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|BOOK 1:The Boarderland|
IN the morning I started for Temple Bow on horseback behind one of Mr. Lowndes' negroes. Good Mrs. Lowndes had kissed me at parting, and tucked into my pocket a parcel of sweetmeats. There had been a few grave gentlemen to see me, and to their questions I had replied what I could. But tell them of Mr. Temple I would not, save that he himself had told me nothing. And Mr. Lowndes had presently put an end to their talk.
"The lad knows nothing, gentlemen," he had said, which was true.
"David," said he, when he bade me farewell, "I see that your father has brought you up to fear God. Remember that all you see in this life is not to be imitated."
And so I went off behind his negro. He was a merry lad, and despite
the great heat of the journey and my misgivings about Temple Bow, he made me laugh. I was
sad at crossing the ferry over the Ashley, through thinking of my father, but I reflected
that it could not be long now ere I saw him again. In the middle of the day we stopped at
a tavern. And at length, in the abundant shade of evening, we came to a pair of great
ornamental gates set between brick pillars capped with white balls, and turned into a
drive. And presently, winding through the trees, we were in sight of a long, brick mansion
trimmed with white, and a velvet lawn before it all flecked with shadows. In front of the
portico was a saddled horse, craning his long neck at two panting hounds stretched on the
ground. A negro boy in blue clutched
the bridle. On the horse-block a gentleman in white reclined. He wore shiny boots, and he held his hat in his hand, and he was gazing up at a lady who stood on the steps above him.
The lady I remember as well -- Lord forbid that I should forget her. And her laugh as I heard it that evening is ringing now in my ears. And yet it was not a laugh. Musical it was, yet there seemed no pleasure in it: rather irony, and a great weariness of the amusements of this world: and a note, too, from a vanity never ruffled. It stopped abruptly as the negro pulled up his horse before her, and she stared at us haughtily.
"What's this?" she said.
"Pardon, Mistis," said the negro, "I'se got a letter from Marse Lowndes."
"Mr. Lowndes should instruct his niggers," she said.
"There is a servants' drive." The man was turning his horse when she cried: "Hold! Let's have it."
He dismounted and gave her the letter, and I jumped to the ground, watching her as she broke the seal, taking her in, as a boy will, from the flowing skirt and tight-laced stays of her salmon silk to her high and powdered hair. She must have been about thirty. Her face was beautiful, but had no particle of expression in it, and was dotted here and there with little black patches of plaster. While she was reading, a sober gentleman in black silk-breeches and severe coat came out of the house and stood beside her.
"Heigho, parson," said the gentleman on the horse-block, without moving, "are you to preach against loo or lansquenet to-morrow?"
"Would it make any difference to you, Mr. Riddle?"
Before he could answer there came a great clatter behind them, and a boy of my own age appeared. With a leap he landed sprawling on the indolent gentleman's shoulders, nearly upsetting him.
"You young rascal!" exclaimed the gentleman, pitching him
on the drive almost at my feet; then he fell back again to a position where he could look
up at the lady.
"Harry Riddle," cried the boy, "I'll ride steeplechases and beat you some day."
"Hush, Nick," cried the lady, petulantly, "I'll have no nerves left me." She turned to the letter again, holding it very near to her eyes, and made a wry face of impatience. Then she held the sheet out to Mr. Riddle.
"A pretty piece of news," she said languidly. "Read it, Harry.
The gentleman seized her hand instead. The lady glanced at the clergyman, whose back was turned, and shook her head.
"How tiresome you are!" she said.
"What's happened?" asked Mr. Riddle, letting go as the parson looked around.
"Oh, they've had a battle," said the lady, "and Moultrie and his Rebels have beat off the King's fleet."
"The devil they have!" exclaimed Mr. Riddle, while the parson started forwards. "Anything more?"
"Yes, a little. "She hesitated. That husband of mine has fled Charlestown. They think he went to the fleet." And she shot a meaning look at Mr. Riddle, who in turn flushed red. I was watching them.
"What!" cried the clergyman, "John Temple has run away?"
