source ref: chur.html
|BOOK II: Flotsam And Jetsam|
IT was not to my credit that I should have lost the trail, after Mr. Jackson put me straight. But the night was dark, the country unknown to me, and heavily wooded and mountainous. In addition to these things my mind ran like fire. My thoughts sometimes flew back to the wondrous summer evening when I trod the Nollichucky trace with Tom and Polly Ann, when I first looked down upon the log palace of that prince of the border, John Sevier. Well I remembered him, broad-shouldered, handsome, gay, a courtier in buckskin. Small wonder he was idolized by the Watauga settlers, that he had been their leader in the struggle of Franklin for liberty. And small wonder that Nick Temple should be in his following.
Nick! My mind was in a torment concerning him. What of his mother?
Should I speak of having seen her? I went blindly through the woods for hours after the
night fell, my horse stumbling and weary, until at length I came to a lonely clearing on
the mountain side, and a fierce pack of dogs dashed barking at my horse's heels. There was
a dark cabin ahead, indistinct in the starlight, and there I knocked until a gruff voice
answered me and a tousled man came to the door. Yes, I had missed the trail. He shook his
head when I asked for the Widow Brown's, and bade me share his bed for the night. No, I
would go on, I was used to the backwoods. Thereupon he thawed a little, kicked the dogs,
and pointed to where the mountain dipped against the star-studded sky. There was a trail
there which led direct to the Widow Brown's, if I could follow it. So I left him.
Once the fear had settled deeply of missing Nick at the Widow Brown's, I put my mind on my journey, and thanks to my early training I was able to keep the trail. It doubled around the spurs, forded stony brooks in diagonals, and often in the darkness of the mountain forest I had to feel for the blazes on the trees. There was no making time. I gained the notch with the small hours of the morning, started on with the descent, crisscrossing, following a stream here and a stream there, until at length the song of the higher waters ceased and I knew that I was in the valley. Suddenly there was no crown-cover over my head. I had gained the road once more, and I followed it hopefully, avoiding the stumps and the deep wagon ruts where the ground was spongy.
The morning light revealed a milky mist through which the trees
showed like phantoms. Then there came stains upon the mist of royal purple, of scarlet, of
yellow like a mandarin's robe, peeps of deep blue fading into azure as the mist lifted.
The fiery eye of the sun was cocked over the crest, and beyond me I saw a house with its
logs all golden brown in the level rays, the withered cornstalks orange among the
blackened stumps. My horse stopped of his own will at the edge of the clearing. A cock
crew, a lean hound prostrate on the porch of the house rose to his haunches, sniffed,
growled, leaped down, and ran to the road and sniffed again. I listened, startled, and
made sure of the distant ring of many hoofs. And yet I stayed there, irresolute. Could it
be Tipton and his men riding from Jonesboro to capture Sevier? The hoof-beats grew louder,
and then the hound in the road gave tongue to the short, sharp bark that is the call to
arms. Other dogs, hitherto unseen, took up the cry, and turning in my saddle I saw a body
of men riding hard at me through the alley in the forest. At their head, on a heavy,
strong-legged horse, was one who might have stood for the figure of turbulence, and I made
no doubt that this was Colonel Tipton himself, -- Colonel Tipton, once secessionist, now
champion of the Old North State and arch-enemy of John Sevier. At sight of me he reined
up so violently that his horse went back on his haunches, and the men behind were near overriding him.
"Look out, boys," he shouted, with a fierce oath, "they've got guards out!" He flung back one hand to his holster for a pistol, while the other reached for the powder flask at his belt. He primed the pan, and, seeing me immovable, set his horse forward at an amble, his pistol at the cock.
"Who in hell are you?" he cried.
"A traveller from Virginia," I answered.
"And what are you doing here?" he demanded, with another oath.
"I have just this moment come here," said I, as calmly as I might. "I lost the trail in the darkness."
He glared at me, purpling, perplexed.
