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Title: Red Belts
Author: Pendexter, Hugh
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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RED BELTS


  [Illustration: “_On the ground lay Elsie Tonpit, hurled there by a
  bandit, a huge brute of a man, bending over her._”]


RED BELTS

by

HUGH PENDEXTER

[Illustration: Printer decoration]

Frontispiece by Ralph Pallen Coleman



Garden City      New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
1920

Copyright, 1920, by
Doubleday, Page & Company

All rights reserved, including that of
translation into foreign languages,
including the Scandinavian

Copyright, 1919, by The Ridgway Company



  FOREWORD


In 1784 North Carolina’s share of the national debt was a ninth, or
about five millions of dollars—a prodigious sum for a commonwealth just
emerging from a colonial chrysalis to raise. Yet North Carolina was
more fortunate than some of her sister débutantes into Statehood, in
that she possessed some twenty-nine million acres of virgin country
beyond the Alleghanies. This noble realm, from which the State of
Tennessee was to be fashioned, had been won by confiscation and the
rifles of the over-mountain settlers and had cost North Carolina
neither blood nor money.

The republic was too young to have developed coalescence. A man might
be a New Yorker, a New Englander, a Virginian and so on, but as yet
seldom an American. The majority of the Northern representatives to the
national Congress believed the Union was full grown, geographically;
that it covered too much territory already. To all such narrow visions
the Alleghanies appealed as being the natural western boundary. These
conservatives insisted the future of the country was to be found on the
seaboard.

Charles III of Spain heartily approved of this policy of restriction
and set in motion his mighty machinery to prevent further expansion of
the United States. He knew the stimuli for restoring his kingdom to a
world plane could be found only in his American possessions.

As a result of those sturdy adventurers, crossing the mountains to
plunge into the unknown, carried with them scant encouragement from
their home States or the central Government. In truth, the national
Congress was quite powerless to protect its citizens. And this,
perhaps, because the new States had not yet fully evolved above the
plan of Colonial kinship. It was to be many years before the rights of
States gave way to the rights of the nation. The States were often at
odds with one another and would stand shoulder to shoulder only in face
of a general and overwhelming peril.

Spain, powerful, rapacious and cunning, stalked its prey beyond the
mountains. She dreamed of a new world empire, with the capital at New
Orleans, and her ambitions formed a sombre back-curtain before which
Creek and Cherokee warriors—some twenty thousand fighting men—manœuvred
to stop the white settlers straggling over the Alleghanies. These
logical enemies of the newcomers were augmented by white renegades, a
general miscellany of outlaws, who took toll in blood and treasure with
a ferocity that had nothing to learn from the red men.

So the over-mountain men had at their backs the indifference of the
seaboard.

Confronting them were ambuscades and torture. But there was one factor
which all the onslaughts of insidious intrigue and bloody violence
could not eliminate from the equation—the spirit of the people. The
soul of the freeman could not be bought with foreign gold or consumed
at the stake. Men died back on the seaboard, and their deaths had only
a biological significance, but men were dying over the mountains whose
deaths will exert an influence for human betterment so long as these
United States of America shall exist.

The fires of suffering, kindled on the western slopes of the
Alleghanies to sweep after the sun, contained the alchemy of the
spiritual and were to burn out the dross. From their clean ashes a
national spirit was to spring up, the harbinger of a mighty people
following a flag of many stars, another incontestable proof that
materiality can never satisfy the soul of man.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                              PAGE
     I. FROM OVER THE MOUNTAINS           3
    II. THE DEAD ARE DANGEROUS           27
   III. THE PRICE OF A JUG OF WHISKY     43
    IV. FOR WATAUGA AND AMERICA          68
     V. THE ANCIENT LAW                  86
    VI. ON THE WHITE PATH               106
   VII. IN THE MAW OF THE FOREST        125
  VIII. THE EMPEROR OF THE CREEKS       142
    IX. POLCHER’S LITTLE RUSE           174
     X. THROUGH THE NECK OF THE BOTTLE  197
    XI. SEVIER OFFERS THE RED AX        210
   XII. TONPIT CHANGES HIS PLANS        226
  XIII. THE SENTENCE OF THE WILDERNESS  237

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  RED BELTS


  CHAPTER I

  FROM OVER THE MOUNTAINS

With its sixty cabins and new log court-house Jonesboro was the
metropolis of the Watauga country. The settlers on the Holston and
Nolichucky as a rule lived on isolated farms, often entirely surrounded
by the mighty forest. Outside the tiny communities along these three
rivers the Western country was held by red men, wild beasts and beastly
white renegades. There were no printing-presses, and it required thirty
days for a backwoods horseman, familiar with the difficult mountain
trails, to make the State capital five hundred miles away.

The Watauga region contained reckless and lawless men, and anarchy
would have reigned if not for the summary justice occasionally worked
by the backwoods tribunals. North Carolina did not seem vitally
concerned about her children over the mountains. Perhaps
“step-children” would more nearly describe the relationship, with the
mother State playing the rôle of an indifferent dame.

On a July morning in 1784 the usual bustle and indolence of Jonesboro
were in evidence. Men came and went in their linsey trousers and
buckskin hunting-shirts, some for the fields, some for the chase. A
group of idlers, scorning toil, lounged before the long log tavern kept
by Polcher, quarter-blood Cherokee and whispered to be an agent of the
great Creek chief, McGillivray.

The loungers were orderly enough, as a rule, almost secretive in their
bearing. Plotting mischief to be carried out under the protection of
night, honest men said. Polcher seemed to have complete control of this
class, and more than one seriously minded settler in passing scowled
blackly at the silent group.

On this particular morning, however, Lon Hester was disturbing the
sinister quiet of the tavern with his boisterous manners and veiled
prophecies. He held an unsavoury reputation for being strangely welcome
among hostile Cherokees, even free to come and go among the
“Chickamaugas”—renegade Cherokees, who under Dragging Canoe had
withdrawn to the lower Tennessee to wage implacable war against the
whites.

Polcher followed him anxiously from bar to door and back again,
endeavouring to confine his loose tongue to eulogies on the rye whisky
and the peach and apple brandy. The other habitues saw the
tavern-keeper was deeply worried at Hester’s babblings, yet he seemed
to lack the courage to exert any radical restraint.

“Got Polcher all fussed up,” whispered one with a broad grin.

“He carries it too far,” growled another.

Hester, reckless from drink, sensed his host’s uneasiness and took
malicious delight in increasing it. Each time he came to the door and
Polcher followed at his heels, his hands twisting nervously in the
folds of his soiled apron, he would wink knowingly at his mates and say
enough to cause the tavern-keeper to tremble with apprehension.

This baiting of the publican continued for nearly an hour, and then
Hester’s drunken humour took a new slant. Reaching the door, he wheeled
on Polcher and viciously demanded:

“What ye trailin’ me for? Think I’m only seven years old? Or be ye
’fraid ye won’t git yer pay?”

“Now, now, Lon! Is that the way to talk to your old friend?” soothed
Polcher, fluttering a hand down the other’s sleeve. “There’s some fried
chicken and some bear meat inside, all steaming hot and waiting for
you.” Then, dropping his voice and attempting to placate the perverse
temper of the man by adopting a confidential tone, he whispered, “And
there’s things only you and me ought to talk about. You haven’t
reported a word yet of all that Red Hajason must have said.”

With a raucous laugh Hester openly jeered him, crying:

“It’s ye’n me, eh? When I quit here, it was ‘Ye do this’ an’ ‘Ye do
that.’ Now we must keep things away from the boys, eh? ——! When I git
ready to talk to ye, I’ll let ye know. An’, when I bring my talk to ye,
mebbe it won’t be me that’ll be takin’ the orders.”

“I’ve got some old apple brandy you never tasted,” murmured Polcher,
trying to decoy him inside.

“Ye’re a master hand to keep things to yerself,” retorted Hester,
readjusting a long feather in his hat. “But mebbe, now I’ve made this
last trip, the brandy will be ’bout the only thing ye can hoot ’bout as
bein’ all yer own.”

Several of the group grinned broadly, finding only enjoyment in the
scene.

The majority, however, eyed the reckless speaker askance. They knew his
runaway tongue might easily involve them all in a most unwholesome
fashion. Polcher’s saturnine face suddenly became all Indian in its
malevolent expression, but by a mighty effort he controlled himself and
turned back into the tavern.

Hester glanced after him and laughed sneeringly. As he missed the
expected applause from his mates, his mirth vanished, and dull rage
filled his bloodshot eyes as he stared at the silent men and saw by
their downcast gaze that he was rebuked. Standing with hands on his
hips, he wagged his head until the feather in his hat fell over one
ear. In the heraldry of the border the cock’s feather advertised his
prowess as a man-beater, insignia he would retain until a better man
bested him in the rough-and-tumble style of fighting that had left him
cock-of-the-walk.

“What’s the matter with ye all?” he growled, thrusting out his under
lip. “Don’t like my talk, eh? Ye’re lowin’ I oughter be takin’ orders
from that sand-hiller in there? Well, I reckon I’m ’bout done takin’
any lip from him. Ye’ll find it’s me what will be givin’ orders along
the Watauga mighty soon if—”

“For Gawd’s sake, Lonny, stop!” gasped a white-bearded man.

“Who’ll stop me?” roared Hester, leaping from the doorway and catching
the speaker by the throat. “Mebbe ye ’low it’s ye who’ll do the
stoppin’, Amos Thatch, with yer sly tricks at forest-runnin’. Who ye
workin’ for, anyhow? Who gives ye orders? —— yer old hide, I reckon
ye’re tryin’ to carry watter on both shoulders.”

“Don’t, Lonny!” gasped Thatch, but making no effort to escape or resent
the cruel clutch on his throat. “Ye’re funnin’, I know. Ye know I’m
workin’ same’s ye be.”

“Workin’ same as ye be, eh? Ye old rip! Fiddlin’ round in the same
class that ye be, eh?”

“Don’t choke me! Let’s go inside an’ have a drink. Too many ears round
here. Too near the court-house.”

With a wild laugh Hester threw him aside and derisively mocked:

“Too near the court-house, is it? Who cares for the court-house?”

And he grimaced mockingly at the figure of a man busily writing at a
rough table by the open window. Then, believing he must justify his
display of independence, he turned to the group and with drunken
gravity declared:

“The time’s past, boys, when we have to hide an’ snoop round. There’s a
big change comin’, an’ them that’s got the nerve will come out on top.
The time’s past when court-houses can skeer us into walkin’ light when
we feel like walkin’ heavy. I know. I’ve got news that’ll—”

“Now, shut up!” gritted Polcher, darting out the door and whipping a
butcher-knife from under his apron. “Another word and I’ll slit your
throat and be thanked by our masters.”

As Hester felt the knife prick the skin over his Adam’s apple, his jaw
sagged in terror. Sobered by the assault, he realized he had gone too
far. Instantly the loungers crowded about him to prevent outsiders from
witnessing the tableau. Old Thatch whispered:

“He’s dirty drunk. ‘Nolichucky Jack’ must ’a’ heard some of it. I seen
him stop writing and cock his ear.”

“To —— with Chucky Jack!” Hester feebly defied. “I ain’t said nothin’.”

“If you had finished what you’d begun, you’d never said anything more,”
hissed Polcher. “You can drink your skin full every hour in the day,
and that’s all right. But you’ve got to keep your trap closed. I’ve
tried soft means, and now I’m going to rip your insides out if you
don’t keep shut.”

Hester glanced down at his own bony hands and the long finger-nails,
pared to points for the express purpose of scooping out an opponent’s
eyes, then shifted his gaze to the grim faces of his companions. He
read nothing but indorsement for Polcher.

“I can’t fight a whole crowd,” he jerkily admitted.

“You don’t have to fight none of us,” warned Polcher, lowering the
knife and hiding it under his apron. “All you’ve got to do is to fight
yourself, to keep your tongue from wagging. You say you’ve brought
something. Is it for me?”

“No, it ain’t for ye,” sullenly retorted Hester, his small eyes glowing
murderously.

“Then keep it for the right man. Don’t go to peddling it to Chucky Jack
and all his friends,” said Polcher.

Glimpsing a stranger swinging down the brown trail that answered for
the settlement’s one street, he motioned with his head for the men to
pass inside. To mollify the bully he added—

“You understand, Lon, it’s yourself as much as it’s us you’ll be
hurting by too much talk.”

“It’s that last drink of that——peach brandy,” mumbled Hester. “I’ll
stick to rye after this. I can carry that.”

“Now you’re talking like a man of sense,” warmly approved Polcher,
clapping him heartily on the shoulder. “Lord, what fools we all be at
times when we git too much licker in. The boss combed me once till I
thought he was going to kill me just because I got to speaking too
free. Now let’s join the boys and try that rye.”

Outwardly amiable again, Hester followed him indoors; deep in his heart
murder was sprouting. He knew Polcher wished to pacify him, and this
knowledge only fanned his fury higher. And he knew Polcher had lied in
confessing to babbling, for the tavern-keeper’s taciturnity, even when
he drank, was that of his Indian ancestors.

The whisky was passed, Polcher jovially proclaiming it was his treat in
honour of Hester’s return from somewhere after a month’s absence.
Hester tossed off his portion without a word, now determined not to
open his lips again except in monosyllables. Old Thatch sought to
arouse him to a playful mood with a chuckling reminder of some deviltry
he had played on a new settler over on the Holston. But even pride in
his evil exploits could not induce Hester to emerge from his brooding
meditations.

For the first time since he had won the right to wear the cock’s
feather he had been backed down—and, at that, in the presence of the
rough men he had domineered by his brutality. Of course it was the
knife that had done it, he told himself, and yet he knew it was
something besides the knife. If Old Thatch had held a knife at his
throat, he would have laughed at him. No, it wasn’t that; it was the
discovery that there dwelt in Polcher’s obsequious form a man he had
never suspected. The knowledge enraged while subduing him. He recalled
former insolences to the tavern-keeper, his treatment of him as if he
were a humble servitor.

It was humiliating to know that, while he was sincere in his behaviour,
Polcher had played a part, had tricked him. He knew that Polcher would
gladly have him resume the rôle of bully, swear at him and treat him
with disdain. He had no doubt but that Polcher would meekly submit to
such browbeating. But never again could he play the bully with Polcher,
and all this just because he understood how Polcher had fooled him by
submitting in the past. This was gall to his little soul. The man he
had looked down upon with contempt had been his master all along.

His smouldering rage was all the more acute because he had believed he
had been the selected agent in mighty affairs; whereas, he had acted
simply as a messenger. On entering the settlement early that morning he
had smiled derisively at beholding the tavern and the usual group
before the door. He had supposed himself miles above them in the
secrets of the great game about to be played. Now his self-sufficiency
was pricked and had deflated like a punctured bladder.

Being of cheap fibre, Hester had but one mental resource to fall back
upon: the burning lust to re-establish himself in his own self-respect
by killing Polcher. He had been grossly deceived. He had been permitted
to believe—nay, even encouraged to believe—the breed was only the
vintner to the elect. It was while wallowing in the depths of this
black mood that the sunlight was blocked from the doorway by the
arrival of the stranger Polcher had glimpsed up the trail.

The newcomer paused and waited for the sunshine to leave his eyes
before entering the long and dimly lighted room. His hunting-shirt was
fringed and tasseled and encircled by a bead-embroidered belt. From
this hung a war-ax, severe in design and bespeaking English make. His
long dark hair was topped with a cap of mink-skin. In his hand he
carried the small-bore rifle of the Kentuckians. The loungers drew
aside to both ends of the bar, leaving an open space for him. He took
in the room and its occupants with one wide, sweeping glance;
hesitated, then advanced.

It maddened Hester to observe how servilely Polcher leaned forward to
take the stranger’s order. The other men, seemingly intent on their
drink, quickly summed up the newcomer. A forest-ranger fresh from
Kentucky. He stood nearly six feet in his moccasins and carried his
head high as his grey eyes ranged deliberately over the two groups
before returning to meet the bland gaze of Polcher.

In a drawling voice he informed—

“A little whisky.”

“You’ve travelled far, sir,” genially observed Polcher, his Indian
blood prompting him to deduce a long, hard trail from the stained and
worn garments. “That beadwork is Shawnee, I take it.”

“It was once worn by a Shawnee,” grimly replied the stranger. “Lost my
horse a few miles back and had to hoof it afoot.”

“Virginy-born,” murmured Polcher.

“Yes, I’m from old Virginy,” proudly retorted the stranger, tossing up
his head. “A mighty fine State.”

“Quite a number of ye Virginians seem keen to git clear of her mighty
fine State an’ come down here to squat on North Car’lina land,” spoke
up Hester, his insolent half-closed eyes advertising mischief.

The newcomer slowly turned and eyed him curiously and smiled faintly as
he noted the cock’s feather. And he quietly reminded:

“The first settlers on the Watauga were Virginians. When they came here
fourteen years ago, they reckoned they was on soil owned by Virginy. I
don’t reckon North Car’lina lost anything by their mistake.” He threw
off his drink and proceeded to deliver himself of the sting he had held
in reserve. “From what I hear, the Sand-hillers didn’t care to come
over the mountains and face the Indians till after the Virginians had
made the country safe.”

The two groups of men shifted nervously. Hester’s eyes flew open in
amazement, then half-closed in satisfaction.

“The——they had to wait for Virginy to blaze a trail!” he growled,
slowly straightening up his long form and tipping his hat and its
belligerent feather down over one eye. “An’ where was ye, mister, when
the first brave Virginians kindly come over here to make things safe
for North Car’lina?”

“I was eleven years old, shooting squirrels in Virginy,” chuckled the
stranger.

“An’ wearin’ a Shawnee belt! Who give it to ye?”

“The warrior who was through with it when I got through with him. It
happened up on the Ohio,” was the smiling response. “Anything else
you’d like to ask?”

“Killed a Injun, eh?” jeered Hester. “That’s easy to tell. Sure ye
ain’t the feller that licked the Iroquois all to thunder? No one here
to prove ye didn’t, ye know.”

Toying with his empty glass, the stranger again surveyed Hester, much
as if the bully were some strange kind of insect. He grimaced in
disgust as he observed the long, pointed finger-nails. “One thing’s
certain,” he drawled, “you never fought no Iroquois, or they’d have
them talons and that hair of yours made into a necklace for some squaw
to wear. Just what is your fighting record, anyway?”

“I ain’t never been licked yet by anything on two kickers atween here
an’ the French Broad,” bellowed Hester, slouching forward, his hands
held half open before him. Then he flapped his arms and gave the sharp
challenge of a gamecock. “I’m Lon Hester, what trims ’em down when
they’re too big an’ pulls ’em out when they’re too short.” And again he
sounded his chanticleer’s note.

“I’m Kirk Jackson, from the Shawnee country, and I reckon it’s high
time your comb was out,” was the even retort.

“Just a minute, gentlemen,” purred Polcher, with a wink at Hester.
“Fun’s fun, but, when you’re armed with deadly weapons, you might carry
a joke too far. Before you start fooling, let’s put all weapons one
side.”

Jackson’s brows contracted, but, as Hester promptly threw a knife and
pistol on the bar, the Virginian reluctantly stood his rifle against
the wall and hung his belt on it. It was obvious he was regretting the
situation. Hester read in it a sign of cowardice and crowed exultingly.
For a moment Jackson stood with his gaze directed through the open
door. Hester believed he contemplated bolting and edged forward to
intercept him. What had attracted Jackson’s gaze, however, was the slim
figure of a girl on horseback, and, as he stared, she turned and
glanced toward the tavern, and his grey eyes lighted up with delighted
recognition.

“Take yer last peep on natur’, ’cause I’m goin’ to have both of ’em,”
warned Hester, hitching forward stiff-legged, his hands held wide for a
blinding gouge.

“You dirty dog!” gritted Jackson, his soul boiling with fury at the
brutality of the threat.

With a spring Hester leaped forward, his right hand hooking murderously
close to the grey eyes. Jackson gave ground and found himself with his
back dangerously close to the group at the end of the room. He could
feel the men stiffening behind him, and he believed they would play
foul if Hester needed assistance. As Hester made his second rush,
Jackson worked with both elbows and knocked two men away from his back,
sending one reeling against the wall, the other against the bar.

Then he leaped high, his legs working like scissors, feinting with his
left foot and planting the right under the bully’s chin, smashing the
long teeth through the protruding tongue and hurling him an inert mass
against the base of the bar.

“No kickin’!” yelled Old Thatch, pulling a knife.

“You played foul!” roared Polcher, his suave mask dropping and leaving
his dark face openly hideous. “Shut that door, boys!”

The men at the upper end of the bar rushed to the door and not only
closed it but appropriated Jackson’s rifle and belt. There was a stir
behind him, and Jackson leaped to the end of the bar just vacated by
the men. Here he wheeled and snatched a five-gallon jug of brandy from
the bar and swung it high above his head. Then planting a foot on
Hester’s chest he warned:

“The first move made means I’ll brain this dog at my feet and then
damage the rest of you as much as I can.”

