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Title: Erskine Dale—Pioneer
Author: Fox, John, 1863-1919
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          ERSKINE DALE—PIONEER

                            BY JOHN FOX, JR.

     ERSKINE DALE—PIONEER
     THE HEART OF THE HILLS
     THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE
     THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME
     CRITTENDEN. A Kentucky Story of Love and War
     THE KENTUCKIANS AND A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND
     A MOUNTAIN EUROPA AND A CUMBERLAND VENDETTA
     CHRISTMAS EVE ON LONESOME, HELL-FER-SARTAIN AND IN HAPPY VALLEY
     BLUE GRASS AND RHODODENDRON,  Outdoor Life in Kentucky

                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS



[Illustration: The third stayed behind a moment, bowed over her hand,
and kissed it]



                              ERSKINE DALE
                                PIONEER

                                   BY

                             JOHN FOX, JR.

                       ILLUSTRATED BY F. C. YOHN

                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                             NEW YORK 1920



                        Copyright, 1919, 1920, by
                         CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                        Published September, 1920



ILLUSTRATIONS

  The third stayed behind a moment, bowed over her hand,
  and kissed it                                             Frontispiece

  “The messenger is the son of a king”                                36

  “I don’t want nobody to take up for me”                             56

  “Four more days,” he cried, “and we’ll be there!”                  100

  “That is Kahtoo’s talk, but this is mine”                          132

  The sword blades clashed, Erskine whipping back and forth
  in a way to make a swordsman groan                                 168

  “Make no noise, and don’t move”                                    238

  To his bewilderment he found Barbara at his mother’s bedside       256



ERSKINE DALE—PIONEER



I


Streaks of red ran upward, and in answer the great gray eye of the
wilderness lifted its mist-fringed lid. From the green depths came the
fluting of a lone wood-thrush. Through them an owl flew on velvety wings
for his home in the heart of a primeval poplar. A cougar leaped from the
low limb of an oak, missed, and a shuddering deer streaked through a
forest aisle, bounded into a little clearing, stopped rigid, sniffed a
deadlier enemy, and whirled into the wilderness again. Still deeper in
the depths a boy with a bow and arrow and naked, except for scalp-lock
and breech-clout, sprang from sleep and again took flight along a
buffalo trail. Again, not far behind him, three grunting savages were
taking up the print of his moccasined feet.

An hour before a red flare rose within the staked enclosure that was
reared in the centre of the little clearing, and above it smoke was soon
rising. Before the first glimmer of day the gates yawned a little and
three dim shapes appeared and moved leisurely for the woods—each man
with a long flintlock rifle in the hollow of his arm, a hunting-knife in
his belt, and a coonskin cap on his head. At either end of the stockade
a watchtower of oak became visible and in each a sleepy sentinel yawned
and sniffed the welcome smell of frying venison below him. In the pound
at one end of the fort, and close to the eastern side, a horse whinnied,
and a few minutes later when a boy slipped through the gates with feed
in his arms there was more whinnying and the stamping of impatient feet.

“Gol darn ye!” the boy yelled, “can’t ye wait till a feller gits _his_
breakfast?”

A voice deep, lazy, and resonant came from the watch-tower above:

“Well, I’m purty hungry myself.”

“See any Injuns, Dave?”

“Not more’n a thousand or two, I reckon.” The boy laughed:

“Well, I reckon you won’t see any while I’m around—they’re afeerd o’
_me_.”

“I don’t blame ’em, Bud. I reckon that blunderbuss o’ yours would come
might’ nigh goin’ through a pat o’ butter at twenty yards.” The sentinel
rose towering to the full of his stature, stretched his mighty arms with
a yawn, and lightly leaped, rifle in hand, into the enclosure. A girl
climbing the rude ladder to the tower stopped midway.

“Mornin’, Dave!”

“Mornin’, Polly!”

“I was comin’ to wake you up,” she smiled.

“I just waked up,” he yawned, humoring the jest.

“You don’t seem to have much use for this ladder.”

“Not unless I’m goin’ up; and I wouldn’t then if I could jump as high as
I can fall.” He went toward her to help her down.

“I wouldn’t climb very high,” she said, and scorning his hand with a
tantalizing little grimace she leaped as lightly as had he to the
ground. Two older women who sat about a kettle of steaming clothes
watched her.

“Look at Polly Conrad, won’t ye? I declare that gal——”

“Lyddy!” cried Polly, “bring Dave’s breakfast!”

At the door of each log cabin, as solidly built as a little fort, a
hunter was cleaning a long rifle. At the western angle two men were
strengthening the pickets of the palisade. About the fire two mothers
were suckling babes at naked breasts. A boy was stringing a bow, and
another was hurling a small tomahawk at an oaken post, while a third who
was carrying wood for the open fire cried hotly:

“Come on here, you two, an’ he’p me with this wood!” And grumbling they
came, for that fort harbored no idler, irrespective of age or sex.

At the fire a tall girl rose, pushed a mass of sunburned hair from her
heated forehead, and a flush not from the fire fused with her smile.

“I reckon Dave can walk this far—he don’t look very puny.”

A voice vibrant with sarcasm rose from one of the women about the
steaming kettle.

“Honor!” she cried, “Honor Sanders!”

In a doorway near, a third girl was framed—deep-eyed, deep-breasted.

“Honor!” cried the old woman, “stop wastin’ yo’ time with that weavin’
in thar an’ come out here an’ he’p these two gals to git Dave his
breakfast.” Dave Yandell laughed loudly.

“Come on, Honor,” he called, but the girl turned and the whir of a loom
started again like the humming of bees. Lydia Noe handed the hunter a
pan of deer-meat and corn bread, and Polly poured him a cup of steaming
liquid made from sassafras leaves. Unheeding for a moment the food in
his lap, Dave looked up into Polly’s black eyes, shifted to Lydia,
swerved to the door whence came the whir of the loom.

“You are looking very handsome this morning, Polly,” he said gravely,
“and Lydia is lovelier even than usual, and Honor is a woodland dream.”
He shook his head. “No,” he said, “I really couldn’t.”

“Couldn’t what?” asked Polly, though she knew some nonsense was coming.

“Be happy even with two, if t’other were far away.”

“I reckon you’ll have to try some day—with all of us far away,” said the
gentle Lydia.

“No doubt, no doubt.” He fell upon his breakfast.

“Purple, crimson, and gold—daughters of the sun—such are not for the
poor hunter—alack, alack!”

“Poor boy!” said Lydia, and Polly looked at her with quickening wonder.
Rallying Dave with soft-voiced mockery was a new phase in Lydia. Dave
gave his hunting-knife a pathetic flourish.

“And when the Virginia gallants come, where will poor Dave be?”

Polly’s answer cut with sarcasm, but not at Dave.

“Dave will be busy cuttin’ wood an’ killin’ food for ’em—an’ keepin’ ’em
from gettin’ scalped by Indians.”

“I wonder,” said Lydia, “if they’ll have long hair like Dave?” Dave
shook his long locks with mock pride.

“Yes, but it won’t be their own an’ it’ll be _powdered_.”

“Lord, I’d like to see the first Indian who takes one of their scalps.”
Polly laughed, but there was a shudder in Lydia’s smile. Dave rose.

“I’m goin’ to sleep till dinner—don’t let anybody wake me,” he said, and
at once both the girls were serious and kind.

“We won’t, Dave.”

Cow-bells began to clang at the edge of the forest.

“There they are,” cried Polly. “Come on, Lyddy.”

The two girls picked up piggins and squeezed through the opening between
the heavy gates. The young hunter entered a door and within threw
himself across a rude bed, face down.

“Honor!” cried one of the old women, “you go an’ git a bucket o’ water.”
The whir stopped instantly, the girl stepped with a sort of slow majesty
from the cabin, and, entering the next, paused on the threshold as her
eyes caught the powerful figure stretched on the bed and already in
heavy sleep. As she stepped softly for the bucket she could not forbear
another shy swift glance; she felt the flush in her face and to conceal
it she turned her head angrily when she came out. A few minutes later
she was at the spring and ladling water into her pail with a gourd. Near
by the other two girls were milking—each with her forehead against the
soft flank of a dun-colored cow whose hoofs were stained with the juice
of wild strawberries. Honor dipped lazily. When her bucket was full she
fell a-dreaming, and when the girls were through with their task they
turned to find her with deep, unseeing eyes on the dark wilderness.

“Boo!” cried Polly, startling her, and then teasingly:

“Are you in love with Dave, too, Honor?”

The girl reddened.

“No,” she whipped out, “an’ I ain’t goin’ to be.” And then she reddened
again angrily as Polly’s hearty laugh told her she had given herself
away. For a moment the three stood like wood-nymphs about the spring,
vigorous, clear-eyed, richly dowered with health and color and body and
limb—typical mothers-to-be of a wilderness race. And as Honor turned
abruptly for the fort, a shot came from the woods followed by a
war-whoop that stopped the blood shuddering in their veins.

“Oh, my God!” each cried, and catching at their wet skirts they fled in
terror through the long grass. They heard the quick commotion in the
fort, heard sharp commands, cries of warning, frantic calls for them to
hurry, saw strained faces at the gates, saw Dave bound through and rush
toward them. And from the forest there was nothing but its silence until
that was again broken—this time by a loud laugh—the laugh of a white
man. Then at the edge of the wilderness appeared—the fool. Behind him
followed the other two who had gone out that morning, one with a deer
swung about his shoulders, and all could hear the oaths of both as they
cursed the fool in front who had given shot and war-whoop to frighten
women and make them run. Dave stood still, but his lips, too, were busy
with curses, and from the fort came curses—an avalanche of them. The
sickly smile passed from the face of the fellow, shame took its place,
and when he fronted the terrible eyes of old Jerome Sanders at the gate,
that face grew white with fear.

“Thar ain’t an Injun in a hundred miles,” he stammered, and then he
shrank down as though he were almost going to his knees, when suddenly
old Jerome slipped his long rifle from his shoulder and fired past the
fellow’s head with a simultaneous roar of command:

“Git in—ever’body—git in—quick!”

From a watch-tower, too, a rifle had cracked. A naked savage had bounded
into a spot of sunlight that quivered on the buffalo trail a hundred
yards deep in the forest and leaped lithely aside into the bushes—both
rifles had missed. Deeper from the woods came two war-whoops—real
ones—and in the silence that followed the gates were swiftly closed and
barred, and a keen-eyed rifleman was at every port-hole in the fort.
From the tower old Jerome saw reeds begin to shake in a cane-brake to
the left of the spring.

“Look thar!” he called, and three rifles, with his own, covered the
spot. A small brown arm was thrust above the shaking reeds, with the
palm of the hand toward the fort—the peace sign of the Indian—and a
moment later a naked boy sprang from the cane-brake and ran toward the
blockhouse, with a bow and arrow in his left hand and his right
stretched above his head, its pleading palm still outward.

“Don’t shoot!—don’t nobody shoot!” shouted the old man. No shot came
from the fort, but from the woods came yells of rage, and as the boy
streaked through the clearing an arrow whistled past his head.

“Let him in!” shouted Jerome, and as Dave opened the gates another arrow
hurtled between the boy’s upraised arm and his body and stuck quivering
in one of its upright bars. The boy slid through and stood panting,
shrinking, wild-eyed. The arrow had grazed his skin, and when Dave
lifted his arm and looked at the oozing drops of blood he gave a
startled oath, for he saw a flash of white under the loosened
breech-clout below. The boy understood. Quickly he pushed the clout
aside on his thigh that all might see, nodded gravely, and proudly
tapped his breast.

“Paleface!” he half grunted, “white man!”

The wilds were quiet. The boy pointed to them and held up three fingers
to indicate that there were only three red men there, and shook his head
to say there would be no attack from them. Old Jerome studied the little
stranger closely, wondering what new trick those red devils were trying
now to play. Mother Sanders and Mother Noe, the boys of the fort, the
gigantic brothers to Lydia, Adam and Noel, the three girls had gathered
about him, as he stood with the innocence of Eden before the fall.

“The fust thing to do,” said Mother Sanders, “is to git some clothes for
the little heathen.” Whereat Lydia flushed and Dave made an impatient
gesture for silence.

“What’s your name?” The boy shook his head and looked eagerly around.

“Français—French?” he asked, and in turn the big woodsman shook his
head—nobody there spoke French. However, Dave knew a little Shawnee, a
good deal of the sign-language, and the boy seemed to understand a good
many words in English; so that the big woodsman pieced out his story
with considerable accuracy, and turned to tell it to Jerome. The Indians
had crossed the Big River, were as many as the leaves, and meant to
attack the whites. For the first time they had allowed the boy to go on
a war-party. Some one had treated him badly—he pointed out the bruises
of cuffs and kicks on his body. The Indians called him White Arrow, and
he knew he was white from the girdle of untanned skin under his
breech-clout and because the Indian boys taunted him. Asked why he had
come to the fort, he pointed again to his bruises, put both hands
against his breast, and stretched them wide as though he would seek
shelter in the arms of his own race and take them to his heart; and for
the first time a smile came to his face that showed him plainly as a
curious product of his race and the savage forces that for years had
been moulding him. That smile could have never come to the face of an
Indian. No Indian would ever have so lost himself in his own emotions.
No white man would have used his gestures and the symbols of nature to
which he appealed. Only an Indian could have shown such a cruel,
vindictive, merciless fire in his eyes when he told of his wrongs, and
when he saw tears in Lydia’s eyes, the first burning in his life came to
his own, and brushing across them with fierce shame he turned Indian
stoic again and stood with his arms folded over his bow and arrows at
his breast, looking neither to right nor left, as though he were waiting
for judgment at their hands and cared little what his fate might be, as
perfect from head to foot as a statue of the ancient little god, who, in
him, had forsaken the couches of love for the tents of war.



II


All turned now to the duties of the day—Honor to her loom, Polly to her
distaff, and Lydia to her spinning-wheel, for the clothes of the women
were home-spun, home-woven, home-made. Old Jerome and Dave and the older
men gathered in one corner of the stockade for a council of war. The boy
had made it plain that the attacking party was at least two days behind
the three Indians from whom he had escaped, so that there was no danger
that day, and they could wait until night to send messengers to warn the
settlers outside to seek safety within the fort. Meanwhile, Jerome would
despatch five men with Dave to scout for the three Indians who might be
near by in the woods, and the boy, who saw them slip out the rear gate
of the fort, at once knew their purpose, shook his head, and waved his
hand to say that his late friends were gone back to hurry on the big
war-party to the attack, now that the whites themselves knew their
danger. Old Jerome nodded that he understood, and nodded to others his
appreciation of the sense and keenness of the lad, but he let the men go
just the same. From cabin door to cabin door the boy went in
turn—peeking in, but showing no wonder, no surprise, and little interest
until Lydia again smiled at him. At her door he paused longest, and even
went within and bent his ear to the bee-like hum of the wheel. At the
port-holes in the logs he pointed and grunted his understanding and
appreciation, as he did when he climbed into a blockhouse and saw how
one story overlapped the other and how through an opening in the upper
floor the defenders in the tower might pour a destructive fire on
attackers breaking in below. When he came down three boys, brothers to
the three girls, Bud Sanders, Jack Conrad, and Harry Noe, were again
busy with their games. They had been shy with him as he with them, and
now he stood to one side while they, pretending to be unconscious of his
presence, watched with sidelong glances the effect on him of their
prowess. All three threw the tomahawk and shot arrows with great skill,
but they did not dent the impassive face of the little stranger.

“Maybe he thinks he can do better,” said Bud; “let’s let him try it.”

And he held forth the tomahawk and motioned toward the post. The lad
took it gravely, gravely reached for the tomahawk of each of the other
two, and with slow dignity walked several yards farther away from the
mark. Then he wheeled with such ferocity in his face that the boys
shrank aside, clutching with some fear to one another’s arms, and before
they could quite recover, they were gulping down wonder as the three
weapons whistled through the air and were quivering close, side by side,
in the post.

“Gee!” they said. Again the lad’s face turned impassive as he picked up
his bow and three arrows and slowly walked toward the wall of the
stockade so that he was the full width of the fort away. And then three
arrows hurtled past them in incredibly swift succession and thudded into
the post, each just above a tomahawk. This time the three onlookers were
quite speechless, though their mouths were open wide. Then they ran
toward him and had him show just how he held tomahawk and bow and arrow,
and all three did much better with the new points he gave them.
Wondering then whether they might not teach him something, Jack did a
standing broad jump and Bud a running broad jump and Harry a hop, skip,
and a jump. The young stranger shook his head but he tried and fell
short in each event and was greatly mortified. Again he shook his head
when Bud and Jack took backholds and had a wrestling-match, but he tried
with Jack and was thumped hard to the earth. He sprang to his feet
looking angry, but all were laughing, and he laughed too.

“Me big fool,” he said; and they showed him how to feint and trip, and
once he came near throwing Bud. At rifle-shooting, too, he was no match
for the young pioneers, but at last he led them with gestures and
unintelligible grunts to the far end of the stockade and indicated a
foot-race. The boy ran like one of his own arrows, but he beat Bud only
a few feet, and Bud cried:

“I reckon if _I_ didn’t have no clothes on, he couldn’t ‘a’ done it”;
and on the word Mother Sanders appeared and cried to Bud to bring the
“Injun” to her cabin. She had been unearthing clothes for the “little
heathen,” and Bud helped to put them on. In a few minutes the lad
reappeared in fringed hunting shirt and trousers, wriggling in them most
uncomfortably, for they made him itch, but at the same time wearing them
proudly. Mother Sanders approached with a hunting-knife.

“I’m goin’ to cut off that topknot so his hair can ketch up,” she said,
but the boy scowled fearfully, turned, fled, and scaling the stockade as
nimbly as a squirrel, halted on top with one leg over the other side.

“He thinks you air goin’ to take his scalp,” shouted Bud. The three boys
jumped up and down in their glee, and even Mother Sanders put her hands
on her broad hips and laughed with such loud heartiness that many came
to the cabin doors to see what the matter was. It was no use for the
boys to point to their own heads and finger their own shocks of hair,
for the lad shook his head, and outraged by their laughter kept his
place in sullen dignity a long while before he could be persuaded to
come down.

On the mighty wilderness the sun sank slowly and old Jerome sat in the
western tower to watch alone. The silence out there was oppressive and
significant, for it meant that the boy’s theory was right; the three
Indians had gone back for their fellows, and when darkness came the old
man sent runners to the outlying cabins to warn the inmates to take
refuge within the fort. There was no settler that was not accustomed to
a soft tapping on the wooden windows that startled him wide awake. Then
there was the noiseless awakening of the household, noiseless dressing
of the children—the mere whisper of “Indians” was enough to keep them
quiet—and the noiseless slipping through the wilderness for the
oak-picketed stockade. And the gathering-in was none too soon. The
hooting of owls started before dawn. A flaming arrow hissed from the
woods, thudded into the roof of one of the cabins, sputtered feebly on a
dew-drenched ridge-pole, and went out. Savage war-whoops rent the air,
and the battle was on. All day the fight went on. There were feints of
attack in front and rushes from the rear, and there were rushes from all
sides. The women loaded rifles and cooked and cared for the wounded.
Thrice an Indian reached the wall of the stockade and set a cabin on
fire, but no one of the three got back to the woods alive. The stranger
boy sat stoically in the centre of the enclosure watching everything,
and making no effort to take part, except twice when he saw a gigantic
Indian brandishing his rifle at the edge of the woods, encouraging his
companions behind, and each time he grunted and begged for a gun. And
Dave made out that the Indian was the one who had treated the boy
cruelly and that the lad was after a personal revenge. Late in the
afternoon the ammunition began to run low and the muddy discoloration of
the river showed that the red men had begun to tunnel under the walls of
the fort. And yet a last sally was made just before sunset. A body
pushed against Dave in the tower and Dave saw the stranger boy at his
side with his bow and arrow. A few minutes later he heard a yell from
the lad which rang high over the din, and he saw the feathered tip of an
arrow shaking in the breast of the big Indian who staggered and fell
behind a bush. Just at that moment there were yells from the woods
behind—the yells of white men that were answered by joyful yells within
the fort:

“The Virginians! The Virginians!” And as the rescuers dashed into sight
on horse and afoot, Dave saw the lad leap the wall of the stockade and
disappear behind the fleeing Indians.

“Gone back to ’em,” he grunted to himself. The gates were thrown open.
Old Jerome and his men rushed out, and besieged and rescuers poured all
their fire after the running Indians, some of whom turned bravely to
empty their rifles once more.

“Git in! Git in, quick!” yelled old Joel. He knew another volley would
come as soon as the Indians reached the cover of thick woods, and come
the volley did. Three men fell—one the leader of the Virginians, whose
head flopped forward as he entered the gate and was caught in old Joel’s
arms. Not another sound came from the woods, but again Dave from the
tower saw the cane-brush rustle at the edge of a thicket, saw a hand
thrust upward with the palm of peace toward the fort, and again the
stranger boy emerged—this time with a bloody scalp dangling in his left
hand. Dave sprang down and met him at the gate. The boy shook his bow
and arrow proudly, pointed to a crisscross scar on the scalp, and Dave
made out from his explanation that once before the lad had tried to kill
his tormentor and that the scar was the sign. In the centre of the
enclosure the wounded Virginian lay, and when old Jerome stripped the
shirt from his breast he shook his head gravely. The wounded man opened
his eyes just in time to see and he smiled.

“I know it,” he said faintly, and then his eyes caught the boy with the
scalp, were fixed steadily and began to widen.

“Who is that boy?” he asked sharply.

“Never mind now,” said old Joel soothingly, “you must keep still!” The
boy’s eyes had begun to shift under the scrutiny and he started away.

“Come back here!” commanded the wounded man, and still searching the lad
he said sharply again:

“Who is that boy?” Nor would he have his wound dressed or even take the
cup of water handed to him until old Joel briefly told the story, when
he lay back on the ground and closed his eyes.

Darkness fell. In each tower a watcher kept his eyes strained toward the
black, silent woods. The dying man was laid on a rude bed within one
cabin, and old Joel lay on the floor of it close to the door. The
stranger lad refused to sleep indoors and huddled himself in a blanket
on the ground in one corner of the stockade. Men, women, and children
fell to a deep and weary sleep. In the centre the fire burned and there
was no sound on the air but the crackle of its blazing. An hour later
the boy in the corner threw aside his blanket, and when, a moment later,
Lydia Noe, feverish and thirsty, rose from her bed to get a drink of
water outside her door, she stopped short on the threshold. The lad,
stark naked but for his breech-clout and swinging his bloody scalp over
his head, was stamping around the fire—dancing the scalp-dance of the
savage to a low, fierce, guttural song. The boy saw her, saw her face in
the blaze, stricken white with fright and horror, saw her too paralyzed
to move and he stopped, staring at her a moment with savage rage, and
went on again. Old Joel’s body filled the next doorway. He called out
with a harsh oath, and again the boy stopped. With another oath and a
threatening gesture Joel motioned to the corner of the stockade, and
with a flare of defiance in his black eyes the lad stalked slowly and
proudly away. From behind him the voice of the wounded man called, and
old Joel turned. There was a ghastly smile on the Virginian’s pallid
face.

“I saw it,” he said painfully. “That’s—that’s my son!”



III


From the sun-dial on the edge of the high bank, straight above the brim
of the majestic yellow James, a noble path of thick grass as broad as a
modern highway ran hundreds of yards between hedges of roses straight to
the open door of the great manor-house with its wide verandas and mighty
pillars set deep back from the river in a grove of ancient oaks. Behind
the house spread a little kingdom, divided into fields of grass, wheat,
tobacco, and corn, and dotted with whitewashed cabins filled with
slaves. Already the house had been built a hundred years of brick
brought from England in the builder’s own ships, it was said, and the
second son of the reigning generation, one Colonel Dale, sat in the
veranda alone. He was a royalist officer, this second son, but his elder
brother had the spirit of daring and adventure that should have been
his, and he had been sitting there four years before when that elder
brother came home from his first pioneering trip into the wilds, to tell
that his wife was dead and their only son was a captive among the
Indians. Two years later still, word came that the father, too, had met
death from the savages, and the little kingdom passed into Colonel
Dale’s hands.

Indentured servants, as well as blacks from Africa, had labored on that
path in front of him; and up it had once stalked a deputation of the
great Powhatan’s red tribes. Up that path had come the last of the early
colonial dames, in huge ruffs, high-heeled shoes, and short skirts, with
her husband, who was the “head of a hundred,” with gold on his clothes,
and at once military commander, civil magistrate, judge, and executive
of the community; had come officers in gold lace, who had been rowed up
in barges from Jamestown; members of the worshipful House of Burgesses;
bluff planters in silk coats, the governor and members of the council;
distinguished visitors from England, colonial gentlemen and ladies. At
the manor they had got beef, bacon, brown loaves, Indian corn-cakes,
strong ales, and strong waters (but no tea or coffee), and “drunk” pipes
of tobacco from lily-pots—jars of white earth—lighted with splinters of
juniper, or coals of fire plucked from the fireplace with a pair of
silver tongs. And all was English still—books, clothes, plates, knives,
and forks; the church, the Church of England; the Governor, the
representative of the King; his Council, the English House of Lords; the
Burgesses, the English Parliament—socially aristocratic, politically
republican. For ancient usage held that all “freemen” should have a
voice in the elections, have equal right to say who the lawmakers and
what the law. The way was open as now. Any man could get two thousand
acres by service to the colony, could build, plough, reap, save, buy
servants, and roll in his own coach to sit as burgess. There was but one
seat of learning—at Williamsburg. What culture they had they brought
from England or got from parents or minister. And always they had seemed
to prefer sword and stump to the pen. They hated towns. At every wharf a
long shaky trestle ran from a warehouse out into the river to load ships
with tobacco for England and to get in return all conveniences and
luxuries, and that was enough. In towns men jostled and individual
freedom was lost, so, Ho! for the great sweeps of land and the sway of a
territorial lord! Englishmen they were of Shakespeare’s time but living
in Virginia, and that is all they were—save that the flower of liberty
was growing faster in the new-world soil.

The plantation went back to a patent from the king in 1617, and by the
grant the first stout captain was to “enjoy his landes in as large and
ample manner to all intentes and purposes as any Lord of any manours in
England doth hold his grounde.” This gentleman was the only man after
the “Starving Time” to protest against the abandonment of Jamestown in
1610. When, two years later, he sent two henchmen as burgesses to the
first general assembly, that august body would not allow them to sit
unless the captain would relinquish certain high privileges in his
grant.

