seven days
shalt thou wrestle with thy soul; seven nights shall evil haunt thee, and
how thou shalt come forth from that struggle no man may know.'"
MAN PROPOSES, BUT GOD DISPOSES
A week passed, and another Sunday came,--a Sunday so still and hot and
moist that steam seemed to rise from the heavy trees,--an idle day for
master and servant alike. A hush was in the air, and a presage of we knew
not what. It weighed upon my spirits, and even Nick's, and we wandered
restlessly under the trees, seeking for distraction.
About two o'clock a black line came on the horizon, and slowly crept
higher until it broke into giant, fantastic shapes. Mutterings arose,
but the sun shone hot as ever.
"We're to have a hurricane," said Nick. "I wish we might have it and be
done with it."
At five the sun went under. I remember that Madame was lolling listless
in the garden, daintily arrayed in fine linen, trying to talk to Mr.
Mason, when a sound startled us. It was the sound of swift hoof beats on
the soft drive.
Mrs. Temple got up, an unusual thing. Perchance she was expecting a
message from some of the gentlemen; or else she may well have been tired
of Mr. Mason. Nick and I were before her, and, running through the
house, arrived at the portico in time to see a negro ride up on a horse
covered with lather.
It was the same negro who had fetched me hither from Mr. Lowndes. And
when I saw him my heart stood still lest he had brought news of my
"What's to do, boy?" cried Nicholas to him.
The boy held in his hand a letter with a great red seal.
"Fo' Mistis Temple," he said, and, looking at me queerly, he took off his
cap as he jumped from the horse. Mistress Temple herself having arrived,
he handed her the letter. She took it, and broke the seal carelessly.
"Oh," she said, "it's only from Mr. Lowndes. I wonder what he wishes
Every moment of her reading was for me an agony, and she read slowly.
The last words she spoke aloud:--
"'If you do not wish the lad, send him to me, as Kate is very fond of
him.' So Kate is very fond of him," she repeated. And handing the
letter to Mr. Mason, she added, "Tell him, Parson."
The words burned into my soul and seared it. And to this day I tremble
with anger as I think of them. The scene comes before me: the sky, the
darkened portico, and Nicholas running after his mother crying: "Oh,
mamma, how could you! How could you!"
Mr. Mason bent over me in compassion, and smoothed my hair.
"David," said he, in a thick voice, "you are a brave boy, David. You
will need all your courage now, my son. May God keep your nature sweet!"
He led me gently into the arbor and told me how, under Captain Baskin,
the detachment had been ambushed by the Cherokees; and how my father,
with Ensign Calhoun and another, had been killed, fighting bravely. The
rest of the company had cut their way through and reached the settlements
after terrible hardships.
I was left an orphan.
I shall not dwell here on the bitterness of those moments. We have all
known sorrows in our lives,--great sorrows. The clergyman was a wise
man, and did not strive to comfort me with words. But he sat there under
the leaves with his arm about me until a blinding bolt split the
blackness of the sky and the thunder rent our ears, and a Caribbean storm
broke over Temple Bow with all the fury of the tropics. Then he led me
through the drenching rain into the house, nor heeded the wet himself on
his Sunday coat.
A great anger stayed me in my sorrow. I would no longer tarry under Mrs.
Temple's roof, though the world without were a sea or a desert. The one
resolution to escape rose stronger and stronger within me, and I
determined neither to eat nor sleep until I had got away. The thought of
leaving Nick was heavy indeed; and when he ran to me in the dark hall and
threw his arms around me, it needed all my strength to keep from crying
"Davy," he said passionately, "Davy, you mustn't mind what she says. She
never means anything she says--she never cares for anything save her
pleasure. You and I will stay here until we are old enough to run away
to Kentucky. Davy! Answer me, Davy!"
I could not, try as I would. There were no words that would come with
honesty. But I pulled him down on the mahogany settle near the door
which led into the back gallery, and there we sat huddled together in
silence, while the storm raged furiously outside and the draughts banged
the great doors of the house. In the lightning flashes I saw Nick's
face, and it haunted me afterwards through many years of wandering. On
it was written a sorrow for me greater than my own sorrow. For God had
given to this lad every human passion and compassion.
The storm rolled away with the night, and Mammy came through the hall
with a candle.
"Whah is you, Marse Nick? Whah is you, honey? You' suppah's ready."
And so we went into our little dining room, but I would not eat. The
good old negress brushed her eyes with her apron as she pressed a cake
upon me she had made herself, for she had grown fond of me. And
presently we went away silently to bed.
It was a long, long time before Nick's breathing told me that he was
asleep. He held me tightly clutched to him, and I know that he feared I
would leave him. The thought of going broke my heart, but I never once
wavered in my resolve, and I lay staring into the darkness, pondering
what to do. I thought of good Mr. Lowndes and his wife, and I decided to
go to Charlestown. Some of my boyish motives come back to me now: I
should be near Nick; and even at that age,--having lived a life of
self-reliance,--I thought of gaining an education and of rising to a
place of trust. Yes, I would go to Mr. Lowndes, and ask him to let me
work for him and so earn my education.
With a heavy spirit I crept out of bed, slowly disengaging Nick's arm
lest he should wake. He turned over and sighed in his sleep. Carefully
I dressed myself, and after I was dressed I could not refrain from
slipping to the bedside to bend over him once again,--for he was the only
one in my life with whom I had found true companionship. Then I climbed
carefully out of the window, and so down the corner of the house to the
It was starlight, and a waning moon hung in the sky. I made my way
through the drive between the black shadows of the forest, and came at
length to the big gates at the entrance, locked for the night. A strange
thought of their futility struck me as I climbed the rail fence beside
them, and pushed on into the main road, the mud sucking under my shoes as
I went. As I try now to cast my memory back I can recall no fear, only a
vast sense of loneliness, and the very song of it seemed to be sung in
never ending refrain by the insects of the night. I had been alone in the
mountains before. I have crossed great strips of wilderness since, but
always there was love to go back to. Then I was leaving the only being
in the world that remained to me.
I must have walked two hours or more before I came to the mire of a
cross-road, and there I stood in a quandary of doubt as to which side led
As I lingered a light began to tremble in the heavens. A cock crew in the
distance. I sat down on a fallen log to rest. But presently, as the
light grew, I heard shouts which drew nearer and deeper and brought me to
my feet in an uncertainty of expectation. Next came the rattling of
chains, the scramble of hoofs in the mire, and here was a wagon with a
big canvas cover. Beside the straining horses was a great, burly man
with a red beard, cracking his long whip, and calling to the horses in a
strange tongue. He stopped still beside his panting animals when he saw
me, his high boots sunk in the mud.
"Gut morning, poy," he said, wiping his red face with his sleeve; "what
you do here?"
"I am going to Charlestown," I answered.
"Ach!" he cried, "dot is pad. Mein poy, he run avay. You are ein gut
poy, I know. I vill pay ein gut price to help me vit mein wagon--ja."
"Where are you going?" I demanded, with a sudden wavering.
"Up country--pack country. You know der Proad River--yes?"
No, I did not. But a longing came upon me for the old backwoods life,
with its freedom and self-reliance, and a hatred for this steaming
country of heat and violent storms, and artificiality and pomp. And I
had a desire, even at that age, to make my own way in the world.
"What will you give me?" I asked.
At that he put his finger to his nose.
"Thruppence py the day."
I shook my head. He looked at me queerly.
"How old you pe,--twelve, yes?"
Now I had no notion of telling him. So I said: "Is this the Charlestown
"Fourpence!" he cried, "dot is riches."
"I will go for sixpence," I answered.
"Mein Gott!" he cried, "sixpence. Dot is robbery." But seeing me
obdurate, he added: "I vill give it, because ein poy I must have. Vat
is your name,--Tavid? You are ein sharp poy, Tavid."
And so I went with him.
In writing a biography, the relative value of days and years should hold.
There are days which count in space for years, and years for days. I
spent the time on the whole happily with this Dutchman, whose name was
Hans Koppel. He talked merrily save when he spoke of the war against
England, and then contemptuously, for he was a bitter English partisan.
And in contrast to this he would dwell for hours on a king he called
Friedrich der Grosse, and a war he waged that was a war; and how this
mighty king had fought a mighty queen at Rossbach and Leuthen in his own
country,--battles that were battles.
"And you were there, Hans?" I asked him once.
"Ja," he said, "but I did not stay."
"You ran away?"
"Ja," Hans would answer, laughing, "run avay. I love peace, Tavid. Dot
is vy I come here, and now," bitterly, "and now ve haf var again once."
