Part 4 out of 5
of a great man's service, he sold his knowledge readily to an opponent, and
had been like to be out of employment, since unless his masters gave him an
engagement for life he was certain some day to carry the goods they had
paid for to their rivals. But Marlborough had seen his uses, for the great
Duke sat loose to parties and earnestly desired to know the facts. So for
Marlborough he went into the conclaves of both Whig and Jacobite, making
his complexion suit his company.
He was new come from the Scottish south-west, for the Duke was eager to
know if the malcontent moorland Whigs were about to fling their blue
bonnets for King James. A mission of such discomfort Mr. Lovel had never
known, not even when he was a go-between for Ormonde in the Irish bogs. He
had posed as an emissary from the Dutch brethren, son of an exiled
Brownist, and for the first time in his life had found his regicide
great-grandfather useful. The jargon of the godly fell smoothly from his
tongue, and with its aid and that of certain secret letters he had found
his way to the heart of the sectaries. He had sat through weary sermons in
Cameronian sheilings, and been present at the childish parades of the
Hebronite remnant. There was nothing to be feared in that quarter, for to
them all in authority were idolaters and George no worse than James. In
those moorland sojournings, too, he had got light on other matters, for he
had the numbers of Kenmure's levies in his head, had visited my lord Stair
at his grim Galloway castle, and had had a long midnight colloquy with
Roxburghe on Tweedside. He had a pretty tale for his master, once he could
get to him. But with Northumberland up and the Highlanders at Jedburgh and
Kenmure coming from the west, it had been a ticklish business to cross the
Border. Yet by cunning and a good horse it had
been accomplished, and he found himself in Cumberland with the road open
southward to the safe Lowther country. Wherefore Mr. Lovel had relaxed, and
taken his ease in an inn.
He would not have admitted that he was drunk, but he presently confessed
that he was not clear about his road. He had meant to lie at Brampton, and
had been advised at the tavern of a short cut, a moorland bridle-path. Who
had told him of it? The landlord, he thought, or the merry fellow in brown
who had stood brandy to the company? Anyhow, it was to save him five miles,
and that was something in this accursed
weather. The path was clear--he could see it squelching below him, pale in
the last wet daylight--but where the devil did it lead? Into the heart of a
moss, it seemed, and yet Brampton lay out of the moors in the tilled valley.
At first the fumes in his head raised him above the uncertainty of his road
and the eternal downpour. His mind was far away in a select world of his
own imagining. He saw himself in a privy chamber, to which he had been
conducted by reverent lackeys, the door closed, the lamp lit, and the
Duke's masterful eyes bright with expectation. He saw the fine thin lips,
like a woman's, primmed in satisfaction. He heard words of
compliment--"none so swift and certain as you"--"in truth, a
master-hand"--"I know not where to look for your like." Delicious speeches
seemed to soothe his ear. And gold, too, bags of it, the tale of which
would never appear in any accompt-book. Nay, his fancy soared higher. He
saw himself presented to Ministers as one of the country's saviours, and
kissing the hand of Majesty. What Majesty and what Ministers he knew not,
and did not greatly care--that was not his business. The rotundity of the
Hanoverian and the lean darkness of the Stuart were one to him. Both could
reward an adroit servant. . . . His vanity, terribly starved and cribbed
in his normal existence, now blossomed like a flower. His muddled head was
fairly ravished with delectable pictures. He seemed to be set at a great
height above mundane troubles, and to look down on men like a benignant
God. His soul glowed with a happy warmth.
But somewhere he was devilish cold. His wretched body was beginning to cry
out with discomfort. A loop of his hat was broken and the loose flap was a
conduit for the rain down his back. His old ridingcoat was like a
dish-clout, and he felt icy about the middle. Separate streams of water
entered the tops of his ridingboots--they were a borrowed pair and too big
for him--and his feet were in puddles. It was only by degrees that he
realised this misery. Then in the boggy track his horse began to stumble.
The fourth or fifth peck woke irritation, and he jerked savagely at the
bridle, and struck the beast's dripping flanks with his whip. The result
was a jib and a flounder, and the shock squeezed out the water from his
garments as from a sponge. Mr. Lovel descended from the heights of fancy to
prosaic fact, and cursed.
The dregs of strong drink were still in him, and so soon as exhilaration
ebbed they gave edge to his natural fears. He perceived that it had grown
very dark and lonely. The rain, falling sheer, seemed to shut him into a
queer wintry world. All around the land echoed with the steady drum of it,
and the rumour of swollen runnels. A wild bird wailed out of the mist and
startled Mr. Lovel like a ghost. He heard the sound of men talking and drew
rein; it was only a larger burn foaming by the wayside. The sky was black
above him, yet a faint grey light seemed to linger, for water glimmered and
he passed what seemed to be the edge of a loch. . . . At another time the
London-bred citizen would have been only peevish, for Heaven knew he had
faced ill weather before in ill places. But the fiery stuff he had
swallowed had woke a feverish fancy. Exaltation suddenly changed to
He halted and listened. Nothing but the noise of the weather, and the night
dark around him like a shell. For a moment he fancied he caught the sound
of horses, but it was not repeated. Where did this accursed track mean to
lead him? Long ago he should have been in the valley and nearing Brampton.
He was as wet as if he had wallowed in a pool, cold, and very weary. A
sudden disgust at his condition drove away his fears and he swore lustily
at fortune. He longed for the warmth and the smells of his favourite
haunts--Gilpin's with oysters frizzling in a dozen pans, and noble odours
stealing from the tap-room, the Green Man with its tripe-suppers, Wanless's
Coffee House, noted for its cuts of beef and its white puddings. He would
give much to be in a chair by one of those hearths and in the thick of that
blowsy fragrance. Now his nostrils were filled with rain and bog water and
a sodden world. It smelt sour, like stale beer in a mouldy cellar. And
cold! He crushed down his hat on his head and precipitated a new deluge.
A bird skirled again in his ear, and his fright returned. He felt small and
alone in a vast inhospitable universe. And mingled with it all was
self-pity, for drink had made him maudlin. He wanted so little--only a
modest comfort, a little ease. He had forgotten that half an hour before he
had been figuring in princes' cabinets. He would give up this business and
be quit of danger and the high road. The Duke must give him a reasonable
reward, and with it he and his child might dwell happily in some country
place. He remembered a cottage at Guildford all hung with roses. . . . But
the Duke was reputed a miserly patron, and at the thought Mr. Lovel's eyes
overflowed. There was that damned bird again, wailing like a lost soul. The
eeriness of it struck a chill to his heart, so that if he had been able to
think of any refuge he would have set spurs to his horse and galloped for
it in blind terror. He was in the mood in which men compose poetry, for he
felt himself a midget in the grip of immensities. He knew no poetry, save a
few tavern songs; but in his youth he had had the Scriptures drubbed into
him. He remembered ill-omened texts-- one especially about wandering
through dry places seeking rest. Would to Heaven he were in a dry place
now! . . .
The horse sprang aside and nearly threw him. It had blundered against the
stone pillar of a gateway. It was now clear even to Mr. Lovel's confused
wits that he was lost. This might be the road to Tophet, but it was no road
to Brampton. He felt with numbed hands the face of the gateposts. Here was
an entrance to some dwelling, and it stood open. The path led through it,
and if he left the path he would without doubt perish in a bog-hole. In his
desolation he longed for a human face. He might find a good fellow who
would house him; at the worst he would get direction about the road. So he
passed the gateway and entered an avenue.
It ran between trees which took the force of the downpour, so that it
seemed a very sanctuary after the open moor. His spirits lightened. The
infernal birds had stopped crying, but again he heard the thud of hooves.
That was right, and proved the place was tenanted. Presently he turned a
corner and faced a light which shone through the wet, rayed like a heraldic
The sight gave him confidence, for it brought him back to a familiar world.
He rode straight to it, crossing a patch of rough turf, where a fallen log
all but brought him down. As he neared it the light grew till he saw its
cause. He stood before the main door of a house and it was wide open. A
great lantern, hung from a beam just inside, showed a doorway of some size
and magnificence. And below it stood a servant, an old man, who at the
sight of the stranger advanced to hold his stirrup.
"Welcome, my lord," said the man. "All is ready for you."
The last hour had partially sobered the traveller, but, having now come
safe to port, his drunkenness revived. He saw nothing odd in the open door
or the servant's greeting. As he scrambled to the ground he was back in his
first exhilaration. "My lord!" Well, why not? This was an honest man who
knew quality when he met it.
Humming a tune and making a chain of little pools on the stone flags of the
hall, Mr. Lovel followed his guide, who bore his shabby valise, another
servant having led away the horse. The hall was dim with flickering shadows
cast by the lamp in the doorway, and smelt raw and cold as if the house had
been little dwelt in. Beyond it was a stone passage where a second lamp
burned and lit up a forest of monstrous deer horns on the wall. The butler
flung open a door.
"I trust your lordship will approve the preparations," he said. "Supper
awaits you, and when you have done I will show you your chamber. There are
dry shoes by the hearth." He took from the traveller his sopping overcoat
and drew from his legs the pulpy riding-boots. With a bow which might have
graced a court he closed the door, leaving Mr. Lovel alone to his
It was a small square room panelled to the ceiling in dark oak, and lit by
a curious magnificence of candles. They burned in sconces on the walls and
in tall candlesticks on the table, while a log fire on the great stone
hearth so added to the glow that the place was as bright as day. The
windows were heavily shuttered and curtained, and in the far corner was a
second door. On the polished table food had been laid--a noble ham, two
virgin pies, a dish of fruits, and a group of shining decanters. To one
coming out of the wild night it was a transformation like a dream, but Mr.
Lovel, half drunk, accepted it as no more than his due. His feather brain
had been fired by the butler's "my lord," and he did not puzzle his head
with questions. From a slim bottle he filled himself a glass of brandy, but
on second thoughts set it down untasted. He would sample the wine first and
top off with the spirit. Meantime he would get warm.
He stripped off his coat, which was dampish, and revealed a dirty shirt and
the dilapidated tops of his small clothes. His stockings were torn and
soaking, so he took them off, and stuck his naked feet into the furred
slippers which stood waiting by the hearth. Then he sat himself in a great
brocaded arm-chair and luxuriously stretched his legs to the blaze.
But his head was too much afire to sit still. The comfort soaked into his
being through every nerve and excited rather than soothed him. He did not
want to sleep now, though little before he had been crushed by weariness. .
. . There was a mirror beside the fireplace, the glass painted at the edge
with slender flowers and cupids in the Caroline fashion. He saw his
reflection and it pleased him. The long face with the pointed chin, the
deep-set dark eyes, the skin brown with weather--he seemed to detect a
resemblance to Wharton. Or was it Beaufort? Anyhow, now that the shabby
coat was off, he might well be a great man in undress. "My lord!" Why not?
His father had always told him he came of an old high family. Kings, he had
said--of France, or somewhere . . . A gold ring he wore on his left hand
slipped from his finger and jingled on the hearthstone. It was too big for
him, and when his fingers grew small with cold or wet it was apt to fall
off. He picked it up and laid it beside the decanters on the table. That
had been his father's ring, and he congratulated himself that in all his
necessities he had never parted from it. It was said to have come down from
He turned to the table and cut himself a slice of ham. But he found he had
no appetite. He filled himself a bumper of claret. It was a ripe velvety
liquor and cooled his hot mouth. That was the drink for gentlemen. Brandy
in good time, but for the present this soft wine which was in keeping with
the warmth and light and sheen of silver. . . . His excitement was dying
now into complacence. He felt himself in the environment for which
Providence had fitted him. His whole being expanded in the glow of it. He
understood how able he was, how truly virtuous--a master of intrigue, but
one whose eye was always fixed on the star of honour. And then his thoughts
wandered to his son in the mean London lodgings. The boy should have his
chance and walk some day in silks and laces. Curse his aliases! He should
be Lovel, and carry his head as high as any Villiers or Talbot.
The reflection sent his hand to an inner pocket of the coat now drying by
the hearth. He took from it a thin packet of papers wrapped in oil-cloth.
