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|BOOK 1:The Boarderland|
DOWN and down we went, crossing great rivers by ford and ferry, until the hills flattened themselves and the country became a long stretch of level, broken by the forests only; and I saw many things I had not thought were on the earth. Once in a while I caught glimpses of great red houses, with stately pillars, among the trees. They put me in mind of the palaces in Bunyan, their windows all golden in the morning sun; and as we jogged ahead, I pondered on the delights within them. I saw gangs of negroes plodding to work along the road, an overseer riding behind them with his gun on his back; and there were whole cotton fields in these domains blazing in primrose flower, -- a new plant here, so my father said. He was willing to talk on such subjects. But on others, and especially our errand to Charlestown, he would say nothing. And I knew better than to press him.
One day, as we were crossing a dike between rice swamps spread with
delicate green, I saw the white tops of wagons flashing in the sun at the far end of it.
We caught up with them, the wagoners cracking their whips and swearing at the straining
horses. And lo! in front of the wagons was an army, -- at least my boyish mind magnified
it to such. Men clad in homespun, perspiring and spattered with mud, were straggling along
the road by fours, laughing and joking together. The officers rode, and many of these had
blue coats and buff waistcoats, -- some the worse for wear. My father was pushing the
white mare into the ditch to ride by, when one hailed him.
"Hullo, my man," said he, "are you a friend to Congress?"
"I'm off to Charlestown to leave the lad," said my father, "and then to fight the Cherokees."
"Good," said the other. And then, "Where are you from?"
"Upper Yadkin," answered my father. "And you?"
The officer, who was a young man, looked surprised. But then he laughed pleasantly.
"We're North Carolina troops, going to join Lee in Charlestown," said he. "The British are sending a fleet and regiments against it."
"Oh, aye," said my father, and would have passed on. But he was made to go before the Colonel, who plied him with many questions. Then he gave us a paper and dismissed us.
We pursued our journey through the heat that shimmered up from the road, pausing now and again in the shade of a wayside tree. At times I thought I could bear the sun no longer. But towards four o'clock of that day a great bank of yellow cloud rolled up, darkening the earth save for a queer saffron light that stained everything, and made our very faces yellow. And then a wind burst out of the east with a high mournful note, as from a great flute afar, filling the air with leaves and branches of trees. But it bore, too, a savor that was new to me, -- a salt savor, deep and fresh, that I drew down into my lungs. And I knew that we were near the ocean. Then came the rain, in great billows, as though the ocean itself were upon us.
The next day we crossed a ferry on the Ashley River, and rode down
the sand of Charlestown neck. And my most vivid remembrance is of the great trunks
towering half a hundred feet in the air, with a tassel of leaves at the top, which my
father said were palmettos. Something lay heavy on his mind. For I had grown to know his
moods by a sort of silent understanding. And when the roofs and spires of the town shone
over the foliage in the afternoon sun, I felt him give a great sigh that was like a sob.
And how shall I describe the splendor of that city? The sandy streets, and the gardens of flower and shade, heavy with the plant odors; and the great houses with their galleries and porticos set in the midst of the gardens, that I remember staring at wistfully. But before long we came to a barricade fixed across the street, and then to another. And presently, in an open space near a large building, was a company of soldiers at drill.
It did not strike me as strange then that my father asked his way of no man, but went to a little ordinary in a humbler part of the town. After a modest meal in a corner of the public room, we went out for a stroll. Then, from the wharves, I saw the bay dotted with islands, their white sand sparkling in the evening light, and fringed with strange trees, and beyond, of a deepening blue, the ocean. And nearer, -- greatest of all delights to me, -- riding on the swell was a fleet of ships. My father gazed at them long and silently, his palm over his eyes.
"Men-o'-war from the old country, lad," he said after a while. "They're a brave sight."
"And why are they here?" I asked.
"They've come to fight," said he, "and take the town again for the King."
It was twilight when we turned to go, and then I saw that many of the warehouses along the wharves were heaps of ruins. My father said this was that the town might be the better defended.
