Salute to Adventurers
Part 5 out of 5
The pain of my cramped and scorched limbs was horrible, but I had just
enough sense left to shut my teeth and make no sound.
The chief looked at me long and calmly as I drooped before him, for
there was no power in my legs. He was an eagle-faced savage, with the
most grave and searching eyes.
"Sleep, brother," he said. "At dawn we will take further counsel."
I forced some kind of lightness into my voice, "Sleep will be
grateful," I said, "for I have come many miles this day, and the
welcome I have got this evening has been too warm for a weary man."
The Indian nodded. The jest was after his own taste.
I was carried to a teepee and shown a couch of dry fern. A young man
rubbed some oil on my scorched legs, which relieved the pain of them.
But no pain on earth could have kept me awake. I did not glide but
pitched headforemost into sleep.
EVENTS ON THE HILL-SIDE.
My body was too sore to suffer me to sleep dreamlessly, but my dreams
were pleasant. I thought I was in a sunny place with Elspeth, and that
she had braided a coronet of wild flowers for her hair. They were
simple flowers, such as I had known in childhood and had not found in
Virginia--yarrow, and queen of the meadow, and bluebells, and the
little eyebright. A great peace filled me, and Ringan came presently to
us and spoke in his old happy speech. 'Twas to the accompaniment of
Elspeth's merry laughter that I wakened, to find myself in a dark,
strange-smelling place, with a buffalo robe laid over me, and no stitch
of clothing on my frame.
That wakening was bitter indeed. I opened my eyes to another day of
pain and peril, with no hope of deliverance. For usual I am one of
those who rise with a glad heart and a great zest for whatever the
light may bring. Now, as I moved my limbs, I found aches everywhere,
and but little strength in my bones. Slowly the events of the last day
came back to me--the journey in the dripping woods, the fight in the
ravine, the death of my comrade, the long horror of the hours of
torture. No man can be a hero at such an awakening. I had not the
courage of a chicken in my soul, and could have wept with weakness and
I felt my body over, and made out that I had taken no very desperate
hurt. My joints were swollen with the bonds, and every sinew seemed as
stiff as wire. The skin had been scorched on my shins and feet, and was
peeling off in patches, but the ointment which had been rubbed on it
had taken the worst ache out of the wounds. I tottered to my feet, and
found that I could stand, and even move slowly like an old man. My
clothes had been brought back and laid beside me, and with much
difficulty I got into them; but I gave up the effort to get my
stockings and boots over my scorched legs. My pistols, too, had been
restored, and Ringan's sword, and the gold amulet he had entrusted to
me. Somehow, in the handling of me, my store of cartouches had
disappeared from my pockets. My pistols were loaded and ready for use,
but that was the extent of my defences, for I was no more good with
Ringan's sword than with an Indian bow.
A young lad brought me some maize porridge and a skin of water. I could
eat little of the food, but I drank the water to the last drop, for my
throat was as dry as the nether pit. After that I lay down on my couch
again, for it seemed to me that I would need to treasure every atom of
my strength. The meal had put a little heart in me--heart enough to
wait dismally on the next happening.
Presently the chief whom they called Onotawah stood at the tent door,
and with him a man who spoke the Powhatan tongue.
"Greeting, brother," he said.
"Greeting," I answered, in the stoutest tone I could muster.
"I come from the council of the young men, where the blood of our kin
cries for the avenger. The Sons of the West Wind have seen the courage
of the stranger, and would give him the right of combat as a free man
and a brave. Is my brother ready to meet our young men in battle?"
I was about as fit to right as an old horse to leap a fence, but I had
the wit to see that my only hope lay in a bold front. At any rate, a
clean death in battle was better than burning, and my despair was too
deep to let me quibble about the manner of leaving this world.
"You see my condition," I said. "I am somewhat broken with travel and
wounds, but, such as I am, I am willing to meet your warriors. Send
them one at a time or in battalions, and I am ready for them."
It was childish brag, but I think I must have delivered it with some
spirit, for I saw approbation in his eye.
"When we fight, we fight not as butchers but as men-at-arms," he said.
"The brother of one of the dead will take on himself the cause of our
tribe. If he slay you, our honour is avenged. If he be slain, we save
you alive, and carry you with us as we march to the rising sun."
"I am content," I said, though I was very little content. What earthly
chance stood I against a lithe young brave, accustomed from his
childhood to war? I thought of a duel hand-to-hand with knives or
tomahawks, for I could not believe that I would be allowed to keep my
pistols. It was a very faint-hearted combatant who rose and staggered
after Onotawah into the clear morning. The cloudy weather had gone, and
the glen where we lay was filled with sun and bright colours. Even in
my misery I saw the fairness of the spectacle, and the cool plunge of
the stream was grateful to my throbbing eyes.
The whole clan was waiting, a hundred warriors as tall and clean-limbed
as any captain could desire. I bore no ill-will to my captors; indeed,
I viewed them with a respect I had never felt for Indians before. They
were so free in their walk, so slim and upstanding, so hawklike in eye
and feature, and withal so grave, that I could not but admire them. If
the Tidewater was to perish, 'twould be at the hands of no unworthy
A man stood out from the others, a tall savage with a hard face, who
looked at me with eyes of hate. I recognized my opponent, whom the
chief called by some name like Mayoga.
Before us on the hill-side across the stream was a wood, with its
limits cut as clear on the meadow as a coppice in a nobleman's park.
'Twas maybe half a mile long as it stretched up the slope, and about
the same at its greatest width. The shape was like a stout bean with a
hollow on one side, and down the middle ran the gorge of a mountain
Onotawah pointed to the wood. "Hearken, brother, to the customs of our
race in such combats. In that thicket the twain of you fight. Mayoga
will enter at one end and you at the other, and once among the trees it
is his business to slay you as he pleases and as he can."
"What, are the weapons?" I asked.
"What you please. You have a sword and your little guns."
Mayoga laughed loud. "My bow is sufficient," he cried. "See, I leave
knife and tomahawk behind," and he cast them on the grass.
Not to be outdone, I took off my sword, though that was more an
encumbrance than a weapon.
"I have but the two shots," I said.
"Then I will take but the two arrows," cried my opponent, shaking the
rest out of his quiver; and at this there was a murmur of applause.
There were some notions of decency among these Western Indians.
I bade him take a quiverful. "You will need them," said I, looking as
truculent as my chicken heart would permit me.
They took me to the eastern side of the wood, and there we waited for
the signal, which was a musket shot, telling me that Mayoga was ready
to enter at the opposite end. My companions were friendly enough, and
seemed to look on the duel as a kind of sport. I could not understand
their tongue, but I fancy that they wagered among themselves on the
issue, if, indeed, that was in doubt, or, at any rate, on the time
before I should fall. They had forgotten that they had tortured me the
night before, and one clapped me on the shoulder and seemed to
encourage me. Another pointed to my raw shins, and wound some kind of
soft healing fibre round my feet and ankles. I did my best to keep a
stout face, and when the shot came, I waved my hand to them and plunged
boldly into the leafy darkness.
