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|BOOK 1:The Boarderland|
A WEEK passed, and another Sunday came, -- a Sunday so still and hot and moist that steam seemed to rise from the heavy trees, -- an idle day for master and servant alike. A hush was in the air, and a presage of we knew not what. It weighed upon my spirits, and even Nicks, and we wandered restlessly under the trees, seeking for distraction.
About two o'clock a black line came on the horizon, and slowly crept higher until it broke into giant, fantastic shapes. Mutterings arose, but the sun shone hot as ever.
"We're to have a hurricane," said Nick. "I wish we might have it and be done with it."
At five the sun went under. I remember that Madame was lolling listless in the garden, daintily arrayed in fine linen, trying to talk to Mr. Mason, when a sound startled us. It was the sound of swift hoof beats on the soft drive.
Mrs. Temple got up, an unusual thing. Perchance she was expecting a message from some of the gentlemen; or else she may well have been tired of Mr. Mason. Nick and I were before her, and, running through the house, arrived at the portico in time to see a negro ride up on a horse covered with lather.
It was the same negro who had fetched me hither from Mr. Lowndes. And when I saw him my heart stood still lest he had brought news of my father.
"What's to do, boy?" cried Nicholas to him.
The boy held in his hand a letter with a great red seal.
"Fo' Mistis Temple," he said, and, looking at me queerly,
he took off his cap as he jumped from the horse. Mistress Temple herself having arrived, he handed her the letter. She took it, and broke the seal carelessly.
"Oh," she said, "it's only from Mr. Lowndes. I wonder what he wishes now."
Every moment of her reading was for me an agony, and she read slowly. The last words she spoke aloud: --
" `If you do not wish the lad, send him to me, as Kate is very fond of him.' So Kate is very fond of him," she repeated. And handing the letter to Mr. Mason, she added, "Tell him, Parson."
The words burned into my soul and seared it. And to this day I tremble with anger as I think of them. The scene comes before me: the sky, the darkened portico, and Nicholas running after his mother crying: "Oh, mamma, how could you! How could you!"
Mr. Mason bent over me in compassion, and smoothed my hair.
"David," said he, in a thick voice, "you are a brave boy, David. You will need all your courage now, my son. May God keep your nature sweet!"
He led me gently into the arbor and told me how, under Captain Baskin, the detachment had been ambushed by the Cherokees; and how my father, with Ensign Calhoun and another, had been killed, fighting bravely. The rest of the company had cut their way through and reached the settlements after terrible hardships.
I was left an orphan.
I shall not dwell here on the bitterness of those moments. We have all known sorrows in our lives, -- great sorrows. The clergyman was a wise man, and did not strive to comfort me with words. But he sat there under the leaves with his arm about me until a blinding bolt split the blackness of the sky and the thunder rent our ears, and a Caribbean storm broke over Temple Bow with all the fury of the tropics. Then he led me through the drenching rain into the house, nor heeded the wet himself on his Sunday coat.
A great anger stayed me in my sorrow. I would no
longer tarry under Mrs. Temple's roof, though the world without were a sea or a desert. The one resolution to escape rose stronger and stronger within me, and I determined neither to eat nor sleep until I had got away. The thought of leaving Nick was heavy indeed; and when he ran to me in the dark hall and threw his arms around me, it needed all my strength to keep from crying aloud.
"Davy," he said passionately, "Davy, you mustn't mind what she says. She never means anything she says -- she never cares for anything save her pleasure. You and I will stay here until we are old enough to run away to Kentucky. Davy! Answer me, Davy!"
I could not, try as I would. There were no words that would come with honesty. But I pulled him down on the mahogany settle near the door which led into the back gallery, and there we sat huddled together in silence, while the storm raged furiously outside and the draughts banged the great doors of the house. In the lightning flashes I saw Nick's face, and it haunted me afterwards through many years of wandering. On it was written a sorrow for me greater than my own sorrow. For God had given to this lad every human passion and compassion.
The storm rolled away with the night, and Mammy came through the hall with a candle.
"Whah is you, Marse Nick? Whah is you, honey? You' suppah's ready."
And so we went into our little dining room, but I would not eat. The good old negress brushed her eyes with her apron as she pressed a cake upon me she had made herself, for she had grown fond of me. And presently we went away silently to bed.
It was a long, long time before Nick's breathing told me that he was
asleep. He held me tightly clutched to him, and I know that he feared I would leave him.
The thought of going broke my heart, but I never once wavered in my resolve, and I lay
staring into the darkness, pondering what to do. I thought of good Mr. Lowndes and his
wife, and I decided to go to Charlestown. Some of my boyish motives come back to me now: I
near Nick; and even at that age, -- having lived a life of self-reliance, -- I thought of gaining an education and of rising to a place of trust. Yes, I would go to Mr. Lowndes, and ask him to let me work for him and so earn my education.