We bent our way towards one of the sandy streets where the great
houses were. And to my surprise we turned in at a gate, and up a path leading to the high
steps of one of these. Under the high portico the door was open, but the house within was
dark. My father paused, and the hand he held to mine trembled. Then he stepped across the
threshold, and raising the big polished knocker that hung on the panel, let it drop. The
sound reverberated through the house, and then stillness. And then, from within, a
shuffling sound, and an old negro came to the door. For an instant he stood staring
through the dusk, and broke into a cry.
"Marse Alec!" he said.
"Is your master at home?" said my father.
Without another word he led us through a deep hall, and out into a gallery above the trees of a back garden, where a gentleman sat smoking a long pipe. The old negro stopped in front of him.
"Marse John," said he, his voice shaking, "heah's Marse Alec done come back."
The gentleman got to his feet with a start. His pipe fell to the floor, and the ashes scattered on the boards and lay glowing there.
"Alec!" he cried, peering into my father's face, "Alec! You're not dead."
"John," said my father, "can we talk here?"
"Good God!" said the gentleman, "you're just the same. To think of it -- to think of it! Breed, a light in the drawing-room."
There was no word spoken while the negro was gone, and the time seemed very long. But at length he returned, a silver candlestick in each hand.
"Careful," cried the gentleman, petulantly, "you'll drop them."
He led the way into the house, and through the hall to a massive door of mahogany with a silver door-knob. The grandeur of the place awed me, and well it might. Boy-like, I was absorbed in this. Our little mountain cabin would almost have gone into this one room. The candles threw their flickering rays upward until they danced on the high ceiling. Marvel of marvels, in the oval left clear by the heavy, rounded cornice was a picture.
The negro set down the candles on the marble top of a table. But the air of the room was heavy and close, and the gentleman went to a window and flung it open. It came down instantly with a crash, so that the panes rattled again.
"Curse these Rebels," he shouted, "they've taken our window weights to make bullets."
Calling to the negro to pry open the window with a walking-stick, he
threw himself into a big, upholstered
chair. 'Twas then I remarked the splendor of his clothes, which were silk. And he wore a waistcoat all sewed with flowers. With a boy's intuition, I began to dislike him intensely.
"Damn the Rebels!" he began. "They've driven his Lordship away. I hope his Majesty will hang every mother's son of 'em. All pleasure of life is gone, and they've folly enough to think they can resist the fleet. And the worst of it is," cried he, "the worst of it is, I'm forced to smirk to them, and give good gold to their government." Seeing that my father did not answer, he asked: "Have you joined the Highlanders? You were always for fighting."
"I'm to be at Cherokee Ford on the twentieth," said my father. "We're to scalp the redskins and Cameron, though 'tis not known."
"Cameron!" shrieked the gentleman. "But that's the other side, man! Against his Majesty?"
"One side or t'other," said my father, " 'tis all one against Alec Cameron."
The gentleman looked at my father with something like terror in his eyes.
"You'll never forgive Cameron," he said.
"I'll no forgive anybody who does me a wrong," said my father.
"And where have you been all these years, Alec?" he asked presently. "Since you went off with -- "
"I've been in the mountains, leading a pure life," said my father. "And we'll speak of nothing, if you please, that's gone by."
"And what will you have me do?" said the gentleman, helplessly.
"Little enough," said my father. "Keep the lad till I come again. He's quiet. He'll no trouble you greatly. Davy, this is Mr. Temple. You're to stay with him till I come again."
"Come here, lad," said the gentleman, and he peered into my face. "You'll not resemble your mother."
"He'll resemble no one," said my father, shortly.
"Good-by, Davy. Keep this till I come again." And he gave me the parcel made of my mother's gown. Then he lifted me in his strong arms and kissed me, and strode out of the house. We listened in silence as he went down the steps, and until his footsteps died away on the path. Then the gentleman rose and pulled a cord hastily. The negro came in.
"Put the lad to bed, Breed," said he.
"Oh, anywhere," said the master. He turned to me.
"I'll be better able to talk to you in the morning, David," said he.