These were the fruits of his journey, together with certain news too secret
to commit to writing which he carried in his head. He ran his eye over
them, approved them, and laid them before him on the table. They started a
train of thought which brought him to the question of his present quarters.
. . . A shadow of doubt flickered over his mind. Whose house was this and
why this entertainment? He had been expected, or someone like him. An old
campaigner took what gifts the gods sent, but there might be questions to
follow. There was a coat of arms on the plate, but so dim that he could not
read it. The one picture in the room showed an old man in a conventional
suit of armour. He did not recognise the face or remember any like it. . .
He filled himself another bumper of claret, and followed it with a
little brandy. This latter was noble stuff, by which he would abide. His
sense of ease and security returned. He pushed the papers farther over,
sweeping the ring with them, and set his elbows on the table, a gentleman
warm, dry, and content, but much befogged in the brain.
He raised his eyes to see the far door open and three men enter. The sight
brought him to his feet with a start, and his chair clattered on the oak
boards. He made an attempt at a bow, backing steadily towards the fireplace
and his old coat.
The faces of the new-comers exhibited the most lively surprise. All three
were young, and bore marks of travel, for though they had doffed their
riding coats, they were splashed to the knees with mud and their unpowdered
hair lay damp on their shoulders. One was a very dark man who might have
been a Spaniard but for his blue eyes. The second was a mere boy with a
ruddy face and eyes full of dancing merriment. The third was tall and
red-haired, tanned of countenance and lean as a greyhound. He wore trews of
a tartan which Mr. Lovel, trained in such matters, recognised as that of
the house of Atholl.
Of the three he only recognised the leader, and the recognition sobered
him. This was that Talbot, commonly known from his swarthiness as the Crow,
who was Ormonde's most trusted lieutenant. He had once worked with him; he
knew his fierce temper, his intractable honesty. His bemused wits turned
desperately to concocting a conciliatory tale.
But he seemed to be unrecognised. The three stared at him in wild-eyed
Who the devil are you, sir?" the Highlander stammered.
Mr. Lovel this time brought off his bow. "A stormstayed traveller," he
said, his eyes fawning, "who has stumbled on this princely hospitality. My
name at your honour's service is Gabriel Lovel."
There was a second of dead silence and then the boy laughed. It was merry
laughter and broke in strangely on the tense air of the room.
"Lovel," he cried, and there was an Irish burr in his speech. "Lovel! And
that fool Jobson mistook it for Lovat! I mistrusted the tale, for Simon is
too discreet even in his cups to confess his name in a changehouse. It
seems we have been stalking the cailzie-cock and found a common thrush."
The dark man Talbot did not smile. "We had good reason to look for Lovat.
Widrington had word from London that he was on his way to the north by the
west marches. Had we found him we had found a prize, for he will play hell
with Mar if he crosses the Highland line. What say you, Lord Charles?"
The Highlander nodded. "I would give my sporran filled ten times with gold
to have my hand on Simon. What devil's luck to be marching south with that
old fox in our rear!"
The boy pulled up a chair to the table. "Since we have missed the big game,
let us follow the less. I'm for supper, if this gentleman will permit us to
share a feast destined for another. Sit down, sir, and fill your glass. You
are not to be blamed for not being a certain Scots lord. Lovel, I dare say,
is an honester name than Lovat!"
But Talbot was regarding the traveller with hard eyes. "You called him a
thrush, Nick, but I have a notion he is more of a knavish jackdaw. I have
seen this gentleman before. You were with Ormonde?"
"I had once the honour to serve his Grace," said Lovel, still feverishly
trying to devise a watertight tail. "Ah, I remember now. You thought his
star descending and carried your wares to the other side. And who is your
new employer, Mr. Lovel? His present Majesty?"
His glance caught the papers on the table and he swept them towards him.
"What have we here?" and his quick eye scanned the too legible handwriting.
Much was in cipher and contractions, but some names stood out damningly. In
that month of October in that year 1715 "Ke" could only stand for "Kenmure"
and "Ni" for "Nithsdale."
Mr. Lovel made an attempt at dignity.
"These are my papers, sir," he blustered. "I know not by what authority you
examine them." But his protest failed because of the instability of his
legs, on which his potations early and recent had suddenly a fatal effect.
He was compelled to collapse heavily in the arm-chair by the hearth.
"I observe that the gentleman has lately been powdering his hair," said the
boy whom they called Nick.
Mr. Lovel was wroth. He started upon the usual drunkard's protestations,
but was harshly cut short by Talbot.
"You ask me my warrant 'Tis the commission of his Majesty King James in
whose army I have the honour to hold a command."
He read on, nodding now and then, pursing his mouth at a word, once copying
something on to his own tablets. Suddenly he raised his head.
"When did his Grace dismiss you?" he asked.
Now Ormonde had been the Duke last spoken of, but Mr. Lovel's precarious
wits fell into the trap. He denied indignantly that he had fallen from his
A grim smile played round Talbot's mouth.
You have confessed," he said. Then to the others: This fellow is one of
Malbrouck's pack. He has been nosing in the Scotch westlands. Here are the
numbers of Kenmure and Nithsdale to enable the great Duke to make up his
halting mind. See, he has been with Roxburghe too. . . . We have a spy
before us, gentlemen, delivered to our hands by a happy incident. Whig
among the sectaries and with Stair and Roxburghe, and Jacobite among our
poor honest folk, and wheedling the secrets out of both sides to sell to
one who disposes of them at a profit in higher quarters. Faug! I know the
vermin. An honest Whig like John Argyll I can respect and fight, but for
such rats as this-- What shall we do with it now that we have trapped it?"
"Let it go," said the boy, Nick Wogan. "The land crawls with them and we
cannot go rat-hunting when we are aiming at a throne." He picked up Lovel's
ring and spun it on a finger tip. "The gentleman has found more than news
in the north. He has acquired a solid lump of gold."
The implication roused Mr. Lovel out of his embarrassment. "I wear the ring
by right. I had it from my father. His voice was tearful with offended
The creature claims gentility," said Talbot, as he examined the trinket.
"Lovel you call yourself. But Lovel bears barry nebuly or chevronels. This
coat has three plain charges. Can you read them, Nick, for my eyes are
weak! I am curious to know from whom he stole it.
The boy scanned it closely. "Three of something I think they are
fleur-de-lys, which would spell Montgomery. Or lions' heads, maybe, for
He passed it to Lord Charles, who held it to a candle's light. "Nay, I
think they are Cummin garbs. Some poor fellow dirked and spoiled."
Mr. Lovel was outraged and forgot his fears. He forgot, indeed, most things
which he should have remembered. He longed only to establish his gentility
in the eyes of those three proud gentlemen. The liquor was ebbing in him
and with it had flown all his complacence. He felt small and mean and
despised, and the talents he had been pluming himself on an hour before had
now shrunk to windlestraws.
"I do assure you, sirs," he faltered, "the ring is mine own. I had it from
my father, who had it from his. I am of an ancient house, though somewhat
His eyes sought those of his inquisitors with the pathos of a dog. But he
saw only hostile faces-- Talbot's grave and grim, Lord Charles'
contemptuous, the boy's smiling ironically.
"Decayed, indeed," said the dark man, "pitifully decayed. If you be gentle
the more shame on you."
Mr. Lovel was almost whining. "I swear I am honest. I do my master's
commissions and report what I learn."
"Aye, sir, but how do you learn it? By playing the imposter and winning
your way into an unsuspecting confidence. To you friendship is a tool and
honour a convenience. You cheat in every breath you draw. And what a man
gives you in his innocence may bring him to the gallows. By God! I'd rather
slit throats on a highway for a purse or two than cozen men to their death
by such arts as yours."
In other circumstances Mr. Lovel might have put up a brazen defence, but
now he seemed to have lost assurance. "I do no ill," was all he could
stammer, "for I have no bias. I am for no side in politics."
"So much the worse. A man who spies for a cause in which he believes may
redeem by that faith a dirty trade. But in cold blood you practise infamy."
The night was growing wilder, and even in that sheltered room its echoes
were felt. Wind shook the curtains and blew gusts of ashes from the fire.
The place had become bleak and tragic and Mr. Lovel felt the forlornness in
his bones. Something had woke in him which shivered the fabric of a
lifetime. The three faces, worn, anxious, yet of a noble hardihood, stirred
in him a strange emotion. Hopes and dreams, long forgotten, flitted like
spectres across his memory. He had something to say, something which
demanded utterance, and his voice grew bold.
"What do you know of my straits?" he cried. "Men of fortune like you! My
race is old, but I never had the benefit of it. I was bred in a garret and
have all my days been on nodding terms with starvation. . . . What should
I know about your parties? What should I care for Whig and Tory or what
king has his hinderend on the throne? Tell me in God's name how should such
as I learn loyalty except to the man who gives me gold to buy food and
shelter? Heaven knows I have never betrayed a master while I served him."
The shabby man with the lean face had secured an advantage. For a moment
the passion in his voice dominated the room.
"Cursed if this does not sound like truth," said the boy, and his eyes were
But Talbot did not relax.
"By your own confession you are outside the pale of gentility. I do not
trouble to blame you, but I take leave to despise you. By your grace, sir,
we will dispense with your company."
The ice of his scorn did not chill the strange emotion which seemed to have
entered the air. The scarecrow by the fire had won a kind of dignity.
"I am going," he said. "Will you have the goodness to send for my horse? .
. . If you care to know, gentleman, you have cut short a promising career.
. . To much of what you say I submit. You have spoken truth--not all the
truth, but sufficient to unman me. I am a rogue by your reckoning, for I
think only of my wages. Pray tell me what moves you to ride out on what at
the best is a desperate venture?"
There was nothing but sincerity in the voice, and Talbot answered.
"I fight for the King ordained by God and for a land which cannot flourish
under the usurper. My loyalty to throne, Church, and fatherland constrains
Lovel's eye passed to Lord Charles. The Highlander whistled very softly a
bar or two of a wild melody with longing and a poignant sorrow in it.
"That," he said. "I fight for the old ways and the old days that are passing."
Nick Wogan smiled. "And I for neither--wholly. I have a little of Talbot in
me and more of Charles. But I strike my blow for romance--the little
against the big, the noble few against the base many. I am for youth
against all dull huckstering things."
Mr. Lovel bowed. I am answered. I congratulate you, gentlemen, on your good
fortune. It is my grief that I do not share it. I have not Mr. Talbot's
politics, nor am I a great Scotch lord, nor have I the felicity to be
young. . . . I would beg you not to judge me harshly."
By this time he had struggled into his coat and boots He stepped to the
table and picked up the papers.
"By your leave," he said, and flung them into the fire.
You were welcome to them," said Talbot. "Long ere they got to Marlborough
they would be useless."
"That is scarcely the point," said Lovel "I am somewhat dissatisfied with
my calling and contemplate a change."
"You may sleep here if you wish," said Lord Charles.
"I thank you, but I am no fit company for you. I am better on the road."
Talbot took a guinea from his purse "Here's to help your journey," he was
saying, when Nick Wogan flushing darkly, intervened. "Damn you, James don't
be a boor," he said.
The boy picked up the ring and offered it to Mr. Lovel as he passed through
the door. He also gave him his hand.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The traveller spurred his horse into the driving rain, but he was oblivious
of the weather. When he came to Brampton he discovered to his surprise that
he had been sobbing. Except in liquor, he had not wept since he was a child.