“I hold my patent for service done,” the captain answered
grandiloquently, “which noe newe or late comers can meritt or
challenge,” and only with the greatest difficulty was he finally
persuaded to surrender his high authority. In that day the house was
built of wood, protected by a palisade, prescribed by law, and the
windows had stout shutters. Everything within it had come from England.
The books were ponderous folios, stout duodecimos encased in embossed
leather, and among them was a folio containing Master William
Shakespeare’s dramas, collected by his fellow actors Heminge and
Condell. Later by many years a frame house supplanted this primitive,
fort-like homestead, and early in the eighteenth century, after several
generations had been educated in England, an heir built the noble manor
as it still stands—an accomplished gentleman with lace collar, slashed
doublet, and sable silvered hair, a combination of scholar, courtier,
and soldier. And such had been the master of the little kingdom ever
since.

In the earliest days the highest and reddest cedars in the world rose
above the underbrush. The wild vines were so full of grape bunches that
the very turf overflowed with them. Deer, turkeys, and snow-white cranes
were in incredible abundance. The shores were fringed with verdure. The
Indians were a “kind, loving people.” Englishmen called it the “Good
Land,” and found it “most plentiful, sweet, wholesome, and fruitful of
all others.” The east was the ocean; Florida was the south; the north
was Nova Francia, and the west unknown. Only the shores touched the
interior, which was an untravelled realm of fairer fruits and flowers
than in England; green shores, majestic forests, and blue mountains
filled with gold and jewels. Bright birds flitted, dusky maids danced
and beckoned, rivers ran over golden sand, and toward the South Sea was
the Fount of Youth, whose waters made the aged young again. Bermuda
Islands were an enchanted den full of furies and devils which all men
did shun as hell and perdition. And the feet of all who had made history
had trod that broad path to the owner’s heart and home.

Down it now came a little girl—the flower of all those dead and gone—and
her coming was just as though one of the flowers about her had stepped
from its gay company on one or the other side of the path to make
through them a dainty, triumphal march as the fairest of them all. At
the dial she paused and her impatient blue eyes turned to a bend of the
yellow river for the first glimpse of a gay barge that soon must come.
At the wharf the song of negroes rose as they unloaded the boat just
from Richmond. She would go and see if there was not a package for her
mother and perhaps a present for herself, so with another look to the
river bend she turned, but she moved no farther. Instead, she gave a
little gasp, in which there was no fear, though what she saw was surely
startling enough to have made her wheel in flight. Instead, she gazed
steadily into a pair of grave black eyes that were fixed on her from
under a green branch that overhung the footpath, and steadily she
searched the figure standing there, from the coonskin cap down the
fringed hunting-shirt and fringed breeches to the moccasined feet. And
still the strange figure stood arms folded, motionless and silent.
Neither the attitude nor the silence was quite pleasing, and the girl’s
supple slenderness stiffened, her arms went rigidly to her sides, and a
haughty little snap sent her undimpled chin upward.

“What do you want?”

And still he looked, searching her in turn from head to foot, for he was
no more strange to her than she was to him.

“Who are you and what do you want?”

It was a new way for a woman to speak to a man; he in turn was not
pleased, and a gleam in his eyes showed it.

“I am the son of a king.”

She started to laugh, but grew puzzled, for she had the blood of
Pocahontas herself.

“You are an Indian?”

He shook his head, scorning to explain, dropped his rifle to the hollow
of his arm, and, reaching for his belt where she saw the buckhorn handle
of a hunting-knife, came toward her, but she did not flinch. Drawing a
letter from the belt, he handed it to her. It was so worn and soiled
that she took it daintily and saw on it her father’s name. The boy waved
his hand toward the house far up the path.

“He live here?”

“You wish to see him?”

The boy grunted assent, and with a shock of resentment the little lady
started up the path with her head very high indeed. The boy slipped
noiselessly after her, his face unmoved, but his eyes were darting right
and left to the flowers, trees, and bushes, to every flitting, strange
bird, the gray streak of a scampering squirrel, and what he could not
see, his ears took in—the clanking chains of work-horses, the whir of a
quail, the screech of a peacock, the songs of negroes from far-off
fields.

On the porch sat a gentleman in powdered wig and knee-breeches, who,
lifting his eyes from a copy of _The Spectator_ to give an order to a
negro servant, saw the two coming, and the first look of bewilderment on
his fine face gave way to a tolerant smile. A stray cat or dog, a
crippled chicken, a neighbor’s child, or a pickaninny—all these his
little daughter had brought in at one time or another for a home, and
now she had a strange ward, indeed. He asked no question, for a purpose
very decided and definite was plainly bringing the little lady on, and
he would not have to question. Swiftly she ran up the steps, her mouth
primly set, and handed him a letter.

[Illustration: “The messenger is the son of a king”]

“The messenger is the son of a king.”

“A what?”

“The son of a king,” she repeated gravely.

“Ah,” said the gentleman, humoring her, “ask his highness to be seated.”

His highness was looking from one to the other gravely and keenly. He
did not quite understand, but he knew gentle fun was being poked at him,
and he dropped sullenly on the edge of the porch and stared in front of
him. The little girl saw that his moccasins were much worn and that in
one was a hole with the edge blood-stained. And then she began to watch
her father’s face, which showed that the contents of the letter were
astounding him. He rose quickly when he had finished and put out his
hand to the stranger.

“I am glad to see you, my boy,” he said with great kindness. “Barbara,
this is a little kinsman of ours from Kentucky. He was the adopted son
of an Indian chief, but by blood he is your own cousin. His name is
Erskine Dale.”



IV


The little girl rose startled, but her breeding was too fine for
betrayal, and she went to him with hand outstretched. The boy took it as
he had taken her father’s, limply and without rising. The father frowned
and smiled—how could the lad have learned manners? And then he, too, saw
the hole in the moccasin through which the bleeding had started again.

“You are hurt—you have walked a long way?”

The lad shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

“Three days—I had to shoot horse.”

“Take him into the kitchen, Barbara, and tell Hannah to wash his foot
and bandage it.”

The boy looked uncomfortable and shook his head, but the little girl was
smiling and she told him to come with such sweet imperiousness that he
rose helplessly. Old Hannah’s eyes made a bewildered start!

“You go on back an’ wait for yo’ company, little Miss; I’ll ‘tend to
_him_!”

And when the boy still protested, she flared up:

“Looky here, son, little Miss tell me to wash yo’ foot, an’ I’se gwinter
do it, ef I got to tie you fust; now you keep still. Whar you come
from?”

His answer was a somewhat haughty grunt that at once touched the quick
instincts of the old negress and checked further question. Swiftly and
silently she bound his foot, and with great respect she led him to a
little room in one ell of the great house in which was a tub of warm
water.

“Ole marster say you been travellin’ an’ mebbe you like to refresh
yo’self wid a hot bath. Dar’s some o’ little marster’s clothes on de bed
dar, an’ a pair o’ his shoes, an’ I know dey’ll jus’ fit you snug.
You’ll find all de folks on de front po’ch when you git through.”

She closed the door. Once, winter and summer, the boy had daily plunged
into the river with his Indian companions, but he had never had a bath
in his life, and he did not know what the word meant; yet he had learned
so much at the fort that he had no trouble making out what the tub of
water was for. For the same reason he felt no surprise when he picked up
the clothes; he was only puzzled how to get into them. He tried, and
struggling with the breeches he threw one hand out to the wall to keep
from falling and caught a red cord with a bushy red tassel; whereat
there was a ringing that made him spring away from it. A moment later
there was a knock at his door.

“Did you ring, suh?” asked a voice. What that meant he did not know, and
he made no answer. The door was opened slightly and a woolly head
appeared.

“Do you want anything, suh?”

“No.”

“Den I reckon hit was anudder bell—Yassuh.”

The boy began putting on his own clothes.

Outside Colonel Dale and Barbara had strolled down the big path to the
sun-dial, the colonel telling the story of the little Kentucky
kinsman—the little girl listening and wide-eyed.

“Is he going to live here with us, papa?”

“Perhaps. You must be very nice to him. He has lived a rude, rough life,
but I can see he is very sensitive.”

At the bend of the river there was the flash of dripping oars, and the
song of the black oarsmen came across the yellow flood.

“There they come!” cried Barbara. And from his window the little
Kentuckian saw the company coming up the path, brave with gay clothes
and smiles and gallantries. The colonel walked with a grand lady at the
head, behind were the belles and beaux, and bringing up the rear was
Barbara, escorted by a youth of his own age, who carried his hat under
his arm and bore himself as haughtily as his elders. No sooner did he
see them mounting to the porch than there was the sound of a horn in the
rear, and looking out of the other window the lad saw a coach and four
dash through the gate and swing around the road that encircled the great
trees, and up to the rear portico, where there was a joyous clamor of
greetings. Where did all those people come from? Were they going to stay
there and would he have to be among them? All the men were dressed alike
and not one was dressed like him. Panic assailed him, and once more he
looked at the clothes on the bed, and then without hesitation walked
through the hallway, and stopped on the threshold of the front door. A
quaint figure he made there, and for the moment the gay talk and
laughter quite ceased. The story of him already had been told, and
already was sweeping from cabin to cabin to the farthest edge of the
great plantation. Mrs. General Willoughby lifted her lorgnettes to study
him curiously, the young ladies turned a battery of searching but
friendly rays upon him, the young men regarded him with tolerance and
repressed amusement, and Barbara, already his champion, turned her eyes
from one to the other of them, but always seeing him. No son of Powhatan
could have stood there with more dignity, and young Harry Dale’s face
broke into a smile of welcome. His father being indoors he went forward
with hand outstretched.

“I am your cousin Harry,” he said, and taking him by the arm he led him
on the round of presentation.

“Mrs. Willoughby, may I present my cousin from Kentucky?”

“This is your cousin, Miss Katherine Dale; another cousin, Miss Mary;
and this is your cousin Hugh.”

And the young ladies greeted him with frank, eager interest, and the
young gentlemen suddenly repressed patronizing smiles and gave him grave
greeting, for if ever a rapier flashed from a human head, it flashed
from the piercing black eye of that little Kentucky backwoodsman when
his cousin Hugh, with a rather whimsical smile, bowed with a politeness
that was a trifle too elaborate. Mrs. Willoughby still kept her
lorgnettes on him as he stood leaning against a pillar. She noted the
smallness of his hands and feet, the lithe, perfect body, the clean cut
of his face, and she breathed:

“He is a Dale—and blood _does_ tell.”

Nobody, not even she, guessed how the lad’s heart was thumping with the
effort to conceal his embarrassment, but when a tinge of color spread on
each side of his set mouth and his eyes began to waver uncertainly, Mrs.
Willoughby’s intuition was quick and kind.

“Barbara,” she asked, “have you shown your cousin your ponies?”

The little girl saw her motive and laughed merrily:

“Why, I haven’t had time to show him anything. Come on, cousin.”

The boy followed her down the steps in his noiseless moccasins, along a
grass path between hedges of ancient box, around an ell, and past the
kitchen and toward the stables. In and behind the kitchen negroes of all
ages and both sexes were hurrying or lazing around, and each turned to
stare wonderingly after the strange woodland figure of the little
hunter. Negroes were coming in from the fields with horses and mules,
negroes were chopping and carrying wood, there were negroes everywhere,
and the lad had never seen one before, but he showed no surprise. At a
gate the little girl called imperiously:

“Ephraim, bring out my ponies!”

And in a moment out came a sturdy little slave whose head was all black
skin, black wool, and white teeth, leading two creamy-white little
horses that shook the lad’s composure at last, for he knew ponies as far
back as he could remember, but he had never seen the like of them. His
hand almost trembled when he ran it over their sleek coats, and
unconsciously he dropped into his Indian speech and did not know it
until the girl asked laughingly:

“Why, what are you saying to my ponies?”

And he blushed, for the little girl’s artless prattling and friendliness
were already beginning to make him quite human.

“That’s Injun talk.”

“Can you talk Indian—but, of course, you can.”

“Better than English,” he smiled.

Hugh had followed them.

“Barbara, your mother wants you,” he said, and the little girl turned
toward the house. The stranger was ill at ease with Hugh and the latter
knew it.

“It must be very exciting where you live.”

“How?”

“Oh, fighting Indians and shooting deer and turkeys and buffalo. It must
be great fun.”

“Nobody does it for fun—it’s mighty hard work.”

“My uncle—your father—used to tell us about his wonderful adventures out
there.”

“He had no chance to tell me.”

“But yours must have been more wonderful than his.”

The boy gave the little grunt that was a survival of his Indian life and
turned to go back to the house.

“But all this, I suppose, is as strange to you.”

“More.”

Hugh was polite and apparently sincere in interest, but the lad was
vaguely disturbed and he quickened his step. The porch was empty when
they turned the corner of the house, but young Harry Dale came running
down the steps, his honest face alight, and caught the little Kentuckian
by the arm.

“Get ready for supper, Hugh—come on, cousin,” he said, and led the
stranger to his room and pointed to the clothes on the bed.

“Don’t they fit?” he asked smiling.

“I don’t know—I don’t know how to git into ’em.”

Young Harry laughed joyously.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t know how to put yours on either. You just
wait,” he cried, and disappeared to return quickly with an armful of
clothes.

“Take off your war-dress,” he said, “and I’ll show you.”

With heart warming to such kindness, and helpless against it, the lad
obeyed like a child and was dressed like a child.

“Now, I’ve got to hurry,” said Harry. “I’ll come back for you. Just look
at yourself,” he called at the door.

And the stranger did look at the wonderful vision that a great mirror as
tall as himself gave back. His eyes began to sting, and he rubbed them
with the back of his hand and looked at the hand curiously. It was
moist. He had seen tears in a woman’s eyes, but he did not know that
they could come to a man, and he felt ashamed.



V


The boy stood at a window looking out into the gathering dusk. His eye
could catch the last red glow on the yellow river. Above that a purplish
light rested on the green expanse stretching westward—stretching on and
on through savage wilds to his own wilds beyond the lonely Cumberlands.
Outside the window the multitude of flowers was drinking in the dew and
drooping restfully to sleep. A multitude of strange birds called and
twittered from the trees. The neighing of horses, the lowing of cattle,
the piping of roosting turkeys and motherly clutter of roosting hens,
the weird songs of negroes, the sounds of busy preparation through the
house and from the kitchen—all were sounds of peace and plenty, security
and service. And over in his own wilds at that hour they were driving
cows and horses into the stockade. They were cooking their rude supper
in the open. A man had gone to each of the watch-towers. From the
blackening woods came the curdling cry of a panther and the hooting of
owls. Away on over the still westward wilds were the wigwams of squaws,
pappooses, braves, the red men—red in skin, in blood, in heart, and red
with hate against the whites.

Perhaps they were circling a fire at that moment in a frenzied
war-dance—perhaps the hooting at that moment, from the woods around the
fort was not the hooting of owls at all. There all was hardship—danger;
here all was comfort and peace. If they could see him now! See his room,
his fire, his bed, his clothes! They had told him to come, and yet he
felt now the shame of desertion. He had come, but he would not stay long
away. The door opened, he turned, and Harry Dale came eagerly in.

“Mother wants to see you.”

The two boys paused in the hall and Harry pointed to a pair of crossed
rapiers over the mantelpiece.

“Those were your father’s,” he said; “he was a wonderful fencer.”

The lad shook his head in ignorance, and Harry smiled.

“I’ll show you to-morrow.”

At a door in the other ell Harry knocked gently, and a voice that was
low and sweet but vibrant with imperiousness called:

“Come in!”

“Here he is, mother.”

The lad stepped into warmth, subtle fragrance, and many candle lights.
The great lady was just rising from a chair in front of her mirror,
brocaded, powdered, and starred with jewels. So brilliant a vision
almost stunned the little stranger and it took an effort for him to lift
his eyes to hers.

“Why, _this_ is not the lad you told me of,” she said. “Come here! Both
of you.” They came and the lady scrutinized them comparingly.

“Actually you look alike—and, Harry, you have no advantage, even if you
are my own son. I am glad you are here,” she said with sudden soberness,
and smiling tenderly she put both hands on his shoulders, drew him to
her and kissed him, and again he felt in his eyes that curious sting.

“Come, Harry!” With a gallant bow Harry offered his left arm, and
gathering the little Kentuckian with her left, the regal lady swept out.
In the reception-room she kept the boy by her side. Every man who
approached bowed, and soon the lad was bowing, too. The ladies
courtesied, the room was soon filled, and amid the flash of smiles,
laughter, and gay banter the lad was much bewildered, but his face
showed it not at all. Barbara almost cried out her astonishment and
pleasure when she saw what a handsome figure he made in his new
clothing, and all her little friends were soon darting surreptitious
glances at him, and many whispered questions and pleasing comments were
passed around. From under Hugh’s feet the ground for the moment was
quite taken away, so much to the eye, at least, do clothes make the man.
Just then General Willoughby bowed with noble dignity before Mrs. Dale,
and the two led the way to the dining-room.

“Harry,” she said, “you and Barbara take care of your cousin.”

And almost without knowing it the young Kentuckian bowed to Barbara, who
courtesied and took his arm. But for his own dignity and hers, she would
have liked to squeal her delight. The table flashed with silver and
crystal on snowy-white damask and was brilliant with colored candles.
The little woodsman saw the men draw back chairs for the ladies, and he
drew back Barbara’s before Hugh, on the other side of her, could
forestall him. On his left was Harry, and Harry he watched keenly—but no
more keenly than Hugh watched him. Every now and then he would catch a
pair of interested eyes looking furtively at him, and he knew his story
was going the round of the table among those who were not guests in the
house. The boy had never seen so many and so mysterious-looking things
to eat and drink. One glass of wine he took, and the quick dizziness
that assailed him frightened him, and he did not touch it again. Beyond
Barbara, Hugh leaned forward and lifted his glass to him. He shook his
head and Hugh flushed.

“Our Kentucky cousin is not very polite—he is something of a
barbarian—naturally.”

“He doesn’t understand,” said Barbara quickly, who had noted the
incident, and she turned to her cousin.

“Papa says you _are_ going to live with us and you are going to study
with Harry under Mr. Brockton.”

“Our tutor,” explained Harry; “there he is across there. He is an
Englishman.”

“Tutor?” questioned the boy.

“School-teacher,” laughed Harry.

“Oh!”

“Haven’t you any school-teachers at home?”

“No, I learned to read and write a little from Dave and Lyddy.”

And then he had to tell who they were, and he went on to tell them about
Mother Sanders and Honor and Bud and Jack and Polly Conrad and Lydia and
Dave, and all the frontier folk, and the life they led, and the Indian
fights which thrilled Barbara and Harry, and forced even Hugh to
listen—though once he laughed incredulously, and in a way that of a
sudden shut the boy’s lips tight and made Barbara color and Harry look
grave. Hugh then turned to his wine and began soon to look more flushed
and sulky. Shortly after the ladies left, Hugh followed them, and Harry
and the Kentuckian moved toward the head of the table where the men had
gathered around Colonel Dale.

“Yes,” said General Willoughby, “it looks as though it might come.”

“With due deference to Mr. Brockton,” said Colonel Dale, “it looks as
though his country would soon force us to some action.”

They were talking about impending war. Far away as his wilds were, the
boy had heard some talk of war in them, and he listened greedily to the
quick fire of question and argument directed to the Englishman, who held
his own with such sturdiness that Colonel Dale, fearing the heat might
become too great, laughed and skilfully shifted the theme. Through hall
and doorways came now merry sounds of fiddle and banjo.

“Come on, cousin,” said Harry; “can you dance?”

“If your dances are as different as everything else, I reckon not, but I
can try.”

Near a doorway between parlor and hall sat the fiddlers three. Gallant
bows and dainty courtesyings and nimble feet were tripping measures
quite new to the backwoodsman. Barbara nodded, smiled, and after the
dance ran up to ask him to take part, but he shook his head. Hugh had
looked at him as from a superior height, and the boy noticed him
frowning while Barbara was challenging him to dance. The next dance was
even more of a mystery, for the dancers glided by in couples, Mr.
Byron’s diatribe not having prevented the importation of the waltz to
the new world, but the next cleared his face and set his feet to keeping
time, for the square dance had, of course, reached the wilds.

“I know that,” he said to Harry, who told Barbara, and the little girl
went up to him again, and this time, flushing, he took place with her on
the floor. Hugh came up.

“Cousin Barbara, this is our dance, I believe,” he said a little
thickly.

The girl took him aside and Hugh went surlily away. Harry saw the
incident and he looked after Hugh, frowning. The backwoodsman conducted
himself very well. He was lithe and graceful and at first very
dignified, but as he grew in confidence he began to execute steps that
were new to that polite land and rather boisterous, but Barbara looked
pleased and all onlookers seemed greatly amused—all except Hugh. And
when the old fiddler sang out sonorously:

“Genelmen to right—cheat an’ swing!” the boy cheated outrageously,
cheated all but his little partner, to whom each time he turned with
open loyalty, and Hugh was openly sneering now and genuinely angry.

“You shall have the last dance,” whispered Barbara, “the Virginia reel.”

“I know that dance,” said the boy.

And when that dance came and the dancers were drawn in two lines, the
boy who was third from the end heard Harry’s low voice behind him:

“He is my cousin and my guest and you will answer to me.”

The lad wheeled, saw Harry with Hugh, left his place, and went to them.
He spoke to Harry, but he looked at Hugh with a sword-flash in each
black eye:

“I don’t want nobody to take up for me.”

Again he wheeled and was in his place, but Barbara saw and looked
troubled, and so did Colonel Dale. He went over to the two boys and put
his arm around Hugh’s shoulder.

[Illustration: “I don’t want nobody to take up for me”]

“Tut, tut, my boys,” he said, with pleasant firmness, and led Hugh away,
and when General Willoughby would have followed, the colonel nodded him
back with a smile, and Hugh was seen no more that night. The guests left
with gayety, smiles, and laughter, and every one gave the stranger a
kindly good-by. Again Harry went with him to his room and the lad
stopped again under the crossed swords.

“You fight with ’em?”

“Yes, and with pistols.”

“I’ve never had a pistol. I want to learn how to use _them_.”

Harry looked at him searchingly, but the boy’s face gave hint of no more
purpose than when he first asked the same question.

“All right,” said Harry.

The lad blew out his candle, but he went to his window instead of his
bed. The moonlight was brilliant—among the trees and on the sleeping
flowers and the slow run of the broad river, and it was very still out
there and very lovely, but he had no wish to be out there. With wind and
storm and sun, moon and stars, he had lived face to face all his life,
but here they were not the same. Trees, flowers, house, people had
reared some wall between him and them, and they seemed now to be very
far away. Everybody had been kind to him—all but Hugh. Veiled hostility
he had never known before and he could not understand. Everybody had
surely been kind, and yet—he turned to his bed, and all night his brain
was flashing to and fro between the reel of vivid pictures etched on it
in a day and the grim background that had hitherto been his life beyond
the hills.



VI


From pioneer habit he awoke before dawn, and for a moment the softness
where he lay puzzled him. There was no sound of anybody stirring and he
thought he must have waked up in the middle of the night, but he could
smell the dawn and he started to spring up. But there was nothing to be
done, nothing that he could do. He felt hot and stuffy, though Harry had
put up his windows, and he could not lie there wide awake. He could not
go out in the heavy dew in the gay clothes and fragile shoes he had
taken off, so he slid into his own buckskin clothes and moccasins and
out the still open front door and down the path toward the river.
Instinctively he had picked up his rifle, bullet-pouch, and powder-horn.
Up the river to the right he could faintly see dark woods, and he made
toward and plunged into them with his eyes on the ground for signs of
game, but he saw tracks only of coon and skunk and fox, and he grunted
his disgust and loped ahead for half an hour farther into the heart of
the woods. An hour later he loped back on his own tracks. The cabins
were awake now, and every pickaninny who saw him showed the whites of
his eyes in terror and fled back into his house. He came noiselessly
behind a negro woman at the kitchen-door and threw three squirrels on
the steps before her. She turned, saw him, and gave a shriek, but
recovered herself and picked them up. Her amazement grew as she looked
them over, for there was no sign of a bullet-wound, and she went in to
tell how the Injun boy must naturally just “charm ’em right out o’ de
trees.”

At the front door Harry hailed him and Barbara came running out.

“I forgot to get you another suit of clothes last night,” he said, “and
we were scared this morning. We thought you had left us, and Barbara
there nearly cried.” Barbara blushed now and did not deny.

“Come to breakfast!” she cried.

“Did you find anything to shoot?” Harry asked.

“Nothin’ but some squirrels,” said the lad.

Colonel Dale soon came in.

“You’ve got the servants mystified,” he said laughingly. “They think
you’re a witch. How _did_ you kill those squirrels?”

“I couldn’t see their heads—so I barked ’em.”

“Barked?”

“I shot between the bark and the limb right under the squirrel, an’ the
shock kills ’em. Uncle Dan’l Boone showed me how to do that.”

“Daniel Boone!” breathed Harry. “Do you know Daniel Boone?”

“Shucks, Dave can beat him shootin’.”

And then Hugh came in, pale of face and looking rather ashamed. He went
straight to the Kentuckian.

“I was rude to you last night and I owe you an apology.”

He thrust out his hand and awkwardly the boy rose and took it.

“And you’ll forgive me, too, Barbara?”

“Of course I will,” she said happily, but holding up one finger of
warning—should he ever do it again. The rest of the guests trooped in
now, and some were going out on horseback, some for a sail, and some
visiting up the river in a barge, and all were paired off, even Harry.

“I’m going to drive Cousin Erskine over the place with my ponies,” said
Barbara, “and——”

“I’m going back to bed,” interrupted Hugh, “or read a little Latin and
Greek with Mr. Brockton.” There was impudence as well as humor in this,
for the tutor had given up Hugh in despair long ago.

Barbara shook her head.

“You are going with us,” she said.

“I want Hugh to ride with me,” said Colonel Dale, “and give Firefly a
little exercise. Nobody else can ride him.”

The Kentucky boy turned a challenging eye, as did every young man at the
table, and Hugh felt very comfortable. While every one was getting
ready, Harry brought out two foils and two masks on the porch a little
later.

“We fight with those,” he said, pointing to the crossed rapiers on the
wall, “but we practise with these. Hugh, there, is the champion fencer,”
he said, “and he’ll show you.”

Harry helped the Kentucky boy to mask and they crossed foils—Hugh giving
instructions all the time and nodding approval.

“You’ll learn—you’ll learn fast,” he said. And over his shoulder to
Harry:

“Why, his wrist is as strong as mine now, and he’s got an eye like a
weasel.”

With a twist he wrenched the foil from his antagonist’s hand and
clattered it on the steps. The Kentuckian was bewildered and his face
flushed. He ran for the weapon.

“You can’t do that again.”

“I don’t believe I can,” laughed Hugh.

“Will you learn me some more?” asked the boy eagerly.

“I surely will.”

A little later Barbara and her cousin were trotting smartly along a
sandy road through the fields with the colonel and Hugh loping in front
of them. Firefly was a black mettlesome gelding. He had reared and
plunged when Hugh mounted, and even now he was champing his bit and
leaping playfully at times, but the lad sat him with an unconcern of his
capers that held the Kentucky boy’s eyes.