I followed the old servant up the great stairs, gulping down a sob that would rise, and clutching my mother's gown tight under my arm. Had my father left me alone in our cabin for a fortnight, I should not have minded. But here, in this strange house, amid such strange surroundings, I was heartbroken. The old negro was very kind. He led me into a little bedroom, and placing the candle on a polished dresser, he regarded me with sympathy.
"So you're Miss Lizbeth's boy," said he. "An' she dade. An' Marse Alec rough an' hard es though he been bo'n in de woods. Honey, ol' Breed'll tek care ob you. I'll git you one o' dem night rails Marse Nick has, and some ob his'n close in de mawnin'."
These things I remember, and likewise sobbing myself to sleep in the four-poster. Often since I have wished that I had questioned Breed of many things on which I had no curiosity then, for he was my chief companion in the weeks that followed. He awoke me bright and early the next day
"Heah's some close o' Marse Nick's youkin wear, honey," he said.
"Who is Master Nick?" I asked.
Breed slapped his thigh.
"Marse Nick Temple, Marsa's son. He's 'bout you size, but he
ain' no mo' laik you den a Jack rabbit's laik an' owl. Dey ain' none laik Marse Nick fo'
gittin' into trouble-and gittin' out agin."
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"He at Temple Bow, on de Ashley Ribber. Dat's de Marsa's barony."
"De place whah he lib at, in de country."
"And why isn't the master there?"
I remember that Breed gave a wink, and led me out of the window onto a gallery above the one where we had found the master the night before. He pointed across the dense foliage of the garden to a strip of water gleaming in the morning sun beyond.
"See dat boat?" said the negro. "Sometime de Marse he tek ar ride in dat boat at night. Sometime gentlemen comes heah in a pow'ful hurry to git away, out'n de harbor whah de English is at."
By that time I was dressed, and marvellously uncomfortable in Master Nick's clothes. But as I was going out of the door, Breed hailed me.
"Marse Dave," -- it was the first time I had been called that, -- "Marse Dave, you ain't gwineter tell?"
"Tell what?" I asked.
"Bout'n de boat, and Marsa agwine away nights."
"No," said I, indignantly.
"I knowed you wahn't," said Breed. "You don' look as if you'd tell anything."
We found the master pacing the lower gallery. At first he barely glanced at me, and nodded. After a while he stopped, and began to put to me many questions about my life: when and how I had lived. And to some of my answers he exclaimed, "Good God!" That was all. He was a handsome man, with hands like a woman's, well set off by the lace at his sleeves. He had fine-cut features, and the white linen he wore was most becoming.
"David," said he, at length, and I noted that he lowered
his voice, "David, you seem a discreet lad. Pay attention to what I tell you. And
mark! if you disobey me, you will be well whipped. You have this house and garden to play
in, but you are by no means to go out at the front of
the house. And whatever you may see or hear, you are to tell no one. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"For the rest," said he, "Breed will give you food, and look out for your welfare."
And so he dismissed me. They were lonely days after that for a boy used to activity, and only the damp garden paths and lawns to run on. The creek at the back of the garden was stagnant and marshy when the water fell, and overhung by leafy boughs. On each side of the garden was a high brick wall. And though I was often tempted to climb it, I felt that disobedience was disloyalty to my father. Then there was the great house, dark and lonely in its magnificence, over which I roamed until I knew every corner of it.
I was most interested of all in the pictures of men and women in quaint, old-time costumes, and I used during the great heat of the day to sit in the drawing-room and study these, and wonder who they were and when they lived. Another amusement I had was to climb into the deep windows and peer through the blinds across the front garden into the street. Sometimes men stopped and talked loudly there, and again a rattle of drums would send me running to see the soldiers. I recall that I had a poor enough notion of what the fighting was all about. And no wonder. But I remember chiefly my insatiable longing to escape from this prison, as the great house soon became for me. And I yearned with a yearning I cannot express for our cabin in the hills and the old life there.
I caught glimpses of the master on occasions only, and then I avoided
him; for I knew he had no wish to see me. Sometimes he would be seated in the gallery,
tapping his foot on the floor, and sometimes pacing the garden walks with his hands
opening and shutting. And one night I awoke with a start, and lay for a while listening
until I heard something like a splash, and the scraping of the bottom-boards of a boat.