CHAPTER 12. IN THE DARK LAND
The fire was so cunningly laid that only on one side did it cast a glow,
and there the light was absorbed by a dark thicket of laurels. It was built
under an overhang of limestone so that the smoke in the moonlight would be
lost against the grey face of the rock. But, though the moon was only two
days past the full, there was no sign of it, for the rain had come and the
world was muffled in it. That morning the Kentucky vales, as seen from the
ridge where the camp lay, had been like a furnace with the gold and scarlet
of autumn, and the air had been heavy with sweet October smells. Then the
wind had suddenly shifted, the sky had grown leaden, and in a queer dank
chill the advance-guard of winter had appeared--that winter which to men
with hundreds of pathless miles between them and their homes was like a
venture into an uncharted continent,
One of the three hunters slipped from his buffalo robe and dived into the
laurel thicket to replenish the fire from the stock of dry fuel. His figure
revealed itself fitfully in the firelight, a tall slim man with a curious
lightness of movement like a cat's. When he had done his work he snuggled
down in his skins in the glow, and his two companions shifted their
positions to be near him. The fire-tender was the leader of the little
party The light showed a face very dark with weather. He had the appearance
of wearing an untidy perruque, which was a tight-fitting skin-cap with the
pelt hanging behind. Below its fringe straggled a selvedge of coarse black
hair. But his eyes were blue and very bright, and his eyebrows and lashes
were flaxen, and the contrast of light and dark had the effect of something
peculiarly bold and masterful. Of the others one was clearly his brother,
heavier in build, but with the same eyes and the same hard pointed chin and
lean jaws. The third man was shorter and broader, and wore a newer hunting
shirt than his fellows and a broad belt of wool and leather.
This last stretched his moccasins to the blaze and sent thin rings of smoke
from his lips into the steam made by the falling rain.
He bitterly and compendiously cursed the weather. The little party had some
reason for ill-temper. There had been an accident in the creek with the
powder supply, and for the moment there were only two charges left in the
whole outfit. Hitherto they had been living on ample supplies of meat,
though they were on short rations of journey-cake, for their stock of meal
was low. But that night they had supped poorly, for one of them had gone
out to perch a turkey, since powder could not be wasted, and had not come
"I reckon we're the first as ever concluded to winter in Kaintuckee," he
said between his puffs. "Howard and Salling went in in June, I've heerd.
And Finley? What about Finley, Dan'l?"
He never stopped beyond the fall, though he was once near gripped by the
snow. But there ain't no reason why winter should be worse on the O-hio
than on the Yadkin. It's a good hunting time, and snow'll keep the redskins
quiet. What's bad for us is wuss for them, says I. . . . I won't worry
about winter nor redskins, if old Jim Lovelle 'ud fetch up. It beats me
whar the man has got to."
"Wandered, maybe?" suggested the first speaker, whose name was Neely.
"I reckon not. Ye'd as soon wander a painter. There ain't no sech hunter as
Jim ever came out of Virginny, no, nor out of Caroliny, neither. It was him
that fust telled me of Kaintuck'. 'The dark and bloody land, the Shawnees
calls it,' he says, speakin' in his eddicated way, and dark and bloody it
is, but that's man's doing and not the Almighty's. The land flows with milk
and honey, he says, clear water and miles of clover and sweet grass, enough
to feed all the herds of Basham, and mighty forests with trees that thick
ye could cut a hole in their trunks and drive a waggon through, and
sugar-maples and plums and cherries like you won't see in no set orchard,
and black soil fair crying for crops. And the game, Jim says, wasn't to be
told about without ye wanted to be called a liar--big black-nosed buffaloes
that packed together so the whole placed seemed moving, and elk and deer
and bar past counting. . . . Wal, neighbours, ye've seen it with your own
eyes and can jedge if Jim was a true prophet. I'm Moses, he used to say,
chosen to lead the Children of Israel into a promised land, but I reckon
I'll leave my old bones on some Pisgah-top on the borders. He was a sad
man, Jim, and didn't look for much comfort this side Jordan. . . . I wish
I know'd whar he'd gotten to."
Squire Boone, the speaker's brother, sniffed the air dolefully. "It's
weather that 'ud wander a good hunter."
"I tell ye, ye couldn't wander Jim," said his brother fiercely. "He come
into Kaintuckee alone in '52, and that was two years before Finley. He was
on the Ewslip all the winter of '58. He was allus springing out of a bush
when ye didn't expect him. When we was fighting the Cherokees with
Montgomery in '61 he turned up as guide to the Scotsmen, and I reckon if
they'd attended to him there'ud be more of them alive this day. He was like
a lone wolf, old Jim, and preferred to hunt by hisself, but you never
knowed that he wouldn't come walking in and say 'Howdy' while you was
reckoning you was the fust white man to make that trace. Wander Jim? Ye
might as well speak of wandering a hakk."
"Maybe the Indians have got his sculp," said Neely.
"I reckon not," said Boone. "Leastways if they have, he must ha' struck a
new breed of redskin. Jim was better nor any redskin in Kaintuck', and they
knowed it. I told ye, neighbours, of our doings before you come west
through the Gap. The Shawnees cotched me and Jim in a cane-brake, and hit
our trace back to camp, so that they cotched Finley too, and his three
Yadkiners with him. Likewise they took our hosses, and guns and traps and
the furs we had gotten from three months' hunting. Their chief made a
speech saying we had no right in Kaintuckee and if they cotched us again
our lives'ud pay for it. They'd ha' sculped us if it hadn't been for Jim,
but you could see they knew him, and was feared of him. Wal, Finley
reckoned the game was up, and started back with the Yadkiners. Cooley and
Joe Holden and Mooneyiye mind them, Squire! But I was feeling kinder cross
and wanted my property back, and old Jim--why, he wasn't going to be
worsted by no redskins. So we trailed the Shawnees, us two, and come up
with them one night encamped beside a salt-lick. Jim got into their camp
while I was lying shivering in the cane, and blessed if he didn't snake
back four of our hosses and our three best Deckards. Tha's craft for ye. By
sunrise we was riding south on the Warriors' Path but the hosses was plumb
tired, and afore midday them pizonous Shawnees had cotched up with us. I
can tell ye, neighbours, the hair riz on my head, for I expected nothing
better than a bloody sculp and six feet of earth. . . . But them redskins
didn't hurt us. And why, says ye? 'Cos they was scared of Jim. It seemed
they had a name for him in Shawnee which meant the 'old wolf that hunts by
night. They started out to take us way north of the Ohio to their Scioto
villages, whar they said we would be punished. Jim telled me to keep up my
heart, for he reckoned we wasn't going north of no river. Then he started
to make friends with them redskins, and in two days he was the most popilar
fellow in that company. He was a quiet man and for general melancholious,
but I guess he could be amusing when he wanted to. You know the way an
Indian laughs grunts in his stomach and looks at the ground. Wal, Jim had
them grunting all day, and, seeing he could speak all their tongues, he
would talk serious too. Ye could see them savages listening, like he was
their own sachem."
Boone reached for another faggot and tossed it on the fire. The downpour
was slacking, but the wind had risen high and was wailing in the sycamores.
"Consekince was," he went on, "for prisoners we wasn't proper guarded. By
the fourth day we was sleeping round the fire among the Shawnees and
marching with them as we pleased, though we wasn't allowed to go near the
hosses. On the seventh night we saw the Ohio rolling in the hollow, and Jim
says to me it was about time to get quit of the redskins. It was a wet
night with a wind, which suited his plan, and about one in the morning,
when Indians sleep soundest, I was woke by Jim's hand pressing my wrist.
Wal, I've trailed a bit in my day, but I never did such mighty careful
hunting as that night. An inch at a time we crawled out of the circle--we
was lying well back on purpose--and got into the canes. I lay there while
Jim went back and fetched guns and powder. The Lord knows how he done it
without startling the hosses. Then we quit like ghosts, and legged it for
the hills. We was aiming for the Gap, but it took us thirteen days to make
it, travelling mostly by night, and living on berries, for we durstn't risk
a shot. Then we made up with you. I reckon we didn't look too pretty when
ye see'd us first."
"Ye looked," said his brother soberly, "Like two scare-crows that had took
to walkin'. There was more naked skin than shirt about you Dan'l. But
Lovelle wasn't complaining, except about his empty belly."
"He was harder nor me, though twenty years older. He did the leading, too,
for he had forgotten more about woodcraft than I ever know'd. . . ."
The man Neely, who was from Virginia, consumed tobacco as steadily as a dry
soil takes in water.
"I've heerd of this Lovelle," he said. "I've seed him too, I guess. A long
man with black eyebrows and hollow eyes like as he was hungry. He used ter
live near my folks in Palmer Country. What was he looking for in those
travels of his?"
"Hunting maybe," said Boone. "He was the skilfullest hunter, I reckon,
between the Potomac and the Cherokee. He brought in mighty fine pelts, but
he didn't seem to want money. Just so much as would buy him powder and shot
and food for the next venture, ye understand. . . . He wasn't looking for
land to settle on, neighber, for one time he telled me he had had all the
settling he wanted in this world. . . . But he was looking for something
else. He never talked about it, but he'd sit often with his knees hunched
up and his eyes staring out at nothing like a bird's. I never know'd who he
was or whar he come from. You say it was Virginny?"
"Aye, Palmer County. I mind his old dad, who farmed a bit of land by
Nelson's Cross Roads, when he wasn't drunk in Nelson's tavern. The boys
used to follow him to laugh at his queer clothes, and hear his fine London
speech when he cursed us. By thunder, he was the one to swear. Jim Lovelle
used to clear us off with a whip, and give the old man his arm into the
shack. Jim too was a queer one, but it didn't do to make free with him,
unless ye was lookin' for a broken head. They was come of high family, I've
"Aye, Jim was a gentleman and no mistake, said Boone. "The way he held his
head and looked straight through the man that angered him. I reckon it was
that air of his and them glowering eyes that made him powerful with the
redskins. But he was mighty quiet always. I've seen Cap'n Evan Shelby
roaring at him like a bull and Jim just staring back at him, as gentle as a
girl, till the Cap'n began to stutter and dried up. But, Lordy, he had a
pluck in a fight, for I've seen him with Montgomery. . . . He was
eddicated too, and
could tell you things out of books. I've knowed him sit up all night
talking law with Mr. Robertson. . . . He was always thinking. Queer
thoughts they was sometimes."
"Whatten kind of thoughts, Dan'l?" his brother asked.
Boone rubbed his chin as if he found it hard to explain. "About this
country of Ameriky," he replied. "He reckoned it would soon have to cut
loose from England, and him knowing so much about England I used ter
believe him. He allowed there 'ud be bloody battles before it happened, but
he held that the country had grown up and couldn't be kept much longer in
short clothes. He had a power of larning about things that happened to
folks long ago called Creeks and Rewmans that pinted that way, he said. But
he held that when we had fought our way quit of England, we was in for a
bigger and bloodier fight among ourselves. I mind his very words. 'Dan'l,'
he says, 'this is the biggest and best slice of the world which we
Americans has struck, and for fifty years or more, maybe, we'll be that
busy finding out what we've got that we'll have no time to quarrel. But
there's going to come a day, if Ameriky s to be a great nation, when she'll
have to sit down and think and make up her mind about one or two things. It
won't be easy, for she won't have the eddication or patience to think deep,
and there'll be plenty selfish and short-sighted folk that won't think at
all. I reckon she'll have to set her house in order with a hickory stick.
But if she wins through that all right, she'll be a country for our
children to be proud of and happy in.'"
"Children? Has he any belongings?" Squire Boone
Daniel looked puzzled. "I've heerd it said he had a wife, though he never
telled nie of her."
"I've seed her," Neely put in. "She was one of Jake Early's daughters up to
Walsing Springs. She didn't live no more than a couple of years after they
was wed. She left a gal behind her, a mighty finelooking gal. They tell me
she's married on young Abe Hanks, I did hear that Abe was thinking of
coming west, but them as told me allowed that Abe hadn't got the right
kinder wife for the Border. Polly Hanker they called her, along of her
being Polly Hanks, and likewise wantin' more than other folks had to get
along with. See?"
This piece of news woke Daniel Boone to attention. "Tell me about Jim's
gal," he demanded.