“Gosh,” he said, “but Hugh can ride! I wonder if he could stay on him
bareback.”

“I suppose so,” Barbara said; “Hugh can do anything.”

The summer fields of corn and grain waved away on each side under the
wind, innumerable negroes were at work and song on either side, great
barns and whitewashed cabins dotted the rich landscape which beyond the
plantation broke against woods of sombre pines. For an hour they drove,
the boy’s bewildered eye missing few details and understanding few, so
foreign to him were all the changes wrought by the hand, and he could
hardly have believed that this country was once as wild as his own—that
this was to be impoverished and his own become even a richer land. Many
questions the little girl asked—and some of his answers made her
shudder.

“Papa said last night that several of our kinsfolk spoke of going to
your country in a party, and Harry and Hugh are crazy to go with them.
Papa said people would be swarming over the Cumberland Mountains before
long.”

“I wish you’d come along.”

Barbara laughed.

“I wouldn’t like to lose my hair.”

“I’ll watch out for that,” said the boy with such confident gravity that
Barbara turned to look at him.

“I believe you would,” she murmured. And presently:

“What did the Indians call you?”

“White Arrow.”

“White Arrow. That’s lovely. Why?”

“I could outrun all the other boys.”

“Then you’ll have to run to-morrow when we go to the fair at
Williamsburg.”

“The fair?”

Barbara explained.

For an hour or more they had driven and there was no end to the fields
of tobacco and grain.

“Are we still on your land?”

Barbara laughed. “Yes, we can’t drive around the plantation and get back
for dinner. I think we’d better turn now.”

“Plan-ta-tion,” said the lad. “What’s that?”

Barbara waved her whip.

“Why, all this—the land—the farm.”

“Oh!”

“It’s called Red Oaks—from those big trees back of the house.”

“Oh. I know oaks—all of ’em.”

She wheeled the ponies and with fresh zest they scampered for home. She
even let them run for a while, laughing and chatting meanwhile, though
the light wagon swayed from side to side perilously as the boy thought,
and when, in his ignorance of the discourtesy involved, he was on the
point of reaching for the reins, she spoke to them and pulled them
gently into a swift trot. Everybody had gathered for the noonday dinner
when they swung around the great trees and up to the back porch. The
clamor of the great bell gave its summons and the guests began
straggling in by couples from the garden. Just as they were starting in
the Kentucky boy gave a cry and darted down the path. A towering figure
in coonskin cap and hunter’s garb was halted at the sun-dial and looking
toward them.

“Now, I wonder who _that_ is,” said Colonel Dale. “Jupiter, but that boy
can run!”

They saw the tall stranger stare wonderingly at the boy and throw back
his head and laugh. Then the two came on together. The boy was still
flushed but the hunter’s face was grave.

“This is Dave,” said the boy simply.

“Dave Yandell,” added the stranger, smiling and taking off his cap.
“I’ve been at Williamsburg to register some lands and I thought I’d come
and see how this young man is getting along.”

Colonel Dale went quickly to meet him with outstretched hand.

“I’m glad you did,” he said heartily. “Erskine has already told us about
you. You are just in time for dinner.”

“That’s mighty kind,” said Dave. And the ladies, after he was presented,
still looked at him with much curiosity and great interest. Truly,
strange visitors were coming to Red Oaks these days.

That night the subject of Hugh and Harry going back home with the two
Kentuckians was broached to Colonel Dale, and to the wondering delight
of the two boys both fathers seemed to consider it favorably. Mr.
Brockton was going to England for a visit, the summer was coming on, and
both fathers thought it would be a great benefit to their sons. Even
Mrs. Dale, on whom the hunter had made a most agreeable impression,
smiled and said she would already be willing to trust her son with their
new guest anywhere.

“I shall take good care of him, madam,” said Dave with a bow.

Colonel Dale, too, was greatly taken with the stranger, and he asked
many questions of the new land beyond the mountains. There was dancing
again that night, and the hunter, towering a head above them all, looked
on with smiling interest. He even took part in a square dance with Miss
Jane Willoughby, handling his great bulk with astonishing grace and
lightness of foot. Then the elder gentlemen went into the drawing-room
to their port and pipes, and the boy Erskine slipped after them and
listened enthralled to the talk of the coming war.

Colonel Dale had been in Hanover ten years before, when one Patrick
Henry voiced the first intimation of independence in Virginia; Henry, a
country storekeeper—bankrupt; farmer—bankrupt; storekeeper again, and
bankrupt again; an idler, hunter, fisher, and story-teller—even a
“barkeeper,” as Mr. Jefferson once dubbed him, because Henry had once
helped his father-in-law to keep tavern. That far back Colonel Dale had
heard Henry denounce the clergy, stigmatize the king as a tyrant who had
forfeited all claim to obedience, and had seen the orator caught up on
the shoulders of the crowd and amidst shouts of applause borne around
the court-house green. He had seen the same Henry ride into Richmond two
years later on a lean horse: with papers in his saddle-pockets, his
expression grim, his tall figure stooping, a peculiar twinkle in his
small blue eyes, his brown wig without powder, his coat peach-blossom in
color, his knee-breeches of leather, and his stockings of yarn. The
speaker of the Burgesses was on a dais under a red canopy supported by
gilded rods, and the clerk sat beneath with a mace on the table before
him, but Henry cried for liberty or death, and the shouts of treason
failed then and there to save Virginia for the king. The lad’s brain
whirled. What did all this mean? Who was this king and what had he done?
He had known but the one from whom he had run away. And this talk of
taxes and Stamp Acts; and where was that strange land, New England,
whose people had made tea of the salt water in Boston harbor? Until a
few days before he had never known what tea was, and he didn’t like it.
When he got Dave alone he would learn and learn and learn—everything.
And then the young people came quietly in and sat down quietly, and
Colonel Dale, divining what they wanted, got Dave started on stories of
the wild wilderness that was his home—the first chapter in the Iliad of
Kentucky—the land of dark forests and cane thickets that separated
Catawbas, Creeks, and Cherokees on the south from Delawares, Wyandottes,
and Shawnees on the north, who fought one another, and all of whom the
whites must fight. How Boone came and stayed two years in the wilderness
alone, and when found by his brother was lying on his back in the woods
lustily singing hymns. How hunters and surveyors followed; how the first
fort was built, and the first women stood on the banks of the Kentucky
River. He told of the perils and hardships of the first journeys
thither—fights with wild beasts and wild men, chases, hand-to-hand
combats, escapes, and massacres—and only the breathing of his listeners
could be heard, save the sound of his own voice. And he came finally to
the story of the attack on the fort, the raising of a small hand above
the cane, palm outward, and the swift dash of a slender brown body into
the fort, and then, seeing the boy’s face turn scarlet, he did not tell
how that same lad had slipped back into the woods even while the fight
was going on, and slipped back with the bloody scalp of his enemy, but
ended with the timely coming of the Virginians, led by the lad’s father,
who got his death-wound at the very gate. The tense breathing of his
listeners culminated now in one general deep breath.

Colonel Dale rose and turned to General Willoughby.

“And _that’s_ where he wants to take our boys.”

“Oh, it’s much safer now,” said the hunter. “We have had no trouble for
some time, and there’s no danger inside the fort.”

“I can imagine you keeping those boys inside the fort when there’s so
much going on outside. Still—” Colonel Dale stopped and the two boys
took heart again. The ladies rose to go to bed, and Mrs. Dale was
shaking her head very doubtfully, but she smiled up at the tall hunter
when she bade him good night.

“I shall not take back what I said.”

“Thank you, madam,” said Dave, and he bent his lips to her absurdly
little white hand.

Colonel Dale escorted the boy and Dave to their room. Mr. Yandell must
go with them to the fair at Williamsburg next morning, and Mr. Yandell
would go gladly. They would spend the night there and go to the
Governor’s Ball. The next day there was a county fair, and perhaps Mr.
Henry would speak again. Then Mr. Yandell must come back with them to
Red Oaks and pay them a visit—no, the colonel would accept no excuse
whatever.

The boy plied Dave with questions about the people in the wilderness and
passed to sleep. Dave lay awake a long time thinking that war was sure
to come. They were Americans now, said Colonel Dale—not Virginians, just
as nearly a century later the same people were to say:

“We are not Americans now—we are Virginians.”



VII


It was a merry cavalcade that swung around the great oaks that spring
morning in 1774. Two coaches with outriders and postilions led the way
with their precious freight—the elder ladies in the first coach, and the
second blossoming with flower-like faces and starred with dancing eyes.
Booted and spurred, the gentlemen rode behind, and after them rolled the
baggage-wagons, drawn by mules in jingling harness. Harry on a chestnut
sorrel and the young Kentuckian on a high-stepping gray followed the
second coach—Hugh on Firefly champed the length of the column. Colonel
Dale and Dave brought up the rear. The road was of sand and there was
little sound of hoof or wheel—only the hum of voices, occasional sallies
when a neighbor joined them, and laughter from the second coach as happy
and care-free as the singing of birds from trees by the roadside.

The capital had been moved from Jamestown to the spot where Bacon had
taken the oath against England—then called Middle-Plantation, and now
Williamsburg. The cavalcade wheeled into Gloucester Street, and Colonel
Dale pointed out to Dave the old capitol at one end and William and Mary
College at the other. Mr. Henry had thundered in the old capitol, the
Burgesses had their council-chamber there, and in the hall there would
be a ball that night. Near the street was a great building which the
colonel pointed out as the governor’s palace, surrounded by
pleasure-grounds of full three hundred acres and planted thick with
linden-trees. My Lord Dunmore lived there. Back at the plantation Dave
had read in an old copy of _The Virginia Gazette_, amid advertisements
of shopkeepers, the arrival and departure of ships, and poetical bits
that sang of Myrtilla, Florella, and other colonial belles, how the town
had made an illumination in honor of the recent arrival of the elegant
Lady Dunmore and her three fine, sprightly daughters, from whose every
look flashed goodness of heart. For them the gentlemen of the Burgesses
were to give a ball the next night. At this season the planters came
with their families to the capitol, and the street was as brilliant as a
fancy-dress parade would be to us now. It was filled with coaches and
fours. Maidens moved daintily along in silk and lace, high-heeled shoes
and clocked stockings. Youths passed on spirited horses, college
students in academic dress swaggered through the throng, and from his
serene excellency’s coach, drawn by six milk-white horses, my lord bowed
grimly to the grave lifting of hats on either side of the street.

The cavalcade halted before a building with a leaden bust of Sir Walter
Raleigh over the main doorway, the old Raleigh Tavern, in the Apollo
Room of which Mr. Jefferson had rapturously danced with his Belinda, and
which was to become the Faneuil Hall of Virginia. Both coaches were
quickly surrounded by bowing gentlemen, young gallants, and frolicsome
students. Dave, the young Kentuckian, and Harry would be put up at the
tavern, and, for his own reasons, Hugh elected to stay with them. With
an _au revoir_ of white hands from the coaches, the rest went on to the
house of relatives and friends.

Inside the tavern Hugh was soon surrounded by fellow students and boon
companions. He pressed Dave and the boy to drink with them, but Dave
laughingly declined and took the lad up to their room. Below they could
hear Hugh’s merriment going on, and when he came up-stairs a while later
his face was flushed, he was in great spirits, and was full of
enthusiasm over a horserace and cock-fight that he had arranged for the
afternoon. With him came a youth of his own age with daredevil eyes and
a suave manner, one Dane Grey, to whom Harry gave scant greeting. One
patronizing look from the stranger toward the Kentucky boy and within
the latter a fire of antagonism was instantly kindled. With a word after
the two went out, Harry snorted his explanation:

“Tory!”

In the early afternoon coach and horsemen moved out to an “old field.”
Hugh was missing from the Dale party, and General Willoughby frowned
when he noted his son’s absence. When they arrived a most extraordinary
concert of sounds was filling the air. On a platform stood twenty
fiddlers in contest for a fiddle—each sawing away for dear life and each
playing a different tune—a custom that still survives in our own hills.
After this a “quire of ballads” was sung for. Then a crowd of boys
gathered to run one hundred and twelve yards for a hat worth twelve
shillings, and Dave nudged his young friend. A moment later Harry cried
to Barbara:

“Look there!”

There was their young Indian lining up with the runners, his face calm,
but an eager light in his eyes. At the word he started off almost
leisurely, until the whole crowd was nearly ten yards ahead of him, and
then a yell of astonishment rose from the crowd. The boy was skimming
the grounds on wings. Past one after another he flew, and laughing and
hardly out of breath he bounded over the finish, with the first of the
rest laboring with bursting lungs ten yards behind. Hugh and Dane Grey
had appeared arm in arm and were moving through the crowd with great
gayety and some boisterousness, and when the boy appeared with his hat
Grey shouted:

“Good for the little savage!” Erskine wheeled furiously but Dave caught
him by the arm and led him back to Harry and Barbara, who looked so
pleased that the lad’s ill-humor passed at once.

“Whut you reckon I c’n do with this hat?”

“Put it on!” smiled Barbara; but it was so ludicrous surmounting his
hunter’s garb that she couldn’t help laughing aloud. Harry looked
uneasy, but it was evident that the girl was the one person who could
laugh at the sensitive little woodsman with no offense.

“I reckon you’re right,” he said, and gravely he handed it to Harry and
gravely Harry accepted it. Hugh and his friend had not approached them,
for Hugh had seen the frown on his father’s face, but Erskine saw Grey
look long at Barbara, turn to question Hugh, and again he began to burn
within.

The wrestlers had now stepped forth to battle for a pair of silver
buckles, and the boy in turn nudged Dave, but unavailingly. The
wrestling was good and Dave watched it with keen interest. One huge
bull-necked fellow was easily the winner, but when the silver buckles
were in his hand, he boastfully challenged anybody in the crowd. Dave
shouldered through the crowd and faced the victor.

“I’ll try you once,” he said, and a shout of approval rose.

The Dale party crowded close and my lord’s coach appeared on the
outskirts and stopped.

“Backholts or catch-as-catch-can?” asked the victor sneeringly.

“As you please,” said Dave.

The bully rushed. Dave caught him around the neck with his left arm, his
right swinging low, the bully was lifted from the ground, crushed
against Dave’s breast, the wind went out of him with a grunt, and Dave
with a smile began swinging him to and fro as though he were putting a
child to sleep. The spectators yelled their laughter and the bully
roared like a bull. Then Dave reached around with his left hand, caught
the bully’s left wrist, pulled loose his hold, and with a leftward twist
of his own body tossed his antagonist some several feet away. The bully
turned once in the air and lighted resoundingly on his back. He got up
dazed and sullen, but breaking into a good-natured laugh, shook his head
and held forth the buckles to Dave.

“You won ’em,” Dave said. “They’re yours. I wasn’t wrastling for them.
You challenged. We’ll shake hands.”

Then my Lord Dunmore sent for Dave and asked him where he was from.

“And do you know the Indian country on this side of the Cumberland?”
asked his lordship.

“Very well.”

His lordship smiled thoughtfully.

“I may have need of you.”

Dave bowed:

“I am an American, my lord.”

His lordship flamed, but he controlled himself.

“You are at least an open enemy,” he said, and gave orders to move on.

The horse-race was now on, and meanwhile a pair of silk stockings, of
one pistol’s value, was yet to be conferred. Colonel Dale had given Hugh
permission to ride Firefly in the race, but when he saw the lad’s
condition he peremptorily refused.

“And nobody else can ride him,” he said, with much disappointment.

“Let me try!” cried Erskine.

“You!” Colonel Dale started to laugh, but he caught Dave’s eye.

“Surely,” said Dave. The colonel hesitated.

“Very well—I will.”

At once the three went to the horse, and the negro groom rolled his eyes
when he learned what his purpose was.

“Dis hoss’ll kill dat boy,” he muttered, but the horse had already
submitted his haughty head to the lad’s hand and was standing quietly.
Even Colonel Dale showed amazement and concern when the boy insisted
that the saddle be taken off, as he wanted to ride bareback, and again
Dave overcame his scruples with a word of full confidence. The boy had
been riding pony-races bareback, he explained, among the Indians, as
long as he had been able to sit a horse. The astonishment of the crowd
when they saw Colonel Dale’s favorite horse enter the course with a
young Indian apparently on him bareback will have to be imagined, but
when they recognized the rider as the lad who had won the race, the
betting through psychological perversity was stronger than ever on
Firefly. Hugh even took an additional bet with his friend Grey, who was
quite openly scornful.

“You bet on the horse now,” he said.

“On both,” said Hugh.

It was a pretty and a close race between Firefly and a white-starred bay
mare, and they came down the course neck and neck like two whirlwinds. A
war-whoop so Indian-like and curdling that it startled every old
frontiersman who heard it came suddenly from one of the riders. Then
Firefly stretched ahead inch by inch, and another triumphant savage yell
heralded victory as the black horse swept over the line a length ahead.
Dane Grey swore quite fearfully, for it was a bet that he could ill
afford to lose. He was talking with Barbara when the boy came back to
the Dales, and something he was saying made the girl color resentfully,
and the lad heard her say sharply:

“He is my cousin,” and she turned away from the young gallant and gave
the youthful winner a glad smile. Just then a group of four men stopped
near, looked closely at the little girl, and held a short consultation.
One of them came forward with a pair of silk stockings in his hand.

“These are for the loveliest maiden present here. The committee chooses
you.”

And later he reported to his fellow members:

“It was like a red rose courtesying and breathing thanks.”

Again Hugh and Dane Grey were missing when the party started back to the
town—they were gone to bet on “Bacon’s Thunderbolts” in a cock-fight.
That night they still were missing when the party went to see the
Virginia Comedians in a play by one Mr. Congreve—they were gaming that
night—and next morning when the Kentucky lad rose, he and Dave through
his window saw the two young roisterers approaching the porch of the
hotel—much dishevelled and all but staggering with drink.

“I don’t like that young man,” said Dave, “and he has a bad influence on
Hugh.”

That morning news came from New England that set the town a-quiver.
England’s answer to the Boston tea-party had been the closing of Boston
harbor. In the House of Burgesses, the news was met with a burst of
indignation. The 1st of June was straight-way set apart as a day of
fasting, humiliation, and prayer that God would avert the calamity
threatening the civil rights of America. In the middle of the afternoon
my lord’s coach and six white horses swung from his great yard and made
for the capitol—my lord sitting erect and haughty, his lips set with the
resolution to crush the spirit of the rebellion. It must have been a
notable scene, for Nicholas, Bland, Lee, Harrison, Pendleton, Henry, and
Jefferson, and perhaps Washington, were there. And my lord was far from
popular. He had hitherto girded himself with all the trappings of
etiquette, had a court herald prescribe rules for the guidance of
Virginians in approaching his excellency, had entertained little and,
unlike his predecessors, made no effort to establish cordial relations
with the people of the capitol. The Burgesses were to give a great ball
in his honor that very night, and now he was come to dissolve them. And
dissolve them he did. They bowed gravely and with no protest. Shaking
with anger my lord stalked to his coach and six while they repaired to
the Apollo Room to prohibit the use of tea and propose a general
congress of the colonies. And that ball came to pass. Haughty hosts
received their haughty guest with the finest and gravest courtesy, bent
low over my lady’s hand, danced with her daughters, and wrung from my
lord’s reluctant lips the one grudging word of comment:

“Gentlemen!”

And the ladies of his family bobbed their heads sadly in confirmation,
for the steel-like barrier between them was so palpable that it could
have been touched that night, it seemed, by the hand.

The two backwoodsmen had been dazzled by the brilliance of it all, for
the boy had stood with Barbara, who had been allowed to look on for a
while. Again my lord had summoned Dave to him and asked many questions
about the wilderness beyond the Cumberland, and he even had the boy to
come up and shake hands, and asked him where he had learned to ride so
well. He lifted his eyebrows when Dave answered for him and murmured
with surprise and interest:

“So—so!”

Before Barbara was sent home Hugh and Dane Grey, dressed with great
care, came in, with an exaggeration of dignity and politeness that
fooled few others than themselves. Hugh, catching Barbara’s sad and
reproachful glance, did not dare go near her, but Dane made straight for
her side when he entered the room—and bowed with great gallantry. To the
boy he paid no attention whatever, and the latter, fired with
indignation and hate, turned hastily away. But in a corner unseen he
could not withhold watching the two closely, and he felt vaguely that he
was watching a frightened bird and a snake. The little girl’s
self-composure seemed quite to vanish, her face flushed, her eyes were
downcast, and her whole attitude had a mature embarrassment that was far
beyond her years. The lad wondered and was deeply disturbed. The half
overlooking and wholly contemptuous glance that Grey had shot over his
head had stung him like a knife-cut, so like an actual knife indeed that
without knowing it his right hand was then fumbling at his belt. Dave
too was noticing and so was Barbara’s mother and her father, who knew
very well that this smooth, suave, bold, young daredevil was
deliberately leading Hugh into all the mischief he could find. Nor did
he leave the girl’s side until she was taken home. Erskine, too, left
then and went back to the tavern and up to his room. Then with his knife
in his belt he went down again and waited on the porch. Already guests
were coming back from the party and it was not long before he saw Hugh
and Dane Grey half-stumbling up the steps. Erskine rose. Grey confronted
the lad dully for a moment and then straightened.

“Here’s anuzzer one wants to fight,” he said thickly. “My young friend,
I will oblige you anywhere with anything, at any time—except to-night.
You must regard zhat as great honor, for I am not accustomed to fight
with savages.”

And he waved the boy away with such an insolent gesture that the lad,
knowing no other desire with an enemy than to kill in any way possible,
snatched his knife from his belt. He heard a cry of surprise and horror
from Hugh and a huge hand caught his upraised wrist.

“Put it back!” said Dave sternly.

The dazed boy obeyed and Dave led him up-stairs.



VIII


Dave talked to the lad about the enormity of his offense, but to Dave he
was inclined to defend himself and his action. Next morning, however,
when the party started back to Red Oaks, Erskine felt a difference in
the atmosphere that made him uneasy. Barbara alone seemed unchanged, and
he was quick to guess that she had not been told of the incident. Hugh
was distinctly distant and surly for another reason as well. He had
wanted to ask young Grey to become one of their party and his father had
decisively forbidden him—for another reason too than his influence over
Hugh: Grey and his family were Tories and in high favor with Lord
Dunmore.

As yet Dave had made no explanation or excuse for his young friend, but
he soon made up his mind that it would be wise to offer the best
extenuation as soon as possible; which was simply that the lad knew no
better, had not yet had the chance to learn, and on the rage of impulse
had acted just as he would have done among the Indians, whose code alone
he knew.

The matter came to a head shortly after their arrival at Red Oaks when
Colonel Dale, Harry, Hugh, and Dave were on the front porch. The boy was
standing behind the box-hedge near the steps and Barbara had just
appeared in the doorway.

“Well, what was the trouble?” Colonel Dale had just asked.

“He tried to stab Grey unarmed and without warning,” said Hugh shortly.

At the moment, the boy caught sight of Barbara. Her eyes, filled with
scorn, met his in one long, sad, withering look, and she turned
noiselessly back into the house. Noiselessly too he melted into the
garden, slipped down to the river-bank, and dropped to the ground. He
knew at last what he had done. Nothing was said to him when he came back
to the house and that night he scarcely opened his lips. In silence he
went to bed and next morning he was gone.

The mystery was explained when Barbara told how the boy too must have
overheard Hugh.

“He’s hurt,” said Dave, “and he’s gone home.”

“On foot?” asked Colonel Dale incredulously.

“He can trot all day and make almost as good time as a horse.”

“Why, he’ll starve.”

Dave laughed:

“He could get there on roots and herbs and wild honey, but he’ll have
fresh meat every day. Still, I’ll have to try to overtake him. I must
go, anyhow.”

And he asked for his horse and went to get ready for the journey. Ten
minutes later Hugh and Harry rushed joyously to his room.

“We’re going with you!” they cried, and Dave was greatly pleased. An
hour later all were ready, and at the last moment Firefly was led in,
saddled and bridled, and with a leading halter around his neck.

“Harry,” said Colonel Dale, “carry your cousin my apologies and give him
Firefly on condition that he ride him back some day. Tell him this home
is his”—the speaker halted, but went on gravely and firmly—“whenever he
pleases.”

“And give him my love,” said Barbara, holding back her tears.

At the river-gate they turned to wave a last good-by and disappeared in
the woods. At that hour the boy far over in the wilderness ahead of them
had cooked a squirrel that he had shot for his breakfast and was gnawing
it to the bones. Soon he rose and at a trot sped on toward his home
beyond the Cumberland. And with him, etched with acid on the steel of
his brain, sped two images—Barbara’s face as he last saw it and the face
of young Dane Grey.

The boy’s tracks were easily to be seen in the sandy road, and from them
Dave judged that he must have left long before daylight. And he was
travelling rapidly. They too went as fast as they could, but Firefly led
badly and delayed them a good deal. Nobody whom they questioned had laid
eyes on the boy, and apparently he had been slipping into the bushes to
avoid being seen. At sunset Dave knew that they were not far behind him,
but when darkness hid the lad’s tracks Dave stopped for the night. Again
Erskine had got the start by going on before day, and it was the middle
of the forenoon before Dave, missing the tracks for a hundred yards,
halted and turned back to where a little stream crossed the road and
dismounted leading his horse and scrutinizing the ground.

“Ah,” he said, “just what I expected. He turned off here to make a
bee-line for the fort. He’s not far away now.” An hour later he
dismounted again and smiled: “We’re pretty close now.”

Meanwhile Harry and Hugh were getting little lessons in woodcraft. Dave
pointed out where the lad had broken a twig climbing over a log, where
the loose covering of another log had been detached when he leaped to
it, and where he had entered the creek, the toe of one moccasin pointing
down-stream.

Then Dave laughed aloud:

“He’s seen us tracking him and he’s doubled on us and is tracking us. I
expect he’s looking at us from somewhere around here.” And he hallooed
at the top of his voice, which rang down the forest aisles. A war-whoop
answered almost in their ears that made the blood leap in both the boys.
Even Dave wheeled with cocked rifle, and the lad stepped from behind a
bush scarcely ten feet behind them.

“Well, by gum,” shouted Dave, “fooled us, after all.”

A faint grin of triumph was on the lad’s lips, but in his eyes was a
waiting inquiry directed at Harry and Hugh. They sprang forward, both of
them with their hands outstretched:

“We’re sorry!”

A few minutes later Hugh was transferring his saddle from Firefly to his
own horse, which had gone a trifle lame. On Firefly, Harry buckled the
boy’s saddle and motioned for him to climb up. The bewildered lad turned
to Dave, who laughed:

“It’s all right.”

“He’s your horse, cousin,” said Harry. “My father sent him to you and
says his home is yours whenever you please. And Barbara sent her love.”

