Part 7 out of 12
the like of you. But I know John Tipton, and he'll have Colonel Sevier
started for North Carolina before our boys can get to Jonesboro."
"Then we'll follow," says Nick, beginning to pace again. Suddenly, at a
cry from the widow, he stopped and stared at me, a light in his eye like
a point of steel. His hand slipped to his waist.
"A spy," he said, and turned and smiled at the lady, who was watching him
with a kind of fascination; "but damnably cool," he continued, looking at
me. "I wonder if he thinks to outride me on that beast? Look you, sir,"
he cried, as Mrs. Brown's negro came back struggling with a deep-ribbed,
high-crested chestnut that was making half circles on his hind legs,
"I'll give you to the edge of the woods, and lay you a six-forty against
a pair of moccasins that you never get back to Tipton."
"God forbid that I ever do," I answered fervently.
"What," he exclaimed, "and you here with him on this sneak's errand!"
"I am here with him on no errand," said I. "He and his crew came on me a
quarter of an hour since at the edge of the clearing. Mr. Temple, I am
here to find you, and to save time I will ride with you."
"Egad, you'll have to ride like the devil then," said he, and he stooped
and snatched the widow's hand and kissed it with a daring gallantry that
I had thought to find in him. He raised his eyes to hers.
"Good-by, Mr. Temple," she said,--there was a tremor in her voice,--"and
may you save our Jack!"
He snatched the bridle from the boy, and with one leap he was on the
rearing, wheeling horse. "Come on," he cried to me, and, waving his hat
at the lady on the porch, he started off with a gallop up the trail in
the opposite direction from that which Tipton's men had taken.
All that I saw of Mr. Nicholas Temple on that ride to Turner's was his
back, and presently I lost sight of that. In truth, I never got to
Turner's at all, for I met him coming back at the wind's pace, a huge,
swarthy, determined man at his side and four others spurring after, the
spume dripping from the horses' mouths. They did not so much as look at
me as they passed, and there was nothing left for me to do but to turn my
tired beast and follow at any pace I could make towards Jonesboro.
It was late in the afternoon before I reached the town, the town set down
among the hills like a caldron boiling over with the wrath of Franklin.
The news of the capture of their beloved Sevier had flown through the
mountains like seeds on the autumn wind, and from north, south, east, and
west the faithful were coming in, cursing Tipton and Carolina as they
I tethered my tired beast at the first picket, and was no sooner on my
feet than I was caught in the hurrying stream of the crowd and fairly
pushed and beaten towards the court-house. Around it a thousand furious
men were packed. I heard cheering, hoarse and fierce cries, threats and
imprecations, and I knew that they were listening to oratory. I was
suddenly shot around the corner of a house, saw the orator himself, and
It was Nicholas Temple. There was something awe-impelling in the tall,
slim, boyish figure that towered above the crowd, in the finely wrought,
passionate face, in the voice charged with such an anger as is given to
"What has North Carolina done for Franklin?" he cried. "Protected her?
No. Repudiated her? Yes. You gave her to the Confederacy for a war
debt, and the Confederacy flung her back. You shook yourselves free from
Carolina's tyranny, and traitors betrayed you again. And now they have
betrayed your leader. Will you avenge him, or will you sit down like
cowards while they hang him for treason?"
His voice was drowned, but he stood immovable with arms folded until
there was silence again.
"Will you rescue him?" he cried, and the roar rose again. "Will you
avenge him? By to-morrow we shall have two thousand here. Invade North
Carolina, humble her, bring her to her knees, and avenge John Sevier!"
Pandemonium reigned. Hats were flung in the air, rifles fired, shouts
and curses rose and blended into one terrifying note. Gradually, in the
midst of this mad uproar, the crowd became aware that another man was
standing upon the stump from which Nicholas Temple had leaped. "Cozby!"
some one yelled, "Cozby!" The cry was taken up. "Huzzay for Cozby!
He'll lead us into Caroliny." He was the huge, swarthy man I had seen
riding hard with Nick that morning. A sculptor might have chosen his
face and frame for a type of the iron-handed leader of pioneers. Will
was supreme in the great features,--inflexible, indomitable will. His
hunting shirt was open across his great chest, his black hair fell to his
shoulders, and he stood with a compelling hand raised for silence. And
when he spoke, slowly, resonantly, men fell back before his words.
"I admire Mr. Temple's courage, and above all his loyalty to our beloved
General," said Major Cozby. "But Mr. Temple is young, and the heated
counsels of youth must not prevail. My friends, in order to save Jack
Sevier we must be moderate."
His voice, strong as it was, was lost. "To hell with moderation!" they
shouted. "Down with North Carolina! We'll fight her!"
He got silence again by the magnetic strength he had in him.
"Very good," he said, "but get your General first. If we lead you across
the mountains now, his blood will be upon your heads. No man is a better
friend to Jack Sevier than I. Leave his rescue to me, and I will get him
for you." He paused, and they were stilled perforce. "I will get him
for you," he repeated slowly, "or North Carolina will pay for the burial
of James Cozby."
There was an instant when they might have swung either way.
"How will ye do it?" came in a thin, piping voice from somewhere near the
stump. It may have been this that turned their minds. Others took up
the question, "How will ye do it, Major Cozby?"
"I don't know," cried the Major, "I don't know. And if I did know, I
wouldn't tell you. But I will get Nollichucky Jack if I have to burn
Morganton and rake the General out of the cinders!"
Five hundred hands flew up, five hundred voices cried, "I'm with ye,
Major Cozby!" But the Major only shook his head and smiled. What he
said was lost in the roar. Fighting my way forward, I saw him get down
from the stump, put his hand kindly on Nick's shoulder, and lead him into
the court-house. They were followed by a score of others, and the door
was shut behind them.
It was then I bethought myself of the letter to Mr. Wright, and I sought
for some one who would listen to my questions as to his whereabouts. At
length the man himself was pointed out to me, haranguing an excited crowd
of partisans in front of his own gate. Some twenty minutes must have
passed before I could get any word with him. He was a vigorous little
man, with black eyes like buttons, he wore brown homespun and white
stockings, and his hair was clubbed. When he had yielded the ground to
another orator, I handed him the letter. He drew me aside, read it on
the spot, and became all hospitality at once. The town was full, and
though he had several friends staying in his house I should join them.
Was my horse fed? Dinner had been forgotten that day, but would I enter
and partake? In short, I found myself suddenly provided for, and I lost
no time in getting my weary mount into Mr. Wright's little stable. And
then I sat down, with several other gentlemen, at Mr. Wright's board,
where there was much guessing as to Major Cozby's plan.
"No other man west of the mountains could have calmed that crowd after
that young daredevil Temple had stirred them up," declared Mr. Wright.
I ventured to say that I had business with Mr. Temple.
"Faith, then, I will invite him here," said my host. "But I warn you,
Mr. Ritchie, that he is a trigger set on the hair. If he does not fancy
you, he may quarrel with you and shoot you. And he is in no temper to be
trifled with to-day."
"I am not an easy person to quarrel with," I answered.
"To look at you, I shouldn't say that you were," said he. "We are going
to the court-house, and I will see if I can get a word with the young
Hotspur and send him to you. Do you wait here."
I waited on the porch as the day waned. The tumult of the place had died
down, for men were gathering in the houses to discuss and conjecture.
And presently, sauntering along the street in a careless fashion, his
spurs trailing in the dust, came Nicholas Temple. He stopped before the
house and stared at me with a fine insolence, and I wondered whether I
myself had not been too hasty in reclaiming him. A greeting died on my
"Well, sir," he said, "so you are the gentleman who has been dogging me
"I dog no one, Mr. Temple," I replied bitterly.
"We'll not quibble about words," said he. "Would it be impertinent to
ask your business--and perhaps your name?"
"Did not Mr. Wright give you my name?" I exclaimed.
"He might have mentioned it, I did not hear. Is it of such importance?"
At that I lost my temper entirely.
"It may be, and it may not," I retorted. "I am David Ritchie."
He changed before my eyes as he stared at me, and then, ere I knew it, he
had me by both arms, crying out:--
"David Ritchie! My Davy--who ran away from me--and we were going to
Kentucky together. Oh, I have never forgiven you,"--the smile that there
was no resisting belied his words as he put his face close to mine--"I
never will forgive you. I might have known you--you've grown, but I vow
you're still an old man,--Davy, you renegade. And where the devil did
you run to?"
"Kentucky," I said, laughing.
"Oh, you traitor--and I trusted you. I loved you, Davy. Do you remember
how I clung to you in my sleep? And when I woke up, the world was black.
I followed your trail down the drive and to the cross-roads--"
"It was not ingratitude, Nick," I said; "you were all I had in the
world." And then I faltered, the sadness of that far-off time coming
over me in a flood, and the remembrance of his generous sorrow for me.
"And how the devil did you track me to the Widow Brown's?" he demanded,
"A Mr. Jackson had a shrewd notion you were there. And by the way, he
was in a fine temper because you had skipped a race with him."
"That sorrel-topped, lantern-headed Mr. Jackson?" said Nick. "He'll be
killed in one of his fine tempers. Damn a man who can't keep his temper.
I'll race him, of course. And where are you bound now, Davy?"
"For Louisville, in Kentucky, at the Falls of the Ohio. It is a growing
place, and a promising one for a young man in the legal profession to
"When do you leave?" said he.
"To-morrow morning, Nick," said I. "You wanted once to go to Kentucky;
why not come with me?"
His face clouded.
"I do not budge from this town," said he, "I do not budge until I hear
that Jack Sevier is safe. Damn Cozby! If he had given me my way, we
should have been forty miles from here by this. I'll tell you. Cozby is
even now picking five men to go to Morganton and steal Sevier, and he
puts me off with a kind word. He'll not have me, he says."
"He thinks you too hot. It needs discretion and an old head," said I.
"Egad, then, I'll commend you to him," said Nick.
"Now," I said, "it's time for you to tell me something of yourself, and
how you chanced to come into this country."
"'Twas Darnley's fault," said Nick.
"Darnley!" I exclaimed; "he whom you got into the duel with--" I stopped
abruptly, with a sharp twinge of remembrance that was like a pain in my
side. 'Twas Nick took up the name.
"With Harry Riddle." He spoke quietly, that was the terrifying part of
it. "David, I've looked for that man in Italy and France, I've scoured
London for him, and, by God, I'll find him before he dies. And when I do
find him I swear to you that there will be no such thing as time wasted,
I shuddered. In all my life I had never known such a moment of
indecision. Should I tell him? My conscience would give me no definite
reply. The question had haunted me all the night, and I had lost my way
in consequence, nor had the morning's ride from the Widow Brown's
sufficed to bring me to a decision. Of what use to tell him? Would
Riddle's death mend matters? The woman loved him, that had been clear to
me; yet, by telling Nick what I knew I might induce him to desist from
his search, and if I did not tell, Nick might some day run across the
trail, follow it up, take Riddle's life, and lose his own. The moment,
made for confession as it was, passed.