"Pretty as a peach," said Neely "Small, not higher nor Abe's shoulder, and
as light on her feet as a deer. She had a softish laughing look in her eyes
that made the lads wild for her. But she wasn't for them and I reckon she
wasn't for Abe neither. She was nicely eddicated, though she had jest had
field-schooling like the rest, for her dad used to read books and tell her
about 'em. One time he took her to Richmond for the better part of a
winter, where she larned dancing and music. The neighbours allowed that
turned her head. Ye couldn't please her with clothes, for she wouldn't look
at the sun-bonnets and nettle-linen that other gals wore. She must have a
neat little bonnet and send to town for pretty dresses. . . . The women
couldn't abide her, for she had a high way of looking at 'em and talking at
'em as if they was jest black trash. But the men 'ud walk miles to see her
on a Sunday. . . . I never could jest understand why she took Abe Hanks.
'Twasn't for lack of better offers."
"I reckon that's women's ways," said Boone meditatively. "She must ha'
favoured Jim, though he wasn't partickler about his clothes. Discontented,
ye say she was?"
"Aye. Discontented. She was meant for a fine lady, I reckon. I dunno what
she wanted, but anyhow it was something that Abe Hanks ain't likely to give
her. I can't jest picture her in Kaintuck'!"
Squire Boone was asleep, and Daniel drew the flap of his buffalo robe over
his head and prepared to follow suit. His last act was to sniff the air.
"Please God the weather mends," he muttered. "I've got to find old Jim."
Very early next morning there was a consultation. Lovelle had not appeared
and hunting was impossible on two shoots of powder. It was arranged that
two of them should keep camp that day by the limestone cliff while Daniel
Boone went in search of the missing man, for it was possible that Jim
Lovelle had gone to seek ammunition from friendly Indians. If he did not
turn up or if he returned without powder, there would be nothing for it but
to send a messenger back through the Gap for supplies.
The dawn was blue and cloudless and the air had the freshness of a second
spring. The autumn colour glowed once more, only a little tarnished; the
gold was now copper, the scarlet and vermilion were dulling to crimson.
Boone took the road at the earliest light and made for the place where the
day before he had parted from Lovelle. When alone he had the habit of
talking to himself in an undertone. "Jim was hunting down the west bank of
that there crick, and I heard a shot about noon beyond them big oaks, so I
reckon he'd left the water and gotten on the ridge." He picked up the trail
and followed it with difficulty, for the rain had flattened out the prints.
At one point he halted and considered. "That's queer," he muttered. "Jim
was running here. It wasn't game, neither, for there's no sign of their
tracks." He pointed to the zig-zag of moccasin prints in a patch of gravel.
"That's the way a man sets his feet when he's in a hurry,"
A little later he stood and sniffed, with his brows wrinkled. He made an
epic figure as he leaned forward, every sense strained, every muscle alert,
slim and shapely as a Greek--the eternal pathfinder. Very gently he smelled
the branches of a mulberry thicket.
"There's been an Indian here," he meditated. "I kinder smell the grease on
them twigs. In a hurry, too, or he wouldn't have left his stink behind. . .
. In war trim, I reckon." And he took a tiny wisp of scarlet feather from
Like a hound he nosed about the ground till he found something. "Here's his
print;" he said "He was a-followin' Jim, for see! he has his foot in Jim's
track. I don't like it. I'm fear'd of what's comin'."
Slowly and painfully he traced the footing, which led through the thicket
towards a long ridge running northward. In an open grassy place he almost
cried out. "The redskin and Jim was friends. See, here's their prints side
by side, going slow. What in thunder was old Jim up to?"
The trail was plainer now, and led along the scarp of the ridge to a little
promontory which gave a great prospect over the flaming forests and yellow
glades. Boone found a crinkle of rock where he flung himself down. "It's
plain enough," he said. "They come up here to spy. They were fear'd of
something, and whatever it was it was coming from the west. See, they kep'
under the east side of this ridge so as not to be seen, and they settled
down to spy whar they couldn't be obsarved from below. I reckon Jim and the
redskin had a pretty good eye for cover."
He examined every inch of the eyrie, sniffing like. a pointer dog. "I'm
plumb puzzled about this redskin," he confessed. "Shawnee, Cherokee,
Chickasaw--it ain't likely Jim would have dealings with 'em. It might be
one of them Far Indians."
It appeared as if Lovelle had spent most of the previous afternoon on the
ridge, for he found the remains of his night's fire half way down the north
side in a hollow thatched with vines. It was now about three o'clock.
Boone, stepping delicately, examined the ashes, and then sat himself on the
ground and brooded.
When at last he lifted his eyes his face was perplexed.
"I can't make it out nohow. Jim and this Indian was good friends. They were
feelin' pretty safe, for they made a mighty careless fire and didn't stop
to tidy it up. But likewise they was restless, for they started out long
before morning. . . . I read it this way. Jim met a redskin that he knowed
before and thought he could trust anyhow, and he's gone off with him
seeking powder. It'd be like Jim to dash off alone and play his hand like
that. He figured he'd come back to us with what we needed and that we'd
have the sense to wait for him. I guess that's right. But I m uneasy about
the redskin. If he's from north of the river, there's a Mingo camp
somewhere about and they've gone there. . . . I never had much notion of
Seneca Indians, and I reckon Jim's took a big risk."
All evening he followed the trail, which crossed the low hills into the
corn-brakes and woodlands of a broader valley. Presently he saw that he had
been right, and that Lovelle and the Indian had begun their journey in the
night, for the prints showed like those of travellers in darkness. Before
sunset Boone grew very anxious. He found traces converging, till a clear
path was worn in the grass like a regulation war trail. It was not one of
the known trails, so it had been made for a purpose; he found on tree
trunks the tiny blazons of the scouts who had been sent ahead to survey it.
It was a war party of Mingos, or whoever they might be, and he did not like
it. He was puzzled to know what purchase Jim could have with those outland
folk. . . . And yet he had been on friendly terms with the scout he had
picked up. . . . Another fact disturbed him. Lovelle's print had been
clear enough till the other Indians joined him. The light was bad, but now
that print seemed to have disappeared. It might be due to the general
thronging of marks in the trail, but it might be that Jim was a prisoner,
trussed and helpless.
He supped off cold jerked bear's meat and slept two hours in the canes,
waiting on the moonrise. He had bad dreams, for he seemed to hear drums
beating the eerie tattoo which he remembered long ago in Border raids. He
woke in a sweat, and took the road again in the moonlight. It was not hard
to follow, and it seemed to be making north for the Ohio. Dawn came on him
in a grassy bottom, beyond which lay low hills that he knew alone separated
him from the great river. Once in the Indian Moon of Blossom he had been
thus far, and had gloried in the riches of the place, where a man walked
knee deep in honeyed clover. "The dark and bloody land!" He remembered how
he had repeated the name to himself, and had concluded that Lovelle had
been right and that it was none of the Almighty's giving. Now in the sharp
autumn morning he felt its justice. A cloud had come over his cheerful
soul. "If only I knowed about Jim," he muttered "I wonder if I'll ever clap
eyes or his old face again." Never before had he known such acute anxiety.
Pioneers are wont to trust each other and in their wild risks assume that
the odd chance is on their side. But now black forebodings possessed him,
born not of reasoning but of instinct. His comrade somewhere just ahead of
him was in deadly peril.
And then came the drums.
The sound broke into the still dawn with a harsh challenge. They were war
drums, beaten as he remembered them in Montgomery's campaign. He quickened
his steady hunter's lope into a run, and left the trail for the thickets of
the hill-side. The camp was less than a mile off and he was taking no
As he climbed the hill the drums grew louder, till it seemed that the whole
world rocked with their noise. He told himself feverishly that there was
nothing to fear; Jim was with friends, who had been south of the river on
their own business and would give him the powder he wanted. Presently they
would be returning to the camp together, and in the months to come he and
Jim would make that broad road through the Gap, at the end of which would
spring up smiling farmsteads and townships of their own naming. He told
himself these things, but he knew that he lied.
At last, flat on the earth, he peered through the vines on the north edge
of the ridge. Below him, half a mile off, rolled the Ohio, a little swollen
by the rains There was a broad ford, and the waters had spilled out over
the fringe of sand. Just under him, between the bluff and the river, lay
the Mingo camp, every detail of it plain in the crisp weather.
In the heart of it a figure stood bound to a stake, and a smoky fire burned
at its feet. . . . There was no mistaking that figure.
Boone bit the grass in a passion of fury. His first impulse was to rush
madly into the savages' camp and avenge his friend. He had half risen to
his feet when his reason told him it was folly. He had no weapon but axe
and knife, and would only add another scalp to their triumph. His Deckard
was slung on his back, but he had no powder. Oh, to be able to send a
bullet through Jim's head to cut short his torment! In all his life he had
never known such mental anguish, waiting there an impotent witness of the
agony of his friend. The blood trickled from his bitten lips and film was
over his eyes. . . . Lovelle was dying for him and the others. He saw it
all with bitter clearness. Jim had been inveigled to the Mingo camp taking
risks as he always did, and there been ordered to reveal the whereabouts of
the hunting party. He had refused, and endured the ordeal. . . Memories of
their long comradeship rushed through Boone's mind and set him weeping in a
fury of affection. There was never such a man as old Jim, so trusty and
wise and kind, and now that great soul was being tortured out of that
stalwart body and he could only look on like a baby and cry.
As he gazed, it became plain that the man at the stake was dead. His head
had fallen on his chest, and the Indians were cutting the green withies
that bound him. Boone looked to see them take his scalp, and so wild was
his rage that his knees were already bending for the onslaught which should
be the death of him and haply of one or two of the murderers.
But no knife was raised. The Indians seemed to consult together, and one of
them gave an order. Deerskins were brought and the body was carefully
wrapped in them and laid on a litter of branches. Their handling of it
seemed almost reverent. The camp was moving, the horses were saddled, and
presently the whole band began to file off towards the forest. The sight
held Boone motionless. His fury had gone and only wonder and awe remained.
As they passed the dead, each Indian raised his axe in salute--the salute
to a great chief. The next minute they were splashing through the ford.
An hour later, when the invaders had disappeared on the northern levels,
Boone slipped down from the bluff to the camping place. He stood still a
long time by his friend, taking off his deerskin cap, so that his long
black hair was blown over his shoulders.
"Jim, boy," he said softly. "I reckon you was the general of us all. The
likes of you won't come again. I'd like ye to have Christian burial."
With his knife he hollowed a grave, where he placed the body, still wrapped
in its deerskins. He noted on a finger of one hand a gold ring, a queer
possession for a backwoodsman. This he took off and dropped into the pouch
which hung round his neck. "I reckon it'd better go to Mis' Hanks. Jim's
gal 'ud valley it mor'n a wanderin' coyote."
When he had filled in the earth he knelt among the grasses and repeated the
Lord's Prayer as well as he could remember it. Then he stood up and rubbed
with his hard brown knuckles the dimness from his eyes.
"Ye was allus lookin' for something, Jim," he said. "I guess ye've found it
now. Good luck to ye, old comrade."
CHAPTER 13. THE LAST STAGE
A small boy crept into the darkened hut. The unglazed windows were roughly
curtained with skins, but there was sufficient light from the open doorway
to show him what he wanted. He tiptoed to a corner where an old travelling
trunk lay under a pile of dirty clothes. He opened it very carefully, and
after a little searching found the thing he sought. Then he gently closed
it, and, with a look towards the bed in the other corner, he slipped out
again into the warm October afternoon.