Irresistibly I jumped out of bed, and running to the gallery rail I saw two dark figures
moving among the leaves below. The next morning
I came suddenly on a strange gentleman in the gallery. He wore a flowered dressing-gown like the one I had seen on the master, and he had a jolly, round face. I stopped and stared.
"Who the devil are you?" said he, but not unkindly.
"My name is David Trimble," said I, "and I come from the mountains."
"Mr. David Trimble-from-the-mountains, who the devil am I?"
"I don't know, sir," and I started to go away, not wishing to disturb him.
"Avast!" he cried. "Stand fast. See that you remember that."
"I'm not here of my free will, sir, but because my father wishes it. And I'll betray nothing."
Then he stared at me.
"How old did you say you were?" he demanded.
"I didn't say," said I.
"And you are of Scotch descent?" said he.
"I didn't say so, sir."
"You're a rum one," said he, laughing again, and he disappeared into the house.
That day, when Breed brought me my dinner on my gallery, he did not speak of a visitor. You may be sure I did not mention the circumstance. But Breed always told me the outside news.
"Dey's gittin' ready fo' a big fight, Marse Dave," said he. "Mister Moultrie in the fo't in de bay, an' Marse Gen'l Lee tryin' for to boss him. Dey's Rebels. An' Marse Admiral Parker an' de King's reg'ments fixin' fo' to tek de fo't, an' den Charlesto'n. Dey say Mister Moultrie ain't got no mo' chance dan a treed 'possum."
"Why, Breed?" I asked. I had heard my father talk of England's power and might, and Mister Moultrie seemed to me a very brave man in his little fort.
"Why!" exclaimed the old negro. "You ain't neber read
no hist'ry books. I knows some of de gentlemen
wid Mister Moultrie. Dey ain't no soldiers. Some is fine gentlemen, to be suah, but it's jist foolishness to fight dat fleet an' army. Marse Gen'l Lee hisself, he done sesso. I heerd him."
"And he's on Mister Moultrie's side?" I asked.
"Sholy," said Breed. "He's de Rebel gen'l."
"Then he's a knave and a coward!" I cried with a boy's indignation. "Where did you hear him say that?" I demanded, incredulous of some of Breed's talk.
"Right heah in dis house," he answered, and quickly clapped his hand to his mouth, and showed the whites of his eyes. "You ain't agwineter tell dat, Marse Dave?"
"Of course not," said I. And then: "I wish I could see Mister Moultrie in his fort, and the fleet."
"Why, honey, so you kin," said Breed.
The good-natured negro dropped his work and led the way upstairs, I following expectant, to the attic. A rickety ladder rose to a kind of tower (cupola, I suppose it would be called), whence the bay spread out before me like a picture, the white islands edged with the whiter lacing of the waves. There, indeed, was the fleet, but far away, like toy ships on the water, and the bit of a fort perched on the sandy edge of an island. I spent most of that day there, watching anxiously for some movement. But none came.
That night I was again awakened. And running into the gallery, I
heard quick footsteps in the garden. Then there was a lantern's flash, a smothered oath,
and all was dark again. But in the flash I had seen distinctly three figures. One was
Breed, and he held the lantern; another was the master; and the third, a stout one muffled
in a cloak, I made no doubt was my jolly friend. I lay long awake, with a boy's curiosity,
until presently the dawn broke, and I arose and dressed, and began to wander about the
house. No Breed was sweeping the gallery, nor was there any sign of the master. The house
was as still as a tomb, and the echoes of my footsteps rolled through the halls and
chambers. At last, prompted by curiosity and fear, I sought the kitchen, where I had often
Breed as he cooked the master's dinner. This was at the bottom and end of the house. The great fire there was cold, and the pots and pans hung neatly on their hooks, untouched that day. I was running through the wet garden, glad to be out in the light, when a sound stopped me.
It was a dull roar from the direction of the bay. Almost instantly came another, and another, and then several broke together. And I knew that the battle had begun. Forgetting for the moment my loneliness, I ran into the house and up the stairs two at a time, and up the ladder into the cupola, where I flung open the casement and leaned out.