I would say nothing; but I must have looked my disapproval, for he went
on to explain that in Saxe-Gotha, where he was born, men were made to
fight whether they would or no; and they were stolen from their wives at
night by soldiers of the great king, or lured away by fair promises.
Travelling with incredible slowness, in due time we came to a county
called Orangeburg, where all were Dutchmen like Hans, and very few spoke
English. And they all thought like Hans, and loved peace, and hated the
Congress. On Sundays, as we lay over at the taverns, these would be
filled with a rollicking crowd of fiddlers and dancers, quaintly dressed,
the women bringing their children and babies. At such times Hans would
be drunk, and I would have to feed the tired horses and mount watch over
the cargo. I had many adventures, but none worth the telling here. And
at length we came to Hans's farm, in a prettily rolling country on the
Broad River. Hans's wife spoke no English at all, nor did the brood of
children running about the house. I had small fancy for staying in such
a place, and so Hans paid me two crowns for my three weeks' service; I
think, with real regret, for labor was scarce in those parts, and though
I was young, I knew how to work. And I could at least have guided his
plough in the furrow and cared for his cattle.
It was the first money I had earned in my life, and a prouder day than
many I have had since.
For the convenience of travellers passing that way, Hans kept a
tavern,--if it could have been dignified by such a name. It was in truth
merely a log house with shakedowns, and stood across the rude road from
his log farmhouse. And he gave me leave to sleep there and to work for
my board until I cared to leave. It so chanced that on the second day
after my arrival a pack-train came along, guided by a nettlesome old man
and a strong, black-haired lass of sixteen or thereabouts. The old man,
whose name was Ripley, wore a nut-brown hunting shirt trimmed with red
cotton; and he had no sooner slipped the packs from his horses than he
began to rail at Hans, who stood looking on.
"You damned Dutchmen be all Tories, and worse," he cried; "you stay here
and till your farms while our boys are off in the hill towns fighting
Cherokees. I wish the devils had every one of your fat sculps. Polly
Ann, water the nags."
Hans replied to this sally with great vigor, lapsing into Dutch. Polly
Ann led the scrawny ponies to the trough, but her eyes snapped with
merriment as she listened. She was a wonderfully comely lass, despite
her loose cotton gown and poke-bonnet and the shoepacks on her feet. She
had blue eyes, the whitest, strongest of teeth, and the rosiest of faces.
"Gran'pa hates a Dutchman wuss'n pizen," she said to me. "So do I.
We've all been burned out and sculped up river--and they never give us so
much as a man or a measure of corn."
I helped her feed the animals, and tether them, and loose their bells for
the night, and carry the packs under cover.
"All the boys is gone to join Rutherford and lam the Indians," she
continued, "so Gran'pa and I had to go to the settlements. There wahn't
any one else. What's your name?" she demanded suddenly.
I told her.
She sat down on a log at the corner of the house, and pulled me down
"And whar be you from?"
I told her. It was impossible to look into her face and not tell her.
She listened eagerly, now with compassion, and now showing her white
teeth in amusement. And when I had done, much to my discomfiture, she
seized me in her strong arms and kissed me.
"Poor Davy," she cried, "you ain't got a home. You shall come home with
Catching me by the hand, she ran like a deer across the road to where her
grandfather was still quarrelling violently with Hans, and pulled him
backward by the skirts of his hunting shirt. I looked for another and
mightier explosion from the old backwoodsman, but to my astonishment he
seemed to forget Hans's existence, and turned and smiled on her
"Polly Ann," said he, "what be you about now?"
"Gran'pa," said she, "here's Davy Trimble, who's a good boy, and his pa
is just killed by the Cherokees along with Baskin, and he wants work and
a home, and he's comin' along with us."
"All right, David," answered Mr. Ripley, mildly, "ef Polly Ann says so,
you kin come. Whar was you raised?"
I told him on the upper Yadkin.
"You don't tell me," said he. "Did ye ever know Dan'l Boone?"
"I did, indeed, sir," I answered, my face lighting up. "Can you tell me
where he is now?"
"He's gone to Kaintuckee, them new settlements, fer good. And ef I
wasn't eighty years old, I'd go thar, too."
"I reckon I'll go thar when I'm married," said Polly Ann, and blushed
redder than ever. Drawing me to her, she said, "I'll take you, too,
"When you marry that wuthless Tom McChesney," said her grandfather,
"He's not wuthless," said Polly, hotly. "he's the best man in
Rutherford's army. He'll git more sculps then any of 'em,--you see."
"Tavy is ein gut poy," Hans put in, for he had recovered his composure.
"I wish much he stay mit me."
As for me, Polly Ann never consulted me on the subject--nor had she need
to. I would have followed her to kingdom come, and at the thought of
reaching the mountains my heart leaped with joy. We all slept in the one
flea-infested, windowless room of the "tavern" that night; and before
dawn I was up and untethered the horses, and Polly Ann and I together
lifted the two bushels of alum salt on one of the beasts and the
ploughshare on the other. By daylight we had left Hans and his farm
I can see the lass now, as she strode along the trace by the flowing
river, through sunlight and shadow, straight and supple and strong.
Sometimes she sang like a bird, and the forest rang. Sometimes she would
make fun of her grandfather or of me; and again she would be silent for
an hour at a time, staring ahead, and then I knew she was thinking of
that Tom McChesney. She would wake from those reveries with a laugh, and
give me a push to send me rolling down a bank.
"What's the matter, Davy? You look as solemn as a wood-owl. What a
little wiseacre you be!"
Once I retorted, "You were thinking of that Tom McChesney."
"Ay, that she was, I'll warrant," snapped her grandfather.
Polly Ann replied, with a merry peal of laughter, "You are both jealous
of Tom--both of you. But, Davy, when you see him you'll love him as much
as I do."
"I'll not," I said sturdily.
"He's a man to look upon--"
"He's a rip-roarer," old man Ripley put in. "Ye're daft about him."
"That I am," said Polly, flushing and subsiding; "but he'll not know it."
As we rose into the more rugged country we passed more than one charred
cabin that told its silent story of Indian massacre. Only on the
scattered hill farms women and boys and old men were working in the
fields, all save the scalawags having gone to join Rutherford. There
were plenty of these around the taverns to make eyes at Polly Ann and
open love to her, had she allowed them; but she treated them in return to
such scathing tirades that they were glad to desist--all but one. He
must have been an escaped redemptioner, for he wore jauntily a swanskin
three-cornered hat and stained breeches of a fine cloth. He was a bold,
"My beauty," says he, as we sat at supper, "silver and Wedgwood better
become you than pewter and a trencher."
"And I reckon a rope would sit better on your neck than a ruff," retorted
Polly Ann, while the company shouted with laughter. But he was not the
kind to become discomfited.
"I'd give a guinea to see you in silk. But I vow your hair looks better
as it is."
"Not so yours," said she, like lightning; "'twould look better to me
hanging on the belt of one of them red devils."
In the morning, when he would have lifted the pack of alum salt, Polly
Ann gave him a push that sent him sprawling. But she did it in such good
nature withal that the fellow mistook her. He scrambled to his feet,
flung his arm about her waist, and kissed her. Whereupon I hit him with
a sapling, and he staggered and let her go.
"You imp of hell!" he cried, rubbing the bump. He made a vicious dash at
me that boded no good, but I slipped behind the hominy block; and Polly
Ann, who was like a panther on her feet, dashed at him and gave him a
buffet in the cheek that sent him reeling again.
After that we were more devoted friends than ever.
We travelled slowly, day by day, until I saw the mountains lift blue
against the western sky, and the sight of them was like home once more.
I loved them; and though I thought with sadness of my father, I was on
the whole happier with Polly Ann than I had been in the lonely cabin on
the Yadkin. Her spirits flagged a little as she drew near home, but old
Mr. Ripley's rose.
"There's Burr's," he would say, "and O'Hara's and Williamson's," marking
the cabins set amongst the stump-dotted corn-fields. "And thar,"
sweeping his hand at a blackened heap of logs lying on the stones,
"thar's whar Nell Tyler and her baby was sculped."
"Poor Nell," said Polly Ann, the tears coming into her eyes as she turned
"And Jim Tyler was killed gittin' to the fort. He can't say I didn't
"I reckon he'll never say nuthin', now," said Polly Ann.
It was in truth a dismal sight,--the shapeless timbers, the corn, planted
with such care, choked with weeds, and the poor utensils of the little
family scattered and broken before the door-sill. These same Indians had
killed my father; and there surged up in my breast that hatred of the
painted race felt by every backwoods boy in my time.