Polcher and his henchmen stood motionless, wrathfully regarding the man
at bay.

“You broke the rules by kicking,” said Polcher.

“Rules, you miserable liar and scoundrel!” hissed Jackson. Then in a
loud voice, “Open that door and stand clear, or I’ll smash this punkin
at my feet and rush you.”

“One minute!” softly said Polcher. And he whipped a long pistol from
under the bar and levelled it at Jackson. “You set that jug on the bar
and do it soft-like. You’ve played foul with my friend. He’s going to
have a fair shake at you.”

“Just let me git at him!” sobbed Hester from the floor. “That’s all I
ask, boys.”

“Before you can move that jug an inch, I’ll shoot your head off,”
warned Polcher. “Put the jug down and step to the middle of the floor.
No one will meddle while Mr. Hester has a fair chance.”

“Fair chance? You low-down murderers! Shoot and be——!”

“I’ll count three—then I’ll shoot. There’s witnesses here to say you
come in drunk and hellin’ for a row and got it. One—two—”

“Drop that pistol, Polcher!” called a voice at the window.

The tavern-keeper glanced about and paled as he beheld the muzzle of a
long rifle creep in over the sill and bear upon him.

“If you’d said three, it would have been your last word on earth.”

Polcher lowered his weapon but protested:

“Look here, Sevier, this stranger has assaulted one of my patrons. I
propose to see they fight it out man-fashion.”

“A man-fashion fight is a bit beyond your imagination,” was the grim
reply. “Have that door opened and see the stranger’s rifle is stood
outside. Be quick!”

Polcher nodded to Old Thatch, who threw back the door and passed the
rifle and the belt. Jackson tingled with a fresh shock as he glimpsed a
slim brown hand receiving the weapons. Then Sevier commanded:

“Now, young man, come out. If you want to be murdered, there’s a rare
chance for you anywhere along the border without entering this
hell-hole. Remember, Polcher, you’re a dead man if a hand is raised
against this guest of yours.”

Jackson sprang through the door and closed it after him. The girl he
had seen passing the tavern at the inception of the brawl was waiting
for him.

“Elsie!” he whispered, relieving her of his weapons. “I’ve just come
from Charlotte, where I went to find you.”

She was as fair as he was dark, and her blue eyes glistened as he
addressed her. Then she sighed, and an expression of sadness
overclouded her small face.

“I saw you for a second,” she faltered. “It seemed impossible it could
be you. I knew you would have trouble when I saw them close the door. I
left my horse and called Mr. Sevier. Kirk, I’m glad to see you—and I’m
sorry you came.”

John Sevier, or Chucky Jack, as he was commonly called after the
Nolichucky River he lived on, stepped round the corner of the tavern
before Jackson could reply to the girl’s contradictory statement and
brusquely called out:

“Come along, Miss Tonpit. And you, sir; this is no place for an honest
man to linger in.”

“I owe you thanks. I’ll try to thank you later,” said Jackson. “I find
Miss Tonpit is an old acquaintance—an old friend—I’ll walk home with
her.”

The girl cast a swift glance at Sevier and faintly shook her head.
Sevier tucked his arm through Jackson’s and quietly insisted:

“You must come with me now; Miss Tonpit is perfectly safe—perfectly
safe.”

To Jackson’s amazement the girl flushed, then turned pale and ran to
where her horse was tied to a tree.

“—— it, man! Virginians don’t leave such matters to chance,” cried
Jackson, tugging to release his arm. “The young lady should be escorted
home. This seems to be a desperate community.”

“I, too, am a Virginian,” Sevier calmly reminded, tightening his hold
en the other’s arm. “And I know the community better than you do.”
There was a peculiar hardness in his voice as he added, “Miss Tonpit is
perfectly safe in any part of the Watauga settlements at any time of
day or night, providing her identity is known.”

Jackson stared savagely into Sevier’s face and hoarsely demanded—

“Just what do you mean by that?”

“Nothing to her hurt, God bless her!” was the ready response. “But this
is no place to talk. If there was an ounce of courage to go with the
ton of hate back in the tavern, we’d both be riddled with bullets
before this. Step over to the court-house where we can talk.”

“But, Miss Tonpit? She lives near here? I shall have a chance to see
her again?”

And Jackson held back and gazed after the girl, who was now cantering
up the trail towards the foot-hills.

“Every opportunity, I should say,” assured Sevier, leading the way into
the court-house. “Now suppose you give an account of yourself. I’m sort
of a justice of the peace here. We’re hungry for honest men, God knows.
I believe you’ll fit in with the court-house crowd rather than with the
tavern crowd.”

“But Elsie? Miss Tonpit?”

“Your story first,” Sevier insisted, seating himself at the table and
motioning Jackson to a stool fashioned from a solid block of cedar.

Jackson surrendered and rapidly narrated:

“I’m Kirk Jackson, Virginian. I met the Tonpits in Charlotte a little
over a year ago and fell in love with Miss Elsie. I must confess my
suit didn’t progress as I had hoped. I think her father was opposed. I
can’t blame him. Major Tonpit’s daughter can look higher than a
forest-ranger. Anyway, I went back to the Ohio country, where I had
served under George Rogers Clark. I’m just back from there. Absence had
renewed my courage.

“I hurried back to Charlotte and learned the major had moved over the
mountains. My informant didn’t know whether he had made his new home in
the Watauga district or on the Holston. I saw and recognized her just
as that brute in the tavern was preparing to tear my eyes out. Now tell
me what you meant by saying she is safe anywhere hereabouts, providing
her identity is known.”

Sevier drummed the table and frowned. Then he explained:

“John Tonpit, according to all indications, holds the whip-hand over
these scoundrels here. They serve him, I believe.”

“Good heavens!” Jackson weakly exclaimed. “Major Tonpit, proud to
arrogance—having truck with those scoundrels?”

And he wondered if this were the girl’s reason for pronouncing his
quest of her as hopeless. Then he rallied with the buoyancy of youth.
If the only barrier between them was some sinister business of her
father’s, he would overcome it, although great be her pride.

“Can’t you tell me something more definite?”

Sevier tapped a document on the table and replied:

“This is a petition I’m about to send to Governor Martin. North
Carolina is dumping criminals and trash upon us, and we’re asking for a
superior court to handle their cases. The Creeks, under Alexander
McGillivray, are working day and night to get the Cherokees to join
them in a decisive war against all settlers on the Watauga, the Holston
and the French Broad. The petition asks for power to raise militia and
for officers to lead the men.”

“But how does Major Tonpit come into this?” broke in Jackson. “Tavern
brawlers and hostile red men!”

“I’m coming to that, if there is any that. The Creeks have made a
secret treaty with Spain. McGillivray pledges twenty thousand warriors
towards exterminating the Western settlements.”

“But you can’t know that for a fact.”

“You’ve been away the last year. You’re out of touch with affairs. The
treaty was signed at Pensacola, June first, by McGillivray on behalf of
the Creek Nation and by Don Estephan Miro, Governor of West Florida and
Louisiana, on behalf of Spain.”

Jackson was nonplussed by this intelligence. He gazed in silence at the
man across the table, whose words were building a mighty barrier
between him and the girl. Sevier’s handsome face softened in sympathy.
He was a tall, fair-skinned man with an erect carriage, and his slender
figure well set off the hunting-shirt he invariably wore. Eager and
impulsive by nature, he was now holding himself in restraint because he
knew his revelations were so many blows at the young ranger’s happiness.

“The major fits into all this. Spain and the Creeks?” Jackson faintly
asked.

“So I firmly believe. There is one flaw in the chain—the Cherokees.
For, while McGillivray has pledged twenty thousand braves, his Creeks
can’t furnish any such a number of fighting men. There are a few
thousand Seminoles he can get, but unless he lines up the Cherokee
Nation he has promised more warriors than he can call to the war-path.
One of the principal chiefs of the Cherokees, Old Tassel, is holding
off. He controls three thousand warriors. He wants his lands back, but
he wants to get them by peaceful measures.

“Major Tonpit has great influence with Old Tassel. Could he swing him
for a war against us, not only would his three thousand fighting men be
added to McGillivray’s total, but the rest of the Cherokee Nation, now
hesitating, would gladly rush in. Major Tonpit may supply the link to
complete the chain. It will be the weakest link in the chain, yet
absolutely necessary for McGillivray’s success.”

“Tonpit a schemer for Spain!” gasped Jackson.

Sevier frowned, then shrugged his shoulders and corrected:

“Scarcely a schemer. He isn’t cold-blooded enough for that. For a
schemer you need a man of Polcher’s cool mind. Tonpit is flattered by
attentions from royalty. He loves royalty. His head is in the clouds of
personal ambition. He sees himself a dictator of a mighty province
reaching from the Alleghanies to the Mississippi. If put in as royal
governor he would rule supreme, he believes.

“I became suspicious when he gave up his comfortable home in Charlotte
and went to the State capital and then came out here and made his home.
Since being here, he has informed Governor Martin that the Indians are
friendly and desire peace but that our settlers persist in stealing
their lands and abusing them. This has won him the friendship of Old
Tassel. Every talk Tassel has sent to the governor has been carried by
Tonpit.”

“That’s bad!” cried Jackson. “But I can’t make myself believe he
deliberately plots for Spain. Even in the national Congress men are
expressing different views as to what shall be done with the region
west of the mountains.”

“True. And Major Tonpit takes the views of Charles III.”

“But he may be friendly with Old Tassel and yet not be working with the
Creeks,” persisted Jackson, trying to find something favourable to say
in behalf of Elsie’s father.

“I know he is hand in glove with McGillivray,” solemnly declared
Sevier. “I know McGillivray looks on him as a man of insane ambitions
but lacking balance. I know McGillivray even now is holding back from
war only because he is not quite satisfied that Tonpit will live up to
his agreements. It isn’t the major’s heart or courage he doubts, but
his lack of balance. Once he gets what he believes to be a firm hold on
Tonpit, you’ll see things begin to hum along the Holston and the
Watauga.”

Jackson shifted the trend of conversation, seeking to find a weak spot
in Sevier’s hypothesis.

“After all, McGillivray’s probably over-rated. I never saw an Indian
yet who could plan a campaign and stick to it,” he hopefully said.

Sevier smiled ruefully.

“You don’t know Alexander McGillivray, who calls himself ‘Emperor’ of
the Creek Nation. His father was Lachlan McGillivray, a Scotch trader.
His half-breed mother was of a powerful family of the Hutalgalgi, or
Wind clan. Her father was a French officer. McGillivray was educated at
Charleston and studied Latin and Greek as well as the usual branches.
He’s a partner in the firm of Panton, Forbes and Leslie in Pensacola.
Naturally that firm has a monopoly of the Creek trade. He’s shrewd as a
Scotchman, has the polish of a Frenchman and is more cunning than any
of his Indians. He is an educated gentleman according to English
standards. He lives up to his title of ‘Emperor.’ I must say this for
him: he’s kind to captives and honestly tries to do away with the usual
Indian cruelties.

“Now to return to my petition to show where we fit in. It’s Old
Tassel’s deadly fear of the Watauga riflemen as much as his desire for
peace that is holding him back. And, if he should die, his three
thousand warriors would flock to McGillivray at once. The renegade
Cherokees, who call themselves Chickamaugas, are impatient to take the
path. As things are turning out, my riflemen aren’t enough. They’ve
served without pay. The new settlers demand pay. We must have power to
raise and equip militia.”

“I begin to understand,” Jackson sadly admitted. “This Polcher? He must
be active in anything evil.”

“He’s cunning. His tavern is where messages are brought and relayed on.
If word comes to Tonpit, it is left at the tavern and sent secretly.
Look here, young man! Perhaps I’ve talked more freely than I should.
You’re in love with Miss Elsie, and you’d be a fool if you weren’t. But
that naturally makes you wish to see things that exonerate the major.
Wander round and see and hear for yourself. In a few days, maybe, I’ll
feel like telling you something else. Only remember this: Elsie Tonpit
hasn’t a better friend west of the Alleghanies than John Sevier. By
heavens! I’m a better friend to her than her father is!”

He clamped his lips together and began rereading the petition.

Jackson studied the strong visage with new interest. Sevier’s face
reminded him strongly of Washington’s in its Anglo-Saxon lines of
determination. But there was also a certain mobility of expression, a
mirroring of emotions, which came from his French blood. He was a
Virginian, and the young ranger had heard his fame echoing up and down
the lonely Ohio. As Nolichucky Jack—usually clipped to Chucky Jack—his
name was reputed to be worth a thousand rifles when he took the field
against the red men.

But it puzzled Jackson to understand how this man, a gentleman born and
bred, could have left the solid comforts of his home at Newmarket in
the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah, thrust behind him positive
assurances of great political advancement, cast off the social
prominence he so naturally graced and bring his Bonnie Kate to the
lonely country of the Nolichucky.

Jackson’s material mind had taught him that one fought Indians because
one must, not from choice. A beautiful and devoted wife and ample
fortune appealed to the young ranger as being the goal in life. It
never entered his process of reasoning that Destiny transplants men to
obtain results, just as Nature supplies seeds with methods of
locomotion so that new regions may be fructified. The vital incentive
for Jackson’s admiration for the man was not his sacrifices but rather
his knowledge that Chucky Jack had invented a new style of
forest-fighting.

He could not know that in his lifetime a certain Corsican would utilize
the same tactics in overrunning Europe: namely, the hurling of a small
force with irresistible momentum and the achieving of greater results
thereby than by the leisurely employment of large bodies of soldiery.
The border already rang with the victories of Chucky Jack, who was to
fight thirty-odd battles with the red men and never suffer a defeat;
whose coming to the Watauga country marked the passing of defensive
warfare and instituted the offensive.

“Yes, it’s natural that you should try to think leniently of Major
Tonpit,” murmured Sevier without raising his eyes from the petition.

Jackson flushed and coldly replied:

“I am a Virginian, first and last. I have nothing to do with the
Spanish King.”

“We soon must begin to call ourselves Americans—if we wouldn’t bend the
knee to Spain,” gently corrected Sevier with a whimsical smile.

“Of course,” agreed Jackson. “We’re all Americans now. But first we are
Virginians, I take it.”

Sevier rose and stood at the window and stared thoughtfully across the
valley and spoke as one repeating articles of faith in the privacy of
his chamber:

“Virginians when we were colonials, but now Americans first and last—if
this republic is to endure. If this union of States is to last, we must
forget our former identity; we must be merged in one compact body and
be known as Americans. Well, well. It will all come some day, please
God!”

He broke off and leaned from the window and called out:

“Ho, Major Hubbard! Step here a minute.”

Jackson saw a tall figure in forest dress turn in the trail leading to
the woods. As the man came toward the court-house, he beheld a dark,
gloomy face, a countenance he could never imagine as being lighted with
a smile. Hubbard came up to the window, and Sevier said:

“Mr. Jackson, step here, please. Meet Major James Hubbard. Major, this
is Kirk Jackson, fresh from the Shawnee country and come to live with
us.”

Hubbard’s face glowed with passion, and he clutched Jackson’s hand
fiercely and cried:

“The Shawnees! I envy you your chance, sir.”

Sevier gently nudged Jackson to stand aside and, leaning from the
window, muttered:

“Major, times are ticklish. Any little break will mean ruin to many
cabins. Remember!”

Hubbard made some reply inaudible to Jackson. In a freer tone Sevier
asked—

“What is the latest news?”

“That —— mixed-blood, John Watts, and his Chickamaugas have gone to
water. They’ll be raiding the French Broad and Holston next.”

Sevier pursed his lips musingly and said:

“We must have more men, more arms and money. North Carolina must act on
my petition.”

Hubbard laughed harshly and sneered:

“Why should they give money when you’ve always been ready to foot the
bills? Ask them for money, and they’ll tell you that the Indians—curse
them, curse them—are friendly and much abused. And they’ll leave you to
pay the shot.”

“I can’t pay again. I’ve spent my all,” Sevier quietly answered. “But
I’m hopeful the State will show common sense. North Carolina must
realize we’re no longer able to handle the criminals pouring over the
mountains without courts; that we’re unable to stand off the Creek
Nation once the Cherokees join it. Old Tassel can’t always hold his
three thousand in check.”

“His chiefs rebel. Many of his young warriors are stealing away to go
to water and follow Watts,” was the gloomy response.

A few words more and Hubbard returned to the trail and struck off for
the forest. Sevier stood and looked after him uneasily. Wheeling about,
his face betrayed his anxiety and prompted Jackson to ask:

“What’s the matter with him? Any relation to Hubbard, the Injun-killer,
we heard about up on the Ohio?”

“He is the killer. He’s killed more Cherokees than any other three men
on the border. His family was wiped out by Shawnees back in Virginia.
You can’t make him believe any Indian should be allowed to live. And he
worries me. Now he’s off to scout the forest. It only needs the killing
of an Indian or so to explode the powder under our feet. Huh! I wish he
had not gone.”

“He had news?”

“Nothing more than we’ve suspected for a year. John Watts is always
ready to take the path. He’s the shrewdest of the Cherokee leaders. If
Old Tassel loses his grip or should decide that peace doesn’t pay—”

His French blood found expression in an outward gesture of the hands as
he dropped down at the table.

Toying with the petition and speaking his thoughts aloud, he ran on:

“But Major Hubbard wants war. He’s inclined to look on the dark side of
things. Tush! The State by this time realizes what we’ve won for her
without an ounce of help. Pure selfishness will compel the Legislature
to send us the necessary aid. Ha! There’s news, by heavens! The
Cherokees must have struck!”

It was the distant clatter of flying hoofs. Sevier dropped through the
window with Jackson at his heels. Polcher and his henchmen were piling
from the tavern and staring toward the mountains. Some one was riding
at top speed from the east.

Although the rider might be bringing the fate of a continent, Jackson’s
first interest was in a man and woman cantering up the trail from the
opposite direction. Instead of watching for the furious rider, he had
eyes only for the two. The man was tall and gaunt and of haughty
bearing, his sharp, cold face swinging from side to side as if he were
the master riding among slaves. The girl was his daughter, Elsie
Tonpit. The young Virginian forgot the approaching messenger and ran
toward the couple, his heart beating tumultuously.

To his glad surprise Tonpit greeted him with a shadowy smile and
stretched out a hand in welcome. The girl, however, betrayed symptoms
of alarm instead of being pleased by her father’s attempt at
cordiality. She even sought to evade the fond gaze of her lover and
glanced apprehensively toward the court-house. Jackson knew in a moment
that she felt shame for what she believed Sevier had told him.

“When Elsie informed me you were in Jonesboro, Mr. Jackson, I set out
to find you,” Tonpit now delighted the young man by saying.

“I have to thank her and Sevier for rescuing me from a ridiculous
position,” he blurted out and then bit his tongue for having uttered
the words.

“Ha! How is that?” coldly demanded Tonpit, but with his gaze seeking a
glimpse of the rider, now well among the cabins.

“The men in the tavern were taking advantage of their numbers,” quickly
spoke up the girl. “The man called Hester was the ringleader, I should
say.”

“This is the first time you’ve said anything about it,” murmured her
father, his eyes now lighting as they focussed on the bobbing figure of
the horseman.

“It only needed Mr. Sevier’s command to relieve Mr. Jackson of any
embarrassment,” she awkwardly explained.

Tonpit’s thin visage grew cold with hate.

“I and my friends refuse to be beholden to this man Sevier,” he harshly
warned.

And, touching spur to his mount, he beckoned the girl to follow him and
darted toward the tavern. With one backward glance she rode after him.

Jackson ran forward, as did Sevier, as the rider reined in before the
tavern door and wearily dismounted. From all quarters came the settlers
and their families. Polcher brought out a pitcher of brandy, and the
messenger drank deeply. Then jumping on a horse-block he waved a paper
in his hand and cried out—

“For Chucky Jack!”

“Here!” called Sevier from the edge of the crowd.

The missive was tossed into his outstretched hand. As he was breaking
the seal, the messenger drew a deep breath, waved his arms for silence
and shouted—

“North Carolina has ceded us to the central Government to pay for her
part of the war debt!”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER II

  THE DEAD ARE DANGEROUS

With a low word for his daughter to follow him Tonpit backed his horse
clear from the crowd and spurred away. For sixty seconds the astounded
gathering remained motionless. Sevier stared incredulously at the
message, while his neighbours gazed stupidly at the dusty messenger.
All felt as if they had been abandoned in the wilderness without
shelter or means of self-defence. True, the over-mountain men had
always fought their own way and financed their own campaigns, yet in
the back of their minds was ever the thought that, should a crisis
come, the mother State must aid them.