"They have ruined my life," said Nick. "I curse him, and I curse her."
"Hold!" I cried; "she is your mother."
"And therefore I curse her the more," he said. "You know what she is,
you've tasted of her charity, and you are my father's nephew. If you
have been without experience, I will tell you what she is. A common--"
I reached out and put my hand across his mouth.
"Silence!" I cried; "you shall say no such thing. And have you not
manhood enough to make your own life for yourself?"
"Manhood!" he repeated, and laughed. It was a laugh that I did not like.
"They made a man of me, my parents. My father played false with the
Rebels and fled to England for his reward. A year after he went I was
left alone at Temple Bow to the tender mercies of the niggers. Mr. Mason
came back and snatched what was left of me. He was a good man; he saved
me an annuity out of the estate, he took me abroad after the war on a
grand tour, and died of a fever in Rome. I made my way back to
Charlestown, and there I learned to gamble, to hold liquor like a
gentleman, to run horses and fight like a gentleman. We were speaking of
Darnley," he said.
"Yes, of Darnley," I repeated.
"The devil of a man," said Nick; "do you remember him, with the cracked
voice and fat calves?"
At any other time I should have laughed at the recollection.
"Darnley turned Whig, became a Continental colonel, and got a grant out
here in the Cumberland country of three thousand acres. And now I own
"You own it!" I exclaimed.
"Rattle-and-snap," said Nick; "I played him for the land at the ordinary
one night, and won it. It is out here near a place called Nashboro,
where this wild, long-faced Mr. Jackson says he is going soon. I crossed
the mountains to have a look at it, fell in with Nollichucky Jack, and
went off with him for a summer campaign. There's a man for you, Davy,"
he cried, "a man to follow through hell-fire. If they touch a hair of
his head we'll sack the State of North Carolina from Morganton to the
"But the land?" I asked.
"Oh, a fig for the land," answered Nick; "as soon as Nollichucky Jack is
safe I'll follow you into Kentucky." He slapped me on the knee. "Egad,
Davy, it seems like a fairy tale. We always said we were going to
Kentucky, didn't we? What is the name of the place you are to startle
with your learning and calm by your example?"
"Louisville," I answered, laughing, "by the Falls of the Ohio."
"I shall turn up there when Jack Sevier is safe and I have won some more
land from Mr. Jackson. We'll have a rare old time together, though I
have no doubt you can drink me under the table. Beware of these sober
men. Egad, Davy, you need only a woolsack to become a full-fledged
judge. And now tell me how fortune has buffeted you."
It was my second night without sleep, for we sat burning candles in Mr.
Wright's house until the dawn, making up the time which we had lost away
from each other.
I MEET A HERO
When left to myself, I was wont to slide into the commonplace; and where
my own dull life intrudes to clog the action I cut it down here and pare
it away there until I am merely explanatory, and not too much in
evidence. I rode out the Wilderness Trail, fell in with other
travellers, was welcomed by certain old familiar faces at Harrodstown,
and pressed on. I have a vivid recollection of a beloved, vigorous
figure swooping out of a cabin door and scattering a brood of children
right and left. "Polly Ann!" I said, and she halted, trembling.
"Tom," she cried, "Tom, it's Davy come back," and Tom himself flew out of
the door, ramrod in one hand and rifle in the other. Never shall I
forget them as they stood there, he grinning with sheer joy as of yore,
and she, with her hair flying and her blue gown snapping in the wind, in
a tremor between tears and laughter. I leaped to the ground, and she
hugged me in her arms as though I had been a child, calling my name again
and again, and little Tom pulling at the skirts of my coat. I caught the
youngster by the collar.
"Polly Ann," said I, "he's grown to what I was when you picked me up, a
"And now it's little Davy no more," she answered, swept me a courtesy,
and added, with a little quiver in her voice, "ye are a gentleman now."
"My heart is still where it was," said I.
"Ay, ay," said Tom, "I'm sure o' that, Davy."
I was with them a fortnight in the familiar cabin, and then I took up my
journey northward, heavy at leaving again, but promising to see them from
time to time. For Tom was often at the Falls when he went a-scouting
into the Illinois country. It was, as of old, Polly Ann who ran the mill
and was the real bread-winner of the family.
Louisville was even then bursting with importance, and as I rode into it,
one bright November day, I remembered the wilderness I had seen here not
ten years gone when I had marched hither with Captain Harrod's company to
join Clark on the island. It was even then a thriving little town of log
and clapboard houses and schools and churches, and wise men were saying
of it--what Colonel Clark had long ago predicted--that it would become
the first city of commercial importance in the district of Kentucky.
I do not mean to give you an account of my struggles that winter to
obtain a foothold in the law. The time was a heyday for young
barristers, and troubles in those early days grew as plentifully in
Kentucky as corn. In short, I got a practice, for Colonel Clark was here
to help me, and, thanks to the men who had gone to Kaskaskia and
Vincennes, I had a fairly large acquaintance in Kentucky. I hired rooms
behind Mr. Crede's store, which was famed for the glass windows which had
been fetched all the way from Philadelphia. Mr. Crede was the embodiment
of the enterprising spirit of the place, and often of an evening he
called me in to see the new fashionable things his barges had brought
down the Ohio. The next day certain young sparks would drop into my room
to waylay the belles as they came to pick a costume to be worn at Mr.
Nickle's dancing school, or at the ball at Fort Finney.
The winter slipped away, and one cool evening in May there came a negro
to my room with a note from Colonel Clark, bidding me sup with him at the
tavern and meet a celebrity.
I put on my best blue clothes that I had brought with me from Richmond,
and repaired expectantly to the tavern about eight of the clock, pushed
through the curious crowd outside, and entered the big room where the
company was fast assembling. Against the red blaze in the great
chimney-place I spied the figure of Colonel Clark, more portly than of
yore, and beside him stood a gentleman who could be no other than General
He was a man to fill the eye, handsome of face, symmetrical of figure,
easy of manner, and he wore a suit of bottle-green that became him
admirably. In short, so fascinated and absorbed was I in watching him as
he greeted this man and the other that I started as though something had
pricked me when I heard my name called by Colonel Clark.
"Come here, Davy," he cried across the room, and I came and stood abashed
before the hero. "General, allow me to present to you the drummer boy of
Kaskaskia and Vincennes, Mr. David Ritchie."
"I hear that you drummed them to victory through a very hell of torture,
Mr. Ritchie," said the General. "It is an honor to grasp the hand of one
who did such service at such a tender age."
General Wilkinson availed himself of that honor, and encompassed me with
a smile so benignant, so winning in its candor, that I could only mutter
my acknowledgment, and Colonel Clark must needs apologize, laughing, for
my youth and timidity.
"Mr. Ritchie is not good at speeches, General," said he, "but I make no
doubt he will drink a bumper to your health before we sit down.
Gentlemen," he cried, filling his glass from a bottle on the table, "a
toast to General Wilkinson, emancipator and saviour of Kentucky!"
The company responded with a shout, tossed off the toast, and sat down at
the long table. Chance placed me between a young dandy from
Lexington--one of several the General had brought in his train--and Mr.
Wharton, a prominent planter of the neighborhood with whom I had a
speaking acquaintance. This was a backwoods feast, though served in
something better than the old backwoods style, and we had venison and
bear's meat and prairie fowl as well as pork and beef, and breads that
came stinging hot from the Dutch ovens. Toasts to this and that were
flung back and forth, and jests and gibes, and the butt of many of these
was that poor Federal government which (as one gentleman avowed) was like
a bantam hen trying to cover a nestful of turkey's eggs, and clucking
with importance all the time. This picture brought on gusts of laughter.
"And what say you of the Jay?" cried one; "what will he hatch?"
Hisses greeted the name, for Mr. Jay wished to enter into a treaty with
Spain, agreeing to close the river for five and twenty years. Colonel
Clark stood up, and rapped on the table.
"Gentlemen," said he, "Louisville has as her guest of honor to-night a
man of whom Kentucky may well be proud [loud cheering]. Five years ago
he favored Lexington by making it his home, and he came to us with the
laurel of former achievements still clinging to his brow. He fought and
suffered for his country, and attained the honorable rank of Major in the
Continental line. He was chosen by the people of Pennsylvania to
represent them in the august body of their legislature, and now he has
got new honor in a new field [renewed cheering]. He has come to Kentucky
to show her the way to prosperity and glory. Kentucky had a grievance
[loud cries of "Yes, yes!"]. Her hogs and cattle had no market, her
tobacco and agricultural products of all kinds were rotting because the
Spaniards had closed the Mississippi to our traffic. Could the Federal
government open the river? [shouts of "No, no!" and hisses]. Who opened
it? [cries of "Wilkinson, Wilkinson!"]. He said to the Kentucky
planters, 'Give your tobacco to me, and I will sell it.' He put it in
barges, he floated down the river, and, as became a man of such
distinction, he was met by Governor-general Miro on the levee at New
Orleans. Where is that tobacco now, gentlemen?" Colonel Clark was here
interrupted by such roars and stamping that he paused a moment, and
during this interval Mr. Wharton leaned over and whispered quietly in my
"Ay, where is it?"
I stared at Mr. Wharton blankly. He was a man nearing the middle age,
with a lacing of red in his cheeks, a pleasant gray eye, and a singularly
"Thanks to the genius of General Wilkinson," Colonel Clark continued,
waving his hand towards the smilingly placid hero, "that tobacco has been
deposited in the King's store at ten dollars per hundred,--a privilege
heretofore confined to Spanish subjects. Well might Wilkinson return
from New Orleans in a chariot and four to a grateful Kentucky! This year
we have tripled, nay, quadrupled, our crop of tobacco, and we are here
to-night to give thanks to the author of this prosperity." Alas, Colonel
Clark's hand was not as steady as of yore, and he spilled the liquor on
the table as he raised his glass. "Gentlemen, a health to our
They drank it willingly, and withal so lengthily and noisily that Mr.
Wilkinson stood smiling and bowing for full three minutes before he could
be heard. He was a very paragon of modesty, was the General, and a man
whose attitudes and expressions spoke as eloquently as his words. None
looked at him now but knew before he opened his mouth that he was
deprecating such an ovation.