"Why not," said Mr. Riddle. "One can't live between wind and water long. And Charlestown's -- uncomfortable in summer."
At that the clergyman cast one look at them -- such a look as I shall never forget -- and went into the house.
"Mamma," said the boy, "where has father gone? Has he run away?"
"Yes. Don't bother me, Nick."
"I don't believe it," cried Nick, his high voice shaking.
"I'd -- I'd disown him."
At that Mr. Riddle burst into a hearty laugh.
"Come, Nick," said he, "it isn't so bad as that. Your
father's for his Majesty, like the rest of us. He's merely gone over to fight for
him." And he looked at the lady and laughed again. But I liked the boy.
As for the lady, she curled her lip. "Mr. Riddle, don't be foolish," she said. "If we are to play, send your horse to the stables." Suddenly her eye lighted on me. "One more brat," she sighed. "Nick, take him to the nursery, or the stable. And both of you keep out of my sight."
Nick strode up to me.
"Don't mind her. She's always saying, `Keep out of my sight.' " His voice trembled. He took me by the sleeve and began pulling me around the house and into a little summer bower that stood there; for he had a masterful manner.
"What's your name?" he demanded.
"David Trimble," I said.
"Have you seen my father in town?"
The intense earnestness of the question surprised an answer out of me.
"Where?" he demanded.
"In his house. My father left me with your father."
"Tell me about it."
I related as much as I dared, leaving out Mr. Temple's double dealing; which, in truth, I did not understand. But the boy was relentless.
"Why," said he, "my father was a friend of Mr. Lowndes and Mr. Mathews. I have seen them here drinking with him. And in town. And he ran away?"
"I do not know where he went," said I, which was the truth.
He said nothing, but hid his face in his arms over the rail of the bower. At length he looked up at me fiercely.
"If you ever tell this, I will kill you," he cried. "Do you hear?"
That made me angry.
"Yes, I hear," I said. "But I am not afraid of you."
He was at me in an instant, knocking me to the floor, so that the
breath went out of me, and was pounding me vigorously ere I recovered from the shock and
astonishment of it and began to defend myself. He was taller than I, and wiry, but not so
rugged. Yet there was a
look about him that was far beyond his strength. A look that meant, *never say die. Curiously, even as I fought desperately I compared him with that other lad I had known, Andy Jackson. And this one, though not so powerful, frightened me the more in his relentlessness.
Perhaps we should have been fighting still had not some one pulled us apart, and when my vision cleared I saw Nick, struggling and kicking, held tightly in the hands of the clergyman. And it was all that gentleman could do to hold him. I am sure it was quite five minutes before he forced the lad, exhausted, on to the seat. And then there was a defiance about his nostrils that showed he was undefeated. The clergyman, still holding him with one hand, took out his handkerchief with the other and wiped his brow.
I expected a scolding and a sermon. To my amazement the clergyman said quietly: --
"Now what was the trouble, David?"
"I'll not be the one to tell it, sir," I said, and trembled at my temerity.
The parson looked at me queerly.
"Then you are in the right of it," he said. "It is as I thought; I'll not expect Nicholas to tell me."
"I will tell you, sir," said Nicholas. "He was in the house with my father when -- when he ran away. And I said that if he ever spoke of it to any one, I would kill him."
For a while the clergyman was silent, gazing with a strange tenderness at the lad, whose face was averted.
"And you, David?" he said presently.
"I -- I never mean to tell, sir. But I was not to be frightened."
"Quite right, my lad," said the clergyman, so kindly that it sent a strange thrill through me. Nicholas looked up quickly.
"You won't tell?" he said.
"No," I said.
"You can let me go now, Mr. Mason," said he. Mr. Mason did. And he came over and sat beside me, but said nothing more.
After a while Mr. Mason cleared his throat.
"Nicholas," said he, "when you grow older you will understand these matters better. Your father went away to join the side he believes in, the side we all believe in -- the King's side.
"Did he ever pretend to like the other side?" asked Nick, quickly.
"When you grow older you will know his motives," answered the clergyman, gently. "Until then; you must trust him."
"You never pretended," cried Nick.
"Thank God I never was forced to do so," said the clergyman, fervently.