The woman on the bed stirred uneasily and suddenly became fully awake,
after the way of those who are fluttering very near death. She was still
young, and the little face among the coarse homespun blankets looked almost
childish. Heavy masses of black hair lay on the pillow, and the depth of
its darkness increased the pallor of her brow. But the cheeks were flushed,
and the deep hazel eyes were burning with a slow fire. . . . For a week
the milk-sick fever had raged furiously, and in the few hours free from
delirium she had been racked with omnipresent pain and deadly sickness. Now
those had gone, and she was drifting out to sea on a tide of utter
weakness. Her husband, Tom Linkhorn, thought she mending, and was even now
whistling--the first time for weeks--by the woodpile. But the woman knew
that she was close to the great change, and so deep was her weariness that
the knowledge remained an instinct rather than a thought. She was as
passive as a dying animal. The cabin was built of logs, mortised into each
other--triangular in shape, with a fireplace in one corner. Beside the fire
stood a table made of a hewn log, on which lay some pewter dishes
containing the remains of he last family meal. One or two three-legged
stools made up the rest of the furniture, except for the trunk in the
corner and the bed. This bed was Tom Linkhorn's pride, which he used to
boast about to his friends, for he was a tolerable carpenter. It was made
of plank stuck between the logs of the wall, and supported at the other end
by crotched sticks. By way of a curtain top a hickory post had been sunk in
the floor and bent over the bed, the end being fixed in the log wall. Tom
meant to have a fine skin curtain fastened to it when winter came. The
floor was of beaten earth, but there was a rough ceiling of smaller logs,
with a trap in it which could be reached by pegs stuck the centre post. In
that garret the children slept. Tom's building zeal had come to an end with
the bed. Some day he meant to fit in a door and windows, but these luxuries
could wait till he got his clearing in better order.
On a stool by the bed stood a wooden bowl containing gruel. The woman had
not eaten for days, and the stuff had a thick scum on it. The place was
very stuffy, for it was a hot and sickly autumn day and skins which
darkened the window holes kept out the little freshness that was in the
air. Beside the gruel was a tin pannikin of cold water which the boy ,Abe
fetched every hour from the spring. She saw the water, but was too weak to
The shining doorway was blocked by a man's entrance. Tom Linkhorn was a
little over middle height, with long muscular arms, and the corded neck
sinews which tell of great strength. He had a shock of coarse black hair,
grey eyes and a tired sallow face, as of one habitually overworked and
underfed. His jaw was heavy, but loosely put together, so that he presented
an air of weakness and irresolution. His lips were thick and pursed in a
kind of weary good humour. He wore an old skin shirt and a pair of towlinen
pants, which flapped about his bare brown ankles. A fine sawdust coated his
hair and shoulders, for he had been working in the shed where he eked out
his farming by making spinning wheels for his neighbours.
He came softly to the bedside and looked down at his wife. His face was
gentle and puzzled.
"Reckon you're better, dearie," he said in a curious harsh toneless voice.
The sick woman moved her head feebly in the direction of the stool and he
lifted the pannikin of water to her lips.
"Cold enough?" he asked, and his wife nodded. "Abe fetches it as reg'lar as
"Where's Abe?" she asked, and her voice for all its feebleness had a
youthful music in it.
"I heerd him sayin' he was goin' down to the crick to cotch a fish. He
reckoned you'd fancy a fish when you could eat a piece. He's a mighty
thoughtful boy, our Abe. Then he was comin' to read to you. You'd like
The sick woman made no sign. Her eyes were vacantly regarding the doorway.
"I've got to leave you now. I reckon I'll borrow the Dawneys' sorrel horse
and ride into Gentryville. I've got the young hogs to sell, and I'll fetch
back the corn-meal from Hickson's. Sally Hickson was just like you last
fall, and I want to find out from Jim how she got her strength up."
He put a hand on her brow, and felt it cool.
"Glory! You're mendin' fast, Nancy gal. You'll be well in time to can the
berries that the childern's picked. He fished from below the bed a pair of
skin brogues and slipped them on his feet. "I'll be back before night."
"I want Abe," she moaned.
"I'll send him to you," he said as he went out
Left alone the woman lay still for a little in a stupor of weariness. Waves
of that terrible lassitude, which is a positive anguish and not a mere
absence of strength, flowed over her. The square of the doorway, which was
directly before her eyes, began to take strange forms. It was filled with
yellow sunlight, and a red glow beyond told of the sugar-maples at the edge
of the clearing. Now it seemed to her unquiet sight to be a furnace.
Outside the world was burning; she could feel the heat of it in the close
cabin. For a second acute fear startled her weakness. It passed, her eyes
cleared, and she saw the homely doorway as it was, and heard the gobble of
a turkey in the forest.
The fright had awakened her mind and senses. For the first time she fully
realised her condition. Life no longer moved steadily in her body; it
flickered and wavered and would soon gutter out. . . . Her eyes marked
every detail of the squalor around her--the unwashed dishes, the foul
earthen floor, the rotting apple pile, the heap of rags which had been her
only clothes. She was leaving the world, and this was all she had won from
it. Sheer misery forced a sigh which seemed to rend her frail body, and her
eyes filled with tears. She had been a dreamer, an adept at make-believe,
but the poor coverings she had wrought for a dingy reality were now too
threadbare to hide it.
And once she had been so rich in hope. She would make her husband a great
man, and--when that was manifestly impossible without a rebirth of Tom
Linkhorn--she would have a son who would wear a black coat like Lawyer
Macneil and Colonel Hardin way back in Kentucky, and make fine speeches
beginning "Fellow countrymen and gentlemen of this famous State." She had a
passion for words, and sonorous phrases haunted her memory. She herself
would have a silk gown and a bonnet with roses in it; once long ago she had
been to Elizabethtown and seen just such a gown and bonnet. . . . Or Tom
would be successful in this wild Indiana country and be, like Daniel Boone,
the father of a new State, and have places and towns called for him--a
Nancyville perhaps or a Linkhorn County. She knew about Daniel Boone, for
her grandfather Hanks had been with him. . . . And there had been other
dreams, older dreams, dating far back to the days when she was a little
girl with eyes like a brown owl. Someone had told her fairy-tales about
princesses and knights, strange beings which she never quite understood,
but of which she made marvellous pictures in her head She had learned to
read in order to follow up the doings of those queer bright folk, but she
had never tracked them down again. But one book she had got called The
Pilgrim's Progress, printed by missionaries in a far-away city called
Philadelphia, which told of things as marvellous, and had pictures,
too--one especially of a young man covered with tin, which she supposed was
what they called armour. And there was another called The Arabian
Knights, a close-printed thing difficult to read by the winter fire, full
of wilder doings than any she could imagine for herself; but beautiful,
too, and delicious to muse over, though Tom, when she read a chapter to
him, had condemned it as a pack of lies. . . . Clearly there was a world
somewhere, perhaps outside America altogether, far more wonderful than even
the magnificence of Colonel Hardin. Once she had hoped to find it herself;
then that her children should find it. And the end was this shack in the
wilderness, a few acres of rotting crops, bitter starving winters, summers
of fever, the deeps of poverty, a penniless futureless family, and for
herself a coffin of green lumber and a yard or two of stony soil.
She saw everything now with the clear unrelenting eyes of childhood. The
films she had woven for selfprotection were blown aside. She was dying--she
had often wondered how she should feel when dying--humble and trustful, she
had hoped, for she was religious after a fashion, and had dreamed herself
into an affection for a kind fatherly God. But now all that had gone. She
was bitter, like one defrauded She had been promised something, and had
struggled on in the assurance of it. And the result was nothing--nothing.
Tragic tears filled her eyes. She had been so hungry' and there was to be
no satisfying that hunger this side the grave or beyond it. She was going
the same way as Betsy Sparrow, a death like a cow's, with nothing to show
for life, nothing to leave. Betsy had been a poor crushed creature, and had
looked for no more. But she was different. She had been promised something,
something fine--she couldn't remember what, or who had
promised it, but it had never been out of her mind.
There was the ring, too. No woman in Indiana had the like of that. An ugly
thing, but very ancient and of pure gold. Once Tom had wanted to sell it
when he was hard-pressed back at Nolin Creek, but she had fought for it
like a tigress and scared the life out of Tom. Her grandfather had left it
her because she was his favourite and it had been her grandmothers, and
long ago had come from Europe. It was lucky, and could cure rheumatism if
worn next the heart in a skin bag. . . . All her thoughts were suddenly
set on the ring, her one poor shred of fortune. She wanted to feel it on
her finger, and press its cool gold with the queer markings on her eyelids.
But Tom had gone away and she couldn't reach the trunk in the corner. Tears
trickled down her cheeks and through the mist of them she saw that the boy
Abe stood at the foot of the bed.
"Feelin' comfortabler?" he asked. He had a harsh untunable voice, his
father's, but harsher, and he spoke the drawling dialect of the backwoods.
His figure stood in the light, so that the dying mother saw only its
outline. He was a boy about nine years old, but growing too fast, so that
he had lost the grace of childhood and was already lanky and ungainly. As
he turned his face crosswise to the light he revealed a curiously rugged
profile--a big nose springing sharply from the brow, a thick underhung
lower lip, and the beginning of a promising Adam's apple. His stiff black
hair fell round his great ears, which stood out like the handles of a
pitcher. He was barefoot, and wore a pair of leather breeches and a ragged
homespun shirt. Beyond doubt he was ugly.
He moved round to the right side of the bed where he was wholly in shadow.
"My lines is settin' nicely," he said. "I'll have a fish for your supper.
And then I'm goin' to take dad's gun and fetch you a turkey. You could eat
a slice of a fat turkey, I reckon."
The woman did not answer, for she was thinking. This uncouth boy was the
son she had put her faith in. She loved him best of all things on earth,
but for the moment she saw him in the hard light of disillusionment. A
loutish backwoods child, like Dennis Hanks or Tom Sparrow or anybody else.
He had been a comfort to her, for he had been quick to learn and had a
strange womanish tenderness in his ways. But she was leaving him, and he
would grow up like his father before him to a life of ceaseless toil with
no daylight or honour in it. . . . She almost hated the sight of him, for
he was the memorial of her failure.
The boy did not guess these thoughts. He pulled up a stool and sat very
close to the bed, holding his mother's frail wrist in a sunburnt hand so
big that it might have been that of a lad half-way through his teens. He
had learned in the woods to be neat and precise in his ways, and his
movements, for all his gawky look, were as soft as a panther's.
"Like me to tell you a story?" he asked. "What about Uncle Mord's tale of
Dan'l Boone at the Blue Licks Battle?"
There was no response, so he tried again.
Or read a piece? It was the Bible last time, but the words is mighty
difficult. Besides you don't need it that much now. You're gettin' better.
. . . Let's hear about the ol'Pilgrim."
He found a squat duodecimo in the trunk, and shifted the skin curtain from
one of the window holes to get light to read by. His mother lay very still
with her eyes shut, but he knew by her breathing that she was not asleep.
He ranged through the book, stopping to study the crude pictures, and then
started laboriously to read the adventures of Christian and Hopeful after
leaving Vanity Fair--the mine of Demas, the plain called Ease, Castle
Doubting, and the Delectable Mountains. He boggled over some of the words,
but on the whole he read well, and his harsh voice dropped into a pleasant
By and by he noticed that his mother was asleep. He took the tin pannikin
and filled it with fresh water from the spring. Then he kissed the hand
which lay on the blanket, looked about guiltily to see if anyone had seen
him, for kisses were rare in that household and tiptoes out again.
The woman slept, but not wholly. The doorway, which was now filled with the
deeper gold of the westering sun, was still in her vision. It had grown to
a great square of light, and instead of being blocked in the foreground by
the forest it seemed to give on an infinite distance. She had a sense not
of looking out of a hut, but of looking from without into a great chamber.
Peace descended on her which she had never known before in her feverish
dreams, peace and a happy expectation.
She had not listened to Abe's reading, but some words of it had caught her
ear. The phrase "delectable mountains" for one. She did not know what
"delectable" meant, but it sounded good; and mountains, though she had
never seen more of them than a far blue line, had always pleased her fancy.
Now she seemed to be looking at them through that magical doorway. . . .
The country was not like anything she remembered in the Kentucky bluegrass,
still less like the shaggy woods of Indiana. The turf was short and very
green, and the hills fell into gracious folds that promised homesteads in
every nook of them. It was a "delectable" country--yes, that was the
meaning of the word that had puzzled her. . . . She had seen the picture
before in her head. She remembered one hot Sunday afternoon when she was a
child hearing a Baptist preacher discoursing on a Psalm, something about
the "little hills rejoicing." She had liked the words and made a picture in
her mind. These were the little hills and they were joyful.