"Is Sevier there?" said he, pointing at the house.
"I don't know," said I.
Tipton turned to his men, who were listening.
"Surround the house," he cried, "and watch this fellow."
I rode on perforce towards the house with Tipton and three others, while his men scattered over the corn-field and cursed the dogs. And then we saw in the open door the figure of a woman shading her eyes with her hand. We pulled up, five of us, before the porch in front of her.
"Good morning, Mrs. Brown," said Tipton, gruffly.
"Good morning, Colonel," answered the widow.
Tipton leaped from his horse, flung the bridle to a companion, and put his foot on the edge of the porch to mount. Then a strange thing happened. The lady turned deftly, seized a chair from within, and pulled it across the threshold. She sat herself down firmly, an expression on her face which hinted that the late lamented Mr. Brown had been a dominated man. Colonel Tipton stopped, staggering from the very impetus of his charge, and gazed at her blankly.
"I have come for Colonel Sevier," he blurted. And then, his
anger rising, "I will have no trifling, ma'am. He is in this house."
"La! you don't tell me," answered the widow, in a tone that was wholly conversational.
"He is in this house," shouted the Colonel.
"I reckon you've guessed wrong, Colonel," said the widow.
There was an awkward pause until Tipton heard a titter behind him. Then his wrath exploded.
"I have a warrant against the scoundrel for high treason," he cried, "and, by God, I will search the house and serve it."
Still the widow sat tight. The Rock of Ages was neither more movable nor calmer than she.
"Surely, Colonel, you would not invade the house of an unprotected female."
The Colonel, evidently with a great effort, throttled his wrath for the moment. His new tone was apologetic but firm.
"I regret to have to do so, ma'am," said he, "but both sexes are equal before the law."
"The law!" repeated the widow, seemingly tickled at the word. She smiled indulgently at the Colonel. "What a pity, Mr. Tipton, that the law compels you to arrest such a good friend of yours as Colonel Sevier. What self-sacrifice, Colonel Tipton! What nobility!"
There was a second titter behind him, whereat he swung round quickly, and the crimson veins in his face looked as if they must burst. He saw me with my hand over my mouth.
"You warned him, damn you!" he shouted, and turning again leaped to the porch and tried to squeeze past the widow into the house.
"How dare you, sir?" she shrieked, giving him a vigorous
push backwards. The four of us, his three men and myself, laughed outright. Tipton's rage
leaped its bounds. He returned to the attack again and again, and yet at the crucial
moment his courage would fail him and he would let the widow thrust him back. Suddenly I
became aware that there were two new spectators of this comedy. I started and looked
again, and was near to
crying out at sight of one of them. The others did cry out, but Tipton paid no heed.
Ten years had made his figure more portly, but I knew at once the man in the well-fitting hunting shirt, with the long hair flowing to his shoulders, with the keen, dark face and courtly bearing and humorous eyes. Yes, humorous even now, for he stood, smiling at this comedy played by his enemy, unmindful of his peril. The widow saw him before Tipton did, so intent was he on the struggle.
"Enough!" she cried, "enough, John Tipton!" Tipton drew back involuntarily, and a smile broadened on the widow's face. "Shame on you for doubting a lady's word! Allow me to present to you -- Colonel Sevier."
Tipton turned, stared as a man might who sees a ghost, and broke into such profanity as I have seldom heard.
"By the eternal God, John Sevier," he shouted, "I'll hang you to the nearest tree!"
Colonel Sevier merely made a little ironical bow and looked at the gentleman beside him.
"I have surrendered to Colonel Love," he said.
Tipton snatched from his belt the pistol which he might have used on me, and there flashed through my head the thought that some powder might yet be held in its pan. We cried out, all of us, his men, the widow, and myself, -- all save Sevier, who stood quietly, smiling. Suddenly, while we waited for murder, a tall figure shot out of the door past the widow, the pistol flew out of Tipton's hand, and Tipton swung about with something like a bellow, to face Mr. Nicholas Temple.