It is wonderful that the conditions of our existence may wholly change without a seeming strangeness. After many years only vivid snatches of what I saw and heard and did at Temple Bow come back to me. I understood but little the meaning of the seigniorial life there. My chief wonder now is that its golden surface was not more troubled by the winds then brewing. It was a new life to me, one that I had not dreamed of.
After that first falling out, Nick and I became inseparable. Far slower than he in my likes and dislikes, he soon became a passion with me. Even as a boy, he did everything with a grace unsurpassed; the dash and daring of his pranks took one's breath; his generosity to those he loved was prodigal. Nor did he ever miss a chance to score those under his displeasure. At times he was reckless beyond words to describe, and again he would fall sober for a day. He could be cruel and tender in the same hour; abandoned and freezing in his dignity. He had an old negro mammy whose worship for him and his possessions was idolatry. I can hear her now calling and calling, "Marse Nick, honey, yo' supper's done got cole," as she searched patiently among the magnolias. And suddenly there would be a shout, and Mammy's turban go flying from her woolly head, or Mammy herself would be dragged down from behind and sat upon.
We had our supper, Nick and I, at twilight, in the children's dining
room. A little white room, unevenly
panelled, the silver candlesticks and yellow flames fantastically reflected in the mirrors between the deep windows, and the moths and June-bugs tilting at the lights. We sat at a little mahogany table eating porridge and cream from round blue bowls, with Mammy to wait on us. Sometimes there floated in upon us the hum of revelry from the great drawing-room where Madame had her company. Often the good Mr. Mason would come in to us (he cared little for the parties), and talk to us of our day's doings. Nick had his lessons from the clergyman in the winter time.
Mr. Mason took occasion once to question me on what I knew. Some of my answers, in especial those relating to my knowledge of the Bible, surprised him. Others made him sad.
"David," said he, "you are an earnest lad, with a head to learn, and you will. When your father comes, I shall talk with him." He paused -- "I knew him," said he, "I knew him ere you were born. A just man, and upright, but with a great sorrow. We must never be hasty in our judgments. But you will never be hasty, David," he added, smiling at me. "You are a good companion for Nicholas."
Nicholas and I slept in the same bedroom, at a corner of the long
house, and far removed from his mother. She would not be disturbed by the noise he made in
the mornings. I remember that he had cut in the solid shutters of that room, folded into
the embrasures, "Nicholas Temple, His Mark," and a long, flat sword. The
first night in that room we slept but little, near the whole of it being occupied with
tales of my adventures and of my life in the mountains. Over and over again I must tell
him of the "painters" and wildcats, of deer and bear and wolf. Nor was he ever
satisfied. And at length I came to speak of that land where I had often lived in fancy --
the land beyond the mountains of which Daniel Boone had told. Of its forest and glade, its
countless herds of elk and buffalo, its salt-licks and Indians, until we fell asleep from
"I will go there," he cried in the morning, as he hurried into his clothes; "I will go to that land as sure as my name is Nick Temple. And you shall go with me, David."
"Perchance I shall go before you," I answered, though I had small hopes of persuading my father.
He would often make his exit by the window, climbing down into the garden by the protruding bricks at the corner of the house; or sometimes go shouting down the long halls and through the gallery to the great stairway, a smothered oath from behind the closed bedroom doors proclaiming that he had waked a guest. And many days we spent in the wood, playing at hunting game -- a poor enough amusement for me, and one that Nick soon tired of. They were thick, wet woods, unlike our woods of the mountains; and more than once we had excitement enough with the snakes that lay there.
I believe that in a week's time Nick was as conversant with my life as I myself. For he made me tell of it again and again, and of Kentucky. And always as he listened his eyes would glow and his breast heave with excitement.
"Do you think your father will take you there, David, when he comes for you?"
I hoped so, but was doubtful.
"I'll run away with you," he declared. "There is no one here who cares for me save Mr. Mason and Mammy."