There was a white road running straight through them till it disappeared
over a crest. That was right, of course. The road which the Pilgrims
travelled. . . . And there, too, was a Pilgrim.
He was a long way off, but she could see him quite clearly. He was a boy,
older than Abe, but about the same size--a somewhat forlorn figure, who
seemed as if he had a great way to go and was oppressed by the knowledge of
it. He had funny things on his legs and feet, which were not proper
moccasins. Once he looked back, and she had a glimpse of fair hair. He
could not be any of the Hanks or Linkhorn kin, for they were all dark. . .
. But he had something on his left arm which she recognised--a thick ring
of gold. It was her own ring, the ring she kept in the trunk and she smiled
comfortably. She had wanted it a little while ago, and now there it was
before her eyes. She had no anxiety about its safety, for somehow it
belonged to that little boy as well as to her.
His figure moved fast and was soon out of sight round a turn of the hill.
And with that the landscape framed in the doorway began to waver and
dislimn. The road was still there, white and purposeful, but the environs
were changing. . . . She was puzzled, but with a pleasant confusion. Her
mind was not on the landscape, but on the people, for she was assured that
others would soon appear on the enchanted stage.
He ran across the road, shouting with joy, a dog at his heels and a bow in
his hand. Before he disappeared she marked the ring, this time on his
finger. . . . He had scarcely gone ere another appeared on the road, a
slim pale child, dressed in some stuff that gleamed like satin, and mounted
on a pony. . . . The spectacle delighted her, for it brought her in mind of
the princes she had been told of in fairytales. And there was the ring,
worn over a saffron riding glove. . . .
A sudden weakness made her swoon; and out of it she woke to a consciousness
of the hut where she lay. She had thought she was dead and in heaven among
fair children, and the waking made her long for her own child. Surely that
was Abe in the doorway. . . . No, it was a taller and older lad, oddly
dressed, but he had a look of Abe--something in his eyes. He was on the
road too, and marching purposefully--and he had the ring. Even in her
mortal frailty she had a quickening of the heart. These strange people had
something to do with her, something to tell her, and that something was
about her son. . . .
There was a new boy in the picture. A dejected child who rubbed the ring on
his small breeches and played with it, looking up now and then with a
frightened start. The woman's heart ached for him, for she knew her own
life-long malady. He was hungry for something which he had small hope of
finding. . . . And then a wind seemed to blow out-of-doors and the world
darkened down to evening. But her eyes pierced the gloaming easily, and she
saw very plain the figure of a man.
He was sitting hunched up, with his chin in his hands, gazing into vacancy.
Without surprise she recognised something in his face that was her own. He
wore the kind of hunter's clothes that old folk had worn in her childhood,
and a long gun lay across his knees. His air was sombre and wistful, and
yet with a kind of noble content in it. He had Abe's puckered-up lips and
Abe's steady sad eyes. . . . Into her memory came a verse of the
Scriptures which had always fascinated her. "These all died in faith, not
having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were
persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were
strangers and pilgrims upon the earth "
She saw it all in a flash of enlightenment. These seekers throughout the
ages had been looking for something and had not found it. But Abe, her son,
was to find it. That was why she had been shown those pictures.
Once again she looked through the door into bright sunshine. It was a place
that she knew beside the Ohio she remembered the tall poplar clump. She did
not see the Jacksons' farm which stood south of the trees, but there was
graveyard, which as a little girl she had been afraid to pass. Now it
seemed to be fresh made, for painted vermilion wands stood about the
mounds. On one of them was a gold trinket, tied by a loop of hide, rattled
in the wind. It was her ring. The seeker lay buried there with the talisman
She was awake now, oblivious of the swift sinking of her vital energy. She
must have the ring, for it was the pledge of a great glory. . . .
A breathless little girl flung herself into the cabin. It was Sophy Hanks,
one of the many nieces who squattered like ducks about the settlement.
"Mammy!" she cried shrilly. "Mammy Linkorn!" She stammered with the
excitement of the bearer of ill news. "Abe's lost your ring in the crick.
He took it for a sinker to his lines, for Indian Jake telled him a piece of
gold would cotch the grit fish. And a grit fish has cotched it. Abe's bin
divn' and divn' and can't find it nohow. He reckons it's plumb Ain't he a
bad 'un, Mammy Linkhorn?"
It was some time before the dying woman understood. Then she began feebly
to cry. For the moment her ring loomed large in her eyes: it was the
earnest of the promise, and without it the promise might fail. She had not
strength to speak or even to sob, and the tears trickled over her cheeks in
dumb impotent misery.
She was roused by the culprit Abe. He stood beside her with his wet hair
streaked into a fringe along his brow. The skin of his neck glistened wet
in the opening of his shirt. His cheeks too glistened, but not with the
water of the creek. He was crying bitterly.
He had no words of explanation or defence. His thick underlip stuck out and
gave him the appeal of a penitent dog; the tears had furrowed paler
channels down grimy cheeks; he was the very incarnation of uncouth misery.
But his mother saw none of these things. . . . On the instant he seemed to
her transfigured. Something she saw in him of all the generations of
pleading boys that had passed before her, something of the stern confidence
of the man over whose grave the ring had fluttered. But more--far more. She
was assured that the day of the seekers had passed and that the finder had
come. . . . The young features were transformed into the lines of a man's
strength. The eyes dreamed but also commanded, the loose mouth had the gold
of wisdom and the steel of resolution. The promise had not failed her. . .
. She had won everything from life, for she had given the world a master.
Words seemed to speak themselves in her ear . . . "Bethink you of the
blessedness. Every wife is like the Mother of God and has the hope of
bearing a saviour of mankind."
She lay very still in her great joy. The boy in a fright sprang to her
side, knocking over the stool with the pannikin of water. He knelt on the
floor and hid his face in the bed-clothes. Her hand found his shaggy head.
Her voice was very faint now, but he heard it.
"Don't cry, little Abe," she said. "Don't you worry about the ring, dearie.
It ain't needed no more.
Half an hour later, when the cabin door was dim with twilight, the hand
which the boy held grew cold.
CHAPTER 14. THE END OF THE ROAD
When Edward M. Stanton was associated at Cincinnati in 1857 with Abraham
Lincoln in the great McCormick Reaper patent suit, it was commonly assumed
that this was the first time the two men had met. Such was Lincoln's view,
for his memory was apt to have blind patches in it. But in fact there had
been a meeting fifteen years before, the recollection of which in Stanton's
mind had been so overlaid by the accumulations of a busy life that it did
not awake till after the President's death.
In the early fall of 1842 Stanton had occasion to visit Illinois. He was
then twenty-five years of age, and had already attained the position of
leading lawyer in his native town of Steubenville in Ohio and acted as
reporter of the Supreme Court of that State. He was a solemn reserved young
man, with a square fleshy face and a strong ill-tempered jaw. His tight
lips curved downwards at the corners and, combined with his bold eyes, gave
him an air of peculiar shrewdness and purpose. He did not forget that he
came of good professional stock--New England on one side and Virginia on
the other--and that he was college-bred, unlike the common backwoods
attorney. Also he was resolved on a great career, with the White House at
the end of it, and was ready to compel all whom he met to admit the justice
of his ambition The conscious of uncommon talent and a shining future gave
him a self-possession rare in a young man, and a complacence not unlike
arrogance. His dress suited his pretensions--the soft rich broadcloth which
tailors called doeskin, and linen of a fineness rare outside the eastern
cities. He was not popular in Ohio, but he was respected for his sharp
tongue, subtle brain, and intractable honesty.
His business finished, he had the task of filling up the evening, for he
could not leave for home till the morrow. His host, Mr. George Curtin, was
a little shy of his guest and longed profoundly to see the last of him. It
was obvious that this alert lawyer regarded the Springfield folk as
mossbacks--which might be well enough for St. Louis and Chicago, but was
scarcely becoming in a man from Steubenville. Another kind of visitor he
might have taken to a chickenfight, but one glance at Stanton barred that
solution. So he compromised on Speed's store.
"There's one or two prominent citizens gathered there most nights," he
explained. "Like as not we'll find Mr. Lincoln. I reckon you've heard of
Mr. Stanton had not. He denied the imputation as if he were annoyed.
"Well, we think a mighty lot of him round here. He's Judge Logan's law
partner and considered one of the brightest in Illinois. He's been returned
to the State Legislature two or three times, and he's a dandy on the stump.
A hot Whig and none the worse of that, though I reckon them's not your
politics. . . . We're kind of proud of him in Sangamon county. No, not a
native. Rode into the town one day five years back from New Salem with all
his belongings in a saddle-bag, and started business next morning in Joe
Speed's back room. . . . He's good company, Abe, for you never heard a
better man to tell a story. You'd die of laughing. Though I did hear he was
a sad man just now along of being crossed in love, so I can't promise you
he'll be up to his usual, if he's at Speed's to-night."
"I suppose the requirements for a western lawyer," said Mr. Stanton acidly,
"are a gift of buffoonery and a reputation for gallantry." He was intensely
bored, and had small desire to make the acquaintance of provincial
Mr. Curtin was offended, but could think of no suitable retort, and as they
were close on Speed's store he swallowed his wrath and led the way through
alleys of piled merchandise to the big room where the stove was lighted.
It was a chilly fall night and the fire was welcome. Half a dozen men sat
smoking round it, with rummers of reeking toddy at their elbows. They were
ordinary citizens of the place, and they talked of the last horseraces. As
the new-comers entered they were appealing to a figure perched on a high
barrel to decide some point in dispute.
This figure climbed down from its perch, as they entered, with a sort of
awkward courtesy. It was a very tall man, thin almost to emaciation, with
long arms and big hands and feet. He had a lean, powerful-looking head,
marred by ugly projecting ears and made shapeless by a mass of untidy black
hair. The brow was broad and fine, and the dark eyes set deep under it; the
nose, too, was good, but the chin and mouth were too small for the
proportions of the face. The mouth, indeed, was so curiously puckered, and
the lower lip so thick and prominent, as to give something of a comic
effect. The skin was yellow, but stretched so firm and hard on the cheek
bones that the sallowness did not look unhealthy. The man wore an old suit
of blue jeans and his pantaloons did not meet his coarse unblacked shoes by
six inches. His scraggy throat was adorned with a black neckerchief like a
"Abe," said Mr. Curtin, "I would like to make you known to my friend Mr.
Stanton of Ohio."
The queer face broke into a pleasant smile, and the long man held out his
"Glad to know you, Mr. Stanton," he said, and then seemed to be stricken
with shyness. His wandering eye caught sight of a new patent churn which
had just been added to Mr. Speed's stock. He took two steps to it and was
presently deep in its mechanism. He turned it all ways, knelt beside it on
the floor, took off the handle and examined it, while the rest of the
company pressed Mr. Stanton to a seat by the fire.
"I heard Abe was out at Rochester helping entertain Ex- President Van
Buren," said Mr. Curtin to the store-keeper.
"I reckon he was," said Speed. "He kept them roaring till morning. Judge
Peck told me he allowed Mr. Van Buren would be stiff for a month with
laughing at Abe's tales. It's curious that a man who don't use tobacco or
whisky should be such mighty good company."
"I wish Abe'd keep it up," said another. "Most of the time now he goes
about like a sick dog. What's come to him, Joe?"
Mr. Speed hushed his voice. "He's got his own troubles. . . . He's a
deep-feeling man, and can't forget easily like you and me. . . . But
things is better with him, and I kind of hope to see him wed by Thanks.
giving Day. . . . Look at him with that churn. He's that inquisitive he
can't keep his hands off no new thing."
But the long man had finished his inquiry and rejoined the group by the stove.
"I thought you were a lawyer, Mr. Lincoln," said Stanton, "but you seem to
have the tastes of a mechanic."
The other grinned. "I've a fancy for any kind of instrument, for I was a
surveyor in this county before I took to law."
"George Washington also was a surveyor."
"Also, but not LIKEWISE. I don't consider I was much of a hand with the
compass and chains."