With a heavy spirit I crept out of bed, slowly disengaging Nick's arm lest he should wake. He turned over and sighed in his sleep. Carefully I dressed myself, and after I was dressed I could not refrain from slipping to the bedside to bend over him once again, -- for he was the only one in my life with whom I had found true companionship. Then I climbed carefully out of the window, and so down the corner of the house to the ground.
It was starlight, and a waning moon hung in the sky. I made my way through the drive between the black shadows of the forest, and came at length to the big gates at the entrance, locked for the night. A strange thought of their futility struck me as I climbed the rail fence beside them, and pushed on into the main road, the mud sucking under my shoes as I went. As I try now to cast my memory back I can recall no fear, only a vast sense of loneliness, and the very song of it seemed to be sung in never ending refrain by the insects of the night. I had been alone in the mountains before. I have crossed great strips of wilderness since, but always there was love to go back to. Then I was leaving the only being in the world that remained to me.
I must have walked two hours or more before I came to the mire of a cross-road, and there I stood in a quandary of doubt as to which side led to Charlestown.
As I lingered a light began to tremble in the heavens. A cock crew in
the distance. I sat down on a fallen log to rest. But presently, as the light grew, I
heard shouts which drew nearer and deeper and brought me to my feet in an uncertainty of
expectation. Next came the rattling of chains, the scramble of hoofs in the mire, and here
was a wagon with a big canvas cover. Beside the straining horses was a great, burly man
with a red beard, cracking his long whip, and calling to the horses in a strange
tongue. He stopped still beside his panting animals when he saw me, his high boots sunk in the mud.
"Gut morning, poy," he said, wiping his red face with his sleeve; "what you do here?"
"I am going to Charlestown," I answered.
"Ach!" he cried, "dot is pad. Mein poy, he run avay. You are ein gut poy, I know. I vill pay ein gut price to help me vit mein wagon -- ja."
"Where are you going?" I demanded, with a sudden wavering.
"Up country -- pack country. You know der Proad River -- yes?"
No, I did not. But a longing came upon me for the old backwoods life, with its freedom and self-reliance, and a hatred for this steaming country of heat and violent storms, and artificiality and pomp. And I had a desire, even at that age, to make my own way in the world.
"What will you give me?" I asked.
At that he put his finger to his nose.
"Thruppence py the day."
I shook my head. He looked at me queerly.
"How old you pe, -- twelve, yes?"
Now I had no notion of telling him. So I said: "Is this the Charlestown road?"
"Fourpence!" he cried, "dot is riches."
"I will go for sixpence," I answered.
"Mein Gott!" he cried, "sixpence. Dot is robbery." But seeing me obdurate, he added: "I vill give it, because ein poy I must have. Vat is your name, -- Tavid? You are ein sharp poy, Tavid."
And so I went with him.
In writing a biography, the relative value of days and years should
hold. There are days which count in space for years, and years for days. I spent the time
on the whole happily with this Dutchman, whose name was Hans Koppel. He talked merrily
save when he spoke of the war against England, and then contemptuously, for he was a
bitter English partisan. And in contrast to this he would dwell for hours on a king he
der Grosse, and a war he waged that was a war; and how this mighty king had fought a mighty queen at Rossbach and Leuthen in his own country, -- battles that were battles.
"And you were there, Hans?" I asked him once.
"Ja," he said, "but I did not stay."
"You ran away?"
"Ja," Hans would answer, laughing, "run avay. I love peace, Tavid. Dot is vy I come here, and now," bitterly, "and now ve haf var again once."
I would say nothing; but I must have looked my disapproval, for he went on to explain that in Saxe-Gotha, where he was born, men were made to fight whether they would or no; and they were stolen from their wives at night by soldiers of the great king, or lured away by fair promises.
Travelling with incredible slowness, in due time we came to a county called Orangeburg, where all were Dutchmen like Hans, and very few spoke English. And they all thought like Hans, and loved peace, and hated the Congress. On Sundays, as we lay over at the taverns, these would be filled with a rollicking crowd of fiddlers and dancers, quaintly dressed, the women bringing their children and babies. At such times Hans would be drunk, and I would have to feed the tired horses and mount watch over the cargo. I had many adventures, but none worth the telling here. And at length we came to Hans's farm, in a prettily rolling country on the Broad River. Hans's wife spoke no English at all, nor did the brood of children running about the house. I had small fancy for staying in such a place, and so Hans paid me two crowns for my three weeks' service; I think, with real regret, for labor was scarce in those parts, and though I was young, I knew how to work. And I could at least have guided his plough in the furrow and cared for his cattle.
It was the first money I had earned in my life, and a prouder day than many I have had since.