That a crisis was imminent was evidenced by Chucky Jack’s open mention
of his petition for soldiers. Chucky Jack was worth many riflemen and
had whipped the Indians many times. All the more proof that the
settlements must be in desperate straits when he was impelled to
beseech help. And of a sudden they were disowned; there was no mother
State, no slumbering asset they could call to life.

Sevier had not talked much about the possibility of Creeks and
Cherokees uniting, but the petition, coupled with whispered rumours
seeping through the cabins, now brought morbid speculations. How many
Indians would come and when, were the questions more than one man and
woman asked themselves. Who would go to hold the line on the French
Broad so that the red raiders might not penetrate to the Watauga?

Jackson watched Tonpit ride hastily away, followed by Elsie, and he
fancied he beheld elation in the man’s hard visage and sorrow in the
girl’s gentle face. It was quite a coincidence, too, that Major Tonpit
should ride forth just in time to learn the momentous news—unless he
had been expecting it and came purposely to hear it. His prompt return
home gave colour to the suspicion.

The young Virginian shifted his attention to Chucky Jack. Sevier
perused the message for the second time, crumpled it into a ball as if
to hurl it from him, thought better of it and tucked it inside his
buckskin shirt and called to the assemblage:

“Women and men of the Watauga, North Carolina will have none of us.
We’re shoved through the door and told to shift for ourselves. To be
exact, we’re told to look to the central Government for protection.
And, as you know, the ink is scarcely dry on the petition I was about
to send to the Legislature, asking for courts and militia.

“Without consulting one of the twenty-five thousand settlers on this
side of the mountains, North Carolina chooses to pay her share of the
national debt by the simple process of ceding us to Congress. She
proposes to pay her debts with lands we won by rifle and ax. The act
was passed by the Legislature a month ago, and for thirty days, while
the messenger was bringing the news, we have been set off from North
Carolina.

“During those thirty days our plight has been as serious as it is now,
only, not knowing the truth, we worried but little. This fact should
teach us that we can care for ourselves during the next thirty days,
and so on, until there is no danger from the Indians along our border.
So I ask you to be of brave heart and to remember the Watauga people
always have had to hoe their own row. Please God we can keep on.

“A year or two ago this message would have worried me none. I could
send out the call, and my old friends would respond overnight, as fast
as horseflesh could fetch them. If an Indian war comes now, it will be
more serious than what we’ve experienced in the past but nothing that
our rifles can not blast away. I still can count on my friends and old
companions-in-arms. Of the newcomers who have come to us in such
numbers I am not so sure.”

And he paused to dart a lightning glance at Polcher and his cronies
pressed about the tavern door.

“The national Congress oughter help us,” piped up an old man.

“It would be glad to. But the national Government, while empowered to
levy armies, can not compel a single State to furnish a soldier,”
Sevier reminded. “The national Government can do only what the States
will permit it to do. Last year several hundred soldiers stormed the
very doors of Congress and demanded their over-due pay, and Congress
was unable to escape the mob’s demands. There will come a time when our
Congress will have the power to protect its citizens in this, or in any
other, land. But not now.”

“If not now, then by the Eternal, men of Watauga, there is one power
that can defend us!” cried Polcher from the tavern doorway. “And we
have only to ask to be freed from either Creek or Cherokee.”

“Aye! Aye! Spain looks after its own!” cried another of the tavern
coterie.

“So does the devil!” thundered Sevier, enraged at Polcher’s making the
Creek menace common property. “We’ll get nothing from Spain only as we
pay dearly for it. And remember, there can be no danger from the Creeks
except as Spain sets the mischief afoot. All who would be free and live
in security follow me to the court-house. Messengers must be sent out;
delegates must be elected and called here.”

“What’s yer plan?” hooted a tavern fellow.

“My plan is to form a Government of our own and to be admitted into the
Union as a separate State!” retorted Sevier in a ringing voice.

The decent element raised a hoarse cheer, and faces heretofore gloomy
became inspired. Polcher quickly warned:

“Vermont’s been trying to be admitted ever since 1776. We can’t stand
on air, neither one thing nor another. Spain will protect us and give
us justice. If she should fail, we could turn to and drive her into the
gulf!”

“The time to drive her into the gulf is before you slip on her yoke!”
shouted Sevier. “And, if we’re able to do that same thing, why seek her
protection? To the court-house!”

The women gathered in knots to discuss the startling news. The men
followed their old leader. Jackson remained outside the court-house,
watching the scene. His experience with Kentuckians on the Ohio had
taught him the feeble central Government was powerless to function in a
crisis like this—and this because the thirteen States retained the
mental attitude of the thirteen colonies.

Polcher’s advocacy of accepting the protection of Spain was not
painfully repugnant to Jackson, no more than it was to some others west
of the mountains, who believed themselves forsaken and left to shape
their own destiny. When it hurt, it hurt pride, not a national spirit.
He repudiated the idea because of an instinctive dislike to domination
by any foreign power. His sense of Americanism was not shocked as
Sevier’s was, for the union Polcher openly urged, and which John Tonpit
was suspected of secretly promoting, simply meant a political
affiliation and not the death of national ideals, the seeds of which
were scarcely sown.

Jackson, however, firmly opposed the project, for his forebears had
come to America to escape overlords. Then again common sense told him
the law of compensation would decree that Spain’s protégés must pay
Spain’s price.

Being in this frame of mind, he saw no reason why he should not play
his luck by accepting Tonpit’s courteous demeanour at full face-value
and profit by it to the extent of wooing his daughter. His last meeting
with Tonpit before going to the Ohio country convinced him his suit was
frowned upon. Now, with the father’s smile still soothing him, with a
vivid picture of Elsie’s shy, backward glance, he had small liking for
the court-house and its jumble of loud-voiced phillipics against Spain
and North Carolina. The situation was localized in his estimation. And
yet he hesitated, his loyalty to Sevier, whom he had known for only a
few hours, holding him back.

Polcher came from the tavern with Lon Hester, and Jackson thrust his
thumbs into his belt and strode toward them, thinking it timely to
conclude the morning’s one-sided argument. But Polcher said some
hurried words to the bully, who turned and hastened down the trail,
while the tavern-keeper himself affected to ignore the truculent ranger
and strolled toward the court-house. Jackson turned to follow him, only
to behold the people pouring from the building. There came staccato
commands, and a score of men flew to their horses and rode away.

The Virginian breathed in relief. It was not necessary for him to
choose between love and duty. Chucky Jack had rushed matters through
with his characteristic energy, and the messengers were off to arrange
for the election of delegates. The tavern-keeper, too, was no longer
visible, and with nothing to detain him Jackson took the trail to the
south, his heart as light as his moccasined feet.

What recked youth in love-time even if the fate of the Anglo-Saxon race
in America were at stake! Ever thus does youth help shape the course of
political evolution, help win a world without realizing the
achievement, and only ask in the midst of astounding events that the
heart of a simple maid be won.

The dalliance of the young man’s thoughts blinded him, and his feet
followed the rough path unguided by his eyes. Some premonition that she
was near was what finally awakened him from his smiling reverie. He
halted and threw back his head with a jerk. Tonpit’s commodious cabin
stood in from the trail, surrounded by clumps of cedar and bass-wood.
Within ten feet of the ranger stood Elsie.

Jackson reddened with confusion. He knew he had been smiling as he came
down the trail, and the restrained merriment tugging the corners of her
mouth proclaimed her a witness to his deportment. He felt as sheepish
as if she had detected him making faces at himself in a mirror.

“Elsie, I’ve come all the way from the Ohio to win the privilege of
calling you sweetheart,” he hurriedly greeted.

She cast an apprehensive glance toward the house.

“I like you, Kirk. You know how much,” she wistfully began. “My father—”

“He seemed glad to see me,” he completed as she hesitated.

And he gained her side and took her hands in his.

“He is glad to see few men,” she warned. “He loves me, but to others
he’s cold.”

“Politics,” assured Jackson. “Big men always have political bees
swarming through their heads. I wouldn’t give a beaver’s pelt for all
the political power they can develop in this whole country. I’m a free
man, and you’re a free maid, and your politician is a slave. And you
must love me, dear.”

“And I’m a free maid, and I must,” she quoted, drawing him out of range
of the cabin.

“Elsie, not another step till I know,” he whispered. “I asked myself
every step from the falls of the Ohio, but now, you must—please!”

“Then I must if I must,” she murmured, dancing ahead toward a natural
arbour.

“Wait!” he cried. “I bring a belt from the Ohio to the dearest little
girl in the world. It shows a white road leading to a little cabin,
which shall be the happiest home in all the col—I mean the States.”

She seated herself on a log and he kneeled by her side. She remained
silent, her eyes averted to hide her glorious confusion.

“I’ve brought my talk,” he whispered. “What does the wonderful little
woman say to it? Does she pick up the belt, the white wampum, the one
road leading to the cabin?”

“I like your talk,” she confessed. “Oh, I like it more than you can
ever know, Kirk. But my father—he won’t let me pick your belt up.”

“I’m not asking your father to marry me,” he reminded.

“Don’t speak in that voice,” she whimpered, wilting against him. “Kirk,
dear! I’m miserable. Ever since coming over the mountains I’ve sensed
poison in the air.”

He patted her hair and waited for her to continue.

“It’s something I can’t understand. It’s something that keeps my father
up all night, walking his room. And yet, when I go to him, it’s to
always find him strangely exalted.”

“Politics,” he belittled. “What has that to do with our love?”

She lifted her head and revealed eyes round with fear and warned:

“But it does! It concerns our happiness deeply. Not that he has said
anything. Not that his love for me ever changes—”

“Good Lord! Love for you—change?” he gasped.

“I say it hasn’t, you silly. But after the messenger came and we were
riding home, he asked me if I would make a sacrifice for him. He didn’t
say what but gave me to understand it would be only for a short time.
Now I’ll make any sacrifice for my father, only—”

She persisted in her silence, and he gravely prompted—

“Go on, sweetheart.”

“Only I must know it will help him.”

“Tell me what he asked you to do and let me be the judge.”

“He’s asked nothing as yet. I think he plans to tell me tonight. He
said something about my understanding everything tonight. Since then
he’s been in his room, whistling and singing. Never in my life have I
heard him whistle or sing before. And, do you know, he has a beautiful
voice—and I never knew it before.”

“When a man can sing and whistle, he can’t be planning to ask much of a
sacrifice of his daughter.”

“Oh, I’m not fearing what he may ask. He’s been a good father to me. I
must be perfectly loyal to him in my heart. I only wish he didn’t have
men come to see him—that is, certain kind of men.”

She gave him an odd look, then, forgetting the house was hidden by the
trees, she gazed over his shoulder. He was quick to detect the glint of
alarm in her eyes and asked—

“Who’s with him now?”

“Nay, you must not ask me. That would mean I was spying on him.
Doubtless I’m very silly. I shall know all tonight. Tomorrow, if we
should meet alone, I’ll perhaps be able to tell you.”

“We certainly shall meet alone,” he promised. “But why wait till
tomorrow? Why not this afternoon or tonight? I sha’n’t sleep a wink if
I have to wait till tomorrow. Why not here?”

“Oh, I couldn’t, Kirk,” she protested. In the next breath she filled
him with ecstasy by declaring, “And yet I will if possible.
Tonight—come when the moon is clearing the forest, two hours before
midnight. He always goes to his room at that hour. I shall be here on
the hour and will wait for you, but you mustn’t wait for me. I shall
come promptly or not at all.”

“But if I come and you’re not here—” he began complaining.

“Hush, silly. I’ll leave a note on this very log. Don’t wait if I’m not
here. Don’t wait if the note is not here. It will simply mean I
couldn’t leave the house without disturbing him.”

“Why couldn’t I call at the house?”

“Oh, no! Not at the house,” she hurriedly cried. “Promise?”

“Very well. I’ll come as far as this arbour.”

“Now, don’t be ugly. Some time you can come to a house and know you’ll
always find me—”

“You darling!” he softly exulted.

She lifted her head from his shoulder and touched a finger to his lips.
A voice was calling her name.

“It’s father,” she warned, unwarrantably alarmed her lover thought.

He made to walk a bit with her, but she gently pushed him back into the
arbour. Then, giving him her lips, she ran to the house.

He should have walked the skies as he returned to the settlement, but
somehow complete happiness was held in abeyance until he could learn
what it was that Tonpit was to ask of his daughter. His peace of mind
could not return until he had seen her again and learned the truth. He
had worried none while with her, for joy had destroyed perspective and
dulled imagination. He had actually lived in the present, taking toll
of each delicious minute. Now he was recalling her father’s reputation
as a man of mystery.

Back east, before his last trip to the Shawnee country, he had heard
strange remarks concerning John Tonpit. Here in Jonesboro the talk was
resumed. He could remember when Tonpit was counted a poor man, but now
he seemed to be above want. The sordid fact angered him by persisting
in invading his speculations. John Sevier had the right of it in saying
Tonpit was engaged in a conspiracy—no doubt about that. But it was left
for the girl herself to hint that she might be involved in his wretched
schemes.

“—— his beastly ambitions!” growled Jackson, turning from the trail and
throwing himself under a clump of willows.

He lighted his pipe and smoked it empty before recovering any of his
natural optimism. After all, he told himself, a father could not be
unnatural with his only child. Tonpit’s mode of address, even when
talking to Elsie, was harsh. That characteristic induced one to attach
undue significance to his simplest statements. The girl had permitted
his solemn assertions to carry too much weight. She had confused the
austere vehicle of his spoken thoughts with the simple meaning of his
words.

“He’s a queer one,” Jackson admitted as he stowed his pipe preparatory
to resuming his walk back to the settlement. “I can imagine the poor
child being thrown into a panic by his cold voice announcing it’s going
to rain tomorrow.”

He chuckled a bit at this caricature of the maid’s awe, then fell back
under the willows as the long shadow of a man fell across the sunlight
within a few feet of him. Walking noiselessly, the stealthy figure of
Lon Hester swung by.

For a moment Jackson was tempted to accost him and conclude the little
argument started in the tavern. But his impulse vanished because of
wonderment at the bully’s presence at this end of the settlement. The
tavern was his proper habitat. Again he saw Polcher whispering in the
bully’s ear and saw the latter set out afoot with the purposeful step
of one going on an important errand. Linked up to this recollection was
the girl’s statement that her father had a visitor whom she was
unwilling to name.

“But it couldn’t have been the tavern brawler,” muttered Jackson,
rising and softly following Hester. “Still, Polcher was giving the lout
some orders and sent him somewhere. And Sevier says Polcher is a deep
one. Polcher showed he was for the Spanish alliance after the messenger
came. He and Tonpit have the same fancy, it seems. But Tonpit was there
and heard as much as Polcher did. What could happen that needed a
message and a messenger? Sevier says all messages are brought to the
tavern.

“Almost appears as if the affair was ripe for a sudden blow somewhere,
for something decisive to happen—and Tonpit was singing and whistling.
Good Lord! What with being thrown off by North Carolina and not yet
accepted by the Union, it certainly isn’t any time for the settlers to
take on fresh troubles. Reckon I’ve been selfish. I’ll see Chucky Jack
and tell him what little I know.”

Making a detour so as to escape the notice of the tavern loungers,
Jackson approached the court-house from the east side of the
settlement. The town was ominously calm. Small groups of men were
quietly talking, and all carried their rifles. As they talked, they
looked much at the court-house, where through the windows Sevier could
be seen pacing back and forth, his hands clasped behind him, his head
bowed. He was one man who carried the entire load of the settlement’s
troubles. He was idolized by the men, and there was none who would
think of intruding in this his great hour of anxiety.

“Reckon, if Chucky Jack can’t fix things up for us, there ain’t no
fixing to be done,” one man spoke up and said to Jackson.

“He’s a great man,” heartily retorted Jackson. “I talked with him this
morning for the first time. My name is Kirk Jackson, just returned from
the Ohio.”

“My name’s Stetson. My cabin is on t’other side of the court-house.
Seen you with him this morning. You’ll eat with us today. Where’s your
horse?”

“Broke a leg a few miles out. Had to shoot him,” the ranger sadly
informed.

“Shoo! That’s tough. I’ve got several. Help yourself any time. I’ll
tell the woman.”

“It’s a —— of a Government that leaves us folks to shift for
ourselves,” spoke up another settler, catching Jackson’s eye.

“Seeing how you’ve always shifted for yourselves, I reckon you ain’t
worse off than you’ve always been,” smiled Jackson. “And I reckon Jack
Sevier’s enough help for one settlement to have. The Indians are
awfully scared of him.”

“That’s ’cause they know he won’t wait to fight behind logs,” Stetson
broke in eagerly and with great pride. “They know that every time they
make a raid he’ll lead us straight into their country for a hundred
miles or so and rip —— out of their villages. Nothing takes the
fighting guts out of a Injun so much as to hear—while burning a few
cabins—that Chucky Jack is back in their towns burning up all their
corn. He’s thinking up things now.”

Jackson had halted his advance on the court-house because of the
respectful aloofness of the settlers. But now came one who ignored the
black frowns, an Indian. He was a Cherokee, and his path was to the
court-house.

Suddenly a woman’s shrill voice called from a cabin:

“The murderin’ spy! He’s come to see how we took the bad news!”

“There’s more of his kidney back in the woods!” shouted a man.

The Indian continued his advance. The various groups of men thinned out
and formed a half-circle behind him so as to block his threat. The
Indian halted and, still gazing at the court-house, threw back his head
and sounded the wolf-howl, _wa-ya_. With muttered imprecations a score
of rifles were brought to bear on him, while several men ran back to
the forest to scout for a hidden foe. But the signal was intended only
for Sevier, who now appeared at the window. A glance took in the
situation, the erect form of the red man and the half-circle of
menacing rifles. Leaning from the window, Sevier shouted:

“Put down those guns! I’ll answer for the Cherokee!” Then to the
savage, “The Tall Runner is welcome.”

Without a glance behind him, the Indian made for the door. Sevier
sighted Jackson and beckoned for him to enter.

Sevier was alone in the long room. He motioned for Jackson to remain in
the background and, addressing the Indian, said:

“Tall Runner, of the Aniwaya people, is welcome. What talk does the
warrior of the Wolf clan bring to me?”

The man of the Wolf, the most powerful clan of the Cherokee Nation,
permitted his gaze to kindle with admiration as he looked on Sevier.
After a brief silence he began:

“I bring a talk from Old Tassel. He tells me to say to Tsan-usdi
(Little John) that he is an old man. He says he is standing on slippery
ground. He says his elder brother’s people are building houses in sight
of Cherokee towns and that his young warriors grow nervous. He says the
white people living south of the French Broad have no right there, and
he asks his elder brother to take them away.”

Sevier waited for a minute, then replied:

“This is the talk I send back to Old Tassel. I will meet the Cherokee
chiefs in a grand council and fix a place beyond which no settler shall
go south of the French Broad and the Holston. Tell Old Tassel that, if
he stands on slippery ground, it is because the Indians have wet the
ground with the blood of white people, killed while travelling the
Kentucky road and while hoeing their fields along the Watauga.

“As for the settlers who have made homes south of the French Broad,
they can not now be removed, but, if the chiefs of the Nation will come
to a council, we will agree they shall go no farther. The Cherokees
know Tsan-usdi wants peace. But there can be no lasting peace so long
as the Cherokee Nation listens to the evil whisperings of the Creeks
and loads its guns with Spanish powder. Tell Old Tassel it was North
Carolina that sent the settlers south of the French Broad, not Little
John.”

The Indian remained silent for several minutes, then with a cunning
gleam in his eyes continued:

“I will carry your talk to Old Tassel. Who sends the talk? Tsan-usdi or
North Carolina? Or does Tsan-usdi speak for North Carolina?”

Sevier’s gaze hardened. He knew Old Tassel had learned of North
Carolina’s act of cession. This would imply advance knowledge on the
part of the chief. The messenger was sent with a colourless talk, his
real errand being to learn how the settlers were reacting to the
Cessions Act.

In a voice of thunder he warned:

“Brother of the Wolf, I am going to speak to you. Be wise and remember
my words. Tell Old Tassel the talk comes from Little John and his three
thousand riflemen. Tell him to forget that the settlements are no
longer a part of North Carolina. Tell him he is to remember that the
settlers never have had help from North Carolina and have always
depended upon their own guns. Tell him our rifles shoot as straight and
that our horses run as swiftly as they did a few moons ago. I will send
for Old Tassel when I have my council talk ready.”

Tall Runner was somewhat abashed but did not offer to depart. He
remained silent and motionless, staring furtively at the one white man
the Cherokee Nation feared above all other men. For three centuries the
Cherokees had made wars and treaties with the English, the Spanish, the
French, the Americans, with Creeks, Catawbas, Shawnees and Iroquois,
but in all their campaigns they had never shown so much respect, or
fear, for any one individual as they had for John Sevier.