Well I knew him! And oddly enough at that time
Riddle's words of long ago came to me, "God help the woman you love or the man you
fight." How shall I describe him? He was thin even to seeming frailness, -- yet it
was the frailness of the race-horse. The golden hair, sun-tanned, awry across his
forehead, the face the same thin and finely cut face of the boy. The gray eyes held an
anger that did not blaze; it was far more dangerous than that. Colonel John Tipton looked,
and as I live he recoiled.
"If you touch him, I'll kill you," said Mr. Temple. Nor did he say it angrily. I marked for the first time that he held a pistol in his slim fingers. What Tipton might have done when he swung to his new bearings is mere conjecture, for Colonel Sevier himself stepped up on the porch, laid his hand on Temple's arm, and spoke to him in a low tone. What he said we didn't hear. The astonishing thing was that neither of them for the moment paid any attention to the infuriated man beside them. I saw Nick's expression change. He smiled, -- the smile the landlord had described, the smile that made men and women willing to die for him. After that Colonel Sevier stooped down and picked up the pistol from the floor of the porch and handed it with a bow to Tipton, butt first. Tipton took it, seemingly without knowing why, and at that instant a negro boy came around the house, leading a horse. Sevier mounted it without a protest from any one.
"I am ready to go with you, gentlemen," he said.
Colonel Tipton slipped his pistol back into his belt, stepped down from the porch, and leaped into his saddle, and he and his men rode off into the stump-lined alley in the forest that was called a road. Nick stood beside the widow, staring after them until they had disappeared.
"My horse, boy!" he shouted to the gaping negro, who vanished on the errand.
"What will you do, Mr. Temple?" asked the widow.
"Rescue him, ma'am," cried Nick, beginning to pace up and down. "I'll ride to Turner's. Cozby and Evans are there, and before night we shall have made Jonesboro too hot to hold Tipton and his cutthroats."
"La, Mr. Temple," said the widow, with unfeigned admiration, "I never saw the like of you. But I know John Tipton, and he'll have Colonel Sevier started for North Carolina before our boys can get to Jonesboro."
"Then we'll follow," says Nick, beginning to pace again. Suddenly, at a cry from the widow, he stopped and stared at me, a light in his eye like a point of steel. His hand slipped to his waist.
"A spy," he said, and turned and smiled at the lady,
who was watching him with a kind of fascination; "but damnably cool," he continued, looking at me. "I wonder if he thinks to outride me on that beast? Look you, sir," he cried, as Mrs. Brown's negro came back struggling with a deep-ribbed, high-crested chestnut that was making half circles on his hind legs, "I'll give you to the edge of the woods, and lay you a six-forty against a pair of moccasins that you never get back to Tipton."
"God forbid that I ever do," I answered fervently.
"What," he exclaimed, "and you here with him on this sneak's errand!"
"I am here with him on no errand," said I. "He and his crew came on me a quarter of an hour since at the edge of the clearing. Mr. Temple, I am here to find you, and to save time I will ride with you."
"Egad, you'll have to ride like the devil then," said he, and he stooped and snatched the widow's hand and kissed it with a daring gallantry that I had thought to find in him. He raised his eyes to hers.
"Good-by, Mr. Temple, she said, -- there was a tremor in her voice, -- "and may you save our Jack!"
He snatched the bridle from the boy, and with one leap he was on the rearing, wheeling horse. "Come on," he cried to me, and, waving his hat at the lady on the porch, he started off with a gallop up the trail in the opposite direction from that which Tipton's men had taken.
All that I saw of Mr. Nicholas Temple on that ride to Turner's was his back, and presently I lost sight of that. In truth, I never got to Turner's at all, for I met him coming back at the wind's pace, a huge, swarthy, determined man at his side and four others spurring after, the spume dripping from the horses' mouths. They did not so much as look at me as they passed, and there was nothing left for me to do but to turn my tired beast and follow at any pace I could make towards Jonesboro.