But out of the presence of men my courage departed, and I became the
prey of dismal fear. How was I, with my babyish woodcraft, to contend
for a moment against an Indian who was as subtle and velvet-footed as a
wild beast? The wood was mostly of great oaks and chestnuts, with a
dense scrub of vines and undergrowth, and in the steepest parts of the
hill-side many mossgrown rocks. I found every movement painful in that
rough and matted place. For one thing, I made an unholy noise. My
tender limbs shrank from every stone and twig, and again and again I
rolled over with the pain of it. Sweat blinded my eyes, and the
fatigues of yesterday made my breath labour like a foundered horse.
My first plan--if the instinct of blind terror can be called a plan--
was to lie hid in some thick place and trust to getting the first shot
at my enemy when he found me. But I realized that I could not do this.
My broken nerves would not suffer me to lie hidden. Better the torture
of movement than such terrible patience. So I groped my way on,
starting at every movement in the thicket. Once I roused a deer, which
broke off in front of me towards my adversary. That would tell him my
whereabouts, I thought, and for some time I lay still with a
palpitating heart. But soon the silence resumed its sway, a deathlike
silence, with far off the faint tinkle of water.
By and by I reached the stream, the course of which made an open space
a few yards wide in the trees. The sight of its cool foaming current
made me reckless. I dipped my face in it, drank deep of it, and let it
flow over my burning legs. Then I scrambled up the other bank, and
entered my enemy's half of the wood. He had missed a fine chance, I
thought, in not killing me by the water's edge; and this escape, and
the momentary refreshment of the stream, heartened me enough to carry
me some way into his territory.
The wood was thinner here, and the ground less cumbered. I moved from
tree to tree, crawling in the open bits, and scanning each circle of
green dusk before I moved. A red-bird fluttered on my right, and I lay
long watching its flight. Something moved ahead of me, but 'twas only a
Then came a mocking laugh behind me. I turned sharply, but saw nothing.
Far up in the branches there sounded the slow flap of an owl's flight.
Many noises succeeded, and suddenly came one which froze my blood--the
harsh scream of a hawk. My enemy was playing with me, and calling the
wild things to mock me.
I went on a little, and then turned up the hill to where a clump of
pines made a darker patch in the woodland. All was quiet again, and my
eyes searched the dusk for the sign of human life. Then suddenly I saw
something which stiffened me against a trunk.
Forty paces off in the dusk a face was looking from behind a tree. It
was to the west of me, and was looking downhill towards a patch of
undergrowth. I noted the long feather, the black forelock, the red skin
of the forehead.
At the sight for the first time the zest of the pursuit filled me, and
I forgot my pain. Had I outwitted my wily foe, and by some miracle
stolen a march on him? I dared not believe it; but yet, as I rubbed my
eyes, I could not doubt it. I had got my chance, and had taken him
unawares. The face still peered intently downhill. I lifted a pistol,
took careful aim, and fired at the patch of red skin.
A thousand echoes rang through the wood. The bullet had grazed the tree
trunk, and the face was gone. But whither? Did a dead man lie behind
the trunk, or had a wounded man crawled into cover?
I waited breathlessly for a minute or two, and then went forward, with
my second pistol at the cock.
There was nothing behind the tree. Only a piece of red bark with a
bullet hole through it, some greasy horsehair, and a feather. And then
from many quarters seemed to come a wicked laughter, I leaned against
the trunk, with a deadly nausea clutching at my heart. Poor fool, I had
rejoiced for a second, only to be dashed into utter despair!
I do not think I had ever had much hope, but now I was convinced that
all was over. The water had made my burns worse, and disappointment had
sapped the little remnants of my strength. My one desire was to get out
of this ghoulish thicket and die by the stream-side. The cool sound of
it would be a fitting dirge for a foolish fellow who had wandered far
from his home.
I could hear the plunge of it, and struggled towards it. I was long
past taking any care. I stumbled and slipped along the hill-side, my
breath labouring, and a moaning at my lips from sheer agony and
weakness. If an arrow sped between my ribs I would still reach the
water, for I was determined to die with my legs in its flow.
Suddenly it was before me. I came out on a mossy rock above a deep,
clear pool, into which a cascade tumbled. I knelt feebly on the stone,
gazing at the blue depths, and then I lifted my eyes.
There on a rock on the other side stood my enemy.
He had an arrow fitted to his bow, and as I looked he shot. It struck
me on the right arm, pinning it just above the elbow. The pistol, which
I had been carrying aimlessly, slipped from my nerveless hand to the
moss on which I kneeled.
That sudden shock cleared my wits. I was at his mercy, and he knew it.
I could see every detail of him twenty yards off across the water. He
stood there as calm and light as if he had just arisen from rest, his
polished limbs shining in the glow of the sun, the muscles on his right
arm rippling as he moved his bow. Madman that I was, ever to hope to
contend with such dauntless youth, such tireless vigour! There was a
cruel, thin-lipped smile on his face. He had me in his clutches like a
cat with a mouse, and he was going to get the full zest of it. I
kneeled before him, with my strength gone, my right arm crippled. He
could choose his target at his leisure, for I could not resist. I saw
the gloating joy in his eyes. He knew his power, and meant to miss
nothing of its savour.
Yet in that fell predicament God gave me back my courage. But I took a
queer way of showing it. I began to whimper as if in abject fear. Every
limb was relaxed in terror, and I grovelled on my knees before him. I
made feeble plucks at the arrow in my right arm, and my shoulder
drooped almost to the sod. But all the time my other hand was behind my
back, edging its way to the pistol. My fingers clutched at the butt,
and slowly I began to withdraw it till I had it safe in the shadow of
My enemy did not know that I was left-handed.
He fitted a second arrow to his bow, while his lips curved maliciously.
All the demoniac, pantherlike cruelty of his race looked at me out of
his deep eyes. He was taking his time about it, unwilling to lose the
slightest flavour of his vengeance. I played up to him nobly, squirming
as if in an agony of terror. But by this time I had got a comfortable
posture on the rock, and my left shoulder was towards him.
At last he made his choice, and so did I. I never thought that I could
miss, for if I had had any doubt I should have failed. I was as
confident in my sureness as any saint in the mercy of God.
He raised his bow, but it never reached his shoulder. My left arm shot
out, and my last bullet went through his brain.
He toppled forward and plunged into the pool. The grease from his body
floated up, and made a scum on the surface.
Then I broke off the arrow and pulled it out of my arm, putting the
pieces in my pocket. The water cleared, and I could see him lying in
the cool blue depths, his eyes staring, his mouth open, and a little
dark eddy about his forehead.
I came out of the wood a new being. My wounded arm and my torn and
inflamed limbs were forgotten. I held my head high, and walked like a
free man. It was not that I had slain my enemy and been delivered from
deadly peril, nor had I any clearer light on my next step. But I had
suddenly got the conviction that God was on my side, and that I need
not fear what man could do unto me. You may call it the madness of a
lad whose body and spirit had been tried to breaking-point. But,
madness or no, it gave me infinite courage, and in that hour I would
have dared every savage on earth.
I found some Indians at the edge of the wood, and told one who spoke
Powhatan the issue of the fight. I flung the broken arrow on the
"That is my token," I said. "You will find the other in the pool below
Then I strode towards the tents, looking every man I passed squarely in
the eyes. No one spoke, no one hindered me; every face was like a
I reached the teepee in which I had spent the night, and flung myself
down on the rude couch. In a minute I was sunk in a heavy sleep.