Sevier knew Tall Runner had something on his mind, something he had not
intended to speak but was now tempted to divulge. Sternly, yet not
unkindly, Sevier prompted:

“My brother of the Wolf has seen something on his way here, or has
heard something. He thought at first to bury it deep in his head. Now
his medicine commands him to tell it. The ears of Tsan-usdi are open;
his heart is open. Does the Tall Runner speak?”

The Indian stood with eyes cast down as if irresolute; finally he
lifted his head, succumbing to the personal magnetism of Sevier, a
subtle influence that never failed to work on both friend and foe, and
said:

“It is not in the talk I brought from our peace town of Echota. It is
something I saw on the Great War-Path very near here. A dead man of the
Ani-Kusa.”

Sevier’s hands gripped the edge of the table.

“A warrior from the upper Creek towns,” he repeated.

“He was a messenger,” was the laconic correction.

The borderer fully appreciated the grave results sure to follow the
slaying of a messenger from McGillivray, Emperor of the Creek Nation.
One faint hope remained, that the Creek had fallen by the hand of a
Cherokee.

As if reading his thoughts, Tall Runner significantly added:

“The dead warrior was not scalped. He was shot by a white man hiding in
ambush. I found where the white man kneeled and waited. I followed his
trail back to the settlement. I found where his trail left the
settlement and made for the woods.”

There was no doubt in the minds of either Sevier or Jackson as to the
identity of the assassin. Major Hubbard, his heart rankling with
fanatical hatred for all red men, had left the village for the forest,
taking the direction the Cherokee would cover on returning home.

“When was the Creek killed?” quietly asked Sevier.

“The blood had dried.”

“Five hours ago,” muttered Sevier. Then aloud, “How do you know the
Creek brought a message for me?”

“Who else would he bring a talk to?” shrewdly countered Tall Runner.
“He carried no arms. He was a messenger. His moccasins were worn
through because of haste. He had not stopped at any of our villages to
get new moccasins. His talk was for the white men. Little John is their
chief.”

“And by this time the news of his death is spreading,” Sevier gloomily
mused.

“I threw boughs on the body. It may not be seen if Tsan-usdi goes and
covers it with earth. If others find it, the word will travel as far as
a red ax or a war-belt can travel.” Which was equivalent to saying that
McGillivray would surely learn of the killing and seize upon it as
pretext for declaring war upon the settlements.

Sevier walked to the window and back. When he halted before the
Cherokee, his countenance was placid, and his voice was gentle as he
directed:

“Go to Old Tassel and tell him my talk. That I will meet him and his
head men and give them a talk; that I wish only for peace and will hold
back the whites from going farther on Cherokee lands unless an Indian
war makes me use all my riflemen in defending our cabins.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER III

  THE PRICE OF A JUG OF WHISKY

Finding himself overlooked, Jackson reminded:

“I’m still here. If I’m in the way, I’ll get out. Of course I couldn’t
help hearing your talk with the Cherokee.”

“Don’t go,” Sevier replied. “I’m worried about the dead Creek. Tall
Runner says he was an Ani-Kusa, from the upper towns. He brought a
message from McGillivray. There was no writing on his body, or Tall
Runner would have found it and brought it here. That makes two
mysteries.”

“I don’t understand,” Jackson confessed. “Two mysteries?”

“Who was to receive McGillivray’s message? Who did receive the message?”

“Isn’t it possible McGillivray is trying to treat with you; that some
of the tavern crowd found it out and stole the message and killed the
Indian?” Jackson put the query with much animation, the theory growing
on him even as he spoke.

“No. McGillivray has spies at the State capital. He knew ahead what the
Legislature intended doing before the Cessions Act was passed. He knows
he couldn’t swing me into line with Spain. Believing that the Watauga
settlements are disowned and helpless, it’s the tavern crowd he’d
dicker with.”

“If Hubbard killed him, why didn’t he get the message?”

“I haven’t any doubt as to Hubbard’s killing him. He went in that
direction in time to meet the Creek. He left us with blood in his
thoughts, cursing all Indians and believing the Chickamaugas are taking
the war-path. He saw the Creek and shot him. He never bothered to
approach the body, much less to examine it. Either the Creek had
delivered the message or it was found on his body by some white man
before Tall Runner came along.”

“I saw Hester leave the tavern and go down the trail in that direction
right after the messenger brought the news of the Cessions Act,”
Jackson informed, his sense of duty overriding his disinclination to
say anything that might compromise Tonpit.

“Ah! Hester never quits the tavern unless it’s on important business.
But none of that gang would kill a messenger sent them by McGillivray.
It’s through him that Spanish gold comes to them. Do you know where
Hester went?”

Jackson was deeply embarrassed and felt himself slipping into deep
water.

“I don’t know, but I believe he visited John Tonpit. He was afoot and
didn’t plan to go far. A short time afterward I saw him coming up the
trail. I didn’t see him go to or come from Tonpit’s house.”

“My boy, why not tell it all?” gravely encouraged Sevier.

Jackson made his decision under the compelling gaze of the steady blue
eyes and briefly related his meeting Miss Elsie and his knowledge that
her father was closeted with a visitor.

“That would explain much!” rapped out Sevier. “McGillivray sent a
written message to Major Tonpit. The bearer managed to get it to the
tavern. Polcher forwarded it to Tonpit by Hester. If the Creek had
taken it direct to the major, he probably would now be alive. But the
system is to send all messages to the tavern, where they are relayed
without exciting suspicion. That Polcher is a deep one. He’s a natural
conspirator. He loves underhanded methods. He must be an able man to
hide his real self in the rôle of a tavern-keeper.

“Tonpit couldn’t do that. He’s insanely ambitious. He must always have
a dignified part to play. Useful at a certain point when his dignity
fits in, such as influencing some of our settlers to follow his lead,
but incapable of continual plotting. He’s just a fool figurehead. Yes,
I’m convinced Polcher is the more dangerous man of the two.”

Jackson hesitated and twisted nervously. His sympathies were entirely
with the settlement. Although he had known Sevier for a few hours only,
he was eager to serve him. Finally he blurted out:

“I expect to see Miss Elsie tonight. Naturally I don’t care to set her
father against me, but, if I learn anything that’s all right for me to
repeat, I’ll tell you.”

Leaning forward, Sevier swept his flaming gaze up and down the ranger’s
trim form in mingled anger and scorn.

“Young man,” he softly said, “you’re either an American or just a
two-legged critter. Can’t you see the time has come when it must be
decided once for all whether an English or a Spanish-speaking race is
to rule this country? What are your personal affairs compared with the
destiny of a world? As an American you’ll do nothing dishonourable. I
don’t expect you to wheedle secrets from Elsie, whom I’ve known and
loved dearly and who is as good an American as I am. But there’s no
reason why you shouldn’t go to John Tonpit and put the question to him
frankly: did he or did he not confer with Lon Hester this morning?”

“That means I lose the girl,” Jackson sadly reminded.

“Not if she is the girl I’ve always believed her to be. I tell you
she’s an American girl. She may not call it that, but she is. She would
despise you if you dodged your duty to secure her love. Remember,
you’ll get nothing worth while in this life except what you pay for by
work and suffering. God knows we who have won the Watauga and the
Kentucky lands have paid the full price. Tell the girl frankly you must
know more about her father’s doings from the lips of her father.”

“He’d simply rage and probably threaten to shoot me.”

“I need scarcely remind you that threats won’t scare a man who’s just
from the Shawnee country,” said Sevier with a smile.

“—— it! I’ll lose my chances of seeing the girl without learning
anything that would help you.”

“Tonpit will rage and bluster, and he’ll threaten and forbid your
seeing Elsie. But he won’t lie about Hester; there’s where he is weak
as a plotter. If he saw him, he’ll fume and demand what business it is
of yours. Then tell him you propose to marry his daughter. She’s of
age. If she loves you and is worth the winning, you’ll lose nothing.
The other way—trying to remain neutral—leads to dishonour and the
girl’s contempt. When do you see her?”

“Tonight—about ten o’clock.”

“I will be here waiting for you. I understand your feelings. It’s
natural you should feel a bit selfish. Love-making wouldn’t be worth
the experience if lovers weren’t selfish. But Miss Elsie would scorn a
man who slighted his duty. Our country comes first. If I can find out
what Tonpit intends to do, if only a hint of his next move, I can make
a close guess about what McGillivray wrote him. I know the Creek Nation
has been ready to strike for months and has been held back until the
Cherokees could be won over. Now that we’re ceded to the Union and
believed to be unprotected, the Cherokees favour the Creek alliance.

“Old Tassel is cunning beyond the average. He wants peace, but he’ll
fight to get back the French Broad lands. Tall Runner’s talk was merely
to show me that the Cherokees know our condition, a strong hint for us
to vacate the French Broad lands. If we’d withdraw from the Broad and
the Holston, Old Tassel would strongly oppose any alliance with the
Creeks. As it now stands, we’re facing the power of Spain, the enmity
of the Creeks and a very probable alliance between the Creeks and the
Cherokees, with the Seminoles thrown in for good measure. By heavens!
It’s high time we all began to be good Americans!”

“God knows I’m an American!” cried Jackson, catching the other’s
fervour. “I was training to be one when I first risked my hair among
the Shawnees and Wyandots. Yes, Sevier, I’ll give my all to block
Spain.”

“Good boy!” cried Sevier, and their hands met with a smack. “Now we’ll
go and eat.”

“Stetson asked me to come there. He’s offered to let me have a horse.”

“Stetson is of the salt of the earth, and Mrs. Stetson has a knack of
frying chicken that even makes my Kate jealous.”

The Virginian had no set purpose as, after the midday meal, he wandered
to the outskirts of the settlement. He wished to be alone with his
jumble of new thoughts. He had meant every word of his earnest
declaration to Sevier, but there still lingered in the back of his mind
the question, how much of his solemn statements had smacked of the
rhetorical, and how much was based on genuine, lofty sentiments? Sevier
was sure to set a listener’s pulses to dancing. He developed the full
strength of a man’s honesty. He had played Jackson up to himself as
being a hundred per cent. patriot.

Now, alone and with leisure to think it all over, Jackson feared he
might be only ninety-eight per cent. patriot and two per cent. selfish
lover. Yet he considered himself a good American. Hadn’t he fought for
the colonies? Now that only white wampum hung between America and the
mother-country, hadn’t he earned the right to order his life along the
lines of love, to cater to the two per cent. of his make-up and create
a home in the land he had helped to secure for Anglo-Saxons? Even
Sevier had said love was legitimately selfish to a certain degree. But
who was to determine the degree?

Chucky Jack at the age of seventeen years had married his Bonnie Kate.
He had had his love and could better afford to give more of his time
and strength to building up the new republic than a man who had fought
for years with no opportunity for wooing a maid. And were not there
many others, as fortunate as Chucky Jack, who could carry on the work?

“Wrong, wrong! All wrong!” groaned Jackson as he entered a little glade
and threw himself on the ground. “Jack Sevier would never have been
turned aside from his good work. Married or single, successfully wooing
or rejected, nothing could come between him and what he believed to be
his duty. He has vision. He sees things far ahead. He looks down the
years. He’s willing to sacrifice everything for results that can’t be
recognized until long after he’s dead.

“——! Why quibble with myself? He’s a bigger man than I can ever be.
Even now it isn’t my Americanism that stirs me so much as it is love
for Elsie. Lord, if only loving Elsie constituted Americanism, I’d be
the first patriot in all the land. Yet one can imitate Sevier. Maybe
the unselfishness will come later.”

Possibly Jackson underrated his nationalism. Certainly he had done all
that a man could during the years of incessant warfare. Undoubtedly he
averaged high above the status of many citizens. A proof of this was
his humble realization that Washington and others who carried the torch
of freedom were far above him in spiritual ideals. They were exalted to
the stars, while he groped along the ground. But, so long as he knew
this, there was every hope for his climbing high among the peaks of
democracy.

Of course the country was in rather a chaotic state, notwithstanding
the mighty labours of the giants. Congress was powerless to function in
important matters unless nine States gave consent. Sovereignty was
claimed by every State. While this condition existed, it is not to be
wondered that a simple ranger should find it difficult to comprehend
the exact essence of Americanism. The Articles of Confederation could
not be changed without the consent of every State. In short, Congress
could recommend but not enforce. It could borrow money but had no
authority to pay it back.

It could coin money but had no authority to purchase bullion. It could
make war and could not raise a soldier. With the States thus jealously
retaining the power of initiative, it was logical that a man should
identify himself by proclaiming his State citizenship. To merely say “I
am an American” was to speak anonymously.

But as Jackson mulled it over with chastened mind the obscure places in
his soul caught vagrant rays of light, and he marvelled at the birth of
new comprehensions. At first they were nebulous and vague in details.
As he concentrated, they took on substance until his soul-gaze swept
over a mighty panorama, as if a stupendous flash of divine fire were
lighting the future and revealing what might be if the dreams of the
dreamers came true.

“Just one State!” he whispered, closing his eyes to retain the picture.
“By heavens, that’s it! Washington has seen it! Sevier sees it! No, no!
It can’t be all that!”

This last, as the picture persisted in widening, sweeping over unknown
rivers, leaping towering mountain ranges not yet seen by white men, and
promised to include all between the rising and setting suns.

“A man would get drunk thinking on it,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes
as if wakening from deep sleep.

“Been takin’ a snooze?” greeted a voice.

Jackson glanced up and beheld Old Thatch, owlishly contemplating him
and weaving slightly from side to side in a manner that was reminiscent
of tavern whisky.

Jackson sat up and scowled blackly at the old man.

“You’re the fellow who objected to my kicking that cur this morning.
Clear out before I forget you’re a drunken old fool.”

Thatch smiled forgivingly and chuckled softly. His bleared eyes were
thoroughly amiable as he dropped to the ground and grunted in comfort
at feeling himself securely anchored.

“Lawd, but ye did sure give Lon his needin’s,” he mumbled. “Reckon
Polcher now wishes ye’d finished the job. Such doin’s! Such doin’s!”

Laying aside his animosity, Jackson surveyed him curiously.

“But Polcher and Hester are great friends,” he protested.

“Mebbe yas, mebbe no. He! He!” snickered Thatch, wagging his white head
knowingly. “Ye see, ye don’t know what I know.” And he rumbled with
laughter.

“Oh, I reckon I know all you know,” taunted Jackson.

“No, siree!” hotly denied Thatch. “Ye couldn’t. ’Cause why? ’Cause I
was the only one in the tap-room when they rowed it. I was sleepin’ in
the corner when their jawin’ woke me up. Lawdy, but there ain’t nothin’
but bloody belts atween them two!”

“Oh, they’re always quarrelling,” said Jackson with a fine show of
indifference. “What else can one expect from a drunken bully and a
low-down tavern-keeper.”

“Sonny, ye spoke the truth in a fashion. That Polcher treated me like
dirt, yes, siree! Like common dirt! An’ all I asked for was a gallon.
Yes, siree! Ye’ve hit the bull’s-eye in the centre. He is low-down. I’m
Maryland stock. He ain’t nothin’ but a onery North Car’lina sand-hiller
of a quarter-breed. He didn’t even dast to cross the mountings till
better men had gone ahead an’ made a clearin’.”

Then with ludicrous solemnity:

“But ye’re wrong ’bout their always jawin’. They never struck fire till
today. They had a clash this mornin’ afore ye come, Polcher ’lowin’
that Lon was too free-spoken, but it wa’n’t much. But what I seen just
now had murder writ all over it. They was in Polcher’s little room, an’
the coloured boy was asleep ahind the bar. Lawdy, but I could tell
things if I wanted to!” And the old reprobate hugged his knees and
enjoyed his own confidences.

“Bah! Hester is always trying to stir up a fight only to find he hasn’t
enough guts to go through with it,” sneered Jackson, yawning
elaborately and making to rise.

“Don’t go!” begged Thatch. “I’m hankerin’ for comp’ny. It wa’n’t Hester
what started the trouble this time. It was Polcher. I was asleep at the
first of it, but I reckon’ I didn’t miss much. An’ ye can lay to it, it
was somethin’ of a eye-opener to me! Never’n my life seen Polcher like
that afore. Nothin’ of the tavern-keeper ’bout him. No, siree! When
they come through the door of his room, he was jest out’n-out ugly. He
was askin’ Hester to tell what come of some job he’d sent him out on,
an’ Hester opined the major wouldn’t thank him for peddlin’ his ’fairs
round tap-rooms.

“Whewee! Jest a streak of lightnin’, an’ Polcher had him by the throat
an’ a knife at his weazen! He! He! Lonny knows now how I felt when he
was chuckin’ me this mornin’. Ye never see a cock-o’-the-walk eat dirt
an’ crawl like he did. Polcher made him say he was jest a yaller dawg.
Made him swear he’d know his master another time. Then he took off his
hat an’ slapped his face with it till the feather got busted. An’,
although Lon’s throat was free of Polcher’s hand when his face was
bein’ slapped, he stood mighty still an’ lam’-like an’ took it.”

“And Hester told what he was asked? Tut, tut! I don’t believe it,”
scoffed Jackson.

“Sonny, I’m older then them mountings, but I ain’t no liar. No, siree!
They don’t breed no liars in ol’ Maryland. I was wide awake an’ seen it
an’ heard it jest as I’ve told. Lon knuckled under an’ said he’d took
the word to the major.”

“Erhuh? What next?”

“Wal, that was the p’int that Polcher seen me in the corner an’ quit
Lon to drag me to the middle of the floor, an’ it was the time I ’lowed
it was best for me to act sleepy. Lon went back with him to the small
room, an’ it was when they come out that I asked for a gallon,
promisin’ to pay, an’ that Polcher treated me so p’izen mean.”

A piercing whistle penetrated the glade with the incisiveness of a
war-arrow. Jackson swung about to locate the source. The effect on
Thatch was quite remarkable. For one thing the whistle seemed to drive
the whisky fumes from his brain and leave him sobered and horribly
frightened. Scarcely able to speak, he dragged himself to Jackson and
huskily whispered:

“Go, go! Keep shet on what I’ve said. It’s Polcher’s whistle. He’s
lookin’ for me. If he sees me with ye, he’ll opine I’ve been blabbin’.
He’ll cut my throat, jest as sure as he promised to cut Hester’s. Oh,
Gawd! He’s comin’!”

Jackson took him by the shoulder and shook him violently and murmured:

“Stop it, you fool. Pretend to be asleep. Polcher won’t see me.” And,
picking up his rifle, he glided into the bushes.

The whistle sounded again, shrilling on the ear most unpleasantly.
Jackson manœuvred with the stealth he had acquired in stalking the
Shawnees and soon located the tavern-keeper. From behind a tree he saw
Polcher, still wearing his soiled apron, slowly advancing toward him,
his eyes shifting from side to side and with nothing of a landlord’s
urbanity showing in his face. Jackson remained motionless, determined
if discovered to see that Polcher did not find the old man. Polcher
advanced several feet, then pursed his lips and repeated his signal.
Thatch’s voice querulously called out:

“What’n sin ye want now? Can’t a man git a little sleep?”

Turning aside, Polcher strode through the undergrowth and into the
glade. Jackson slipped along after him until he saw him stop and stand
before Thatch.

“What are you doing here?” gently asked Polcher, studying the old man
keenly.

“Tryin’ to forgit ye wouldn’t let me have a leetle rye,” sullenly
answered Thatch.

“The stranger, the one called Jackson, walked this way. Have you seen
him?”

Old Thatch stupidly blinked his eyes and shook his head.

“Ain’t seen hide nor hair of him. Want me to find him?”

“No. Tell me what you thought of Hester’s talk back in the tavern.”
This was put in an ingratiating voice, but Jackson noted the hand under
the apron was clasping the hilt of a knife, and he insured Thatch
against an impolitic answer by drawing a bead on the boniface.

But Thatch, sober, possessed an animal’s instinct and smelled the trap.

“That Lon Hester’s a derned fool. Wish some one would comb him,” he
growled. “See how he choked me this mornin’? By Gawdfrey! Take it a few
years back an’ he wouldn’t be wearin’ no rooster’s feathers round this
yere settlement. Almost wish we’d let the stranger muss him up. Reckon
the new feller could do it, at that.”

“I mean, about what he said to me,” quietly corrected Polcher, drawing
a step nearer, both hands under his apron now.

“Lawd, he didn’t go for to give ye any lip, did he?” cried Thatch. “If
he did, ye was a fool to take it. Lem’me tell ye something Polcher,
that mebbe ye don’t know. Lon Hester’s fightin’ nerve is mighty poor
quality. He’s low-down. If ever he gives ye any lip, jest ye comb him.
Why, if I was a bit younger, I’d mount him in a second. Makes me feel
wolfish round the head an’ shoulders to see that feller carry on so an’
make his betters step aside. Now, ’cause ye keep a tavern, he ’lows he
can bully ye. But if ye’ll jest swing a bottle ag’in his chuckle-head
he’ll be as meek as a rabbit.”

