Round Anvil Rock
Nancy Huston Banks
Part 2 out of 5
then the tall figure vaulted into the saddle and disappeared in the
surrounding blackness of the forest.
"Now! Here she is. Quick!" cried the doctor.
So crying, he plunged into the storm-lashed sea of humanity like a
strong swimmer. The boy followed as well as he could, using all his
strength, but they were both dashed back again and again, till at last a
wilder wave caught them up and cast them down beside Ruth. Instantly the
doctor lifted her in his arms before David found breath, and held her as
lightly as if she had been but a wreath of smoke blown across his
breast. Holding her thus, and lifting her higher above those wild
waves, he bore her through them as if they had been but rippling water.
On and on he went to the border of the forest beyond the tumult where
the torchlight was brightest, and there he gently set her down. And then
all alone they stood silently looking at each other. They were still
gazing down into one another's faces, when the boy ran up, panting. At
the sight of him the wonder went out of Ruth's blue eyes, and the fright
came back. The spell was broken, and she remembered where she was.
"David! Come to me. Take me away!" she cried. "Oh, what a fearful place!
I can never forget it while I live. Where is William? We were separated
by the crowd."
But even as she spoke, in tones that trembled with alarm, while yet her
beautiful face was white and her blue eyes full of tears, there came one
of the swift changes that gave her beauty its greatest charm. A vivid
blush dyed her cheek, the long, wet lashes suddenly unveiled a
coquettish glance, there was a dazzling smile, her hands went up to put
her blown hair in order, and she drew on the forgotten gypsy bonnet
which was hanging by its strings on her arm. She drew closer to the boy,
but she looked at the doctor over her shoulder.
"Who is this gentleman, David?" she faltered. "And how--"
Paul Colbert spoke for himself, telling her his name.
"I am a doctor--the new doctor of the neighborhood," he said, adding
with a smile, "I beg your pardon. There was no other way. This young
gentleman--who came with me--saw you. We had been trying for an hour or
more to reach you. We were afraid to lose the first chance to get you
out of that dangerous crush."
His voice was drowned by a sudden roar which lifted the frenzy higher
and brought it nearer. The color and smiles fled again from Ruth's face,
and she clung to David in greater alarm.
"Take me home. Oh--oh--isn't it terrible! I can't wait to find William.
I must go now. I wouldn't be afraid to go alone with you, dear. Not in
the least afraid. Take me--take me!"
"Come, then," said David. "The pony's over here."
"But I don't know where my horse is. I don't know where William tied it.
I am so turned round that I don't know anything." She was beginning to
smile again at her own bewilderment.
"The pony can take us both," said the boy.
She was turning away with him when the doctor interfered with hesitating
"If you will permit me--I would suggest that your friend who came with
you may be anxious. He will naturally try to find you. Not knowing that
you are gone, he must be alarmed. If I knew him by sight, I could find
him and tell him--"
Again his voice was lost in the rising roar of the multitude. The girl
buried her face against the boy's shoulder, shudderingly and trembling,
and burst into weeping.
"Tell me what to do, David! I can't bear this any longer," she sobbed.
"Take me away. Tell me what to do! Oh! Oh!" putting her shaking hands
over her ears to shut out the dreadful sounds.
The doctor touched her arm. "If you would allow me to take you home,
perhaps this young gentleman could stay and find the person who came
with you." He turned quickly to the boy. "You know him?"
"Yes," David replied unwillingly.
His heart had begun to beat high. Here was a better chance to prove
himself a man than he had dared hope for. And now this bold stranger was
trying to rob him of it. He struggled with himself for a moment, before
he could give it up. But Ruth was crying and trembling and clinging to
"I will find William," he then said hastily. "Let the doctor take you
"But my horse is lost," Ruth lifted her head from David's shoulder and
flashed a tearful, smiling glance at the doctor. "How can you take me?"
"Leave it to me," Paul Colbert said quickly, in the tone of a man used
to meeting emergencies. "Come with me. I will find a way."
It seemed to Ruth and David that he was one to find a way to whatever
he wished. They followed him like two children, to the spot where his
horse was tied beside the pony. He untied the bridle with the quickness
of constant practice, and sprang into the saddle with the ease of the
practiced horseman. He threw the reins over the pommel, and then bending
down, held out his arms.
"Now!" he cried. "Give the young lady your hand for her foot!"
David hesitated, not understanding what he meant. It was the custom for
the women of the wilderness to ride behind the men; but it was plain
that this was not the young doctor's intention. He sat far back in his
large saddle, and when Ruth set her foot in the palm of David's hand,
and fluttered upward like a freed bird, he caught her and seated her
before him. A word to his horse and they were away. He was holding Ruth
close to his breast, and her white garments were blown about him, as
they vanished in the black wilderness.
A MORNING IN CEDAR HOUSE
It was almost morning when the boy and William Pressley reached home.
David did not go to bed, but set out at the first glimmer of dawn to do
the judge's bidding, calling the black men to go with him, since there
was no great glory to be won by going alone in the daylight. There was
time for a little rest after coming back, and it was still very early
when he arose from his bed and began to get ready for breakfast.
He looked from his cabin window at the river which always drew his
waking gaze. It was sparkling like a stream of liquid diamonds under the
flood of sunlight pouring over the dazzled earth. The fringing rushes
rippled as gently as the water under the snowy breasts of many swans.
The trees along the shore were freshly green and newly alive with the
color and chatter of the paroquets. Looking and listening, he thought
what a poetic notion it was that these vivid birds should carry the seed
pearls of the mistletoe from one mighty oak to another, bearing the tiny
treasures in the wax on their feet.
Far up the wide, shining river a great, heavy-laden barge was gliding
swiftly down. Its worn and clumsy sail seemed as white and graceful as
the wings of the swans in the sun. Its dull and tangled coils of
cordelles caught an unwonted charm from the sunbeams. Its merry crew was
singing a song, which came gayly over the flashing water:--
"Hi-ho, the boatmen row,
The Kentuck boys and the O-hi-o.
Dance, the boatmen, dance,
Dance, the boatmen, dance;
Dance all night till broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin'."
Watching the barge pass out of sight beneath the overhanging trees,
David turned to see a small dark object, leading two long verging lines
of silvery ripples across the glittering current. This cleft the water
near the Shawnee Crossing, and might, not long before, have been the
plumed head of a warrior wanting his canoe. But since the warriors were
all gone so strangely and suddenly, this brown speck now crossing the
river must have been the antlered head of a deer swimming to the other
side, thus giving the hunters warning that these green hills would soon
be white with snow. If so, there was no other sign of nearing winter.
The sombre forest stretching away from the opposite shore had not yet
been brightened by a touch of frost. The leaves on the near-by trees,
the great oaks and elms and poplars standing around Cedar House, were
thinning only through ripeness, and drifting very slowly down to the
green and growing grass. On the tall maples perfection alone had culled
the foliage, so wreathing the bronze boughs with rarer garlands of
No dread of wintry storms had yet driven away any of the birds that Ruth
fed every day on the sill of her chamber window. They were all there as
usual--the whole feathered colony--as if they wished to be polite, even
though they were not hungry on that sunny morning. The little ones, to
be sure, pecked a crumb now and then with a languid indifference. The
blue jays--as usual--were brazen in their ingratitude for any dole of
commonplace crumbs, while spicy seeds were still strewn by every scented
breeze. But shy and bold alike, they all flocked around Ruth's window,
and sat on the sill within reach of her hand, and cocked their pretty
heads as if it were feast enough only to look at her.
She had already been downstairs to fetch the birds' breakfast, and had
gone into the garden where the sweetest and reddest roses of all the
year were still blooming. She held a big bunch of them in her hand as
she stood at the open window and waved it at David in a morning
greeting, when she saw him crossing the yard. She came down the broad
stairs as he entered the great room, and she was wearing a fresh white
frock and her arms were full of the fragrant red roses.
The rest of the family were already in the room, and the table was laid
for breakfast. Ruth greeted each one with a smile, but she did not
speak, and began to move quietly about the table, giving those dainty
little finishing touches which no true woman ever leaves to a servant.
She put some of the roses in a vase, and rearranged this and that,
moving lightly and softly about. Her footsteps were as soundless as the
fall of tender leaves, and her garments made no more rustle than the
unfolding of a flower. She threw one of the red roses at David, and
wafted the judge a kiss. Once or twice she turned to speak to William,
but forthwith smilingly gave up all thought of it for the time being.
There never was any use in anybody's trying to speak while Miss Penelope
was in the height of the excitement of making the morning coffee. An
opportunity for a word might possibly occur during the making of the
coffee for dinner or supper. Miss Penelope did not consider this
function quite so solemn a ceremony at dinner or supper time. Sometimes,
at rare intervals, she had been known to allow the coffee for dinner or
supper to be made by the cook in the kitchen. But the making of the
breakfast coffee was a very different and far more imposing ceremonial.
This must always be performed in the presence of the, entire assembled
household, by her own hand, on the wide hearth in the great room of
Cedar House. To have permitted the cook to make the morning coffee in
the kitchen, would have been in Miss Penelope's eyes, to relegate a
sacred rite to profane hands in an unconsecrated place. Her own making
of the morning coffee had indeed much of the solemnity of a religious
ceremony--or would have had, if those who looked on, had been unable to
hear, or even slightly dull of hearing. For the sound of Miss Penelope's
voice was charming when the listener could not hear what it said. And
her dulcet tone always ran through the whole performance like the faint,
sweet echo of distant music. But when the listener's ears were keen, and
he could hear the things that this kind, caressing voice was saying, the
threats that it was uttering!--They were alarming enough to curdle the
blood of the little cup-bearers, black, brown, and yellow, who always
flew like shuttles back and forth between the big house and the distant
kitchen while Miss Penelope was making the breakfast coffee. It required
much flying of small dusky legs, to and fro, before the cold water was
cold enough, the hot water hot enough, and the fresh egg fresh enough,
to satisfy Miss Penelope that the coffee would be all that it should be.
On this particular morning the usual excitement had reached its crisis
as Ruth came down the stairs. There was usually a slight lull when the
first slender and almost invisible column of steam arose from the long
spout of the coffee-pot. That was the most critical moment, and it now
being safely past, Miss Penelope hastily sent away all the cup-bearers
in a body. But she still hovered anxiously over the pot, gravely
considering how many minutes longer it should rest on its trivet over
the glowing coals. Hers was a quaint little figure. She wore a queer
little black dress, very short and narrow, made after some peculiar
fashion of her own, and over it a queerer little cape of the same stuff.
Her cap on the other hand was singularly large and white, and the ruffle
around her face was very wide and very stiff. The snapping black eyes
under the ruffle were never still, and the clawlike little hands were
never at rest. David in his idle way used to wonder what she worried
about and fidgeted over in her sleep. But it was hard to think of her
asleep; it would have been easier to fancy a sleeping weasel.