I woke to see two men standing in the tent door. One was the chief
Onotawah, and the other a tall Indian who wore no war paint.
They came towards me, and the light fell on the face of the second. To
my amazement I recognized Shalah. He put a finger on his lip, and,
though my heart clamoured for news, I held my peace.
They squatted on a heap of skins and spoke in their own tongue. Then
Shalah addressed me in English.
"The maiden is safe, brother. There will be no more fighting at the
stockade. Those who assaulted us were of my own tribe, and yesterday I
reasoned with them."
Then he spoke to the chief, and translated for me.
"He says that you have endured the ordeal of the stake, and have slain
your enemy in fight, and that now you will go before the great Sachem
for his judgment. That is the custom of our people."
He turned to Onotawah again, and his tone was high and scornful. He
spoke as if he were the chief and the other were the minion, and, what
was strangest of all, Onotawah replied meekly. Shalah rose to his feet
and strode to the door, pointing down the glen with his hand. He seemed
to menace the other, his nostrils quivered with contempt, and his voice
was barbed with passion. Onotawah bowed his head and said nothing.
Then he seemed to dismiss him, and the proud chief walked out of the
teepee like a disconsolate schoolboy.
Instantly Shalah turned to me and inquired about my wounds. He looked
at the hole in my arm and at my scorched legs, and from his belt took a
phial of ointment, which he rubbed on the former. He passed his cool
hands over my brow, and felt the beating of my heart.
"You are weary, brother, and somewhat scarred, but there is no grave
hurt. What of the Master?"
I told him of Ringan's end. He bent his head, and then sprang up and
held his hands high, speaking in a strange tongue. I looked at his
eyes, and they were ablaze with fire.
"My people slew him," he cried. "By the shades of my fathers, a score
shall keep him company as slaves in the Great Hunting-ground."
"Talk no more of blood," I said. "He was amply avenged. 'Twas I who
slew him, for he died to save me. He made a Christian end, and I will
not have his memory stained by more murders. But oh, Shalah, what a man
He made me tell every incident of the story, and he cried out,
impassive though he was, at the sword-play in the neck of the gorge.
"I have seen it," he cried. "I have seen his bright steel flash and men
go down like ripe fruit. Tell me, brother, did he sing all the while,
as was his custom? Would I had been by his side!"
Then he told me of what had befallen at the stockade.
"The dead man told me a tale, for by the mark on his forehead I knew
that he was of my own house. When you and the Master had gone I went
into the woods and picked up the trail of our foes. I found them in a
crook of the hills, and went among them in peace. They knew me, and my
word was law unto them. No living thing will come near the stockade
save the wild beasts of the forest. Be at ease in thy mind, brother."
The news was a mighty consolation, but I was still deeply mystified.
"You speak of your tribe. But these men were no Senecas."
He smiled gravely. "Listen, brother," he said. "The white men of the
Tidewater called me Seneca, and I suffered the name. But I am of a
greater and princelier house than the Sons of the Cat. Some little
while ago I spoke to you of the man who travelled to the Western Seas,
and of his son who returned to his own people. I am the son of him who
returned. I spoke of the doings of my own kin."
"But what is your nation, then?" I cried.
"One so great that these little clanlets of Cherokee and Monacan, and
even the multitudes of the Long House, are but slaves and horseboys by
their side. We dwelt far beyond these mountains towards the setting
sun, in a plain where the rivers are like seas, and the cornlands wider
than all the Virginian manors. But there came trouble in our royal
house, and my father returned to find a generation which had forgotten
the deeds of their forefathers. So he took his own tribe, who still
remembered the House of the Sun, and, because his heart was unquiet
with longing for that which is forbidden to man, he journeyed
eastward, and found a new home in a valley of these hills. Thine eyes
have seen it. They call it the Shenandoah."
I remembered that smiling Eden I had seen from that hill-top, and how
Shalah had spoken that very name.
"We dwelt there," he continued, "while I grew to manhood, living
happily in peace, hunting the buffalo and deer, and tilling our
cornlands. Then the time came when the Great Spirit called for my
father, and I was left with the kingship of the tribe. Strange things
meantime had befallen our nation in the West. Broken clans had come
down from the north, and there had been many battles, and there had
been blight, and storms, and sickness, so that they were grown poor and
harassed. Likewise men had arisen who preached to them discontent, and
other races of a lesser breed had joined themselves to them. My own
tribe had become fewer, for the young men did not stay in our valley,
but drifted back to the West, to that nation we had come from, or went
north to the wars with the white man, or became lonely hunters in the
hills. Then from the south along the mountain crests came another
people, a squat and murderous people, who watched us from the ridges
and bided their chance."
"The Cherokees?" I asked.
"Even so. I speak of a hundred moons back, when I was yet a stripling,
with little experience in war. I saw the peril, but I could not think
that such a race could vie with the Children of the Sun. But one black
night, in the Moon of Wildfowl, the raiders descended in a torrent and
took us unprepared. What had been a happy people dwelling with full
barns and populous wigwams became in a night a desolation. Our wives
and children were slain or carried captive, and on every Cherokee belt
hung the scalps of my warriors. Some fled westwards to our nation, but
they were few that lived, and the tribe of Shalah went out like a torch
in a roaring river.
"I slew many men that night, for the gods of my fathers guided my arm.
Death I sought, but could not find it; and by and by I was alone in the
woods, with twenty scars and a heart as empty as a gourd. Then I turned
my steps to the rising sun and the land of the white man, for there was
no more any place for me in the councils of my own people.
"All this was many moons ago, and since then I have been a wanderer
among strangers. While I reigned in my valley I heard of the white
man's magic and of the power of his gods, and I longed to prove them.
Now I have learned many things which were hid from the eyes of our
oldest men. I have learned that a man may be a great brave, and yet
gentle and merciful, as was the Master, I have learned that a man may
be a lover of peace and quiet ways and have no lust of battle in his
heart, and yet when the need comes be more valiant than the best, even
as you, brother. I have learned that the God of the white men was
Himself a man who endured the ordeal of the stake for the welfare of
His enemies. I have seen cruelty and cowardice and folly among His
worshippers; but I have also seen that His faith can put spirit into a
coward's heart, and make heroes of mean men. I do not grudge my years
of wandering. They have taught me such knowledge as the Sachems of my
nation never dreamed of, and they have given me two comrades after my
own heart. One was he who died yesterday, and the other is now by my
These words of Shalah did not make me proud, for things were too
serious for vanity. But they served to confirm in me my strange
exaltation. I felt as one dedicated to a mighty task.
"Tell me, what is the invasion which threatens the Tidewater?"
"The whole truth is not known to me; but from the speech of my
tribesmen, it seems that the Children of the West Wind, twelve moons
ago, struck their tents and resolved to seek a new country. There is a
restlessness comes upon all Indian peoples once in every five
generations. It fell upon my grandfather, and he travelled towards the
sunset, and now it has fallen upon the whole race of the Sun. As they
were on the eve of journeying there came to them a prophet, who told
them that God would lead them not towards the West, as was the
tradition of the elders, but eastwards to the sea and the dwellings of
"Is that the crazy white man we have heard of?"