There was the battle indeed, -- a sight so vivid to me after all these years that I can call it again before me when I will. The toy men-o'-war, with sails set, ranging in front of the fort. They looked at my distance to be pressed against it. White puffs, like cotton balls, would dart one after another from a ship's side, melt into a cloud, float over her spars, and hide her from my view. And then presently the roar would reach me, and answering puffs along the line of the fort. And I could see the mortar shells go up and up, leaving a scorched trail behind, curve in a great circle, and fall upon the little garrison. Mister Moultrie became a real person to me then, a vivid picture in my boyish mind -- a hero beyond all other heroes.
As the sun got up in the heavens and the wind fell, the cupola became
a bake-oven. But I scarcely felt the heat. My whole soul was out in the bay, pent up with
the men in the fort. How long could they hold out? Why were they not all killed by the
shot that fell like hail among them? Yet puff after puff sprang from their guns, and the
sound of it was like a storm coming nearer in the heat. But at noon it seemed to me as
though some of the ships were sailing. It was true. Slowly they drew away from the others,
and presently I thought they had stopped again. Surely two of them were stuck together,
then three were fast on a shoal. Boats, like black bugs in the water, came and went
between them and the others. After a long time
the two that were together got apart and away. But the third stayed there, immovable, helpless.
Throughout the afternoon the fight, kept on, the little black boats coming and going. I saw a mast totter and fall on one of the ships. I saw the flag shot away from the fort, and reappear again. But now the puffs came from her walls slowly and more slowly, so that my heart sank with the setting sun. And presently it grew too dark to see aught save the red flashes. Slowly, reluctantly, the noise died down until at last a great silence reigned, broken only now and again by voices in the streets below me. It was not until then that I realized that I had been all day without food -- that I was alone in the dark of a great house.
I had never known fear in the woods at night. But now I trembled as I felt my way down the ladder, and groped and stumbled through the black attic for the stairs. Every noise I made seemed louder an hundred fold than the battle had been, and when I barked my shins, the pain was sharper than a knife. Below, on the big stairway, the echo of my footsteps sounded again from the empty rooms, so that I was taken with a panic and fled downward, sliding and falling, until I reached the hall. Frantically as I tried, I could not unfasten the bolts on the front door. And so, running into the drawing-room, I pried open the window, and sat me down in the embrasure to think, and to try to quiet the thumpings of my heart.
By degrees I succeeded. The still air of the night and the heavy, damp odors of the foliage helped me. And I tried to think what was right for me to do. I had promised the master not to leave the place, and that promise seemed in pledge to my father. Surely the master would come back -- or Breed. They would not leave me here alone without food much longer. Although I was young, I was brought up to responsibility. And I inherited a conscience that has since given me much trouble.
From these thoughts, trying enough for a starved lad, I fell to
thinking of my father on the frontier fighting the Cherokees. And so I dozed away to dream
I remember that he was skinning Cameron, -- I had often pictured it, -- and Cameron yelling, when I was awakened with a shock by a great noise.
I listened with my heart in my throat. The noise seemed to come from the hall, -- a prodigious pounding. Presently it stopped, and a man's voice cried out: --
"Ho there, within!"
My first impulse was to answer. But fear kept me still.
"Batter down the door," some one shouted.
There was a sound of shuffling in the portico, and the same voice: --
"Now then, all together, lads!"
Then came a straining and splitting of wood, and with a crash the door gave way. A lantern's rays shot through the hall.
"The house is as dark as a tomb," said a voice.
"And as empty, I reckon," said another. "John Temple and his spy have got away."
"We'll have a search," answered the first voice.
They stood for a moment in the drawing-room door, peering, and then they entered. There were five of them. Two looked to be gentlemen, and three were of rougher appearance. They carried lanterns.
"That window's open," said one of the gentlemen. "They must have been here to-day. Hello, what's this?" He started back in surprise.
I slid down from the window-seat, and stood facing them, not knowing what else to do. They, too, seemed equally confounded.
"It must be Temple's son," said one, at last. "I had thought the family at Temple Bow. What's your name, my lad?"
"David Trimble, sir," said I.