Nevertheless the boy liked Miss Penelope. Ruth and he had learned while
they were little children, that there was no unkindness in the snapping
of her sharp little black eyes, and that the terrible things she said
were as harmless as heat lightning. Even the little cup-bearers, black,
brown, and yellow, all knew how kind-hearted she was, and did not mind
in the least the most appalling threats uttered by her sweet, soft
voice. She always gave them something before she sent them flying back
to the cabins. Everybody liked her better than the widow Broadnax who
never scolded or meddled and indeed, rarely spoke at all to any one upon
any subject. For the household had long since come to understand that
this lady, like many another of her kind, was silent mainly because she
had nothing to say; and that she never found fault, simply because she
did not care. Indifference like hers often passes for amiability; and
that sort of motionless silence conceals a vacuum quite as often as it
covers a deep. Only one thing ever fully aroused the widow Broadnax; and
this was to see her half-sister taking authority in her own brother's
house. And indeed, that were enough to rouse the veriest mollusk of a
woman. In the case of the widow Broadnax this natural feeling was not at
all affected by the fact that she was too indolent to make the exertion
to claim and fill her rightful place as mistress of the house. It did
not matter in the least that she lay and slept like a sloth while poor
little Miss Penelope was up and working like a beaver. No woman's claims
ever have anything to do with her deserts; perhaps no man's ever have
either; perhaps all who claim most deserve least. At all events, it was
perfectly natural that the widow Broadnax should feel as truly and
deeply aggrieved at her half-sister's ruling her own brother's house, as
if she, herself, had been the most energetic and capable of
On that morning her dull eyes kept an unwavering, unwinking watch over
the coffee making; as they always did over every encroachment upon her
rights. Her heavy eyelids were only partially lifted, yet not a movement
of Miss Penelope's restless little body, not a gesture of her nervous
little hands was allowed to escape. Now that the coffee was nearly
ready, Miss Penelope had become rather more composed. She still stood
guard over the coffee-pot; she never left it till she carried it to the
table with her own hands, but she was lapsing into a sort of spent
silence. She merely sighed at intervals with the contented weariness
that comes from a sense of duty well done. But her half-sister still
eyed her as a fat, motionless spider eyes a buzzing little fly which is
ceasing to flutter. Miss Penelope had not observed a large pewter cup
resting on the floor near the widow Broadnax's chair. It had been left
there by a careless servant, who had used a portion of the mixture of
red paint and sour buttermilk with which it was filled, to give the wide
hearth its fine daily gloss. Miss Penelope had not observed it because
she was always oblivious to everything else while hanging over the
coffee-pot. The widow Broadnax had seen the cup at once because it was
slightly in the way of her foot; and she was quick enough to notice the
least discomfort. But she had not immediately perceived the longed-for
opportunity which it gave her. That came like an inspiration a few
moments later, when Miss Penelope was off guard for an instant. Her back
was turned only long enough for her to go to the table and see if the
tray was ready for the coffee-pot, but the widow Broadnax found this
plenty of time. With a quickness truly surprising in one of her habitual
slowness, she swooped down and seized the cup of buttermilk and paint.
In a flash she lifted the lid of the coffee-pot, poured the contents of
the cup in the coffee, set the empty cup down in its place, and was back
again, resting among the cushions as if she had never stirred, when poor
little Miss Penelope, all unsuspecting, returned to her post.
"You really must get up, Sister Molly," that lady said resolutely,
renewing an altercation. "I hid the pantry keys under your chair
cushions at supper, last night. That's always the safest place. But I
forgot to take them out before you sat down. And you must get up--there
isn't enough sugar for the coffee."
"Let me," said Ruth, coming forward with a smile, in her pretty, coaxing
When the antagonism between the sisters broke into open hostility, it
was nearly always she who managed to soothe them and restore a temporary
semblance of peace--for beyond that no mortal power could go. She now
prevailed upon the widow Broadnax to rise with her assistance, thus
securing the keys, and when that lady was once on her feet she was
easier to move, so that Ruth now led her to her place at the breakfast
table without further trouble. There was, however, always more or less
trouble about the place itself. It was but woman nature to feel it to be
very hard for a whole sister to sit at the side of the table while a
half sister sat at its head. The judge always did what he could to spare
her feelings, and Miss Penelope's at the same time. He was a bachelor,
and held women in the half-gallant, half-humorous regard which sets the
bachelor apart from the married man, and places him at a disadvantage
which he is commonly unaware of. The judge thought he understood the
distinctively feminine weaknesses particularly well, and that he made
uncommonly large allowance for them, as the bachelor always thinks and
never does. And then when the quarrel reached a crisis, and he was
entirely at the end of his resources for keeping the peace, he could
always threaten to take to the woods, and that usually brought a short
"Ruth, my dear, what's all this about some stranger's bringing you home
last night?" he inquired, taking his seat at the foot of the table.
"Where were you, William? and what were you doing? You shouldn't have
taken Ruth to such a place, or anywhere, if you couldn't take care of
her," with unusual severity.
Ruth sprang to William's defence. She said that it was not his fault.
They were separated by the crowd. He had done his best, and all that any
one could have done.
"I made William take me. He didn't want to do it. And I am not sorry
that I went, although I was so much frightened at the time. Without
seeing it, no one can ever know what this strange and awful thing is
like. No description can possibly describe it," she said, with darkening
eyes and rising color.
"A most shocking and improper scene," said William Pressley, as one who
weighs his words. "A most shocking and improper scene."
Ruth looked at him wonderingly.
"Shocking--improper!" she faltered, perplexedly. "What a strange way to
think of it. To me it was a great, grave, terrible spectacle. The awe of
it overwhelmed me, alarmed as I was. Why, it was like seeing the Soul
universal--bared and quivering."
William Pressley said nothing more. He never discussed anything. Once he
had spoken, the subject seemed to him finally disposed of.
"Great Grief!" cried Miss Penelope in the blankest amazement and the
greatest dismay. "For the land's sake!"
As the faithful high-priestess of the coffee-pot she was always the
first to taste her own brew. She now set her cup down hastily. Her red,
wrinkled little face was a study. The widow Broadnax, whose cup was
untouched, sat silent and impassive as usual, regarding her with the
same dull, half-open, unwinking gaze.
"What under the sun!" gasped Miss Penelope, still more and more amazed
and dismayed, and growing angry as she rallied from the shock.
"Come, come!--if I can't eat breakfast in peace, I'll take to the woods.
What's the matter?" exclaimed the judge. "Didn't you get the coffee made
to suit you, after all that rumpus? Isn't it good?"
"Good!" shrieked Miss Penelope. "It's poisoned, I do believe! Don't
drink it, any of you, if you value your lives!"
"Oh, nonsense!" said the judge. "You are too hard to please, Sister
Penelope. And you spoil the rest of us, making the coffee yourself.
Never mind--never mind!"
He took a sip and made a wry face, but he hardly ever knew what he was
eating, and pushing the cup back, forgot all about it. He was more
interested in Ruth's account of the meeting, and asked many questions
about her ride home.
"This young doctor must be a fine fellow," he said. "I have been hearing
a good deal about him from Father Orin. They are already great friends,
it seems. They meet often among the poor and the sick, and work
together. I hope, my dear, that you thought to ask him to call. You
remembered, didn't you, to tell him that the latch-string of Cedar House
always hangs on the outside? I want to thank him and then I should like
to know such a man. He is an addition to the community."
"Oh, yes, I thought of that, of course," said Ruth, simply. "I told him
I knew you and William would like to thank him. He is coming to-day. I
hope, uncle Robert, that you will be here when he does come."
"I shall be here to thank him," said William. "Uncle need take no
trouble in the matter. I will do all that is necessary."
A woman must be deeply in love before she likes to hear the note of
ownership in a man's voice when speaking of herself. Ruth was not at all
in love--in that way--although she did not yet know that she was not.
The delicate roses of her cheeks deepened suddenly to the tint of the
rich red ones which she held again in her hands. Her blue eyes darkened
with revolt, and she gave William a clear, level look, throwing up her
head. Then her soft heart smote her, and her gentle spirit reproached
her. She believed William Pressley to be a good man, and she was ever
ready to feel herself in the wrong. She got up in a timid flurry and
went to the door and stood a moment looking out at the sun-lit river.
Presently she quietly returned, and shyly pausing behind William's
chair, rested her hand on the back of it. There was a timid apology in
the gesture. She was thinking only of her own shortcomings. Had she been
critical of him or even observant, she would have seen that there was
something peculiarly characteristic in the very way that he handled his
knife and fork; a curious, satisfied self-consciousness in the very
lift of his wrists which seemed to say that this, and no other, was the
correct manner of eating, and that he disapproved of everybody else's
manner. But she saw nothing of the kind, for hers was not the poor
affection that stands ever ready to pick flaws. He did not know that she
was near him until the judge spoke to her; and then he sprang to his
feet at once. He was much too fine a gentleman to keep his seat while
any lady stood. Ruth smilingly motioned him back to his chair, and going
round the table, leant over the judge's shoulder. He had been examining
a packet of legal papers, and he laid a yellow document before her,
spreading it out on the table-cloth.
"You were asking the other day about the buffalo--when they were here,
and so on. Now, listen to this old note of hand, dated the fifteenth of
October, seventeen hundred and ninety-two, just nineteen years ago. Here
it is: 'For value Rec'd, I promise to pay Peter Wilson or his Agent,
twenty pounds worth of good market Buffalo Beef free from Boone, to be
delivered at Red Banks on the Ohio River, or at aney other place that he
or his shall salt beef on the banks of said river, and aney time in the
ensuing fawl before this fawl's hunting is over.' There now, my dear!
That would seem to prove that there were plenty of buffalo hereabouts
not long ago. A hundred dollars in English gold must have bought a
large amount of wild meat. If this meant Virginia pounds it was still a
great deal. And the hunter who drew this note must have known how he was
going to pay it."
"Rachel Robards says there were lots of buffalo when she came," said
Miss Penelope, who was gradually recovering from the shock of tasting
the coffee, and now prudently thought best to say no more about the
matter. "I always call her Rachel Robards, because I knew her so well by
that name. I am not a-disputing her marriage with General Jackson. If
she wasn't married to him when she first thought she was, she is now,
hard and fast enough. I have got nothing to say about that one way or
another. As a single woman, it don't become me to be a-talking about
such matters. But married or not married, I have always stood up for
Rachel Robards. Lewis Robards would have picked a fuss with the Angel
Gabriel, let alone a fire-eater like Andrew Jackson. Give the devil his
due. But all the same, if Andrew Jackson does try to chastise Peter
Cartwright for what he said last night, there's a-going to be trouble.
Now mark my word! I know as well, and better than any of you, that Peter
is only a boy. Many's the time that I've seen his mother take off her
slipper and turn him across her lap. And she never hit him a lick amiss,
either. But that's neither here nor there. His being young don't keep me
from seeing that he has surely got the Gift. It don't make any
difference that he hasn't cut his wisdom teeth, as they say. What if he
hasn't?" demanded Miss Penelope, with the most singular contrast between
her mild tone and her fierce words. "What has the cutting of wisdom
teeth got to do with preaching, when the preacher has been given the
So speaking, she suddenly started up from the table with an exclamation
of surprise, and ran to the open door.
"Peter! Oh, Peter Cartwright!" she called. "Wait--stop a minute. To
think of your going by right at the very minute that we were a-talking
She went out under the trees where the square-built, stern-faced,
swarthy young preacher had brought his horse to a standstill.
"Now, Peter, you surely ain't a-going up to the court-house to see
Andrew Jackson," she said in sudden alarm.
"No, no, not now," said Peter, hurriedly. "I am riding fast to keep an
appointment to preach on the other side of the river."
"But you can stop long enough to eat breakfast. I lay you haven't had a
bite this blessed day."
Peter shook his head, gathering up the reins.
"And ten to one that you haven't got a cent of money!" Miss Penelope
Peter's grim young face relaxed in a faint smile. He put his hand in his
pocket and drew out two small pieces of silver.
"Ah, ha, I knew it!" exulted Miss Penelope. "Now do wait just one
minute till I run in the house and get you some money."
"No, no, there isn't time. I'll miss my appointment to preach. I will
get along somehow. Thank you--good-by."
Miss Penelope, reaching up, seized the bridle-reins and held on by main
force with one hand while she rummaged in her out pocket with the other.