At almost the same hour in the great house on the James the old negress
was carrying from the boy’s room to Colonel Dale in the library a kingly
deed that the lad had left behind him. It was a rude scrawl on a sheet
of paper, signed by the boy’s Indian name and his totem mark—a buffalo
pierced by an arrow.

“It make me laugh. I have no use. I give hole dam plantashun Barbara.”

Thus read the scrawl!



IX


Led by Dave, sometimes by the boy, the four followed the course of
rivers, upward, always except when they descended some mountain which
they had to cross, and then it was soon upward again. The two Virginia
lads found themselves, much to their chagrin, as helpless as children,
but they were apt pupils and soon learned to make a fire with flint and
even with dry sticks of wood. On the second day Harry brought down a
buck, and the swiftness and skill with which Dave and the Kentucky boy
skinned and cleaned it greatly astonished the two young gentlemen from
the James. There Erskine had been helpless, here these two were, and
they were as modest over the transposition as was the Kentucky lad in
the environment he had just left. Once they saw a herd of buffalo and
they tied their horses and slipped toward them. In his excitement Harry
fired too soon and the frightened herd thundered toward them.

“Climb a tree!” shouted Erskine dropping his rifle and skinning up a
young hickory. Like squirrels they obeyed and from their perches they
saw Dave in an open space ahead of them dart for a tree too late.

The buffalo were making straight for them through no purpose but to get
away, and to their horror they saw the big hunter squeezing his huge
body sidewise against a small tree and the herd dashing under them and
past him. They could not see him for the shaggy bodies rushing by, but
when they passed, there was Dave unhurt, though the tree on both sides
of him had been skinned of its bark by their horns.

“Don’t do that again,” said Dave, and then seeing the crestfallen terror
on Harry’s face, he smiled and patted the boy on the shoulder:

“You won’t again. You didn’t know. You will next time.”

Three days later they reached the broad, beautiful Holston River,
passing over the pine-crested, white-rocked summit of Clinch Mountain,
and came to the last outlying fort of the western frontier. Next day
they started on the long, long wilderness trail toward the Cumberland
range. In the lowland they found much holly and laurel and rhododendron.
Over Wallen’s Ridge they followed a buffalo trail to a river that had
been called Beargrass because it was fringed with spikes of white
umbelliferous flowers four feet high that were laden with honey and
beloved by Bruin of the sweet tooth. The land was level down the valley.
On the third day therefrom the gray wall of the Cumberland that ran with
frowning inaccessibility on their right gathered its flanks into steep
gray cliffs and dipped suddenly into Cumberland Gap. Up this they
climbed. On the summit they went into camp, and next morning Dave swept
a long arm toward the wild expanse to the west.

“Four more days,” he cried, “and we’ll be there!”

The two boys looked with awe on the limitless stretch of wooded wilds.
It was still Virginia, to be sure, but they felt that once they started
down they would be leaving their own beloved State for a strange land of
unknown beasts and red men who peopled that “dark and bloody ground.”

Before sunrise next morning they were dropping down the steep and rocky
trail. Before noon they reached the beautiful Cumberland River, and Dave
told them that, below, it ran over a great rocky cliff, tumbling into
foam and spray over mighty boulders around which the Indians had to
carry their bark canoes. As they rode along the bank of the stream the
hills got lower and were densely thicketed with laurel and rhododendron,
and impenetrable masses of cane-brake filled every little valley curve.
That night they slept amid the rocky foot-hills of the range, and next
morning looked upon a vast wilderness stretch of woods that undulated to
the gentle slopes of the hills, and that night they were on the edge of
the blue-grass land.

Toward sunset Dave, through a sixth sense, had the uneasy feeling that
he was not only being followed but watched from the cliffs alongside,
and he observed that Erskine too had more than once turned in his saddle
or lifted his eyes searchingly to the shaggy flanks of the hills.
Neither spoke to the other, but that night when the hoot of an owl
raised Dave from his blanket, Erskine too was upright with his rifle in
his hand. For half an hour they waited, and lay down again, only to be
awakened again by the snort of a horse, when both sprang to their feet
and crawled out toward the sound. But the heavy silence lay unbroken and
they brought the horses closer to the fire.

[Illustration: “Four more days,” he cried, “and we’ll be there!”]

“Now I _know_ it was Indians,” said Dave; “that hoss o’ mine can smell
one further’n a rattlesnake.” The boy nodded and they took turns on
watch while the two boys slept on till daylight. The trail was broad
enough next morning for them to ride two abreast—Dave and Erskine in
advance. They had scarcely gone a hundred yards when an Indian stepped
into the path twenty yards ahead. Instinctively Dave threw his rifle up,
but Erskine caught his arm. The Indian had lifted his hand—palm upward.
“Shawnee!” said the lad, as two more appeared from the bushes. The eyes
of the two tidewater boys grew large, and both clinched their guns
convulsively. The Indian spokesman paid no heed except to Erskine—and
only from the lad’s face, in which surprise was succeeded by sorrow and
then deep thoughtfulness, could they guess what the guttural speech
meant, until Erskine turned to them.

They were not on the war-path against the whites, he explained. His
foster-father—Kahtoo, the big chief, the king—was very ill, and his
message, brought by them, was that Erskine should come back to the tribe
and become chief, as the chief’s only daughter was dead and his only son
had been killed by the palefaces. They knew that in the fight at the
fort Erskine had killed the Shawnee, his tormentor, for they knew the
arrow, which Erskine had not had time to withdraw. The dead Shawnee’s
brother—Crooked Lightning—was with them. He it was who had recognized
the boy the day before, and they had kept him from killing Erskine from
the bushes. At that moment a gigantic savage stepped from the brush. The
boy’s frame quivered, straightened, grew rigid, but he met the
malevolent glare turned on him with emotionless face and himself quietly
began to speak while Harry and Hugh and even Dave watched him
enthralled; for the lad was Indian now and the old chief’s mantle was
about his shoulders. He sat his horse like a king and spoke as a king.
He thanked them for holding back Crooked Lightning’s evil hand,
but—contemptuously he spat toward the huge savage—he was not to die by
that hand. He was a paleface and the Indians had slain his white mother.
He had forgiven that, for he loved the old chief and his foster mother
and brother and sister, and the tribe had always been kind to him. Then
they had killed his white father and he had gone to visit his kindred by
the big waters, and now he loved _them_. He had fled from the Shawnees
because of the cruelty of Crooked Lightning’s brother whom he had slain.
But if the Indians were falling into evil ways and following evil
counsels, his heart was sad.

“I will come when the leaves fall,” he concluded, “but Crooked Lightning
must pitch his lodge in the wilderness and be an outcast from the tribe
until he can show that his heart is good.” And then with an imperious
gesture he waved his hand toward the west:

“Now go!”

It was hard even for Dave to realize that the lad, to all purposes, was
actually then the chief of a powerful tribe, and even he was a little
awed by the instant obedience of the savages, who, without a word,
melted into the bushes and disappeared. Harry wished that Barbara had
been there to see, and Hugh was open-mouthed with astonishment and
wonder, and Dave recovered himself with a little chuckle only when
without a word Erskine clucked Firefly forward, quite unconsciously
taking the lead. And Dave humored him; nor was it many hours before the
lad ceased to be chief, although he did not wholly become himself again
until they were near the fort. It was nearing sunset and from a little
hill Dave pointed to a thin blue wisp of smoke rising far ahead from the
green expanse.

“There it is, boys!” he cried. All the horses were tired except Firefly
and with a whoop Erskine darted forward and disappeared. They followed
as fast as they could and they heard the report of the boy’s rifle and
the series of war-whoops with which he was heralding his approach.
Nobody in the fort was fearful, for plainly it was no unfriendly coming.
All were gathered at the big gate and there were many yells and cries of
welcome and wonder when the boy swept into the clearing on a run,
brandishing his rifle above his head, and pulled his fiery black horse
up in front of them.

“Whar’d you steal that hoss?” shouted Bud.

“Look at them clothes!” cried Jack Sanders. And the women—Mother
Sanders, Mother Noe, and Lydia and Honor and Polly Conrad—gathered about
him, laughing, welcoming, shaking hands, and asking questions.

“Where’s Dave?” That was the chief question and asked by several voices
at the same time. The boy looked grave.

“Dave ain’t comin’ back,” he said, and then seeing the look on Lydia’s
face, he smiled: “Dave—” He had no further to go, for Dave’s rifle
cracked and his voice rose from the woods, and he and Harry and Hugh
galloped into the clearing. Then were there more whoopings and
greetings, and Lydia’s starting tears turned to smiles.

Healthy, husky, rude, and crude these people were, but hearty, kind,
wholesome, and hospitable to the last they had. Naturally the young
people and the two boys from the James were mutually shy, but it was
plain that the shyness would soon wear off. Before dark the men came in:
old Jerome and the Noe brothers and others who were strangers even to
Dave, for in his absence many adventurers had come along the wilderness
trail and were arriving all the time. Already Erskine and Bud had shown
the two stranger boys around the fort; had told them of the last fight
with the Indians, and pointed out the outer walls pockmarked with
bullet-holes. Supper was in the open—the women serving and the men
seated about on buffalo-skins and deer-hides. Several times Hugh or
Harry would spring up to help serve, until Polly turned on Hugh sharply:

“You set still!” and then she smiled at him.

“You’ll spile us—but I know a lot o’ folks that might learn manners from
you two boys.”

Both were embarrassed. Dave laughed, Bud Sanders grunted, and Erskine
paid no heed. All the time the interchange of news and experiences was
going on. Dave had to tell about his trip and Erskine’s races—for the
lad would say nothing—and in turn followed stories of killing buffalo,
deer, panther, and wildcat during his absence. Early the women
disappeared, soon the men began to yawn and stretch, and the sentinels
went to the watch-towers, for there had been Indian signs that day. This
news thrilled the eastern lads, and they too turned into the same bed
built out from the wall of one of the cabins and covered with bearskins.
And Harry, just before his eyes closed, saw through the open door
Erskine seated alone by the dying fire in deep thought—Erskine, the
connecting-link between the tide-water aristocrats and these rude
pioneers, between these backwoodsmen and the savage enemies out in the
black encircling wilderness. And that boy’s brain was in a turmoil—what
was to be his fate, there, here, or out there where he had promised to
go at the next falling of the leaves?



X


The green of the wilderness dulled and burst into the yellow of the
buckeye, the scarlet of maple, and the russet of oak. This glory in turn
dulled and the leaves, like petals of withered flowers, began to drift
to the earth. Through the shower of them went Erskine and Firefly, who
had become as used to the wilds as to the smiling banks of the far-away
James, for no longer did some strange scent make his nostrils quiver or
some strange sound point his beautiful ears and make him crouch and
shudder, or some shadow or shaft of light make him shy and leap like a
deer aside. And the two now were one in mutual affection and a mutual
understanding that was uncanny. A brave picture the lad made of those
lone forerunners whose tent was the wilderness and whose goal was the
Pacific slope. From his coonskin cap the bushy tail hung like a plume;
his deerskin hunting-shirt, made by old Mother Sanders, was beaded and
fringed—fringed across the breast, at the wrists, and at the hem, and
girded by a belt from which the horned handle of a scalping-knife showed
in front and the head of a tomahawk behind; his powder-horn swung under
one shoulder and his bullet-pouch, wadding, flint, and steel under the
other; his long rifle across his saddle-bow. And fringed too were his
breeches and beaded were his moccasins. Dave had laughed at him as a
backwoods dandy and then checked himself, so dignified was the boy and
grave; he was the son of a king again, and as such was on his way in
answer to the wish of a king. For food he carried only a little sack of
salt, for his rifle would bring him meat and the forest would give him
nuts and fruit. When the sun was nearing its highest, he “barked” a
squirrel from the trunk of a beech; toward sunset a fat pheasant
fluttered from the ground to a low limb and he shot its head off and
camped for the night. Hickory-nuts, walnuts, and chestnuts were
abundant. Persimmons and papaws were ripe, haws and huckleberries were
plentiful. There were wild cherries and even wild plums, and when he
wished he could pluck a handful of wild grapes from a vine by the trail
and munch them as he rode along. For something sweet he could go to the
pod of the honey-locust.

On the second day he reached the broad buffalo trail that led to the
salt-licks and on to the river, and then memories came. He remembered a
place where the Indians had camped after they had captured himself and
his mother. In his mind was a faint picture of her sitting against a
tree and weeping and of an Indian striking her to make her stop and of
himself leaping at the savage like a little wildcat, whereat the others
laughed like children. Farther on, next day, was the spot where the
Indians had separated them and he saw his mother no more. They told him
that she had been taken back to the whites, but he was told later that
they had killed her because in their flight from the whites she was
holding them back too much. Farther on was a spot where they had hurried
from the trail and thrust him into a hollow log, barring the exit with
stones, and had left him for a day and a night.

On the fourth day he reached the river and swam it holding rifle and
powder-horn above his head. On the seventh he was nearing the village
where the sick chief lay, and when he caught sight of the teepees in a
little creek bottom, he fired his rifle, and putting Firefly into a
gallop and with right hand high swept into the village. Several bucks
had caught up bow or rifle at the report of the gun and the clatter of
hoofs, but their hands relaxed when they saw his sign of peace. The
squaws gathered and there were grunts of recognition and greeting when
the boy pulled up in their midst. The flaps of the chief’s tent parted
and his foster-mother started toward him with a sudden stream of tears
and turned quickly back. The old chief’s keen black eyes were waiting
for her and he spoke before she could open her lips:

“White Arrow! It is well. Here—at once!”

Erskine had swung from his horse and followed. The old chief measured
him from head to foot slowly and his face grew content:

“Show me the horse!”

The boy threw back the flaps of the tent and with a gesture bade an
Indian to lead Firefly to and fro. The horse even thrust his beautiful
head over his master’s shoulder and looked within, snorting gently.
Kahtoo waved dismissal:

“You must ride north soon to carry the white wampum and a peace talk.
And when you go you must hurry back, for when the sun is highest on the
day after you return, my spirit will pass.”

And thereupon he turned his face and went back into sleep. Already his
foster-mother had unsaddled and tethered Firefly and given him a feed of
corn; and yet bucks, squaws, girls, and pappooses were still gathered
around him, for some had not seen his like before, and of the rest none
failed to feel the change that had taken place in him. Had the lad in
truth come to win and make good his chieftainship, he could not have
made a better beginning, and there was not a maid in camp in whose eyes
there was not far more than curiosity—young as he was. Just before
sunset rifle-shots sounded in the distance—the hunters were coming
in—and the accompanying whoops meant great success. Each of three bucks
carried a deer over his shoulders, and foremost of the three was Crooked
Lightning, who barely paused when he saw Erskine, and then with an
insolent glare and grunt passed him and tossed his deer at the feet of
the squaws. The boy’s hand slipped toward the handle of his tomahawk,
but some swift instinct kept him still. The savage must have had good
reason for such open defiance, for the lad began to feel that many
others shared in his hostility and he began to wonder and speculate.

Quickly the feast was prepared and the boy ate apart—his foster-mother
bringing him food—but he could hear the story of the day’s hunting and
the allusions to the prowess of Crooked Lightning’s son, Black Wolf, who
was Erskine’s age, and he knew they were but slurs against himself. When
the dance began his mother pointed toward it, meaning that he should
take part, but he shook his head—and his thoughts went backward to his
friends at the fort and on back to the big house on the James, to Harry
and Hugh—and Barbara; and he wondered what they would think if they
could see him there; could see the gluttonous feast and those naked
savages stamping around the fire with barbaric grunts and cries to the
thumping of a drum. Where did he belong?

Fresh wood was thrown on the fire, and as its light leaped upward the
lad saw an aged Indian emerge from one of two tents that sat apart on a
little rise—saw him lift both hands toward the stars for a moment and
then return within.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“The new prophet,” said his mother. “He has been but one moon here and
has much power over our young men.”

An armful of pine fagots was tossed on the blaze, and in a whiter leap
of light he saw the face of a woman at the other tent—saw her face and
for a moment met her eyes before she shrank back—and neither face nor
eyes belonged to an Indian. Startled, he caught his mother by the wrist
and all but cried out:

“And that?” The old woman hesitated and scowled:

“A paleface. Kahtoo bought her and adopted her but”—the old woman gave a
little guttural cluck of triumph—“she dies to-morrow. Kahtoo will burn
her.”

“Burn her?” burst out the boy.

“The palefaces have killed many of Kahtoo’s kin!”

A little later when he was passing near the white woman’s tent a girl
sat in front of it pounding corn in a mortar. She looked up at him and,
staring, smiled. She had the skin of the half-breed, and he stopped,
startled by that fact and her beauty—and went quickly on. At old
Kahtoo’s lodge he could not help turning to look at her again, and this
time she rose quickly and slipped within the tent. He turned to find his
foster-mother watching him.

“Who is that girl?” The old woman looked displeased.

“Daughter of the white woman.”

“Does she know?”

“Neither knows.”

“What is her name?”

“Early Morn.”

Early Morn and daughter of the white woman—he would like to know more of
those two, and he half turned, but the old Indian woman caught him by
the arm:

“Do not go there—you will only make more trouble.”

He followed the flash of her eyes to the edge of the firelight where a
young Indian stood watching and scowling:

“Who is that?”

“Black Wolf, son of Crooked Lightning.”

“Ah!” thought Erskine.

Within the old chief called faintly and the Indian woman motioned the
lad to go within. The old man’s dim eyes had a new fire.

“Talk!” he commanded and motioned to the ground, but the lad did not
squat Indian fashion, but stood straight with arms folded, and the chief
knew that a conflict was coming. Narrowly he watched White Arrow’s face
and bearing—uneasily felt the strange new power of him.

“I have been with my own people,” said the lad simply, “the palefaces
who have come over the big mountains and have built forts and planted
corn, and they were kind to me. I went over those mountains, on and on
almost to the big waters. I found my kin. They are many and strong and
rich. They have big houses of stone such as I had never seen nor heard
of and they plant more corn than all the Shawnees and Iroquois. They,
too, were kind to me. I came because you had been kind and because you
were sick and because you had sent for me, and to keep my word.

“I have seen Crooked Lightning. His heart is bad. I have seen the new
prophet. I do not like him. And I have seen the white woman that you are
to burn to-morrow.” The lad stopped. His every word had been of defense
or indictment and more than once the old chief’s eyes shifted uneasily.

“Why did you leave us?”

“To see my people and because of Crooked Lightning and his brother.”

“You fought us.”

“Only the brother, and I killed him.” The dauntless mien of the boy, his
steady eyes, and his bold truthfulness, pleased the old man. The lad
must take his place as chief. Now White Arrow turned questioner:

“I told you I would come when the leaves fell and I am here. Why is
Crooked Lightning here? Why is the new prophet? Who is the woman? What
has she done that she must die? What is the peace talk you wish me to
carry north?”

The old man hesitated long with closed eyes. When he opened them the
fire was gone and they were dim again.

“The story of the prophet and Crooked Lightning is too long,” he said
wearily. “I will tell to-morrow. The woman must die because her people
have slain mine. Besides, she is growing blind and is a trouble. You
carry the white wampum to a council. The Shawnees may join the British
against our enemies—the palefaces.”

“I will wait,” said the lad. “I will carry the white wampum. If you war
against the paleface on this side of the mountain—I am your enemy. If
you war with the British against them all—I am your enemy. And the woman
must not die.”

“I have spoken,” said the old man.

“_I_ have spoken,” said the boy. He turned to lie down and went to
sleep. The old man sat on, staring out at the stars.

Just outside the tent a figure slipped away as noiselessly as a snake.
When it rose and emerged from the shadows the firelight showed the
malignant, triumphant face of Crooked Lightning.



XI


The Indian boys were plunging into the river when Erskine appeared at
the opening of the old chief’s tent next morning, and when they came out
icicles were clinging to their hair. He had forgotten the custom and he
shrugged his shoulders at his mother’s inquiring look. But the next
morning when Crooked Lightning’s son Black Wolf passed him with a
taunting smile he changed his mind.

“Wait!” he said. He turned, stripped quickly to a breech-clout, pointed
to a beech down and across the river, challenging Black Wolf to a race.
Together they plunged in and the boy’s white body clove through the
water like the arrow that he was. At the beech he whipped about to meet
the angry face of his competitor ten yards behind. Half-way back he was
more than twenty yards ahead when he heard a strangled cry. Perhaps it
was a ruse to cover the humiliation of defeat, but when he saw bucks
rushing for the river-bank he knew that the icy water had brought a
cramp to Black Wolf, so he turned, caught the lad by his topknot, towed
him shoreward, dropped him contemptuously, and stalked back to his tent.
The girl Early Morn stood smiling at her lodge and her eyes followed his
white figure until it disappeared. His mother had built a fire for him,
and the old chief looked pleased and proud.

“My spirit shall not pass,” he said, and straightway he rose and
dressed, and to the astonishment of the tribe emerged from his tent and
walked firmly about the village until he found Crooked Lightning.

“You would have Black Wolf chief,” he said. “Very well. We shall see who
can show the better right—your son or White Arrow”—a challenge that sent
Crooked Lightning to brood awhile in his tent, and then secretly to
consult the prophet.

Later the old chief talked long to White Arrow. The prophet, he said,
had been with them but a little while. He claimed that the Great Spirit
had made revelations to him alone. What manner of man was he, questioned
the boy—did he have ponies and pelts and jerked meat?

“He is poor,” said the chief. “He has only a wife and children and the
tribe feeds him.”

White Arrow himself grunted—it was the first sign of his old life
stirring within him.

“Why should the Great Spirit pick out such a man to favor?” he asked.
The chief shook his head.

“He makes muzzi-neen for the young men, shows them where to find game
and they find it.”

“But game is plentiful,” persisted the lad.

“You will hear him drumming in the woods at night.”

“I heard him last night and I thought he was a fool to frighten the game
away.”

“Crooked Lightning has found much favor with him, and in turn with the
others, so that I have not thought it wise to tell Crooked Lightning
that he must go. He has stirred up the young men against me—and against
you. They were waiting for me to die.” The boy looked thoughtful and the
chief waited. He had not reached the aim of his speech and there was no
need to put it in words, for White Arrow understood.

“I will show them,” he said quietly.

When the two appeared outside, many braves had gathered, for the whole
village knew what was in the wind. Should it be a horse-race first?
Crooked Lightning looked at the boy’s thoroughbred and shook his
head—Indian ponies would as well try to outrun an arrow, a bullet, a
hurricane.

A foot-race? The old chief smiled when Crooked Lightning shook his head
again—no brave in the tribe even could match the speed that gave the lad
his name. The bow and arrow, the rifle, the tomahawk? Perhaps the
pole-dance of the Sioux? The last suggestion seemed to make Crooked
Lightning angry, for a rumor was that Crooked Lightning was a renegade
Sioux and had been shamed from the tribe because of his evasion of that
same pole-dance. Old Kahtoo had humor as well as sarcasm. Tomahawks and
bows and arrows were brought out. Black Wolf was half a head shorter,
but stocky and powerfully built. White Arrow’s sinews had strengthened,
but he had scarcely used bow and tomahawk since he had left the tribe.
His tomahawk whistled more swiftly through the air and buried itself
deeper into the tree, and his arrows flashed faster and were harder to
pull out. He had the power but not the practice, and Black Wolf won with
great ease. When they came to the rifle, Black Wolf was out of the game,
for never a bull’s-eye did White Arrow miss.

“To-morrow,” said the old chief, “they shall hunt. Each shall take his
bow and the same number of arrows at sunrise and return at sundown....
The next day they shall do the same with the rifle. It is enough for
to-day.”

The first snow fell that night, and at dawn the two lads started
out—each with a bow and a dozen arrows. Erskine’s woodcraft had not
suffered and the night’s story of the wilderness was as plain to his
keen eyes as a printed page. Nothing escaped them, no matter how minute
the signs. Across the patch where corn had been planted, field-mice had
left tracks like stitched seams. Crows had been after crawfish along the
edge of the stream and a mink after minnows. A muskrat had crossed the
swamp beyond. In the woods, wind-blown leaves had dotted and dashed the
snow like a stenographer’s notebook. Here a squirrel had leaped along,
his tail showing occasionally in the snow, and there was the
four-pointed, triangle-track of a cottontail. The wide-spreading toes of
a coon had made this tracery; moles had made these snowy ridges over
their galleries, and this long line of stitched tracks was the trail of
the fearless skunk which came to a sudden end in fur, feathers, and
bones where the great horned owl had swooped down on him, the only
creature that seems not to mind his smell. Here was the print of a
pheasant’s wing, and buds and bits of twigs on the snow were the
scattered remnants of his breakfast. Here was the spring hole that never
freezes—the drinking-cup for the little folks of the woods. Here a hawk
had been after a rabbit, and the lengthening distance between his
triangles showed how he had speeded up in flight. He had scudded under
thick briers and probably had gotten away. But where was the big game?
For two hours he tramped swiftly, but never sign of deer, elk, bear, or
buffalo.

And then an hour later he heard a snort from a thick copse and the crash
of an unseen body in flight through the brush, and he loped after its
tracks.

Black Wolf came in at sunset with a bear cub which he had found feeding
apart from its mother. He was triumphant, and Crooked Lightning was
scornful when White Arrow appeared empty-handed. His left wrist was
bruised and swollen, and there was a gash the length of his forearm.

“Follow my tracks back,” he said, “until you come to the kill.” With a
whoop two Indians bounded away and in an hour returned with a buck.

“I ran him down,” said White Arrow, “and killed him with the knife. He
horned me,” and went into his tent.

The bruised wrist and wounded forearm made no matter, for the rifle was
the weapon next day—but White Arrow went another way to look for game.
Each had twelve bullets. Black Wolf came in with a deer and one bullet.
White Arrow told them where they could find a deer, a bear, a buffalo,
and an elk, and he showed eight bullets in the palm of his hand. And he
noted now that the Indian girl was always an intent observer of each
contest, and that she always went swiftly back to her tent to tell his
deeds to the white woman within.

There was a feast and a dance that night, and Kahtoo could have gone to
his fathers and left the lad, young as he was, as chief, but not yet was
he ready, and Crooked Lightning, too, bided his time.



XII


Dressed as an Indian, Erskine rode forth next morning with a wampum belt
and a talk for the council north where the British were to meet Shawnee,
Iroquois, and Algonquin, and urge them to enter the great war that was
just breaking forth. There was open and angry protest against sending so
young a lad on so great a mission, but the old chief haughtily brushed
it aside:

“He is young but his feet are swift, his arm is strong, his heart good,
and his head is old. He speaks the tongue of the paleface. Besides, he
is my son.”

One question the boy asked as he made ready:

“The white woman must not be burned while I am gone?”