Towards the end of the day the trace led into a beautiful green valley,
and in the middle of it was a stream shining in the afternoon sun. Then
Polly Ann fell entirely silent. And presently, as the shadows grew
purple, we came to a cabin set under some spreading trees on a knoll
where a woman sat spinning at the door, three children playing at her
feet. She stared at us so earnestly that I looked at Polly Ann, and saw
her redden and pale. The children were the first to come shouting at us,
and then the woman dropped her wool and ran down the slope straight into
Polly Ann's arms. Mr. Ripley halted the horses with a grunt.
The two women drew off and looked into each other's faces. Then Polly
Ann dropped her eyes.
"Have ye--?" she said, and stopped.
"No, Polly Ann, not one word sence Tom and his Pa went. What do folks
say in the settlements?"
Polly Ann turned up her nose.
"They don't know nuthin' in the settlements," she replied.
"I wrote to Tom and told him you was gone," said the older woman. "I
knowed he'd wanter hear."
And she looked meaningly at Polly Ann, who said nothing. The children
had been pulling at the girl's skirts, and suddenly she made a dash at
them. They scattered, screaming with delight, and she after them.
"Howdy, Mr. Ripley?" said the woman, smiling a little.
"Howdy, Mis' McChesney?" said the old man, shortly.
So this was the mother of Tom, of whom I had heard so much. She was, in
truth, a motherly-looking person, her fleshy face creased with strong
"Who hev ye brought with ye?" she asked, glancing at me.
"A lad Polly Ann took a shine to in the settlements," said the old man.
"Polly Ann! Polly Ann!" he cried sharply, "we'll hev to be gittin'
home." And then, as though an afterthought (which it really was not), he
added, "How be ye for salt, Mis' McChesney?"
"So-so," said she.
"Wal, I reckon a little might come handy," said he. And to the girl who
stood panting beside him, "Polly, give Mis' McChesney some salt."
Polly Ann did, and generously,--the salt they had carried with so much
labor threescore and ten miles from the settlements. Then we took our
departure, the girl turning for one last look at Tom's mother, and at the
cabin where he had dwelt. We were all silent the rest of the way,
climbing the slender trail through the forest over the gap into the next
valley. For I was jealous of Tom. I am not ashamed to own it now.
In the smoky haze that rises just before night lets her curtain fall, we
descended the farther slope, and came to Mr. Ripley's cabin.
IN SIGHT OF THE BLUE WALL ONCE MORE
Polly Ann lived alone with her grandfather, her father and mother having
been killed by Indians some years before. There was that bond between
us, had we needed one. Her father had built the cabin, a large one with
a loft and a ladder climbing to it, and a sleeping room and a kitchen.
The cabin stood on a terrace that nature had levelled, looking across a
swift and shallow stream towards the mountains. There was the truck
patch, with its yellow squashes and melons, and cabbages and beans, where
Polly Ann and I worked through the hot mornings; and the corn patch, with
the great stumps of the primeval trees standing in it. All around us the
silent forest threw its encircling arms, spreading up the slopes, higher
and higher, to crown the crests with the little pines and hemlocks and
There had been no meat save bacon since the McChesneys had left, for of
late game had become scarce, and old Mr. Ripley was too feeble to go on
the long hunts. So one day, when Polly Ann was gone across the ridge, I
took down the long rifle from the buckhorns over the hearth, and the
hunting knife and powder-horn and pouch beside it, and trudged up the
slope to a game trail I discovered. All day I waited, until the forest
light grew gray, when a buck came and stood over the water, raising his
head and stamping from time to time. I took aim in the notch of a
sapling, brought him down, cleaned and skinned and dragged him into the
water, and triumphantly hauled one of his hams down the trail. Polly Ann
gave a cry of joy when she saw me.
"Davy," she exclaimed, "little Davy, I reckoned you was gone away from
us. Gran'pa, here is Davy back, and he has shot a deer."
"You don't say?" replied Mr. Ripley, surveying me and my booty with a
"How could you, Gran'pa?" said Polly Ann, reproachfully.
"Wal," said Mr. Ripley, "the gun was gone, an' Davy. I reckon he ain't
sich a little rascal after all."
Polly Ann and I went up the next day, and brought the rest of the buck
merrily homeward. After that I became the hunter of the family; but
oftener than not I returned tired and empty-handed, and ravenously
hungry. Indeed, our chief game was rattlesnakes, which we killed by the
dozens in the corn and truck patches.
As Polly Ann and I went about our daily chores, we would talk of Tom
McChesney. Often she would sit idle at the hand-mill, a light in her
eyes that I would have given kingdoms for. One ever memorable morning,
early in the crisp autumn, a grizzled man strode up the trail, and Polly
Ann dropped the ear of corn she was husking and stood still, her bosom
heaving. It was Mr. McChesney, Tom's father--alone.
"No, Polly Ann," he cried, "there ain't nuthin' happened. We've laid out
the hill towns. But the Virginna men wanted a guide, and Tom
volunteered, and so he ain't come back with Rutherford's boys."
Polly Ann seized him by the shoulders, and looked him in the face.
"Be you tellin' the truth, Warner McChesney?" she said in a hard voice.
"As God hears me," said Warner McChesney, solemnly. "He sent ye this."
He drew from the bosom of his hunting shirt a soiled piece of birch bark,
scrawled over with rude writing. Polly seized it, and flew into the
The hickories turned a flaunting yellow, the oaks a copper-red, the
leaves crackled on the Catawba vines, and still Tom McChesney did not
come. The Cherokees were homeless and houseless and subdued,--their hill
towns burned, their corn destroyed, their squaws and children wanderers.
One by one the men of the Grape Vine settlement returned to save what
they might of their crops, and plough for the next year--Burrs, O'Haras,
Williamsons, and Winns. Yes, Tom had gone to guide the Virginia boys.
All had tales to tell of his prowess, and how he had saved Rutherford's
men from ambush at the risk of his life. To all of which Polly Ann
listened with conscious pride, and replied with sallies.
"I reckon I don't care if he never comes back," she would cry. "If he
likes the Virginny boys more than me, there be others here I fancy more
Whereupon the informant, if he were not bound in matrimony, would begin
to make eyes at Polly Ann. Or, if he were bolder, and went at the wooing
in the more demonstrative fashion of the backwoods--Polly Ann had a way
of hitting him behind the ear with most surprising effect.
One windy morning when the leaves were kiting over the valley we were
getting ready for pounding hominy, when a figure appeared on the trail.
Steadying the hood of her sunbonnet with her hand, the girl gazed long
and earnestly, and a lump came into my throat at the thought that the
comer might be Tom McChesney. Polly Ann sat down at the block again in
"It's only Chauncey Dike," she said.
"Who's Chauncey Dike?" I asked.
"He reckons he's a buck," was all that Polly Ann vouchsafed.
Chauncey drew near with a strut. He had very long black hair, a new
coonskin cap with a long tassel, and a new blue-fringed hunting shirt.
What first caught my eye was a couple of withered Indian scalps that hung
by their long locks from his girdle. Chauncey Dike was certainly
"Wal, Polly Ann, are ye tired of hanging out fer Tom?" he cried, when a
dozen paces away.
"I wouldn't be if you was the only one left ter choose," Polly Ann
Chauncey Dike stopped in his tracks and haw-hawed with laughter. But I
could see that he was not very much pleased.
"Wal," said he, "I 'low ye won't see Tom very soon. He's gone to
"Has he?" said Polly Ann, with brave indifference.
"He met a gal on the trail--a blazin' fine gal," said Chauncey Dike.
"She was goin' to Kaintuckee. And Tom--he 'lowed he'd go 'long."
Polly Ann laughed, and fingered the withered pieces of skin at Chauncey's
"Did Tom give you them sculps?" she asked innocently.
Chauncey drew up stiffly.
"Who? Tom McChesney? I reckon he ain't got none to give. This here's
from a big brave at Noewee, whar the Virginny boys was surprised." And
he held up the one with the longest tuft. "He'd liked to tomahawked me
out'n the briers, but I throwed him fust."
"Shucks," said Polly Ann, pounding the corn, "I reckon you found him
But that night, as we sat before the fading red of the backlog, the old
man dozing in his chair, Polly Ann put her hand on mine.
"Davy," she said softly, "do you reckon he's gone to Kaintuckee?"
How could I tell?
The days passed. The wind grew colder, and one subdued dawn we awoke to
find that the pines had fantastic white arms, and the stream ran black
between white banks. All that day, and for many days after, the snow
added silently to the thickness of its blanket, and winter was upon us.
It was a long winter and a rare one. Polly Ann sat by the little window
of the cabin, spinning the flax into linsey-woolsey. And she made a
hunting shirt for her grandfather, and another little one for me which
she fitted with careful fingers. But as she spun, her wheel made the
only music--for Polly Ann sang no more. Once I came on her as she was
thrusting the tattered piece of birch bark into her gown, but she never
spoke to me more of Tom McChesney. When, from time to time, the snow
melted on the hillsides, I sometimes surprised a deer there and shot him
with the heavy rifle. And so the months wore on till spring.