It was late in the afternoon before I reached the town, the town set
down among the hills like a caldron boiling over with the wrath of Franklin. The news of
the capture of their beloved Sevier had flown through the mountains like seeds on the autumn wind, and from north, south, east, and west the faithful were coming in, cursing Tipton and Carolina as they rode.
I tethered my tired beast at the first picket, and was no sooner on my feet than I was caught in the hurrying stream of the crowd and fairly pushed and beaten towards the court-house. Around it a thousand furious men were packed. I heard cheering, hoarse and fierce cries, threats and imprecations, and I knew that they were listening to oratory. I was suddenly shot around the corner of a house, saw the orator himself, and gasped.
It was Nicholas Temple. There was something awe-impelling in the tall, slim, boyish figure that towered above the crowd, in the finely wrought, passionate face, in the voice charged with such an anger as is given to few men.
"What has North Carolina done for Franklin?" he cried. "Protected her? No. Repudiated her? Yes. You gave her to the Confederacy for a war debt, and the Confederacy flung her back. You shook yourselves free from Carolina's tyranny, and traitors betrayed you again. And now they have betrayed your leader. Will you avenge him, or will you sit down like cowards while they hang him for treason?"
His voice was drowned, but he stood immovable with arms folded until there was silence again.
"Will you rescue him?" he cried, and the roar rose again. "Will you avenge him? By to-morrow we shall have two thousand here. Invade North Carolina, humble her, bring her to her knees, and avenge John Sevier!"
Pandemonium reigned. Hats were flung in the air, rifles fired, shouts
and curses rose and blended into one terrifying note. Gradually, in the midst of this mad
uproar, the crowd became aware that another man was standing upon the stump from which
Nicholas Temple had leaped. "Cozby!" some one yelled, "Cozby!" The cry
was taken up. "Huzzay for Cozby! He'll lead us into Caroliny." He was the huge,
swarthy man I had seen riding hard with Nick that morning. A sculptor
might have chosen his face and frame for a type of the iron-handed leader of pioneers. Will was supreme in the great features, -- inflexible, indomitable will. His hunting shirt was open across his great chest, his black hair fell to his shoulders, and he stood with a compelling hand raised for silence. And when he spoke, slowly, resonantly, men fell back before his words.
"I admire Mr. Temple's courage, and above all his loyalty to our beloved General," said Major Cozby. "But Mr. Temple is young, and the heated counsels of youth must not prevail. My friends, in order to save Jack Sevier we must be moderate."
His voice, strong as it was, was lost. "To hell with moderation!" they shouted. "Down with North Carolina! We'll fight her!"
He got silence again by the magnetic strength he had in him.
"Very good," he said, "but get your General first. If we lead you across the mountains now, his blood will be upon your heads. No man is a better friend to Jack Sevier than I. Leave his rescue to me, and I will get him for you." He paused, and they were stilled perforce. "I will get him for you," he repeated slowly, "or North Carolina will pay for the burial of James Cozby."
There was an instant when they might have swung either way.
"How will ye do it?" came in a thin, piping voice from somewhere near the stump. It may have been this that turned their minds. Others took up the question, "How will ye do it, Major Cozby?"
"I don't know," cried the Major, "I don't know. And if I did know, I wouldn't tell you. But I will get Nollichucky Jack if I have to burn Morganton and rake the General out of the cinders!"
Five hundred hands flew up, five hundred voices cried, "I'm with
ye, Major Cozby!" But the Major only shook his head and smiled. What he said was lost
in the roar. Fighting my way forward, I saw him get down from the stump, put his hand
kindly on Nick's shoulder, and lead
him into the court-house. They were followed by a score of others, and the door was shut behind them.