"He is of your race, brother. What his spell is I know not, but it
works mightily among my people. They tell me that he hath bodily
converse with devils, and that God whispers His secrets to him in the
night-watches. His God hath told him--so runs the tale--that He hath
chosen the Children of the Sun for His peculiar people, and laid on
them the charge of sweeping the white men off the earth and reigning in
their stead from the hills to the Great Waters."
"Do you believe in this madman, Shalah?" I asked.
"I know not," he said, with a troubled face. "I fear one possessed of
God. But of this I am sure, that the road of the Children of the West
Wind lies not eastward but westward, and that no good can come of war
with the white man. This Sachem hath laid his magic on others than our
people, for the Cherokee nation and all the broken clans of the hills
acknowledge him and do his bidding. He is a soldier as well as a
prophet, for he has drilled and disposed his army like a master of
"Will your tribe ally themselves with Cherokee murderers?"
"I asked that question of this man Onotawah, and he liked it little. He
says that his people distrust this alliance with a race they scorn, and
I do not think they pine for the white man's war. But they are under
the magic of this prophet, and presently, when blood begins to flow,
they will warm to their work. In time they will be broken, but that
time will not be soon, and meanwhile there will be nothing left alive
between the hills and the bay of Chesapeake."
"Do you know their plans?" I asked.
"The Cherokees have served their purpose," he said. "Your forecast was
right, brother. They have drawn the fire of the Border, and been driven
in a rabble far south to the Roanoke and the Carolina mountains. That
is as the prophet planned. And now, while the white men hang up their
muskets and rejoice heedlessly in their triumph, my nation prepares to
strike. To-night the moon is full, and the prophet makes intercession
with his God. To-morrow at dawn they march, and by twilight they will
have swarmed across the Border."
"Have you no power over your own people?"
"But little," he answered. "I have been too long absent from them, and
my name is half forgotten. Yet, were they free of this prophet, I think
I might sway them, for I know their ways, and I am the son of their
ancient kings. But for the present his magic holds them in thrall. They
listen in fear to one who hath the ear of God."
I arose, stretched my arms, and yawned.
"They carry me to this Sachem," I said. "Well and good. I will outface
this blasphemous liar, whoever he may be. If he makes big magic, I will
make bigger. The only course is the bold course. If I can humble this
prophet man, will you dissuade your nation from war and send them back
to the sunset?"
"Assuredly," he said wonderingly. "But what is your plan, brother?"
"None," I answered. "God will show me the way. Honesty may trust in Him
as well as madness."
"By my father's shade, you are a man, brother," and he gave me the
"A very weary, feckless cripple of a man," I said, smiling. "But the
armies of Heaven are on my side, Shalah. Take my pistols and Ringan's
sword. I am going into this business with no human weapons." And as
they set me on an Indian horse and the whole tribe turned their eyes to
the higher glens, I actually rejoiced. Light-hearted or light-headed, I
know not which I was, but I know that I had no fear.
HOW I STROVE ALL NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL.
It was late in the evening ere we reached the shelf in the high glens
which was the headquarters of the Indian host. I rode on a horse,
between Onotawah and Shalah, as if I were a chief and no prisoner. On
the road we met many bands of Indians hastening to the trysting-place,
for the leader had flung his outposts along the whole base of the
range, and the chief warriors returned to the plateau for the last
ritual. No man spoke a word, and when we met other companies the only
greeting was by uplifted hands.
The shelf was lit with fires, and there was a flare of torches in the
centre. I saw an immense multitude of lean, dark faces--how many I
cannot tell, but ten thousand at the least. It took all my faith to
withstand the awe of the sight. For these men were not the common
Indian breed, but a race nurtured and armed for great wars, disciplined
to follow one man, and sharpened to a needle-point in spirit. Perhaps
if I had been myself a campaigner I should have been less awed by the
spectacle; but having nothing with which to compare it, I judged this a
host before which the scattered Border stockades and Nicholson's scanty
militia would go down like stubble before fire.
At the head of the plateau, just under the brow of the hill, and facing
the half-circle of level land, stood a big tent of skins. Before it was
a square pile of boulders about the height of a man's waist, heaped on
the top with brushwood so that it looked like a rude altar. Around this
the host had gathered, sitting mostly on the ground with knees drawn to
the chin, but some few standing like sentries under arms. I was taken
to the middle of the half-circle, and Shalah motioned me to dismount,
while a stripling led off the horses. My legs gave under me, for they
were still very feeble, and I sat hunkered up on the sward like the
others. I looked for Shalah and Onotawah, but they had disappeared, and
I was left alone among those lines of dark, unknown faces.
I waited with an awe on my spirits against which I struggled in vain.
The silence of so vast a multitude, the sputtering torches, lighting
the wild amphitheatre of the hills, the strange clearing with its
altar, the mystery of the immense dusky sky, and the memory of what I
had already endured--all weighed on me with the sense of impending
doom. I summoned all my fortitude to my aid. I told myself that Ringan
believed in me, and that I had the assurance that God would not see me
cast down. But such courage as I had was now a resolve rather than any
exhilaration of spirits. A brooding darkness lay on me like a cloud.
Presently the hush grew deeper, and from the tent a man came. I could
not see him clearly, but the flickering light told me that he was very
tall, and that, like the Indians, he was naked to the middle. He stood
behind the altar, and began some incantation.
It was in the Indian tongue which I could not understand. The voice was
harsh and discordant, but powerful enough to fill that whole circle of
hill. It seemed to rouse the passion of the hearers, for grave faces
around me began to work, and long-drawn sighs came from their lips.
Then at a word from the figure four men advanced, bearing something
between them, which they laid on the altar. To my amazement I saw that
it was a great yellow panther, so trussed up that it was impotent to
hurt. How such a beast had ever been caught alive I know not. I could
see its green cat's eyes glowing in the dark, and the striving of its
muscles, and hear the breath hissing from its muzzled jaws.
The figure raised a knife and plunged it into the throat of the great
cat. The slow lapping of blood broke in on the stillness. Then the
voice shrilled high and wild. I could see that the man had marked his
forehead with blood, and that his hands were red and dripping. He
seemed to be declaiming some savage chant, to which my neighbours began
to keep time with their bodies. Wilder and wilder it grew, till it
ended in a scream like a seamew's. Whoever the madman was, he knew the
mystery of Indian souls, for in a little he would have had that host
lusting blindly for death. I felt the spell myself, piercing through my
awe and hatred of the spell-weaver, and I won't say but that my weary
head kept time with the others to that weird singing.
A man brought a torch and lit the brushwood on the altar. Instantly a
flame rose to heaven, through which the figure of the magician showed
fitfully like a mountain in mist. That act broke the wizardry for me.
To sacrifice a cat was monstrous and horrible, but it was also
uncouthly silly. I saw the magic for what it was, a maniac's trickery.
In the revulsion I grew angry, and my anger heartened me wonderfully.
Was this stupendous quackery to bring ruin to the Tidewater? Though I
had to choke the life with my own hands out of that warlock's throat, I
should prevent it.
Then from behind the fire the voice began again. But this time I
understood it. The words were English. I was amazed, for I had
forgotten that I knew the wizard to be a white man.