He ran out of breath and paused. Polcher frowned slightly, withdrew one
hand and rubbed his chin doubtfully. Jackson hugely admired the old
man’s dissimulation and lowered his rifle.

“I thought you heard him giving me some lip when you woke up,” mused
Polcher. “I intended to ask you about it, but you was gone before I
remembered. I want you to promise me you’ll say nothing about it. If
the other fellows knew he’d made cheap talk to me, it might set them
all doing the same thing. And I have it hard enough as it is.”

Old Thatch avoided this trap also and replied:

“But I never heard nothin’. But I do still opine ye didn’t treat me
very friendly when I only asked for a gallon. I know where a Injun has
some furs hid, an’ I’d have fetched ’em to ye tonight. Ye might ’a’
took that chance on a old customer.”

Polcher laughed with his lips, making no sound, and slowly withdrew his
right hand from the apron and folded his arms.

“See here, Thatch,” he softly began, “that gallon is yours and several
more if you fetch me the furs—but leave the Injun.”

“Leave the Injun?”

“Exactly. Leave him so he’ll stay just where you leave him.”

“Ye mean for me to kill him?” hoarsely asked Thatch.

“Well, I’m quarter-blood, but I don’t like Injuns,” murmured Polcher.

“But that would bring a war-party ag’in us,” the old man protested.

“What’s that to you, you old coward? You wouldn’t have to do any
fighting. You’re afraid,” growled Polcher.

“’Fraid of a Injun! Huh! Like ——!” wrathfully retorted Thatch.

“Now listen to me. If you blab a word, you’ll never blab another. I’ve
changed my mind about the furs. I don’t want them. Bring a scalp and
get your jug.”

“I ain’t got a tender stomach when it comes to Injuns. But this cuss is
a friendly one. Lives near here. It would be like killin’ a neighbour.
I—I can’t do it,” cried Thatch, his old face now running sweat.

“Then I’ve made a mistake and talked to the wrong man. It’s your hair
or the Injun’s before midnight.”

“It means war on the Watauga cabins,” whined Thatch.

“That’s nothing to you. A single word of this to any one and I’ll first
prove you’re a drunken old liar, and then I’ll cut your throat. Now,
I’m going back and fill that jug.”

With this gruesome warning Polcher made for the settlement. Jackson
kept concealed, curious to see what Thatch would do. He knew the old
man would have no great compunctions about killing an Indian. It was
the after-effects he dreaded, the prospects of his white hair flying
from a Cherokee belt.

Polcher’s purpose was clear; he wished to precipitate trouble between
the Cherokees and the Watauga men. A mighty danger hung over the
settlements; it would only require a Cherokee slain by a white man to
bring the danger crashing down. Once committed to a campaign of
vengeance, the Cherokee Nation would gladly accept the war-belt offered
by McGillivray and his Creeks, and Charles III, of Spain, would decide
he held winning cards.

Thatch remained motionless until Polcher was out of sight and hearing;
then with a muttered curse he picked up his rifle and shuffled toward
the ancient Indian trail which led to the south. Jackson followed to
prevent the murder. The prospective victim must live near by, according
to Thatch’s words. He would be one of Old Tassel’s warriors, friendly
to the whites and willing to dwell on the edge of their civilization.
Mumbling under his breath, Thatch followed the trail only a short
distance before leaving it for the forest. Jackson was now at his
heels, wondering if he were fully decided to commit the crime.

The old man stopped close to the trail and sat down on a log and rested
his rifle on some dead brush and stared intently at his feet. Jackson
watched his face and saw his great weakness gradually conquer. Thatch
was picturing the endless procession of jugs one scalp would buy. By
degrees his aged eyes grew bright with resolution, and the lips under
the beard ceased trembling.

“What’s a Injun more or less?” he grunted, stooping for his rifle and
slipping and plunging both arms deep into the brush.

He began mouthing profanity but suddenly desisted and stared as if
death-struck. Jackson was greatly puzzled at this extraordinary
behaviour. From a decision to do murder he had inexplicably dropped
into the depths of terror. The watery eyes were round and fixed; the
arms, still buried nearly to the shoulders, were rigid and straining.
Then, very slowly, the arms were withdrawn, while the eyes, as if
pulled by a magnet, slowly turned downward.

Jackson nearly betrayed himself when three hands instead of only two
emerged from the brush.

“He’s stumbled on to the dead Creek—McGillivray’s messenger!” gasped
Jackson under his breath.

Incredulously the old man glared at the dead hand his living hands had
found under the brush. For nearly a minute he remained with his gaze
fixed; then a cunning expression crept over his base face, and he
turned his head in all directions to make sure he was unobserved.
Satisfied he was alone with the dead brave, he grunted and growled like
an animal worrying its prey and drew his knife and reaching deep into
the brush, worked with feverish haste.

It lacked an hour of ten o’clock when Jackson finished trailing Thatch
to his lonely cabin. After completing his horrid business, Thatch had
proceeded to an isolated Indian hut and hung about near the clearing
waiting for an opportunity to steal the furs. Polcher had told him the
furs were not necessary, but possibly the old man planned to palm off
the scalp as having belonged to the owner of the pelts and thus doubly
insure his supply of strong drink. But the Indian owner had remained
near his cabin door, and as the shadows gathered the old man sought his
cabin.

Jackson had planned to follow Thatch until he went for his whisky, but
as time pressed he abandoned his purpose and hurried back to find
Sevier. He was much chagrined to find no candle burning in the
court-house. If he was to keep his appointment with Elsie, he could not
waste any time looking for his friend. He hesitated for a moment, then
set off for the Tonpit cabin.

He stood at the edge of the clearing just as the moon climbed above the
forest crown. The cabin was dark, and a hush hung over the place. He
proceeded to the arbour and softly called her name. Even as he paused
for her to answer, he was convinced she would not come. Not only did
the clearing and the cabin exhale the atmosphere of something
abandoned, but the queer fancy obsessed him that life had never dwelt
there; that his meeting with the girl in the morning hours was a dream.

He had promised her he would not seek her at the house, and he had
assured Sevier he would seek her father there. The silence was
oppressive and grew upon him and his first feeling, which was of
sadness, gave place for alarm.

Groping his way to the log, he brushed it with his fingers and was
rewarded by finding a scrap of paper. This should have brought him
happiness and should have dispelled his morbid imaginings, for it
proved she had been there a short time since and, therefore, must even
now be in the cabin. The effect on his melancholy was quite the
contrary; it savoured more of some memento of old, dead days, like the
finding of a keepsake in the débris of ancient things.

“Idiot!” he snarled at himself. “One would think I was bewitched. Elsie
has been here and left a word for me. Now to see what she has to say.”

He hastened out into the thin moonlight and essayed to read the paper
but was baffled. It was maddening to know he must wait until he reached
a cabin light before he could know her message. It was a small,
irregular piece of paper, suggesting it had been torn hurriedly from a
larger piece. This in itself, betokening great haste or need of
secrecy, was disquieting. He turned, eager to reach a light, then
remembered his word to Sevier. Thrusting the paper into his
hunting-shirt, he strode through the clumps of shrubbery and made for
the cabin.

Elsie had said her father retired to his room at this hour but not to
sleep. He walked the floor much of the night, but no light shone in the
cabin. To make sure, Jackson made a circuit of the house before
approaching the door. Then as he raised his hand to rap his first
premonition of emptiness came back to him. He pounded lustily and
gained no heed. The cabin was dead. He seized the latch-string only to
drop it. He knew he could gain an entrance easily. Tonpit would not
bother to lock the house.

If Sevier were correct in his surmises, the thieves in the settlement
would respect the place as belonging to a friend of McGillivray. Honest
men would not intrude. But what would it profit for him to enter? He
had no light, and he doubted if a crumb of fire would be burning in the
fireplace now it was July. His fumbling hands would find many reminders
of the girl, and he needed no more than his heart now held.

Turning away, he regained the trail and hastened back to the
settlement. As he approached each cabin, he pulled forth the paper,
hoping to find a lighted window outside of which he could pause and
read his message. The settlers, however, retired early in the Watauga
region, and each cabin was a squat, dark mass. But ahead there did
gleam a light, a tiny beacon, and he knew Sevier was awaiting his
return to the court-house.

He ran swiftly and noiselessly and without pausing to announce himself
pushed open the door and jumped across the threshold. Sevier was seated
at the table, his right elbow resting on it, his hand gripping a long
pistol, the muzzle of which covered the door.

“You, Jackson!” he softly exclaimed, dropping the pistol. “You come as
if the devil was after you.”

“There’s no one in the Tonpit house. She left a message for me, and I
haven’t had a chance to read it,” panted Jackson, snatching up a candle
and holding it close to the paper. Sevier watched his face closely and
saw the dark features change from a frown of perplexity to a scowl of
understanding.

“Read!” choked Jackson, restoring the candle to the table and dropping
the note.

Sevier bowed over it and read—

                           Little Talassee.

“——!” gasped Jackson, wiping his wet face. “Little Talassee! Where
McGillivray, Emperor of the Creeks, lives!”

The writing was a mere scrawl, as if the girl had but a moment.

“It was a surprise to her,” murmured Sevier. “She wasn’t prepared for
it. They started immediately after her father gave the word. Of course
he went with her. He isn’t entirely an idiot.”

“But why? Why?” was Jackson’s agonized query.

Sevier rose and paced to the window and back, his brows wrinkled in
perplexity. But when he halted at the table again, the furrows on his
forehead were ironed out. Placing a hand on Jackson’s shoulder, he said:

“I think I have it. The Creek messenger brought a talk for Tonpit, a
writing from McGillivray. Both McGillivray and Tonpit knew what the
Legislature intended to do. Tonpit was here to be on the ground. His
reward was to be great if he influenced the bulk of the settlers to
submit peacefully to Spain’s rule. But McGillivray, in putting
everything at stake, feared Tonpit would not stand firm. So, I believe,
his message was to demand a hostage, a guarantee that Tonpit would see
the matter through to the end. He demanded the girl as the hostage. Her
father consented.”

“Good God! Impossible! His own daughter!” choked Jackson.

“Wait a bit. Alexander McGillivray is very much the gentleman. In case
of an Indian war, the girl is safer with him than she is in Jonesboro.
He won’t harm her. She remains his guest while her father carries out
his end of the bargain. The messenger sent the writing to Tonpit
through one of the tavern crowd—”

“Hester!”

“But, instead of turning and making tracks for home once the message
was delivered, the Creek waited. He came stealthily and even avoided
the Cherokee towns. Why should he invite discovery by hanging around on
the edge of Jonesboro? Because he was waiting to guide Tonpit and the
girl back to the Coosa River. I’ve been down and looked the ground
over. He was killed while sitting in a clump of bushes. His slayer’s
trail entered the woods from this settlement and then returned here. I
followed it both ways until it was lost in the beaten path. Hubbard did
it, all right.”

Jackson then rapidly told of his meeting with Thatch, the quarrel
between Hester and Polcher and the latter’s bargain for a Cherokee
scalp and Thatch’s substitution of the Creek’s hair.

Sevier heard him through in silence until he described the taking of
the scalp. Then the borderer exclaimed aloud and cried—

“That’s more important than the disappearance of the girl!”

“John Sevier—”

“No, no. Calm yourself! Miss Elsie will be safe in McGillivray’s town.
But, if it’s known a peaceful Cherokee has been murdered, we’ll have
Old Tassel’s three thousand savages joining with Watts without waiting
for any help from the Creeks. That will be the chance McGillivray has
been waiting for—and the Lord help the Watauga, the Holston and the
French Broad and poor John Robertson down on the Cumberland!”

“But no Cherokee will be missing, let alone be dead. It’s a Creek that
furnishes the scalp,” reminded Jackson.

“And we can’t afford to have the Creek’s murder known any better than
we could a Cherokee’s,” cried Sevier. “McGillivray would never forgive
the slaying of his messenger. The office is almost sacred. —— Hubbard
for getting us into such a mess! Oh, why didn’t I examine the
brush-pile when down there! I found it easy enough but thought it could
wait till I had more time. Time? Every second fights against us!”

“If Major Hubbard hadn’t killed the Creek, then Thatch would have wiped
out a Cherokee. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.”

“Not so. You would have stopped Thatch. But we’re wasting time. Make
for the tavern. If Thatch isn’t in Polcher’s room in the back end
toward the garden, he hasn’t arrived. You must hold him up and take the
scalp from him.”

“And you?”

“I’m off to do what I should have done before—bury the Creek where none
will find him. Report to me here. Remember what is at stake!”

“I’m an American,” growled Jackson, snatching up his rifle and gliding
from the room.

The tap-room of the tavern contained half a dozen patrons, who sat
along the walls in silence, as if waiting. A mulatto boy presided over
the bar. There were none of the usual loungers outside the door, and
the door was closed. By these signs Jackson knew Polcher had dismissed
all but a trusty few so as to leave a clear path for Old Thatch.
Pausing only long enough to make sure Hester was not in the tap-room,
the ranger skirted the zone of light and gained the garden at the rear.

There was a light in the room, but Jackson could not make out any
occupants. From his position a man on either side of the room would be
out of range. To make sure Thatch was not already there, he dropped
behind some currant bushes and commenced crawling to one side. His
manœuvre was halted by the sudden appearance of Polcher’s figure
blocking the window.

Then came the devilish whistle that carried the edge of a lance, and
Jackson was startled and chagrined to hear a feeble reply back of him.
Steps shuffled nearer, and the young Virginian knew he had lost his
chance of intercepting Thatch. However, the game was not lost. The old
man would deliver his ghastly trophy, and the next play would be to
vault through the window and take it away from the tavern-keeper.

“Can’t see a derned thing facin’ the light,” croaked the complaining
voice of Thatch.

“_Ssst!_ You fool!” hissed Polcher, placing the candle on the floor so
that it fed up against his ferocious face but no longer blinded the
gaze of his tool. “Come close. I’ve cleared the babblers from the
tap-room, but it’s best even they should not see you. I have the jug
here, filled. Have you the price?”

“I’ve fetched the price,” shivered Thatch, and he passed within three
feet of Jackson in making for the window.

“Good! Good!” softly applauded Polcher. “I knew you had the right stuff
in you.”

“I—I couldn’t git no furs!” huskily confessed Thatch.

“You brought the other?” anxiously demanded Polcher.

“It’s here in my shirt.”

“Then —— the furs and hand over.”

“Here she be, but I’m mighty onnerved. Kindly pass out the jug afore I
drop. I feel like the devil’s been taggin’ every one of my steps. Ugh!”

“Just a minute,” mumbled Polcher, ducking from Jackson’s view in
bending close to the light.

“I tell ye I need some licker now,” insisted Thatch. “I feel dretful
sick. I can see all sorts of critters right beside me.”

“Hush, you fool!” gritted Polcher, raising his head. “Here, I’ll hold
it. Drink!” There came a protracted gurgling, followed by a deep sigh
of content.

“Reckon now I’m game to face all the devils atween the Watauga an’ the
Cumberland,” declared Thatch. “Gim’me my jug.”

“Not so fast,” muttered Polcher. “Stand close to the window. I’m going
to lift the light long enough to see you ain’t covered with blood. That
would give the whole game away.”

“There ain’t a speck on me,” proudly assured Thatch, leaning against
the sill.

Polcher lifted the candle for a moment and briefly examined the head
and shoulders of the old man, then dropped to the floor again.

“Ye’re a —— of a long time payin’ over that jug,” grumbled Thatch. “I
want to be gittin’ back to my cabin. Goin’ to make a night of it.
Reg’lar old blue devil comes out an’ grins at me—lives in the
fireplace. Keeps yappin’ for me to make the fire hotter’n hotter. That
is, he does when I have ’nough whisky.”

Polcher reappeared above the sill and seized Thatch by the arm and
hoarsely accused:

“What the devil does this mean? This ain’t a prime, fresh scalp. It’s
more’n a dozen hours old.”

“What ye tryin’ to make out now, Polcher,” choked Thatch, striving in
vain to keep his terror from showing.

Polcher maintained his grip on the old man’s arm while he ducked his
head for another study of the scalp. Then with a smothered oath he
hissed—

“Creek hair! You—”

“Don’t! Don’t!” pleaded Thatch, his voice squealing. And he sought to
tear his arm loose.

Polcher held him firmly and stared with lack-luster eyes into the
frightened face for nearly a minute. His gaze seemed to exert a
hypnotic influence on the wretch, for the struggling ceased, and the
pleading stopped.

“Now tell me where you got a Creek scalp,” gently commanded Polcher.

Mumblingly and often inaudible to the eavesdropper behind the currant
bushes, Thatch blurted out his story of having found a warrior buried
under some brush. The man had been dead only a few hours, and he
supposed it was a Cherokee.

“It was atween the three black oaks an’ a clump of poplars,” he
explained. “An’ I couldn’t see why his sculp wasn’t jest as good as if
I’d done for him.”

“It’s just as good,” slowly replied Polcher. “It’s much better. And the
Watauga will pay the price when McGillivray hears of it. His messenger
killed by the settlers! By the Almighty, but won’t he rage! And I know
who killed him and scalped him, and we’ll prove it.”

“Polcher! Ye don’t go for to throw me, do ye?” whispered Thatch.

Polcher laughed.

“None of my friends did this.”

Thatch began to understand and faltered.

“Chucky Jack?”

“Think I’m a fool? No one so high as that.”

“Promise me it ain’t me,” groaned Thatch, his fears returning.

“No one so low as you, old friend.”

“—— an’ brimstone! Spit it out, Polcher. Ye make me think of that big
blue devil in my fireplace! What’s the idee?”

“I have six witnesses in the tap-room who’ll swear that from a distance
they saw you try to stop the murderer from killing the Creek; that,
after he had killed and scalped his victim, he chased you into the
woods to prevent you from blabbing.”

“Good!” ejaculated Thatch, his form straightening.

“They’ll swear that they came and told me and that we were about to go
out and search for you and the murderer, when you came running here,
chased by the scoundrel.”

“Hold on!” spluttered Thatch. “What’s that ’bout him tryin’ to ketch
me? Of course he didn’t ketch me, did he?”

“Yes!” softly cried Polcher, darting his body half out the window to
secure room for knife-play.

It was over before Jackson dreamed of what the finale was to be. With a
low groan the old man fell to the ground, and the tavern-keeper’s
figure was drawn inside the window like some monstrous spider retiring
to its lair.

With a wild shout of rage Jackson leaped to his feet and discharged his
rifle into the room a fraction of a second after Polcher had dropped
below the sill. The report had hardly jarred the night calm before the
landlord was raising his head to glimpse the ranger’s distorted visage
almost at the window. Darting to the door opening into the tap-room,
Polcher threw it back and screamed:

“Help! Help! Surround the building! Jackson, the ranger, just killed
Old Thatch in the garden! Jackson killed an Indian. Thatch saw him and
he followed the old man here to stop his telling me! Back of the
building and head him off if he takes to the woods!”

Nonplussed, incapable of intelligent thinking for a moment, Jackson
stood with empty gun while Polcher shouted his terrible accusations.
Then came the rush of swift feet, and the young Virginian knew
Polcher’s creatures had been kept in waiting for just such work. He
knew Thatch would have been killed in any event and the alarm given
that Kirk Jackson had done for him.

Retreating from the garden, he worked his way toward the court-house,
only to observe lights springing up in the nearest cabins, the inmates
being alarmed by the rifle-shot and the loud cries of Polcher and his
men. Jackson dodged one of the tavern posse and escaped discovery by a
hair-breadth. The court-house was dark, Sevier had not returned. To
wait for him and withstand the temper of Polcher’s creatures was out of
the question. At the midday meal Stetson had repeated his offer of a
horse, urging him to select an animal from the log corral any time.

Five minutes after escaping the garden he was well down the trail back
of the court-house and leading a horse from the pen.

Another five minutes and Sevier came face to face with a group of
citizens in front of the court-house. Some of them carried torches.
Among them were several of Polcher’s men; some were honest men.

“What’s all this confusion about?” demanded Sevier. “One would think
there was an Indian raid on.”

“Yer friend, Kirk Jackson, has killed a friendly Injun!” roared a
tavern man.