"And what are you doing here?" he asked more sternly.
"I was left in Mr. Temple's care by my father."
"Oho!" he cried. "And where is your father?"
"He's gone to fight the Cherokees," I answered soberly.
"To skin a man named Cameron."
At that they were silent for an instant, and then the two broke into a laugh.
"Egad, Lowndes," said the gentleman, "here is a fine mystery. Do you think the boy is lying?"
The other gentleman scratched his forehead.
"I'll have you know I don't lie, sir," I said, ready to cry.
"No," said the other gentleman. "A backwoodsman named Trimble went to Rutledge with credentials from North Carolina, and has gone off to Cherokee Ford to join McCall."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the first gentleman. He came up and laid his hand on my shoulder, and said: --
"Where is Mr. Temple?"
"That I don't know, sir."
"When did he go away?"
I did not answer at once.
"That I can't tell you, sir."
"Was there any one with him?"
"That I can't tell you, sir."
"The devil you can't!" he cried, taking his hand away. "And why not?"
I shook my head, sorely beset.
"Come, Mathews," cried the gentleman called Lowndes.
"We'll search first, and attend to the lad after."
And so they began going through the house, prying into every cupboard and sweeping under every bed. They even climbed to the attic; and noting the open casement in the cupola, Mr. Lowndes said: --
"Some one has been here to-day."
"It was I, sir," I said. "I have been here all day."
"And what doing, pray?" he demanded.
"Watching the battle. And oh, sir," I cried, "can you tell me whether Mister Moultrie beat the British?"
"He did so," cried Mr. Lowndes. "He did, and soundly."
He stared at me. I must have looked my pleasure.
"Why, David," says he, "you are a patriot, too."
Both gentlemen laughed again, and the men with them.
"The lad is a character," said Mr. Lowndes.
We made our way down into the garden, which they searched last. At the creek's side the boat was gone, and there were footsteps in the mud.
"The bird has flown, Lowndes," said Mr. Mathews.
"And good riddance for the Committee," answered that gentleman, heartily. "He got to the fleet in fine season to get a round shot in the middle. David," said he, solemnly, "remember it never pays to try to be two things at once."
"I'll warrant he stayed below water," said Mr. Mathews.
"But what shall we do with the lad?"
"I'll take him to my house for the night," said Mr. Lowndes, "and in the morning we'll talk to him. I reckon he should be sent to Temple Bow. He is connected in some way with the Temples."
"God help him if he goes there," said Mr. Mathews, under his breath. But I heard him.
They locked up the house, and left one of the men to guard it, while I went with Mr. Lowndes to his residence. I remember that people were gathered in the streets as we passed, making merry, and that they greeted Mr. Lowndes with respect and good cheer. His house, too, was set in a garden and quite as fine as Mr. Temple's. It was ablaze with candles, and I caught glimpses of fine gentlemen and ladies in the rooms. But he hurried me through the hall, and into a little chamber at the rear where a writing-desk was set. He turned and faced me.
"You must be tired, David," he said.
"And hungry? Boys are always hungry."
"You had no dinner?"
"No, sir," I answered, off my guard.
"Mercy!" he said. "It is a long time since breakfast."
"I had no breakfast, sir."
"Good God!" he said, and pulled the velvet handle of a
cord. A negro came.
"Is the supper for the guests ready?"
"Then bring as much as you can carry here," said the gentleman. "And ask Mrs. Lowndes if I may speak with her."
Mrs. Lowndes came first. And such a fine lady she was that she frightened me, this being my first experience with ladies. But when Mr. Lowndes told her my story, she ran to me impulsively and put her arms about me.
"Poor lad!" she said. "What a shame!"
I think that the tears came then, but it was small wonder. There were tears in her eyes, too.
Such a supper as I had I shall never forget. And she sat beside me for long, neglecting her guests, and talking of my life. Suddenly she turned to her husband, calling him by name.
"He is Alec Ritchie's son," she said, "and Alec has gone against Cameron."
Mr. Lowndes did not answer, but nodded.
"And must he go to Temple Bow?"
"My dear," said Mr. Lowndes, "I fear it is our duty to send him there."