It was then I bethought myself of the letter to Mr. Wright, and I sought for some one who would listen to my questions as to his whereabouts. At length the man himself was pointed out to me, haranguing an excited crowd of partisans in front of his own gate. Some twenty minutes must have passed before I could get any word with him. He was a vigorous little man, with black eyes like buttons, he wore brown homespun and white stockings, and his hair was clubbed. When he had yielded the ground to another orator, I handed him the letter. He drew me aside, read it on the spot, and became all hospitality at once. The town was full, and though he had several friends staying in his house I should join them. Was my horse fed? Dinner had been forgotten that day, but would I enter and partake? In short, I found myself suddenly provided for, and I lost no time in getting my weary mount into Mr. Wright's little stable. And then I sat down, with several other gentlemen, at Mr. Wright's board, where there was much guessing as to Major Cozby's plan.
"No other man west of the mountains could have calmed that crowd after that young daredevil Temple had stirred them up," declared Mr. Wright.
I ventured to say that I had business with Mr. Temple.
"Faith, then, I will invite him here," said my host. "But I warn you, Mr. Ritchie, that he is a trigger set on the hair. If he does not fancy you, he may quarrel with you and shoot you. And he is in no temper to be trifled with to-day."
"I am not an easy person to quarrel with," I answered.
"To look at you, I shouldn't say that you were," said he. "We are going to the court-house, and I will see if I can get a word with the young Hotspur and send him to you. Do you wait here."
I waited on the porch as the day waned. The tumult of the place had
died down, for men were gathering in the houses to discuss and conjecture. And presently,
sauntering along the street in a careless fashion, his spurs trailing in the dust, came Nicholas Temple. He stopped before the house and stared at me with a fine insolence, and I wondered whether I myself had not been too hasty in reclaiming him. A greeting died on my lips.
"Well, sir," he said, "so you are the gentleman who has been dogging me all day."
"I dog no one, Mr. Temple," I replied bitterly.
"We'll not quibble about words," said he. "Would it be impertinent to ask your business -- and perhaps your name?"
"Did not Mr. Wright give you my name?" I exclaimed.
"He might have mentioned it, I did not hear. Is it of such importance?"
At that I lost my temper entirely.
"It may be, and it may not," I retorted. "I am David Ritchie."
He changed before my eyes as he stared at me, and then, ere I knew it, he had me by both arms, crying out: --
"David Ritchie! My Davy -- who ran away from me -- and we were going to Kentucky together. Oh, I have never forgiven you," -- the smile that there was no resisting belied his words as he put his face close to mine -- "I never will forgive you. I might have known you -- you've grown, but I vow you're still an old man, -- Davy, you renegade. And where the devil did you run to?"
"Kentucky," I said, laughing.
"Oh, you traitor -- and I trusted you. I loved you, Davy. Do you remember how I clung to you in my sleep? And when I woke up, the world was black. I followed your trail down the drive and to the cross-roads -- "
"It was not ingratitude, Nick," I said; "you were all I had in the world." And then I faltered, the sadness of that far-off time coming over me in a flood, and the remembrance of his generous sorrow for me.
"And how the devil did you track me to the Widow Brown's?"
he demanded, releasing me.
"A Mr. Jackson had a shrewd notion you were there. And by the way, he was in a fine temper because you had skipped a race with him."
"That sorrel-topped, lantern-headed Mr. Jackson?" said Nick. "He'll be killed in one of his fine tempers. Damn a man who can't keep his temper. I'll race him, of course. And where are you bound now, Davy?"
"For Louisville, in Kentucky, at the Falls of the Ohio. It is a growing place, and a promising one for a young man in the legal profession to begin life."
"When do you leave?" said he.
"To-morrow morning, Nick," said I. "You wanted once to go to Kentucky; why not come with me?"
His face clouded.
"I do not budge from this town," said he, "I do not budge until I hear that Jack Sevier is safe. Damn Cozby! If he had given me my way, we should have been forty miles from here by this. I'll tell you. Cozby is even now picking five men to go to Morganton and steal Sevier, and he puts me off with a kind word. He'll not have me, he says."