"Gentlemen,--my friends and fellow-Kentuckians," he said, "I thank you
from the bottom of my heart for your kindness, but I assure you that I
have done nothing worthy of it [loud protests]. I am a simple, practical
man, who loves Kentucky better than he loves himself. This is no virtue,
for we all have it. We have the misfortune to be governed by a set of
worthy gentlemen who know little about Kentucky and her wants, and think
less [cries of "Ay, ay!"]. I am not decrying General Washington and his
cabinet; it is but natural that the wants of the seaboard and the welfare
and opulence of the Eastern cities should be uppermost in their minds
[another interruption]. Kentucky, if she would prosper, must look to her
own welfare. And if any credit is due to me, gentlemen, it is because I
reserved my decision of his Excellency, Governor-general Miro, and his
people until I saw them for myself. A little calm reason, a plain
statement of the case, will often remove what seems an insuperable
difficulty, and I assure you that Governor-general Miro is a most
reasonable and courteous gentleman, who looks with all kindliness and
neighborliness on the people of Kentucky. Let us drink a toast to him. To
him your gratitude is due, for he sends you word that your tobacco will
"In General Wilkinson's barges," said Mr. Wharton leaning over and
subsiding again at once.
The General was the first to drink the toast, and he sat down very
modestly amidst a thunder of applause.
The young man on the other side of me, somewhat flushed, leaped to his
"Down with the Federal government!" he cried; "what have they done for
us, indeed? Before General Wilkinson went to New Orleans the Spaniards
seized our flat boats and cargoes and flung our traders into prison, ay,
and sent them to the mines of Brazil. The Federal government takes sides
with the Indians against us. And what has that government done for you,
Colonel?" he demanded, turning to Clark, "you who have won for them half
of their territory? They have cast you off like an old moccasin. The
Continental officers who fought in the East have half-pay for life or
five years' full pay. And what have you?"
There was a breathless hush. A swift vision came to me of a man, young,
alert, commanding, stern under necessity, self-repressed at all times--a
man who by the very dominance of his character had awed into submission
the fierce Northern tribes of a continent, who had compelled men to
follow him until the life had all but ebbed from their bodies, who had
led them to victory in the end. And I remembered a boy who had stood
awe-struck before this man in the commandant's house at Fort Sackville.
Ay, and I heard again his words as though he had just spoken them,
"Promise me that you will not forget me if I am--unfortunate." I did
not understand then. And now because of a certain blinding of my eyes, I
did not see him clearly as he got slowly to his feet. He clutched the
table. He looked around him--I dare not say--vacantly. And then,
suddenly, he spoke with a supreme anger and a supreme bitterness.
"Not a shilling has this government given me," he cried. "Virginia was
more grateful; from her I have some acres of wild land and--a sword." He
laughed. "A sword, gentlemen, and not new at that. Oh, a grateful
government we serve, one careful of the honor of her captains.
Gentlemen, I stand to-day a discredited man because the honest debts I
incurred in the service of that government are repudiated, because my
friends who helped it, Father Gibault, Vigo, and Gratiot, and others have
never been repaid. One of them is ruined."
A dozen men had sprung clamoring to their feet before he sat down. One,
more excited than the rest, got the ear of the company.
"Do we lack leaders?" he cried. "We have them here with us to-night, in
this room. Who will stop us? Not the contemptible enemies in Kentucky
who call themselves Federalists. Shall we be supine forever? We have
fought once for our liberties, let us fight again. Let us make a common
cause with our real friends on the far side of the Mississippi."
I rose, sick at heart, but every man was standing. And then a strange
thing happened. I saw General Wilkinson at the far end of the room; his
hand was raised, and there was that on his handsome face which might have
been taken for a smile, and yet was not a smile. Others saw him too, I
know not by what exertion of magnetism. They looked at him and they held
"I fear that we are losing our heads, gentlemen," he said; "and I propose
to you the health of the first citizen of Kentucky, Colonel George Rogers
I found myself out of the tavern and alone in the cool May night. And as
I walked slowly down the deserted street, my head in a whirl, a hand was
laid on my shoulder. I turned, startled, to face Mr. Wharton, the
"I would speak a word with you, Mr. Ritchie," he said. "May I come to
your room for a moment?"
"Certainly, sir," I answered.
After that we walked along together in silence, my own mind heavily
occupied with what I had seen and heard. We came to Mr. Crede's store,
went in at the picket gate beside it and down the path to my own door,
which I unlocked. I felt for the candle on the table, lighted it, and
turned in surprise to discover that Mr. Wharton was poking up the fire
and pitching on a log of wood. He flung off his greatcoat and sat down
with his feet to the blaze. I sat down beside him and waited, thinking
him a sufficiently peculiar man.
"You are not famous, Mr. Ritchie," said he, presently.
"No, sir," I answered.
"Nor particularly handsome," he continued, "nor conspicuous in any way."
I agreed to this, perforce.
"You may thank God for it," said Mr. Wharton.
"That would be a strange outpouring, sir," said I.
He looked at me and smiled.
"What think you of this paragon, General Wilkinson?" he demanded
"I have Federal leanings, sir," I answered
"Egad," said he, "we'll add caution to your lack of negative
accomplishments. I have had an eye on you this winter, though you did
not know it. I have made inquiries about you, and hence I am not here
to-night entirely through impulse. You have not made a fortune at the
law, but you have worked hard, steered wide of sensation, kept your mouth
shut. Is it not so?"
Astonished, I merely nodded in reply.
"I am not here to waste your time or steal your sleep," he went on,
giving the log a push with his foot, "and I will come to the point. When
I first laid eyes on this fine gentleman, General Wilkinson, I too fell a
victim to his charms. It was on the eve of this epoch-making trip of
which we heard so glowing an account to-night, and I made up my mind
that no Spaniard, however wily, could resist his persuasion. He said to
me, 'Wharton, give me your crop of tobacco and I promise you to sell it
in spite of all the royal mandates that go out of Madrid.' He went, he
saw, he conquered the obdurate Miro as he has apparently conquered the
rest of the world, and he actually came back in a chariot and four as
befitted him. A heavy crop of tobacco was raised in Kentucky that year.
I helped to raise it," added Mr. Wharton, dryly. "I gave the General my
second crop, and he sent it down. Mr. Ritchie, I have to this day never
received a piastre for my merchandise, nor am I the only planter in this
situation. Yet General Wilkinson is prosperous."
My astonishment somewhat prevented me from replying to this, too. Was it
possible that Mr. Wharton meant to sue the General? I reflected while he
paused. I remembered how inconspicuous he had named me, and hope died.
Mr. Wharton did not look at me, but stared into the fire, for he was
plainly not a man to rail and rant.
"Mr. Ritchie, you are young, but mark my words, that man Wilkinson will
bring Kentucky to ruin if he is not found out. The whole district from
Crab Orchard to Bear Grass is mad about him. Even Clark makes a fool of
"Colonel Clark, sir!" I cried.
He put up a hand.
"So you have some hot blood," he said. "I know you love him. So do I,
or I should not have been there tonight. Do I blame his bitterness? Do
I blame--anything he does? The treatment he has had would bring a blush
of shame to the cheek of any nation save a republic. Republics are
wasteful, sir. In George Rogers Clark they have thrown away a general
who might some day have decided the fate of this country, they have left
to stagnate a man fit to lead a nation to war. And now he is ready to
intrigue against the government with any adventurer who may have
convincing ways and a smooth tongue."
"Mr. Wharton," I said, rising, "did you come here to tell me this?"
But Mr. Wharton continued to stare into the fire.
"I like you the better for it, my dear sir," said he, "and I assure you
that I mean no offence. Colonel Clark is enshrined in our hearts,
Democrats and Federalists alike. Whatever he may do, we shall love him
always. But this other man,--pooh!" he exclaimed, which was as near a
vigorous expression as he got. "Now, sir, to the point. I, too, am a
Federalist, a friend of Mr. Humphrey Marshall, and, as you know, we are
sadly in the minority in Kentucky now. I came here to-night to ask you
to undertake a mission in behalf of myself and certain other gentlemen,
and I assure you that my motives are not wholly mercenary." He paused,
smiled, and put the tips of his fingers together. "I would willingly
lose every crop for the next ten years to convict this Wilkinson of
treason against the Federal government."
"Treason!" I repeated involuntarily.
"Mr. Ritchie," answered the planter, "I gave you credit for some
shrewdness. Do you suppose the Federal government does not realize the
danger of this situation in Kentucky. They have tried in vain to open
the Mississippi, and are too weak to do it. This man Wilkinson goes down
to see Miro, and Miro straightway opens the river to us through him. How
do you suppose Wilkinson did it? By his charming personality?"
I said something, I know not what, as the light began to dawn on me. And
then I added, "I had not thought about the General."
"Ah," replied Mr. Wharton, "just so. And now you may easily imagine that
General Wilkinson has come to a very pretty arrangement with Miro. For a
certain stipulated sum best known to Wilkinson and Miro, General
Wilkinson agrees gradually to detach Kentucky from the Union and join it
to his Catholic Majesty's dominion of Louisiana. The bribe--the opening
of the river. What the government could not do Wilkinson did by the
lifting of his finger."
Still Mr. Wharton spoke without heat.
"Mind you," he said, "we have no proof of this, and that is my reason for
coming here to-night, Mr. Ritchie. I want you to get proof of it if you
"You want me--" I said, bewildered.
"I repeat that you are not handsome," -- I think he emphasized this
unduly, -- "that you are self-effacing, inconspicuous; in short, you are
not a man to draw suspicion. You might travel anywhere and scarcely be
noticed, -- I have observed that about you. In addition to this you are
wary, you are discreet, you are painstaking. I ask you to go first to
St. Louis, in Louisiana territory, and this for two reasons. First,
because it will draw any chance suspicion from your real objective, New
Orleans; and second, because it is necessary to get letters to New
Orleans from such leading citizens of St. Louis as Colonel Chouteau and
Monsieur Gratiot, and I will give you introductions to them. You are
then to take passage to New Orleans in a barge of furs which Monsieur
Gratiot is sending down. Mind, we do not expect that you will obtain
proof that Miro is paying Wilkinson money. If you do, so much the
better; but we believe that both are too sharp to leave any tracks. You
will make a report, however, upon the conditions under which our tobacco
is being received, and of all other matters which you may think germane
to the business in hand. Will you go?"
I had made up my mind.
"Yes, I will go," I answered.
"Good," said Mr. Wharton, but with no more enthusiasm than he had
previously shown; "I thought I had not misjudged you. Is your law
business so onerous that you could not go to-morrow?"
"I think I could settle what affairs I have by noon, Mr. Wharton," I
"Egad, Mr. Ritchie, I like your manner," said he; "and now for a few
details, and you may go to bed."
He sat with me half an hour longer, carefully reviewing his instructions,
and then he left me to a night of contemplation.
TO ST. LOUIS
By eleven o'clock the next morning I had wound up my affairs, having
arranged with a young lawyer of my acquaintance to take over such cases
as I had, and I was busy in my room packing my saddle-bags for the
journey. The warm scents of spring were wafted through the open door and
window, smells of the damp earth giving forth the green things, and
tender shades greeted my eyes when I paused and raised my head to think.