The buds reddened and popped, and the briers grew pink and white.
Through the lengthening days we toiled in the truck patch, but always as
I bent to my work Polly Ann's face saddened me--it had once been so
bright, and it should have been so at this season. Old Mr. Ripley grew
querulous and savage and hard to please. In the evening, when my work
was done, I often lay on the banks of the stream staring at the high
ridge (its ragged edges the setting sun burned a molten gold), and the
thought grew on me that I might make my way over the mountains into that
land beyond, and find Tom for Polly Ann. I even climbed the watershed to
the east as far as the O'Hara farm, to sound that big Irishman about the
trail. For he had once gone to Kentucky, to come back with his scalp and
little besides. O'Hara, with his brogue, gave me such a terrifying
notion of the horrors of the Wilderness Trail that I threw up all thought
of following it alone, and so I resolved to wait until I heard of some
settlers going over it. But none went from the Grape Vine settlement
War was a-waging in Kentucky. The great Indian nations were making a
frantic effort to drive from their hunting grounds the little bands of
settlers there, and these were in sore straits.
So I waited, and gave Polly Ann no hint of my intention.
Sometimes she herself would slip away across the notch to see Mrs.
McChesney and the children. She never took me with her on these
journeys, but nearly always when she came back at nightfall her eyes
would be red, and I knew the two women had been weeping together. There
came a certain hot Sunday in July when she went on this errand, and
Grandpa Ripley having gone to spend the day at old man Winn's, I was left
alone. I remember I sat on the squared log of the door-step, wondering
whether, if I were to make my way to Salisbury, I could fall in with a
party going across the mountains into Kentucky. And wondering, likewise,
what Polly Ann would do without me. I was cleaning the long rifle,--a
labor I loved,--when suddenly I looked up, startled to see a man
standing in front of me. How he got there I know not. I stared at him.
He was a young man, very spare and very burned, with bright red hair and
blue eyes that had a kind of laughter in them, and yet were sober. His
buckskin hunting shirt was old and stained and frayed by the briers, and
his leggins and moccasins were wet from fording the stream. He leaned his
chin on the muzzle of his gun.
"Folks live here, sonny?" said he.
"Whar be they?"
"Out," said I.
"Comin' back?" he asked.
"To-night," said I, and began to rub the lock.
"Be they good folks?" said he.
"Yes," I answered.
"Wal," said he, making a move to pass me, "I reckon I'll slip in and take
what I've a mind to, and move on."
Now I liked the man's looks very much, but I did not know what he would
do. So I got in his way and clutched the gun. It was loaded, but not
primed, and I emptied a little powder from the flask in the pan. At that
"You're a good boy, sonny," he said. "Do you reckon you could hit me if
"Yes," I said. But I knew I could scarcely hold the gun out straight
without a rest.
"And do you reckon I could hit you fust?" he asked. At that I laughed,
and he laughed.
"What's your name?"
I told him.
"Who do you love best in all the world?" said he.
It was a queer question. But I told him Polly Ann Ripley.
"Oh!" said he, after a pause. "And what's SHE like?"
"She's beautiful," I said; "she's been very kind to me. She took me home
with her from the settlements when I had no place to go. She's good."
"And a sharp tongue, I reckon," said he.
"When people need it," I answered.
"Oh!" said he. And presently, "She's very merry, I'll warrant."
"She used to be, but that's gone by," I said.
"Gone by!" said he, his voice falling, "is she sick?"
"No," said I, "she's not sick, she's sad."
"Sad?" said he. It was then I noticed that he had a cut across his
temple, red and barely healed. "Do you reckon your Polly Ann would give
me a little mite to eat?"
This time I jumped up, ran into the house, and got down some corn-pone
and a leg of turkey. For that was the rule of the border. He took them
in great bites, but slowly, and he picked the bones clean.
"I had breakfast yesterday morning," said he, "about forty mile from
"And nothing since?" said I, in astonishment.
"Fresh air and water and exercise," said he, and sat down on the grass.
He was silent for a long while, and so was I. For a notion had struck
me, though I hardly dared to give it voice.
"Are you going away?" I asked at last.
"Why?" said he.
"If you were going to Kaintuckee--" I began, and faltered. For he stared
at me very hard.
"Kaintuckee!" he said. "There's a country! But it's full of blood and
Injun varmints now. Would you leave Polly Ann and go to Kaintuckee?"
"Are you going?" I said.
"I reckon I am," he said, "as soon as I kin."
"Will you take me?" I asked, breathless. "I--I won't be in your way, and
I can walk--and--shoot game."
At that he bent back his head and laughed, which made me redden with
anger. Then he turned and looked at me more soberly.
"You're a queer little piece," said he. "Why do you want to go thar?"
"I want to find Tom McChesney for Polly Ann," I said.
He turned away his face.
"A good-for-nothing scamp," said he.
"I have long thought so," I said.
He laughed again. It was a laugh that made me want to join him, had I
not been irritated.
"And he's a scamp, you say. And why?"
"Else he would be coming back to Polly Ann."
"Mayhap he couldn't," said the stranger.
"Chauncey Dike said he went off with another girl into Kaintuckee."
"And what did Polly Ann say to that?" the stranger demanded.
"She asked Chauncey if Tom McChesney gave him the scalps he had on his
At that he laughed in good earnest, and slapped his breech-clouts
repeatedly. All at once he stopped, and stared up the ridge.
"Is that Polly Ann?" said he.
I looked, and far up the trail was a speck.
"I reckon it is," I answered, and wondered at his eyesight. "She travels
over to see Tom McChesney's Ma once in a while."
He looked at me queerly.
"I reckon I'll go here and sit down, Davy," said he, "so's not to be in
the way." And he walked around the corner of the house.
Polly Ann sauntered down the trail slowly, as was her wont after such an
occasion. And the man behind the house twice whispered with extreme
caution, "How near is she?" before she came up the path.
"Have you been lonesome, Davy?" she said.
"No," said I, "I've had a visitor."
"It's not Chauncey Dike again?" she said. "He doesn't dare show his face
"No, it wasn't Chauncey. This man would like to have seen you, Polly
Ann. He--" here I braced myself,--"he knew Tom McChesney. He called him
a good-for-nothing scamp."
"He did--did he!" said Polly Ann, very low. "I reckon it was good for
him I wasn't here."
"What are you laughing at, you little monkey," said Polly Ann, crossly.
"'Pon my soul, sometimes I reckon you are a witch."
"Polly Ann," I said, "did I ever do anything but good to you?"
She made a dive at me, and before I could escape caught me in her strong
young arms and hugged me.
"You're the best friend I have, little Davy," she cried.
"I reckon that's so," said the stranger, who had risen and was standing
at the corner.
Polly Ann looked at him like a frightened doe. And as she stared,
uncertain whether to stay or fly, the color surged into her cheeks and
mounted to her fair forehead.
"Tom!" she faltered.
"I've come back, Polly Ann," said he. But his voice was not so clear as
a while ago.
Then Polly Ann surprised me.
"What made you come back?" said she, as though she didn't care a
minkskin. Whereat Mr. McChesney shifted his feet.
"I reckon it was to fetch you, Polly Ann."
"I like that!" cried she. "He's come to fetch me, Davy." That was the
first time in months her laugh had sounded natural. "I heerd you fetched
one gal acrost the mountains, and now you want to fetch another."
"Polly Ann," says he, "there was a time when you knew a truthful man from
"That time's past," retorted she; "I reckon all men are liars. What are
ye tom-foolin' about here for, Tom McChesney, when yere Ma's breakin' her
heart? I wonder ye come back at all."
"Polly Ann," says he, very serious, "I ain't a boaster. But when I think
what I come through to git here, I wonder that I come back at all. The
folks shut up at Harrod's said it was sure death ter cross the mountains
now. I've walked two hundred miles, and fed seven times, and my sculp's
as near hangin' on a Red Stick's belt as I ever want it to be."
"Tom McChesney," said Polly Ann, with her hands on her hips and her
sunbonnet tilted, "that's the longest speech you ever made in your life."
I declare I lost my temper with Polly Ann then, nor did I blame Tom
McChesney for turning on his heel and walking away. But he had gone no
distance at all before Polly Ann, with three springs, was at his
"Tom!" she said very gently.
He hesitated, stopped, thumped the stock of his gun on the ground, and
wheeled. He looked at her doubtingly, and her eyes fell to the ground.