"It is the fashion in Illinois, I gather, for the law to be the last in a
series of many pursuits--the pool where the driftwood from many streams
comes to rest." Mr. Stanton spoke with the superior air of one who took his
profession seriously and had been trained for it in the orthodox fashion.
"It was so in my case. I've kept a post-office, and I've had a store, and
I've had a tavern, and I kept them so darned bad that I'm still paying off
the debts I made in them." The long man made the confession with a comic
"There's a deal to be said for the habit,'t said Speed. "Having followed
other trades teaches a lawyer something about human nature. I reckon Abe
wouldn't be the man he is if he had studied his books all his days."
"There is another side to that," said Mr. Stanton and his precise accents
and well-modulated voice seemed foreign in that homely place. "You are also
a politician, Mr. Lincoln?"
The other nodded. "Of a kind. I'm a strong Henry Clay man."
"Well, there I oppose you. I'm no Whig or lover of Whigs. But I'm a lover
of the Constitution and the law of the country, and that Constitution and
that country are approaching perilous times. There's explosive stuff about
which is going to endanger the stability of the noble heritage we have
received from our fathers, and if that heritage is to be saved it can only
be by those who hold fast to its eternal principles. This land can only be
saved by its lawyers, sir. But they must be lawyers profoundly read in the
history and philosophy of their profession, and no catchpennny advocates
with a glib tongue and an elastic conscience. The true lawyer must approach
his task with reverence and high preparation; for as his calling is the
noblest of human activities, so it is the most exacting."
The POINT-DEVICE young man spoke with a touch of the schoolmaster, but his
audience, who had an inborn passion for fine words, were impressed. Lincoln
sat squatted on his heels on a bit of sacking, staring into the open door
of the stove.
"There's truth in that," he said slowly. His voice had not the mellow tones
of the other's, being inclined to shrillness, but it gave the impression of
great power waiting on release somewhere in his massive chest. "But I
reckon it's only half the truth, for truth's like a dollar-piece, it's got
two sides, and both are wanted to make it good currency. The law and the
constitution are like a child's pants. They've got to be made wider and
longer as the child grows so as to fit him. If they're kept too tight,
he'll burst them; and if you're in a hurry and make them too big all at
once, they'll trip him up."
"Agreed," said Stanton, "but the fashion and the fabric should be kept of
the same good American pattern."
The long man ran a hand through his thatch of hair.
"There's only one fashion in pants--to make them comfortable. And some day
that boy is going to grow so big you won't be able to make the old ones do
and he'll have to get a new pair. If he's living on a farm he'll want the
same kind of good working pants, but for all that they'll have to be new
Stanton laughed with some irritation
"I hate arguing in parables, for in the nature of things they can't be
exact. That's a mistake you westerners make. The law must change in detail
with changing conditions, but its principles cannot alter, and the respect
for these principles is our only safeguard against relapse into savagery.
Take slavery. There are fools in the east who would abolish it by act of
Congress. For myself I do not love the system, but I love anarchy and
injustice less, and if you abolish slavery you abolish also every-right of
legal property, and that means chaos and barbarism. A free people such as
ours cannot thus put the knife to their throat. If we were the serfs of a
monarchy, accustomed to bow before the bidding of a king, it might be
different, but a republic cannot do injustice to one section of its
citizens without destroying itself."
Lincoln had not taken his eyes from the stove. He seemed to be seeing
things in the fire, for he smiled to himself.
"Well," he drawled, "I reckon that some day we may have to find some sort
of a king. The new pants have got to be made."
Mr. Stanton shrugged his shoulders, and the other, quick to detect
annoyance, scrambled to his feet and stood looking down from his great
height at his dapper antagonist. A kindly quizzical smile lit his homely
face. "We'll quit arguing, Mr. Stanton, for I admit I'm afraid of you.
You're some years younger than me, but I expect you would have me convinced
on your side if we went on. And maybe I'd convince you too, and then we'd
be like old Jim Fletcher at New Salem. You'll have heard about Jim. He had
a mighty quarrel with his neighbour about a hog, Jim alleging it was one of
his lot and the neighbour claiming it for his. Well, they argued and
argued, and the upshot was that Jim convinced the neighbour that the hog
was Jim's, and the neighbour convinced Jim that the hog was the
neighbour's, and neither of them would touch that hog, and they were worse
friends than ever."
Mr. Curtin rose and apologised to his companion. He had to see a man about
a buggy and must leave Mr. Stanton to find his way back alone.
"Don't worry, George," said the long man. "I'm going round your way and
I'll see your friend home." As Mr. Stanton professed himself ready for bed,
the little party by the stove broke up. Lincoln fetched from a corner a
dilapidated carpet-bag full of papers, and an old green umbrella,
handle-less, tied with string about the middle, and having his name sewn
inside in straggling letters cut out of white muslin. He and Stanton went
out-of-doors into the raw autumn night.
The town lay very quiet in a thin fog made luminous by a full moon. The
long man walked with his feet turned a little inwards, accommodating his
gait to the shorter stride of his companion. Mr. Stanton, having recovered
from his momentary annoyance, was curious about this odd member of his own
profession. Was it possible that in the whirligig of time a future could
lie before one so uncouth and rustical? A democracy was an unaccountable
thing, and these rude westerners might have to be reckoned with.
"You are ambitious of a political career, Mr. Lincoln?" he asked.
The other looked down with his shy crooked smile, and the Ohio lawyer
suddenly realised that the man had his own attractiveness.
"Why, no, sir. I shouldn't like to say I was ambitious. I've no call to be,
for the Almighty hasn't blessed me with any special gifts. You're
different. It would be a shame to you if you didn't look high, for you're a
young man with all the world before you. I'm getting middle-aged and I
haven't done anything to be proud of yet, and I reckon I won't get the
chance, and if I did I couldn't take advantage of it. I'm pretty fond of
the old country, and if she wants me, why, she's only got to say so and
I'll do what she tells me. But I don't see any clear road I want to travel.
. . ."
He broke off suddenly, and Stanton, looking up at him, saw that his face
had changed utterly. The patient humorous look had gone and it was like a
tragic mask, drawn and strained with suffering. They were passing by a
little town cemetery and, as if by some instinct, had halted.
The place looked strange and pitiful in the hazy moonlight. It was badly
tended, and most of the headstones were only of painted wood, warped and
buckled by the weather. But in the dimness the rows of crosses and slabs
seemed to extend into the far distance, and the moon gave them a cold,
eerie whiteness as if they lay in the light of another world. A great sign
came from Lincoln, and Stanton thought that he had never seen on mortal
countenance such infinite sadness.
"Ambition!" he said. "How dare we talk of ambition, when this is the end of
it? All these people--decent people, kind people, once full of joy and
purpose, and now all forgotten! It is not the buried bodies I mind, it is
the buried hearts. . . .I wonder if it means peace. . . ."
He stood there with head bowed and he seemed to be speaking to himself.
Stanton caught a phrase or two and found it was verse--banal verses, which
were there and then fixed in his fly-paper memory. "Tell me, my secret
soul," it ran:
"Oh, tell me, Hope and Faith,
Is there no resting-place
From sorrow, sin, and death?
Is there no happy spot
Where mortals may be blessed,
Where grief may find a balm
And weariness a rest?"
The figure murmuring these lines seemed to be oblivious of his companion.
He stood gazing under the moon, like a gaunt statue of melancholy. Stanton
spoke to him but got no answer, and presently took his own road home. He
had no taste for histrionic scenes. And as he went his way he meditated.
Mad, beyond doubt. Not without power in him, but unbalanced, hysterical,
alternating between buffoonery and these schoolgirl emotions. He reflected
that if the American nation contained much stuff of this kind it might
prove a difficult team to drive. He was thankful that he was going home
next day to his orderly life.
Eighteen years have gone, and the lanky figure of Speed's store is revealed
in new surroundings. In a big square room two men sat beside a table
littered with the debris of pens, foolscap, and torn fragments of paper
which marked the end of a Council. It was an evening at the beginning of
April, and a fire burned in the big grate. One of the two sat at the table
with his elbows on the mahogany, and his head supported by a hand. He was a
man well on in middle life with a fine clean-cut face and the shapely
mobile lips of the publicist and orator. It was the face of one habituated
to platforms and assemblies, full of a certain selfconscious authority. But
to-night its possessor seemed ill at ease. His cheeks were flushed and his
The other had drawn his chair to the fire, so that one side of him was lit
by the late spring sun and one by the glow from the hearth. That figure we
first saw in the Springfield store had altered little in the eighteen
years. There was no grey in the coarse black hair, but the lines in the
sallow face were deeper, and there were dark rings under the hollow. eyes.
The old suit of blue jeans had gone; and he wore now a frock-coat,
obviously new, which was a little too full for his gaunt frame. His tie, as
of old, was like a boot-lace. A new silk hat, with the nap badly ruffled,
stood near on the top of a cabinet.
He smiled rather wearily. "We're pretty near through the appointments now,
Mr. Secretary. It's a mean business, but I'm a minority President and I've
got to move in zig-zags so long as I don't get off the pike. I reckon that
honest statesmanship is just the employment of individual meannesses for
the public good. Mr. Sumner wouldn't agree. He calls himself the slave of
principles and says he owns no other master. Mr. Sumner's my notion of a
The other did not seem to be listening. "Are you still set on re-enforcing
Fort Sumter?" he asked, his bent brows making a straight line above his
Lincoln nodded. He was searching in the inside pocket of his frock-coat,
from which he extracted a bundle of papers. Seward saw what he was after,
and his self-consciousness increased.
"You have read my letter?" he asked.
"I have," said Lincoln, fixing a pair of cheap spectacles on his nose. He
had paid thirty-seven cents for them in Bloomington five years before. "A
mighty fine letter. Full of horse sense."
"You agree with it?" asked the other eagerly.
"Why, no. I don't agree with it, but I admire it a lot and I admire its
"Mr. President," said Seward solemnly, "on one point I am adamant. We
cannot suffer the dispute to be about slavery. If we fight on that issue we
shall have the Border States against us."
"I'm thinking all the time about the Border States. We've got to keep them.
If there's going to be trouble I'd like to have the Almighty on my side,
but I must have Kentucky."
"And yet you will go forward about Sumter, which is regarded by everyone as
a slavery issue."
"The issue is as God has made it. You can't go past the bed-rock facts. I
am the trustee for the whole property of the nation, of which Sumter is a
piece, and if I give up one stick or stone to a rebellious demand I am an
unfaithful steward. Surely, Mr. Secretary, if you want to make the issue
union or disunion you can't give up Sumter without fatally prejudicing your
"It means war."
Lincoln looked again at the document in his hand. "It appears that you are
thinking of war in any event. You want to pick a quarrel with France over
Mexico and with Spain over St. Domingo, and unite the nation in a war
against foreigners. I tell you honestly I don't like the proposal. It seems
to me downright wicked.
If the Lord sends us war, we have got to face it like men, but God forbid
we should manufacture war, and use it as an escape from our domestic
difficulties. You can t expect a blessing on that."
The Secretary of State flushed. "Have you considered the alternative, Mr.
President?" he cried. "It is civil war, war between brothers in blood. So
soon as the South fires a shot against Sumter the sword is unsheathed. You
cannot go back then."
"I am fully aware of it. I haven't been sleeping much lately, and I've been
casting up my accounts. It s a pretty weak balance sheet. I would like to
tell you the main items, Mr. Secretary, so that you may see that I'm not
walking this road blindfold."
The other pushed back his chair from the table with a gesture of despair.
But he listened. Lincoln had risen and stood in front of the fire, his
shoulders leaning on the mantelpiece, and his head against the lower part
of the picture of George Washington.
"First," he said, "I'm a minority President, elected by a minority vote of
the people of the United States. I wouldn't have got in if the Democrats
hadn't been split. I haven't a majority in the Senate. Yet I've got to
decide for the nation and make the nation follow me. Have I the people's
confidence? I reckon I haven't--yet. I haven't even got the confidence of
the Republican party."
Seward made no answer. He clearly assented.