Purple buds littered the black ground before my door-step, and against
the living green of the grass I saw the red stain of a robin's breast as
he hopped spasmodically hither and thither, now pausing immovable with
his head raised, now tossing triumphantly a wriggling worm from the sod.
Suddenly he flew away, and I heard a voice from the street side that
brought me stark upright.
"Hold there, neighbor; can you direct me to the mansion of that
celebrated barrister, Mr. Ritchie?"
There was no mistaking that voice--it was Nicholas Temple's. I heard a
laugh and an answer, the gate slammed, and Mr. Temple himself in a long
gray riding-coat, booted and spurred, stood before me.
"Davy," he cried, "come out here and hug me. Why, you look as if I were
your grandmother's ghost."
"And if you were," I answered, "you could not have surprised me more.
Where have you been?"
"At Jonesboro, acting the gallant with the widow, winning and losing
skins and cow-bells and land at rattle-and-snap, horse-racing with that
wild Mr. Jackson. Faith, he near shot the top of my head off because I
beat him at Greasy Cove."
I laughed, despite my anxiety.
"And Sevier?" I demanded.
"You have not heard how Sevier got off?" exclaimed Nick. "Egad, that was
a crowning stroke of genius! Cozby and Evans, Captains Greene and
Gibson, and Sevier's two boys whom you met on the Nollichucky rode over
the mountains to Morganton. Greene and Gibson and Sevier's boys hid
themselves with the horses in a clump outside the town, while Cozby and
Evans, disguised as bumpkins in hunting shirts, jogged into the town with
Sevier's racing mare between them. They jogged into the town, I say,
through the crowds of white trash, and rode up to the court-house where
Sevier was being tried for his life. Evans stood at the open door and
held the mare and gaped, while Cozby stalked in and shouldered his way
to the front within four feet of the bar, like a big, awkward countryman.
Jack Sevier saw him, and he saw Evans with the mare outside. Then, by
thunder, Cozby takes a step right up to the bar and cries out, 'Judge,
aren't you about done with that man?' Faith, it was like judgment day,
such a mix-up as there was after that, and Nollichucky Jack made three
leaps and got on the mare, and in the confusion Cozby and Evans were off
too, and the whole State of North Carolina couldn't catch 'em then."
Nick sighed. "I'd have given my soul to have been there," he said.
"Come in," said I, for lack of something better.
"Cursed if you haven't given me a sweet reception, Davy," said he. "Have
you lost your practice, or is there a lady here, you rogue," and he poked
into the cupboard with his stick. "Hullo, where are you going now?" he
added, his eye falling on the saddle-bags.
I had it on my lips to say, and then I remembered Mr. Wharton's
"I'm going on a journey," said I.
"When?" said Nick.
"I leave in about an hour," said I.
He sat down. "Then I leave too," he said.
"What do you mean, Nick?" I demanded.
"I mean that I will go with you," said he.
"But I shall be gone three months or more," I protested.
"I have nothing to do," said Nick, placidly.
A vague trouble had been working in my mind, but now the full horror of
it dawned upon me. I was going to St. Louis. Mrs. Temple and Harry
Riddle were gone there, so Polly Ann had avowed, and Nick could not help
meeting Riddle. Sorely beset, I bent over to roll up a shirt, and
refrained from answering.
He came and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"What the devil ails you, Davy?" he cried. "If it is an elopement, of
course I won't press you. I'm hanged if I'll make a third."
"It is no elopement," I retorted, my face growing hot in spite of myself.
"Then I go with you," said he, "for I vow you need taking care of. You
can't put me off, I say. But never in my life have I had such a
reception, and from my own first cousin, too."
I was in a quandary, so totally unforeseen was this situation. And then
a glimmer of hope came to me that perhaps his mother and Riddle might not
be in St. Louis after all. I recalled the conversation in the cabin, and
reflected that this wayward pair had stranded on so many beaches, had
drifted off again on so many tides, that one place could scarce hold them
long. Perchance they had sunk, -- who could tell? I turned to Nick, who
stood watching me.
"It was not that I did not want you," I said, "you must believe that. I
have wanted you ever since that night long ago when I slipped out of your
bed and ran away. I am going first to St. Louis and then to New Orleans
on a mission of much delicacy, a mission that requires discretion and
secrecy. You may come, with all my heart, with one condition only -- that
you do not ask my business."
"Done!" cried Nick. "Davy, I was always sure of you; you are the one
fixed quantity in my life. To St. Louis, eh, and to New Orleans? Egad,
what havoc we'll make among the Creole girls. May I bring my nigger?
He'll do things for you too."
"By all means," said I, laughing, "only hurry."
"I'll run to the inn," said Nick, "and be back in ten minutes." He got
as far as the door, slapped his thigh, and looked back. "Davy, we may
run across --"
"Who?" I asked, with a catch of my breath.
"Harry Riddle," he answered; "and if so, may God have mercy on his soul!"
He ran down the path, the gate clicked, and I heard him whistling in the
street on his way to the inn.
After dinner we rode down to the ferry, Nick on the thoroughbred which
had beat Mr. Jackson's horse, and his man, Benjy, on a scraggly pony
behind. Benjy was a small, black negro with a very squat nose, alert and
talkative save when Nick turned on him. Benjy had been born at Temple
Bow; he worshipped his master and all that pertained to him, and he
showered upon me all the respect and attention that was due to a member
of the Temple family. For this I was very grateful. It would have been
an easier journey had we taken a boat down to Fort Massac, but such a
proceeding might have drawn too much attention to our expedition. I have
no space to describe that trip overland, which reminded me at every stage
of the march against Kaskaskia, the woods, the chocolate streams, the
coffee-colored swamps flecked with dead leaves, -- and at length the
prairies, the grass not waist-high now, but young and tender, giving
forth the acrid smell of spring. Nick was delighted. He made me recount
every detail of my trials as a drummer boy, or kept me in continuous
spells of laughter over his own escapades. In short, I began to realize
that we were as near to each other as though we had never been parted.
We looked down upon Kaskaskia from the self-same spot where I had stood
on the bluff with Colonel Clark, and the sounds were even then the
same, -- the sweet tones of the church bell and the lowing of the cattle.
We found a few Virginians and Pennsylvanians scattered in amongst the
French, the forerunners of that change which was to come over this
country. And we spent the night with my old friend, Father Gibault,
still the faithful pastor of his flock; cheerful, though the savings of
his lifetime had never been repaid by that country to which he had given
his allegiance so freely. Travelling by easy stages, on the afternoon of
the second day after leaving Kaskaskia we picked our way down the high
bluff that rises above the American bottom, and saw below us that yellow
monster among the rivers, the Mississippi. A blind monster he seemed,
searching with troubled arms among the islands for his bed, swept onward
by an inexorable force, and on his heaving shoulders he carried great
trees pilfered from the unknown forests of the North.
Down in the moist and shady bottom we came upon the log hut of a
half-breed trapper, and he agreed to ferry us across. As for our horses,
a keel boat must be sent after these, and Monsieur Gratiot would no doubt
easily arrange for this. And so we found ourselves, about five o'clock
on that Saturday evening, embarked in a wide pirogue on the current,
dodging the driftwood, avoiding the eddies, and drawing near to a village
set on a low bluff on the Spanish side and gleaming white among the
trees. And as I looked, the thought came again like a twinge of pain
that Mrs. Temple and Riddle might be there, thinking themselves secure in
this spot, so removed from the world and its doings.
"How now, my man of mysterious affairs?" cried Nick, from the bottom of
the boat; "you are as puckered as a sour persimmon. Have you a treaty
with Spain in your pocket or a declaration of war? What can trouble
"Nothing, if you do not," I answered, smiling.
"Lord send we don't admire the same lady, then," said Nick. "Pierrot,"
he cried, turning to one of the boatmen, "il y a des belles demoiselles
la, n'est-ce pas?"
The man missed a stroke in his astonishment, and the boat swung
lengthwise in the swift current.
"Dame, Monsieur, il y en a," he answered.
"Where did you learn French, Nick?" I demanded.
"Mr. Mason had it hammered into me," he answered carelessly, his eyes on
the line of keel boats moored along the shore. Our guides shot the canoe
deftly between two of these, the prow grounded in the yellow mud, and we
landed on Spanish territory.
We looked about us while our packs were being unloaded, and the place had
a strange flavor in that year of our Lord, 1789. A swarthy boatman in a
tow shirt with a bright handkerchief on his head stared at us over the
gunwale of one of the keel boats, and spat into the still, yellow water;
three high-cheeked Indians, with smudgy faces and dirty red blankets,
regarded us in silent contempt; and by the water-side above us was a sled
loaded with a huge water cask, a bony mustang pony between the shafts,
and a chanting negro dipping gourdfuls from the river. A road slanted up
the little limestone bluff, and above and below us stone houses could be
seen nestling into the hill, houses higher on the river side, and with
galleries there. We climbed the bluff, Benjy at our heels with the
saddle-bags, and found ourselves on a yellow-clay street lined with grass
and wild flowers. A great peace hung over the village, an air of a
different race, a restfulness strange to a Kentuckian. Clematis and
honeysuckle climbed the high palings, and behind the privacy of these,
low, big-chimneyed houses of limestone, weathered gray, could be seen,
their roofs sloping in gentle curves to the shaded porches in front; or
again, houses of posts set upright in the ground and these filled between
with plaster, and so immaculately whitewashed that they gleamed against
the green of the trees which shaded them. Behind the houses was often a
kind of pink-and-cream paradise of flowering fruit trees, so dear to the
French settlers. There were vineyards, too, and thrifty patches of
vegetables, and lines of flowers set in the carefully raked mould.
We walked on, enraptured by the sights around us, by the heavy scent of
the roses and the blossoms. Here was a quaint stone horse-mill, a
stable, or a barn set uncouthly on the street; a baker's shop, with a
glimpse of the white-capped baker through the shaded doorway, and an
appetizing smell of hot bread in the air. A little farther on we heard
the tinkle of the blacksmith's hammer, and the man himself looked up from
where the hoof rested on his leather apron to give us a kindly "Bon soir,
Messieurs," as we passed. And here was a cabaret, with the inevitable
porch, from whence came the sharp click of billiard balls.
We walked on, stopping now and again to peer between the palings, when we
heard, amidst the rattling of a cart and the jingling of bells, a chorus
"A cheval, a cheval, pour aller voir ma mie,
Lon, lon, la!"