"Tom McChesney," said she, "you're a born fool with wimmen."
"Thank God for that," said he, his eyes devouring her.
"Ay," said she. And then, "You want me to go to Kaintuckee with you?"
"That's what I come for," he stammered, his assurance all run away again.
"I'll go," she answered, so gently that her words were all but blown away
by the summer wind. He laid his rifle against a stump at the edge of the
corn-field, but she bounded clear of him. Then she stood, panting, her
"I'll go," she said, raising her finger, "I'll go for one thing."
"What's that?" he demanded.
"That you'll take Davy along with us."
This time Tom had her, struggling like a wild thing in his arms, and
kissing her black hair madly. As for me, I might have been in the next
settlement for all they cared. And then Polly Ann, as red as a holly
berry, broke away from him and ran to me, caught me up, and hid her face
in my shoulder. Tom McChesney stood looking at us, grinning, and that
day I ceased to hate him.
"There's no devil ef I don't take him, Polly Ann," said he. "Why, he was
a-goin' to Kaintuckee ter find me for you."
"What?" said she, raising her head.
"That's what he told me afore he knew who I was. He wanted to know ef
I'd fetch him thar."
"Little Davy!" cried Polly Ann.
The last I saw of them that day they were going off up the trace towards
his mother's, Polly Ann keeping ahead of him and just out of his reach.
And I was very, very happy. For Tom McChesney had come back at last, and
Polly Ann was herself once more.
As long as I live I shall never forget Polly Ann's wedding.
She was all for delay, and such a bunch of coquetry as I have never seen.
She raised one objection after another; but Tom was a firm man, and his
late experiences in the wilderness had made him impatient of trifling.
He had promised the Kentucky settlers, fighting for their lives in their
blockhouses, that he would come back again. And a resolute man who was a
good shot was sorely missed in the country in those days.
It was not the thousand dangers and hardships of the journey across the
Wilderness Trail that frightened Polly Ann. Not she. Nor would she
listen to Tom when he implored her to let him return alone, to come back
for her when the redskins had got over the first furies of their hatred.
As for me, the thought of going with them into that promised land was
like wine. Wondering what the place was like, I could not sleep of
"Ain't you afeerd to go, Davy?" said Tom to me.
"You promised Polly Ann to take me," said I, indignantly.
"Davy," said he, "you ain't over handsome. 'Twouldn't improve yere looks
to be bald. They hev a way of takin' yere ha'r. Better stay behind with
Gran'pa Ripley till I kin fetch ye both."
"Tom," said Polly Ann, "you kin just go back alone if you don't take
So one of the Winn boys agreed to come over to stay with old Mr. Ripley
until quieter times.
The preparations for the wedding went on apace that week. I had not
thought that the Grape Vine settlement held so many people. And they
came from other settlements, too, for news spread quickly in that
country, despite the distances. Tom McChesney was plainly a favorite
with the men who had marched with Rutherford. All the week they came,
loaded with offerings, turkeys and venison and pork and bear
meat--greatest delicacy of all--until the cool spring was filled for the
feast. From thirty miles down the Broad, a gaunt Baptist preacher on a
fat white pony arrived the night before. He had been sent for to tie the
Polly Ann's wedding-day dawned bright and fair, and long before the sun
glistened on the corn tassels we were up and clearing out the big room.
The fiddlers came first--a merry lot. And then the guests from afar
began to arrive. Some of them had travelled half the night. The
bridegroom's friends were assembling at the McChesney place. At last,
when the sun was over the stream, rose such Indian war-whoops and shots
from the ridge trail as made me think the redskins were upon us. The
shouts and hurrahs grew louder and louder, the quickening thud of horses'
hoofs was heard in the woods, and there burst into sight of the assembly
by the truck patch two wild figures on crazed horses charging down the
path towards the house. We scattered to right and left. On they came,
leaping logs and brush and ditches, until one of them pulled up, yelling
madly, at the very door, the foam-flecked sides of his horse moving with
It was Chauncey Dike, and he had won the race for the bottle of "Black
Betty,"--Chauncey Dike, his long, black hair shining with bear's oil.
Amid the cheers of the bride's friends he leaped from his saddle, mounted
a stump and, flapping his arms, crowed in victory. Before he had done
the vanguard of the groom's friends were upon us, pell-mell, all in the
finest of backwoods regalia,--new hunting shirts, trimmed with bits of
color, and all armed to the teeth--scalping knife, tomahawk, and all.
Nor had Chauncey Dike forgotten the scalp of the brave who leaped at him
out of the briers at Neowee.
Polly Ann was radiant in a white linen gown, woven and sewed by her own
hands. It was not such a gown as Mrs. Temple, Nick's mother, would have
worn, and yet she was to me an hundred times more beautiful than that
lady in all her silks. Peeping out from under it were the little
blue-beaded moccasins which Tom himself had brought across the mountains
in the bosom of his hunting shirt. Polly Ann was radiant, and yet at
times so rapturously shy that when the preacher announced himself ready
to tie the knot she ran into the house and hid in the cupboard--for Polly
Ann was a child of nature. Thence, coloring like a wild rose, she was
dragged by a boisterous bevy of girls in linsey-woolsey to the spreading
maple of the forest that stood on the high bank over the stream. The
assembly fell solemn, and not a sound was heard save the breathing of
Nature in the heyday of her time. And though I was happy, the sobs rose
in my throat. There stood Polly Ann, as white now as the bleached linen
she wore, and Tom McChesney, tall and spare and broad, as strong a figure
of a man as ever I laid eyes on. God had truly made that couple for
wedlock in His leafy temple.
The deep-toned words of the preacher in prayer broke the stillness. They
were made man and wife. And then began a day of merriment, of
unrestraint, such as the backwoods alone knows. The feast was spread out
in the long grass under the trees--sides of venison, bear meat, corn-pone
fresh baked by Mrs. McChesney and Polly Ann herself, and all the
vegetables in the patch. There was no stint, either, of maple beer and
rum and "Black Betty," and toasts to the bride and groom amidst gusts of
laughter "that they might populate Kaintuckee." And Polly Ann would have
it that I should sit by her side under the maple.
The fiddlers played, and there were foot races and shooting matches. Ay,
and wrestling matches in the severe manner of the backwoods between the
young bucks, more than one of which might have ended seriously were it
not for the high humor of the crowd. Tom McChesney himself was in most
of them, a hot favorite. By a trick he had learned in the Indian country
he threw Chauncey Dike (no mean adversary) so hard that the backwoods
dandy lay for a moment in sleep. Contrary to the custom of many, Tom was
not in the habit of crowing on such occasions, nor did he even smile as
he helped Chauncey to his feet. But Polly Ann knew, and I knew, that he
was thinking of what Chauncey had said to her.
So the long summer afternoon wore away into twilight, and the sun fell
behind the blue ridges we were to cross. Pine knots were lighted in the
big room, the fiddlers set to again, and then came jigs and three and
four handed reels that made the puncheons rattle,--chicken-flutter and
cut-the-buckle,--and Polly Ann was the leader now, the young men flinging
the girls from fireplace to window in the reels, and back again; and
when, panting and perspiring, the lass was too tired to stand longer, she
dropped into the hospitable lap of the nearest buck who was perched on
the bench along the wall awaiting his chance. For so it went in the
backwoods in those days, and long after, and no harm in it that ever I
Well, suddenly, as if by concert, the music stopped, and a shout of
laughter rang under the beams as Polly Ann flew out of the door with the
girls after her, as swift of foot as she. They dragged her, a struggling
captive, to the bride-chamber which made the other end of the house, and
when they emerged, blushing and giggling and subdued, the fun began with
Tom McChesney. He gave the young men a pretty fight indeed, and long
before they had him conquered the elder guests had made their escape
through door and window.
All night the reels and jigs went on, and the feasting and drinking too.
In the fine rain that came at dawn to hide the crests, the company rode
wearily homeward through the notches.
THE NOLLICHUCKY TRACE
Some to endure, and many to quail,
Some to conquer, and many to fail,
Toiling over the Wilderness Trail.
As long as I live I shall never forget the morning we started on our
journey across the Blue Wall. Before the sun chased away the filmy veil
of mist from the brooks in the valley, the McChesneys, father, mother,
and children, were gathered to see us depart. And as they helped us to
tighten the packsaddles Tom himself had made from chosen tree-forks, they
did not cease lamenting that we were going to certain death. Our scrawny
horses splashed across the stream, and we turned to see a gaunt and
lonely figure standing apart against the sun, stern and sorrowful. We
waved our hands, and set our faces towards Kaintuckee.