"_Thus saith the Lord God_," it cried, "_Woe to the bloody city! I will
make the pile great for fire. Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume
the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned_."
He poked the beast on the altar, and a bit of burning yellow fur fell
off and frizzled on the ground.
It was horrid beyond words, lewd and savage and impious, and
desperately cruel. And the strange thing was that the voice was
"_O thou that dwellest upon many waters_," it went on again, "_abundant
in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness.
The Lord of Hosts hath sworn by Himself, saying, Surely I will fill
thee with men as with caterpillars_...."
With that last word there came over me a flood of recollection. It was
spoken not in the common English way, but in the broad manner of my own
folk.... I saw in my mind's eye a wet moorland, and heard a voice
inveighing against the wickedness of those in high places.... I smelled
the foul air of the Canongate Tolbooth, and heard this same man
testifying against the vanity of the world.... "_Cawterpillars!_" It
was the voice that had once bidden me sing "Jenny Nettles."
Harsh and strident and horrible, it was yet the voice I had known, now
blaspheming Scripture words behind that gruesome sacrifice. I think I
laughed aloud. I remembered the man I had pursued my first night in
Virginia, the man who had raided Frew's cabin. I remembered Ringan's
tale of the Scots redemptioner that had escaped from Norfolk county,
and the various strange writings which had descended from the hills.
Was it not the queerest fate that one whom I had met in my boyish
scrapes should return after six years and many thousand miles to play
once more a major part in my life! The nameless general in the hills
was Muckle John Gib, once a mariner of Borrowstoneness, and some time
leader of the Sweet-Singers. I felt the smell of wet heather, and the
fishy odours of the Forth; I heard the tang of our country speech, and
the swirl of the gusty winds of home.
But in a second all thought of mirth was gone, and a deep solemnity
fell upon me. God had assuredly directed my path, for He had brought
the two of us together over the widest spaces of earth. I had no fear
of the issue. I should master Muckle John as I had mastered him before.
My awe was all for God's mysterious dealing, not for that poor fool
posturing behind his obscene sacrifice. His voice rose and fell in
eldritch screams and hollow moans. He was mouthing the words of some
"_A Sword is upon her horses, and upon her chariots, and upon all the
mingled people that are in the midst of her, and they shall become as
women. A Sword is upon her treasures, and they shall be robbed; a
drought is upon her waters, and they shall be dried up; for it is the
land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols_."
Every syllable brought back some memory. He had the whine and sough in
his voice that our sectaries prized, and I could shut my eyes and
imagine I was back in the little kirk of Lesmahagow on a hot summer
morn. And then would come the scream of madness, the high wail of the
"_Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a King of kings from
the north, with horses and with chariots, and with horsemen and
companies and muck people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters
in the field_...."
"Fine words," I thought; "but Elspeth laid her whip over your
shoulders, my man."
"... _With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets.
He shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall
go down to the ground.... And I will cause the music of thy songs to
cease, and the sound of thy harps shall no more be heard."_
I had a vision of Elspeth's birthday party when we sat round the
Governor's table, and I had wondered dismally how long it would be
before our pleasant songs would be turned to mourning.
The fires died down, the smoke thinned, and the full moon rising over
the crest of the hills poured her light on us. The torches flickered
insolently in that calm radiance. The voice, too, grew lower and the
incantation ceased. Then it began again in the Indian tongue, and the
whole host rose to their feet. Muckle John, like some old priest of
Diana, flung up his arms to the heavens, and seemed to be invoking his
strange gods. Or he may have been blessing his flock--I know not which.
Then he turned and strode back to his tent, just as he had done on that
night in the Cauldstaneslap....
A hand was laid on my arm and Onotawah stood by me. He motioned me to
follow him, and led me past the smoking altar to a row of painted white
stones around the great wigwam. This he did not cross, but pointed to
the tent door, I pushed aside the flap and entered.
An Indian lamp--a wick floating in oil--stood on a rough table. But its
thin light was unneeded, for the great flood of moonshine, coming
through the slits of the skins, made a clear yellow twilight. By it I
marked the figure of Muckle John on his knees.
"Good evening to you, Mr. Gib," I said.
The figure sprang to its feet and strode over to me.
"Who are ye," it cried, "who speaks a name that is no more spoken on
"Just a countryman of yours, who has forgathered with you before. Have
you no mind of the Cauldstaneslap and the Canongate Tolbooth?"
He snatched up the lamp and peered into my face, but he was long past
"I know ye not. But if ye be indeed one from that idolatrous country of
Scotland, the Lord hath sent you to witness the triumph of His servant,
Know that I am no longer the man John Gib, but the chosen of the Lord,
to whom He hath given a new name, even Jerubbaal, saying let Baal plead
against him, because he hath thrown down his altar."
"That's too long a word for me to remember, Mr. Gib, so by your leave
I'll call you as you were christened."
I had forced myself to a slow coolness, and my voice seemed to madden
"Ye would outface me," he cried. "I see ye are an idolater from the
tents of Shem, on whom judgment will be speedy and surprising. Know ye
not what the Lord hath prepared for ye? Down in your proud cities ye
are feasting and dicing and smiling on your paramours, but the writing
is on the wall, and in a little ye will be crying like weaned bairns
for a refuge against the storm of God. Your strong men shall be slain,
and your virgins shall be led captive, and your little children shall
be dashed against a stone. And in the midst of your ruins I, even I,
will raise a temple to the God of Israel, and nations that know me not
will run unto me because of the Lord my God."
I had determined on my part, and played it calmly.
"And what will you do with your Indian braves?" I asked.
"Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place to
lie down in, for my people that have sought me," he answered.
"A bonny spectacle," I said. "Man, if you dare to cross the Border you
will be whipped at a cart-tail and clapped into Bedlam as a crazy
"Blasphemer," he shrieked, and ran at me with the knife he had used on
It took all my courage to play my game. I stood motionless, looking at
him, and his head fell. Had I moved he would have struck, but to his
mad eyes my calmness was terrifying.
"It sticks in my mind," I said, "that there is a commandment, Do no
murder. You call yourself a follower of the Lord. Let me tell you that
you are no more than a bloody-minded savage, a thousandfold more guilty
than those poor creatures you are leading astray. You serve Baal, not
God, John Gib, and the devil in hell is banking his fires and counting
on your company."
He gibbered at me like a bedlamite, but I knew what I was doing. I
raised my voice, and spoke loud and clear, while my eyes held his in
that yellow dusk.
"Priest of Baal," I cried, "lying prophet! Go down on your knees and
pray for mercy. By the living God, the flames of hell are waiting for
you. The lightnings tremble in the clouds to scorch you up and send
your black soul to its own place."
His hands pawed at my throat, but the horror was descending on him. He
shrieked like a wild beast, and cast fearful eyes behind him. Then he
rushed into the dark corners, stabbing with his knife, crying that the
devils were loosed. I remember how horribly he frothed at the mouth.
"Avaunt," he howled. "Avaunt, Mel and Abaddon! Avaunt, Evil-Merodach
and Baal-Jezer! Ha! There I had ye, ye muckle goat. The stink of hell
is on ye, but ye shall not take the elect of the Lord."