"There!--here are three bits--every cent I've got with me," she said
indignantly, shoving it in his hand. "Well, Peter Cartwright, if your
mother could know--"
But the young backwoodsman, whose fame was already filling the
wilderness, and was to fill the whole Christian world, now pressed on
riding fast, and was soon beyond her kind scolding.
"Well, 'pon my word! Did anybody ever see the like of that!" she cried,
seeing that Ruth had followed her to the door. "That boy don't know half
the time whether he has had anything to eat or not. And it's just
exactly the same to him when he's got money and when he hasn't."
The girl did not hear what Miss Penelope said. Her heart was responding,
as it always did, to everything great or heroic, and she looked after
this boy preacher with newly opened eyes. She suddenly saw as by a flash
of white light, that he and the other pioneer men of God--these
soldiers of the cross who were bearing it through the trackless
wilderness--were of the greatest. Her dim eyes followed the young
man--this brave bearer of the awful burden of the divine
mission--watching him press on to the river. She thought of the many
rivers that he must swim, the forests that he must thread, the savages
that he must contend against, the wild beasts that he must conquer, the
plague that he must defy, the shelterless nights that he must sleep
under the trees--freezing, starving, struggling through winter's cold
and summer's heat, and all for the love of God and the good of mankind.
THE LOG TEMPLE OF JUSTICE
Most of those dauntless soldiers, who first bore the cross through the
wilderness were as ready to fight as to pray--as they had to be. No
power of earth or evil which he had been able to combat could have
turned young Peter Cartwright that day or have held him back. Pressing
on without rest or food, he was in time to preach. When this duty was
done, he returned over the Shawnee Crossing and rode straight to the
court-house. To go there was in his eyes the next service due the Word.
The court-house was a single large, low room built of rough logs, and
standing in the depths of the primeval forest. Great trees arched their
branches over its roof and the immemorial "Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes,"
went up through their heavy dark tops. It must have been strange thus to
hear this formal summons before the bar of human justice, strange indeed
to see the precise motion of man's law in so wild a spot. Roundabout
there still stretched the wilderness which is subject only to nature's
law--the one immutable law which takes no heed of justice or mercy;
which recks neither man's needs nor his deserts.
The court-house in the wilderness stood quite alone, with no other
building near. There was not even a fence round it, nor so much as a
hitching-post in front of the rude door which was rarely closed. Those
who came--the judge, the jury, the lawyers, the clients, the
spectators--all hitched their horses to the swinging limbs of the trees.
The sole sign of man's handiwork, beyond the log walls of the
court-house itself, was a crude attempt at bridge-building. A creek ran
between the court-house and the home of Judge Knox, who was the judge of
the court, and over this a few rough boards had been loosely laid across
two rotting logs. The structure being both weak and unsteady, it was the
judge's habit to dismount on coming to the bridge and to cross it on
foot, leading his horse by the bridle. It was then but a stone's throw
to the court-house, and as he was heavy, clumsy, and an awkward rider,
he did not mount again, but walked on till he came to the spot where he
always stopped to tie the bridle to the same limb. And there he
invariably tied it in his absent-minded way, without ever thinking of
looking round to see if the horse was tied with the bridle. Sometimes he
was and again he was not, for this was as that sagacious and dignified
animal himself thought best. He commonly made up his mind upon this
point when they got to the bridge, where he could tell easily enough by
the judge's gait in crossing over, whether or not it would be advisable
to follow. If the horse then saw fit to turn back and go home, as a hint
to the family to send for the judge at the proper time, he never
hesitated to pull his head out of the old bridle which he could do very
easily. So that the judge sometimes went on and tied the empty bridle in
the usual place, never knowing the difference; while his horse calmly
turned round and soberly walked back to the stable. Seeing him thus pass
the windows, the good people of Cedar House sighed a little, and shook
their heads, but they nevertheless always knew exactly what to do.
On this late October day, however, the horse followed the judge without
demur, assured by his own observation that all was right. The judge,
honest, simple soul, rarely failed to turn over a new leaf and make a
fresh start on the morning after the meeting of the grand jury, which
gravely and respectfully found an indictment against him almost as
regularly at it met. He had already assessed and--gravely ordering it
written up--paid his own fine on this occasion without a murmur, as he
always did, and he was now quite sober and ready to resume his place on
the bench. He had held it for a long time to the public satisfaction;
and he continued to hold it for many years afterward with honor,
ability, and distinction, notwithstanding these occasional lapses. His
one weakness was of course well known but his profound knowledge of the
law, and his unimpeachable integrity were still better known. It was
said of him that he never had anything to say which could not be shouted
out from the court-house door. And these qualities were sorely needed on
the bench of the wilderness, more sorely needed at this time than ever
before or since.
The whole country had lately been overrun by open and defiant
lawlessness. It was fast coming to be known far and wide as "Rogue's
Harbor." It had already become the recognized refuge and hiding-place of
the outcasts from the older states. The breakers of all laws human and
divine,--the makers of counterfeit money, the forgers of land titles,
the stealers of horses, robbers, murderers, thieves and criminals of
every sort and condition, the fine gentleman and the ruffian, the
duelist and the assassin--all these were now flocking to Rogue's Harbor.
Once there, they were not long content merely to find a hiding place
from the wrath of broken law and outraged civilization. They were soon
seeking and finding opportunity to commit other and worse offences. It
was no longer a secret that regular stations of outlawry were firmly
established between Natchez on the one side and Duff's Fort, on the
other. The most dreaded of these were known to be within the new state's
border along the line of the Wilderness Road, although the law had not
been able to lay its hand upon them. And thus was southern Kentucky now
bound, blinded and helpless, in a long, strong, bloody chain of crime.
It was knowing this and feeling his own responsibility and powerlessness
that made the judge's good-humored face stern on that October morning.
It was this which made his absent-minded eyes clear and keen as he drew
near the court-house. He had come earlier than usual but others, equally
anxious, were there before him. And then the court-house was in a way
the mart of the whole region, especially for the sale of horses.
Rough-looking men with the marks of the stable and the race-track upon
them, were riding the best quarter nags up and down the forest path and
pointing out the delicate leg, the well-proportioned head, and the
elegant form, which made the traits of the first race-horses in
Kentucky. Foremost among these first men of the turf was Tommy Dye,
scanning the quarter nags with a trained eye. As soon as the judge saw
him, he knew that General Jackson was not far away, for wherever the
general went, there also was to be found his faithful henchman, Tommy
Dye. It was he who arranged the cockfights in which the general
delighted, declaring a game cock to be the bravest thing alive. It was
he who was always trying to find for him a race-horse which could beat
Captain Haynie's Maria. This famous racer had beaten the general's
Decatur in that year's sweepstakes, and he had sworn by his strongest
oath that he would find a horse to beat her if there was one in the
world that could do it. But Tommy Dye and other eager, tireless agents
of the general had already searched far and wide. They had gone over all
the horse-raising states with a drag-net, they had sent as far as other
countries. And no horse which even promised to beat Maria had yet been
found, so that the general's defeat was still rankling bitterly, for it
was the bitterest that he had ever met or ever was to meet. He did not
feel his defeat in the first race for the Presidency nearly so deeply
and keenly as this; and then that was afterward retrieved by a most
brilliant victory. But, as a friend once said of him--although he went
on achieving great victories of many kinds, overcoming powerful enemies,
conquering the Indians, subduing the lawless, defying the Spanish and
the French, vanquishing the British and slaying single-handed the Dragon
of the Bank--he could never find a horse to beat Maria.
But he was still trying everywhere and under all circumstances however
unpromising. On that day he cast anxious glances through the open door
of the log court-house at the horses which Tommy Dye, in a forlorn hope,
was having paraded up and down the forest path. He turned away with a
sigh, and went on talking to the United States Attorney for Kentucky at
whose request he had come to the court-house that day. He had done for
his own territory in a lesser degree, the identical thing which Joseph
Hamilton Daviess was desperately striving to do for this country; and he
had consented to give him the benefit of his own experience, and to
advise him as to ways and means. These were always strenuous with Andrew
Jackson, and Joe Daviess himself was not a man of half measures. In mind
and body he was quite as powerful as the man to whom he now listened
with such profound deference. He was also a handsomer man and younger.
He was fully as tall, too, with as lordly a bearing; the most marked
contrast in their appearance being in their dress. General Jackson wore
broadcloth of the cut seen in all his older portraits; Joe Daviess wore
buckskin breeches and a hunting shirt belted at the waist, both richly
fringed on the leg and sleeve. The suit was the same that he had worn
when he rode over the Alleghanies to Washington, to plead the historic
case before the Supreme Court. But the rudest garb could never make him
seem other than the courtly gentleman that he was. He was a scholar
moreover, and a writer of books. A great mind, and ever eager to learn,
he now stood listening to General Jackson with the humility of true
greatness. He bowed to the judge, seeing him enter, but he did not move
or cease to listen. His grave, intent face brightened suddenly as if a
light had passed over it, when he saw Father Orin's merry, ruddy
countenance look in at the open door. He and the priest were close
friends, although they held widely different faiths, and argued fiercely
over their differences of opinion whenever they met--and had time--and
notwithstanding that neither ever yielded to the other so much as a
single hair's breadth.
Father Orin now came straight toward him, merely nodding and smiling at
those whom he passed, and reaching Joe Daviess' side, he coolly ran his
hand deep down in his friend's pocket, precisely as if it had been his
own. The attorney-general made believe to strike out backward with his
left hand--his right being full of papers. But he laughed, and he did
not turn his head to see how much money the priest had taken and was
calmly transferring to his own pocket. And then, chuckling and nodding
his gray head, Father Orin quietly made his way round the court room,
keeping close to the wall, and taking care to pass behind the jury which
sat on a bench of boards laid across two logs. He was now making his way
to the little platform of logs on which the judge was sitting. The judge
saw him coming and hastily shook his head, knowing from long experience
what he was coming for. But Father Orin only chuckled more merrily and
drew nearer. When he put out his hand the judge surrendered, knowing how
useless it would be to resist while a few Spanish dollars or even a few
bits of cut money were left in his wallet, or there was want in the
wilderness which the priest's persistence could relieve. But his left
eyebrow went up very high in a very acute angle, as he leant far over to
one side and ran his hand into the depths of his breeches pocket.
"There!" he said, handing over what he had. "I am glad I haven't got any
more. Hereafter, when I see you coming, I'm going to take to the woods.
Much or little, you always get all there is," he said, ostentatiously
buttoning the flap over his empty pocket. "Oh, by the way, Father,
somebody wants you over yonder in that corner. Those men, standing
there, asked me just now if I knew where you were. They have got into
some sort of a snarl, and they want you to straighten it out."
"Very well, I will go and see," said the priest, simply, being used to
all sorts of calls, temporal as well as spiritual.
The two men had already seen him, and were standing to receive him when
he came up. One of them was a member of his own church and known to him
as a man of large affairs. The other, a lawyer and a Protestant, he had
a much slighter acquaintance with. It was the lawyer who spoke after
both had greeted him warmly, as if they felt his appearance to be a
"We have been hoping you might come. We are in trouble and think you are
the man to help us set matters right," said the lawyer.
"What is it?" laughed Father Orin. "I don't know anything about law."
The lawyer laughed too. "Well, you see, Father, it isn't law exactly.
That is, not the kind of law that I know. That's just where you come in.