“Prove that, and we shall have to hang Mr. Jackson,” Sevier promptly
replied. “But, if any one tries any promiscuous hanging, he’ll dangle
from an oak limb just as sure as I’m called Nolichucky Jack. Burn that
fact into your brains. We belong to no State now. Until we’ve arranged
some form of government, I’m the law. Let a hair of Jackson’s head be
harmed before his guilt is proven and I’ll hang the offender. And the
first man to tread air will be Polcher, the tavern-keeper. Now we’ll
hear the evidence.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER IV

  FOR WATAUGA AND AMERICA

While some of the men, notably those under the influence of Polcher,
pressed the search for Jackson, others heeded Sevier’s request and
repaired to the court-house to conduct an inquiry into the tragedy.
There was none so simple-minded as not to realize that the death of
either Creek or Cherokee might precipitate a bloody war. With Spain in
league with the Creek Nation, it was only the pacific tendency of Old
Tassel that had restrained the Cherokees under his immediate control.
There were other thousands of Cherokees who only waited for a strong
incentive to send them into line with the Creeks.

The five lower towns on the western frontier of the Cherokee country,
including Creeks, Shawnees and white renegades as well as the original
Cherokee founders, lusted and clamoured for battle. John Watts and
Dragging Canoe, their leaders, only waited to augment their numbers
before striking. To start the riot of bloodshed and burning cabins it
only required some isolated act such as the unprovoked slaying of an
Indian near a white settlement. For two years the situation had been
shaping up. If ever Spain was to establish an empire by force in
America, no fairer opportunity could exist than the present.

Of course there was Old Thatch’s death to be investigated, but aside
from his tavern cronies there were few to lament his passing. His
demise could be considered leisurely; it carried no train of red axes.
The murder of the Indian was epochal. The settlers assembled in the
court-house viewed the situation objectively. Whether the dead be Creek
or Cherokee, his people would seek reprisal. Sevier’s vision carried
him beyond the Watauga. He saw the destiny of the new world about to
unfold. The vast western country was unexplored except as
half-civilized forest-rangers penetrated depths they could not
comprehend.

The door to this unknown region was closed, and Sevier knew it must
soon open and reveal a home-maker’s paradise. Bold men in Kentucky had
glimpsed the marvellous possibilities. Now was the crisis; an Indian’s
death might be the hinge on which the door would swing to admit either
imperial Spain or democratic America. Could it be kept shut a bit
longer, until Chucky Jack had summoned the faithful, then let it open
as widely as it would and Spain face her answer.

“Where’s this man Jackson?” asked a settler.

“Probably dodging the mob. He’ll appear when he knows he can have a
fair hearing,” said Sevier. Then to a man near the door, “Stetson, go
and find Polcher. He doesn’t seem to be here.”

As the messenger departed, Sevier began scribbling on the back of his
petition. The men believed he was setting down the known facts of the
double killing. Had they glanced over his shoulder they would have read:

Isaac Shelby, Geo. Rogers Clark and Benj. Logan will raise 5,000 men
in Ky.

Arthur Campbell will be good for 3,000 more in southwest Va.

Robertson can surely bring 1,000 from the Cumberland.

Elijah Clarke can raise at least 5,000 in northern Georgia.

We are good for 3,000.

Tot. 17,000 rifles—if we have time.

He studied the list thoughtfully and nodded approval. Give him a few
inches of time time before the storm broke, and he would stake his soul
on the American manhood of the seventeen thousand riflemen he had
listed. If Spain and her tools could be held off for a few months, then
the Western door would swing back to allow men in buckskin to file
through and take possession. He drummed on the table idly, then tore
off a strip of paper containing his notes and fed it to a candle. With
the exception of George Rogers Clark, all the men on the list had
fought with him, some under his command.

“Didn’t know your friend was so keen set ag’in Injuns, Jack,” spoke up
a grey-bearded man an honest if simple fellow.

“It’s his fightin’ ag’in’ the Shawnees,” declared a tavern lounger.

“Kirk Jackson has killed too many Indians in open warfare to have to
slay them by murder,” growled Sevier. “We won’t convict till we’ve
heard the evidence. We haven’t any proof yet that an Indian has been
killed. After that’s shown it will be time enough to name the slayer.”

“Polcher’s got the proof. He’ll be here in a second,” cried a voice.

Sevier rose and strolled to the door, his manner calm but his nerves
inclined to jump. Through the doorway he had glimpsed the face of Major
Hubbard, and he feared lest the Indian-hater should enter and boldly
announce his bloody coup. Standing so as to block the gaze of those
behind him, he caught Hubbard by the shoulder and whispered:

“The devil’s to pay! Your one dead Indian may bring death to many women
and children. Let no one know you did it. You’d better go away until
it’s over. I’m hoping I can stave it off—that they won’t find the body.”

Hubbard hesitated, then the feeble wail of a child from some cabin
struck to his heart, and with a shudder he slipped back into the
darkness just in time to avoid being seen by a group of men carrying
torches. As the men drew up to the door, Sevier saw they had brought
the silent form of Thatch on a stretcher of rifles.

Sevier stepped aside and the men filed in and deposited the body on the
floor before the table and took their seats. Polcher remained standing
until Sevier returned to the table, when he approached and placed the
Creek scalp before Sevier. The borderer bowed abstractedly and waited
for the tavern-keeper to retire.

“We will now open the inquiry into the death of Amos Thatch,” announced
Sevier. “Polcher, what do you know about it?”

Polcher stood up and testified: “I was in my room, with a coloured boy
tending the bar. I was figuring up my accounts when I heard my name
spoken softly and looked up to see poor Thatch’s face at the window. He
seemed to be badly frightened. I thought it was nerves, the need of a
drink. I picked up a jug and gave him a drink. The liquor seemed to
straighten him out, and he told me he was trying to escape the man
called Kirk Jackson. He said he had come upon Jackson down the trail
and that Jackson was ripping the hair off an Indian he had just shot—”

“Did he say he saw him shoot him?” broke in Sevier.

“I don’t think so. He talked fast and was much frightened. I remember
he said the shot attracted his attention. He was lying down, had been
asleep. He got up and saw Jackson scalping the Indian. I take it for
granted he didn’t see the shot, although he must have been very close.
Of course his story was more or less broken up. I’m only giving the
substance of it. He said he cried out and asked Jackson why he killed
the Indian and risked bringing on a war. Jackson sprang to his feet and
snapped his rifle at him, forgetting he hadn’t reloaded it.

“Poor Thatch then ran for his life with Jackson after him. He knew
Jackson would catch him if he didn’t hide. He managed to dart into a
hollow tree. Knowing Jackson would kill him to prevent his being a
witness against him, the old man kept in hiding till long after dark.
If he could make my place without being seen, he knew I would protect
him. His talk was wild because of his fear. He insisted he was
followed, that Jackson was right behind him. He wanted to crawl through
the window. Poor Old Thatch! If I’d only let him in through the window!
But I thought it was all nonsense.

“He’d been drinking too much the last few days, and only this morning I
refused to let him have some whisky. I told him to pass round to the
tap-room door and I’d see that no one harmed him. He started to do so
when some one jumped him from behind the currant-bushes. The old man
must have lost his head, for instead of running up to the window he
stood in his tracks as if paralyzed. Then he yelled out, and I knew
he’d got it.

“I climbed through the window and Jackson saw me and fired. I called to
the men, and they came on the run. We got lights and found where
Jackson hid behind the bushes. The tracks of his Shawnee moccasins are
very plain. You can see them for yourself. It was at that spot we found
the scalp I’ve given you. I think that’s all.”

“Very connectedly told,” murmured Sevier, rapidly making some notes.
“Did you see Jackson to recognize him?”

“I did. After I leaped through the window he started toward me, then
heard the men coming and thought better of it. I saw his face plainly.”

“That would seem to prove the killing of Thatch,” mused Sevier, rising
and advancing with a candle to the body.

He held the candle close and superficially examined the location of the
wound and measured the cut in the soiled hunting-shirt. Returning to
the table he asked—

“Are there any witnesses to the killing of the Indian?”

One of the tavern characters stood up and awkwardly bobbed his head.

“Job Twill,” greeted Sevier. “Tell what you know.”

Twill began:

“Me’n two other fellers was down on the trail an’ seen this Jackson
crawlin’ toward the three black oaks. We watched, ’lowin’ he was goin’
to bag a deer. Then we see a Injun stick his head out of some bushes,
an’ this yere Jackson cuss fired. Almost the same time we seen poor
Thatch come through the bushes an’ go into the bushes after Jackson.
Afore we could git to thinkin’ straight, Old Thatch busted back into
sight, runnin’ his old legs off, with Jackson poundin’ after him.
That’s all we seen.”

“Who were the two men with you?”

“Lon Hester ’n Bert Price. They’re out huntin’ for the murderer now.”

“I see. You were in the tavern this morning when Jackson had trouble
with Hester?”

“I was there when he picked a row with Hester,” growled the witness.

“They laid aside their weapons?”

“Yes, ’cause Polcher wouldn’t have any killin’. Hester threw his knife
on the bar, an’ Jackson hung his ax an’ pistol on his rifle. That is,
he hung his belt holdin’ ’em on the rifle.”

“Can you describe the pistol?”

“Long one, with the bar’el all scarred up, like it had been banged
round a lot.”

“Good for you, Twill. You’ve got a sharp eye. What about the ax?”

“Ahem!” broke in Polcher, trying to catch the witness’ eye but unable
to do so because Twill stood in front of him. “I think—”

“I think you’ll be lying beside Mr. Thatch if you interrupt these
proceedings with another word!” roared Sevier, covering the
tavern-keeper with his pistol. Then to the startled witness, “Go on,
Twill.”

“Th’ ax wa’n’t a common trade ax. It was made for real work, extry
strong an’ the handle showed hard wear,” faltered the witness, feeling
Polcher’s gaze boring into the back of his head but not daring to look
back.

“Excellent!” heartily approved Sevier. “Give me a thousand men with
your eyes and memory and I’d ask help of neither State nor Congress.
But we must get along faster. Now describe the knife.”

“There wa’n’t no knife,” the witness promptly answered.

A faint growl of rage from Polcher and a wide smile from Sevier warned
the witness his patron was displeased with his evidence. Half turning
his head and entirely missing the cue Polcher’s savage gaze was seeking
to convey to him, he persisted:

“Don’t ye remember, Polcher, when he hung his belt on the rifle, it
held only a ax an’ pistol an’ that there wa’n’t no loop for a knife?
One of the boys spoke about it after he went out that it was queer he
didn’t carry no knife. An’ Price said he might ’a’ killed lots of
Injuns but without a knife he couldn’t ’a’ took any—”

Too late he saw the trap he had been led into, and with a terrified
stare at the ominous-eyed tavern-keeper he halted and bit his lips,
then glared helplessly at Sevier.

“Without a knife he couldn’t take any scalps,” completed Sevier. “In
spots, Twill, you’re an honest witness. You speak the truth when you
forget. Kirk Jackson carried no knife when he came to Jonesboro. What
is more, he always fought honourably and did not scalp. Polcher made a
mistake in thinking he recognized him. Amos Thatch was killed with a
knife, a broad-bladed knife, not a hunting-knife. Jackson never killed
him. Now, Twill. No, no; look at me. Now, sir, you dare tell Nolichucky
Jack Sevier that you and Hester and Price saw Jackson shoot an Indian?
Be careful. I’ve hung horse-thieves in Jonesboro. I’ll hang you for a
liar before morning if you don’t tell the truth.”

Twill turned a ghastly white and licked his lips frantically. In the
blazing eyes of Sevier he saw the noose if he were caught bearing false
witness. He knew Polcher’s cruel gaze was warning him his days were
numbered unless he persisted in his story. But Sevier had meted border
justice to several of Twill’s cronies.

“I—I may have been mistook,” he faltered, gulping out the words with
difficulty and knowing he must leave the Watauga country before morning
if he valued his life. “It was a right smart distance off. Mebbe it
wa’n’t Jackson. I’d—I’d been drinkin’ hard.”

“Maybe you didn’t see anything. Just dreamed it?” suggested Sevier.

With a low groan Twill made complete surrender before the compelling
gaze and desperately cried out:

“I reckon so. Jest dreamed it. An’ I want to git out of here.”

Sevier nodded toward the door. As Twill made for it, Polcher sprang to
his feet as if to follow him. Sevier raised the pistol and warned:

“Not another step, Polcher.” Then humorously, “I’ll have no tampering
with the witness.”

Polcher returned to his seat and quietly promised—

“The red war-club will be lifted up for this, Sevier.”

“_Hayi! Yu!_” sneered Sevier, using the introduction of the sacred
formula for going to war. “I know your heart well. You wait and long to
hear the red war-whoop, but your soul shall become blue. So shall it
be.” Then to the others, “It’s time now, my friends, to visit the spot
where this Indian is said to have been killed.”

“Said to have been killed?” choked Polcher. “And the poor devil’s scalp
is before you on that table.”

Sevier picked it up and examined it curiously and invited:

“Stetson, you know scalps and Indians. Come up here.”

The settler advanced and bowed his broad shoulders over the table and
held the scalp up to the candle and examined it closely. Then in
surprise:

“This ain’t no fresh scalp. It was took from a Injun who’d been dead
for hours. Huh! Looks like it was took off by a blind man. No
border-man would scalp like that. Besides, the Injun was so long dead
no blood come. What kind of a game is this, anyway?” And he turned and
glared angrily at the tavern-keeper.

“So much for Stetson. And he knows what he is talking about,” said
Sevier. “Now we’ll take torches and go down the trail to where the
Indian was killed. The three oaks make the spot easy to find.”

“I can lead you there in the dark,” Stetson assured.

“But we’ll carry lighted torches, and Polcher will go with us,” Sevier
significantly ruled.

And the mixed-blood knew the words contained a threat.

“I’ll be glad to go,” stoutly declared the tavern-keeper. “I want this
thing cleared up as much as any one does. All I know about it is what
I’ve told. Thatch’s story prepared me to see Jackson when the old man
was killed. Perhaps I made a mistake, but, if I did, it was an honest
one. The knife part doesn’t prove Jackson innocent, for he could have
picked up a knife anywhere.”

“True,” agreed Sevier softly, “but I’m surprised he should pick up a
butcher-knife. And Twill’s story—”

“I’m not responsible for that,” hotly broke in Polcher, ignoring the
reference to the mortal weapon. “He heard me tell the boys what I’d
been told and had seen. He up and told me his story. I supposed it was
the truth. It looks now as if he wanted to appear important.”

Nor did Polcher believe his scheme had failed. If Jackson escaped his
net, there still remained the big, vital objective—the precipitation of
war between the reds and whites. The plot to implicate Jackson had been
at the most a by-play to satisfy Polcher’s hate for Sevier. He would
have struck him by striking his friend. But, so far as the real purpose
was concerned, it mattered not whether Jackson or Thatch was believed
guilty of the killing.

All Polcher asked was for the news to spread that a Creek had been
murdered. He had originally planned to assassinate a Cherokee, but the
Creek fitted in just as pleasingly. Therefore it was with genuine
alacrity that he caught up a torch and took a place beside Sevier at
the end of the little procession.

Stetson took the lead. Polcher walked in silence beside the borderer
for a minute and then gravely asked—

“What’s to become of us, John, now that the mother State has cast us
off?”

“We’re not entirely orphaned,” Sevier retorted. “We can rap on the door
of the central Government, and, as a separate State, say, ‘Here is your
child.’”

“But will the Government take us in? Can it protect us?”

“If it can’t protect us, it doesn’t make any difference whether it
takes us in or doesn’t. We can keep on shifting for ourselves as we’ve
always done.”

“I sometimes think you misunderstand me and my motives,” Polcher
regretted.

“Never!” emphatically assured Sevier with a broad smile.

“All I want to do is my duty by the settlers on this side of the
mountains,” Polcher warmly declared.

“Our first duty is to see that the settlers in this valley and those on
the Holston and French Broad are not wiped out by that red ax you said
was coming.”

“I spoke foolishly,” sighed Polcher. “I only meant that the killing of
this Indian would make trouble. You and I are one in wanting to save
the settlements. Why not accept aid where we can find it?”

“From over the water? Already we’ve stood more from Spain than we ever
endured from the mother country. If we didn’t want a separate
existence, why did we go through a war that’s left us bankrupt?”

“We could accept help till we’re strong enough to strike out for
ourselves,” insisted Polcher.

“The man who’d sell us to Spain would next be selling us to the devil,”
Sevier sharply retorted. “As for strength, we’re strong enough now to
send a red ax to every Indian nation in the South—and another to
Charles III.”

Polcher knew this was said for rhetorical effect and did not represent
Sevier’s true belief. But he took the words seriously and argued:

“I can’t see that. Other men, bigger than me, can’t see it, either.”

“Meaning Tonpit.”

“You named him; not me. There are men over the mountains, who stand
very high, who believe it would be our salvation from the Western
Indians if we had Spain at our back.”

“Spain at our back today means Spain at our throats tomorrow.”

“Bosh! Then there are the Northern Indians. When you get a war-belt
from Cherokee and Creek, you’ll get others from the Ohio tribes. Just
now the friendship of Piomingo, the Chickasaw chief, for Robertson
holds that tribe back. But what if Robertson dies or Piomingo dies?
What will hold the tribe back then? And, as the Chickasaws go, so go
the Choctaws, seven thousand in round numbers.”

“We haven’t come to that trail yet.”

“But it’s only a step ahead. How can the Western settlements get
anywhere or do anything under the present Government? We’re shut off
from the seaboard. Spain controls every mile of the Mississippi. Our
tobacco rots on the ground. We’re hemmed in. If we accepted Spain’s
friendly offer, we could ship our tobacco down the Mississippi and sell
it in New Orleans for ten dollars a hundred. Today a man’s lucky to
sell any of his crop for two dollars a hundred. And so it is with
everything else. We’ve everything to win and nothing to lose.”

“Polcher, you’re a dangerous man, the most dangerous man on the border.
Your trade-talk will catch some settlers who are honest at heart but
who only think of selling their tobacco. You have other lines of talk
to win over the man who refuses to make a move that will divide or
weaken the thirteen States.

“Now listen; I know you. I see your hand in the death of Old Thatch. I
understand how gladly you’d hear that the Cherokees have gone to water
as a nation. I can picture your joy when you hear Creek and Cherokee
have taken the red path together. Now this will surely happen: I shall
kill you if I can prove you’re working to throw the Western settlements
into the lap of Spain. I know you’re doing it, and, when I can prove it
to the satisfaction of a dozen men like Stetson, you’ll swing.”

“You talk big about killing folks,” snarled Polcher. “Any more threats?”

“Only this: you spoke of Piomingo’s friendship for Jim Robertson. The
minute I hear Piomingo is dead I start out on your trail. And don’t
figure on your Cherokee blood providing you a hiding-place in that
nation. I’d dig you out even if you were hid in the white peace town of
Echota. I have spoken.”

“Here we are!” called out Stetson. “Light extry torches.”

This was speedily done, and, as the three black oaks and the clump of
poplars sprang into the light, the men took up their search for the
dead Indian. Polcher was most zealous in the task, and Sevier kept
close by him. But, although the men scattered and hunted carefully, and
although the glare of the torches attracted those men who had been
seeking Jackson, no trace of the murdered Creek could be found.

“It’s mighty queer,” mused Stetson, rubbing his head in perplexity. “If
the Injun was killed, he wasn’t et up or burned up. But where’s the
body?”

“If!” snarled Polcher in great disgust. “Didn’t you see his scalp?”

“I’ve seen lots of Injun hair,” Stetson quietly replied. “I’m beginning
to think that partic’lar hair is older’n even I thought it was. One
thing’s sartain: there ain’t no dead Injun in this neck of the woods.”

“Of course the murderer hid the body,” cried Polcher, now prepared to
play his trump card, and his gaze shifted for a second to the pile of
brush, under which, as Thatch had told him, the Indian was concealed.

“Not if he chased Thatch, as the old man claimed,” said one of the
searchers.

“He had plenty of time while Thatch was hiding in the hollow tree,”
Polcher returned. “Ah! I wonder if this hides anything!”

And he ran to the pile of brush and cast a triumphant glance at Sevier.

“Now perhaps it does,” agreed Sevier. “It’s so exposed one wouldn’t
think to look in it. The murderer probably thought of that.”

And he vied with Polcher in tearing the mound to pieces. They came to
the forest floor without finding any trace of a corpse.

Polcher bit his lips to hide his rage. He knew that some one had
forestalled him; he wondered if it could be Sevier. He began to feel
uneasy at Sevier’s way of always keeping at his side. Chucky Jack’s
threat to hang him if he caught him in overt treachery suddenly became
very real, and he mechanically felt of his throat.

Sevier would not abandon the quest, however, and insisted:

“We must make sure. Let us all spread out in a wide circle and
gradually work in to this spot. Let no hollow tree, pile of rocks or
loose brush be overlooked. If an Indian has been killed, a most serious
crime has been committed and we may find ourselves at war before we are
prepared.”

“My woman’ll be crazy if I don’t git back,” growled Stetson. “Job Twill
as much as said he didn’t know anything about it. Where’s Bert Rice and
Lon Hester?”