And I believe he meant it. He saw but little of his mother, and nearly always something unpleasant was coupled with his views. Sometimes we ran across her in the garden paths walking with a gallant, -- oftenest Mr. Riddle. It was a beautiful garden, with hedge-bordered walks and flowers wondrously massed in color, a high brick wall surrounding it. Frequently Mrs. Temple and Mr. Riddle would play at cards there of an afternoon, and when that musical, unbelieving laugh of hers came floating over the wall, Nick would say: --
"Mamma is winning."
Once we heard high words between the two, and running
into the garden found the cards scattered on the grass, and the couple gone.
Of all Nick's escapades, -- and he was continually in and out of them, -- I recall only a few of the more serious. As I have said, he was a wild lad, sobered by none of the things which had gone to make my life, and what he took into his head to do he generally did, -- or, if balked, flew into such a rage as to make one believe he could not live. Life was always war with him, or some semblance of a struggle. Of his many wild doings I recall well the time when -- fired by my tales of hunting -- he went out to attack the young bull in the paddock with a bow and arrow. It made small difference to the bull that the arrow was too blunt to enter his hide. With a bellow that frightened the idle negroes at the slave quarters, he started for Master Nick. I, who had been taught by my father never to run any unnecessary risk, had taken the precaution to provide as large a stone as I could comfortably throw, and took station on the fence. As the furious animal came charging, with his head lowered, I struck him by a good fortune between the eyes, and Nicholas got over. We were standing on the far side, watching him pawing the broken bow, when, in the crowd of frightened negroes, we discovered the parson beside us.
"David," said he, patting me with a shaking hand, "I perceive that you have a cool head. Our young friend here has a hot one. Dr. Johnson may not care for Scotch blood, and yet I think a wee bit of it is not to be despised."
I wondered whether Dr. Johnson was staying in the house, too.
How many slaves there were at Temple Bow I know not, but we used to
see them coming home at night in droves, the overseers riding beside them with whips and
guns. One day a huge Congo chief, not long from Africa, nearly killed an overseer, and
escaped to the swamp. As the day fell, we heard the baying of the bloodhounds hot upon his
trail. More ominous still, a sound like a rising wind came from the direction of the
quarters. Into our
little dining-room burst Mrs. Temple herself, slamming the door behind her. Mr. Mason, who was sitting with us, rose to calm her.
"The Rebels!" she cried. "The Rebels have taught them this, with their accursed notions of liberty and equality. We shall all be murdered by the blacks because of the Rebels. Oh, hell-fire is too good for them. Have the house barred and a watch set to-night. What shall we do?"
"I pray you compose yourself, Madame," said the clergyman. "We can send for the militia."
"The militia!" she shrieked; "the Rebel militia! They would murder us as soon as the niggers."
"They are respectable men," answered Mr. Mason, "and were at Fanning Hall to-day patrolling."
"I would rather be killed by whites than blacks," said the lady. "But who is to go for the militia?"
"I will ride for them," said Mr. Mason. It was a dark, lowering night, and spitting rain.
"And leave me defenceless!" she cried. "You do not stir, sir."
"It is a pity," said Mr. Mason -- he was goaded to it, I suppose -- " 'tis a pity Mr. Riddle did not come to-night."
She shot at him a withering look, for even in her fear she would brook no liberties. Nick spoke up: --
"I will go," said he; "I can get through the woods to Fanning Hall -- "
"And I will go with him," I said.
"Let the brats go," she said, and cut short Mr. Mason's
expostulations. She drew Nick to her and kissed him. He wriggled away, and without more
ado we climbed out of the dining-room windows into the night. Running across the lawn, we
left the lights of the great house twinkling behind us in the rain. We had to pass the
long line of cabins at the quarters. Three overseers with lanterns stood guard there; the
cabins were dark, the wretches within silent and cowed. Thence we felt with our feet for
the path across the fields, stumbled over a sty, and took our way through the black woods.
I was at
home here, and Nick was not to be frightened. At intervals the mournful bay of a bloodhound came to us from a distance.
"Suppose we should meet the Congo chief," said Nick, suddenly.
The idea had occurred to me.
"She needn't have been so frightened," said he, in scornful remembrance of his mother's actions.