It's this way. My client here has won a suit. He was bound to win it and
I told him so before it came to trial. The law was clear enough. But you
see, Father, law isn't always justice. You can keep within the law and
do mighty mean things. And my client here doesn't want to do anything
that isn't right. He, as you know, is a clean, straight man. He has
scruples about the rights that this decision gives him. It's a knotty
question. The other man thinks that he is being cheated, and my client
isn't quite sure himself. I didn't know what to advise in such a case. I
could tell him what the law of the land and the court--of this
court--was, and I have told him. But I couldn't tell him anything about
the law of that other land or that Higher Court. I don't know any more
about those than you know about my laws and my court. And so we have
decided to ask you, to leave the whole dispute to you, and the other man
has agreed to let you decide it. He is a Protestant, as I am, but that
has nothing to do with this business. We are all perfectly willing to
leave it to you; we will all abide by your decision without another
Father Orin hesitated. "I don't know that I can see any more clearly
than the rest of you. Well, call the other man," he then said. "We can
try to find out what is right, anyway. We can't go far wrong if we do
our best to treat the other man as we should like him to treat us. Come
over here where we will be more to ourselves, and fetch the other man."
The judge was too busy to notice the consultation, but after a while he
saw the four men leaving the court room together, with quiet, smiling
faces. They all stopped for a moment in the doorway to allow Father Orin
to shake hands with Peter Cartwright. The young preacher had been
delayed on his way, and was just now entering the court-house. He did
not smile when the priest said something which made the others laugh.
His square jaw was grimly set, and his fiery black eyes looked over the
heads of the crowd at the tall figure of General Jackson which towered
above every one else in the court room, with the exception of the
attorney-general. These two great lawyers still stood absorbed in
low-toned conversation. But the young preacher had no eyes for Joe
Daviess nor for any one except Andrew Jackson. As soon as he could free
his hand from Father Orin's clasp he entered the court room and went
straight up to General Jackson and stood still in front of him, looking
at him. Both the gentlemen turned in surprise at the young
backwoodsman's abrupt approach. Both were much older and taller than he,
and very different altogether from this square-built, rough-mannered
youth. But they may have felt the power that was his as well as theirs,
for neither gave a sign of the impatience that both were quick to feel
and almost as quick to show. Peter Cartwright was gazing steadily up
into General Jackson's eagle eyes--which few could face, which turned
many a stout heart from a firm purpose--without swerving for an instant
from what he meant to do.
[Illustration: "'I wanted to shake the hand of a man like you.'"]
"This is General Jackson, I believe," he said.
Andrew Jackson bent his haughty head. His gaze was now enough to make
the bravest flinch. But the young preacher went on without the slightest
"I have been told, sir, that you wanted to see me. I am Peter
Cartwright. I understand that you intend to chastise me for what I said
at the camp-meeting. Well, here I am."
Andrew Jackson stared at him silently for a moment, as if he did not get
the drift of the words. And then he suddenly burst into a great roar.
"The man who told you that was an infernal fool! I did say that I wanted
to see you--to meet you. But I said so because I desired the honor of
knowing you, sir. I wanted to shake the hand of a man like you. Will you
give it to me now, sir? I shall take it as an honor. I am proud to know
a man who is ready to do his duty in spite of anybody on God's earth--as
a preacher should be. A minister of Jesus Christ should love everybody,
and fear no mortal man. Give me your hand again, sir. By the eternal, if
I had a few officers like you, and a well-drilled army, I could take old
With the meeting of the two men's hands a shout rang out from the crowd
now pressing in at the door. Shout followed shout, till the outcry
sounded far through the forest. It reached the ears of Philip Alston and
William Pressley, who were riding slowly toward the court-house. They
spurred their horses forward, wondering what could be the cause of the
unusual noise and excitement. When they had reached the court-house and
learned what the shouting meant, Philip Alston smiled in approval.
"Very fine, very patriotic," he said.
But his real attention was not for the crowd; he cared nothing for its
cries. He was looking at Joe Daviess and Andrew Jackson, the two famous
attorneys, who were again absorbed in grave, low-toned consultation.
"Do you happen to know, William, what these distinguished gentlemen are
discussing with such interest and gravity? It must be something of
importance. But of course you know, my dear boy. You needn't tell me if
it is any matter of state or any sort of a secret. I asked without
thinking. Pardon me," said Philip Alston.
He spoke in a low tone of gentle indifference. There was nothing to
indicate that he felt any special interest, but William Pressley
answered the question at once, and without reserve. Nothing pleased that
young man more than a chance to display his own first knowledge of
political affairs, either local, state, or national. A single word of
politics never failed to fire his ambition, to light that one spark in
his cold eyes. And Philip Alston knew how to strike the flint that lit
this spark, as he knew how to do almost anything that he wished to do.
So that William now told him what it was that these two powerful
guardians of the public peace and safety had met to discuss. He also
told him everything that the judge had said of his own determination to
do his utmost to aid Joe Daviess in carrying out the plans which were to
be laid that day. Philip Alston listened in silence, with his eyes on
General Jackson and Kentucky's attorney-general; looking first at the
one and then at the other, admiring and appreciating both. He had a
sincere, although purely intellectual admiration for any real greatness.
Thus gazing at the two men he saw how great was the responsibility
resting on them, and how ably and fearlessly they were meeting it. He
realized clearly that these two grave, honest, earnest, fearless
thinkers must find help for the whole country solely in the might of
their own minds and in the strength of their own hands. He knew that no
aid ever had been given, or ever would be given, by the government as
none could know better than themselves. All this and much more came to
Philip Alston, as he stood looking at Andrew Jackson and Joe Daviess
while listening to William Pressley. Through his whole life this had
been his attitude. He had always looked one way and rowed another, like
the boatman in The Pilgrim's Progress.
"And doubtless you too are giving valuable assistance," he said, turning
his inscrutable gaze on William Pressley, and speaking in the tone of
deference which often covered his contempt. "You will, however, be in a
position to make your services far more valuable and much more widely
recognized, should the attorney-general resign. There can be no doubt of
your succeeding him. No one else stands so close to the place. You shall
have it without fail if any influence can aid you. And then, when things
are as we wish them to be in this vicinity, we will send you to Congress
to look after our larger interests. But in order to do this, we must
both keep a keen lookout beforehand--there must be no mistakes. It might
be well for you to meet me to-morrow at Anvil Rock. I shall pass there
at twelve o'clock on my way to Duff's Fort. You can then tell me the
plans which these able gentlemen are now making. You will learn them
from your uncle. Take care to remember the smallest detail. Bear in
mind, my dear boy, that you will soon have this whole responsibility on
your own shoulders. You are now in excellent training for it.
Everything that passes between these brilliant lawyers must be of
personal value to you in the discharge of your future duties, and to me,
also, in order that I may serve you."
William's chest swelled out with pride, and he held his head higher in
conscious rectitude. He had not a doubt of his ability to fill the
place, nor thought of doubting that he was doing what was right and wise
in being perfectly candid with Philip Alston. He thought it most likely
that he could secure the appointment without that gentleman's influence.
He was quite sure that he would not require any one's assistance in
filling it. Still, he was willing to pay all proper deference to an old
friend, and to the foster-father of the girl who was to be his wife.
These thoughts were an open book which Philip Alston read with another
queer smile, while thanking him for the promise to come to Anvil Rock.
"I will leave you now," Philip Alston said. "I have business to-day,
also, at Duff's Fort. And you, left alone, will be free to join your
uncle and the distinguished gentlemen who are working with him."
The two great lawyers had not seen Philip Alston up to the moment that
he turned to leave the court-house, when General Jackson's eagle eye
fell upon him.
"Why, there's Philip Alston now!" he exclaimed in an undertone and with
a frown. "The splendid audacity of the magnificent rascal! Think of his
coming here--right under our noses--to-day, too, of all days! And he
knows perfectly well that we know him to be the leader, the originator,
the head and the brains of all this villany!"
"Yes. But how are we going to prove it?" asked the attorney-general.
"Believing a thing and proving it are two different things. If I could
only once get my hand on a particle of evidence.--Do you suppose he
could have known what we were talking about?" with sudden uneasiness.
"He is intelligent enough to guess, without hearing a word. It is
scarcely possible that Judge Knox could have been so thoughtless as to
speak of our plans to his nephew--that solemn, pompous young fool who
was with Alston. Surely, even Robert Knox couldn't have been so
indiscreet in a matter of life and death, such as this!"
"Not when he was sober; and he hasn't been drinking to-day. As for
yesterday--that is another matter," said General Jackson. "Robert Knox
always means to do exactly what is right, but what a man means is
sometimes very different from what he does, especially when he doesn't
know what he is doing."
PAUL'S FIRST VISIT TO RUTH
None of this strife had yet touched Cedar House. Even the hazy sadness
which had dimmed Ruth's bright spirits as she had watched the young
preacher ride away, had passed as quickly as mist before the sun. For it
is one of the mercies that happy youth never sees life's struggle quite
clearly, and that it is soon allowed to forget the fleeting glimpses
which may cloud its happiness for an instant.
Her thoughts were now solely of the young doctor's coming. He had not
named the hour; the epidemic made him uncertain of his own time. But he
had said that he would come during the day, so that it was necessary to
be ready to receive him at any moment. And there were many pleasant
things to do in preparation for his coming. More roses were to be
gathered, and other flowers also, were blooming gayly among the sober
vegetables as if it were mid-summer. So that the first thing Ruth did
was to strip the garden, with David to help her and no one to hinder.
The judge and William had gone away from the house as soon as breakfast
was over, saying they would try to return in time to see the visitor.
Miss Penelope was busy in seeing that the coffee-pot was washed with hot
water and rinsed with cold, and scoured inside and out till it shone
like burnished silver. The widow Broadnax, too, was as busy as she ever
was, sitting in her usual place in the chimney-corner, looking like some
large, clumsily graven image in dark stone, and watching her
half-sister's every movement without winking or turning her head. So
that Ruth and David were left to follow their own fanciful devices, free
to put flowers everywhere. They wrought out their fancies to the fullest
and the more fantastic, as the artistic instinct rarely fails to do in
its first freedom. When they were done, the great room of Cedar House
was an oddly charming sight, worth going far to see. Never before had it
been so wonderful, strange, and beautiful. It had now become an
enchanted bower of mingled bloom and fragrance, shadowed within yet open
to the sun-lit day and the flashing river.
"There!" cried Ruth, looking round, with her head on one side. "There
isn't one forgotten spot for another flower. Now, I must run and dress.
And you must wait here till I come back, David, dear, for the doctor may
arrive at any moment, and somebody should be ready to welcome him. Why!
aunt Molly has actually followed aunt Penelope clear to the kitchen, so
that there is no one left but you. Don't go till I come back."
She went up the broad, dark stairs, turning on almost every step to
look down over the room and drink in the beauty and sweetness. David,
also, drank it in still more eagerly, taking deep intoxicating draughts,
as the thirsty take cool, sparkling wine. He then sat quietly looking
about and waiting. His book was in his pocket, as it nearly always was
when not in his hand. But he had grown shy of reading "The Famous
History of Montilion--Knight of the Oracle, Son to the true Mirror of
Princes, the most Renowned Pericles, showing his Strange Birth,
Unfortunate Love, Perilous Adventures in Arms: and how he came to the
Knowledge of his Parents, interlaced with a Variety of Pleasant and
Delightful Discourse," since Ruth had laughed at it, and had laid the
blame for his weakness upon the romance. And then his craving for the
romantic and beautiful was satisfied for the moment by gazing about this
big, strange, shadowy, embowered room. Moreover, Ruth came back very
soon. When beauty is young, fresh, natural, and very, very great, it
does not need much time for its adornment. Ruth's toilet was like a
bird's. A quick dip in pure, cold water--a flutter of soft garments as
the radiant wings cast off the crystal drops--and she was ready to meet
the full glory of the sunlight. When she thus came smiling down the
stairs that day, with the dew of life's morning fresh upon her, David
turned from the flowers.