The two names were shouted repeatedly, but neither of the men appeared.
Stetson continued:

“They’re the only two other witnesses known, and I figger they don’t
know any more than Twill did. I’m satisfied no Injun’s been killed.”

“But Old Thatch was killed,” cried Polcher, taking a step back.
“There’s no make believe about that.”

“That’s another bar’el of cats,” grunted Stetson. “I’m going home.”

“Yes, Thatch was killed. But if no Indian was slain his story must have
been a case of too much liquor,” murmured Sevier. “That brings us back
to the question; who killed him?”

Polcher was alarmed. Not only was his whole scheme tumbling about his
ears, but he felt death in the night air and even fancied he detected
Sevier examining the dark boughs overhead as if in search of a gallows
cross-beam. He cursed his lust for personal vengeance. If he only had
accused Thatch of the crime! Or Hester! Where were his wits that he had
not utilized the trick for disposing of Hester? Hester was becoming a
nuisance, and it was only a question of time when he must be removed.
Used as an ignorant tool, the fellow had assumed such airs as to
threaten embarrassment to the plans of his Majesty, Charles III.

But more poignant than any regrets was the accumulating fear of the
unseen counterplot. He knew Thatch had stumbled upon a dead Indian. And
some one had concealed the body. He began to doubt his own perspicacity
and to imagine other secret plots were unfolding to hem him in. For the
first time in his life he knew what it was to tremble on the edge of a
panic. With a sidelong glance he saw Sevier was watching him curiously.
With a mighty effort he recovered his self-control and demanded:

“Let no one go back until we’ve formed the circle as suggested by
Sevier. Somewhere near here is the dead body of an Indian. One more
effort before we cry quits.”

He seized a torch and led the way deep into the forest, calling out for
the men to scatter and make the circle complete. The men hesitated,
but, as Sevier took up a position within a rod of the tavern-keeper,
they grumbled and did as told, even Stetson changing his mind and
participating in this, the last effort.

“All ready over here,” bellowed Stetson.

The signal was repeated until it had run round the circle, and the men
began to slowly advance toward the common centre. Ostensibly Sevier
searched most carefully, but always with a sidelong glance to see that
Polcher’s torch was on his immediate right. As the men worked inward
they came nearer together, but it was not until they were but a few
rods from the three oaks that Sevier gave a low exclamation of anger.
The man next to him was not Polcher but one of his tools.

Seizing him by the shoulder Sevier fiercely demanded—

“Where’s your master?”

Frightened, the man did not speak for a moment; then he faltered:

“I don’t know. He gave me his torch to hold while he looked under some
brush.”

“Every one scatter and look for Polcher!” roared Chucky Jack. “I charge
him with killing Thatch. The job was done with a butcher-knife, like
what he carries under his apron. Stetson, take three men and follow me
on the jump. You others beat the woods toward the settlement and come
to the tavern.”

“What’s on your mind?” asked Stetson as he raced beside Sevier up the
trail.

“I think he’ll make for the court-house. To get that scalp!”

“He’s lighting out?”

“He’ll be hiding among the Cherokees by morning.”

Nothing more was said until they reached the court-house. Then, as they
entered and by the stub of the candle beheld the horn of ink spilled on
the table and inky finger-prints on the worthless petition and top of
the table, Sevier quietly announced:

“He’s been here and gone.”

“And he took the scalp!” cried Stetson.

Sevier smiled and drew it from his hunting-shirt, saying—

“It was too valuable to leave behind.”

One of the settlers now thrust his head in at the door and informed:

“Polcher’s hoss is gone. The mulatter says he come an’ got a pile of
money from a hiding-place under the bar. He’s lit out jest as ye
thought.”

Others now came up, and from the doorway Sevier addressed them, saying:

“My friends, it’s all over. Polcher’s gone, showing that he killed
Thatch. There’s nothing more you can do except to choose a guard to
keep the trash out of the tavern. The men on guard are to find and keep
for me all papers in the tavern. The rest of you go home to your
families. Stetson, you stay here for a bit.”

After the men had departed, Sevier thrust the scalp through a crack in
the floor and poked it with the point of his knife until it entirely
disappeared. Then to Stetson he directed:

“Send a messenger to Kate, telling her from me that I sha’n’t be home
until I come. She’ll understand. Send other messengers in my name
warning the border to be ready to ride to me wherever I may be. See
that Thatch is decently buried. If young Jackson turns up, tell him
he’d better wait here till I get back. He was mixed up in a way he
never dreamed of. I sent him to Polcher’s. Can’t tell you now; no time.
But he acted under my orders. They jumped him; I wasn’t there, and he
took to cover. Tell the boys he’s thoroughly innocent. I couldn’t tell
them tonight without showing Polcher I knew his game. I had to let him
have rope; now he’s got enough to swing on.”

“You’re going away, John?”

“I start inside of ten minutes, as soon as I can get my horse. If alive
I’ll be back when the delegates arrive to settle our new form of
government. If I’m not back, you will ask Judge David Campbell to take
the lead. Now go, and don’t forget the messenger to Kate.”

“You’re sure—quite sure you can’t take me along, John?” begged Stetson.

“Not this time, old friend. I ride far, and I must ride hard, and I
must ride alone.”

“Then God be with you!”

“May He be with Watauga—with America!” softly added Sevier.

He wrote a few words and handed them to Stetson saying:

“A few lines to Judge Campbell if I’m not here. Now, good night.”

Their hands met, and Stetson reluctantly departed.

Sevier caught up his weapons from behind the table and hastened to his
horse corraled back of the court-house. As he threw on the saddle he
told the intelligent animal:

“Tonpit and Polcher are ahead of us, old boy. We’ve got to kill Polcher
and head Tonpit off. Neither must reach Little Talassee. If we can
steal Miss Elsie, then Tonpit’s errand is spoiled. McGillivray won’t
trust him till he has the girl as a hostage.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER V

  THE ANCIENT LAW

All over-mountain men rode well, and their mounts were the envy of both
red and white thieves. Among the saddle-bred, however, Chucky Jack was
given the palm. Until he reached the French Broad, he spurred along
openly, sticking to the trail. The occasional settlers he encountered
invariably caught up their arms and made for their horses, only to be
told their leader rode alone. After crossing the river the little
clearings were more scattered and the approach of the rider brought the
gaunt border-men to sharp attention, rifles ready, until he shouted his
name.

Once south of the Broad he traversed a land where Death stalked abreast
of each passing minute and the husbandman worked with his rifle at his
side and the children were taught not to stray from the cabin door. For
this was the ragged edge of Western life, where the first threads would
be unraveled should the red scourge essay to tear its way to the
mountains. On the right of the Great War-Path were scattered the homes
of the Holston folks, a tense, grim people waiting for what the next
hour might bring them.

Once below the rough parallelogram formed by the Watauga, the Holston
and the Nolichucky, the horseman had left the settlements behind him
and rode more circumspectly. The site of what was to be Knoxville would
not receive its first visit from white men, James White and James
Connor, for another three years. A tavern and a court-house marked the
beginning of Greeneville. Below this “settled” area were a few
“stations,” as the blockhouses were called, consisting of the usual
stockade inclosing a few small cabins. Invariably these cases of
civilization were girt about by the primeval forests.

“Sevier rides alone!” was the word flashed from clearing to clearing on
both sides of the Great Trail, and men wondered, and women called the
children indoors and stoically awaited the result of the wild gallop.

For Chucky Jack, their idol, was not given to racing into the
wilderness unless spurred on by the imperative.

At the Tellico crossing Sevier met a frightened hunter who said he had
seen a white man, riding like mad.

“Was there a girl with him?” asked Sevier.

No; he was alone, it seemed.

With a word of thanks Sevier warned:

“Get back to the Broad! This country won’t be safe for any honest white
man.” And with a prick of the spur he was darting away.

At times he avoided small bands of Cherokees, but these were not
overwatchful as none dreamed of a white man so far within their
country. When near the Hiwassee, the borderer drew aside and sought a
ford farther to the west of the regular crossing. River-crossings were
the favourite haunts of those younger Cherokees who refused to heed the
council of pacific elders.

Now, too, each mile of the way brought Sevier that much nearer to the
lower towns on the Tennessee, where the motley hordes of white
refugees, Shawnee outcasts, Creeks fleeing tribal punishment, as well
as turbulent Cherokees, held the towns of Nickajack, Crow Town, Long
Island, Lookout Mountain and Running Water. Implacable hatred for the
whites was the occasion of these villages, and from them radiated an
atmosphere of hostility that no number of peace talks could soften.

It was while seeking a ford that Sevier came upon something that
furrowed his brows and caused him to examine his weapons. It was a
soiled apron, thrown on a bush. It marked the passing of Polcher, and
it openly advertised his identity to any passing savage. Its presence
west of the regular ford told Sevier the man was hastening to the lower
towns, where the Chickamaugas under Watts and Dragging Canoe would
respond promptly to his urging for immediate war.

It revealed the cunning of the man, for, had he paused to win over Old
Tassel’s people in the eastern villages, he would have lost valuable
time and laid himself open to discovery by a pursuing posse of settlers.

“He strikes for headquarters of the war faction,” Sevier told himself.
“Let him go. They can do nothing without the aid of the Creeks. My path
lies south of Lookout Mountain town to the Coosa. All I ask is that I
may overtake the Tonpits.”

His rapid, stealthy flight, his evasion of all villages minimized his
chances of picking up Tonpit’s trail. But, knowing the couple were safe
in the Cherokee country and convinced they were making for
McGillivray’s town on the Coosa, he had planned to press forward with
all speed to the head of the river below the Chickamauga towns and
there endeavour to intercept the two. If luck were with him, he would
accomplish this before Polcher had finished his talk with Watts.

Dismounting, he studied the faint trail left by Polcher’s horse and
decided it was at least twenty-four hours old. This lead was in part
represented by the tavern-keeper’s hurried flight from Jonesboro and in
part by his freedom to ride posthaste by the shortest route regardless
of villages. On the whole Sevier was much pleased with his own
progress, for he had been compelled to make detours and to dodge roving
bands of savages.

He followed the trail to the river and studied the opposite side with
care. There was no sign of life except a _huhu_, or yellow
mocking-bird. High in the heavens floated the _awahili_, the great
sacred bird of the Cherokees, the war-eagle. The superstitious would
have found an ill omen in the eagle’s course toward the Chickamauga
towns.

Its white tail-feathers tipped with black would buy the best horse in
any village. It could be killed only after the crops had been gathered
and the snakes had denned for Winter, just as the eagle songs must not
be sung until the snakes were asleep. But Sevier was not superstitious,
and, if he found any symbol in the great bird’s majestic flight, it
prompted him to picture the expansion of a mighty nation toward the
western sun.

Taking his horse by the bridle he waded into the ford and the
mocking-bird darted away. He was hoping no Indian had seen the
songster’s fright when there sounded behind him the click of a rifle
being cocked. He stopped with the water swirling about his knees and
looked back. A glance sufficed to tell him his plight was hopeless did
he offer resistance. Fully a dozen warriors were on the bank with
rifles aimed.

Turning and leading his horse back to them, Sevier complained—

“When a Cherokee brings a talk to Tsan-usdi he is not met with a
pointed gun.”

One of the warriors met him as he came out of the river and relieved
him of his rifle and belt and significantly replied—

“They say that when a Cherokee went to see Little John he left his
scalp.”

Eyes flashed, and bronzed hands played with knife and ax at the speech.
Sevier knew Polcher had begun spreading his poisonous tale and that by
this time the story was radiating through the wilderness, village after
village catching it up and passing it on. Like magic would the news
spread throughout the nation.

“By the lips of a Cherokee himself you shall learn that it is a lie.
None of your brothers has been harmed in Jonesboro where the Cherokee
talks are brought to me,” quietly answered Sevier. “Who commands here?”

“We follow John Watts,” sullenly replied the warrior.

“Chickamaugas, hopelessly hostile,” Sevier inwardly exclaimed. Then
aloud, “Where is he? I bring him a talk. I have come fast as the wind
to see him.”

“He is near. You shall see him,” was the grim reply.

“Then do not keep me waiting,” was the brusque command. And the
borderer leaped on his horse.

The Indians feared him as they had never feared white or red man, and,
although he was unarmed and greatly outnumbered, they kept their
distance and nervously covered him with their guns as if fearing some
magic. The temporary leader of the band went ahead and frequently
glanced back to make sure Chucky Jack was not too close to his heels.

Sevier whistled softly, outwardly calm and indifferent. As a fact, he
would have preferred that almost any other man than Watts should be
ahead of him. He had fought Watts and whipped him, but he respected him
for his courage and shrewdness. He considered him the most astute of
all the Cherokee leaders, the one chief destined to succeed Old Tassel.
Watts was hopelessly belligerent, where Old Tassel sought to gain his
ends by trickery and diplomacy.

“Where is Tall Runner?” Sevier sharply called out to the warrior ahead.

“Ask those who laid down the Black Path for his feet to follow to the
Twilight Land,” was the ominous answer.

“Tall Runner will come to give you the lie,” coolly declared Sevier.
“He has not gone to the ever-darkening land in the west.”

The savages’ firm belief in the warrior’s demise set the borderer to
wondering, however. What if Polcher had overtaken Tall Runner? It might
easily have happened that the fleeing horseman had come upon Old
Tassel’s messenger. And, had it happened, Sevier hadn’t the slightest
doubt concerning the tavern-keeper’s readiness to slay the man and
blame his death on Jonesboro. He suddenly decided that his life was
most critically in the balance.

“The soul of Tall Runner turns to nothing. It becomes blue,” chanted
the warrior ahead, his voice taking on the intonation of a _shaman_.

Sevier held his tongue, knowing his fight must be waged with Chief
Watts. In silence the party passed up the bank for a mile and then
crossed and struck into a well-beaten path and turned northwest.
Another mile and they came to a village. The habitations were
substantial log structures surrounding a council-house. Evidently it
was a prosperous village, for hogs and fowls wandered about in large
numbers, and many horses grazed on the outskirts. Gardens of beans and
corn flourished between potato-fields and fields of squash. Along the
edge of the clearing stretched peach orchards.

Women engaged in basketry and pottery ceased their labours as Sevier
was brought in, then pretended not to have seen him and bowed over
their work.

A little girl, carrying a milk-tooth by a string and intent on
replacing it by the time-honoured custom of invoking dayi, the beaver,
famous for his strong teeth, came running round a cabin. She shrilly
cried out four times, “_Dayi skinta_” (“Beaver, put a new tooth in my
jaw”) and completed the formula by throwing the tooth on the parental
roof. Not seeing Sevier because of her excitement, she bumped into him
as he leaped to the ground.

Her terrified squeal was hushed as Chucky Jack caught her up and smiled
into her little face. He patted her head and fished out a small trade
mirror from his hunting-shirt and pressed it into her hand and
earnestly assured:

“The Gnawer will give you a new tooth very soon. Look in this each
morning, and some morning you will see it.”

With that he set her on her feet. She opened her mouth to bleat in fear
but caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror and smiled and decided
there was nothing to be afraid of. Neither warrior nor squaw gave any
sign of having noticed the little incident, but among the women looks
were exchanged as the great borderer was conducted to the
council-house. And more than one mother whispered in awe—

“Tsan-usdi!”

Ignoring the cane-benches, which were reserved for the head men, Sevier
threw himself down on a bearskin and curtly demanded:

“Where is John Watts? Do not keep me waiting.”

Fear and respect dominated his captors, and the leader replied:

“He will be here soon. A messenger has gone for him. He rode early this
morning and should now be coming back.”

“Do not keep me waiting,” Sevier repeated.

The warriors withdrew and took up positions about the council-house. As
the leader passed out, he reached to one side and caught up something
and carried it before him, but not before Sevier recognized it as a
large soapstone pipe. His features changed none, yet the warrior’s
stealthy act in withdrawing the pipe kept alive his sense of danger.
The removal of the pipe had two significances: it had been used in
cementing a peace pact; and it was not to be offered to Sevier.

“The Creeks came here hotfoot on learning the Watauga settlements had
been ceded to the central Government and are no longer under Carolina’s
jurisdiction. Watts has struck a bargain with McGillivray,” Sevier
quickly deduced.

Half an hour passed with the village remaining very quiet. Then sounded
a slight confusion, and the prisoner knew Chief Watts had returned. The
low murmur of voices suddenly ceased. The little girl wishing the new
tooth shyly thrust her head through the door and invited the stranger
to confidences and more gifts. A strong hand gently lifted her away;
then Chief Watts, arrayed for hunting but carrying no weapons except
the knife in his belt, entered the room, followed by a file of head men.

“I greet you, Little John,” he gravely saluted as he seated himself on
a bench.

“You have kept me waiting,” rebuked Sevier.

Watts’ beady eyes flickered a tribute to Sevier’s nerve, and with
ironical meekness he replied:

“I am sorry. As soon as I knew you were here, I came. What is your
business so far inside the Cherokee country?”

“I seek a murderer, a white man. I have no time to waste. Three
thousand riflemen will misunderstand my absence and come searching for
me if I do not get back to them.”

The warriors fidgeted uneasily at this threat. Chief Watts’ visage
became malignant, and he hissed—

“It would have been better for you if you had brought your riflemen
with you.”

“It will be much worse for the Cherokee Nation if I do not return,” was
the prompt reply.

“That is as it will be,” rumbled the chief. “I ask you why you or some
of your men killed Tall Runner of the Wolf.”

“A renegade brought you that lie. You know it is a lie,” Sevier calmly
retorted.

Watts half rose with hand on knife, then sank back on the bench. Sevier
continued—

“The man who told you that is a murderer and the man I am after.”

“He killed Tall Runner?” sneered Watts.

“He killed a white man. No one killed Tall Runner. There is peace
between the Little Tennessee towns and the Watauga settlements. Tall
Runner was a messenger from Old Tassel, who is our friend. Why should
we kill him? The Runner brought me talk from Old Tassel about a grand
council. I sent a talk back to him, saying I would meet him and all
friendly Cherokees in council and settle the trouble about the settlers
moving on to the lands south of the French Broad.”

“No such talk was brought to me,” said Watts.

“That is for Old Tassel to look after. Perhaps he knows you already
have made a treaty with the Creeks; that you want war against the
whites.”

“Why do you say such things?” cried Watts.

“Why do you hide the white peace-pipe when I’m brought here? The pipe
you have just smoked with the chiefs sent by McGillivray?”

“It is false. My people do not want war with the whites. They only ask
to have back the lands they always held from the beginning of things,
the lands the whites have stolen from them.”

“It is true you have made a bargain with McGillivray. You are a
renegade Cherokee. You lead the Chickamaugas. You have Shawnees in your
cabins, bad Indians who dare not go home to their Ohio brothers.
Beware, John Watts. The Chickamauga towns have been burned once. The
fire is kindled that will burn from Crown Town to Running Water.”

“Who will lead the Watauga men when they bring that fire?” hoarsely
asked the chief, his bronzed chest rising and falling spasmodically as
he fought to retain his self-control, to keep his hand off his knife.

“Nolichucky Jack will lead them,” was the even response.

“Little John, you are said to have killed a man of the Wolf. Were you
many times Chucky Jack you should die,” Watts passionately declared.

“If it is proved I killed him, or that he was killed by any of my men,
I will shoot myself,” Sevier readily promised. “But, if he is alive,
you will be sorry you held me here. If he has been killed on Cherokee
land by Polcher, the murderer, then I demand that Polcher be handed
over to me to be hanged. After he is dead you can have his scalp.”

The warriors along the cane-benches stirred and twisted uneasily at
these bold words, and more than one began considering the possibility
of there being any truth in the intimation that the tavern-keeper was
the assassin. Chief Watts was quick to note the disturbing effect of
the borderer’s speech and loudly proclaimed:

“Our _shamans_ have looked into the Great Crystal and have seen you and
the Tall Runner facing each other with a bloody knife between you, the
point at the Runner’s breast. And the Tall Runner has not come.”

“No _shaman_ has seen me in the Ulunsuti as you tell,” Sevier denied,
his serene countenance belying his conviction that Watts was determined
to remove him from the path of Spain and was prepared to use the
_shamans_ in order to still any protest from Old Tassel.

Watts rose and extended his hand, shaking a finger dramatically at
Sevier, fiercely demanding—

“You dare to say a Cherokee was not killed and scalped at Jonesboro a
few days ago; that you did not hold a council in your council-house and
saw the raw scalp placed before you?”

Now Sevier knew for a certainty that Polcher was near and had told his
story to the lower towns. Nor did Sevier care to explain that a Creek
had been killed, and not a Cherokee; for that news, relayed to
McGillivray, would bring even greater evil. He was forced to believe
Watts was sincere in considering Tall Runner dead. The messenger’s
failure to return home was alarming. He found one slim hope to cling
to: Tall Runner had started from one of the Little Tennessee towns and
had returned there. During his absence Old Tassel had set out on a
journey and the Runner had not yet caught up with him.