"Next, I haven't got much in the way of talents. I reckon Jeff Davis a far
abler man than me. My friends tell me I haven't the presence and dignity
for a President. My shaving-glass tells me I'm a common-looking fellow." He
stopped and smiled. "But perhaps the Lord prefers common-looking people,
and that's why He made so many of them.
"Next," he went on, "I've a heap of critics and a lot of enemies. Some good
men say I've no experience in Government, and that's about true. Up in New
England the papers are asking who is this political huckster, this county
court advocate? Mr. Stanton says I'm an imbecile, and when he's cross calls
me the original gorilla, and wonders why fools wander about in Africa when
they could find the beast they are looking for in Washington. The pious
everywhere don't like me, because I don't hold that national policy can be
run on the lines of a church meeting. And the Radicals are looking for me
with a gun, because I'm not prepared right here and now to abolish slavery.
One of them calls me 'the slave hound of Illinois.' I'd like to meet that
man, for I guess he must be a humorist."
Mr. Seward leaned forward and spoke earnestly. "Mr. President, no man
values your great qualities more than I do or reprobates more heartily such
vulgar libels. But it is true that you lack executive experience. I have
been the Governor of the biggest State in the Union, and possess some
knowledge of the task. It is all at your service. Will you not allow me to
ease your burden?"
Lincoln smiled down kindly upon the other. "I thank you with all my heart.
You have touched on that matter in your letter. . . . But, Mr. Secretary,
in the inscrutable providence of God it is I who have been made President.
I cannot shirk the duty. I look to my Cabinet, and notably to you for
advice and loyal assistance, and I am confident that I shall get it. But in
the end I and I only must decide."
Seward looked up at the grave face and said nothing. Lincoln went on:
"I have to make a decision which may bring war--civil war. I don't know
anything about war, though I served a month or two in the Black Hawk
campaign and yet, if war comes, I am the Commander-in-Chief of the Union.
Who among us knows anything of the business. General Scott is an old man,
and he doesn't just see eye to eye with me; for I'm told he talks about
'letting the wayward sisters go in peace.' Our army and navy's nothing much
to boast of, and the South is far better prepared. You can't tell how our
people will take war, for they're all pulling different ways just now.
Blair says the whole North will spring to arms, but I guess they've first
got to find the arms to spring to. . . . I was reviewing some militia the
other day, and they looked a deal more like a Fourth of July procession
than a battlefield. Yes, Mr. Secretary, if we have to fight, we've first
got to make an army."
Remember, too, that it will he civil war--kin against kin, brother against
"I remember. All war is devilish, but ours will be the most devilish that
the world has ever known. It isn't only the feeding of fresh young boys to
rebel batteries that grieves me, though God knows that's not a thing that
bears thinking about. It's the bitterness and hate within the people. Will
it ever die down, Mr. Secretary?"
Lincoln was very grave, and his face was set like a man in anguish. Seward,
deeply moved, rose and stood beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder
"And for what, Mr. President?" he cried. "That is the question I ask
myself. We are faced by such a problem as no man ever before had to meet.
If five and a half million white men deeply in earnest are resolved to
secede, is there any power on earth that can prevent them? You may beat
them in battle, but can you ever force them again inside the confines of
the nation? Remember Chatham's saying: 'Conquer a free population of three
million souls--the thing is impossible.' They stand on the rights of
democracy, the right of self-government, the right to decide their own
Lincoln passed a hand over his brow. His face had suddenly became very worn
"I've been pondering a deal over the position of the South," he said. "I
reckon I see their point of view, and I'll not deny there's sense in it.
There's a truth in their doctrine of State rights, but they've got it out
of focus. If I had been raised in South Carolina, loving the slave-system
because I had grown up with it and thinking more of my State than of the
American nation, maybe I'd have followed Jeff Davis. I'm not saying there's
no honesty in the South, I'm not saying there's not truth on their side,
but I do say that ours is the bigger truth and the better truth. I hold
that a nation is too sacred a thing to tamper with--even for good reasons.
Why, man, if you once grant the right of a minority to secede you make
popular government foolish. I'm willing to fight to prevent democracy
becoming a laughing-stock."
"It's a fine point to make war about," said the other.
"Most true points are fine points. There never was a dispute between
mortals where both sides hadn't a bit of right. I admit that the margin is
narrow, but if it's made of good rock it's sufficient to give us a
foothold. We've got to settle once for all the question whether in a free
Government the minority have a right to break up the Government whenever
they choose. If we fail, then we must conclude that we've been all wrong
from the start, and that the people need a tyrant, being incapable of
Seward wrung his hands. "If you put it that way I cannot confute you. But,
oh, Mr. President, is there not some means of building a bridge? I cannot
think that honest Southerners would force war on such a narrow issue.
"They wouldn't but for this slavery. It is that accursed system that
obscures their reason. If they fight, the best of them will fight out of a
mistaken loyalty to their State, but most will fight for the right to keep
their slaves. . . . If you are to have bridges, you must have solid ground
at both ends. I've heard a tale of some church members that wanted to build
a bridge over a dangerous river. Brother Jones suggested one Myers, and
Myers answered that, if necessary, he could build one to hell. This alarmed
the church members, and Jones, to quiet them, said he believed his friend
Myers was so good an architect that he could do it if he said he could,
though he felt bound himself to express some doubt about the abutment on
the infernal side."
A queer quizzical smile had relieved the gravity of the President's face.
But Seward was in no mood for tales.
"Is there no other way?" he moaned, and his suave voice sounded cracked and
"There is no other way but to go forward. I've never been a man for cutting
across lots when I could go round by the road, but if the roads are all
shut we must take to open country. For it is altogether necessary to go
Seward seemed to pull himself together. He took a turn down the room and
then faced Lincoln.
"Mr. President," he said, "you do not know whether you have a majority
behind you even in the North." You have no experience of government and
none of war. The ablest men in your party are luke-warm or hostile towards
you. You have no army to speak of, and will have to make everything from
the beginning. You feel as I do about the horror of war, and above all the
horrors of civil war. You do not know whether the people will support you.
You grant that there is some justice in the contention of the South, and
you claim for your own case only a balance of truth. You admit that to
coerce the millions of the South back into the Union is a kind of task
which has never been performed in the world before and one which the wise
of all ages have pronounced impossible. And yet, for the sake of a narrow
point, you are ready, if the need arises, to embark on a war which must be
bloody and long, which must stir the deeps of bitterness, and which in all
likelihood will achieve nothing. Are you entirely resolved?"
Lincoln's sad eyes rested on the other. "I am entirely resolved. I have
been set here to decide for the people according to the best of my talents,
and the Almighty has shown me no other road."
Seward held out his hand.
"Then, by God, you must be right. You are the bravest man in this land,
sir, and I will follow you to the other side of perdition."
The time is two years later--a warm evening in early May. There had been no
rain for a week in Washington, and the President, who had ridden in from
his summer quarters in the Soldiers' Home, had his trousers grey with dust
from the knees down. He had come round to the War Department, from which in
these days he was never long absent, and found the Secretary for War busy
as usual at his high desk. There had been the shortest of greetings, and,
while Lincoln turned over the last telegrams, Stanton wrote steadily.
Stanton had changed much since the night in the Springfield store. A square
beard, streaked with grey, covered his chin, and his face had grown
heavier. There were big pouches below the short-sighted eyes, and deep
lines on each side of his short shaven upper lip. His skin had an unheathly
pallor, like that of one who works late and has little fresh air. The
mouth, always obstinate, was now moulded into a settled grimness. The
ploughs of war had made deep furrows on his soul.
Lincoln, too, had altered. He had got a stoop in his shoulders as if his
back carried a burden. A beard had been suffered to grow in a ragged fringe
about his jaw and cheeks, and there were silver threads in it. His whole
face seemed to have been pinched and hammered together, so that it looked
like a mask of pale bronze--a death mask, for it was hard to believe that
blood ran below that dry tegument. But the chief change was in his eyes.
They had lost the alertness they once possessed, and had become pits of
brooding shade, infinitely kind, infinitely patient, infinitely melancholy.
Yet there was a sort of weary peace in the face, and there was still humour
in the puckered mouth and even in the sad eyes. He looked less harassed
than the Secretary for War. He drew a small book from his pocket, at which
the other glanced malevolently.
I give you fair warning, Mr. President," said Stanton. "If you've come here
to read me the work of one of your tom-fool funny men, I'll fling it out of
"This work is the Bible," said Lincoln, with the artlessness of a
mischievous child. I looked in to ask how the draft was progressing."
"It starts in Rhode Island on July 7, and till it starts I can say nothing.
We've had warning that there will be fierce opposition in New York. It may
mean that we have a second civil war on our hands. And of one thing I am
certain--it will cost you your re-election."
The President did not seem perturbed. "In this war we've got to take one
step at a time," he said. "Our job is to save the country, and to do that
we've got to win battles. But you can't win battles without armies, and if
men won't enlist of their own will they've got to be compelled. What use is
a second term to me if I have no country. . . . You're not weakening on
the policy of the draft, Mr. Stanton?"
The War Minister shrugged his shoulders. "No. In March it seemed
inevitable. I still think it is essential, but I am forced to admit the
possibility that it may be a rank failure. It is the boldest step you have
taken, Mr. President. Have you ever regretted it?"
Lincoln shook his head. "It don't do to start regretting. This war is
managed by the Almighty, and if it's his purpose that we should win He will
show us how. I regard our fallible reasoning and desperate conclusions as
part of His way of achieving His purpose. But about that draft. I'll answer
you in the words of a young Quaker woman who against the rules had married
a military man. The elders asked her if she was sorry, and she replied that
she couldn't truly say that she was sorry, but that she could say she
wouldn't do it again. I was for the draft, and I was for the war, to
prevent democracy making itself foolish."
"You'll never succeed in that," said Stanton gravely.
"If Congress is democracy, there can't be a more foolish gathering outside
The President grinned broadly. He was humming the air of a nigger song,
"The Blue-tailed Fly," which Lamon had taught him.
"That reminds me of Artemus Ward. He observes that at the last election he
voted for Henry Clay. It's true, he says, that Henry was dead, but Since
all the politicians that he knew were fifteenth-rate he preferred to vote
for a first-class corpse."
Stanton moved impatiently. He hated the President's pocket humorists and
had small patience with his tales. "Was ever a great war fought," he cried,
with such a camp-following as our Congressmen?"
Lincoln looked comically surprised.
"You're too harsh, Mr. Stanton. I admit there are one or two rascals who'd
be better hanged. But the trouble is that most of them are too
high-principled. They are that set on liberty that they won't take the
trouble to safeguard it. They would rather lose the war than give up their
little notions. I've a great regard for principles, but I have no use for
them when they get so high that they become foolishness."
"Every idle pedant thinks he knows better how to fight a war than the men
who are labouring sixteen hours a day at it," said Stanton bitterly.
They want to hurry things quicker than the Almighty means them to go. I
don't altogether blame them either, for I'm mortally impatient myself. But
it s no good thinking that saying a thing should be so will make it so.
We're not the Creator of this universe. You've got to judge results
according to your instruments. Horace Greeley is always telling me what I
should do, but Horace omits to explain how
I am to find the means. You can't properly manure a fifty-acre patch with
only a bad smell."
Lincoln ran his finger over the leaves of the small Bible he had taken from
his pocket "Seems to me Moses had the same difficulties to contend with.
Read the sixteenth chapter of the book of Numbers at your leisure, Mr.
Secretary. It's mighty pertinent to our situation. The people have been a
deal kinder to me than I deserve and I've got more cause for thankfulness
than complaint. But sometimes I get just a little out of patience with our
critics. I want to say to them as Moses said to Korah, Dathan, and
Abiram--'Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi!'"
Lincoln's speech had broadened into something like the dialect of his
boyhood. Stanton finished the paper on which he had been engaged and
stepped aside from his desk. His face was heavily preoccupied and he kept
an eye always on the door leading to his private secretary's room.
"At this moment," he said, "Hooker is engaged with Lee." He put a finger on