"Yes, indeed! Isn't it a lovely frock!" she cried, running her hand
lightly over the big, puffy, short sleeve. "It is one of the last uncle
Philip had made in New Orleans, and fetched up the river. You might draw
this muslin through my smallest ring. See this dear little girdle--way
up here right under my arms--and so delicately worked in these pale blue
forget-me-nots, that look as if they were just in bloom. See!"--lifting
the gauzy skirt as a child lifts its apron--"Here is a border of the
forget-me-nots all around the bottom. But you are such a goose that you
don't know how pretty it is unless I tell you," pretending to shake him,
with trills of happy laughter. "All the same, you shall look at the
slippers, too! You shall see that the kid is as blue as the
forget-me-nots,--whether you want to or not!" drawing back the skirt and
putting out her foot.
And the boy gazing at her face, forgot his bashfulness far enough to
admire the frock and the slippers as much as she thought they deserved.
Neither of these children of the wilderness knew how unsuitable her
dress was, that it had never been intended for wearing in the morning
anywhere, or for the forest at any time. Ruth had worn only the
daintiest and finest of garments all her life, without any regard for
suitableness. From her babyhood to this day of her girlhood, it had been
Philip Alston's pride and happiness to dress her as the proudest and
richest father might dress his daughter, in the midst of the highest
civilization. Ruth knew nothing else, and those who knew her would
scarcely have known her, seeing her otherwise. It was only the few
strangers stopping at Cedar House, on their way over the Wilderness
Road, who gazed at Ruth in wondering amazement. Naturally enough, those
who had never seen her before could not at first believe the evidence of
their own dazzled eyes. To them this radiant young creature in her rich,
delicate raiment could not seem real at first; she was too lovely, too
like an enchanting vision born of the dim green shadows of the forest, a
bewitching dryad, an exquisite sprite.
Some such thoughts as these crossed the mind of Paul Colbert as he
looked at her through the open door. He had ridden up unheard, had
dismounted, tying his horse to a tree, and had then stood for several
minutes without being seen by Ruth or David. When he spoke, they thought
that he had just arrived. Ruth went forward to welcome him with the ease
and grace that marked everything she did. Nature had given her a pretty,
gentle dignity, and Philip Alston's cultured example had polished her
manner. She now did all the graceful offices of the hostess, quietly and
simply. She said how sorry she was that neither her uncle nor her cousin
was at home. They wished, she said, to be there when he came, so that
they might try to thank him for his kindness to her. But one or the
other would return very soon; both had hoped to do so before his
"It is early for a visit," Paul Colbert said, in a tone of apology; "but
I couldn't come at all to-day, unless I stopped now in passing."
"Oh, no!" said Ruth, quickly. "It isn't very early."
"And then I thought you might like to see this," he said.
Rising, he stepped to her side, and gave her a sheet of paper torn from
his note-book and covered with writing. He did not return to the chair
which he had arisen from, but took another much nearer her own.
"Poetry!" she said. "Is it something that you have written?"
He smiled. "I have merely copied it. I saw the poem for the first time
an hour or so ago at Mr. Audubon's. It is new and has never been
printed. It was written by the young English poet, John Keats, to his
brother George Keats, who is a partner of Mr. Audubon in the mill on the
river. Mr. Keats and his wife are here now, the guests of Mr. Audubon.
The poem came in a letter which has just been received. I have copied a
part of it, and a few words from the letter, also. Mr. George Keats was
kind enough to allow me, and I thought you would like to see them. I
hadn't time to copy the entire poem, though it isn't very long."
"It was very kind," said Ruth. "I am so glad to see it. May I read it
now? This is what the letter says," reading it aloud, so that David also
might hear. "If I had a prayer to make for any great good ... it should
be that one of your children should be the first American poet?"
"The first English hand across the sea!" said Paul Colbert.
Ruth read on from this letter of John Keats to his brother: "I have a
mind to make a prophecy. They say that prophecies work out their own
fulfilment." And then she read as much of "A Prophecy" as the doctor had
* * * * *
"Though, the rushes that will make
Its cradle are by the lake--
Though the linen that will be
Its swathe is on the cotton tree--
Though the woollen that will keep
It warm is on the silly sheep--
Listen, starlight, listen, listen,
Glisten, glisten, glisten, glisten,
And hear my lullaby!
Child, I see thee! Child, I've found thee!
Midst the quiet all around thee!
Child, I see thee! Child, I spy thee!
And thy mother sweet is nigh thee.
Child, I know thee! Child no more,
But a poet ever-more!
See, see, the lyre, the lyre!
In a flame of fire
Upon the little cradle's top
Flaring, flaring, flaring,
Past the eyesight's bearing.
Wake it from its sleep,
And see if it can keep
Its eyes upon the blaze--
It stares, it stares, it stares,
It dares what none dares!
It lifts its little hand into the flame
Unharmed and on the strings
Paddles a little tune and sings,
With dumb endeavor sweetly--
Bard thou art completely;
O' the western wild...."
Ruth looked at Paul with shining eyes. "I thank you again for thinking
that I would like this," she said.
"A little chap whom I saw last night made me feel like making a prophecy
that he would be the first Kentucky astronomer," said Paul, with a
smile. "He was hardly more than a baby, not much over two years old--a
toddling curly-head. Yet there he stood by the roadside, looking up at
the heavens, as solemn as you please. And he said that 'man couldn't
make moons.' I didn't hear him say this, but his brother repeated what
"Yes, I know. You mean' little Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel. His people live
near here, over on Highland Creek. His father came there from Virginia.
He intended to bore for salt water, meaning to make salt. But he found
more interest in the wild multiflora roses that bloom all around the
Lick, and the bones of unknown animals buried fifty feet beneath the
surface of the earth--though the bones were not found just there--but
farther off at another Lick."
"Then Master Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel is the true son of his father,"
smiled Paul Colbert. "Neither seems commonplace enough to be content
with what everyday people find between heaven and earth."
He said this idly, as we all speak to one another when casting about for
mutual interests before really knowing each other. Thus the talk drifted
for a few moments, with a shy word now and then from David. And
presently a chance reference to the epidemic brought a new light into
the doctor's eyes, and a new earnestness into his voice.
"The fathers and mothers of the country are much alarmed for their
children," he said. "But there is far more need to be alarmed for
themselves. The Cold Plague attacks the strong rather than the weak. But
all the people, young and old, everywhere through the wilderness, are
almost frantic with terror. They fear infection from every newcomer.
There was a panic throughout this vicinity a few days ago, over the
landing of a flatboat, and the coming ashore of the unfortunates who
were on it. They were in a most pitiful plight. I hope never to see a
sadder sight than that poverty-stricken little family. But they were not
suffering from any disease more contagious than want; they were only
cold, wet, tired, hungry, and disheartened. The poor mother was sitting
on the damp sand near the water's edge, with her little ones around her,
when I found them. They were merely stopping to rest on their way from
another portion of the state, to the wild country on the other side of
"We saw them, too, poor things," said Ruth, quickly, with pity in her
soft eyes. "Father Orin and Toby came by to tell us, and David and I
went at once to do what we could. I can't forget how the mother looked.
She was young, but had such a sad, haggard face, with such a prominent
forehead, and such steady gray eyes. She held a strange looking little
child on her lap. She said that her name was Nancy Lincoln, and she
called the baby 'Abe.' He couldn't have been more than two years of age,
but he looked up at Father Orin, and from his face to ours, like some
troubled little old man."
"Yes, Father Orin and Toby were first to the rescue, as they always are.
I can't imagine when those two sleep, and I am sure they never rest when
And then, seeing her interest and sympathy, he went on to tell of three
little ones, orphaned by the plague, and left alone and utterly
helpless, in a cabin on the Wilderness Road. As he spoke, he remembered
with a pang of self-reproach, that Father Orin was with them now and
waiting for him. He rose suddenly, saying that he must go, but a slight
noise at the door caused him to pause and turn. It was William Pressley
coming in, and Ruth went forward to meet him, and introduced him to the
doctor, who sat down again for a few moments. The two young men then
talked with one another as strangers do, of the current topics of the
day and the country, speaking mostly of the Shawnee danger--the one
subject then most earnestly and universally discussed throughout the
wilderness. The nearest approach to a personal tone was in William
Pressley's formal expression of thanks. Paul Colbert put these aside as
formally as they were offered, and in a moment more he got up to take
leave. Yet in that brief space the two men had begun to dislike each
This was natural enough on the part of William Pressley. It is indeed
the first instinct of his kind toward any equal or superior. When a
man's or a woman's vanity is so great that it instinctively and
instantly levies on all within reach--demanding incense--nothing can be
so dislikeful as a bearing which refuses to swing the censer. From its
very nature it must instantly resent any such conscious or unconscious
claim to equality, to say nothing of superiority. Those so afflicted
must of necessity like only their inferiors and must have only inferiors
for friends, if they have any friends at all. So that this is maybe the
real reason why many reasonably good and perfectly sincere men and
women go almost friendless through useful and blameless lives. And this
was William Pressley's natural feeling toward Paul Colbert. The honest,
sincere young lawyer could have forgiven the honest, sincere young
doctor almost any real sin or weakness and have liked him well enough;
but he could not forgive the polite indifference of his manner toward
himself, or his looking over his head at Ruth, or turning from him to
speak to David. Least of all could he forgive him for being at that
moment the most conspicuous figure in the whole region, on account of
his single-handed struggle with the mysterious disease, which, defying
the other doctors, had been devastating the new settlements of the
wilderness. Nor could the difference in their aims affect this feeling
in the least. To a nature like William Pressley's, anything won by
another is something taken from himself. Yet the dislike for Paul
Colbert, which thus hardened within him, had no taint of jealousy in the
ordinary sense of that term. He did not think of Ruth at all in the
matter. It did not occur to him to associate her with this stranger, or
with any one but himself. It was in keeping with his character for him
to be slower than a less vain man to suspect her--or any one whom he
knew--of personal preference for another than himself; for vanity of
this supreme order has its comforts as well as its torments.
On the part of Paul Colbert, the feeling was wholly different, and
largely impersonal. It was merely the dislike that every busy man feels
for a new acquaintance which promises no interest, even at the outset.
Had he been less busy, and his mind more free, he might perhaps have
found some amusement in trying to find out how far this serious young
man was mistaken in his high estimate of himself. He thought at a first
glance that he was a good deal in error, but he also saw that he was
sincere in his conviction; so that the young doctor was tolerantly
amused at the lofty air of the young lawyer, without the slightest
feeling of real resentment. He made one or two straightforward, friendly
efforts to thaw the ice of William Pressley's manner. His own was
naturally frank and cordial. He always wished to be liked, which is the
natural wish of every truly kind nature. And then, above and beyond
this, was the right-minded lover's instinctive desire to secure the
good-will of all who are near the one whom he loves; for Paul Colbert
had fallen in love with Ruth, and he knew it, as few do who have fallen
in love at first sight. He could, indeed, have told the very instant at
which love had come--like a bolt from the blue.
He was therefore more than willing to be friendly with William Pressley,
and already seeking a pretext to come again. He now said, turning to
Ruth with a smile:
"Since you are fond of poetry, perhaps you will allow me to fetch you a
new volume of poems by a young Englishman, Lord Byron. A friend sent it
to me from London. He says it is being severely treated by the critics.