“No,” promised the old chief. And so White Arrow fared forth. Four days
he rode through the north woods, and on the fifth he strode through the
streets of a town that was yet filled with great forest trees: a town at
which he had spent three winters when the game was scarce and the tribe
had moved north for good. He lodged with no chief but slept in the woods
with his feet to the fire. The next night he slipped to the house of the
old priest, Father André, who had taught him some religion and a little
French, and the old man welcomed him as a son, though he noted sadly his
Indian dress and was distressed when he heard the lad’s mission. He was
quickly relieved.

“I am no royalist,” he said.

“Nor am I,” said Erskine. “I came because Kahtoo, who seemed nigh to
death, begged me to come. There is much intrigue about him, and he could
trust no other. I am only a messenger and I shall speak his talk; but my
heart is with the Americans and I shall fight with them.” The old priest
put his fingers to his lips:

“Sh-h-h! It is not wise. Are you not known?”

Erskine hesitated.

Earlier that morning he had seen three officers riding in. Following was
a youth not in uniform though he carried a sword. On the contrary, he
was dressed like an English dandy, and then he found himself face to
face with Dane Grey. With no sign of recognition the boy had met his
eyes squarely and passed on.

“There is but one man who does know me and he did not recognize me. His
name is Dane Grey. I am wondering what he is doing here. Can you find
out for me and let me know?” The old priest nodded and Erskine slipped
back to the woods.

At sunrise the great council began. On his way Erskine met Grey, who
apparently was leaving with a band of traders for Detroit. Again Erskine
met his eyes and this time Grey smiled:

“Aren’t you White Arrow?” Somehow the tone with which he spoke the name
was an insult.

“Yes.”

“Then it’s true. We heard that you had left your friends at the fort and
become an Indian again.”

“Yes?”

“So you are not only going to fight with the Indians against the whites,
but with the British against America?”

“What I am going to do is no business of yours,” Erskine said quietly,
“but I hope we shall not be on the same side. We may meet again.”

Grey’s face was already red with drink and it turned purple with anger.

“When you tried to stab me do you remember what I said?” Erskine nodded
contemptuously.

“Well, I repeat it. Whatever the side, I’ll fight you anywhere at any
time and in any way you please.”

“Why not now?”

“This is not the time for private quarrels and you know it.”

Erskine bowed slightly—an act that came oddly from an Indian head-dress.

“I can wait—and I shall not forget. The day will come.”

The old priest touched Erskine’s shoulder as the angry youth rode away.

“I cannot make it out,” he said. “He claims to represent an English fur
company. His talk is British but he told one man—last night when he was
drunk—that he could have a commission in the American army.”

The council-fire was built, the flames crackled and the smoke rolled
upward and swept through the leafless trees. Three British agents sat on
blankets and around them the chiefs were ringed. All day the powwow
lasted. Each agent spoke and the burden of his talk varied very little.

The American palefaces had driven the Indian over the great wall. They
were killing his deer, buffalo, and elk, robbing him of his land and
pushing him ever backward. They were many and they would become more.
The British were the Indian’s friends—the Americans were his enemies and
theirs; could they choose to fight with their enemies rather than with
their friends? Each chief answered in turn, and each cast forward his
wampum until only Erskine, who had sat silent, remained, and Pontiac
himself turned to him.

“What says the son of Kahtoo?”

Even as he rose the lad saw creeping to the outer ring his enemy Crooked
Lightning, but he appeared not to see. The whites looked surprised when
his boyish figure stood straight, and they were amazed when he addressed
the traders in French, the agents in English, and spoke to the feathered
chiefs in their own tongue. He cast the belt forward.

“That is Kahtoo’s talk, but this is mine.”

Who had driven the Indian from the great waters to the great wall? The
British. Who were the Americans until now? British. Why were the
Americans fighting now? Because the British, their kinsmen, would not
give them their rights. If the British would drive the Indian to the
great wall, would they not go on doing what they charged the Americans
with doing now? If the Indians must fight, why fight with the British to
beat the Americans, and then have to fight both a later day? If the
British would not treat their own kinsmen fairly, was it likely that
they would treat the Indian fairly? They had never done so yet. Would it
not be better for the Indian to make the white man on his own land a
friend rather than the white man who lived more than a moon away across
the big seas? Only one gesture the lad made. He lifted his hand high and
paused. Crooked Lightning had sprung to his feet with a hoarse cry.
Already the white men had grown uneasy, for the chiefs had turned to the
boy with startled interest at his first sentence and they could not know
what he was saying. But they looked relieved when Crooked Lightning
rose, for his was the only face in the assembly that was hostile to the
boy. With a gesture Pontiac bade Crooked Lightning speak.

[Illustration: “That is Kahtoo’s talk, but this is mine”]

“The tongue of White Arrow is forked. I have heard him say he would
fight with the Long Knives against the British and he would fight with
them even against his own tribe.” One grunt of rage ran the round of
three circles and yet Pontiac stopped Crooked Lightning and turned to
the lad. Slowly the boy’s uplifted hand came down. With a bound he
leaped through the head-dress of a chief in the outer ring and sped away
through the village. Some started on foot after him, some rushed to
their ponies, and some sent arrows and bullets after him. At the edge of
the village the boy gave a loud, clear call and then another as he ran.
Something black sprang snorting from the edge of the woods with pointed
ears and searching eyes. Another call came and like the swirling edge of
a hurricane-driven thunder-cloud Firefly swept after his master. The boy
ran to meet him, caught one hand in his mane before he stopped, swung
himself up, and in a hail of arrows and bullets swept out of sight.



XIII


The sound of pursuit soon died away, but Erskine kept Firefly at his
best, for he knew that Crooked Lightning would be quick and fast on his
trail. He guessed, too, that Crooked Lightning had already told the
tribe what he had just told the council, and that he and the prophet had
already made all use of the boy’s threat to Kahtoo in the Shawnee town.
He knew even that it might cost him his life if he went back there, and
once or twice he started to turn through the wilderness and go back to
the fort. Winter was on, and he had neither saddle nor bridle, but
neither fact bothered him. It was the thought of the white woman who was
to be burned that kept him going and sent him openly and fearlessly into
the town. He knew from the sullen looks that met him, from the fear in
the faces of his foster-mother and the white woman who peered blindly
from her lodge, and from the triumphant leer of the prophet that his
every suspicion was true, but all the more leisurely did he swing from
his horse, all the more haughtily stalk to Kahtoo’s tent. And the old
chief looked very grave when the lad told the story of the council and
all that he had said and done.

“The people are angry. They say you are a traitor and a spy. They say
you must die. And I cannot help you. I am too old and the prophet is too
strong.”

“And the white woman?”

“She will not burn. Some fur traders have been here. The white chief
McGee sent me a wampum belt and a talk. His messenger brought much
fire-water and he gave me that”—he pointed to a silver-mounted
rifle—“and I promised that she should live. But I cannot help you.”
Erskine thought quickly. He laid his rifle down, stepped slowly outside,
and stretched his arms with a yawn. Then still leisurely he moved toward
his horse as though to take care of it. But the braves were too keen and
watchful and they were not fooled by the fact that he had left his rifle
behind. Before he was close enough to leap for Firefly’s back, three
bucks darted from behind a lodge and threw themselves upon him. In a
moment he was face down on the ground, his hands were tied behind his
back, and when turned over he looked up into the grinning face of Black
Wolf, who with the help of another brave dragged him to a lodge and
roughly threw him within, and left him alone. On the way he saw his
foster-mother’s eyes flashing helplessly, saw the girl Early Morn
indignantly telling her mother what was going on, and the white woman’s
face was wet with tears. He turned over so that he could look through
the tent-flaps. Two bucks were driving a stake in the centre of the
space around which the lodges were ringed. Two more were bringing fagots
of wood and it was plain what was going to become of him. His
foster-mother, who was fiercely haranguing one of the chiefs, turned
angrily into Kahtoo’s lodge and he could see the white woman rocking her
body and wringing her hands. Then the old chief appeared and lifted his
hands.

“Crooked Lightning will be very angry. The prisoner is his—not yours. It
is for him to say what the punishment shall be—not for you. Wait for
him! Hold a council and if you decide against him, though he is my
son—he shall die.” For a moment the preparations ceased and all turned
to the prophet, who had appeared before his lodge.

“Kahtoo is right,” he said. “The Great Spirit will not approve if White
Arrow die except by the will of the council—and Crooked Lightning will
be angry.” There was a chorus of protesting grunts, but the preparations
ceased. The boy could feel the malevolence in the prophet’s tone and he
knew that the impostor wanted to curry further favor with Crooked
Lightning and not rob him of the joy of watching his victim’s torture.
So the braves went back to their fire-water, and soon the boy’s
foster-mother brought him something to eat, but she could say nothing,
for Black Wolf had appointed himself sentinel and sat rifle in hand at
the door of the lodge.

Night came on. A wildcat screeched, a panther screamed, and an elk
bugled far away. The drinking became more furious and once Erskine saw a
pale-brown arm thrust from behind the lodge and place a jug at the feet
of Black Wolf, who grunted and drank deep. The stars mounted into a
clear sky and the wind rose and made much noise in the trees overhead.
One by one the braves went to drunken sleep about the fire. The fire
died down and by the last flickering flame the lad saw Black Wolf’s chin
sinking sleepily to his chest. There was the slightest rustle behind the
tent. He felt something groping for his hands and feet, felt the point
of a knife graze the skin of his wrist and ankles—felt the thongs loosen
and drop apart. Noiselessly, inch by inch, he crept to the wall of the
tent, which was carefully lifted for him. Outside he rose and waited.
Like a shadow the girl Early Morn stole before him and like a shadow he
followed. The loose snow muffled their feet as the noise of the wind had
muffled his escape from the lodge, and in a few minutes they were by the
riverbank, away from the town. The moon rose and from the shadow of a
beech the white woman stepped forth with his rifle and powder-horn and
bullet-pouch and some food. She pointed to his horse a little farther
down. He looked long and silently into the Indian girl’s eyes and took
the white woman’s shaking hand. Once he looked back. The Indian girl was
stoic as stone. A bar of moonlight showed the white woman’s face wet
with tears.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Again Dave Yandell from a watch-tower saw a topknot rise above a patch
of cane now leafless and winter-bitten—saw a hand lifted high above it
with a palm of peace toward him. And again an Indian youth emerged, this
time leading a black horse with a drooping head. Both came painfully on,
staggering, it seemed, from wounds or weakness, and Dave sprang from the
tower and rushed with others to the gate. He knew the horse and there
was dread in his heart; perhaps the approaching Indian had slain the
boy, had stolen the horse, and was innocently coming there for food.
Well, he thought grimly, revenge would be swift. Still, fearing some
trick, he would let no one outside, but himself stood waiting with the
gate a little ajar. So gaunt were boy and beast that it was plain that
both were starving. The boy’s face was torn with briers and pinched with
hunger and cold, but a faint smile came from it.

“Don’t you know me, Dave?” he asked weakly.

“My God! It’s White Arrow!”



XIV


Straightway the lad sensed a curious change in the attitude of the
garrison. The old warmth was absent. The atmosphere was charged with
suspicion, hostility. Old Jerome was surly, his old playmates were
distant. Only Dave, Mother Sanders, and Lydia were unchanged. The
predominant note was curiosity, and they started to ply him with
questions, but Dave took him to a cabin, and Mother Sanders brought him
something to eat.

“Had a purty hard time,” stated Dave. The boy nodded.

“I had only three bullets. Firefly went lame and I had to lead him. I
couldn’t eat cane and Firefly couldn’t eat pheasant. I got one from a
hawk,” he explained. “What’s the matter out there?”

“Nothin’,” said Dave gruffly and he made the boy go to sleep. His story
came when all were around the fire at supper, and was listened to with
eagerness. Again the boy felt the hostility and it made him resentful
and haughty and his story brief and terse. Most fluid and sensitive
natures have a chameleon quality, no matter what stratum of adamant be
beneath. The boy was dressed like an Indian, he looked like one, and he
had brought back, it seemed, the bearing of an Indian—his wildness and
stoicism. He spoke like a chief in a council, and even in English his
phrasing and metaphors belonged to the red man. No wonder they believed
the stories they had heard of him—but there was shame in many faces and
little doubt in any save one before he finished.

He had gone to see his foster-mother and his foster-father—old chief
Kahtoo, the Shawnee—because he had given his word. Kahtoo thought he was
dying and wanted him to be chief when the Great Spirit called. Kahtoo
had once saved his life, had been kind, and made him a son. That he
could not forget. An evil prophet had come to the tribe and through his
enemies, Crooked Lightning and Black Wolf, had gained much influence.
They were to burn a captive white woman as a sacrifice. He had stayed to
save her, to argue with old Kahtoo, and carry the wampum and a talk to a
big council with the British. He had made his talk and—escaped. He had
gone back to his tribe, had been tied, and was to be burned at the
stake. Again he had escaped with the help of the white woman and her
daughter. The tribes had joined the British and even then they were
planning an early attack on this very fort and all others.

The interest was tense and every face was startled at this calm
statement of their immediate danger. Dave and Lydia looked triumphant at
this proof of their trust, but old Jerome burst out:

“Why did you have to escape from the council—and from the Shawnees?” The
boy felt the open distrust and he rose proudly.

“At the council I told the Indians that they should be friends, not
enemies, of the Americans, and Crooked Lightning called me a traitor. He
had overheard my talk with Kahtoo.”

“What was that?” asked Dave quickly.

“I told Kahtoo I would fight with the Americans against the British and
Indians; and with _you_ against _him_!” And he turned away and went back
to the cabin.

“What’d I tell ye!” cried Dave indignantly and he followed the boy, who
had gone to his bunk, and put one big hand on his shoulder.

“They thought you’d turned Injun agin,” he said, “but it’s all right
now.”

“I know,” said the lad and with a muffled sound that was half the grunt
of an Indian and half the sob of a white man turned his face away.

Again Dave reached for the lad’s shoulder.

“Don’t blame ’em too much. I’ll tell you now. Some fur traders came by
here, and one of ’em said you was goin’ to marry an Injun girl named
Early Morn; that you was goin’ to stay with ’em and fight with ’em
alongside the British. Of course I knowed better but——”

“Why,” interrupted Erskine, “they must have been the same traders who
came to the Shawnee town and brought whiskey.”

“That’s what the feller said and why folks here believed him.”

“Who was he?” demanded Erskine.

“You know him—Dane Grey.”

All tried to make amends straightway for the injustice they had done
him, but the boy’s heart remained sore that their trust was so little.
Then, when they gathered all settlers within the fort and made all
preparations and no Indians came, many seemed again to get distrustful
and the lad was not happy. The winter was long and hard. A blizzard had
driven the game west and south and the garrison was hard put to it for
food. Every day that the hunters went forth the boy was among them and
he did far more than his share in the killing of game. But when winter
was breaking, more news came in of the war. The flag that had been
fashioned of a soldier’s white shirt, an old blue army coat, and a red
petticoat was now the Stars and Stripes of the American cause. Burgoyne
had not cut off New England, that “head of the rebellion,” from the
other colonies. On the contrary, the Americans had beaten him at
Saratoga and marched his army off under those same Stars and Stripes,
and for the first time Erskine heard of gallant Lafayette—how he had run
to Washington with the portentous news from his king—that beautiful,
passionate France would now stretch forth her helping hand. And Erskine
learned what that news meant to Washington’s “naked and starving”
soldiers dying on the frozen hillsides of Valley Forge. Then George
Rogers Clark had passed the fort on his way to Williamsburg to get money
and men for his great venture in the Northwest, and Erskine got a ready
permission to accompany him as soldier and guide. After Clark was gone
the lad got restless; and one morning when the first breath of spring
came he mounted his horse, in spite of arguments and protestations, and
set forth for Virginia on the wilderness trail. He was going to join
Clark, he said, but more than Clark and the war were drawing him to the
outer world. What it was he hardly knew, for he was not yet much given
to searching his heart or mind. He did know, however, that some strange
force had long been working within him that was steadily growing
stronger, was surging now like a flame and swinging him between strange
moods of depression and exultation. Perhaps it was but the spirit of
spring in his heart, but with his mind’s eye he was ever seeing at the
end of his journey the face of his little cousin Barbara Dale.



XV


A striking figure the lad made riding into the old capital one afternoon
just before the sun sank behind the western woods. Had it been dusk he
might have been thought to be an Indian sprung magically from the wilds
and riding into civilization on a stolen thoroughbred. Students no
longer wandered through the campus of William and Mary College. Only an
occasional maid in silk and lace tripped along the street in high-heeled
shoes and clocked stockings, and no coach and four was in sight. The
governor’s palace, in its great yard amid linden-trees, was closed and
deserted. My Lord Dunmore was long in sad flight, as Erskine later
learned, and not in his coach with its six milk-white horses. But there
was the bust of Sir Walter in front of Raleigh Tavern, and there he drew
up, before the steps where he was once nigh to taking Dane Grey’s life.
A negro servant came forward to care for his horse, but a coal-black
young giant leaped around the corner and seized the bridle with a
welcoming cry:

“Marse Erskine! But I knowed Firefly fust.” It was Ephraim, the groom
who had brought out Barbara’s ponies, who had turned the horse over to
him for the race at the fair.

“I come frum de plantation fer ole marse,” the boy explained. The host
of the tavern heard and came down to give his welcome, for any Dale, no
matter what his garb, could always have the best in that tavern. More
than that, a bewigged solicitor, learning his name, presented himself
with the cheerful news that he had quite a little sum of money that had
been confided to his keeping by Colonel Dale for his nephew Erskine. A
strange deference seemed to be paid him by everybody, which was a
grateful change from the suspicion he had left among his pioneer
friends. The little tavern was thronged and the air charged with the
spirit of war. Indeed, nothing else was talked. My Lord Dunmore had come
to a sad and unbemoaned end. He had stayed afar from the battle-field of
Point Pleasant and had left stalwart General Lewis to fight Cornstalk
and his braves alone. Later my Lady Dunmore and her sprightly daughters
took refuge on a man-of-war—whither my lord soon followed them. His
fleet ravaged the banks of the rivers and committed every outrage. His
marines set fire to Norfolk, which was in ashes when he weighed anchor
and sailed away to more depredations. When he intrenched himself on
Gwynn’s Island, that same stalwart Lewis opened a heavy cannonade on
fleet and island, and sent a ball through the indignant nobleman’s
flag-ship. Next day he saw a force making for the island in boats, and
my lord spread all sail; and so back to merry England, and to Virginia
no more. Meanwhile, Mr. Washington had reached Boston and started his
duties under the Cambridge elm. Several times during the talk Erskine
had heard mentioned the name of Dane Grey. Young Grey had been with
Dunmore and not with Lewis at Point Pleasant, and had been conspicuous
at the palace through much of the succeeding turmoil—the hint being his
devotion to one of the daughters, since he was now an unquestioned
loyalist.

Next morning Erskine rode forth along a sandy road, amidst the singing
of birds and through a forest of tiny upshooting leaves, for Red Oaks on
the James. He had forsworn Colonel Dale to secrecy as to the note he had
left behind giving his birthright to his little cousin Barbara, and he
knew the confidence would be kept inviolate. He could recall the
road—every turn of it, for the woodsman’s memory is faultless—and he
could see the merry cavalcade and hear the gay quips and laughter of
that other spring day long ago, for to youth even the space of a year is
very long ago. But among the faces that blossomed within the old coach,
and nodded and danced like flowers in a wind, his mind’s eye was fixed
on one alone. At the boat-landing he hitched his horse to the low-swung
branch of an oak and took the path through tangled rose-bushes and
undergrowth along the bank of the river, halting where it would give him
forth on the great, broad, grassy way that led to the house among the
oaks. There was the sun-dial that had marked every sunny hour since he
had been away. For a moment he stood there, and when he stepped into the
open he shrank back hastily—a girl was coming through the opening of
boxwood from the house—coming slowly, bareheaded, her hands clasped
behind her, her eyes downward. His heart throbbed as he waited, throbbed
the more when his ears caught even the soft tread of her little feet,
and seemed to stop when she paused at the sun-dial, and as before
searched the river with her eyes. And as before the song of negro
oarsmen came over the yellow flood, growing stronger as they neared.
Soon the girl fluttered a handkerchief and from the single passenger in
the stern came an answering flutter of white and a glad cry. At the bend
of the river the boat disappeared from Erskine’s sight under the bank,
and he watched the girl. How she had grown! Her slim figure had rounded
and shot upward, and her white gown had dropped to her dainty ankles.
Now her face was flushed and her eye flashed with excitement—it was no
mere kinsman in that boat, and the boy’s heart began to throb
again—throb fiercely and with racking emotions that he had never known
before. A fiery-looking youth sprang up the landing-steps, bowed
gallantly over the girl’s hand, and the two turned up the path, the girl
rosy with smiles and the youth bending over her with a most protecting
and tender air. It was Dane Grey, and the heart of the watcher turned
mortal sick.



XVI


A long time Erskine sat motionless, wondering what ailed him. He had
never liked nor trusted Grey; he believed he would have trouble with him
some day, but he had other enemies and he did not feel toward them as he
did toward this dandy mincing up that beautiful broad path. With a
little grunt he turned back along the path. Firefly whinnied to him and
nipped at him with playful restlessness as though eager to be on his way
to the barn, and he stood awhile with one arm across his saddle. Once he
reached upward to untie the reins, and with another grunt strode back
and went rapidly up the path. Grey and Barbara had disappeared, but a
tall youth who sat behind one of the big pillars saw him coming and
rose, bewildered, but not for long. Each recognized the other swiftly,
and Hugh came with stiff courtesy forward. Erskine smiled:

“You don’t know me?” Hugh bowed:

“Quite well.” The woodsman drew himself up with quick breath—paling
without, flaming within—but before he could speak there was a quick step
and an astonished cry within the hall and Harry sprang out.

“Erskine! Erskine!” he shouted, and he leaped down the steps with both
hands outstretched. “You here! You—you old Indian—how did you get here?”
He caught Erskine by both hands and then fell to shaking him by the
shoulders. “Where’s your horse?” And then he noticed the boy’s pale and
embarrassed face and his eyes shifting to Hugh, who stood, still cold,
still courteous, and he checked some hot outburst at his lips.

“I’m glad you’ve come, and I’m glad you’ve come right now—where’s your
horse?”

“I left him hitched at the landing,” Erskine had to answer, and Harry
looked puzzled:

“The landing! Why, what——” He wheeled and shouted to a darky:

“Put Master Erskine’s horse in the barn and feed him.” And he led
Erskine within—to the same room where he had slept before, and poured
out some water in a bowl.

“Take your time,” he said, and he went back to the porch. Erskine could
hear and see him through the latticed blinds.

“Hugh,” said the lad in a low, cold voice, “I am host here, and if you
don’t like this you can take that path.”

“You are right,” was the answer; “but you wait until Uncle Harry gets
home.”

The matter was quite plain to Erskine within. The presence of Dane Grey
made it plain, and as Erskine dipped both hands into the cold water he
made up his mind to an understanding with that young gentleman that
would be complete and final. And so he was ready when he and Harry were
on the porch again and Barbara and Grey emerged from the rose-bushes and
came slowly up the path. Harry looked worried, but Erskine sat still,
with a faint smile at his mouth and in his eyes. Barbara saw him first
and she did not rush forward. Instead she stopped, with wide eyes, a
stifled cry, and a lifting of one hand toward her heart. Grey saw too,
flushed rather painfully, and calmed himself. Erskine had sprung down
the steps.

“Why, have I changed so much?” he cried. “Hugh didn’t seem to know me,
either.” His voice was gay, friendly, even affectionate, but his eyes
danced with strange lights that puzzled the girl.

“Of course I knew you,” she faltered, paling a little but gathering
herself rather haughtily—a fact that Erskine seemed not to notice. “You
took me by surprise and you have changed—but I don’t know how much.” The
significance of this too seemed to pass Erskine by, for he bent over
Barbara’s hand and kissed it.

“Never to you, my dear cousin,” he said gallantly, and then he bowed to
Dane Grey, not offering to shake hands.

“Of course I know Mr. Grey.” To say that the gentleman was dumfounded is
to put it mildly—this wild Indian playing the courtier with exquisite
impudence and doing it well! Harry seemed like to burst with restrained
merriment, and Barbara was sorely put to it to keep her poise. The great
dinner-bell from behind the house boomed its summons to the woods and
fields.

“Come on,” called Harry. “I imagine you’re hungry, cousin.”

“I am,” said Erskine. “I’ve had nothing to eat since—since early morn.”
Barbara’s eyes flashed upward and Grey was plainly startled. Was there a
slight stress on those two words? Erskine’s face was as expressionless
as bronze. Harry had bolted into the hall.

Mrs. Dale was visiting down the river, so Barbara sat in her mother’s
place, with Erskine at her right, Grey to her left, Hugh next to him,
and Harry at the head. Harry did not wait long.

“Now, you White Arrow, you Big Chief, tell us the story. Where have you
been, what have you been doing, and what do you mean to do? I’ve heard a
good deal, but I want it all.”

Grey began to look uncomfortable, and so, in truth, did Barbara.

“What have you heard?” asked Erskine quietly.

“Never mind,” interposed Barbara quickly; “you tell us.”

“Well,” began Erskine slowly, “you remember that day we met some Indians
who told me that old Kahtoo, my foster-father, was ill, and that he
wanted to see me before he died? I went exactly as I would have gone had
white men given the same message from Colonel Dale, and even for better
reasons. A bad prophet was stirring up trouble in the tribe against the
old chief. An enemy of mine, Crooked Lightning, was helping him. He
wanted his son, Black Wolf, as chief, and the old chief wanted me. I
heard the Indians were going to join the British. I didn’t want to be
chief, but I did want influence in the tribe, so I stayed. There was a
white woman in the camp and an Indian girl named Early Morn. I told the
old chief that I would fight with the whites against the Indians and
with the whites against them both. Crooked Lightning overheard me, and
you can imagine what use he made of what I said. I took the wampum belt
for the old chief to the powwow between the Indians and the British, and
I found I could do nothing. I met Mr. Grey there.” He bowed slightly to
Dane and then looked at him steadily. “I was told that he was there in
the interest of an English fur company. When I found I could do nothing
with the Indians, I told the council what I had told the old chief.” He
paused. Barbara’s face was pale and she was breathing hard. She had not
looked at Grey, but Harry had been watching him covertly and he did not
look comfortable. Erskine paused.

“What!” shouted Harry. “You told both that you would fight with the
whites against both! What’d they do to you?”

Erskine smiled.

“Well, here I am. I jumped over the heads of the outer ring and ran.
Firefly heard me calling him. I had left his halter loose. He broke
away. I jumped on him, and you know nothing can catch Firefly.”

“Didn’t they shoot at you?”

“Of course.” Again he paused.

“Well,” said Harry impatiently, “that isn’t the end.”

“I went back to the camp. Crooked Lightning followed me and they tied me
and were going to burn me at the stake.”

“Good heavens!” breathed Barbara.

“How’d you get away?”