Tom walked ahead, rifle on shoulder, then Polly Ann; and lastly I drove
the two shaggy ponies, the instruments of husbandry we had been able to
gather awry on their packs,--a scythe, a spade, and a hoe. I
triumphantly carried the axe.
It was not long before we were in the wilderness, shut in by mountain
crags, and presently Polly Ann forgot her sorrows in the perils of the
trace. Choked by briers and grapevines, blocked by sliding stones and
earth, it rose and rose through the heat and burden of the day until it
lost itself in the open heights. As the sun was wearing down to the
western ridges the mischievous sorrel mare turned her pack on a sapling,
and one of the precious bags burst. In an instant we were on our knees
gathering the golden meal in our hands. Polly Ann baked journeycakes on
a hot stone from what we saved under the shiny ivy leaves, and scarce had
I spancelled the horses ere Tom returned with a fat turkey he had shot.
"Was there ever sech a wedding journey!" said Polly Ann, as we sat about
the fire, for the mountain air was chill. "And Tom and Davy as grave as
parsons. Ye'd guess one of you was Rutherford himself, and the other Mr.
No wonder he was grave. I little realized then the task he had set
himself, to pilot a woman and a lad into a country haunted by frenzied
savages, when single men feared to go this season. But now he smiled,
and patted Polly Ann's brown hand.
"It's one of yer own choosing, lass," said he.
"Of my own choosing!" cried she. "Come, Davy, we'll go back to Grandpa."
"I reckon the redskins won't bother us till we git by the Nollichucky and
Watauga settlements," he said.
"The redskins!" said Polly Ann, indignant; "I reckon if one of 'em did
git me he'd kiss me once in a while."
Whereupon Tom, looking more sheepish still, tried to kiss her, and failed
ignominiously, for she vanished into the dark woods.
"If a redskin got you here," said Tom, when she had slipped back, "he'd
fetch you to Nick-a-jack Cave."
"What's that?" she demanded.
"Where all the red and white and yellow scalawags over the mountains is
gathered," he answered. And he told of a deep gorge between towering
mountains where a great river cried angrily, of a black cave out of which
a black stream ran, where a man could paddle a dugout for miles into the
rock. The river was the Tennessee, and the place the resort of the
Chickamauga bandits, pirates of the mountains, outcasts of all nations.
And Dragging Canoe was their chief.
It was on the whole a merry journey, the first part of it, if a rough
one. Often Polly Ann would draw me to her and whisper: "We'll hold out,
Davy. He'll never now." When the truth was that the big fellow was
going at half his pace on our account. He told us there was no fear of
redskins here, yet, when the scream of a painter or the hoot of an owl
stirred me from my exhausted slumber, I caught sight of him with his back
to a tree, staring into the forest, his rifle at his side. The day was
"Turn about's fair," I expostulated.
"Ye'll need yere sleep, Davy," said he, "or ye'll never grow any bigger."
"I thought Kaintuckee was to the west," I said, "and you're making
north." For I had observed him day after day. We had left the trails.
Sometimes he climbed tree, and again he sent me to the upper branches,
whence I surveyed a sea of tree-tops waving in the wind, and looked
onward to where a green velvet hollow lay nestling on the western side of
a saddle-backed ridge.
"North!" said Tom to Polly Ann, laughing. "The little devil will beat me
at woodcraft soon. Ay, north, Davy. I'm hunting for the Nollichucky
Trace that leads to the Watauga settlement."
It was wonderful to me how he chose his way through the mountains. Once
in a while we caught sight of a yellow blaze in a tree, made by himself
scarce a month gone, when he came southward alone to fetch Polly Ann.
Again, the tired roan shied back from the bleached bones of a traveller,
picked clean by wolves. At sundown, when we loosed our exhausted horses
to graze on the wet grass by the streams, Tom would go off to look for a
deer or turkey, and often not come back to us until long after darkness
"Davy'll take care of you, Polly Ann," he would say as he left us.
And she would smile at him bravely and say, "I reckon I kin look out for
Davy awhile yet."
But when he was gone, and the crooning stillness set in broken only by
the many sounds of the night, we would sit huddled together by the fire.
It was dread for him she felt, not for herself. And in both our minds
rose red images of hideous foes skulking behind his brave form as he trod
the forest floor. Polly Ann was not the woman to whimper.
And yet I have but dim recollections of this journey. It was no hardship
to a lad brought up in woodcraft. Fear of the Indians, like a dog
shivering with the cold, was a deadened pain on the border.
Strangely enough it was I who chanced upon the Nollichucky Trace, which
follows the meanderings of that river northward through the great Smoky
Mountains. It was made long ago by the Southern Indians as they threaded
their way to the Hunting Lands of Kaintuckee, and shared now by Indian
traders. The path was redolent with odors, and bright with mountain
shrubs and flowers,--the pink laurel bush, the shining rhododendron, and
the grape and plum and wild crab. The clear notes of the mountain birds
were in our ears by day, and the music of the water falling over the
ledges, mingled with that of the leaves rustling in the wind, lulled us
to sleep at night. High above us, as we descended, the gap, from naked
crag to timber-covered ridge, was spanned by the eagle's flight. And
virgin valleys, where future generations were to be born, spread out and
narrowed again,--valleys with a deep carpet of cane and grass, where the
deer and elk and bear fed unmolested.
It was perchance the next evening that my eyes fell upon a sight which is
one of the wonders of my boyish memories. The trail slipped to the edge
of a precipice, and at our feet the valley widened. Planted amidst giant
trees, on a shining green lawn that ran down to the racing Nollichucky
was the strangest house it has ever been my lot to see--of no shape, of
huge size, and built of logs, one wing hitched to another by "dog alleys"
(as we called them); and from its wide stone chimneys the pearly smoke
rose upward in the still air through the poplar branches. Beyond it a
setting sun gilded the corn-fields, and horses and cattle dotted the
pastures. We stood for a while staring at this oasis in the wilderness,
and to my boyish fancy it was a fitting introduction to a delectable
"Glory be to heaven!" exclaimed Polly Ann.
"It's Nollichucky Jack's house," said Tom.
"And who may he be?" said she.
"Who may he be!" cried Tom; "Captain John Sevier, king of the border, and
I reckon the best man to sweep out redskins in the Watauga settlements."
"Do you know him?" said she.
"I was chose as one of his scouts when we fired the Cherokee hill towns
last summer," said Tom, with pride. "Thar was blood and thunder for ye!
We went down the Great War-path which lies below us, and when we was
through there wasn't a corn-shuck or a wigwam or a war post left. We
didn't harm the squaws nor the children, but there warn't no prisoners
took. When Nollichucky Jack strikes I reckon it's more like a
thunderbolt nor anything else."
"Do you think he's at home, Tom?" I asked, fearful that I should not see
this celebrated person.
"We'll soon l'arn," said he, as we descended. "I heerd he was agoin' to
punish them Chickamauga robbers by Nick-a-jack."
Just then we heard a prodigious barking, and a dozen hounds came charging
down the path at our horses' legs, the roan shying into the truck patch.
A man's voice, deep, clear, compelling, was heard calling:--
"Vi! Flora! Ripper!"
I saw him coming from the porch of the house, a tall slim figure in a
hunting shirt--that fitted to perfection--and cavalry boots. His face,
his carriage, his quick movement and stride filled my notion of a hero,
and my instinct told me he was a gentleman born.
"Why, bless my soul, it's Tom McChesney!" he cried, ten paces away, while
Tom grinned with pleasure at the recognition "But what have you here?"
"A wife," said Tom, standing on one foot.
Captain Sevier fixed his dark blue eyes on Polly Ann with approbation,
and he bowed to her very gracefully.
"Where are you going, Ma'am, may I ask?" he said.
"To Kaintuckee," said Polly Ann.
"To Kaintuckee!" cried Captain Sevier, turning to Tom. "Egad, then,
you've no right to a wife,--and to such a wife," and he glanced again at
Polly Ann. "Why, McChesney, you never struck me as a rash man. Have you
lost your senses, to take a woman into Kentucky this year?"
"So the forts be still in trouble?" said Tom.
"Trouble?" cried Mr. Sevier, with a quick fling of his whip at an unruly
hound, "Harrodstown, Boonesboro, Logan's Fort at St. Asaph's,--they don't
dare stick their noses outside the stockades. The Indians have swarmed
into Kentucky like red ants, I tell you. Ten days ago, when I was in the
Holston settlements, Major Ben Logan came in. His fort had been shut up
since May, they were out of powder and lead, and somebody had to come.
How did he come? As the wolf lopes, nay, as the crow flies over crag and
ford, Cumberland, Clinch, and all, forty miles a day for five days, and
never saw a trace--for the war parties were watching the Wilderness
Road." And he swung again towards Polly Ann. "You'll not go to
Kaintuckee, ma'am; you'll stay here with us until the redskins are beaten
off there. He may go if he likes."