They say that they never would have believed that any one could have
been as idle and as worthless generally, as those 'Hours of Idleness'
prove the author to be. But I think you will like the poems, especially
one called 'The Tear.' It is said that the poet means to write something
about Daniel Boone."
"There should be many tears in that poem," said Ruth, a shadow falling
over the brightness of her face. "To think of the poor old hero as he is
now makes the heart ache."
"It should make us all ashamed," said Paul Colbert. "He gave us the
whole state, and we are not willing to give him back enough of it to
rest his failing feet upon, nor a log cabin to shelter his feeble body,
worn out in our service. It is the blackest ingratitude. It is a
disgrace to the commonwealth."
"Pardon me," said William Pressley, with his cool smile; "but as I look
at the matter, there is no one but himself to blame. It is solely the
result of his own negligence and ignorance. He did not observe the plain
requirement of the law."
"But, William," said Ruth, impulsively, with a brighter color in her
cheek, "just think! How could he know--a simple old hunter, just like a
little child, only as brave as a lion!" There was a quiver in her voice
and a flash in her soft eyes.
"We can but hope that the state will remember what it owes," said the
doctor, moving toward the door.
He felt that he had been tempted to linger too long. Father Orin was
still waiting for him in the desolate cabin where the Cold Plague had
left the three orphans. His conscience smote him for lingering, and yet
he could not leave, even now, without speaking again of the poems, and
saying that he would fetch the book and leave it the next time he rode
by Cedar House.
When he was gone, Ruth looked at William Pressley in silent, troubled
perplexity. She was wondering vaguely why she had felt so
ashamed--almost as if she had done some shameful thing herself--when he
had spoken as he had done before the doctor about Daniel Boone. It must
have been plain to the visitor that she did not think as William
thought. And yet she flinched again, recalling the doctor's glance at
William, and wondered why it should have hurt her, as if it had fallen
upon herself. She was not old enough or wise enough to have learned that
the mere promise to marry a man makes a sensitive woman begin forthwith,
to feel responsible for everything that he says and does; and that this
is one of the deep, mysterious sources of the misery and happiness of
FATHER ORIN AND TOBY MEET TOMMY DYE
Under the spur of his conscience the young doctor rode fast. He was not
the man to let duty wait even on love, without trying to make amends.
But a sharper pang stung him when he reached the desolate cabin in which
the Cold Plague had left the orphans.
It seemed to him that Toby, standing by the broken door, gave him a look
of reproach. Toby had not failed or been slow in doing his part; Father
Orin and he had already done all that they could, though this was
piteously little. The one had cut fire-wood from the near-by fallen
trees, and the other had drawn it to the cabin door, so that there was a
good fire blazing on the earthen hearth. But the rotting, falling logs
of the cabin's walls were far apart, the mud which had once made them
snug having dropped out; and the chilly, rising wind blew bitterly
through the miserable hut. The covers on the bed were few and thin,
although Father Orin had spread Toby's blanket over them. The three
little white faces lying in a pathetic row on the ragged pillows, lay so
still that the doctor was not sure they were alive, till the oldest
child, a boy of three, languidly opened his eyes, looked up unseeingly,
and wearily closed them again.
There was a tightening in the doctor's throat when he turned away, and
he was glad to smile at Father Orin's housekeeping. The priest certainly
had left nothing in his power undone, to keep life in the frail little
bodies. On the hearth was such food as he had been able to prepare,
carefully covered to keep it warm. As the young man's gaze thus wandered
sadly about the cabin, his eyes encountered the old man's. The laughter
with which he was fighting emotion died on his lips, and their hands met
in a close clasp.
"The poor little things!" the young man said. "Ah, Father, it is wild
work--this making of a state. The soil of Kentucky should bear a rich
harvest. It is being deeply sown in pain and sorrow, and well-watered
with tears and blood."
They stood silent for a moment, looking helplessly at the bed and the
little white faces.
"What shall we do?" then asked Father Orin. "These children can't stay
here through another night. That wind blows right over the bed, and
there is no way to keep it out. They could hardly live till morning. And
yet they may die on the way if we try to take them to the Sisters at
"That is their only chance. We are bound to take the risk. We must do
our best to get them to the Sisters as quickly as possible. Women know
better than doctors how to take care of babies. What is there to put
round them--to wrap them in?"
There were no wrappings, nothing that could be used for the purpose,
except the bed covers and Toby's blanket. The men took these and with
awkward tenderness covered the helpless, limp little bodies as well as
they could. Father Orin then went out of the cabin, and with a nod
summoned Toby to do his part. When the priest was seated in the saddle,
the doctor turned back to the bed, and lifting one of the three limp
little burdens, carried it out and carefully placed it in Father Orin's
"But you can't carry both of the others," said the priest, in sudden
perplexity. "And we can't leave one here alone while we take the others
and return. Maybe it would be better to take one at a time. I can either
stay or go."
"Oh, no, indeed! I can take these two easy enough--one on each arm. They
weigh nothing--poor little atoms--and I don't need a hand for the reins.
My horse often goes in a run with them thrown over the pommel. He went
on a bee-line with them so last night."
With both arms thus filled with the helpless morsels of humanity, he had
no trouble in seating himself in the saddle. He laughed a little,
thinking what a spectacle they must make; and Father Orin laughed too,
with the shamefacedness that the best men feel when they do such
gentle things. And then the strange, pathetic journey through the
[Illustration: Father Orin and Toby.]
"Steady, Toby. That's right, old man," said the priest, now and then.
The doctor kept a close, anxious watch over the child in Father Orin's
arms, and frequently glanced down at the two little faces lying in the
hollow of his own arms. Any one of the three,--or all of them--might
cease to breathe at any moment. It seemed to both the anxious men that
they were a long time in going to the Sisters' house, although the
distance was but a few miles. When the log refuge first came in sight
through the trees, they breathed a deep sigh of relief in the same
breath. The Sisters, who had been warned, saw them coming, and ran to
meet them, and took the babies from their arms. When the little ones had
been borne in the house and put to bed, the doctor sat down beside them
to see what more might be done. But the priest, without rest or delay,
set out on another errand of mercy. Toby, needing no word or hint, at
once quickened his pace, knowing full well the difference between this
business and that which was just finished, so far as they were
"You're right, old man. Keep us up to the mark, right up to the mark,"
chuckled Father Orin. "I'm mighty tired, and I'm afraid I might shirk if
you would let me."
As he bent down with a bantering chuckle to pat the horse's inflexible
neck, a man's voice suddenly hailed them from the darkening woods lying
at their back.
"Hello! Hello! Hold on!" the unseen man shouted.
They turned quickly and stood still, looking in the direction from which
the shouting came. A horseman soon appeared under the trees and came
galloping after them, and when he had drawn nearer, the priest saw, with
some annoyance, that it was Tommy Dye. As he reined up beside them, Toby
turned his head slowly and gave the horse precisely the same look that
Father Orin gave the rider. Toby wanted to have nothing more to do with
a tricky race-horse than Father Orin wished to have to do with a shady
Tommy Dye looked at them both with a grin. "I saw you just now--you and
the new doctor--a-toting them there youngsters."
Father Orin straightened up, feeling and showing the embarrassment and
indignation that every man, lay and clerical alike, feels and shows at
being seen by another man acting as a nurse to a child.
"Well, what of it?" he retorted, as naturally as if he had never worn a
Tommy Dye grinned again, more broadly than before. He took off his hat
and rubbed his shock of red hair the wrong way. The humor of the
recollection became too much for him, and he roared with laughter. Toby
of his own indignant accord now moved to go on, and Father Orin gathered
up the reins saying rather shortly that he had urgent business, and must
be riding along.
"I say--wait a minute. What makes you in such an all-fired hurry?" Tommy
Dye called after them.
Toby stopped reluctantly, and he and Father Orin waited with visible
unwillingness, until Tommy Dye came up again and stammeringly began what
he had to say. He did not know how to address a priest. He had never
before had occasion to speak to a churchman of any denomination. So that
he now plunged in without any address at all:
"I say--who pays for them there youngsters, yonder?" he blurted.
Father Orin merely looked at him in silence for a moment, and then
gathered up the reins once more.
Tommy Dye saw that there was something amiss, that he had made some
mistake, and not knowing what it was, he resorted to the means which he
usually employed to set all matters right. He hastily plunged his hand
in the outer pocket of his coat, and then dropped the bottle back in its
place still more hastily, after another glance at the priest.
"Well, I thought you might like it," he said with a touch of defiance,
feeling it necessary to assert himself. "When a man's face is as red as
yours, I don't see why a fellow mightn't ask him to take a drink."
Father Orin laughed with ready good humor.
"My face is red, my friend. I can't deny that fact; but the redness
comes from a thin skin and rough weather. What is it you want? I haven't
time to wait."
"Say, I kinder thought, seeing you and the doctor with them babies just
now,"--grinning again at the comical recollection--"that maybe you would
let me come into the game. I'd like to take a hand in the deal, if
there's room for another player. I'll put up the stakes right now." His
hand went into his breeches pocket this time. "Here's the roll I won on
the fall races. Put it all up on the game. What's the odds? Come easy,
He held out the money. "I saw you at the court-house, too," he added
sheepishly, as if trying to excuse what he did.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Father Orin, gravely. "I didn't
understand. I've done you great injustice."
"Hey? What did you say?"
"The Sisters would be only too glad to use this money for those
children, and for other little ones just as helpless and needy,"
murmuring something about the use purifying the source. "But I want you
to take it to them yourself, and give it to them with your own hands."
"Me! Old Tommy Dye!"
The coarse face actually turned pale under its big freckles. Its dismay
was so comical that Father Orin laughed till the woods rang with his
hearty, merry voice. Toby turned his head in sober disapproval of such
unseemly levity, and Tommy Dye was a good deal miffed.
"'Pears to me you are mighty lively--and most of the time, too," he
said, in a tone of offence, tinged with wonder.
"Why not?" said the priest, still chuckling. "Why shouldn't I be
Tommy Dye hesitated, more puzzled now than angry. "Well, you see, your
job has always seemed to me just about the lonesomest there is."
Father Orin began to laugh again, but he was hushed by the soft, sweet
pealing of the Angelus through the shadowed forest. The gambler also
listened, with a softening change in the recklessness of his face.
"The sound of that bell always makes me feel queer," he stammered. "It
sets me to thinking about home, too,--and home folks. I'm blamed if I
can see how it is. I never had any home, and if I've got any kin-folks,
I don't know where they live. But anyhow, that's the way the ringing of
that bell always makes me feel. Say! there's lots of things about your
church that come over a fellow like that. Now there the very name of
that little house back yonder amongst them trees--Our Lady's Chapel.
That's just it--just to the notch what I mean--there's something kind
of homelike in the name itself. And that's the very difference between
your church and the other churches. The Protestant church seems real
lonesome, like a sort of bachelor's hall. The Catholic church makes you
feel at home, because there's always a mother in the house."
"Take care!" exclaimed the priest. "But I am sure you don't mean to be
irreverent, my friend. And about your generosity to the orphans. Here,
let me give the money back. I am in earnest in asking you to give it to
the Sisters with your own hands. When they see you and you see them, you
will both understand each other better than if I were to try ever so
long and hard to explain."
He looked at Tommy Dye for a moment with a returning smile, but the pity
of it all put the humor aside.
"The doctor will be coming along in a moment--ah, there he comes now! I
will ask him to go with you to see the Sisters. I am sorry that I cannot
turn back with you myself. I should be glad to."