“The Indian girl, Early Morn, slipped under the tent and cut me loose.
The white woman got my gun, and Firefly—you know nothing can catch
Firefly.” The silence was intense. Hugh looked dazed, Barbara was on the
point of tears, Harry was triumphant, and Grey was painfully flushed.

“And you want to know what I am going to do now?” Erskine went on. “I’m
going with Captain George Rogers Clark—with what command are you, Mr.
Grey?”

“That’s a secret,” he smiled coolly. “I’ll let you know later,” and
Barbara, with an inward sigh of relief, rose quickly, but would not
leave them behind.

“But the white woman?” questioned Harry. “Why doesn’t she leave the
Indians?”

“Early Morn—a half-breed—is her daughter,” said Erskine simply.

“Oh!” and Harry questioned no further.

“Early Morn was the best-looking Indian girl I ever saw,” said Erskine,
“and the bravest.” For the first time Grey glanced at Barbara. “She
saved my life,” Erskine went on gravely, “and mine is hers whenever she
needs it.” Harry reached over and gripped his hand.

As yet not one word had been said of Grey’s misdoing, but Barbara’s cool
disdain made him shamed and hot, and in her eyes was the sorrow of her
injustice to Erskine. In the hallway she excused herself with a
courtesy, Hugh went to the stables, Harry disappeared for a moment, and
the two were left alone. With smouldering fire Erskine turned to Grey.

“It seems you have been amusing yourself with my kinspeople at my
expense.” Grey drew himself up in haughty silence. Erskine went on:

“I have known some liars who were not cowards.”

“You forget yourself.”

“No—nor you.”

“You remember a promise I made you once?”

“Twice,” corrected Erskine. Grey’s eyes flashed upward to the crossed
rapiers on the wall.

“Precisely,” answered Erskine, “and when?”

“At the first opportunity.”

“From this moment I shall be waiting for nothing else.”

Barbara, reappearing, heard their last words, and she came forward pale
and with piercing eyes:

“Cousin Erskine, I want to apologize to you for my little faith. I hope
you will forgive me. Mr. Grey, your horse will be at the door at once. I
wish you a safe journey—to your command.” Grey bowed and turned—furious.

Erskine was on the porch when Grey came out to mount his horse.

“You will want seconds?” asked Grey.

“They might try to stop us—no!”

“I shall ride slowly,” Grey said. Erskine bowed.

“I shall not.”



XVII


Nor did he. Within half an hour Barbara, passing through the hall, saw
that the rapiers were gone from the wall and she stopped, with the color
fled from her face and her hand on her heart. At that moment Ephraim
dashed in from the kitchen.

“Miss Barbary, somebody gwine to git killed. I was wukkin’ in de ole
field an’ Marse Grey rid by cussin’ to hisself. Jist now Marse Erskine
went tearin’ by de landin’ wid a couple o’ swords under his arm.” His
eyes too went to the wall. “Yes, bless Gawd, dey’s gone!” Barbara flew
out the door.

In a few moments she had found Harry and Hugh. Even while their horses
were being saddled her father rode up.

“It’s murder,” cried Harry, “and Grey knows it. Erskine knows nothing
about a rapier.”

Without a word Colonel Dale wheeled his tired horse and soon Harry and
Hugh dashed after him. Barbara walked back to the house, wringing her
hands, but on the porch she sat quietly in the agony of waiting that was
the rôle of women in those days.

Meanwhile, at a swift gallop Firefly was skimming along the river road.
Grey had kept his word and more: he had not only ridden slowly but he
had stopped and was waiting at an oak-tree that was a corner-stone
between two plantations.

“That I may not kill you on your own land,” he said.

Erskine started. “The consideration is deeper than you know.”

They hitched their horses, and Erskine followed into a pleasant glade—a
grassy glade through which murmured a little stream. Erskine dropped the
rapiers on the sward.

“Take your choice,” he said.

“There is none,” said Grey, picking up the one nearer to him. “I know
them both.” Grey took off his coat while Erskine waited. Grey made the
usual moves of courtesy and still Erskine waited, wonderingly, with the
point of the rapier on the ground.

“When you are ready,” he said, “will you please let me know?”

“Ready!” answered Grey, and he lunged forward. Erskine merely whipped at
his blade so that the clang of it whined on the air to the
breaking-point and sprang backward. He was as quick as an eyelash and
lithe as a panther, and yet Grey almost laughed aloud. All Erskine did
was to whip the thrusting blade aside and leap out of danger like a
flash of light. It was like an inexpert boxer flailing according to
rules unknown—and Grey’s face flamed and actually turned anxious. Then,
as a kindly fate would have it, Erskine’s blade caught in Grey’s guard
by accident, and the powerful wrist behind it seeking merely to wrench
the weapon loose tore Grey’s rapier from his grasp and hurled it ten
feet away. There is no greater humiliation for the expert swordsman, and
not for nothing had Erskine suffered the shame of that long-ago day when
a primitive instinct had led him to thrusting his knife into this same
enemy’s breast. Now, with his sword’s point on the earth, he waited
courteously for Grey to recover his weapon.

Again a kindly fate intervened. Even as Grey rushed for his sword,
Erskine heard the beat of horses’ hoofs. As he snatched it from the
ground and turned, with a wicked smile over his grinding teeth, came
Harry’s shout, and as he rushed for Erskine, Colonel Dale swung from his
horse. The sword-blades clashed, Erskine whipping back and forth in a
way to make a swordsman groan—and Colonel Dale had Erskine by the wrist
and was between them.

“How dare you, sir?” cried Grey hotly.

“Just a moment, young gentleman,” said Colonel Dale calmly.

“Let us alone, Uncle Harry—I——”

“Just a moment,” repeated the colonel sternly. “Mr. Grey, do you think
it quite fair that you with your skill should fight a man who knows
nothing about foils?”

“There was no other way,” Grey said sullenly.

“And you could not wait, I presume?” Grey did not answer.

“Now, hear what I have to say, and if you both do not agree, the matter
will be arranged to your entire satisfaction, Mr. Grey. I have but one
question to ask. Your country is at war. She needs every man for her
defense. Do you not both think your lives belong to your country and
that it is selfish and unpatriotic just now to risk them in any other
cause?” He waited for his meaning to sink in, and sink it did.

[Illustration: The sword blades clashed, Erskine whipping back and
forth in a way to make a swordsman groan]

“Colonel Dale, your nephew grossly insulted me, and your daughter showed
me the door. I made no defense to him nor to her, but I will to you. I
merely repeated what I had been told and I believed it true. Now that I
hear it is not true, I agree with you, sir, and I am willing to express
my regrets and apologies.”

“That is better,” said Colonel Dale heartily, and he turned to Erskine,
but Erskine was crying hotly:

“And I express neither.”

“Very well,” sneered Grey coldly. “Perhaps we may meet when your
relatives are not present to protect you.”

“Uncle Harry——” Erskine implored, but Grey was turning toward his horse.

“After all, Colonel Dale is right.”

“Yes,” assented Erskine helplessly, and then—“it is possible that we
shall not always be on the same side.”

“So I thought,” returned Grey with lifted eyebrows, “when I heard what I
did about you!” Both Harry and Hugh had to catch Erskine by an arm then,
and they led him struggling away. Grey mounted his horse, lifted his
hat, and was gone. Colonel Dale picked up the swords.

“Now,” he said, “enough, of all this—let it be forgotten.”

And he laughed.

“You’ll have to confess, Erskine—he has a quick tongue and you must
think only of his temptation to use it.”

Erskine did not answer.

As they rode back Colonel Dale spoke of the war. It was about to move
into Virginia, he said, and when it did—— Both Harry and Hugh
interrupted him with a glad shout:

“We can go!” Colonel Dale nodded sadly.

Suddenly all pulled their horses in simultaneously and raised their
eyes, for all heard the coming of a horse in a dead run. Around a
thicketed curve of the road came Barbara, with her face white and her
hair streaming behind her. She pulled her pony in but a few feet in
front of them, with her burning eyes on Erskine alone.

“Have you killed him—have you killed him? If you have—” She stopped
helpless, and all were so amazed that none could answer. Erskine shook
his head. There was a flash of relief in the girl’s white face, its
recklessness gave way to sudden shame, and, without a word, she wheeled
and was away again—Harry flying after her. No one spoke. Colonel Dale
looked aghast and Erskine’s heart again turned sick.



XVIII


The sun was close to the uneven sweep of the wilderness. Through its
slanting rays the river poured like a flood of gold. The negroes were on
the way singing from the fields. Cries, chaffing, and the musical
clanking of trace-chains came from the barnyard. Hungry cattle were
lowing and full-uddered mothers were mooing answers to bawling calves. A
peacock screamed from a distant tree and sailed forth, full-spread—a
great gleaming winged jewel of the air. In crises the nerves tighten
like violin strings, the memory-plates turn abnormally sensitive—and
Erskine was not to forget that hour.

The house was still and not a soul was in sight as the three, still
silent, walked up the great path. When they were near the portico Harry
came out. He looked worried and anxious.

“Where’s Barbara?” asked her father.

“Locked in her room.”

“Let her alone,” said Colonel Dale gently. Like brother and cousin,
Harry and Hugh were merely irritated by the late revelation, but the
father was shocked that his child was no longer a child. Erskine
remembered the girl as she waited for Grey’s coming at the sun-dial, her
face as she walked with him up the path. For a moment the two boys stood
in moody silence. Harry took the rapiers in and put them in their place
on the wall. Hugh quietly disappeared. Erskine, with a word of apology,
went to his room, and Colonel Dale sat down on the porch alone.

As the dusk gathered, Erskine, looking gloomily through his window, saw
the girl flutter like a white moth past the box-hedge and down the path.
A moment later he saw the tall form of Colonel Dale follow her—and both
passed from sight. On the thick turf the colonel’s feet too were
noiseless, and when Barbara stopped at the sun-dial he too paused. Her
hands were caught tight and her drawn young face was lifted to the
yellow disk just rising from the far forest gloom. She was unhappy, and
the colonel’s heart ached sorely, for any unhappiness of hers always
trebled his own.

“Little girl!” he called, and no lover’s voice could have been more
gentle. “Come here!”

She turned and saw him, with arms outstretched, the low moon lighting
all the tenderness in his fine old face, and she flew to him and fell to
weeping on his breast. In wise silence he stroked her hair until she
grew a little calmer.

“What’s the matter, little daughter?”

“I—I—don’t know.”

“I understand. You were quite right to send him away, but you did not
want him harmed.”

“I—I—didn’t want anybody harmed.”

“I know. It’s too bad, but none of us seem quite to trust him.”

“That’s it,” she sobbed; “I don’t either, and yet——”

“I know. I know. My little girl must be wise and brave, and maybe it
will all pass and she will be glad. But she must be brave. Mother is not
well and she must not be made unhappy too. She must not know. Can’t my
little girl come back to the house now? She must be hostess and this is
Erskine’s last night.” She looked up, brushing away her tears.

“His last night?” Ah, wise old colonel!

“Yes—he goes to-morrow to join Captain Clark at Williamsburg on his
foolish campaign in the Northwest. We might never see him again.”

“Oh, father!”

“Well, it isn’t that bad, but my little girl must be very nice to him.
He seems to be very unhappy, too.”

Barbara looked thoughtful, but there was no pretense of not
understanding.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She took her father’s arm, and when they reached
the steps Erskine saw her smiling. And smiling, almost gay, she was at
supper, sitting with exquisite dignity in her mother’s place. Harry and
Hugh looked amazed, and her father, who knew the bit of tempered steel
she was, smiled his encouragement proudly. Of Erskine, who sat at her
right, she asked many questions about the coming campaign. Captain Clark
had said he would go with a hundred men if he could get no more. The
rallying-point would be the fort in Kentucky where he had first come
back to his own people, and Dave Yandell would be captain of a company.
He himself was going as guide, though he hoped to act as soldier as
well. Perhaps they might bring back the Hair-Buyer, General Hamilton, a
prisoner to Williamsburg, and then he would join Harry and Hugh in the
militia if the war came south and Virginia were invaded, as some
prophesied, by Tarleton’s White Rangers, who had been ravaging the
Carolinas. After supper the little lady excused herself with a smiling
courtesy to go to her mother, and Erskine found himself in the moonlight
on the big portico with Colonel Dale alone.

“Erskine,” he said, “you make it very difficult for me to keep your
secret. Hugh alone seems to suspect—he must have got the idea from Grey,
but I have warned him to say nothing. The others seem not to have
thought of the matter at all. It was a boyish impulse of generosity
which you may regret——”

“Never,” interrupted the boy. “I have no use—less than ever now.”

“Nevertheless,” the colonel went on, “I regard myself as merely your
steward, and I must tell you one thing. Mr. Jefferson, as you know, is
always at open war with people like us. His hand is against coach and
four, silver plate, and aristocrat. He is fighting now against the law
that gives property to the eldest son, and he will pass the bill. His
argument is rather amusing. He says if you will show him that the eldest
son eats more, wears more, and does more work than his brothers, he will
grant that that son is entitled to more. He wants to blot out all
distinctions of class. He can’t do that, but he will pass this bill.”

“I hope he will,” muttered Erskine.

“Barbara would not accept your sacrifice nor would any of us, and it is
only fair that I should warn you that some day, if you should change
your mind, and I were no longer living, you might be too late.”

“Please don’t, Uncle Harry. It is done—done. Of course, it wasn’t fair
for me to consider Barbara alone, but she will be fair and you
understand. I wish you would regard the whole matter as though I didn’t
exist.”

“I can’t do that, my boy. I am your steward and when you want anything
you have only to let me know!” Erskine shook his head.

“I don’t want anything—I need very little, and when I’m in the woods, as
I expect to be most of the time, I need nothing at all.” Colonel Dale
rose.

“I wish you would go to college at Williamsburg for a year or two to
better fit yourself—in case——”

“I’d like to go—to learn to fence,” smiled the boy, and the colonel
smiled too.

“You’ll certainly need to know that, if you are going to be as reckless
as you were today.” Erskine’s eyes darkened.

“Uncle Harry, you may think me foolish, but I don’t like or trust Grey.
What was he doing with those British traders out in the Northwest?—he
was not buying furs. It’s absurd. Why was he hand in glove with Lord
Dunmore?”

“Lord Dunmore had a daughter,” was the dry reply, and Erskine flung out
a gesture that made words unnecessary. Colonel Dale crossed the porch
and put his hand on the lad’s shoulders.

“Erskine,” he said, “don’t worry—and—don’t give up hope. Be patient,
wait, come back to us. Go to William and Mary. Fit yourself to be one of
us in all ways. Then everything may yet come out in the only way that
would be fitting and right.” The boy blushed, and the colonel went on
earnestly:

“I can think of nothing in the world that would make me quite so happy.”

“It’s no use,” the boy said tremblingly, “but I’ll never forget what you
have just said as long as I live, and, no matter what becomes of me,
I’ll love Barbara as long as I live. But, even if things were otherwise,
I’d never risk making her unhappy even by trying. I’m not fit for her
nor for this life. I’ll never forget the goodness of all of you to me—I
can’t explain—but I can’t get over my life in the woods and among the
Indians. Why, but for all of you I might have gone back to them—I would
yet. I can’t explain, but I get choked and I can’t breathe—such a
longing for the woods comes over me and I can’t help me. I must _go_—and
nothing can hold me.”

“Your father was that way,” said Colonel Dale sadly. “You may get over
it, but he never did. And it must be harder for you because of your
early associations. Blow out the lights in the hall. You needn’t bolt
the door. Good night, and God bless you.” And the kindly gentleman was
gone.

Erskine sat where he was. The house was still and there were no noises
from the horses and cattle in the barn—none from roosting peacock,
turkey, and hen. From the far-away quarters came faintly the merry,
mellow notes of a fiddle, and farther still the song of some courting
negro returning home. A drowsy bird twittered in an ancient elm at the
corner of the house. The flowers drooped in the moonlight which bathed
the great path, streamed across the great river, and on up to its source
in the great yellow disk floating in majestic serenity high in the
cloudless sky. And that path, those flowers, that house, the barn, the
cattle, sheep, and hogs, those grain-fields and grassy acres, even those
singing black folk, were all—all his if he but said the words. The
thought was no temptation—it was a mighty wonder that such a thing could
be. And that was all it was—a wonder—to him, but to them it was the
world. Without it all, what would they do? Perhaps Mr. Jefferson might
soon solve the problem for him. Perhaps he might not return from that
wild campaign against the British and the Indians—he might get killed.
And then a thought gripped him and held him fast—_he need not come
back_. That mighty wilderness beyond the mountains was his real home—out
there was his real life. He need not come back, and they would never
know. Then came a thought that almost made him groan. There was a light
step in the hall, and Barbara came swiftly out and dropped on the
topmost step with her chin in both hands. Almost at once she seemed to
feel his presence, for she turned her head quickly.

“Erskine!” As quickly he rose, embarrassed beyond speech.

“Come here! Why, you look guilty—what have you been thinking?” He was
startled by her intuition, but he recovered himself swiftly.

“I suppose I will always feel guilty if I have made you unhappy.”

“You haven’t made me unhappy. I don’t know what you have made me. Papa
says a girl does not understand and no man can, but he does better than
anybody. You saw how I felt if you had killed him, but you don’t know
how I would have felt if he had killed you. I don’t myself.”

She began patting her hands gently and helplessly together, and again
she dropped her chin into them with her eyes lifted to the moon.

“I shall be very unhappy when you are gone. I wish you were not going,
but I know that you are—you can’t help it.” Again he was startled.

“Whenever you look at that moon over in that dark wilderness, I wish you
would please think of your little cousin—will you?” She turned eagerly
and he was too moved to speak—he only bowed his head as for a prayer or
a benediction.

“You don’t know how often our thoughts will cross, and that will be a
great comfort to me. Sometimes I am afraid. There is a wild strain on my
mother’s side, and it is in me. Papa knows it and he is wise—so wise—I
am afraid I may sometimes do something very foolish, and it won’t be
_me_ at all. It will be somebody that died long ago.” She put both her
hands over both his and held them tight.

“I never, never distrusted you. I trust you more than anybody else in
the whole world except my father, and he might be away or”—she gave a
little sob—“he might get killed. I want you to make me a promise.”

“Anything,” said the boy huskily.

“I want you to promise me that, no matter when, no matter where you are,
if I need you and send for you you will come.” And Indian-like he put
his forehead on both her little hands.

“Thank you. I must go now.” Bewildered and dazed, the boy rose and
awkwardly put out his hand.

“Kiss me good-by.” She put her arms about his neck, and for the first
time in his life the boy’s lips met a woman’s. For a moment she put her
face against his and at his ear was a whisper.

“Good-by, Erskine!” And she was gone—swiftly—leaving the boy in a dizzy
world of falling stars through which a white light leaped to heights his
soul had never dreamed.



XIX


With the head of that column of stalwart backwoodsmen went Dave Yandell
and Erskine Dale. A hunting-party of four Shawnees heard their coming
through the woods, and, lying like snakes in the undergrowth, peered out
and saw them pass. Then they rose, and Crooked Lightning looked at Black
Wolf and, with a grunt of angry satisfaction, led the way homeward. And
to the village they bore the news that White Arrow had made good his
word and, side by side with the big chief of the Long Knives, was
leading a war-party against his tribe and kinsmen. And Early Morn
carried the news to her mother, who lay sick in a wigwam.

The miracle went swiftly, and Kaskaskia fell. Stealthily a cordon of
hunters surrounded the little town. The rest stole to the walls of the
fort. Lights flickered from within, the sounds of violins and dancing
feet came through crevice and window. Clark’s tall figure stole
noiselessly into the great hall, where the Creoles were making merry and
leaned silently with folded arms against the doorpost, looking on at the
revels with a grave smile. The light from the torches flickered across
his face, and an Indian lying on the floor sprang to his feet with a
curdling war-whoop. Women screamed and men rushed toward the door. The
stranger stood motionless and his grim smile was unchanged.

“Dance on!” he commanded courteously, “but remember,” he added sternly,
“you dance under Virginia and not Great Britain!”

There was a great noise behind him. Men dashed into the fort, and
Rocheblave and his officers were prisoners. By daylight Clark had the
town disarmed. The French, Clark said next day, could take the oath of
allegiance to the Republic, or depart with their families in peace. As
for their church, he had nothing to do with any church save to protect
it from insult. So that the people who had heard terrible stories of the
wild woodsmen and who expected to be killed or made slaves, joyfully
became Americans. They even gave Clark a volunteer company to march with
him upon Cahokia, and that village, too, soon became American. Father
Gibault volunteered to go to Vincennes. Vincennes gathered in the church
to hear him, and then flung the Stars and Stripes to the winds of
freedom above the fort. Clark sent one captain there to take command.
With a handful of hardy men who could have been controlled only by him,
the dauntless one had conquered a land as big as any European kingdom.
Now he had to govern and protect it. He had to keep loyal an alien race
and hold his own against the British and numerous tribes of Indians,
bloodthirsty, treacherous, and deeply embittered against all Americans.
He was hundreds of miles from any American troops; farther still from
the seat of government, and could get no advice or help for perhaps a
year.

And those Indians poured into Cahokia—a horde of them from every tribe
between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi—chiefs and warriors of every
importance; but not before Clark had formed and drilled four companies
of volunteer Creoles.

“Watch him!” said Dave, and Erskine did, marvelling at the man’s
knowledge of the Indian. He did not live in the fort, but always on
guard, always seemingly confident, stayed openly in town while the
savages, sullen and grotesque, strutted in full war panoply through the
straggling streets, inquisitive and insolent, their eyes burning with
the lust of plunder and murder. For days he sat in the midst of the
ringed warriors and listened. On the second day Erskine saw Kahtoo in
the throng and Crooked Lightning and Black Wolf. After dusk that day he
felt the fringe of his hunting-shirt plucked, and an Indian, with face
hidden in a blanket, whispered as he passed.

“Tell the big chief,” he said in Shawnee, “to be on guard to-morrow
night.” He knew it was some kindly tribesman, and he wheeled and went to
Clark, who smiled. Already the big chief had guards concealed in his
little house, who seized the attacking Indians, while two minutes later
the townspeople were under arms. The captives were put in irons, and
Erskine saw among them the crestfallen faces of Black Wolf and Crooked
Lightning. The Indians pleaded that they were trying to test the
friendship of the French for Clark, but Clark, refusing all requests for
their release, remained silent, haughty, indifferent, fearless. He still
refused to take refuge in the fort, and called in a number of ladies and
gentlemen to his house, where they danced all night amid the
council-fires of the bewildered savages. Next morning he stood in the
centre of their ringed warriors with the tasselled shirts of his
riflemen massed behind him, released the captive chiefs, and handed them
the bloody war belt of wampum.

“I scorn your hostility and treachery. You deserve death but you shall
leave in safety. In three days I shall begin war on you. If you Indians
do not want your women and children killed—stop killing ours. We shall
see who can make that war belt the most bloody. While you have been in
my camp you have had food and fire-water, but now that I have finished,
you must depart speedily.”

The captive chief spoke and so did old Kahtoo, with his eyes fixed sadly
but proudly on his adopted son. They had listened to bad birds and been
led astray by the British—henceforth they would be friendly with the
Americans. But Clark was not satisfied.

“I come as a warrior,” he said haughtily; “I shall be a friend to the
friendly. If you choose war I shall send so many warriors from the
Thirteen Council-Fires that your land shall be darkened and you shall
hear no sounds but that of the birds who live on blood.” And then he
handed forth two belts of peace and war, and they eagerly took the belt
of peace. The treaty followed next day and Clark insisted that two of
the prisoners should be put to death; and as the two selected came
forward Erskine saw Black Wolf was one. He whispered with Clark and
Kahtoo, and Crooked Lightning saw the big chief with his hand on
Erskine’s shoulder and heard him forgive the two and tell them to
depart. And thus peace was won.

Straightway old Kahtoo pushed through the warriors and, plucking the big
chief by the sleeve, pointed to Erskine.

“That is my son,” he said, “and I want him to go home with me.”

“He shall go,” said Clark quickly, “but he shall return, whenever it
pleases him, to me.”

And so Erskine went forth one morning at dawn, and his coming into the
Shawnee camp was like the coming of a king. Early Morn greeted him with
glowing eyes, his foster-mother brought him food, looking proudly upon
him, and old Kahtoo harangued his braves around the council-pole, while
the prophet and Crooked Lightning sulked in their tents.

“My son spoke words of truth,” he proclaimed sonorously. “He warned us
against the king over the waters and told us to make friends with the
Americans. We did not heed his words, and so he brought the great chief
of the Long Knives, who stood without fear among warriors more numerous
than leaves and spoke the same words to all. We are friends of the Long
Knives. My son is the true prophet. Bring out the false one and Crooked
Lightning and Black Wolf, whose life my son saved though the two were
enemies. My son shall do with them as he pleases.”

Many young braves sprang willingly forward and the three were haled
before Erskine. Old Kahtoo waved his hand toward them and sat down.
Erskine rose and fixed his eyes sternly on the cowering prophet:

“He shall go forth from the village and shall never return. For his
words work mischief, he does foolish things, and his drumming frightens
the game. He is a false prophet and he must go.” He turned to Crooked
Lightning:

“The Indians have made peace with the Long Knives and White Arrow would
make peace with any Indian, though an enemy. Crooked Lightning shall go
or stay, as he pleases. Black Wolf shall stay, for the tribe will need
him as a hunter and a warrior against the English foes of the Long
Knives. White Arrow does not ask another to spare an enemy’s life and
then take it away himself.”

The braves grunted approval. Black Wolf and Crooked Lightning averted
their faces and the prophet shambled uneasily away. Again old Kahtoo
proclaimed sonorously, “It is well!” and went back with Erskine to his
tent. There he sank wearily on a buffalo-skin and plead with the boy to
stay with them as chief in his stead. He was very old, and now that
peace was made with the Long Knives he was willing to die. If Erskine
would but give his promise, he would never rise again from where he lay.

Erskine shook his head and the old man sorrowfully turned his face.