A shaggy Indian pony came ambling around the corner between the long
shafts of a charette. A bareheaded young man in tow shirt and trousers
was driving, and three laughing girls were seated on the stools in the
cart behind him. Suddenly, before I quite realized what had happened,
the young man pulled up the pony, the girls fell silent, and Nick was
standing in the middle of the road, with his hat in his hand, bowing
"Je vous salue, Mesdemoiselles," he cried, "mes anges a char-a-banc.
Pouvez-vous me diriger chez Monsieur Gratiot?"
"Sapristi!" exclaimed the young man, but he laughed. The young women
stood up, giggling, and peered at Nick over the young man's shoulder.
One of them wore a fresh red-and-white calamanco gown. She had a
complexion of ivory tinged with red, raven hair, and dusky, long-lashed,
mischievous eyes brimming with merriment.
"Volontiers, Monsieur," she answered, before the others could catch their
breath, "premiere droite et premiere gauche. Allons, Gaspard!" she
cried, tapping the young man sharply on the shoulder, "es tu fou?"
Gaspard came to himself, flicked the pony, and they went off down the
road with shouts of laughter, while Nick stood waving his hat until they
turned the corner.
"Egad," said he, "I'd take to the highway if I could be sure of holding
up such a cargo every time. Off with you, Benjy, and find out where she
lives," he cried, and the obedient Benjy dropped the saddle-bags as
though such commands were not uncommon.
"Pick up those bags, Benjy," said I, laughing.
Benjy glanced uncertainly at his master.
"Do as I tell you, you black scalawag," said Nick, "or I'll tan you.
What are you waiting for?"
"Marse Dave--" began Benjy, rolling his eyes in discomfiture.
"Look you, Nick Temple," said I, "when you shipped with me you promised
that I should command. I can't afford to have the town about our ears."
"Oh, very well, if you put it that way," said Nick. "A little honest
diversion--Pick up the bags, Benjy, and follow the parson."
Obeying Mademoiselle's directions, we trudged on until we came to a
comfortable stone house surrounded by trees and set in a half-block
bordered by a seven-foot paling. Hardly had we opened the gate when a
tall gentleman of grave demeanor and sober dress rose from his seat on
the porch, and I recognized my friend of Cahokia days, Monsieur Gratiot.
He was a little more portly, his hair was dressed now in an eelskin, and
he looked every inch the man of affairs that he was. He greeted us
kindly and bade us come up on the porch, where he read my letter of
"Why," he exclaimed immediately, giving me a cordial grasp of the hand,
"of course. The strategist, the John Law, the reader of character of
Colonel Clark's army. Yes, and worse, the prophet, Mr. Ritchie."
"And why worse, sir?" I asked.
"You predicted that Congress would never repay me for the little loan I
advanced to your Colonel."
"It was not such a little loan, Monsieur," I said.
"N'importe," said he; "I went to Richmond with my box of scrip and
promissory notes, but I was not ill repaid. If I did not get my money,
I acquired, at least, a host of distinguished acquaintances. But, Mr.
Ritchie, you must introduce me to your friend."
"My cousin. Mr. Nicholas Temple," I said.
Monsieur Gratiot looked at him fixedly.
"Of the Charlestown Temples?" he asked, and a sudden vague fear seized
"Yes," said Nick, "there was once a family of that name."
"And now?" said Monsieur Gratiot, puzzled.
"Now," said Nick, "now they are become a worthless lot of refugees and
outlaws, who by good fortune have escaped the gallows."
Before Monsieur Gratiot could answer, a child came running around the
corner of the house and stood, surprised, staring at us. Nick made a
face, stooped down, and twirled his finger. Shouting with a terrified
glee, the boy fled to the garden path, Nick after him.
"I like Mr. Temple," said Monsieur Gratiot, smiling. "He is young, but
he seems to have had a history."
"The Revolution ruined many families -- his was one," I answered, with what
firmness of tone I could muster. And then Nick came back, carrying the
shouting youngster on his shoulders. At that instant a lady appeared in
the doorway, leading another child, and we were introduced to Madame
"Gentlemen," said Monsieur Gratiot, "you must make my house your home. I
fear your visit will not be as long as I could wish, Mr. Ritchie," he
added, turning to me, "if Mr. Wharton correctly states your business. I
have an engagement to have my furs in New Orleans by a certain time. I
am late in loading, and as there is a moon I am sending off my boats
to-morrow night. The men will have to work on Sunday."
"We were fortunate to come in such good season," I answered.
After a delicious supper of gumbo, a Creole dish, of fricassee, of creme
brule, of red wine and fresh wild strawberries, we sat on the porch. The
crickets chirped in the garden, the moon cast fantastic shadows from the
pecan tree on the grass, while Nick, struggling with his French, talked
to Madame Gratiot; and now and then their gay laughter made Monsieur
Gratiot pause and smile as he talked to me of my errand. It seemed
strange to me that a man who had lost so much by his espousal of our
cause should still be faithful to the American republic. Although he
lived in Louisiana, he had never renounced the American allegiance which
he had taken at Cahokia. He regarded with no favor the pretensions of
Spain toward Kentucky. And (remarkably enough) he looked forward even
then to the day when Louisiana would belong to the republic. I exclaimed
"Mr. Ritchie," said he, "the most casual student of your race must come
to the same conclusion. You have seen for yourself how they have overrun
and conquered Kentucky and the Cumberland districts, despite a hideous
warfare waged by all the tribes. Your people will not be denied, and
when they get to Louisiana, they will take it, as they take everything
He was a man strong in argument, was Monsieur Gratiot, for he loved it.
And he beat me fairly.
"Nay," he said finally, "Spain might as well try to dam the Mississippi
as to dam your commerce on it. As for France, I love her, though my
people were exiled to Switzerland by the Edict of Nantes. But France is
rotten through the prodigality of her kings and nobles, and she cannot
hold Louisiana. The kingdom is sunk in debt." He cleared his throat.
"As for this Wilkinson of whom you speak, I know something of him. I
have no doubt that Miro pensions him, but I know Miro likewise, and you
will obtain no proof of that. You will, however, discover in New Orleans
many things of interest to your government and to the Federal party in
Kentucky. Colonel Chouteau and I will give you letters to certain French
gentlemen in New Orleans who can be trusted. There is Saint-Gre, for
instance, who puts a French Louisiana into his prayers. He has never
forgiven O'Reilly and his Spaniards for the murder of his father in
sixty-nine. Saint-Gre is a good fellow, -- a cousin of the present Marquis
in France, -- and his ancestors held many positions of trust in the colony
under the French regime. He entertains lavishly at Les Iles, his
plantation on the Mississippi. He has the gossip of New Orleans at his
tongue's tip, and you will be suspected of nothing save a desire to amuse
yourselves if you go there." He paused interrupted by the laughter of
the others. "When strangers of note or of position drift here and pass
on to New Orleans, I always give them letters to Saint-Gre. He has a
charming daughter and a worthless son."
Monsieur Gratiot produced his tabatiere and took a pinch of snuff. I
summoned my courage for the topic which had trembled all the evening on
"Some years ago, Monsieur Gratiot, a lady and a gentleman were rescued on
the Wilderness Trail in Kentucky. They left us for St. Louis. Did they
Monsieur Gratiot leaned forward quickly.
"They were people of quality?" he demanded.
"And their name?"
"They--they did not say."
"It must have been the Clives," he cried "it can have been no other.
Tell me -- a woman still beautiful, commanding, of perhaps eight and
thirty? A woman who had a sorrow? -- a great sorrow, though we have never
learned it. And Mr. Clive, a man of fashion, ill content too, and pining
for the life of a capital?"
"Yes," I said eagerly, my voice sinking near to a whisper, "yes -- it is
they. And are they here?"
Monsieur Gratiot took another pinch of snuff. It seemed an age before he
"It is curious that you should mention them, for I gave them letters to
New Orleans, -- amongst others, to Saint-Gre. Mrs. Clive was -- what shall
I say? -- haunted. Monsieur Clive talked of nothing but Paris, where they
had lived once. And at last she gave in. They have gone there."
"To Paris?" I said, taking breath.
"Yes. It is more than a year ago," he continued, seeming not to notice
my emotion; "they went by way of New Orleans, in one of Chouteau's boats.
Mrs. Clive seemed a woman with a great sorrow."
"CHERCHEZ LA FEMME"
Sunday came with the soft haziness of a June morning, and the dew sucked
a fresh fragrance from the blossoms and the grass. I looked out of our
window at the orchard, all pink and white in the early sun, and across a
patch of clover to the stone kitchen. A pearly, feathery smoke was
wafted from the chimney, a delicious aroma of Creole coffee pervaded the
odor of the blossoms, and a cotton-clad negro a pieds nus came down the
path with two steaming cups and knocked at our door. He who has tasted
Creole coffee will never forget it. The effect of it was lost upon Nick,
for he laid down the cup, sighed, and promptly went to sleep again, while
I dressed and went forth to make his excuses to the family. I found
Monsieur and Madame with their children walking among the flowers.
"He is charming, your cousin," said she. "Let him sleep, by all means,
until after Mass. Then you must come with us to Madame Chouteau's, my
mother's. Her children and grandchildren dine with her every Sunday."
"Madame Chouteau, my mother-in-law, is the queen regent of St. Louis, Mr.
Ritchie," said Monsieur Gratiot, gayly. "We are all afraid of her, and I
warn you that she is a very determined and formidable personage. She is
the widow of the founder of St. Louis, the Sieur Laclede, although she
prefers her own name. She rules us with a strong hand, dispenses
justice, settles disputes, and -- sometimes indulges in them herself. It
is her right."
"You will see a very pretty French custom of submission to parents," said
Madame Gratiot. "And afterwards there is a ball."
"A ball!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"It may seem very strange to you, Mr. Ritchie, but we believe that Sunday
was made to enjoy. They will have time to attend the ball before you
send them down the river?" she added mischievously, turning to her
"Certainly," said he, "the loading will not be finished before eight
Presently Madame Gratiot went off to Mass, while I walked with Monsieur
Gratiot to a storehouse near the river's bank, whence the skins, neatly
packed and numbered, were being carried to the boats on the sweating
shoulders of the negroes, the half-breeds, and the Canadian
boatmen, -- bulky bales of yellow elk, from the upper plains of the
Missouri, of buffalo and deer and bear, and priceless little packages of
the otter and the beaver trapped in the green shade of the endless
Northern forests, and brought hither in pirogues down the swift river by
the red tribesmen and Canadian adventurers.
Afterwards I strolled about the silent village. Even the cabarets were
deserted. A private of the Spanish Louisiana Regiment in a dirty uniform
slouched behind the palings in front of the commandant's quarters, -- a
quaint stone house set against the hill, with dormer windows in its
curving roof, with a wide porch held by eight sturdy hewn pillars; here
and there the muffled figure of a prowling Indian loitered, or a
barefooted negress shuffled along by the fence crooning a folk-song. All
the world had obeyed the call of the church bell save these -- and Nick. I
bethought myself of Nick, and made my way back to Monsieur Gratiot's.