For the convenience of travellers passing that way, Hans kept a
tavern, -- if it could have been dignified by such a
name. It was in truth merely a log house with shakedowns, and stood across the rude road from his log farmhouse. And he gave me leave to sleep there and to work for my board until I cared to leave. It so chanced that on the second day after my arrival a pack-train came along, guided by a nettlesome old man and a strong, black-haired lass of sixteen or thereabouts. The old man, whose name was Ripley, wore a nut-brown hunting shirt trimmed with red cotton; and he had no sooner slipped the packs from his horses than he began to rail at Hans, who stood looking on.
"You damned Dutchmen be all Tories, and worse," he cried; "you stay here and till your farms while our boys are off in the hill towns fighting Cherokees. I wish the devils had every one of your fat sculps. Polly Ann, water the nags."
Hans replied to this sally with great vigor, lapsing into Dutch. Polly Ann led the scrawny ponies to the trough, but her eyes snapped with merriment as she listened. She was a wonderfully comely lass, despite her loose cotton gown and poke-bonnet and the shoepacks on her feet. She had blue eyes, the whitest, strongest of teeth, and the rosiest of faces.
"Gran'pa hates a Dutchman wuss'n pizen," she said to me. "So do I. We've all been burned out and sculped up river -- and they never give us so much as a man or a measure of corn."
I helped her feed the animals, and tether them, and loose their bells for the night, and carry the packs under cover.
"All the boys is gone to join Rutherford and lam the Indians," she continued, "so Gran'pa and I had to go to the settlements. There wahn't any one else. What's your name?" she demanded suddenly.
I told her.
She sat down on a log at the corner of the house, and pulled me down beside her.
"And whar be you from?"
I told her. It was impossible to look into her face and
not tell her. She listened eagerly, now with compassion, and now showing her white teeth in amusement. And when I had done, much to my discomfiture, she seized me in her strong arms and kissed me.
"Poor Davy," she cried, "you ain't got a home. You shall come home with us."
Catching me by the hand, she ran like a deer across the road to where her grandfather was still quarrelling violently with Hans, and pulled him backward by the skirts of his hunting shirt. I looked for another and mightier explosion from the old backwoodsman, but to my astonishment he seemed to forget Hans's existence, and turned and smiled on her benevolently.
"Polly Ann," said he, "what be you about now?"
"Gran'pa," said she, "here's Davy Trimble, who's a good boy, and his pa is just killed by the Cherokees along with Baskin, and he wants work and a home, and he's comin' along with us."
"All right, David," answered Mr. Ripley, mildly, "ef Polly Ann says so, you kin come. Whar was you raised?"
I told him on the upper Yadkin.
"You don't tell me," said he. "Did ye ever know Dan'l Boone?"
"I did, indeed, sir," I answered, my face lighting up.
"Can you tell me where he is now?"
"He's gone to Kaintuckee, them new settlements, fer good. And ef I wasn't eighty years old, I'd go thar, too."
"I reckon I'll go thar when I'm married," said Polly Ann, and blushed redder than ever. Drawing me to her, she said, "I'll take you, too, Davy."
"When you marry that wuthless Tom McChesney," said her grandfather, testily.
"He's not wuthless," said Polly, hotly. "he's the best man in Rutherford's army. He'll git more sculps then any of 'em, -- you see."
"Tavy is ein gut poy," Hans put in, for he had recovered
his composure. "I wish much he stay mit me."
"As for me, Polly Ann never consulted me on the subject -- nor had she need to. I would have followed her to kingdom come, and at the thought of reaching the mountains my heart leaped with joy. We all slept in the one flea-infested, windowless room of the "tavern" that night; and before dawn I was up and untethered the horses, and Polly Ann and I together lifted the two bushels of alum salt on one of the beasts and the ploughshare on the other. By daylight we had left Hans and his farm forever.
I can see the lass now, as she strode along the trace by the flowing river, through sunlight and shadow, straight and supple and strong. Sometimes she sang like a bird, and the forest rang. Sometimes she would make fun of her grandfather or of me; and again she would be silent for an hour at a time, staring ahead, and then I knew she was thinking of that Tom McChesney. She would wake from those reveries with a laugh, and give me a push to send me rolling down a bank.
"What's the matter, Davy? You look as solemn as a wood-owl. What a little wiseacre you be!"
Once I retorted, "You were thinking of that Tom McChesney."
"Ay, that she was, I'll warrant," snapped her grandfather.
Polly Ann replied, with a merry peal of laughter, "You are both jealous of Tom -- both of you. But, Davy, when you see him you'll love him as much as I do."
"I'll not," I said sturdily.
"He's a man to look upon -- "
"He's a rip-roarer," old man Ripley put in. "Ye're daft about him."
"That I am," said Polly, flushing and subsiding; "but he'll not know it."