It did not take long to state the case to the doctor, who readily agreed
to do what the priest asked. Tommy Dye was by this time so thoroughly
cowed by the situation in which he thus found himself that he no longer
resisted. There was one uncertain instant when, seeing the Sisters
appear in the door, he was undecided whether to run away or go on. But
he was afraid to flee, with the Sisters' eyes upon him, and the doctor
led him into the house. The ladies had been frightened by the doctor's
unexpected and speedy return; but he soon quieted their fears, and made
them happy by telling them the reason of his turning back. Sister
Teresa, the Lady Superior, keenly touched, quickly turned to Tommy Dye
and he handed her the money in awkward haste.
"How good of you! How generous--how noble! Ah, you don't know how much
good this will do," she said, with her eyes full of tears. "We thank you
with all our hearts for ourselves and for the children."
"Thank _you_,--ma'am," stammered Tommy Dye, scarlet, and almost dumb.
None of the many sins of which he had been suspected had ever made him
feel nearly so uncomfortable as he felt now. None of the many sins of
which he had been convicted had ever made him look half so guilty as he
"You mustn't call me 'ma'am,'" said Sister Teresa. "You must call me
Sister, and Sister Elizabeth and Sister Angela are your sisters, too.
You must always think of us as your real sisters, and the little ones
belong to you after this, as much as they do to us. You must always
remember that. Will you come into the other room and see them? Or I will
But Tommy Dye could not endure any more. He turned with hardly a word,
and fled in desperate haste. The Sisters gazed after him in surprise,
and with a good deal of alarm, until Paul Colbert told them about him,
who and what he was, of his meeting with Father Orin, and the whole
story of the money.
"The poor fellow," said Sister Teresa, softly. "We will pray that the
gift may bring him some of the good that it will do the children. Yes,
we will hereafter remember him, also, in the prayers for our
benefactors," turning her gentle, smiling gaze on the young doctor.
And then he reddened almost as suddenly as Tommy Dye had done, and he
likewise was hastening to make his escape when Sister Teresa called him
back, to ask if he would not be passing Cedar House on the way home. He
said that he would, reddening again. Whereupon the Sister begged as a
favor, that he would stop at the door and tell Ruth to come on the next
day, if possible, to look at the sewing which Sister Angela was doing
"Sister Angela is a wonderful needle-woman," Sister Teresa could not
help adding with modest pride. "She learned to sew and to do the finest
embroidery while she was studying in a convent in France. She could earn
a great deal of money for the little ones if we were where there were
more patrons who wished to have such fine sewing done. But nobody in
this wild country ever wants it except Mr. Alston for Ruth."
"Mr. Alston for Ruth," Paul Colbert repeated, wonderingly.
"Oh, yes. He thinks nothing is fine enough for Ruth," said Sister
Teresa, simply. "And he pays anything that Sister Angela asks. He never
says a word about the price. Sometimes I fear we ask too much. But then,
the children need so many things, and we have so few ways of earning
money. You won't mind stopping to tell Ruth, doctor? Ask her to come
early to-morrow morning, please. And another thing, if it isn't too much
trouble. Tell her to bring more of the finest thread lace."
This was the first time that Paul Colbert had heard Philip Alston's name
associated with Ruth. It was a shock to hear the names called in the
same breath, for he already knew as much of Philip Alston as any one was
permitted to know. He was aware of the suspicion which blackened his
reputation. He had learned this on first coming to the country. Father
Orin, when asked, had told him something of the reasons for the general
distrust and fear of the man. But the doctor himself had never seen him,
and, naturally enough, thought of him as the usual coarse leader of
lawlessness, only more daring and cunning, perhaps, than the rest of his
kind. Thus it was that trying to understand only bewildered the young
man more and more, so that he was still filled with shocked wonder when
he came within sight of Ruth's home.
The day was nearing its close. In the forest bordering the bridle-path,
dark shades were noiselessly marshalling beneath the great trees. But
the sunset still reddened the river, and the reflected light shone on
the windows of Cedar House. He glanced at her chamber window before
seeing that she stood on the grass by the front door, giving the swan
bits of bread from her fingers while the jealous birds, forgetting to go
to roost, watched and scolded from the low branches overhead. But she
had seen him a long way off and looked up as he approached.
"Isn't he a bold buccaneer?" she said, with a smile, meaning the swan.
"We thought at first that he couldn't be tamed--Mr. Audubon, too,
thought he couldn't--and we clipped his wings to keep him from flying
away. And now he wouldn't go. See! He is the most daring creature. Why,
he will go in the great room before everybody and walk right up to aunt
Penelope when she's making the coffee, without turning a feather!"
It was not till he was leaving that Paul remembered the Sister's message
which had served him as a pretext for stopping. And he was sorry when he
had given it, for a shadow instantly came over the brightness of Ruth's
beautiful face. Riding on to his cabin he wondered what could have cast
THE DANCE IN THE FOREST
She did not go on the next morning. That day had been chosen for the
dance in the forest, one of the two merrymakings dearest to the hearts
of those earliest Kentuckians. The May party came first, with its
crowning of the queen of love and beauty and its dance round the
May-pole; and after that this festival of dancing and feasting under the
Both of these were held as regularly as the opening of the spring
flowers and the tinting of the autumn leaves. No one ever asked why or
when they were first begun; it was never the way of the Kentuckians to
ask any questions about anything that they had always been used to. And
indeed, had they tried ever so hard, they could hardly have found in
their own history the origin of these ancient customs. Those must have
been sought much farther back than the coming of those first settlers
into the wilderness,--as far back, perhaps, as the oldest traditions of
the purest stock of the old English yeomanry from which these people
were sprung. For in their veins throbbed the same warm red blood,
which, having little to do with the tilling of the soil or the building
trade, had everything to do with the fighting of battles and the making
of homes. For in their strong simple hearts was the same love of country
that bore England's flag to victory, and the same love of the fireside
that made peace as welcome as conquest.
And as these old English fighters had danced with their sweethearts on
the greensward in the intervals between wars, so these fighters of the
wilderness now went on with the dance in the forest just as if there had
been no fierce conflict at hand. They might be called to fight to-morrow
and they would be ready, but they would dance to-day, just as their
forefathers had done. To go elsewhere than to the dance on the morning
selected for it was, therefore, not to be thought of by any young person
of the neighborhood. Ruth had asked David to take her, explaining that
William Pressley could not accompany her quite so early as she wished to
go. He had business which would detain him, she explained with a painful
blush. And then, when she had said this with a troubled look, she
flashed round on the boy, demanding to know why William should not do
whatever he thought best.
"William always has a good reason for everything he does, or doesn't do.
He is never neglectful of any duty. Never!" with her blue eyes, which
were usually like turquoises, flashing into sapphires. "He takes time to
think--time to be sure that he is right. He isn't forever rushing into
mistakes and being sorry, like you and me!"
In another moment she laughed and coaxed, patting his arm.
"Do be ready, David, dear, and wear your nicest clothes," she said, in
her sweetest way. "And no girl there will have a handsomer gallant than
mine, than my Knight of the Oracle, my--"
The boy teased but smiling ran away to do her bidding, as he always did.
He had no clothes besides the worn suit of homespun which he was then
wearing, except one other of buckskin, gayly fringed on the sleeves and
on the outer seam of the breeches. This had been his pride till of late.
But he now took it down from its peg behind his cabin door and eyed it
with new dissatisfaction. Fashions were changing in the wilderness.
Gentlemen no longer clothed themselves in the skins of wild beasts, nor
even in the coarse homespun. Not many, to be sure, were dressed like
Philip Alston; but David had lately seen Mr. Audubon hunting in velvet
knee-breeches and white silk stockings, with fine ruffles over his
hands. That gentleman had laughed at himself for doing it, but the sight
had pleased the boy's taste and gratified his craving for everything
refined and beautiful. It humiliated him to have no choice between the
shabby homespun and the fantastic buckskin. But he tried to find comfort
in thinking that he would have a boughten suit before very long. The
judge had given him a calf. The master of Cedar House was always kind
when he did not forget, as has already been said, and he was most
generous at all times. The calf was now ready for sale to the first
passing buyer of cattle. Nevertheless, David sighed as he put on the
buckskin suit, wishing, as only the young can wish for what they desire,
that he had the boughten suit then to wear to the dance in the forest.
Yet Ruth smiled at him as if she were well pleased with his looks. There
were, to be sure, certain tangles in the gay fringes for her deft
fingers to untangle. There were, of course, many swift little touches to
be given here and there, the caressing touches that no true woman can
withhold from the dress of a man whom she is fond of. So that David's
buckskin suit suddenly seemed to him just what it should be--as all that
a man wears or has or is always does seem, when a woman's caressing
touches have convinced him that everything is right. Indeed, David
forgot to think any more of his own clothes or of himself. Looking at
Ruth he thought only of her.
He did not know what it was that she wore. He did not know that the
muslin of her dress had cost an hundred francs the yard. He did not know
how charmingly odd the mode of its make was, since Ruth's little hands
had planned it out of her own pretty head in enchanting ignorance of the
fashion. He knew nothing of the value of the three-cornered kerchief of
white lace which tied down her gypsy hat. He did not notice that the
flowers on her hat were primroses, or that the long gloves meeting the
short sleeves and the slender little slippers peeping from beneath her
skirt, were both of the finest primrose kid. He saw only the beauty of
her face smiling at him from under the gypsy hat, the sweetness of her
red lips, and the charm of her blue eyes. And she seeing only the look
that she had seen in every man's eyes ever since she could remember, was
not made vain thereby, as a less beautiful girl might have been. She
took it all for granted and thought no more about it. Rising on the tips
of her toes, she put back an unruly lock of David's hair with a last
loving little pat.
"There now! We are all ready," she said, with a happy sigh.
"Yes, the coffee is the first thing on the top of the basket," said Miss
Penelope, coming in from the kitchen. "That's it in the biggest bottle.
You can have it warmed over the campfire. I shouldn't like to drink
warmed-over coffee, myself. But then nobody in this house ever thinks
as I do about anything. It isn't my notion of what's right and
proper--to say nothing of Christian--to be a-dancing when everybody
ought to be a-praying. Not a day passes without something in the way of
a warning. Now there is the big hole that they've just found in the
earth right over yonder--a hollowness without end or bottom, and as dark
as the bottomless pit. That's what it ought to be called, too--instead
of the Mammoth Cave. For if that don't show that there is nothing but a
dreadful, empty shell left of this awful world, I don't know what any
true sign is. But all the same, I know very well that nobody in this
house pays any attention to what I say. Howsomever, the works of the
light-minded who are a-dancing on the edge of perdition don't make any
difference in my plain duty. And I am a-going to do it as near as I can
so long as I breathe the breath of life. When my cold, stiff hands are
crossed under the coffin-lid, nobody left 'pon top of this mournful
earth ever can say that I sat by, like a bump on a log, and never said a
word when I saw all these awful calamities a-coming."
Thus voicing these vague alarms in her sweetest tones, Miss Penelope
turned nervously and glanced at her half-sister. She was always afraid
of her, as very talkative, restless people often are of those who say
little and watch a great deal. But the widow Broadnax seemed to be
dozing among her cushions, and Miss Penelope felt it quite safe to go
on with the softly uttered threats which scattered the small dark
servitors, who were still flying about her like a flock of frightened
blackbirds, although the basket was packed.
"No," said Miss Penelope, "it don't make any difference in my duty. If
folks won't listen to what I am bound to say, that is no fault of mine.
My duty is to give warning when I see true signs of what's a-going to
happen. For a true sign is as plain as daylight to me. I never had a
caul, and I don't lay any claim to second sight. But I know what it
means when I hear the dogs a-baying the midnight moon. I know, too,
what's a-coming to pass when the death-watch goes thump, thump, thumping
in the wall right over my head the whole blessed night. And more than
that, I was a-looking for both these true signs of bad luck before I
heard 'em. That big black ring round the comet's head that I've seen for
a night or two back told me plain enough what to expect. And look at the
things that have already happened--all over the country. Nobody in this
world of trouble surely ever saw the like. Just look at the twins!"