I found my cousin railing at Benjy, who had extracted from the
saddle-bags a wondrous gray suit of London cut in which to array his
master. Clothes became Nick's slim figure remarkably. This coat was cut
away smartly, like a uniform, towards the tails, and was brought in at
the waist with an infinite art.
"Whither now, my conquistador?" I said.
"To Mass," said he.
"To Mass!" I exclaimed; "but you have slept through the greater part of
"The best part is to come," said Nick, giving a final touch to his
neck-band. Followed by Benjy's adoring eyes, he started out of the door,
and I followed him perforce. We came to the little church, of upright
logs and plaster, with its crudely shingled, peaked roof, with its tiny
belfry crowned by a cross, with its porches on each side shading the line
of windows there. Beside the church, a little at the back, was the
cure's modest house of stone, and at the other hand, under spreading
trees, the graveyard with its rough wooden crosses. And behind these
graves rose the wooded hill that stretched away towards the wilderness.
What a span of life had been theirs who rested here! Their youth,
perchance, had been spent amongst the crooked streets of some French
village, streets lined by red-tiled houses and crossing limpid streams by
quaint bridges. Death had overtaken them beside a monster tawny river of
which their imaginations had not conceived, a river which draws tribute
from the remote places of an unknown land, -- a river, indeed, which,
mixing all the waters, seemed to symbolize a coming race which was to
conquer the land by its resistless flow, even as the Mississippi bore
relentlessly towards the sea.
These were my own thoughts as I listened to the tones of the priest as
they came, droningly, out of the door, while Nick was exchanging jokes in
doubtful French with some half-breeds leaning against the palings. Then
we heard benches scraping on the floor, and the congregation began to
Those who reached the steps gave back, respectfully, and there came an
elderly lady in a sober turban, a black mantilla wrapped tightly about
her shoulders, and I made no doubt that she was Monsieur Gratiot's
mother-in-law, Madame Chouteau, she whom he had jestingly called the
queen regent. I was sure of this when I saw Madame Gratiot behind her.
Madame Chouteau indeed had the face of authority, a high-bridged nose, a
determined chin, a mouth that shut tightly. Madame Gratiot presented us
to her mother, and as she passed on to the gate Madame Chouteau reminded
us that we were to dine with her at two.
After her the congregation, the well-to-do and the poor alike, poured out
of the church and spread in merry groups over the grass: keel boatmen in
tow shirts and party-colored worsted belts, the blacksmith, the
shoemaker, the farmer of a small plot in the common fields in large
cotton pantaloons and light-wove camlet coat, the more favored in
skull-caps, linen small-clothes, cotton stockings, and silver-buckled
shoes, -- every man pausing, dipping into his tabatiere, for a word with
his neighbor. The women, too, made a picture strange to our eyes, the
matrons in jacket and petticoat, a Madras handkerchief flung about their
shoulders, the girls in fresh cottonade or calamanco.
All at once cries of "'Polyte! 'Polyte!" were heard, and a nimble young
man with a jester-like face hopped around the corner of the church,
trundling a barrel. Behind 'Polyte came two rotund little men perspiring
freely, and laden down with various articles,--a bird-cage with two
yellow birds, a hat-trunk, an inlaid card box, a roll of scarlet cloth,
and I know not what else. They deposited these on the grass beside the
barrel, which 'Polyte had set on end and proceeded to mount, encouraged
by the shouts of his friends, who pressed around the barrel.
"It's an auction," I said.
But Nick did not hear me. I followed his glance to the far side of the
circle, and my eye was caught by a red ribbon, a blush that matched it.
A glance shot from underneath long lashes,--but not for me. Beside the
girl, and palpably uneasy, stood the young man who had been called
"Ah," said I, "your angel of the tumbrel."
But Nick had pulled off his hat and was sweeping her a bow. The girl
looked down, smoothing her ribbon, Gaspard took a step forward, and other
young women near us tittered with delight. The voice of Hippolyte
rolling his r's called out in a French dialect:--
"M'ssieurs et Mesdames, ce sont des effets d'un pauvre officier qui est
mort. Who will buy?" He opened the hat-trunk, produced an antiquated
beaver with a gold cord, and surveyed it with a covetousness that was
admirably feigned. For 'Polyte was an actor. "M'ssieurs, to own such a
hat were a patent of nobility. Am I bid twenty livres?"
There was a loud laughter, and he was bid four.
"Gaspard," cried the auctioneer, addressing the young man of the tumbrel,
"Suzanne would no longer hesitate if she saw you in such a hat. And with
the trunk, too. Ah, mon Dieu, can you afford to miss it?"
The crowd howled, Suzanne simpered, and Gaspard turned as pink as clover.
But he was not to be bullied. The hat was sold to an elderly person, the
red cloth likewise; a pot of grease went to a housewife, and there was a
veritable scramble for the box of playing cards; and at last Hippolyte
held up the wooden cage with the fluttering yellow birds.
"Ha!" he cried, his eyes on Gaspard once more, "a gentle present--a
present to make a heart relent. And Monsieur Leon, perchance you will
make a bid, although they are not gamecocks."
Instantly, from somewhere under the barrel, a cock crew. Even the yellow
birds looked surprised, and as for 'Polyte, he nearly dropped the cage.
One elderly person crossed himself. I looked at Nick. His face was
impassive, but suddenly I remembered his boyhood gift, how he had
imitated the monkeys, and I began to shake with inward laughter. There
was an uncomfortable silence.
"Peste, c'est la magie!" said an old man at last, searching with an
uncertain hand for his snuff.
"Monsieur," cried Nick to the auctioneer, "I will make a bid. But first
you must tell me whether they are cocks or yellow birds."
"Parbleu," answered the puzzled Hippolyte, "that I do not know,
Everybody looked at Nick, including Suzanne.
"Very well," said he, "I will make a bid. And if they turn out to be
gamecocks, I will fight them with Monsieur Leon behind the cabaret. Two
There was a laugh, as of relief.
"Three!" cried Gaspard, and his voice broke.
Hippolyte looked insulted.
"M'ssieurs," he shouted, "they are from the Canaries. Diable, un berger
doit etre genereux."
Another laugh, and Gaspard wiped the perspiration from his face.
"Five!" said he.
"Six!" said Nick, and the villagers turned to him in wonderment. What
could such a fine Monsieur want with two yellow birds?
"En avant, Gaspard," said Hippolyte, and Suzanne shot another barbed
glance in our direction.
"Seven," muttered Gaspard.
"Eight!" said Nick, immediately.
"Nine," said Gaspard.
"Ten," said Nick.
"Ten," cried Hippolyte, "I am offered ten livres for the yellow birds.
Une bagatelle! Onze, Gaspard! Onze! onze livres, pour l'amour de
But Gaspard was silent. No appeals, entreaties, or taunts could persuade
him to bid more. And at length Hippolyte, with a gesture of disdain,
handed Nick the cage, as though he were giving it away.
"Monsieur," he said, "the birds are yours, since there are no more lovers
who are worthy of the name. They do not exist."
"Monsieur," answered Nick, "it is to disprove that statement that I have
bought the birds. Mademoiselle," he added, turning to the flushing
Suzanne, "I pray that you will accept this present with every assurance
of my humble regard."
Mademoiselle took the cage, and amidst the laughter of the village at the
discomfiture of poor Gaspard, swept Nick a frightened courtesy,--one that
nevertheless was full of coquetry. And at that instant, to cap the
situation, a rotund little man with a round face under a linen biretta
grasped Nick by the hand, and cried in painful but sincere English:--
"Monsieur, you mek my daughter ver' happy. She want those bird ever
sence Captain Lopez he die. Monsieur, I am Jean Baptiste Lenoir, Colonel
Chouteau's miller, and we ver' happy to see you at the pon'."
"If Monsieur will lead the way," said Nick, instantly, taking the little
man by the arm.
"But you are to dine at Madame Chouteau's," I expostulated.
"To be sure," said he. "Au revoir, Monsieur. Au revoir, Mademoiselle.
Plus tard, Mademoiselle; nous danserons plus tard."
"What devil inhabits you?" I said, when I had got him started on the way
to Madame Chouteau's.
"Your own, at present, Davy," he answered, laying a hand on my shoulder,
"else I should be on the way to the pon' with Lenoir. But the ball is to
come," and he executed several steps in anticipation. "Davy, I am sorry
"Why?" I demanded, though feeling a little self-commiseration also.
"You will never know how to enjoy yourself," said he, with conviction.
Madame Chouteau lived in a stone house, wide and low, surrounded by trees
and gardens. It was a pretty tribute of respect her children and
grandchildren paid her that day, in accordance with the old French usage
of honoring the parent. I should like to linger on the scene, and tell
how Nick made them all laugh over the story of Suzanne Lenoir and the
yellow birds, and how the children pressed around him and made him
imitate all the denizens of wood and field, amid deafening shrieks of
"You have probably delayed Gaspard's wooing another year, Mr. Temple.
Suzanne is a sad coquette," said Colonel Auguste Chouteau, laughing, as
we set out for the ball.
The sun was hanging low over the western hills as we approached the
barracks, and out of the open windows came the merry, mad sounds of
violin, guitar, and flageolet, the tinkle of a triangle now and then, the
shouts of laughter, the shuffle of many feet over the puncheons. Within
the door, smiling and benignant, unmindful of the stifling atmosphere,
sat the black-robed village priest talking volubly to an elderly man in a
scarlet cap, and several stout ladies ranged along the wall: beyond them,
on a platform, Zeron, the baker, fiddled as though his life depended on
it, the perspiration dripping from his brow, frowning, gesticulating at
them with the flageolet and the triangle. And in a dim, noisy, heated
whirl the whole village went round and round and round under the low
ceiling in the valse, young and old, rich and poor, high and low, the
sound of their laughter and the scraping of their feet cut now and again
by an agonized squeak from Zeron's fiddle. From time to time a
staggering, panting couple would fling themselves out, help themselves
liberally to pink sirop from the bowl on the side table, and then fling
themselves in once more, until Zeron stopped from sheer exhaustion, to
tune up for a pas de deux.
Across the room, by the sirop bowl, a pair of red ribbons flaunted, a
pair of eyes sent a swift challenge, Zeron and his assistants struck up
again, and there in a corner was Nick Temple, with characteristic
effrontery attempting a pas de deux with Suzanne. Though Nick was
ignorant, he was not ungraceful, and the village laughed and admired.