As we rose into the more rugged country we passed more than one
charred cabin that told its silent story of Indian massacre. Only on the scattered hill
farms women and boys and old men were working in the fields, all save the scalawags having
gone to join Rutherford. There were
plenty of these around the taverns to make eyes at Polly Ann and open love to her, had she allowed them; but she treated them in return to such scathing tirades that they were glad to desist -- all but one. He must have been an escaped redemptioner, for he wore jauntily a swanskin three-cornered hat and stained breeches of a fine cloth. He was a bold, vain fellow.
"My beauty," says he, as we sat at supper, "silver and Wedgwood better become you than pewter and a trencher."
"And I reckon a rope would sit better on your neck than a ruff," retorted Polly Ann, while the company shouted with laughter. But he was not the kind to become discomfited.
"I'd give a guinea to see you in silk. But I vow your hair looks better as it is."
"Not so yours," said she, like lightning; " 'twould look better to me hanging on the belt of one of them red devils.
In the morning, when he would have lifted the pack of alum salt, Polly Ann gave him a push that sent him sprawling. But she did it in such good nature withal that the fellow mistook her. He scrambled to his feet, flung his arm about her waist, and kissed her. Whereupon I hit him with a sapling, and he staggered and let her go.
"You imp of hell!" he cried, rubbing the bump. He made a vicious dash at me that boded no good, but I slipped behind the hominy block; and Polly Ann, who was like a panther on her feet, dashed at him and gave him a buffet in the cheek that sent him reeling again.
After that we were more devoted friends than ever.
We travelled slowly, day by day, until I saw the mountains lift blue
against the western sky, and the sight of them was like home once more. I loved them; and
though I thought with sadness of my father, I was on the whole happier with Polly Ann than
I had been in the lonely cabin on the Yadkin. Her spirits flagged a little as she drew
near home, but old Mr. Ripley's rose.
"There's Burr's," he would say, "and O'Hara's and Williamson's," marking the cabins set amongst the stump-dotted corn-fields. "And thar," sweeping his hand at a blackened heap of logs lying on the stones, "thar's whar Nell Tyler and her baby was sculped."
"Poor Nell," said Polly Ann, the tears coming into her eyes as she turned away.
"And Jim Tyler was killed gittin' to the fort. He can't say I didn't warn him."
"I reckon he'll never say nuthin', now," said Polly Ann.
It was in truth a dismal sight, -- the shapeless timbers, the corn, planted with such care, choked with weeds, and the poor utensils of the little family scattered and broken before the door-sill. These same Indians had killed my father; and there surged up in my breast that hatred of the painted race felt by every backwoods boy in my time.
Towards the end of the day the trace led into a beautiful green valley, and in the middle of it was a stream shining in the afternoon sun. Then Polly Ann fell entirely silent. And presently, as the shadows grew purple, we came to a cabin set under some spreading trees on a knoll where a woman sat spinning at the door, three children playing at her feet. She stared at us so earnestly that I looked at Polly Ann, and saw her redden and pale. The children were the first to come shouting at us, and then the woman dropped her wool and ran down the slope straight into Polly Ann's arms. Mr. Ripley halted the horses with a grunt.
The two women drew off and looked into each other's faces. Then Polly Ann dropped her eyes.
"Have ye -- ?" she said, and stopped.
"No, Polly Ann, not one word sence Tom and his Pa went. What do folks say in the settlements?"
Polly Ann turned up her nose.
"They don't know nuthin' in the settlements," she replied.
"I wrote to Tom and told him you was gone," said the older
woman. "I knowed he'd wanter hear."
And she looked meaningly at Polly Ann, who said nothing. The children had been pulling at the girl's skirts, and suddenly she made a dash at them. They scattered, screaming with delight, and she after them.
"Howdy, Mr. Ripley?" said the woman, smiling a little.
"Howdy, Mis' McChesney?" said the old man, shortly.
So this was the mother of Tom, of whom I had heard so much. She was, in truth, a motherly-looking person, her fleshy face creased with strong character.
"Who hev ye brought with ye?" she asked, glancing at me.
"A lad Polly Ann took a shine to in the settlements," said the old man. "Polly Ann! Polly Ann!" he cried sharply, "we'll hev to be gittin' home." And then, as though an afterthought (which it really was not), he added, "How be ye for salt, Mis' McChesney?"
"So-so," said she.
"Wal, I reckon a little might come handy," said he. And to the girl who stood panting beside him, "Polly, give Mis' McChesney some salt."
Polly Ann did, and generously, -- the salt they had carried with so much labor threescore and ten miles from the settlements. Then we took our departure, the girl turning for one last look at Tom's mother, and at the cabin where he had dwelt. We were all silent the rest of the way, climbing the slender trail through the forest over the gap into the next valley. For I was jealous of Tom. I am not ashamed to own it now.
In the smoky haze that rises just before night lets her curtain fall, we descended the farther slope, and came to Mr. Ripley's cabin.