"I reckon we didn't come this far to give out, Captain Sevier," said she.
"You don't look to be the kind to give out, Mrs. McChesney," said he.
"And yet it may not be a matter of giving out," he added more soberly.
This mixture of heartiness and gravity seemed to sit well on him.
"Surely you have been enterprising, Tom. Where in the name of the
Continental Congress did you get the lad?"
"I married him along with Polly Ann," said Tom.
"That was the bargain, and I reckon he was worth it."
"I'd take a dozen to get her," declared Mr. Sevier, while Polly Ann
blushed. "Well, well, supper's waiting us, and cider and applejack, for
we don't get a wedding party every day. Some gentlemen are here whose
word may have more weight and whose attractions may be greater than
He whistled to a negro lad, who took our horses, and led us through the
court-yard and the house to the lawn at the far side of it. A rude table
was set there under a great tree, and around it three gentlemen were
talking. My memory of all of them is more vivid than it might be were
their names not household words in the Western country. Captain Sevier
"My friends," said he, "if you have despatches for Kaintuckee, I pray you
get them ready over night."
They looked up at him, one sternly, the other two gravely.
"What the devil do you mean, Sevier?" said the stern one.
"That my friend, Tom McChesney, is going there with his wife, unless we
can stop him," said Sevier.
"Stop him!" thundered the stern gentleman, kicking back his chair and
straightening up to what seemed to me a colossal height. I stared at
him, boylike. He had long, iron-gray hair and a creased, fleshy face and
sunken eyes. He looked as if he might stop anybody as he turned upon
Tom. "Who the devil is this Tom McChesney?" he demanded.
"The best scout I ever laid eyes on," said he. "A deadly man with a
Deckard, an unerring man at choosing a wife" (and he bowed to the
reddening Polly Ann), "and a fool to run the risk of losing her."
"Tut, tut," said the iron gentleman, who was the famous Captain Evan
Shelby of King's Meadows, "he'll leave her here in our settlements while
he helps us fight Dragging Canoe and his Chickamauga pirates."
"If he leaves me," said Polly Ann, her eyes flashing, "that's an end to
the bargain. He'll never find me more."
Captain Sevier laughed again.
"There's spirit for you," he cried, slapping his whip against his boot.
At this another gentleman stood up, a younger counterpart of the first,
only he towered higher and his shoulders were broader. He had a
big-featured face, and pleasant eyes--that twinkled now--sunken in, with
fleshy creases at the corners.
"Tom McChesney," said he, "don't mind my father. If any man besides
Logan can get inside the forts, you can. Do you remember me?"
"I reckon I do, Mr. Isaac Shelby," said Tom, putting a big hand into Mr.
Shelby's bigger one. "I reckon I won't soon forget how you stepped out
of ranks and tuk command when the boys was runnin', and turned the tide."
He looked like the man to step out of ranks and take command.
"Pish!" said Mr. Isaac Shelby, blushing like a girl; "where would I have
been if you and Moore and Findley and the rest hadn't stood 'em off till
we turned round?"
By this time the third gentleman had drawn my attention. Not by anything
he said, for he remained silent, sitting with his dark brown head bent
forward, quietly gazing at the scene from under his brows. The instant
he spoke they turned towards him. He was perhaps forty, and
broad-shouldered, not so tall as Mr. Sevier.
"Why do you go to Kaintuckee, McChesney?" he asked.
"I give my word to Mr. Harrod and Mr. Clark to come back, Mr. Robertson,"
"And the wife? If you take her, you run a great risk of losing her."
"And if he leaves me," said Polly Ann, flinging her head, "he will lose
The others laughed, but Mr. Robertson merely smiled.
"Faith," cried Captain Sevier, "if those I met coming back helter-skelter
over the Wilderness Trace had been of that stripe, they'd have more men
in the forts now."
With that the Captain called for supper to be served where we sat. He
was a widower, with lads somewhere near my own age, and I recall being
shown about the place by them. And later, when the fireflies glowed and
the Nollichucky sang in the darkness, we listened to the talk of the war
of the year gone by. I needed not to be told that before me were the
renowned leaders of the Watauga settlements. My hero worship cried it
aloud within me. These captains dwelt on the border-land of mystery,
conquered the wilderness, and drove before them its savage tribes by
their might. When they spoke of the Cherokees and told how that same
Stuart--the companion of Cameron--was urging them to war against our
people, a fierce anger blazed within me. For the Cherokees had killed my
I remember the men,--scarcely what they said: Evan Shelby's words, like
heavy blows on an anvil; Isaac Shelby's, none the less forceful; James
Robertson compelling his listeners by some strange power. He was
perchance the strongest man there, though none of us guessed, after
ruling that region, that he was to repeat untold hardships to found and
rear another settlement farther west. But best I loved to hear Captain
Sevier, whose talk lacked not force, but had a daring, a humor, a
lightness of touch, that seemed more in keeping with that world I had
left behind me in Charlestown. Him I loved, and at length I solved the
puzzle. To me he was Nick Temple grown to manhood.
I slept in the room with Captain Sevier's boys, and one window of it was
of paper smeared with bear's grease, through which the sunlight came all
bleared and yellow in the morning. I had a boy's interest in affairs,
and I remember being told that the gentlemen were met here to discuss the
treaty between themselves and the great Oconostota, chief of the
Cherokees, and also to consider the policy of punishing once for all
Dragging Canoe and his bandits at Chickamauga.
As we sat at breakfast under the trees, these gentlemen generously
dropped their own business to counsel Tom, and I observed with pride that
he had gained their regard during the last year's war. Shelby's threats
and Robertson's warnings and Sevier's exhortations having no effect upon
his determination to proceed to Kentucky, they began to advise him how to
go, and he sat silent while they talked. And finally, when they asked
him, he spoke of making through Carter's Valley for Cumberland Gap and
the Wilderness Trail.
"Egad," cried Captain Sevier, "I have so many times found the boldest
plan the safest that I have become a coward that way. What do you say to
it, Mr. Robertson?"
Mr. Robertson leaned his square shoulders over the table.
"He may fall in with a party going over," he answered, without looking
Polly Ann looked at Tom as if to say that the whole Continental Army
could not give her as much protection.
We left that hospitable place about nine o'clock, Mr. Robertson having
written a letter to Colonel Daniel Boone,--shut up in the fort at
Boonesboro,--should we be so fortunate as to reach Kaintuckee: and
another to a young gentleman by the name of George Rogers Clark,
apparently a leader there. Captain Sevier bowed over Polly Ann's hand as
if she were a great lady, and wished her a happy honeymoon, and me he
patted on the head and called a brave lad. And soon we had passed beyond
the corn-field into the Wilderness again.
Our way was down the Nollichucky, past the great bend of it below Lick
Creek, and so to the Great War-path, the trail by which countless parties
of red marauders had travelled north and south. It led, indeed,
northeast between the mountain ranges. Although we kept a watch by day
and night, we saw no sign of Dragging Canoe or his men, and at length we
forded the Holston and came to the scattered settlement in Carter's
I have since racked my brain to remember at whose cabin we stopped there.
He was a rough backwoodsman with a wife and a horde of children. But I
recall that a great rain came out of the mountains and down the valley.
We were counting over the powder gourds in our packs, when there burst in
at the door as wild a man as has ever been my lot to see. His brown
beard was grown like a bramble patch, his eye had a violet light, and his
hunting shirt was in tatters. He was thin to gauntness, ate ravenously
of the food that was set before him, and throwing off his soaked
moccasins, he spread his scalded feet to the blaze, and the steaming odor
of drying leather filled the room.
"Whar be ye from?" asked Tom.
For answer the man bared his arm, then his shoulder, and two angry scars,
long and red, revealed themselves, and around his wrists were deep gouges
where he had been bound.
"They killed Sue," he cried, "sculped her afore my very eyes. And they
chopped my boy outen the hickory withes and carried him to the Creek
Nation. At a place where there was a standin' stone I broke loose from
three of 'em and come here over the mountains, and I ain't had nothin',
stranger, but berries and chainey brier-root for ten days. God damn
'em!" he cried, standing up and tottering with the pain in his feet, "if
I can get a Deckard--"
"Will you go back?" said Tom.
"Go back!" he shouted, "I'll go back and fight 'em while I have blood in
He fell into a bunk, but his sorrow haunted him even in his troubled
sleep, and his moans awed us as we listened. The next day he told us his
story with more calmness. It was horrible indeed, and might well have
frightened a less courageous woman than Polly Ann. Imploring her not to
go, he became wild again, and brought tears to her eyes when he spoke of
his own wife. "They tomahawked her, ma'am, because she could not walk,
and the baby beside her, and I standing by with my arms tied."