XX


And yet Erskine lingered on and on at the village. Of the white woman he
had learned little other than that she had been bought from another
tribe and adopted by old Kahtoo; but it was plain that since the
threatened burning of her she had been held in high respect by the whole
tribe. He began to wonder about her and whether she might not wish to go
back to her own people. He had never talked with her, but he never moved
about the camp that he did not feel her eyes upon him. And Early Morn’s
big soft eyes, too, never seemed to leave him. She brought him food, she
sat at the door of his tent, she followed him about the village and bore
herself openly as his slave. At last old Kahtoo, who would not give up
his great hope, plead with him to marry her, and while he was talking
the girl stood at the door of the tent and interrupted them. Her
mother’s eyes were growing dim, she said. Her mother wanted to talk with
White Arrow and look upon his face before her sight should altogether
pass. Nor could Erskine know that the white woman wanted to look into
the eyes of the man she hoped would become her daughter’s husband, but
Kahtoo did, and he bade Erskine go. His foster-mother, coming upon the
scene, scowled, but Erskine rose and went to the white woman’s tent. She
sat just inside the opening, with a blanket across the lower half of her
face, nor did she look at him. Instead she plied him with questions, and
listened eagerly to his every word, and drew from him every detail of
his life as far back as he could remember. Poor soul, it was the first
opportunity for many years that she had had to talk with any white
person who had been in the Eastern world, and freely and frankly he held
nothing back. She had drawn her blanket close across her face while he
was telling of his capture by the Indians and his life among them, his
escape and the death of his father, and she was crying when he finished.
He even told her a little of Barbara, and when in turn he questioned
her, she told little, and his own native delicacy made him understand.
She, too, had been captured with a son who would have been about
Erskine’s age, but her boy and her husband had been killed. She had been
made a slave and—now she drew the blanket across her eyes—after the
birth of her daughter she felt she could never go back to her own
people. Then her Indian husband had been killed and old Kahtoo had
bought and adopted her, and she had not been forced to marry again. Now
it was too late to leave the Indians. She loved her daughter; she would
not subject her or herself to humiliation among the whites, and, anyhow,
there was no one to whom she could go. And Erskine read deep into the
woman’s heart and his own was made sad. Her concern was with her
daughter—what would become of her? Many a young brave, besides Black
Wolf, had put his heart at her little feet, but she would have none of
them. And so Erskine was the heaven-sent answer to the mother’s
prayers—that was the thought behind her mournful eyes.

All the while the girl had crouched near, looking at Erskine with
doglike eyes, and when he rose to go the woman dropped the blanket from
her face and got to her feet. Shyly she lifted her hands, took his face
between them, bent close, and studied it searchingly:

“What is your name?”

“Erskine Dale.”

Without a word she turned back into her tent.

At dusk Erskine stood by the river’s brim, with his eyes lifted to a
rising moon and his thoughts with Barbara on the bank of the James.
Behind him he heard a rustle and, turning, he saw the girl, her breast
throbbing and her eyes burning with a light he had never seen before.

“Black Wolf will kill you,” she whispered. “Black Wolf wants Early Morn
and he knows that Early Morn wants White Arrow.” Erskine put both hands
on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes. She trembled, and when
his arms went about her she surged closer to him and the touch of her
warm, supple body went through him like fire. And then with a triumphant
smile she sprang back.

“Black Wolf will see,” she whispered, and fled. Erskine sank to the
ground, with his head in his hands. The girl ran back to her tent, and
the mother, peering at the flushed face and shining eyes, clove to the
truth. She said nothing, but when the girl was asleep and faintly
smiling, the white woman sat staring out into the moonlit woods, softly
beating her breast.



XXI


Erskine had given Black Wolf his life, and the young brave had accepted
the debt and fretted under it sorely. Erskine knew it, and all his
kindness had been of little avail, for Black Wolf sulked sullenly by the
fire or at his wigwam door. And when Erskine had begun to show some heed
to Early Morn a fierce jealousy seized the savage, and his old hatred
was reborn a thousandfold more strong—and that, too, Erskine now knew.
Meat ran low and a hunting-party went abroad. Game was scarce and only
after the second day was there a kill. Erskine had sighted a huge buck,
had fired quickly and at close range. Wounded, the buck had charged,
Erskine’s knife was twisted in his belt, and the buck was upon him
before he could get it out. He tried to dart for a tree, stumbled,
turned, and caught the infuriated beast by the horns. He uttered no cry,
but the angry bellow of the stag reached the ears of Black Wolf through
the woods, and he darted toward the sound. And he came none too soon.
Erskine heard the crack of a rifle, the stag toppled over, and he saw
Black Wolf standing over him with a curiously triumphant look on his
saturnine face. In Erskine, when he rose, the white man was predominant,
and he thrust out his hand, but Black Wolf ignored it.

“White Arrow gave Black Wolf his life. The debt is paid.”

Erskine looked at his enemy, nodded, and the two bore the stag away.

Instantly a marked change was plain in Black Wolf. He told the story of
the fight with the buck to all. Boldly he threw off the mantle of shame,
stalked haughtily through the village, and went back to open enmity with
Erskine. At dusk a day or two later, when he was coming down the path
from the white woman’s wigwam, Black Wolf confronted him, scowling.

“Early Morn shall belong to Black Wolf,” he said insolently. Erskine met
his baleful, half-drunken eyes scornfully.

“We will leave that to Early Morn,” he said coolly, and then thundered
suddenly:

“Out of my way!”

Black Wolf hesitated and gave way, but ever thereafter Erskine was on
guard.

In the white woman, too, Erskine now saw a change. Once she had
encouraged him to stay with the Indians; now she lost no opportunity to
urge against it. She had heard that Hamilton would try to retake
Vincennes, that he was forming a great force with which to march south,
sweep through Kentucky, batter down the wooden forts, and force the
Kentuckians behind the great mountain wall. Erskine would be needed by
the whites, who would never understand or trust him if he should stay
with the Indians. All this she spoke one day when Erskine came to her
tent to talk. Her face had blanched, she had argued passionately that he
must go, and Erskine was sorely puzzled. The girl, too, had grown
rebellious and disobedient, for the change in her mother was plain also
to her, and she could not understand. Moreover, Erskine’s stubbornness
grew, and he began to flame within at the stalking insolence of Black
Wolf, who slipped through the shadows of day and the dusk to spy on the
two whereever they came together. And one day when the sun was midway,
and in the open of the village, the clash came. Black Wolf darted forth
from his wigwam, his eyes bloodshot with rage and drink, and his
hunting-knife in his hand. A cry from Early Morn warned Erskine and he
wheeled. As Black Wolf made a vicious slash at him he sprang aside, and
with his fist caught the savage in the jaw. Black Wolf fell heavily and
Erskine was upon him with his own knife at his enemy’s throat.

“Stop them!” old Kahtoo cried sternly, but it was the terrified shriek
of the white woman that stayed Erskine’s hand. Two young braves disarmed
the fallen Indian, and Kahtoo looked inquiringly at his adopted son.

“Turn him loose!” Erskine scorned. “I have no fear of him. He is a woman
and drunk, but next time I shall kill him.”

The white woman had run down, caught Early Morn, and was leading her
back to her tent. From inside presently came low, passionate pleading
from the woman and an occasional sob from the girl. And when an hour
later, at dusk, Erskine turned upward toward the tent, the girl gave a
horrified cry, flashed from the tent, and darted for the high cliff over
the river.

“Catch her!” cried the mother. “Quick!” Erskine fled after her, overtook
her with her hands upraised for the plunge on the very edge of the
cliff, and half carried her, struggling and sobbing, back to the tent.
Within the girl dropped in a weeping heap, and with her face covered,
and the woman turned to Erskine, agonized.

“I told her,” she whispered, “and she was going to kill herself. You are
my son!”

                   *       *       *       *       *

Still sleepless at dawn, the boy rode Firefly into the woods. At sunset
he came in, gaunt with brooding and hunger. His foster-mother brought
him food, but he would not touch it. The Indian woman stared at him with
keen suspicion, and presently old Kahtoo, passing slowly, bent on him
the same look, but asked no question. Erskine gave no heed to either,
but his mother, watching from her wigwam, understood and grew fearful.
Quickly she stepped outside and called him, and he rose and went to her
bewildered; she was smiling.

“They are watching,” she said, and Erskine, too, understood, and kept
his back toward the watchers.

“I have decided,” he said. “You and _she_ must leave here and go with
me.”

His mother pretended much displeasure. “She will not leave, and I will
not leave her”—her lips trembled—“and I would have gone long ago but——”

“I understand,” interrupted Erskine, “but you will go now with your
son.”

The poor woman had to scowl.

“No, and you must not tell them. They will never let me go, and they
will use me to keep you here. _You_ must go at once. She will never
leave this tent as long as you are here, and if you stay she will die,
or kill herself. Some day——” She turned abruptly and went back into her
tent. Erskine wheeled and went to old Kahtoo.

“You want Early Morn?” asked the old man. “You shall have her.”

“No,” said the boy, “I am going back to the big chief.”

“You are my son and I am old and weak.”

“I am a soldier and must obey the big chief’s commands, as must you.”

“I shall live,” said the old man wearily, “until you come again.”

Erskine nodded and went for his horse. Black Wolf watched him with
malignant satisfaction, but said nothing—nor did Crooked Lightning.
Erskine turned once as he rode away. His mother was standing outside her
wigwam. Mournfully she waved her hand. Behind her and within the tent he
could see Early Morn with both hands at her breast.



XXII


Dawned 1781.

The war was coming into Virginia at last. Virginia falling would thrust
a great wedge through the centre of the Confederacy, feed the British
armies and end the fight. Cornwallis was to drive the wedge, and never
had the opening seemed easier. Virginia was drained of her fighting men,
and south of the mountains was protected only by a militia, for the most
part, of old men and boys. North and South ran despair. The soldiers had
no pay, little food, and only old worn-out coats, tattered linen
overalls, and one blanket between three men, to protect them from
drifting snow and icy wind. Even the great Washington was near despair,
and in foreign help his sole hope lay. Already the traitor, Arnold, had
taken Richmond, burned warehouses, and returned, but little harassed, to
Portsmouth.

In April, “the proudest man,” as Mr. Jefferson said, “of the proudest
nation on earth,” one General Phillips, marching northward, paused
opposite Richmond, and looked with amaze at the troop-crowned hills
north of the river. Up there was a beardless French youth of
twenty-three, with the epaulets of a major-general.

“He will not cross—hein?” said the Marquis de Lafayette. “Very well!”
And they had a race for Petersburg, which the Britisher reached first,
and straightway fell ill of a fever at “Bollingbrook.” A cannonade from
the Appomattox hills saluted him.

“They will not let me die in peace,” said General Phillips, but he
passed, let us hope, to it, and Benedict Arnold succeeded him.

Cornwallis was coming on. Tarleton’s white rangers were bedevilling the
land, and it was at this time that Erskine Dale once more rode Firefly
to the river James.

The boy had been two years in the wilds. When he left the Shawnee camp
winter was setting in, that terrible winter of ‘79—of deep snow and
hunger and cold. When he reached Kaskaskia, Captain Clark had gone to
Kentucky, and Erskine found bad news. Hamilton and Hay had taken
Vincennes. There Captain Helm’s Creoles, as soon as they saw the
redcoats, slipped away from him to surrender their arms to the British,
and thus deserted by all, he and the two or three Americans with him had
to give up the fort. The French reswore allegiance to Britain. Hamilton
confiscated their liquor and broke up their billiard-tables. He let his
Indians scatter to their villages, and with his regulars, volunteers,
white Indian leaders, and red auxiliaries went into winter quarters. One
band of Shawnees he sent to Ohio to scout and take scalps in the
settlements. In the spring he would sweep Kentucky and destroy all the
settlements west of the Alleghanies. So Erskine and Dave went for Clark;
and that trip neither ever forgot. Storms had followed each other since
late November and the snow lay deep. Cattle and horses perished, deer
and elk were found dead in the woods, and buffalo came at nightfall to
old Jerome Sanders’s fort for food and companionship with his starving
herd. Corn gave out and no johnny-cakes were baked on long boards in
front of the fire. There was no salt or vegetable food; nothing but the
flesh of lean wild game. The only fat was with the bears in the hollows
of trees, and every hunter was searching hollow trees. The breast of the
wild turkey served for bread. Yet, while the frontiersmen remained
crowded in the stockades and the men hunted and the women made clothes
of tanned deer-hides, buffalo-wool cloth, and nettle-bark linen, and
both hollowed “noggins” out of the knot of a tree, Clark made his
amazing march to Vincennes, recaptured it by the end of February, and
sent Hamilton to Williamsburg a prisoner. Erskine plead to be allowed to
take him there, but Clark would not let him go. Permanent garrisons were
placed at Vincennes and Cahokia, and at Kaskaskia. Erskine stayed to
help make peace with the Indians, punish marauders and hunting bands, so
that by the end of the year Clark might sit at the Falls of the Ohio as
a shield for the west and a sure guarantee that the whites would never
be forced to abandon wild Kentucky.

The two years in the wilderness had left their mark on Erskine. He was
tall, lean, swarthy, gaunt, and yet he was not all woodsman, for his
born inheritance as gentleman had been more than emphasized by his
association with Clark and certain Creole officers in the Northwest, who
had improved his French and gratified one pet wish of his life since his
last visit to the James—they had taught him to fence. His mother he had
not seen again, but he had learned that she was alive and not yet blind.
Of Early Morn he had heard nothing at all. Once a traveller had brought
word of Dane Grey. Grey was in Philadelphia and prominent in the gay
doings of that city. He had taken part in a brilliant pageant called the
“Mischianza,” which was staged by André, and was reported a close friend
of that ill-fated young gentleman.

After the fight at Piqua, with Clark Erskine put forth for old Jerome
Sanders’s fort. He found the hard days of want over. There was not only
corn in plenty but wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, turnips, melons. They
tapped maple-trees for sugar and had sown flax. Game was plentiful, and
cattle, horses, and hogs had multiplied on cane and buffalo clover.
Indeed, it was a comparatively peaceful fall, and though Clark plead
with him, Erskine stubbornly set his face for Virginia.

Honor Sanders and Polly Conrad had married, but Lydia Noe was still firm
against the wooing of every young woodsman who came to the fort; and
when Erskine bade her good-by and she told him to carry her love to Dave
Yandell, he knew for whom she would wait forever if need be.

There were many, many travellers on the Wilderness Road now, and Colonel
Dale’s prophecy was coming true. The settlers were pouring in and the
long, long trail was now no lonesome way.

At Williamsburg Erskine learned many things. Colonel Dale, now a
general, was still with Washington and Harry was with him. Hugh was with
the Virginia militia and Dave with Lafayette.

Tarleton’s legion of rangers in their white uniforms were scourging
Virginia as they had scourged the Carolinas. Through the James River
country they had gone with fire and sword, burning houses, carrying off
horses, destroying crops, burning grain in the mills, laying plantations
to waste. Barbara’s mother was dead. Her neighbors had moved to safety,
but Barbara, he heard, still lived with old Mammy and Ephraim at Red
Oaks, unless that, too, had been recently put to the torch. Where, then,
would he find her?



XXIII


Down the river Erskine rode with a sad heart. At the place where he had
fought with Grey he pulled Firefly to a sudden halt. There was the
boundary of Red Oaks and there started a desolation that ran as far as
his eye could reach. Red Oaks had not been spared, and he put Firefly to
a fast gallop, with eyes strained far ahead and his heart beating with
agonized foreboding and savage rage. Soon over a distant clump of trees
he could see the chimneys of Barbara’s home—his home, he thought
helplessly—and perhaps those chimneys were all that was left. And then
he saw the roof and the upper windows and the cap of the big columns
unharmed, untouched, and he pulled Firefly in again, with overwhelming
relief, and wondered at the miracle. Again he started and again pulled
in when he caught sight of three horses hitched near the stiles. Turning
quickly from the road, he hid Firefly in the underbrush. Very quietly he
slipped along the path by the river, and, pushing aside through the
rose-bushes, lay down where unseen he could peer through the closely
matted hedge. He had not long to wait. A white uniform issued from the
great hall door and another and another—and after them Barbara—smiling.
The boy’s blood ran hot—smiling at her enemies. Two officers bowed,
Barbara courtesied, and they wheeled on their heels and descended the
steps. The third stayed behind a moment, bowed over her hand and kissed
it. The watcher’s blood turned then to liquid fire. Great God, at what
price was that noble old house left standing? Grimly, swiftly Erskine
turned, sliding through the bushes like a snake to the edge of the road
along which they must pass. He would fight the three, for his life was
worth nothing now. He heard them laughing, talking at the stiles. He
heard them speak Barbara’s name, and two seemed to be bantering the
third, whose answering laugh seemed acquiescent and triumphant. They
were coming now. The boy had his pistols out, primed and cocked. He was
rising on his knees, just about to leap to his feet and out into the
road, when he fell back into a startled, paralyzed, inactive heap.
Glimpsed through an opening in the bushes, the leading trooper in the
uniform of Tarleton’s legion was none other than Dane Grey, and
Erskine’s brain had worked quicker than his angry heart. This was a
mystery that must be solved before his pistols spoke. He rose crouching
as the troopers rode away. At the bend of the road he saw Grey turn with
a gallant sweep of his tricornered hat, and, swerving his head
cautiously, he saw Barbara answer with a wave of her handkerchief. If
Tarleton’s men were around he would better leave Firefly where he was in
the woods for a while. A jay-bird gave out a flutelike note above his
head; Erskine never saw a jay-bird perched cockily on a branch that he
did not think of Grey; but Grey was brave—so, too, was a jay-bird. A
startled gasp behind him made him wheel, pistol once more in hand, to
find a negro, mouth wide open and staring at him from the road.

“Marse Erskine!” he gasped. It was Ephraim, the boy who had led
Barbara’s white ponies out long, long ago, now a tall, muscular lad with
an ebony face and dazzling teeth. “Whut you doin’ hyeh, suh? Whar’ yo’
hoss? Gawd, I’se sutn’ly glad to see yuh.” Erskine pointed to an oak.

“Right by that tree. Put him in the stable and feed him.”

The negro shook his head.

“No, suh. I’ll take de feed down to him. Too many redcoats messin’ round
heah. You bettah go in de back way—dey might see yuh.”

“How is Miss Barbara?”

The negro’s eyes shifted.

“She’s well. Yassuh, she’s well as common.”

“Wasn’t one of those soldiers who just rode away Mr. Dane Grey?”

The negro hesitated.

“Yassuh.”

“What’s he doing in a British uniform?”

The boy shifted his great shoulders uneasily and looked aside.

“I don’t know, suh—I don’t know nuttin’.”

Erskine knew he was lying, but respected his loyalty.

“Go tell Miss Barbara I’m here and then feed my horse.”

“Yassuh.”

Ephraim went swiftly and Erskine followed along the hedge and through
the rose-bushes to the kitchen door, where Barbara’s faithful old Mammy
was waiting for him with a smile of welcome but with deep trouble in her
eyes.

“I done tol’ Miss Barbary, suh. She’s waitin’ fer yuh in de hall.”

Barbara, standing in the hall doorway, heard his step.

“Erskine!” she cried softly, and she came to meet him, with both hands
outstretched, and raised her lovely face to be kissed. “What are you
doing here?”

“I am on my way to join General Lafayette.”

“But you will be captured. It is dangerous. The country is full of
British soldiers.”

“So I know,” Erskine said dryly.

“When did you get here?”

“Twenty minutes ago. I would not have been welcome just then. I waited
in the hedge. I saw you had company.”

“Did you see them?” she faltered.

“I even recognized one of them.” Barbara sank into a chair, her elbow on
one arm, her chin in her hand, her face turned, her eyes looking
outdoors. She said nothing, but the toe of her slipper began to tap the
floor gently. There was no further use for indirection or concealment.

“Barbara,” Erskine said with some sternness, and his tone quickened the
tapping of the slipper and made her little mouth tighten, “what does all
this mean?”

“Did you see,” she answered, without looking at him, “that the crops
were all destroyed and the cattle and horses were all gone?”

“Why did they spare the house?” The girl’s bosom rose with one quick,
defiant intake of breath, and for a moment she held it.

“Dane Grey saved our home.”

“How?”

“He had known Colonel Tarleton in London and had done something for him
over there.”

“How did he get in communication with Colonel Tarleton when he was an
officer in the American army?” The girl would not answer.

“Was he taken prisoner?” Still she was silent, for the sarcasm in
Erskine’s voice was angering her.

“He fought once under Benedict Arnold—perhaps he is fighting with him
now.”

“No!” she cried hotly.

“Then he must be a——”

She did not allow him to utter the word.

“Why Mr. Grey is in British uniform is his secret—not mine.”

“And why he is here is—yours.”

“Exactly!” she flamed. “You are a soldier. Learn what you want to know
from him. You are my cousin, but you are going beyond the rights of
blood. I won’t stand it—I won’t stand it—from anybody.”

“I don’t understand you, Barbara—I don’t know you. That last time it was
Grey, you—and now—” He paused and, in spite of herself, her eyes flashed
toward the door. Erskine saw it, drew himself erect, bowed and strode
straight out. Nor did the irony of the situation so much as cross his
mind—that he should be turned from his own home by the woman he loved
and to whom he had given that home. Nor did he look back—else he might
have seen her sink, sobbing, to the floor.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When he turned the corner of the house old Mammy and Ephraim were
waiting for him at the kitchen door.

“Get Firefly, Ephraim!” he said sharply.

“Yassuh!”

At the first sight of his face Mammy had caught her hands together at
her breast.

“You ain’t gwine, Marse Erskine,” she said tremulously. “You ain’t gwine
away?”

“Yes, Mammy—I must.”

“You an’ Miss Barbary been quoilin’, Marse Erskine—you been
quoilin’”—and without waiting for an answer she went on passionately:
“Ole Marse an’ young Marse an’ Marse Hugh done gone, de niggahs all
gone, an’ nobody lef’ but me an’ Ephraim—nobody lef’ but me an’
Ephraim—to give dat little chile one crumb o’ comfort. Nobody come to de
house but de redcoats an’ dat mean Dane Grey, an’ ev’y time he come he
leave Miss Barbary cryin’ her little heart out. ’Tain’t Miss Barbary in
dar—hit’s some other pusson. She ain’t de same pusson—no, suh. An’ lemme
tell yu—lemme tell yu—ef some o’ de men folks doan come back heah
somehow an’ look out fer dat little gal—she’s a-gwine to run away wid
dat mean low-down man whut just rid away from heah in a white uniform.”
She had startled Erskine now and she knew it.

“Dat man has got little Missus plum’ witched, I tell ye—plum’ witched.
Hit’s jes like a snake wid a catbird.”

“Men have to fight, Mammy——”

“I doan keer nothin’ ’bout de war.”

“I’d be captured if I stayed here——”

“All I keer ’bout is my chile in dar——”

“But we’ll drive out the redcoats and the whitecoats and I’ll come
straight here——”

“An’ all de men folks leavin’ her heah wid nobody but black Ephraim an’
her ole Mammy.” The old woman stopped her fiery harangue to listen:

“Dar now, heah dat? My chile hollerin’ fer her ole Mammy.” She turned
her unwieldy body toward the faint cry that Erskine’s heart heard better
than his ears, and Erskine hurried away.

“Ephraim,” he said as he swung upon Firefly, “you and Mammy keep a close
watch, and if I’m needed here, come for me yourself and come fast.”

“Yassuh. Marse Grey is sutn’ly up to some devilmint no which side he
fightin’ fer. I got a gal oveh on the aige o’ de Grey plantation an’ she
tel’ me dat Marse Dane Grey don’t wear dat white uniform all de time.”

“What’s that—what’s that?” asked Erskine.

“No, suh. She say he got an udder uniform, same as yose, an’ he keeps it
at her uncle Sam’s cabin an’ she’s seed him go dar in white an’ come out
in our uniform, an’ al’ays at night, Marse Erskine—al’ays at night.”

The negro cocked his ear suddenly:

“Take to de woods quick, Marse Erskine. Horses comin’ down the road.”

But the sound of coming hoof-beats had reached the woodsman’s ears some
seconds before the black man heard them, and already Erskine had wheeled
away. And Ephraim saw Firefly skim along the edge of a blackened meadow
behind its hedge of low trees.

“Gawd!” said the black boy, and he stood watching the road. A band of
white-coated troopers was coming in a cloud of dust, and at the head of
them rode Dane Grey.

“Has Captain Erskine Dale been here?” he demanded.

Ephraim had his own reason for being on the good side of the questioner,
and did not even hesitate.

“Yassuh—he jes’ lef’! Dar he goes now!” With a curse Grey wheeled his
troopers. At that moment Firefly, with something like the waving flight
of a bluebird, was leaping the meadow fence into the woods. The black
boy looked after the troopers’ dust.

“Gawd!” he said again, with a grin that showed every magnificent tooth
in his head. “Jest as well try to ketch a streak o’ lightning.” And
quite undisturbed he turned to tell the news to old Mammy.



XXIV


Up the James rode Erskine, hiding in the woods by day and slipping
cautiously along the sandy road by night, circling about Tarleton’s
camp-fires, or dashing at full speed past some careless sentinel. Often
he was fired at, often chased, but with a clear road in front of him he
had no fear of capture. On the third morning he came upon a ragged
sentinel—an American. Ten minutes later he got his first glimpse of
Lafayette, and then he was hailed joyfully by none other than Dave
Yandell, Captain Dave Yandell, shorn of his woodsman’s dress and
panoplied in the trappings of war.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Cornwallis was coming on. The boy, he wrote, cannot escape me. But the
boy—Lafayette—did, and in time pursued and forced the Englishman into a
_cul-de-sac_. “I have given his lordship the disgrace of a retreat,”
said Lafayette. And so—Yorktown!

Late in August came the message that put Washington’s great “soul in
arms.” Rochambeau had landed six thousand soldiers in Connecticut, and
now Count de Grasse and a French fleet had sailed for the Chesapeake.
General Washington at once resorted to camouflage. He laid out camps
ostentatiously opposite New York and in plain sight of the enemy. He
made a feigned attack on their posts. Rochambeau moved south and reached
the Delaware before the British grasped the Yankee trick. Then it was
too late. The windows of Philadelphia were filled with ladies waving
handkerchiefs and crying bravoes when the tattered Continentals, their
clothes thick with dust but hats plumed with sprigs of green, marched
through amid their torn battle-flags and rumbling cannon. Behind
followed the French in “gay white uniforms faced with green,” and
martial music throbbed the air. Not since poor André had devised the
“Mischianza” festival had Philadelphia seen such a pageant. Down the
Chesapeake they went in transports and were concentrated at Williamsburg
before the close of September. Cornwallis had erected works against the
boy, for he knew nothing of Washington and Count de Grasse, nor Mad
Anthony and General Nelson, who were south of the James to prevent
escape into North Carolina.

“To your goodness,” the boy wrote to Washington, “I am owning the most
beautiful prospect I may ever behold.”

Then came de Grasse, who drove off the British fleet, and the mouth of
the net was closed.

Cornwallis heard the cannon and sent Clinton to appeal for help, but the
answer was Washington himself at the head of his army. And then the
joyous march.

“’Tis our first campaign!” cried the French gayly, and the Continentals
joyfully answered:

“’Tis our last!”

                   *       *       *       *       *

At Williamsburg the allies gathered, and with Washington’s army came
Colonel Dale, now a general, and young Captain Harry Dale, who had
brought news from Philadelphia that was of great interest to Erskine
Dale. In that town Dane Grey had been a close intimate of André, and
that intimacy had been the cause of much speculation since. He had told
Dave of his mother and Early Morn, and Dave had told him gravely that he
must go get them after the campaign was over and bring them to the fort
in Kentucky. If Early Morn still refused to come, then he must bring his
mother, and he reckoned grimly that no mouth would open in a word that
could offend her. Erskine also told of Red Oaks and Dane Grey, but Dave
must tell nothing to the Dales—not yet, if ever.