He crawled on his belly, stabbing his knife into the ground. I easily
avoided him, for his eyes saw nothing but his terrible phantoms. Verily
Shalah had spoken truth when he said that this man had bodily converse
with the devils.
Then I threw him--quite easily, for his limbs were going limp in the
extremity of his horror. He lay gasping and foaming, his eyes turning
back in his head, while I bound his arms to his sides with my belt. I
found some cords in the tent, and tied his legs together. He moaned
miserably for a little, and then was silent.
* * * * *
I think I must have sat by him for three hours. The world was very
still, and the moon set, and the only light was the flickering lamp.
Once or twice I heard a rustle by the tent door. Some Indian guard was
on the watch, but I knew that no Indian dared to cross the forbidden
I had no thoughts, being oppressed with a great stupor of weariness. I
may have dozed a little, but the pain of my legs kept me from
Once or twice I looked at him, and I noticed that the madness had gone
out of his face, and that he was sleeping peacefully. I wiped the froth
from his lips, and his forehead was cool to my touch.
By and by, as I held the lamp close, I observed that his eyes were
open. It was now time for the gamble I had resolved on. I remembered
that morning in the Tolbooth, and how the madness had passed, leaving
him a simple soul. I unstrapped the belt, and cut the cords about his
"Do you feel better now, Mr. Gib?" I asked, as if it were the most
ordinary question in the world.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Was it a dwam?" he inquired. "I get
"It was a dwam, but I think it has passed."
He still rubbed his eyes, and peered about him, like a big collie dog
that has lost its master.
"Who is it that speirs?" he said. "I ken the voice, but I havena heard
it this long time."
"One who is well acquaint with Borrowstoneness and the links of Forth,"
I spoke in the accent of his own country-side, and it must have woke
some dim chord in his memory, I made haste to strike while the iron was
"There was a woman at Cramond..." I began.
He got to his feet and looked me in the face. "Ay, there was," he said,
with an odd note in his voice. "What about her?" I could see that his
hand was shaking.
"I think her name was Alison Steel."
"What ken ye of Alison Steel?" he asked fiercely. "Quick, man, what
word have ye frae Alison?"
"You sent me with a letter to her. D'you not mind your last days in
Edinburgh, before they shipped you to the Plantations?"
"It comes back to me," he cried. "Ay, it comes back. To think I should
live to hear of Alison! What did she say?"
"Just this. That John Gib was a decent man if he would resist the devil
of pride. She charged me to tell you that you would never be out of her
prayers, and that she would live to be proud of you. 'John will never
shame his kin,' quoth she."
"Said she so?" he said musingly. "She was aye a kind body. We were to
be married at Martinmas, I mind, if the Lord hadna called me."
"You've need of her prayers," I said, "and of the prayers of every
Christian soul on earth. I came here yestereen to find you mouthing
blasphemies, and howling like a mad tyke amid a parcel of heathen. And
they tell me you're to lead your savages on Virginia, and give that
smiling land to fire and sword. Think you Alison Steel would not be
black ashamed if she heard the horrid tale?"
"'Twas the Lord's commands," he said gloomily, but there was no
conviction in his words.
I changed my tone. "Do you dare to speak such blasphemy?" I cried. "The
Lord's commands! The devil's commands! The devil of your own sinful
pride! You are like the false prophets that made Israel to sin. What
brings you, a white man, at the head of murderous savages?"
"Israel would not hearken, so I turned to the Gentiles," said he.
"And what are you going to make of your Gentiles? Do you think you've
put much Christianity into the heart of the gentry that were watching
your antics last night?"
"They have glimmerings of grace," he said.
"Glimmerings of moonshine! They are bent on murder, and so are you, and
you call that the Lord's commands. You would sacrifice your own folk to
the heathen hordes. God forgive you, John Gib, for you are no
Christian, and no Scot, and no man."
"Virginia is an idolatrous land," said he; but he could not look up at
"And are your Indians not idolaters? Are you no idolater, with your
burnt offerings and heathen gibberish? You worship a Baal and a Moloch
worse than any Midianite, for you adore the devils of your own rotten
The big man, with all the madness out of him, put his towsy head in his
hands, and a sob shook his great shoulders.
"Listen to me, John Gib. I am come from your own country-side to save
you from a hellish wickedness, I know the length and breadth of
Virginia, and the land is full of Scots, men of the Covenant you have
forsworn, who are living an honest life on their bits of farms, and
worshipping the God you have forsaken. There are women there like
Alison Steel, and there are men there like yourself before you
hearkened to the devil. Will you bring death to your own folk, with
whom you once shared the hope of salvation? By the land we both have
left, and the kindly souls we both have known, and the prayers you said
at your mother's knee, and the love of Christ who died for us, I adjure
you to flee this great sin. For it is the sin against the Holy Ghost,
and that knows no forgiveness."
The man was fairly broken down. "What must I do?" he cried. "I'm all in
a creel. I'm but a pipe for the Lord to sound through."
"Take not that Name in vain, for the sounding is from your own corrupt
heart. Mind what Alison Steel said about the devil of pride, for it was
that sin by which the angels fell."
"But I've His plain commands," he wailed. "He hath bidden me cast down
idolatry, and bring the Gentiles to His kingdom."
"Did He say anything about Virginia? There's plenty idolatry elsewhere
in America to keep you busy for a lifetime, and you can lead your
Gentiles elsewhere than against your own kin. Turn your face westward,
John Gib. I, too, can dream dreams and see visions, and it is borne in
on me that your road is plain before you. Lead this great people away
from the little shielings of Virginia, over the hills and over the
great mountains and the plains beyond, and on and on till you come to
an abiding city. You will find idolaters enough to dispute your road,
and you can guide your flock as the Lord directs you. Then you will be
clear of the murderer's guilt who would stain his hands in kindly
He lifted his great head, and the marks of the sacrifice were still on
"D'ye think that would be the Lord's will?" he asked innocently.
"I declare it unto you," said I. "I have been sent by God to save your
soul. I give you your marching orders, for though you are half a madman
you are whiles a man. There's the soul of a leader in you, and I would
keep you from the shame of leading men to hell. To-morrow morn you will
tell these folk that the Lord has revealed to you a better way, and by
noon you will be across the Shenandoah. D'you hear my word?"
"Ay," he said. "We will march in the morning."
"Can you lead them where you will?"
His back stiffened, and the spirit of a general looked out of his eyes.
"They will follow where I bid. There's no a man of them dare cheep at
what I tell them."
"My work is done," I said. "I go to whence I came. And some day I shall
go to Cramond and tell Alison that John Gib is no disgrace to his kin."
"Would you put up a prayer?" he said timidly. "I would be the better of
Then for the first and last time in my life I spoke aloud to my Maker
in another's presence, and it was surely the strangest petition ever
"Lord," I prayed, "Thou seest Thy creature, John Gib, who by the
perverseness of his heart has come to the edge of grievous sin. Take
the cloud from his spirit, arrange his disordered wits, and lead him to
a wiser life. Keep him in mind of his own land, and of her who prays
for him. Guide him over hills and rivers to an enlarged country, and
make his arm strong against his enemies, so be they are not of his own
kin. And if ever he should hearken again to the devil, do Thou blast
his body with Thy fires, so that his soul may be saved."