As long as I live I shall never forget that scene, and how Tom pleaded
with Polly Ann to stay behind, but she would not listen to him.
"You're going, Tom?" she said.
"Yes," he answered, turning away, "I gave 'em my word."
"And your word to me?" said Polly Ann.
He did not answer.
We fixed on a Saturday to start, to give the horses time to rest, and in
the hope that we might hear of some relief party going over the Gap. On
Thursday Tom made a trip to the store in the valley, and came back with a
Deckard rifle he had bought for the stranger, whose name was Weldon.
There was no news from Kaintuckee, but the Carter's Valley settlers
seemed to think that matters were better there. It was that same night,
I believe, that two men arrived from Fort Chiswell. One, whose name was
Cutcheon, was a little man with a short forehead and a bad eye, and he
wore a weather-beaten blue coat of military cut. The second was a big,
light-colored, fleshy man, and a loud talker. He wore a hunting shirt
and leggings. They were both the worse for rum they had had on the road,
the big man talking very loud and boastfully.
"Afeard to go to Kaintuckee!" said he. "I've met a parcel o' cowards on
the road, turned back. There ain't nothin' to be afeard of, eh,
stranger?" he added, to Tom, who paid no manner of attention to him. The
small man scarce opened his mouth, but sat with his head bowed forward on
his breast when he was not drinking. We passed a dismal, crowded night
in the room with such companions. When they heard that we were to go
over the mountains, nothing would satisfy the big man but to go with us.
"Come, stranger," said he to Tom, "two good rifles such as we is ain't to
be throwed away."
"Why do you want to go over?" asked Tom. "Be ye a Tory?" he demanded
"Why do you go over?" retorted Riley, for that was his name. "I reckon
I'm no more of a Tory than you."
"Whar did ye come from?" said Tom.
"Chiswell's mines, taking out lead for the army o' Congress. But there
ain't excitement enough in it."
"And you?" said Tom, turning to Cutcheon and eying his military coat.
"I got tired of their damned discipline," the man answered surlily. He
was a deserter.
"Look you," said Tom, sternly, "if you come, what I say is law."
Such was the sacrifice we were put to by our need of company. But in
those days a man was a man, and scarce enough on the Wilderness Trail in
that year of '77. So we started away from Carter's Valley on a bright
Saturday morning, the grass glistening after a week's rain, the road
sodden, and the smell of the summer earth heavy. Tom and Weldon walked
ahead, driving the two horses, followed by Cutcheon, his head dropped
between his shoulders. The big man, Riley, regaled Polly Ann.
"My pluck is," said he, "my pluck is to give a redskin no chance. Shoot
'em down like hogs. It takes a good un to stalk me, Ma'am. Up on the
Kanawha I've had hand-to-hand fights with 'em, and made 'em cry quits."
"Law!" exclaimed Polly Ann, nudging me, "it was a lucky thing we run into
you in the valley."
But presently we left the road and took a mountain trail,--as stiff a
climb as we had yet had. Polly Ann went up it like a bird, talking all
the while to Riley, who blew like a bellows. For once he was silent.
We spent two, perchance three, days climbing and descending and fording.
At night Tom would suffer none to watch save Weldon and himself, not
trusting Riley or Cutcheon. And the rascals were well content to sleep.
At length we came, to a cabin on a creek, the corn between the stumps
around it choked with weeds, and no sign of smoke in the chimney. Behind
it slanted up, in giant steps, a forest-clad hill of a thousand feet, and
in front of it the stream was dammed and lined with cane.
"Who keeps house?" cried Tom, at the threshold.
He pushed back the door, fashioned in one great slab from a forest tree.
His welcome was an angry whir, and a huge yellow rattler lay coiled
within, his head reared to strike. Polly Ann leaned back.
"Mercy," she cried, "that's a bad sign."
But Tom killed the snake, and we made ready to use the cabin that night
and the next day. For the horses were to be rested and meat was to be
got, as we could not use our guns so freely on the far side of Cumberland
Gap. In the morning, before he and Weldon left, Tom took me around the
end of the cabin.
"Davy," said he, "I don't trust these rascals. Kin you shoot a pistol?"
I reckoned I could.
He had taken one out of the pack he had got from Captain Sevier and
pushed it between the logs where the clay had fallen out. "If they try
anything," said he, "shoot 'em. And don't be afeard of killing 'em." He
patted me on the back, and went off up the slope with Weldon. Polly Ann
and I stood watching them until they were out of sight.
About eleven o'clock Riley and Cutcheon moved off to the edge of a
cane-brake near the water, and sat there for a while, talking in low
tones. The horses were belled and spancelled near by, feeding on the
cane and wild grass, and Polly Ann was cooking journey-cakes on a stone.
"What makes you so sober, Davy?" she said.
I didn't answer.
"Davy," she cried, "be happy while you're young. 'Tis a fine day, and
Kaintuckee's over yonder." She picked up her skirts and sang:--
"First upon the heeltap,
Then upon the toe."
The men by the cane-brake turned and came towards us.
"Ye're happy to-day, Mis' McChesney," said Riley.
"Why shouldn't I be?" said Polly Ann; "we're all a-goin' to Kaintuckee."
"We're a-goin' back to Cyarter's Valley," said Riley, in his blustering
way. "This here ain't as excitin' as I thought. I reckon there ain't no
"What!" cried Polly Ann, in loud scorn, "ye're a-goin' to desert?
There'll be redskins enough by and by, I'll warrant ye."
"How'd you like to come along of us," says Riley; "that ain't any place
for wimmen, over yonder."
"Along of you!" cried Polly Ann, with flashing eyes.
"Do you hear that, Davy?"
I did. Meanwhile the man Cutcheon was slowly walking towards her. It
took scarce a second for me to make up my mind. I slipped around the
corner of the house, seized the pistol, primed it with a trembling hand,
and came back to behold Polly Ann, with flaming cheeks, facing them.
They did not so much as glance at me. Riley held a little back of the
two, being the coward. But Cutcheon stood ready, like a wolf.
I did not wait for him to spring, but, taking the best aim I could with
my two hands, fired. With a curse that echoed in the crags, he threw up
his arms and fell forward, writhing, on the turf.
"Run for the cabin, Polly Ann," I shouted, "and bar the door."
There was no need. For an instant Riley wavered, and then fled to the
Polly Ann and I went to the man on the ground, and turned him over. His
eyes slid upwards. There was a bloody froth on his lips.
"Davy!" cried she, awestricken, "Davy, ye've killed him!"
I grew dizzy and sick at the thought, but she caught me and held me to
her. Presently we sat down on the door log, gazing at the corpse. Then
I began to reflect, and took out my powder gourd and loaded the pistol.
"What are ye a-doing?" she said.
"In case the other one comes back," said I.
"Pooh," said Polly Ann, "he'll not come back." Which was true. I have
never laid eyes on Riley to this day.
"I reckon we'd better fetch it out of the sun," said she, after a while.
And so we dragged it under an oak, covered the face, and left it.
He was the first man I ever killed, and the business by no means came
natural to me. And that day the journey-cakes which Polly Ann had made
were untasted by us both. The afternoon dragged interminably. Try as we
would, we could not get out of our minds the Thing that lay under the
It was near sundown when Tom and Weldon appeared on the mountain side
carrying a buck between them. Tom glanced from one to the other of us
keenly. He was very quick to divine.
"Whar be they?" said he.
"Show him, Davy," said Polly Ann.
I took him over to the oak, and Polly Ann told him the story. He gave me
one look, I remember, and there was more of gratitude in it than in a
thousand words. Then he seized a piece of cold cake from the stone.
"Which trace did he take?" he demanded of me.
But Polly Ann hung on his shoulder.
"Tom, Tom!" she cried, "you beant goin' to leave us again. Tom, he'll
die in the wilderness, and we must git to Kaintuckee."
* * * * * * *
The next vivid thing in my memory is the view of the last barrier Nature
had reared between us and the delectable country. It stood like a lion
at the gateway, and for some minutes we gazed at it in terror from
Powell's Valley below. How many thousands have looked at it with sinking
hearts! How many weaklings has its frown turned back! There seemed to
be engraved upon it the dark history of the dark and bloody land beyond.
Nothing in this life worth having is won for the asking; and the best is
fought for, and bled for, and died for. Written, too, upon that towering
wall of white rock, in the handwriting of God Himself, is the history of
the indomitable Race to which we belong.
For fifty miles we travelled under it, towards the Gap, our eyes drawn to