And when Zeron drifted back into a valse he seized Suzanne's plump figure
in his arms and bore her, unresisting, like a prize among the dancers,
avoiding alike the fat and unwieldy, the clumsy and the spiteful. For a
while the tune held its mad pace, and ended with a shriek and a snap on a
high note, for Zeron had broken a string. Amid a burst of laughter from
the far end of the room I saw Nick stop before an open window in which a
prying Indian was framed, swing Suzanne at arm's length, and bow abruptly
at the brave with a grunt that startled him into life.
"Va-t'en, mechant!" shrieked Suzanne, excitedly.
Poor Gaspard! Poor Hippolyte! They would gain Suzanne for a dance only
to have her snatched away at the next by the slim and reckless young
gentleman in the gray court clothes. Little Nick cared that the affair
soon became the amusement of the company. From time to time, as he
glided past with Suzanne on his shoulder, he nodded gayly to Colonel
Chouteau or made a long face at me, and to save our souls we could not
"The girl has met her match, for she has played shuttle-cock with all
the hearts in the village," said Monsieur Chouteau. "But perhaps it is
just as well that Mr. Temple is leaving to-night. I have signed a bond,
Mr. Ritchie, by which you can obtain money at New Orleans. And do not
forget to present our letter to Monsieur de Saint Gre. He has a
daughter, by the way, who will be more of a match for your friend's
fascinations than Suzanne."
The evening faded into twilight, with no signs of weariness from the
dancers. And presently there stood beside us Jean Baptiste Lenoir, the
"B'soir, Monsieur le Colonel," he said, touching his skull-cap, "the
water is very low. You fren'," he added, turning to me, "he stay long
time in St. Louis?"
"He is going away to-night,--in an hour or so," I answered, with
thanksgiving in my heart.
"I am sorry," said Monsieur Lenoir, politely, but his looks belied his
words. "He is ver' fond Suzanne. Peut etre he marry her, but I think
not. I come away from France to escape the fine gentlemen; long time ago
they want to run off with my wife. She was like Suzanne."
"How long ago did you come from France, Monsieur?" I asked, to get away
from an uncomfortable subject.
"It is twenty years," said he, dreamily, in French. "I was born in the
Quartier Saint Jean, on the harbor of the city of Marseilles near Notre
Dame de la Nativite." And he told of a tall, uneven house of four
stories, with a high pitched roof, and a little barred door and window at
the bottom giving out upon the rough cobbles. He spoke of the smell of
the sea, of the rollicking sailors who surged through the narrow street
to embark on his Majesty's men-of-war, and of the King's white soldiers
in ranks of four going to foreign lands. And how he had become a farmer,
the tenant of a country family. Excitement grew on him, and he mopped
his brow with his blue rumal handkerchief.
"They desire all, the nobles," he cried, "I make the land good, and they
seize it. I marry a pretty wife, and Monsieur le Comte he want her.
L'bon Dieu," he added bitterly, relapsing into French. "France is for
the King and the nobility, Monsieur. The poor have but little chance
there. In the country I have seen the peasants eat roots, and in the
city the poor devour the refuse from the houses of the rich. It was we
who paid for their luxuries, and with mine own eyes I have seen their
gilded coaches ride down weak men and women in the streets. But it
cannot last. They will murder Louis and burn the great chateaux. I, who
speak to you, am of the people, Monsieur, I know it."
The sun had long set, and with flint and tow they were touching the flame
to the candles, which flickered transparent yellow in the deepening
twilight. So absorbed had I become in listening to Lenoir's description
that I had forgotten Nick. Now I searched for him among the promenading
figures, and missed him. In vain did I seek for a glimpse of Suzanne's
red ribbons, and I grew less and less attentive to the miller's
reminiscences and arraignments of the nobility. Had Nick indeed run away
with his daughter?
The dancing went on with unabated zeal, and through the open door in the
fainting azure of the sky the summer moon hung above the hills like a
great yellow orange. Striving to hide my uneasiness, I made my farewells
to Madame Chouteau's sons and daughters and their friends, and with
Colonel Chouteau I left the hall and began to walk towards Monsieur
Gratiot's, hoping against hope that Nick had gone there to change. But
we had scarce reached the road before we could see two figures in the
distance, hazily outlined in the mid-light of the departed sun and the
coming moon. The first was Monsieur Gratiot himself, the second Benjy.
Monsieur Gratiot took me by the hand.
"I regret to inform you, Mr. Ritchie," said he, politely, "that my keel
boats are loaded and ready to leave. Were you on any other errand I
should implore you to stay with us."
"Is Temple at your house?" I asked faintly.
"Why, no," said Monsieur Gratiot; "I thought he was with you at the
"Where is your master?" I demanded sternly of Benjy.
"I ain't seed him, Marse Dave, sence I put him inter dem fine clothes 'at
he w'ars a-cou'tin'."
"He has gone off with the girl," put in Colonel Chouteau, laughing.
"But where?" I said, with growing anger at this lack of consideration on
"I'll warrant that Gaspard or Hippolyte Beaujais will know, if they can
be found," said the Colonel. "Neither of them willingly lets the girl
out of his sight."
As we hurried back towards the throbbing sounds of Zeron's fiddle I
apologized as best I might to Monsieur Gratiot, declaring that if Nick
were not found within the half-hour I would leave without him. My host
protested that an hour or so would make no difference. We were about to
pass through the group of loungers that loitered by the gate when the
sound of rapid footsteps arrested us, and we turned to confront two
panting and perspiring young men who halted beside us. One was Hippolyte
Beaujais, more fantastic than ever as he faced the moon, and the other
was Gaspard. They had plainly made a common cause, but it was Hippolyte
"Monsieur," he cried, "you seek your friend? Ha, we have found him,--we
will lead you to him."
"Where is he?" said Colonel Chouteau, repressing another laugh.
"On the pond, Monsieur,--in a boat, Monsieur, with Suzanne, Monsieur le
Colonel! And, moreover, he will come ashore for no one."
"Parbleu," said the Colonel, "I should think not for any arguments that
you two could muster. But we will go there."
"How far is it?" I asked, thinking of Monsieur Gratiot.
"About a mile," said Colonel Chouteau, "a pleasant walk."
We stepped out, Hippolyte and Gaspard running in front, the Colonel and
Monsieur Gratiot and myself following; and a snicker which burst out now
and then told us that Benjy was in the rear. On any other errand I
should have thought the way beautiful, for the country road, rutted by
wooden wheels, wound in and out through pleasant vales and over gentle
rises, whence we caught glimpses from time to time of the Mississippi
gleaming like molten gold to the eastward. Here and there, nestling
against the gentle slopes of the hillside clearing, was a low-thatched
farmhouse among its orchards. As we walked, Nick's escapade, instead of
angering Monsieur Gratiot, seemed to present itself to him in a more and
more ridiculous aspect, and twice he nudged me to call my attention to
the two vengefully triumphant figures silhouetted against the moon ahead
of us. From time to time also I saw Colonel Chouteau shaking with
laughter. As for me, it was impossible to be angry at Nick for any
space. Nobody else would have carried off a girl in the face of her
rivals for a moonlight row on a pond a mile away.
At length we began to go down into the valley where Chouteau's pond was,
and we caught glimpses of the shimmering of its waters through the trees,
ay, and presently heard them tumbling lightly over the mill-dam. The
spot was made for romance,--a sequestered vale, clad with forest trees,
cleared a little by the water-side, where Monsieur Lenoir raised his
maize and his vegetables. Below the mill, so Monsieur Gratiot told me,
where the creek lay in pools on its limestone bed, the village washing
was done; and every Monday morning bare-legged negresses strode up this
road, the bundles of clothes balanced on their heads, the paddles in
their hands, followed by a stream of black urchins who tempted Providence
to drown them.
Down in the valley we came to a path that branched from the road and led
under the oaks and hickories towards the pond, and we had not taken
twenty paces in it before the notes of a guitar and the sound of a voice
reached our ears. And then, when the six of us stood huddled in the rank
growth at the water's edge, we saw a boat floating idly in the forest
shadow on the far side.
I put my hand to my mouth.
"Nick!" I shouted.
There came for an answer, with the careless and unskilful thrumming of
the guitar, the end of the verse:--
"Thine eyes are bright as the stars at night,
Thy cheeks like the rose of the dawning, oh!"
"Helas!" exclaimed Hippolyte, sadly, "there is no other boat."
"Nick!" I shouted again, reenforced vociferously by the others.
The music ceased, there came feminine laughter across the water, then
Nick's voice, in French that dared everything:--
"Go away and amuse yourselves at the dance. Peste, it is scarce an hour
ago I threatened to row ashore and break your heads. Allez vous en,
A scream of delight from Suzanne followed this sally, which was received
by Gaspard and Hippolyte with a rattle of sacres, and--despite our
irritation--the Colonel, Monsieur Gratiot, and myself with a burst of
"Parbleu," said the Colonel, choking, "it is a pity to disturb such a
one. Gratiot, if it was my boat, I'd delay the departure till morning."
"Indeed, I shall have had no small entertainment as a solace," said
Monsieur Gratiot. "Listen!"
The tinkle of the guitar was heard again, and Nick's voice, strong and
full and undisturbed:--
"S'posin' I was to go to N' O'leans an' take sick an' die,
Like a bird into the country my spirit would fly.
Go 'way, old man, and leave me alone,
For I am a stranger and a long way from home."
There was a murmur of voices in the boat, the sound of a paddle gurgling
as it dipped, and the dugout shot out towards the middle of the pond and
I shouted once more at the top of my lungs:--
"Come in here, Nick, instantly!"
There was a moment's silence.
"By gad, it's Parson Davy!" I heard Nick exclaim. "Halloo, Davy, how the
deuce did you get there?"
"No thanks to you," I retorted hotly. "Come in."
"Lord," said he, "is it time to go to New Orleans?"
"One might think New Orleans was across the street," said Monsieur
Gratiot. "What an attitude of mind!"
The dugout was coming towards us now, propelled by easy strokes, and Nick
could be heard the while talking in low tones to Suzanne. We could only
guess at the tenor of his conversation, which ceased entirely as they
drew near. At length the prow slid in among the rushes, was seized
vigorously by Gaspard and Hippolyte, and the boat hauled ashore.
"Thank you very much, Messieurs; you are most obliging," said Nick. And
taking Suzanne by the hand, he helped her gallantly over the gunwale.
"Monsieur," he added, turning in his most irresistible manner to Monsieur
Gratiot, "if I have delayed the departure of your boat, I am exceedingly
sorry. But I appeal to you if I have not the best of excuses."
And he bowed to Suzanne, who stood beside him coyly, looking down. As
for 'Polyte and Gaspard, they were quite breathless between rage and
astonishment. But Colonel Chouteau began to laugh.
"Diable, Monsieur, you are right," he cried, "and rather than have missed
this entertainment I would pay Gratiot for his cargo."