This was the chance that the widow Broadnax had been waiting and
watching for in motionless silence. She seized it as suddenly as a
seemingly sleepy cat seizes an unwary mouse.
"I don't see any sign of bad luck in twins, or triplets either, for my
part," she said hoarsely and loudly. "They are every one of 'em bound to
be whole brothers and sisters. To my mind, it don't make any difference
how big a family is so long as it ain't mixed up."
Ruth and David seized the basket, and escaped--laughing and
running--carrying it between them.
The spot chosen for this Indian Summer dance in the forest was near
Cedar House. It was one of the natural open spaces, of which there were
many in the wilderness, and it overlooked the river. High walls of thick
green leaves enfolded it upon three sides, and it had a broad level
floor of greener sward. It was sun-lit when the shadowed woods were
dark. In the spring the greensward was gay with wild flowers; for it was
in these open spaces between the trees that Nature displayed her most
brilliant floral treasures which would not bloom in the shade. In the
fall the leafy walls were more brilliant than the flowery sward, and
they now rose toward the azure dome, gorgeously hung with bronzed and
golden vines, blossoming here and there with vivid scarlet leaves. Below
ran a dazzling border of shrubs--the sumac, which does not wait for the
coming of the frost king to put on its royal livery; the sassafras
already gleaming with touches of fire; the wild grape as red as the
reddest wine, and rioting over all the rich green; the bright wahoo with
its graceful clusters of flame-colored berries overrunning its soberer
neighbors; the hazel, the pawpaw, the dog-wood, the red-bud, the
spice-wood, the sweet-strife, the angelica. On the west the velvet turf
began to unroll gently downward toward the river. The quiet stream ran
with molten silver on that flawless October day, and deep shadows of
royal purple hung curtains of wondrous beauty above the water. Back
under the trees the shadows were darkly blue, bluer even than the
cloudless sky arching so high above the tall tree-tops.
Nature indeed always made more preparations and much finer ones, for the
dance in the woods than the simple people of the wilderness ever thought
of making. The word merely went from one log house to another, fixing
the day for the dance. The hunters' daughters with the help of their
mothers, filled the big baskets with simple good things on the night
before; for the young hunters came very early to go with their
sweethearts to the festival, and there was no time to spare on the
morning of the dance. The dancing sometimes began at nine o'clock in the
morning. The three black men from Cedar House who played for the dancing
were in their places long before that hour, with their instruments
already in tune. One had an old fiddle, another the remnant of a guitar,
and the third a clumsy iron triangle which he had made himself.
Nevertheless they were famous for their dance music and known
throughout the wilderness to all the dancers. Those old-time country
fiddlers--all of them, black or white--how wonderful they were! They
have always been the wonder and the despair of all musicians who have
played by rule and note. The very way that the country fiddler held his
fiddle against his chest and never against his shoulder like the trained
musician! The very way that the country fiddler grasped his bow, firmly
and squarely in the middle, and never lightly at the end like a trained
musician! The very way that he let go and went off and kept on--the
amazing, inimitable spirit, the gayety, the rhythm, the swing! No
trained musician ever heard the music of the country fiddler without
wondering at its power, and longing in vain to know the secret of its
charm. It would be worth a good deal to know where and how they learned
the tunes that they played. Possibly these were handed down by ear from
one to another; some perhaps have never been pent up in notes, and
others may have been given to the note reader under other names than
those by which the country fiddlers knew them. This is said to have been
the case with "Old Zip Coon," and the names of many of them would seem
to prove that they belonged to the time and the country. But there is a
delightful uncertainty about the origin and the history of almost all of
them--about "Leather Breeches" and "Sugar in the Gourd" and "Wagoner"
and "Cotton-eyed Joe," and so on through a long list.
On this day the musicians sat in a row on a fallen tree, and the grass
beside it was very soon worn away, and the earth before it beaten as
hard as any ballroom floor under the gay and ceaseless patting of their
feet. On the other side of the wide level space was a green bower made
of freshly cut boughs. This was a retiring room, intended for the use of
any fair dancer whose hair might fall into disorder or whose skirt might
be torn in the dancing. The baskets were all put out of sight till
wanted, hidden beneath the bushes that bordered the open space. But now
and then, when the soft warm breeze swayed the leafy screen of green and
gold and crimson, there were tantalizing glimpses of the folded
table-cloths covering the baskets, like much belated or very early
Most of the hunters' daughters came to the dance riding behind their
sweethearts, after the pleasant custom of the country. They were fine
girls for their station in life, and well fitted for the hardships which
must be their portion. They were large, strong, brave, simple,
good--healthy in body and mind, warm in heart, and cool in courage, with
pleasing faces roughened by exposure, and capable hands hardened by
work. They were dressed in homespun as became their looks, their means,
and manner of living. In all things these future mothers of a great
state were the natural and suitable mates for the gallant young
state-makers. And each one of the young hunters now standing beside
them, held his head high as he led out the girl of his choice, feeling
his own right to be prouder and happier than any of his fellows.
The dancing had begun before Ruth and David came, although they were so
early. The spot being near, they had walked through the forest swinging
the basket between them like two happy children, and coming to the open
space, they stopped for a moment and looked on, thinking what a pleasing
scene it was. The girls, tripping through the dance, smiled at Ruth as
they passed. They knew her very well, and had seen her so often that
they no longer looked at her as plump brown partridges might look at an
exquisite bird of paradise. And then, they felt that Ruth was
unconscious of any difference between herself and them. There was a
sweet, cordial friendliness about her, an innate warm-hearted, magnetic
charm which won women as well as men. The hunters' daughters liked her
because they knew that she liked them for, after all, most of us get
what we give in our larger relation to humanity--seldom, if ever,
anything else, either more or less. Those who truly love their kind can
never be really hated: those who hate their kind can never be really
loved. The balance may waver one way or the other at times, but it
cannot fail to weigh truly at last.
Ruth danced first with David and then with one of the bashful young
hunters. But all the while she was looking toward the opening in the
undergrowth, expecting to see Paul Colbert. He had said that he would be
there, and presently she saw him standing in the opening between the
trees, with the shining river at his back. He was wearing his best and
Ruth thought with a leap of her heart, that she had not known till now
how handsome he was. His hair was fairer than she had thought, as fair
as hers was dark, and she liked it all the better for that. His eyes
were gray and clear and steady and fearless. He had a proud way, too, of
throwing up his head, as if he tossed away all petty thoughts. She saw
him do this as he crossed the greensward, coming straight to her side.
It pleased her that he did not stop for a single glance round. She felt
his unlikeness to another man, when she saw that he had no thought of
any eyes that might be upon himself. And because of this comparison, and
the pang of uneasiness and self-reproach which it brought, she blushed
when her eyes met his as she had not done heretofore.
There is little use in trying to put into words what he thought of her,
or what any true lover thinks of the beloved. The rose of the dawn, and
the breath of the zephyr were not glowing or delicate enough to portray
Ruth as she was to Paul that day. The beauty of her face under the gypsy
hat; the witchery of her dark blue eyes smiling up at him; the pink
roses blooming on her fair cheeks; the red rose of her perfect
mouth--all this gave him at a glance a likeness of her to lay away in
his memory: a vivid flashing, imperishable treasure to keep forever.
* * * * *
The gayety of the Indian Summer dance was now at its height. The mellow
sunlight fell straight down through the arching green branches of the
bordering trees. The earth, still warm with the summer's fires, lifted a
cool face to the soft breeze. The dancers growing tired and hungry about
noon, sat down on the greensward in little groups, while the baskets
were taken from their hiding-places and the simple feast was soon
spread. The black men served it with the coffee which they had heated
over the campfire built at some distance in the forest. The homespun
linen of the table-cloths looked very white on the dark green of the
rich grass. But the single square of fine damask from Ruth's basket was
not whiter than its humble neighbors, and she did not think of her finer
linen or richer food. With Paul Colbert seated on the grass at her right
hand, and David at her left, she took what was given her, knowing only
that she was quite content and perfectly happy. She was indeed so happy
that she was less gay than usual, for the greatest happiness makes least
noise. She listened to all that was said, saying almost nothing herself.
Paul's eyes hardly left her face, and he instantly observed that a
shadow suddenly clouded it, the same shadow which had fallen over it on
the evening before. Turning his eyes in the direction of her gaze, he
saw William Pressley standing not far away. He did not know that the
white-haired gentleman who stood beside the young man was Philip Alston,
but he noted that the shadow quickly left Ruth's face at sight of the
older man, when, brightening and smiling, she beckoned the newcomers to
approach. And he also saw what she seemed not to see, that the older man
turned a frowning face on the younger, and said something which was not
cordially received. Had he known William Pressley better, he would have
seen the dignified protest that was in every line of his large
slow-moving figure as he followed Philip Alston across the wide open
space to Ruth's side. To her, William's very step said as plain as words
could have spoken that he was used to being misunderstood, but none the
less sure of having done his whole duty. She looked up with the little
uneasy flutter which this manner of his always caused her. She so craved
love and approval that a dark look made her tender heart ache, even
though she was unconscious of having done anything to deserve it. This
was nearly always the state of feeling between her betrothed and
herself, but up to this moment she had never doubted that her own
shortcomings were wholly to blame. She hurriedly drew her thin skirt
closer about her, nervously trying to make room for him between David
and herself. The boy and doctor rose to their feet as the two men
approached. Ruth sat still on the grass, lifting her blue eyes to
William Pressley's face with a timid, wistful, almost frightened glance.
"You have met Doctor Colbert, William," she said quickly, and then she
turned with a smile that was like a flash of light. "And uncle
Philip--Mr. Alston--this is the doctor."
Paul Colbert in his utter amazement took the hand which Philip Alston
held out. He could not have refused it had there been time to think, for
her eyes were on him, and there was no doubting her affection for Philip
Alston; that shone like sunlight on her face and thrilled in every
tender tone of her voice. The young doctor could scarcely believe the
evidence of his own eyes and ears. This Philip Alston! It was
incredible, impossible; there was certainly some mistake. Nevertheless
he hastily withdrew his hand and Philip Alston noted the haste,
understanding it as well as Paul Colbert himself. His own manner was
quiet and calm, showing none of the irritation which he felt at William
Pressley's negligence. He lost none of his graciousness through seeing
the young doctor's involuntary recoil. His intuitions were unerring; he
knew instantly that this newcomer was already acquainted with the
stories told about himself, but he cared little for that. He was
considering the interference with his plans which might come from the
sudden appearance of a young man of this young doctor's looks and
intelligence. Hardly half a dozen commonplace remarks had been exchanged
between them before he had recognized the unusual power of mind and body
which he might soon have to contend with. He turned and looked at
William Pressley and then back at Paul Colbert with a clouded brow, but
he glanced down with a smile when Ruth touched his arm.
"Dearest uncle Philip," she said, "I am so--so--glad that you have come.
You are just in time to dance with me. You did once, you know, at the
May party, and none of the other girls had so courtly a partner. They
couldn't have because I wouldn't let them have you. I should be jealous
if you were to dance with any one else, and there is no one anywhere
Looking up with her eyes full of affection she took his hand and pressed
it against her pink cheek. At the sight a stab of pain and a thrill of
fear went through the doctor's perplexed thoughts. He suddenly realized
that the girl's life was closely bound up with this man's. He felt that
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