"Amen," said he, and I went out of the tent to find the grey dawn
beginning to steal up the sky.
Shalah was waiting at the entrance, far inside the white stones. 'Twas
the first time I had ever seen him in a state approaching fear.
"What fortune, brother?" he asked, and his teeth chattered.
"The Tidewater is safe. This day they march westwards to look for their
"Thy magic is as the magic of Heaven," he said reverently. "My heart
all night has been like water, for I know no charm which hath prevailed
against the mystery of the Panther."
"'Twas no magic of mine," said I. "God spoke to him through my lips in
the night watches."
We took our way unchallenged through the sleeping host till we had
climbed the scarp of the hills.
"What brought you to the tent door?" I asked.
"I abode there through the night, I heard the strife with the devils,
and my joints were loosened. Also I heard thy voice, brother, but I
knew not thy words."
"But what did you mean to do?" I asked again.
"It was in my mind to do my little best to see that no harm befell
thee. And if harm came, I had the thought of trying my knife on the
ribs of yonder magician."
HOW THREE SOULS FOUND THEIR HERITAGE.
In that hour I had none of the exhilaration of success. So strangely
are we mortals made that, though I had won safety for myself and my
people, I could not get the savour of it. I had passed too far beyond
the limits of my strength. Now that the tension of peril was gone, my
legs were like touchwood, which a stroke would shatter, and my foolish
head swam like a merry-go-round. Shalah's arm was round me, and he
lifted me up the steep bits till we came to the crown of the ridge.
There we halted, and he fed me with sops of bread dipped in eau-de-vie,
for he had brought Ringan's flask with him. The only result was to make
me deadly sick. I saw his eyes look gravely at me, and the next I knew
I was on his back. I begged him to set me down and leave me, and I
think I must have wept like a bairn. All pride of manhood had flown in
that sharp revulsion, and I had the mind of a lost child.
As the light grew some strength came back to me, and presently I was
able to hobble a little on my rickety shanks. We kept the very crest of
the range, and came by and by to a promontory of clear ground, the
same, I fancy, from which I had first seen the vale of the Shenandoah.
There we rested in a nook of rock, while the early sun warmed us, and
the little vapours showed, us in glimpses the green depths and the
Shalah nudged my shoulder, and pointed to the south, where a glen
debouched from the hills. A stream of mounted figures was pouring out
of it, heading for the upper waters of the river where the valley
broadened again. For all my sickness my eyes were sharp enough to
perceive what manner of procession it was. All were on horseback,
riding in clouds and companies without the discipline of a march, but
moving as swift as a flight of wildfowl at twilight. Before the others
rode a little cluster of pathfinders, and among them I thought I could
recognize one taller than the rest.
"Your magic hath prevailed, brother," Shalah said. "In an hour's time
they will have crossed the Shenandoah, and at nightfall they will camp
on the farther mountains."
That sight gave me my first assurance of success. At any rate, I had
fulfilled my trust, and if I died in the hills Virginia would yet bless
And yet my strongest feeling was a wild regret. These folk were making
for the untravelled lands of the sunset. You would have said I had got
my bellyful of adventure, and should now have sought only a quiet life.
But in that moment of bodily weakness and mental confusion I was shaken
with a longing to follow them, to find what lay beyond the farthest
cloud-topped mountain, to cross the wide rivers, and haply to come to
the infinite and mystic Ocean of the West.
"Would to God I were with them!" I sighed.
"Will you come, brother?" Shalah whispered, a strange light in his
eyes. "If we twain joined the venture, I think we should not be the
last in it. Shalah would make you a king. What is your life in the
muddy Tidewater but a thing of little rivalries and petty wrangles and
moping over paper? The hearth will soon grow cold, and the bright eyes
of the fairest woman will dull with age, and the years will find you
heavy and slow, with a coward's shrinking from death. What say you,
brother? While the blood is strong in the veins shall we ride westward
on the path of a king?"
His eyes were staring like a hawk's over the hills, and, light-headed
as I was, I caught the infection of his ardour. For, remember, I was so
low in spirit that all my hopes and memories were forgotten, and I was
in that blank apathy which is mastered by another's passion. For a
little the life of Virginia seemed unspeakably barren, and I quickened
at the wild vista which Shalah offered. I might be a king over a proud
people, carving a fair kingdom out of the wilderness, and ruling it
justly in the fear of God. These western Indians were the stuff of a
great nation. I, Andrew Garvald, might yet find that empire of which
the old adventurers dreamed.
With shame I set down my boyish folly. It did not last, long, for to my
dizzy brain there came the air which Elspeth had sung, that song of
Montrose's which had been, as it were, the star of all my wanderings.
"For, if Confusion have a part,
Which virtuous souls abhor--"
Surely it was confusion that had now overtaken me. Elspeth's clear
voice, her dark, kind eyes, her young and joyous grace, filled again my
memory. Was not such a lady better than any savage kingdom? Was not the
service of my own folk nobler than any principate among strangers?
Could the rivers of Damascus vie with the waters of Israel?
"Nay, Shalah," I said. "Mine is a quieter destiny. I go back to the
Tidewater, but I shall not stay there. We have found the road to the
hills, and in time I will plant the flag of my race on the Shenandoah."
He bowed his head. "So be it. Each man to his own path, but I would
ours had run together. Your way is the way of the white man. You
conquer slowly, but the line of your conquest goes not back. Slowly it
eats its way through the forest, and fields and manors appear in the
waste places, and cattle graze in the coverts of the deer. Listen,
brother. Shalah has had his visions when his eyes were unsealed in the
night watches. He has seen the white man pressing up from the sea, and
spreading over the lands of his fathers. He has seen the glens of the
hills parcelled out like the meadows of Henricus, and a great multitude
surging ever on to the West. His race is doomed by God to perish before
the stranger; but not yet awhile, for the white man comes slowly. It
hath been told that the Children of the West Wind must seek their
cradle, and while there is time he would join them in that quest. The
white men follow upon their heels, but in his day and in that of his
son's sons they will lead their life according to the ancient ways. He
hath seen the wisdom of the stranger, and found among them men after
his own heart; but the Spirit of his fathers calls, and now he returns
to his own people."
"What will you do there?" I asked.
"I know not. I am still a prince among them, and will sway their
councils. It may be fated that I slay yonder magician and reign in his
He got to his feet and looked proudly westward.
"In a little I shall overtake them. But I would my brother had been of
Slowly we travelled north along the crests, for though my mind was now
saner, I had no strength in my body. The hill mists came down on us,
and the rain drove up from the glens. I was happy now for all my
weakness, for I was lapped in a great peace. The raw weather, which had
once been a horror of darkness to me, was now something kindly and
homelike. The wet smells minded me of my own land, and the cool buffets
of the squalls were a tonic to my spirit. I wandered into pleasant
dreams, and scarce felt the roughness of the ground on my bare feet and
the aches in every limb.
Long ere we got to the Gap I was clean worn out. I remember that I fell
constantly, and could scarcely rise. Then I stumbled, and the last
power went out of will and sinew. I had a glimpse of Shalah's grave
face as I slipped into unconsciousness.