"He thinks you too hot. It needs discretion and an old head," said I.
"Egad, then, I'll commend you to him," said Nick.
"Now," I said, "it's time for you to tell me something of yourself, and how you chanced to come into this country."
" 'Twas Darnley's fault," said Nick.
"Darnley!" I exclaimed; "he whom you got into the duel with -- " I stopped abruptly, with a sharp twinge of remembrance that was like a pain in my side. 'Twas Nick took up the name.
"With Harry Riddle." He spoke quietly, that was the terrifying part of it. "David, I've looked for that man in Italy and France, I've scoured London for him, and, by God, I'll find him before he dies. And when I do find him I swear to you that there will be no such thing as time wasted, or mercy."
I shuddered. In all my life I had never known such a
moment of indecision. Should I tell him? My conscience would give me no definite reply. The question had haunted me all the night, and I had lost my way in consequence, nor had the morning's ride from the Widow Brown's sufficed to bring me to a decision. Of what use to tell him? Would Riddle's death mend matters? The woman loved him, that had been clear to me; yet, by telling Nick what I knew I might induce him to desist from his search, and if I did not tell, Nick might some day run across the trail, follow it up, take Riddle's life, and lose his own. The moment, made for confession as it was, passed.
"They have ruined my life," said Nick. "I curse him, and I curse her."
"Hold!" I cried; "she is your mother."
"And therefore I curse her the more," he said. "You know what she is, you've tasted of her charity, and you are my father's nephew. If you have been without experience, I will tell you what she is. A common -- " I reached out and put my hand across his mouth.
"Silence!" I cried; "you shall say no such thing. And have you not manhood enough to make your own life for yourself?"
"Manhood!" he repeated, and laughed. It was a laugh that I did not like. "They made a man of me, my parents. My father played false with the Rebels and fled to England for his reward. A year after he went I was left alone at Temple Bow to the tender mercies of the niggers. Mr. Mason came back and snatched what was left of me. He was a good man; he saved me an annuity out of the estate, he took me abroad after the war on a grand tour, and died of a fever in Rome. I made my way back to Charlestown, and there I learned to gamble, to hold liquor like a gentleman, to run horses and fight like a gentleman. We were speaking of Darnley," he said.
"Yes, of Darnley," I repeated.
"The devil of a man," said Nick; "do you remember him,
with the cracked voice and fat calves?"
At any other time I should have laughed at the recollection.
"Darnley turned Whig, became a Continental colonel, and got a grant out here in the Cumberland country of three thousand acres. And now I own it."
"You own it!" I exclaimed.
"Rattle-and-snap," said Nick; "I played him for the land at the ordinary one night, and won it. It is out here near a place called Nashboro, where this wild, long-faced Mr. Jackson says he is going soon. I crossed the mountains to have a look at it, fell in with Nollichucky Jack, and went off with him for a summer campaign. There's a man for you, Davy," he cried, "a man to follow through hell-fire. If they touch a hair of his head we'll sack the State of North Carolina from Morganton to the sea."
"But the land?" I asked.
"Oh, a fig for the land," answered Nick; "as soon as Nollichucky Jack is safe I'll follow you into Kentucky." He slapped me on the knee. "Egad, Davy, it seems like a fairy tale. We always said we were going to Kentucky, didn't we? What is the name of the place you are to startle with your learning and calm by your example?"
"Louisville," I answered, laughing, "by the Falls of the Ohio."
"I shall turn up there when Jack Sevier is safe and I have won some more land from Mr. Jackson. We'll have a rare old time together, though I have no doubt you can drink me under the table. Beware of these sober men. Egad, Davy, you need only a woolsack to become a full-fledged judge. And now tell me how fortune has buffeted you."
It was my second night without sleep, for we sat burning candles in Mr. Wright's house until the dawn, making up the time which we had lost away from each other.