In mid-September Washington came, and General Dale had but one chance to
visit Barbara. General Dale was still weak from a wound and Barbara
tried unavailingly to keep him at home. Erskine’s plea that he was too
busy to go with them aroused Harry’s suspicions, that were confirmed by
Barbara’s manner and reticence, and he went bluntly to the point:

“What is the trouble, cousin, between you and Barbara?”

“Trouble?”

“Yes. You wouldn’t go to Red Oaks and Barbara did not seem surprised. Is
Dane Grey concerned?”

“Yes.”

Harry looked searchingly at his cousin:

“I pray to God that I may soon meet him face to face.”

“And I,” said Erskine quietly, “pray to God that you do not—not until
after I have met him first.” Barbara had not told, he thought, nor
should he—not yet. And Harry, after a searching look at his cousin,
turned away.

They marched next morning at daybreak. At sunset of the second day they
bivouacked within two miles of Yorktown and the siege began. The allied
line was a crescent, with each tip resting on the water—Lafayette
commanding the Americans on the right, the French on the left under
Rochambeau. De Grasse, with his fleet, was in the bay to cut off
approach by water. Washington himself put the match to the first gun,
and the mutual cannonade of three or four days began. The scene was
“sublime and stupendous.”

Bombshells were seen “crossing each other’s path in the air, and were
visible in the form of a black ball by day, but in the night they
appeared like a fiery meteor, with a blazing tail most beautifully
brilliant. They ascended majestically from the mortar to a certain
altitude and gradually descended to the spot where they were destined to
execute their work of destruction. When a shell fell it wheeled around,
burrowed, and excavated the earth to a considerable extent and,
bursting, made dreadful havoc around. When they fell in the river they
threw up columns of water like spouting monsters of the deep. Two
British men-of-war lying in the river were struck with hot shot and set
on fire, and the result was full of terrible grandeur. The sails caught
and the flames ran to the tops of the masts, resembling immense torches.
One fled like a mountain of fire toward the bay and was burned to the
water’s edge.”

General Nelson, observing that the gunners were not shooting at Nelson
House because it was his own, got off his horse and directed a gun at it
with his own hand. And at Washington’s headquarters appeared the
venerable Secretary Nelson, who had left the town with the permission of
Cornwallis and now “related with a serene visage what had been the
effect of our batteries.” It was nearly the middle of October that the
two redoubts projecting beyond the British lines and enfilading the
American intrenchments were taken by storm. One redoubt was left to
Lafayette and his Americans, the other to Baron de Viomenil, who claimed
that his grenadiers were the men for the matter in hand. Lafayette
stoutly argued the superiority of his Americans, who, led by Hamilton,
carried their redoubt first with the bayonet, and sent the Frenchman an
offer of help. The answer was:

“I will be in mine in five minutes.” And he was, Washington watching the
attack anxiously:

“The work is done and well done.”

And then the surrender:

The day was the 19th of October. The victors were drawn up in two lines
a mile long on the right and left of a road that ran through the autumn
fields south of Yorktown. Washington stood at the head of his army on
the right, Rochambeau at the head of the French on the left. Behind on
both sides was a great crowd of people to watch the ceremony. Slowly out
of Yorktown marched the British colors, cased drums beating a
significant English air:

“The world turned topsyturvy.”

Lord Cornwallis was sick. General O’Hara bore my lord’s sword. As he
approached, Washington saluted and pointed to General Lincoln, who had
been treated with indignity at Charleston. O’Hara handed the sword to
Lincoln. Lincoln at once handed it back and the surrender was over.
Between the lines the British marched on and stacked arms in a near-by
field. Some of them threw their muskets on the ground, and a British
colonel bit the hilt of his sword from rage.

As Tarleton’s legion went by, three pairs of eyes watched eagerly for
one face, but neither Harry nor Captain Dave Yandell saw Dane Grey—nor
did Erskine Dale.



XXV


To Harry and Dave, Dane Grey’s absence was merely a mystery—to Erskine
it brought foreboding and sickening fear. General Dale’s wound having
opened afresh, made travelling impossible, and Harry had a slight
bayonet-thrust in the shoulder. Erskine determined to save them all the
worry possible and to act now as the head of the family himself. He
announced that he must go straight back at once to Kentucky and Captain
Clark. Harry stormed unavailingly and General Dale pleaded with him to
stay, but gave reluctant leave. To Dave he told his fears and Dave
vehemently declared he, too, would go along, but Erskine would not hear
of it and set forth alone.

Slowly enough he started, but with every mile suspicion and fear grew
the faster and he quickened Firefly’s pace. The distance to Williamsburg
was soon covered, and skirting the town, he went on swiftly for Red
Oaks.

Suppose he were too late, but even if he were not too late, what should
he do, what could he do? Firefly was sweeping into a little hollow now,
and above the beating of her hoofs in the sandy road, a clink of metal
reached his ears beyond the low hill ahead, and Erskine swerved aside
into the bushes. Some one was coming, and apparently out of the red ball
of the sun hanging over that hill sprang a horseman at a dead run—black
Ephraim on the horse he had saved from Tarleton’s men. Erskine pushed
quickly out into the road.

“Stop!” he cried, but the negro came thundering blindly on, as though he
meant to ride down anything in his way. Firefly swerved aside, and
Ephraim shot by, pulling in with both hands and shouting:

“Marse Erskine! Yassuh, yassuh! Thank Gawd you’se come.” When he wheeled
he came back at a gallop—nor did he stop.

“Come on, Marse Erskine!” he cried. “No time to waste. Come on, suh!”

With a few leaps Firefly was abreast, and neck and neck they ran, while
the darky’s every word confirmed the instinct and reason that had led
Erskine where he was.

“Yassuh, Miss Barbary gwine to run away wid dat mean white man. Yassuh,
dis very night.”

“When did he get here?”

“Dis mawnin’. He been pesterin’ her an’ pleadin’ wid her all day an’ she
been cryin’ her heart out, but Mammy say she’s gwine wid him. ‘Pears
like she can’t he’p herse’f.”

“Is he alone?”

“No, suh, he got an orficer an’ four sojers wid him.”

“How did they get away?”

“He say as how dey was on a scoutin’ party an’ ‘scaped.”

“Does he know that Cornwallis has surrendered?”

“Oh, yassuh, he tol’ Miss Barbary dat. Dat’s why he says he got to git
away right now an’ she got to go wid him right now.”

“Did he say anything about General Dale and Mr. Harry?”

“Yassuh, he say dat dey’s all right an’ dat dey an’ you will be hot on
his tracks. Dat’s why Mammy tol’ me to ride like de debbil an’ hurry you
on, suh.” And Ephraim had ridden like the devil, for his horse was
lathered with foam and both were riding that way now, for the negro was
no mean horseman and the horse he had saved was a thoroughbred.

“Dis arternoon,” the negro went on, “he went ovah to dat cabin I tol’
you ‘bout an’ got dat American uniform. He gwine to tell folks on de way
dat dem udders is his prisoners an’ he takin’ dem to Richmond. Den dey
gwine to sep’rate an’ he an’ Miss Barbary gwine to git married somewhur
on de way an’ dey goin’ on an’ sail fer England, fer he say if he git
captured folks’ll won’t let him be prisoner o’ war—dey’ll jes up an’
shoot him. An’ dat skeer Miss Barbary mos’ to death an’ he’p make her go
wid him. Mammy heah’d ever’ word dey say.”

Erskine’s brain was working fast, but no plan would come. They would be
six against him, but no matter—he urged Firefly on. The red ball from
which Ephraim had leaped had gone down now. The chill autumn darkness
was settling, but the moon was rising full and glorious over the black
expanse of trees when the lights of Red Oaks first twinkled ahead.
Erskine pulled in.

“Ephraim!”

“Yassuh. You lemme go ahead. You jest wait in dat thicket next to de
corner o’ de big gyarden. I’ll ride aroun’ through de fields an’ come
into the barnyard by de back gate. Dey won’t know I been gone. Den I’ll
come to de thicket an’ tell you de whole lay o’ de land.”

Erskine nodded.

“Hurry!”

“Yassuh.”

The negro turned from the road through a gate, and Erskine heard the
thud of his horse’s hoofs across the meadow turf. He rode on slowly,
hitched Firefly as close to the edge of the road as was safe, and crept
to the edge of the garden, where he could peer through the hedge. The
hall-door was open and the hallway lighted; so was the dining-room; and
there were lights in Barbara’s room. There were no noises, not even of
animal life, and no figures moving about or in the house. What could he
do? One thing at least, no matter what happened to him—he could number
Dane Grey’s days and make this night his last on earth. It would
probably be his own last night, too. Impatiently he crawled back to the
edge of the road. More quickly than he expected, he saw Ephraim’s figure
slipping through the shadows toward him.

“Dey’s jus’ through supper,” he reported. “Miss Barbary didn’t eat wid
’em. She’s up in her room. Dat udder orficer been stormin’ at Marse Grey
an’ hurryin’ him up. Mammy been holdin’ de little Missus back all she
can. She say she got to make like she heppin’ her pack. De sojers down
dar by de wharf playin’ cards an’ drinkin’. Dat udder man been drinkin’
hard. He got his head on de table now an’ look like he gone to sleep.”

“Ephraim,” said Erskine quickly, “go tell Mr. Grey that one of his men
wants to see him right away at the sun-dial. Tell him the man wouldn’t
come to the house because he didn’t want the others to know—that he has
something important to tell him. When he starts down the path you run
around the hedge and be on hand in the bushes.”

“Yassuh,” and the boy showed his teeth in a comprehending smile. It was
not long before he saw Grey’s tall figure easily emerge from the
hall-door and stop full in the light. He saw Ephraim slip around the
corner and Grey move to the end of the porch, doubtless in answer to the
black boy’s whispered summons. For a moment the two figures were
motionless and then Erskine began to tingle acutely from head to foot.
Grey came swiftly down the great path, which was radiant with moonlight.
As Grey neared the dial Erskine moved toward him, keeping in a dark
shadow, but Grey saw him and called in a low tone but sharply:

“Well, what is it?” With two paces more Erskine stepped out into the
moonlight with his cocked pistol at Grey’s breast.

“This,” he said quietly. “Make no noise—and don’t move.” Grey was
startled, but he caught his control instantly and without fear.

“You are a brave man, Mr. Grey, and so, for that matter, is—Benedict
Arnold.”

“Captain Grey,” corrected Grey insolently.

“I do not recognize your rank. To me you are merely Traitor Grey.”

“You are entitled to unusual freedom of speech—under the circumstances.”

[Illustration: “Make no noise, and don’t move”]

“I shall grant you the same freedom,” Erskine replied quickly—“in a
moment. You are my prisoner, Mr. Grey. I could lead you to your proper
place at the end of a rope, but I have in mind another fate for you
which perhaps will be preferable to you and maybe one or two others. Mr.
Grey, I tried once to stab you—I knew no better and have been sorry ever
since. You once tried to murder me in the duel and you did know better.
Doubtless you have been sorry ever since—that you didn’t succeed. Twice
you have said that you would fight me with anything, any time, any
place.” Grey bowed slightly. “I shall ask you to make those words good
and I shall accordingly choose the weapons.” Grey bowed again.
“Ephraim!” The boy stepped from the thicket.

“Ah,” breathed Grey, “that black devil!”

“Ain’ you gwine to shoot him, Marse Erskine?”

“Ephraim!” said Erskine, “slip into the hall very quietly and bring me
the two rapiers on the wall.” Grey’s face lighted up.

“And, Ephraim,” he called, “slip into the dining-room and fill Captain
Kilburn’s glass.” He turned with a wicked smile.

“Another glass and he will be less likely to interrupt. Believe me,
Captain Dale, I shall take even more care now than you that we shall not
be disturbed. I am delighted.” And now Erskine bowed.

“I know more of your career than you think, Grey. You have been a spy as
well as a traitor. And now you are crowning your infamy by weaving some
spell over my cousin and trying to carry her away in the absence of her
father and brother, to what unhappiness God only can know. I can hardly
hope that you appreciate the honor I am doing you.”

“Not as much as I appreciate your courage and the risk you are taking.”

Erskine smiled.

“The risk is perhaps less than you think.”

“You have not been idle?”

“I have learned more of my father’s swords than I knew when we used them
last.”

“I am glad—it will be more interesting.” Erskine looked toward the house
and moved impatiently.

“My brother officer has dined too well,” noted Grey placidly, “and the
rest of my—er—retinue are gambling. We are quite secure.”

“Ah!” Erskine breathed—he had seen the black boy run down the steps with
something under one arm and presently Ephraim was in the shadow of the
thicket:

“Give one to Mr. Grey, Ephraim, and the other to me. I believe you said
on that other occasion that there was no choice of blades?”

“Quite right,” Grey answered, skilfully testing his bit of steel.

“Keep well out of the way, Ephraim,” warned Erskine, “and take this
pistol. You may need it, if I am worsted, to protect yourself.”

“Indeed, yes,” returned Grey, “and kindly instruct him not to use it to
protect _you_.” For answer Erskine sprang from the shadow—discarding
formal courtesies.

“_En garde!_” he called sternly.

The two shining blades clashed lightly and quivered against each other
in the moonlight like running drops of quicksilver.

Grey was cautious at first, trying out his opponent’s increase in skill:

“You have made marked improvement.”

“Thank you,” smiled Erskine.

“Your wrist is much stronger.”

“Naturally.” Grey leaped backward and parried just in time a vicious
thrust that was like a dart of lightning.

“Ah! A Frenchman taught you that.”

“A Frenchman taught me all the little I know.”

“I wonder if he taught you how to meet this.”

“He did,” answered Erskine, parrying easily and with an answering thrust
that turned Grey suddenly anxious. Constantly Grey manœuvred to keep his
back to the moon, and just as constantly Erskine easily kept him where
the light shone fairly on both. Grey began to breathe heavily.

“I think, too,” said Erskine, “that my wind is a little better than
yours—would you like a short resting-spell?”

From the shadow Ephraim chuckled, and Grey snapped:

“Make that black devil——”

“Keep quiet, Ephraim!” broke in Erskine sternly. Again Grey manœuvred
for the moon, to no avail, and Erskine gave warning:

“Try that again and I will put that moon in your eyes and keep it
there.” Grey was getting angry now and was beginning to pant.

“Your wind _is_ short,” said Erskine with mock compassion. “I will give
you a little breathing-spell presently.”

Grey was not wasting his precious breath now and he made no answer.

“Now!” said Erskine sharply, and Grey’s blade flew from his hand and lay
like a streak of silver on the dewy grass. Grey rushed for it.

“Damn you!” he raged, and wheeled furiously—patience, humor, and caution
quite gone—and they fought now in deadly silence. Ephraim saw the
British officer appear in the hall and walk unsteadily down the steps as
though he were coming down the path, but he dared not open his lips.
There was the sound of voices, and it was evident that the game had
ended in a quarrel and the players were coming up the river-bank toward
them. Erskine heard, but if Grey did he at first gave no sign—he was too
much concerned with the death that faced him. Suddenly Erskine knew that
Grey had heard, for the fear in his face gave way to a diabolic grin of
triumph and he lashed suddenly into defense—if he could protect himself
only a little longer! Erskine had delayed the finishing-stroke too long
and he must make it now. Grey gave way step by step—parrying only. The
blades flashed like tiny bits of lightning. Erskine’s face, grim and
inexorable, brought the sick fear back into Grey’s, and Erskine saw his
enemy’s lips open. He lunged then, his blade went true, sank to the
hilt, and Grey’s warped soul started on its way with a craven cry for
help. Erskine sprang back into the shadows and snatched his pistol from
Ephraim’s hand:

“Get out of the way now. Tell them I did it.”

Once he looked back. He saw Barbara at the hall-door with old Mammy
behind her. With a running leap he vaulted the hedge, and, hidden in the
bushes, Ephraim heard Firefly’s hoofs beating ever more faintly the
sandy road.



XXVI


Yorktown broke the British heart, and General Dale, still weak from
wounds, went home to Red Oaks. It was not long before, with gentle
inquiry, he had pieced out the full story of Barbara and Erskine and
Dane Grey, and wisely he waited his chance with each phase of the
situation. Frankly he told her first of Grey’s dark treachery, and the
girl listened with horrified silence, for she would as soon have
distrusted that beloved father as the heavenly Father in her prayers.
She left him when he finished the story and he let her go without
another word. All day she was in her room and at sunset she gave him her
answer, for she came to him dressed in white, knelt by his chair, and
put her head in his lap. And there was a rose in her hair.

“I have never understood about myself and—and that man,” she said, “and
I never will.”

“I do,” said the general gently, “and I understand you through my sister
who was so like you. Erskine’s father was as indignant as Harry is now,
and I am trying to act toward you as my father did toward her.” The girl
pressed her lips to one of his hands.

“I think I’d better tell you the whole story now,” said General Dale,
and he told of Erskine’s father, his wildness and his wanderings, his
marriage, and the capture of his wife and the little son by the Indians,
all of which she knew, and the girl wondered why he should be telling
her again. The general paused:

“You know Erskine’s mother was not killed. He found her.” The girl
looked up amazed and incredulous.

“Yes,” he went on, “the white woman whom he found in the Indian village
was his mother.”

“Father!” She lifted her head quickly, leaned back with hands caught
tight in front of her, looked up into his face—her own crimsoning and
paling as she took in the full meaning of it all. Her eyes dropped.

“Then,” she said slowly, “that Indian girl—Early Morn—is his
half-sister. Oh, oh!” A great pity flooded her heart and eyes. “Why
didn’t Erskine take them away from the Indians?”

“His mother wouldn’t leave them.” And Barbara understood.

“Poor thing—poor thing!”

“I think Erskine is going to try now.”

“Did you tell him to bring them here?” The general put his hand on her
head.

“I hoped you would say that. I did, but he shook his head.”

“Poor Erskine!” she whispered, and her tears came. Her father leaned
back and for a moment closed his eyes.

“There is more,” he said finally. “Erskine’s father was the eldest
brother—and Red Oaks——”

The girl sprang to her feet, startled, agonized, shamed: “Belongs to
Erskine,” she finished with her face in her hands. “God pity me,” she
whispered, “I drove him from his own home.”

“No,” said the old general with a gentle smile. He was driving the barb
deep, but sooner or later it had to be done.

“Look here!” He pulled an old piece of paper from his pocket and handed
it to her. Her wide eyes fell upon a rude boyish scrawl and a rude
drawing of a buffalo pierced by an arrow:

“It make me laugh. I have no use. I give hole dam plantashun Barbara.”

“Oh!” gasped the girl and then—“where is he?”

“Waiting at Williamsburg to get his discharge.” She rushed swiftly down
the steps, calling:

“Ephraim! Ephraim!”

And ten minutes later the happy, grinning Ephraim, mounted on the
thoroughbred, was speeding ahead of a whirlwind of dust with a little
scented note in his battered slouch hat:

  “You said you would come whenever I wanted you. I want you to come
  now.

                                                            “Barbara.”

The girl would not go to bed, and the old general from his window saw
her like some white spirit of the night motionless on the porch. And
there through the long hours she sat. Once she rose and started down the
great path toward the sun-dial, moving slowly through the flowers and
moonlight until she was opposite a giant magnolia. Where the shadow of
it touched the light on the grass, she had last seen Grey’s white face
and scarlet breast. With a shudder she turned back. The night whitened.
A catbird started the morning chorus. The dawn came and with it Ephraim.
The girl waited where she was. Ephraim took off his battered hat.

“Marse Erskine done gone, Miss Barbary,” he said brokenly. “He done gone
two days.”

The girl said nothing, and there the old general found her still
motionless—the torn bits of her own note and the torn bits of Erskine’s
scrawling deed scattered about her feet.



XXVII


On the summit of Cumberland Gap Erskine Dale faced Firefly to the east
and looked his last on the forests that swept unbroken back to the river
James. It was all over for him back there and he turned to the wilder
depths, those endless leagues of shadowy woodlands, that he would never
leave again. Before him was one vast forest. The trees ran from
mountain-crest to river-bed, they filled valley and rolling plain, and
swept on in sombre and melancholy wastes to the Mississippi. Around him
were birches, pines, hemlocks, and balsam firs. He dropped down into
solemn, mysterious depths filled with oaks, chestnuts, hickories,
maples, beeches, walnuts, and gigantic poplars. The sun could not
penetrate the leafy-roofed archway of that desolate world. The tops of
the mighty trees merged overhead in a mass of tent-like foliage and the
spaces between the trunks were choked with underbrush. And he rode on
and on through the gray aisles of the forest in a dim light that was
like twilight at high noon.

At Boonesborough he learned from the old ferryman that, while the war
might be coming to an end in Virginia, it was raging worse than ever in
Kentucky. There had been bloody Indian forays, bloody white reprisals,
fierce private wars, and even then the whole border was in a flame.
Forts had been pushed westward even beyond Lexington, and 1782 had been
Kentucky’s year of blood. Erskine pushed on, and ever grew his
hopelessness. The British had drawn all the savages of the Northwest
into the war. As soon as the snow was off the ground the forays had
begun. Horses were stolen, cabins burned, and women and children were
carried off captive. The pioneers had been confined to their stockaded
forts, and only small bands of riflemen sallied out to patrol the
country. Old Jerome Sanders’s fort was deserted. Old Jerome had been
killed. Twenty-three widows were at Harrodsburg filing the claims of
dead husbands, and among them were Polly Conrad and Honor Sanders. The
people were expecting an attack in great force from the Indians led by
the British. At the Blue Licks there had been a successful ambush by the
Indians and the whites had lost half their number, among them many brave
men and natural leaders of the settlements. Captain Clark was at the
mouth of Licking River and about to set out on an expedition and needed
men.

Erskine, sure of a welcome, joined him and again rode forth with Clark
through the northern wilderness, and this time a thousand mounted
riflemen followed them. Clark had been stirred at last from his lethargy
by the tragedy of the Blue Licks and this expedition was one of reprisal
and revenge; and it was to be the last. The time was autumn and the corn
was ripe. The triumphant savages rested in their villages unsuspecting
and unafraid, and Clark fell upon them like a whirl-wind. Taken by
surprise, and startled and dismayed by such evidence of the quick
rebirth of power in the beaten whites, the Indians of every village fled
at their approach, and Clark put the torch not only to cabin and wigwam
but to the fields of standing corn. As winter was coming on, this would
be a sad blow, as Clark intended, to the savages.

Erskine had told the big chief of his mother, and every man knew the
story and was on guard that she should come to no harm. A captured
Shawnee told them that the Shawnees had got word that the whites were
coming, and their women and old men had fled or were fleeing, all,
except in a village he had just left—he paused and pointed toward the
east where a few wisps of smoke were rising. Erskine turned: “Do you
know Kahtoo?”

“He is in that village.”

Erskine hesitated: “And the white woman—Gray Dove?”

“She, too, is there.”

“And Early Morn?”

“Yes,” grunted the savage.

“What does he say?” asked Clark.

“There is a white woman and her daughter in a village, there,” said
Erskine, pointing in the direction of the smoke.

Clark’s voice was announcing the fact to his men. Hastily he selected
twenty. “See that no harm comes to them,” he cried, and dashed forward.
Erskine in advance saw Black Wolf and a few bucks covering the retreat
of some fleeing women. They made a feeble resistance of a volley and
they too turned to flee. A white woman emerged from a tent and with
great dignity stood, peering with dim eyes. To Clark’s amazement Erskine
rushed forward and took her in his arms. A moment later Erskine cried:

“My sister, where is she?”

The white woman’s trembling lips opened, but before she could answer, a
harsh, angry voice broke in haughtily, and Erskine turned to see Black
Wolf stalking in, a prisoner between two stalwart woodsmen.

“Early Morn is Black Wolf’s squaw. She is gone—” He waved one hand
toward the forest.

The insolence of the savage angered Clark, and not understanding what he
said, he asked angrily:

“Who is this fellow?”

“He is the husband of my half-sister,” answered Erskine gravely.

Clark looked dazed and uncomprehending:

“And that woman?”

“My mother,” said Erskine gently.

“Good God!” breathed Clark. He turned quickly and waved the open-mouthed
woodsmen away, and Erskine and his mother were left alone. A feeble
voice called from a tent near by.

“Old Kahtoo!” said Erskine’s mother. “He is dying and he talks of
nothing but you—go to him!” And Erskine went. The old man lay trembling
with palsy on a buffalo-robe, but the incredible spirit in his wasted
body was still burning in his eyes.

“My son,” said he, “I knew your voice. I said I should not die until I
had seen you again. It is well ... it is well,” he repeated, and wearily
his eyes closed. And thus Erskine knew it would be.



XXVIII


That winter Erskine made his clearing on the land that Dave Yandell had
picked out for him, and in the centre of it threw up a rude log hut in
which to house his mother, for his remembrance of her made him believe
that she would prefer to live alone. He told his plans to none.

In the early spring, when he brought his mother home, she said that
Black Wolf had escaped and gone farther into the wilderness—that Early
Morn had gone with him. His mother seemed ill and unhappy. Erskine, not
knowing that Barbara was on her way to find him, started on a
hunting-trip. In a few days Barbara arrived and found his mother unable
to leave her bed, and Lydia Noe sitting beside her. Harry had just been
there to say good-by before going to Virginia.

[Illustration: To his bewilderment he found Barbara at his mother’s
bedside]


Barbara was dismayed by Erskine’s absence and his mother’s look of
suffering and extreme weakness, and the touch of her cold fingers. There
was no way of reaching her son, she said—he did not know of her illness.
Barbara told her of Erskine’s giving her his inheritance, and that she
had come to return it. Meanwhile Erskine, haunted by his mother’s sad
face, had turned homeward. To his bewilderment, he found Barbara at his
mother’s bedside. A glance at their faces told him that death was near.
His mother held out her hand to him while still holding Barbara’s. As in
a dream, he bent over to kiss her, and with a last effort she joined
their hands, clasping both. A great peace transformed her face as she
slowly looked at Barbara and then up at Erskine. With a sigh her head
sank lower, and her lovely dimming eyes passed into the final dark.

Two days later they were married. The woodsmen, old friends of
Erskine’s, were awed by Barbara’s daintiness, and there were none of the
rude jests they usually flung back and forth. With hearty handshakes
they said good-by and disappeared into the mighty forest. In the silence
that fell, Erskine spoke of the life before them, of its hardships and
dangers, and then of the safety and comfort of Virginia. Barbara smiled:

“You choose the wilderness, and your choice is mine. We will leave the
same choice....” She flushed suddenly and bent her head.

“To those who come after us,” finished Erskine.


                                The End.





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