"Au revoir, Mademoiselle," said Nick, "I will return when I am released
from bondage. When this terrible mentor relaxes vigilance, I will escape
and make my way back to you through the forests."
"Oh!" cried Mademoiselle to me, "you will let him come back, Monsieur."
"Assuredly, Mademoiselle," I said, "but I have known him longer than you,
and I tell you that in a month he will not wish to come back."
Hippolyte gave a grunt of approval to this plain speech. Suzanne
exclaimed, but before Nick could answer footsteps were heard in the path
and Lenoir himself, perspiring, panting, exhausted, appeared in the midst
"Suzanne!" he cried, "Suzanne!" And turning to Nick, he added quite
simply, "So, Monsieur, you did not run off with her, after all?"
"There was no place to run, Monsieur," answered Nick.
"Praise be to God for that!" said the miller, heartily, "there is some
advantage in living in the wilderness, when everything is said."
"I shall come back and try, Monsieur," said Nick.
The miller raised his hands.
"I assure you that he will not, Monsieur," I put in.
He thanked me profusely, and suddenly an idea seemed to strike him.
"There is the priest," he cried; "Monsieur le cure retires late. There
is the priest, Monsieur."
There was an awkward silence, broken at length by an exclamation from
Gaspard. Colonel Chouteau turned his back, and I saw his shoulders
heave. All eyes were on Nick, but the rascal did not seem at all
"Monsieur," he said, bowing, "marriage is a serious thing, and not to be
entered into lightly. I thank you from my heart, but I am bound now with
Mr. Ritchie on an errand of such importance that I must make a sacrifice
of my own interests and affairs to his."
"If Mr. Temple wishes--" I began, with malicious delight. But Nick took
me by the shoulder.
"My dear Davy," he said, giving me a vicious kick, "I could not think of
it. I will go with you at once. Adieu, Mademoiselle," said he, bending
over Suzanne's unresisting hand. "Adieu, Messieurs, and I thank you for
your great interest in me." (This to Gaspard and Hippolyte.)
"And now, Monsieur Gratiot, I have already presumed too much on your
patience. I will follow you, Monsieur."
We left them, Lenoir, Suzanne, and her two suitors, standing at the pond,
and made our way through the path in the forest. It was not until we
reached the road and had begun to climb out of the valley that the
silence was broken between us.
"Monsieur," said Colonel Chouteau, slyly, "do you have many such
"It might have been closer," said Nick.
"Closer?" ejaculated the Colonel.
"Assuredly," said Nick, "to the extent of abducting Monsieur le cure. As
for you, Davy," he added, between his teeth, "I mean to get even with
It was well for us that the Colonel and Monsieur Gratiot took the
escapade with such good nature. And so we walked along through the
summer night, talking gayly, until at length the lights of the village
twinkled ahead of us, and in the streets we met many parties making merry
on their homeward way. We came to Monsieur Gratiot's, bade our farewells
to Madame, picked up our saddle-bags, the two gentlemen escorting us down
to the river bank where the keel boat was tugging at the ropes that held
her, impatient to be off. Her captain, a picturesque Canadian by the
name of Xavier Paret, was presented to us; we bade our friends farewell,
and stepped across the plank to the deck. As we were casting off,
Monsieur Gratiot called to us that he would take the first occasion to
send our horses back to Kentucky. The oars were manned, the heavy hulk
moved, and we were shot out into the mighty current of the river on our
way to New Orleans.
Nick and I stood for a long time on the deck, and the windows of the
little village gleamed like stars among the trees. We passed the last of
its houses that nestled against the hill, and below that the forest lay
like velvet under the moon. The song of our boatmen broke the silence of
"Voici le temps et la saison,
Voici le temps et la saison,
Ah! vrai, que les journees sont longues,
Ah! vrai, que les journees sont longues!"
THE KEEL BOAT
We were embarked on a strange river, in a strange boat, and bound for a
strange city. To us Westerners a halo of romance, of unreality, hung
over New Orleans. To us it had an Old World, almost Oriental flavor of
mystery and luxury and pleasure, and we imagined it swathed in the
moisture of the Delta, built of quaint houses, with courts of shining
orange trees and magnolias, and surrounded by flowering plantations of
unimagined beauty. It was most fitting that such a place should be the
seat of dark intrigues against material progress, and this notion lent
added zest to my errand thither. As for Nick, it took no great sagacity
on my part to predict that he would forget Suzanne and begin to look
forward to the Creole beauties of the Mysterious City.
First, there was the fur-laden keel boat in which we travelled, gone
forever now from Western navigation. It had its rude square sail to take
advantage of the river winds, its mast strongly braced to hold the long
tow-ropes. But tow-ropes were for the endless up-river journey, when a
numerous crew strained day after day along the bank, chanting the
voyageurs' songs. Now we were light-manned, two half-breeds and two
Canadians to handle the oars in time of peril, and Captain Xavier, who
stood aft on the cabin roof, leaning against the heavy beam of the long,
curved tiller, watching hawklike for snag and eddy and bar. Within the
cabin was a great fireplace of stones, where our cooking was done, and
bunks set round for the men in cold weather and rainy. But in these fair
nights we chose to sleep on deck.
Far into the night we sat, Nick and I, our feet dangling over the forward
edge of the cabin, looking at the glory of the moon on the vast river, at
the endless forest crown, at the haze which hung like silver dust under
the high bluffs on the American side. We slept. We awoke again as the
moon was shrinking abashed before the light that glowed above these
cliffs, and the river was turned from brown to gold and then to burnished
copper, the forest to a thousand shades of green from crest to the banks
where the river was licking the twisted roots to nakedness. The south
wind wafted the sharp wood-smoke from the chimney across our faces. In
the stern Xavier stood immovable against the tiller, his short pipe
clutched between his teeth, the colors of his new worsted belt made
gorgeous by the rising sun.
"B'jour, Michie," he said, and added in the English he had picked up from
the British traders, "the breakfas' he is ready, and Jean make him good.
Will you have the grace to descen'?"
We went down the ladder into the cabin, where the odor of the furs
mingled with the smell of the cooking. There was a fricassee steaming on
the crane, some of Zeron's bread, brought from St. Louis, and coffee that
Monsieur Gratiot had provided for our use. We took our bowls and cups on
deck and sat on the edge of the cabin.
"By gad," cried Nick, "it lacks but the one element to make it a
"And what is that?" I demanded.
"A woman," said he.
Xavier, who overheard, gave a delighted laugh.
"Parbleu, Michie, you have right," he said, "but Michie Gratiot, he say
no. In Nouvelle Orleans we find some."
Nick got to his feet, and if anything he did could have surprised me, I
should have been surprised when he put his arm coaxingly about Xavier's
neck. Xavier himself was surprised and correspondingly delighted.
"Tell me, Xavier," he said, with a look not to be resisted, "do you think
I shall find some beauties there?"
"Beauties!" exclaimed Xavier, "La Nouvelle Orleans--it is the home of
beauty, Michie. They promenade themselves on the levee, they look down
from ze gallerie, mais--"
"But what, Xavier?"
"But, mon Dieu, Michie, they are vair' difficile. They are not like
Englis' beauties, there is the father and the mother, and--the convent."
And Xavier, who had a wen under his eye, laid his finger on it.
"For shame, Xavier," cried Nick; "and you are balked by such things?"
Xavier thought this an exceedingly good joke, and he took his pipe out of
his mouth to laugh the better.
"Me? Mais non, Michie. And yet ze Alcalde, he mek me afraid. Once he
put me in ze calaboose when I tried to climb ze balcon'."
"I will show you how, Xavier," he said; "as to climbing the balconies,
there is a convenance in it, as in all else. For instance, one must be
daring, and discreet, and nimble, and ready to give the law a presentable
answer, and lacking that, a piastre. And then the fair one must be a
fair one indeed."
"Diable, Michie," cried Xavier, "you are ze mischief."
"Nay," said Nick, "I learned it all and much more from my cousin, Mr.
Xavier stared at me for an instant, and considering that he knew nothing
of my character, I thought it extremely impolite of him to laugh.
Indeed, he tried to control himself, for some reason standing in awe of
my appearance, and then he burst out into such loud haw-haws that the
crew poked their heads above the cabin hatch.
"Michie Reetchie," said Xavier, and again he burst into laughter that
choked further speech. He controlled himself and laid his finger on his
"You don't believe it," said Nick, offended.
"Michie Reetchie a gallant!" said Xavier.
"An incurable," said Nick, "an amazingly clever rogue at device when
there is a petticoat in it. Davy, do I do you justice?"
Xavier roared again.
"Quel maitre!" he said.
"Xavier," said Nick, gently taking the tiller out of his hand, "I will
teach you how to steer a keel boat."
"Mon Dieu," said Xavier, "and who is to pay Michie Gratiot for his fur?
The river, she is full of things."
"Yes, I know, Xavier, but you will teach me to steer."
"Volontiers, Michie, as we go now. But there come a time when I, even I,
who am twenty year on her, do not know whether it is right or left. Ze
rock--he vair' hard. Ze snag, he grip you like dat," and Xavier twined
his strong arms around Nick until he was helpless. "Ze bar--he hol' you
by ze leg. An' who is to tell you how far he run under ze yellow water,
Michie? I, who speak to you, know. But I know not how I know. Ze
water, sometime she tell, sometime she say not'ing."
"A bas, Xavier!" said Nick, pushing him away, "I will teach you the
Xavier laughed, and sat down on the edge of the cabin. Nick took easily
to accomplishments, and he handled the clumsy tiller with a certainty and
distinction that made the boatmen swear in two languages and a patois. A
great water-logged giant of the Northern forests loomed ahead of us.
Xavier sprang to his feet, but Nick had swung his boat swiftly, smoothly,
into the deeper water on the outer side.
"Saint Jacques, Michie," cried Xavier, "you mek him better zan I
Fascinated by a new accomplishment, Nick held to the tiller, while Xavier
with a trained eye scanned the troubled, yellow-glistening surface of the
river ahead. The wind died, the sun beat down with a moist and venomous
sting, and northeastward above the edge of the bluff a bank of cloud like
sulphur smoke was lifted. Gradually Xavier ceased his jesting and became
"Looks like a hurricane," said Nick.
"Mon Dieu," said Xavier, "you have right, Michie," and he called in his
rapid patois to the crew, who lounged forward in the cabin's shade.
There came to my mind the memory of that hurricane at Temple Bow long
ago, a storm that seemed to have brought so much sorrow into my life. I
glanced at Nick, but his face was serene.
The cloud-bank came on in black and yellow masses, and the saffron light
I recalled so well turned the living green of the forest to a sickly
pallor and the yellow river to a tinge scarce to be matched on earth.