We pressed on. Nick knew the path as only a boy can. Half an hour passed. It grew brighter. The rain ceased, and a new moon shot out between the leaves. I seized his arm.
"What's that?" I whispered.
But I, cradled in woodcraft, had heard plainly a man creeping through the underbrush beside us. Fear of the Congo chief and pity for the wretch tore at my heart. Suddenly there loomed in front of us, on the path, a great, naked man. We stood with useless limbs, staring at him.
Then, from the trees over our heads, came a chittering and a chattering such as I had never heard. The big man before us dropped to the earth, his head bowed, muttering. As for me, my fright increased. The chattering stopped, and Nick stepped forward and laid his hand on the negro's bare shoulder.
"We needn't be afraid of him now, Davy," he said. "I learned that trick from a Portuguese overseer we had last year."
"You did it!" I exclaimed, my astonishment overcoming my fear.
"It's the way the monkeys chatter in the Canaries," he said. "Manuel had a tame one, and I heard it talk. Once before I tried it on the chief, and he fell down. He thinks I'm a god."
It must have been a weird scene to see the great negro following two
boys in the moonlight. Indeed, he came after us like a dog. At length we were in sight of
the lights of Fanning Hall. The militia was there. We were challenged by the guard, and
caused sufficient amazement
when we appeared in the hall before the master, who was a bachelor of fifty.
" 'Sblood, Nick Temple!" he cried, "what are you doing here with that big Congo for a dog? The sight of him frightens me."
The negro, indeed, was a sight to frighten one. The black mud of the swamps was caked on him, and his flesh was torn by brambles.
"He ran away," said Nick; "and I am taking him home."
"You -- you are taking him home!" sputtered Mr. Fanning.
"Do you want to see him act?" said Nick. And without waiting for a reply he filled the hall with a dozen monkeys. Mr. Fanning leaped back into a doorway, but the chief prostrated himself on the floor. "Now do you believe I can take him home?" said Nick.
" 'Swounds!" said Mr. Fanning, when he had his breath. "You beat the devil, Nicholas Temple. The next time you come to call I pray you leave your travelling show at home.
Mamma sent me for the militia," said Nick.
"She did!" said Mr. Fanning, looking grim. "An insurrection is a bad thing, but there was no danger for two lads in the woods, I suppose."
"There's no danger anyway," said Nick. "The niggers are all scared to death."
Mr. Fanning burst out into a loud laugh, stopped suddenly, sat down, and took Nick on his knee. It was an incongruous scene. Mr. Fanning almost cried.
"Bless your soul," he said, "but you are a lad. Would to God I had you instead of -- "
He paused abruptly.
"I must go home," said Nick; "she will be worried."
"*She will be worried!" cried Mr. Fanning, in a
burst of anger. Then he said: "You shall have the militia. You shall have the
militia." He rang a bell and sent his steward for the captain, a gawky country
farmer, who gave a gasp when he came upon the scene in the hall.
"And mind," said Nick to the captain, "you are to keep your men away from him, or he will kill one of them."
The captain grinned at him curiously.
"I reckon I won't have to tell them to keep away," said he.
Mr. Fanning started us off for the walk with pockets filled with sweetmeats, which we nibbled on the way back. We made a queer procession, Nick and I striding ahead to show the path, followed by the now servile chief, and after him the captain and his twenty men in single file. It was midnight when we saw the lights of Temple Bow through the trees. One of the tired overseers met us near the kitchen. When he perceived the Congo his face lighted up with rage, and he instinctively reached for his whip. But the chief stood before him, immovable, with arms folded, and a look on his face that meant danger.
"He will kill you, Emory," said Nick; "he will kill you if you touch him.
Emory dropped his hand, limply.
"He will go to work in the morning," said Nick; "but mind you, not a lash."
"Very good, Master Nick," said the man; "but who's to get him in his cabin?"
"I will," said Nick. He beckoned to the Congo, who followed him over to quarters and went in at his door without a protest.
The next morning Mrs. Temple looked out of her window and saw the militiamen on the lawn.
"Pooh!" she said, "are those butternuts the soldiers that Nick went to fetch?"