I woke in a glow of firelight. Faces surrounded me, dim wraith-like
figures still entangled in the meshes of my dreams. Slowly the scene
cleared, and I recognized Grey's features, drawn and constrained, and
yet welcoming. Bertrand was weeping after his excitable fashion.
But there was a face nearer to me, and with that face in my memory I
went off into pleasant dreams. Somewhere in them mingled the words of
the old spaewife, that I should miss love and fortune in the sunshine
and find them in the rain.
The strength of youth is like a branch of yew, for if it is bent it
soon straightens. By the third day I was on my feet again, with only
the stiffness of healing wounds to remind me of those desperate
passages. When I could look about me I found that men had arrived from
the Rappahannock, and among them Elspeth's uncle, who had girded on a
great claymore, and looked, for all his worn face and sober habit, a
mighty man of war. With them came news of the rout of the Cherokees,
who had been beaten by Nicholson's militia in Stafford county and
driven down the long line of the Border, paying toll to every stockade.
Midway Lawrence had fallen upon them and driven the remnants into the
hills above the head waters of the James. It would be many a day, I
thought, before these gentry would bring war again to the Tidewater.
The Rappahannock men were in high feather, convinced that they had
borne the brunt of the invasion. 'Twas no business of mine to enlighten
them, the more since of the three who knew the full peril, Shalah was
gone and Ringan was dead. My tale should be for the ear of Lawrence and
the Governor, and for none else. The peace of mind of Virginia should
not be broken by me.
Grey came to me on the third morning to say good-bye. He was going back
to the Tidewater with some of the Borderers, for to stay longer with us
had become a torture to him. There was no ill feeling in his proud
soul, and he bore defeat as a gentleman should.
"You have fairly won, Mr. Garvald," he said. "Three nights ago I saw
clearly revealed the inclination of the lady, and I am not one to
strive with an unwilling maid. I wish you joy of a great prize. You
staked high for it, and you deserve your fortune. As for me, you have
taught me much for which I owe you gratitude. Presently, when my heart
is less sore, I desire that we should meet in friendship, but till then
I need a little solitude to mend broken threads."
There was the true gentleman for you, and I sorrowed that I should ever
have misjudged him. He shook my hand in all brotherliness, and went
down the glen with Bertrand, who longed to see his children again.
Elspeth remained, and concerning her I fell into my old doubting mood.
The return of my strength had revived in me the passion which had dwelt
somewhere in my soul from, the hour she first sang to me in the rain.
She had greeted me as girl greets her lover, but was that any more than
the revulsion from fear and the pity of a tender heart? Doubts
oppressed me, the more as she seemed constrained and uneasy, her eyes
falling when she met mine, and her voice full no longer of its frank
One afternoon we went to a place in the hills where the vale of the
Shenandoah could be seen. The rain had gone, and had left behind it a
taste of autumn. The hill berries were ripening, and a touch of flame
had fallen on the thickets.
Soon the great valley lay below us, running out in a golden haze to the
far blue mountains.
"Ah!" she sighed, like one who comes from a winter night into a firelit
room. She was silent, while her eyes drank in its spacious comfort.
"That is your heritage, Elspeth. That is the birthday gift to which old
Studd's powder-flask is the key."
"Nay, yours," she said, "for you won it."
The words died on her lips, for her eyes were abstracted. My legs were
still feeble, and I had leaned a little on her strong young arm as we
came up the hill, but now she left me and climbed on a rock, where she
sat like a pixie. The hardships of the past had thinned her face and
deepened her eyes, but her grace was the more manifest. Fresh and dewy
as morning, yet with a soul of steel and fire--surely no lovelier
nymph ever graced a woodland. I felt how rough and common was my own
clay in contrast with her bright spirit.
"Elspeth," I said hoarsely, "once I told you what was in my heart."
Her face grew grave. "And have you not seen what is in mine?" she
"I have seen and rejoiced, and yet I doubt."
"But why?" she asked again. "My life is yours, for you have preserved
it. I would be graceless indeed if I did not give my best to you who
have given all for me."
"It is not gratitude I want. If you are only grateful, put me out of
your thoughts, and I will go away and strive to forget you. There were
twenty in the Tidewater who would have done the like."
She looked down on me from the rock with the old quizzing humour in her
"If gratitude irks you, sir, what would you have?"
"All," I cried; "and yet, Heaven knows, I am not worth it. I am no man
to capture a fair girl's heart. My face is rude and my speech harsh,
and I am damnably prosaic. I have not Ringan's fancy, or Grey's
gallantry; I am sober and tongue-tied and uncouth, and my mind runs
terribly on facts and figures. O Elspeth, I know I am no hero of
romance, but a plain body whom Fate has forced into a month of
wildness. I shall go back to Virginia, and be set once more at my
accompts and ladings. Think well, my dear, for I will have nothing less
than all. Can you endure to spend your days with a homely fellow like
"What does a woman desire?" she asked, as if from herself, and her
voice was very soft as she gazed over the valley. "Men think it is a
handsome face or a brisk air or a smooth tongue. And some will have it
that it is a deep purse or a high station. But I think it is the honest
heart that goes all the way with a woman's love. We are not so blind as
to believe that the glitter is the gold. We love romance, but we seek
it in its true home. Do you think I would marry you for gratitude,
"No," I said.
"Or for admiration?"
"No," said I.
"Or for love?"
"Yes," I said, with a sudden joy.
She slipped from the rock, her eyes soft and misty. Her arms were about
my neck, and I heard from her the words I had dreamed of and yet scarce
hoped for, the words of the song sung long ago to a boy's ear, and
spoken now with the pure fervour of the heart--"My dear and only love."
Years have flown since that day on the hills, and much has befallen;
but the prologue is the kernel of my play, and the curtain which rose
after that hour revealed things less worthy of chronicle. Why should I
tell of how my trade prospered mightily, and of the great house we
built at Middle Plantation; of my quarrels with Nicholson, which were
many; of how we carved a fair estate out of Elspeth's inheritance, and
led the tide of settlement to the edge of the hills? These things would
seem a pedestrian end to a high beginning. Nor would I weary the reader
with my doings in the Assembly, how I bearded more Governors than one,
and disputed stoutly with His Majesty's Privy Council in London. The
historian of Virginia--now by God's grace a notable land--may,
perhaps, take note of these things, but it is well for me to keep
silent. It is of youth alone that I am concerned to write, for it is a
comfort to my soul to know that once in my decorous progress through
life I could kick my heels and forget to count the cost; and as youth
cries farewell, so I end my story and turn to my accounts.
Elspeth and I have twice voyaged to Scotland. The first time my uncle
and mother were still in the land of the living, but they died in the
same year, and on our second journey I had much ado in settling their
estates. My riches being now considerable, I turned my attention to the
little house of Auchencairn, which I enlarged and beautified, so that
if we have the wish we may take up our dwelling there. We have found in
the West a goodly heritage, but there is that in a man's birth place
which keeps tight fingers on his soul, and I think that we desire to
draw our last breath and lay our bones in our own grey country-side.
So, if God grants us length of days, we may haply return to Douglasdale
in the even, and instead of our noble forests and rich meadows, look
upon the bleak mosses and the rainy uplands which were our childhood's
That is the fancy at the back of both our heads. But I am very sure
that our sons will be Virginians.
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