“After Tall Runner gave me his talk and had received mine and was ready
to start back, I told the settlers of Jonesboro I would hang the man
who crossed his homeward trail. And they know Chucky Jack keeps his
word,” Sevier declared.

Watts seemed impressed and remained silent for several moments, his
head bowed. Then he rose and with racial dignity said:

“I will send a runner to find Old Tassel to see if anything new has
been heard from his messenger. But if the Cherokees should find their
red brother had been killed and scalped—just as it is now believed in
this village that he dwells where it is ever growing dark—and if Little
John should be asked to cover the dead with his blood, who is there to
become angry and make war-medicine against us?”

“My riflemen know how and when to make war-medicine.”

“Little birds whisper that they can do nothing without a leader; that
their minds are in many pieces, some crying for Spain to buy their
tobacco, some saying they will make themselves into a new nation and
have done with Chucky Jack, who plans to join the Thirteen Fires
(thirteen States).”

Sevier folded his arms and stared over the chief’s head. Watts
continued:

“It can not be that North Carolina will be angry if the spirit of
Tsan-usdi travels to the spirit land in the West, for Carolina has
driven him from her cabin. The Thirteen Fires will not ask presents for
his death, for the Thirteen Fires are made of green wood and give more
smoke than flame and will soon die out. The Thirteen Fires are not like
fires; they are like an old man without legs to run on, without hands
to lift the ax, like an old man who can only open his mouth and make
foolish sounds.”

With the quickness of a released steel spring Sevier came to his feet,
and, before a savage could guess his purpose, he had Watts’ scalp-lock
in his left hand and Watts’ knife in his right and in a low, vibrant
voice was warning:

“I am an American. Say what you will about the Watauga, about Carolina.
But, by the white man’s God, another black word against the Thirteen
Fires and I’ll empty your flesh of blood!”

They stood breast to breast, their eyes fighting the old, old battle,
with no warrior daring to move for fear of precipitating a tragedy. Nor
was there any cowardice in Watts’ bearing when he finally broke the
tense silence by saying:

“Little John of the Nolichucky is a brave man. The Great Spirit has
caused him to be so.”

Sevier stepped back and, holding the knife by the tip, extended it,
saying:

“My medicine is strong without this. John Watts would be a great man if
he did not listen to the evil talks sent him by Alexander McGillivray.”

“You would not say these things to McGillivray of the Creeks.”

“All, and more. Now I demand to see the man Polcher, who killed a white
man.”

“You shall see him,” quietly promised the chief.

And with a deep bow Watts dropped the knife in his belt and led his
warriors from the room.

Sevier knew enough of the Indian character to realize that never had he
stood as high in Chief Watts’ estimation as now. This knowledge
deceived him none as to his danger, however. Even if Polcher should
fail to erase this last impression, the chief would persist in
believing the future of his race depended on the elimination of all
white settlements west of the Alleghanies. To preserve his people he
would use whatever tools came at hand, whether furnished by Creek,
Spaniard or the Evil One himself.

Now that the over-mountain men were disowned and told to find a
guardian in the handicapped central Government, the wily leader
realized the Cherokee Nation stood at the threshold of its destiny.
Sevier represented the element opposing the red man’s ascendancy;
therefore, he must be removed. No man had ever been more highly
esteemed by the Indians as a fighter, and the full measure of praise
would be given him even while the sentence of death was being carried
out. Sevier had found this recognition of merit to be a characteristic
of every Indian tribe with which he had had dealings. Torture and the
torments of hell would be accompanied by the sincere acknowledgment of
the victim’s virtues.

Sevier stepped to a window and noticed the guard on that side had been
withdrawn. A similar inspection on the other three sides revealed the
same negligence. But the borderer was not to be decoyed into imagining
he could escape to the forest by a sudden rush. He knew he was circled
about by sharp weapons and sharper eyes and that, should he attempt to
escape, he would be despatched off-hand. Such an ending of his
captivity would relieve Watts from any censure on the part of Old
Tassel and his faction.

Leaning from an open window, Sevier found the invitation to attempt an
escape was accented by the absence of even the women and children. The
village appeared to be deserted. He smiled grimly at such a transparent
ruse. He had fought too many times with the nation, had whipped it too
often, to imagine the warriors would neglect any oversight that would
insure his captivity. And yet the manœuvre made him think more kindly
of Watts. The chief fought for the future of his people; he preferred
to remove the stumbling-block in the council-house without brutality.

There was something in the drowsy atmosphere of the village that was
reminiscent of James Robertson’s last visit to his home on the
Nolichucky. The fancy was absurd and yet persisted; something that now
thrilled him with a promise of succour, and yet too vaguely remembered
to take a tangible form in his thoughts. He forced his recollections
over the back trail. He recalled the evening. He could see Robertson at
the table, talking. Then there flashed across the sensitive screen of
his memory the words:

Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the
sunrising; that the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his
neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing
unto one of these cities he might live.

Now he had it through the seeming irrelevancy of some passages of
Scripture. Robertson had been to Echota, and had spoken of it as a
“white,” or “peace” town. Sevier had summoned it back to mind through
the association of ideas. The Cherokees had degenerated in other
matters, but they still held strictly to their ancient law and
vouchsafed a refuge to the murderer which was even more liberal than
that set forth in Deuteronomy. For, while Moses had stipulated that
wilful or premeditated homicide placed the offender outside the pale of
sanctuary on the east side of Jordan, the old Cherokee law protected
even the wilful slayer once he gained Echota.

Sevier knew a trader, a white man, who had demanded and secured
sanctuary at Echota after slaying an Indian in defence of his goods.
This man had even been warned by the chiefs that he would be waylaid
and killed on his way home unless he first appeased the dead man’s
relatives with gifts. Sixteen years back Oconostota, speaking for the
Cherokee Nation at Johnson Hall on the Mohawk, in the course of making
peace with the Iroquois, had said—

“We come from Chotte, where the white house, the house of peace, is
erected.”

But this was not Echota, and yet the vague promise of help persisted in
the borderer’s mind. Then there walked through his thoughts the figure
of a Frenchman, who had visited him at Jonesboro, having come from the
Creek country and passing near the lower towns, and the Frenchman had
told of finding rest and security.

“I have it now!” softly exclaimed Sevier, lifting his head and glancing
sharply about the village.

The domesticated fowls scratched and pecked before the silent cabins.
Pigs grunted and nosed about. Then a small face shyly peeped round the
corner of a cabin, and Sevier smiled as he beheld the little maid who
had prayed to the beaver for a new tooth. She held up the trade mirror
and ventured a few steps toward him. A low admonition from inside the
cabin was ignored by the tot. Suddenly making up her mind, she ran to
the window and gleefully held up the mirror for him to look in, then
gravely opened her mouth and used the glass in seeking the belated gift
of _Dayi_.

Sevier chucked her under the chin. A woman came running from the cabin
and seized the child by the arm, perhaps fearing that the white man
would bewitch her.

“Listen, woman,” Sevier commanded under his breath. “Is this Ayuhwasi?”

“Ayuhwasi Egwahi,” the woman timidly corrected as she caught up the
child and hurried away.

Sevier drew a long breath and turned from the window to conceal his
smile. It was the town the French trader had mentioned. And by what a
round-about way had the borderer recalled it! A fragment from
Deuteronomy, a flash of memory concerning his old friend James
Robertson’s talk of Echota —and Chucky Jack was now ready to meet Chief
Watts, his head men and the villain, Polcher, and dicker for his life.

The intrusion of the child seemed to be a signal for the deathly quiet
to break up. There sounded a hoarse, monotonous chanting of a _shaman_,
the shuffling tread of warriors moving with ceremonial step, and then
John Watts, followed by Polcher and a string of warriors, entered the
council-house, their faces devoid of expression, their eyes resting on
the prisoner as if not seeing him. Watts and Polcher took seats side by
side, and, had not Sevier been looking for the tavern-keeper, he would
not have recognized him.

Polcher now was all Indian. Gone the smirk and urbanity of his white
role. In discarding the garments of the settlements he had taken on the
status of the red man. His features were all Indian, and yet
three-fourths of his blood was white. What especially served to
disguise him was his elaborate head-dress of eagle feathers. Sevier
stared at the feathers intently, then began smiling. As the line of
warriors scowled blackly at his show of mirth, he threw off all
restraint and laughed aloud.

Before he could be interrogated, he pointed a derisive finger at
Polcher and demanded:

“Are the Cherokees mad, or are their medicine-men fools, that they
allow an eagle to be killed before the snakes have gone to sleep? Have
the Cherokee towns lost all their eagle-killers?”

This unexpected outburst caused the warriors to exchange glances of
consternation. The twelve feathers on the breed’s head were surely from
the tail of the mighty _awahili_, the great war-eagle, especially
sacred and prominent in all rites pertaining to the war-path.

Watts frowned and said something under his breath. Polcher boldly
assured:

“My medicine told me to kill the eagle. It was sick and would have
died.”

“He has killed the eagle and has taken its feathers without first
allowing it to remain four days on the ground!” cried Sevier.

The warriors edged apart from Watts and Polcher, for it was known that
the insects on the eagle’s feathers will cause a serious skin disease
to any who wears them without first leaving them on the ground four
days.

Knowing Sevier had thrown him on to the defensive, Polcher declared—

“My medicine protects me from the eagle-sickness.”

But Sevier was not yet done with him and roundly scored:

“Does your medicine save the Cherokees’ corn? You have killed an eagle
out of season. Surely the frost will come and kill the corn.”

This, also, was accepted as an incontrovertible fact, and Chief Watts
realized the council would be thrown into confusion unless Chucky Jack
were headed off. Bringing his two hands together for silence, he cried
out:

“That business can wait. Little John need not worry about Cherokee
corn. He has asked to see the man who says he killed Tall Runner. The
man is here and will speak.”

Polcher rose, and a smile twisted his evil face for a moment as he met
Sevier’s eyes. Then the red man’s immobility returned, and he began:

“Tall Runner of the Wolf was killed in Jonesboro. I did not see him
killed, but my white friends did. I did see his scalp in the
court-house. It was placed on the table before Little John. I tried to
get the scalp to bring to you, but Little John destroyed it.”

He sat down and indulged in another smile of hate as the line of
warriors grunted in unison. Sevier addressed Watts and said:

“This man murdered an old white man. I have followed him here. Will you
give him up, or must I come with my riflemen?”

Chief Watts smiled in keen enjoyment at the borderer’s boldness. His
voice was low and almost gentle as he replied:

“Little John, Little John! Your white law does not reach here. A
Cherokee has killed an old white man. What of it? It were better if he
had killed a young white man. You ask if you shall come with your
riflemen. If you can find them in the ever-darkening land, and your
medicine will let you come back, we can not stop you. You have asked to
see the man you hunted. He is here. He is one of your judges. Listen
now to what this council shall decide.

“Brothers, it is said a Cherokee was killed in or near Jonesboro. What
do we find?”

“A Cherokee was killed,” came the answer.

“It is said he is Tall Runner of the Wolf. What do we find?”

“Tall Runner was killed.”

“It is said a white man killed him. What is the colour of the slayer?”

“He is a white man.”

The chief paused and cast a glance at Sevier. The borderer knew the
climax was about to be sprung but concealed any concern he might have
felt by staring at the eagle’s feathers and smiling sardonically.

“Brothers, it is said Little John of the Nolichucky killed Tall Runner.
What do we find?”

“Tsan-usdi killed Tall Runner.”

Chief Watts rose and stared gravely at the prisoner. Polcher leaned
forward and grinned in open malevolence.

“There is but one more vote to take, my brothers,” slowly said the
chief, speaking almost sadly. “What is your answer, brothers?”

“Death to Little John!” chorused the council.

Polcher laughed aloud. The chief scowled at him.

As Watts resumed his seat, Sevier leisurely smoothed out his
hunting-shirt, brushed back his brown hair and calmly fixed his blue
eyes on the chief. His first words were a question, an unlooked for and
astounding query.

“How long since John Watts, leader of the renegade Cherokees who live
in the five lower towns on the Tennessee, gives the law in Great
Hiwassee? How long since the hostiles, calling themselves
‘Chickamaugas,’ can leave their five towns and come here to Ayuhwasi
Egwahi—Great Hiwassee—a white town and a peace town, and pronounce the
sentence of death?”

Watts started convulsively and bared his teeth in a wolfish snarl.
Polcher yelled a white man’s curse and grabbed at his belt. Watts
seized the breed’s hand and flung it down, then became wooden of face.
His followers grunted aloud. Polcher passionately cried:

“The white man lies. Echota is the white town. Ayuhwasi Egwahi is a red
town and the path to it is red.”

“Dog of a mixed-breed!” thundered Sevier, levelling a finger at him.
“Your soul shall curl up and become as nothing. Killer of great
war-eagle out of season, your bones shall rattle in blackness! You dare
deny the law of the Cherokees!”

The one _shaman_ present shivered, his eyes glistening with fear, and,
unable to witness the blazing scorn the blue eyes were pouring into
Polcher, drew his blanket over his head. Watts could not entirely cover
up his concern, and, turning to the _shaman_, he asked—

“What does our father say as to the law?”

The _shaman’s_ figure trembled, for he had great fear of Chief Watts’
anger, even though he were a medicine-man. In a quavering voice he
informed—

“A long time ago, when all the old things were new, when water-bears
lived at the bottom of the Oconaluftee River, this village of Ayuhwasi
Egwahi was a white town.”

“It has not been used as such in three lives,” cried Polcher.

“A man-slayer has never been refused refuge,” said Sevier.

Motioning them to be still, Watts fixed his gleaming gaze on the
_shaman_ and said:

“I have given many bales of black and red cloth to our medicine-men.
Now, my father, when was the law changed?”

And he leaned forward and sought to catch the _shaman’s_ eye. But the
medicine-man’s fear of physical violence was as nothing compared with
his fear of witches, blue and black spirits and dreams that sapped
one’s soul away.

Keeping his face in the blanket, he answered—

“It can not be changed so long as the town stands.”

“_Yu!_” cried Sevier in triumph. “And now, John Watts, how dare you
come from your renegade towns, from your outcast Shawnees and Creeks,
your runaway Cherokees and white dogs, and try to break the law of the
Cherokees? How dare you bring this creature, neither white nor red, and
let him enter a council and vote for death while he is wearing the
feathers of the sacred _awahili_? You say I murdered a Cherokee or had
him murdered. I say you and that mongrel dog lie. You say Tall Runner
was killed in Jonesboro. I say he lives and goes to find Old Tassel,
unless he was killed by that white-Indian after returning to his own
people.

“But believe me to be a murderer, or pretend to believe me a murderer.
Believe what you will, and still I laugh at you and the man called
Polcher. For I appeal to the ancient law of the Cherokees, the law that
has never been set aside and can not be set aside so long as a single
white town stands on Cherokee soil! I demand my life so long as I stay
here in Great Hiwassee. And, by the living God, who is God of both
white and red, do you break that ancient law at your peril!”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER VI

  ON THE WHITE PATH

Watts glared in speechless rage, then sank back helpless. Polcher slyly
drew a pistol, only to find his arm seized by the frightened _shaman_
and the weapon twisted from his hand. The warriors gritted their teeth
but offered no violence. It was the law. Human blood must never be
spilled in a white town. It was also the law among the Creeks and, if
old memories were to be trusted, among the Senecas of the Long House.
Superstition cowed those who would have scant regard for some other
tribal laws.

Sevier was still flushed with victory when Watts drew himself erect and
smiled coldly on the borderer and in a mocking voice said:

“So be it. Woe to the Cherokee who breaks the law!” And he paused to
dart a warning glance at the enraged tavern-keeper. “But listen, Little
John; the law says you shall receive no hurt so long as you stay here.
So long as you stay here.”

Sevier winced. Time was all precious. He must overtake the Tonpits and
turn them back. The man’s mad ambitions unfitted him for cool-headed
scheming, and it might result that his zeal would embarrass the cause
of Spain. Yet, such as he was, he was essential in binding McGillivray
to the Cherokees and to the white malcontents back in the Watauga
country. Could he and the Emperor of the Creeks be kept apart?
McGillivray’s formidable plans might easily go amiss, or at least be
delayed until the border riflemen could prepare for the war.

Sevier appreciated Tonpit’s erratic nature and yet did not
underestimate him. He came from a proud family. He was austere in
personality but could surely gather a following among the recent
arrivals over the mountains. Old-timers would stick by Sevier and
blindly follow his lead. Many of the newcomers and the lawless
element—the last as a unit—would huzza for Tonpit. The Indians only
asked for two hostile factions among the settlers. Aided by the Creeks,
they would side with Tonpit.

So Sevier had reason for dismay as he considered the trap he was in.
Just so long as he remained within the limits of the town, all trails
would be white and he would be treated courteously. Not even Polcher,
now he had been taught his lesson, would raise a hand against him. But
let him step over the line, and he became legitimate game for any ax.

Chief Watts gauged his thoughts correctly and motioned for Polcher to
withdraw. After the tavern-keeper had departed, the chief with mock
gravity said—

“My new brother, who has come to live with us, understands where he can
walk and where he must not walk?”

“He understands,” was the cheerful reply. “As he is weary, he will be
glad to rest here until the next Green Corn Dance wipes out the crime
he never committed.”

“When new fire is given to take the place of the old, he will be free
to go unharmed,” admitted Watts, well satisfied, to hold Sevier a
prisoner until the corn was ready for harvesting, or about the middle
of August. Watts believed the die would be cast inside of thirty days
and that, without Sevier to stiffen their morale, the settlers would be
conquered.

Watts was the last of the warriors to leave. At the door he called out
a command, and a man handed him in Sevier’s rifle and a belt.
Presenting these to the borderer, the chief gravely said:

“These are yours. No one shall say the Cherokees are thieves even if
the whites have stolen their land.”

“I shall feel easier for having them so long as Polcher is in the
village.”

“You need have no fear of Polcher. He will not think of harming a hair
of your head. He showed anger while here, but that is because he has
lived long among whites and forgets the law. Now he knows; he will not
reach for his knife again—in Great Hiwassee.”

“If I choose to try to escape, can I have my horse?”

“Your horse is at the edge of the village with the others. Take him any
time. It is your horse. If you care to take the risk, you shall set out
in as good condition as you were in when my young men brought you here.”

“I will remember it in your favour when next I have you under my
rifle,” said Sevier, his eyes sparkling as he examined his rifle and
pistol and found they had not been tampered with. “You stay here?”

“I have work to do in my lower towns,” was the enigmatic reply,
illuminated somewhat by the peculiar smile accompanying the words.

“Preparing for war while I wait for the corn to be harvested. On coming
here I saw a war-eagle flying away. What was it a sign of? Your defeat?”

Watts looked sober. More progressive in his ideas than the bulk of his
people, yet he could not discard many of the superstitions. Secretly he
was alarmed that Polcher had killed an eagle out of season, yet that
was a fault that did not necessarily spell disaster. To make light of
the disquieting suggestion he indifferently said:

“We have _shamans_ to read signs. It is enough for you to know that all
crimes die out and are forgotten when old fires die and are replaced by
the new. You have your choice, Little John. Stay and live, or step over
the line and have an ax stuck in your head. _Ku!_”

“I have heard you,” was the quiet reply.

Free to come and go, Sevier quit the council-house and wandered about
the village. Feeling hungry, he entered a cabin and found the little
girl playing with the mirror. He was promptly provided with beans and
venison. The father of the child eyed him stealthily. The child boldly
ran to him and climbed on his knee. Sevier knew these were his friends
insofar as they could be such without betraying their people.

“Has a white man and a white woman passed through this village since
the little one lost her tooth?” he asked as he ate.

The man turned away, but the woman shook her head, and Chucky Jack knew
she answered truthfully. He was disappointed, yet remembered it was
very possible he had passed ahead of them. Tonpit would be held back by
the girl. It was also possible they had passed the village without
entering it. And he persisted—

“Have you heard of a white man and woman travelling to the Coosa?”

Again the man pretended not to have heard the query, and once more the
woman silently answered in the negative. He was puzzled. He knew the
Tonpits could pass without hindrance once it was known they were bound
for McGillivray’s town. And, did they pass, the news would be flashed
from village to village with incredible swiftness.

“It must be that I’ve got ahead of them; that Polcher got far ahead of
them,” he decided as he finished his meal. “Tonpit would have to stop
and give the girl a chance to rest. Even at that it’s queer no word is
brought ahead of their coming.”

He went outside, wondering if by any chance Tonpit had changed his
plans and struck for Governor Miro’s headquarters at Pensacola. The
girl’s hurried scrawl told her lover they were bound for Little
Talassee. This substantiated his theory that McGillivray had demanded
her as a hostage to bind Tonpit to his bargain. This line of conjecture
brought Kirk Jackson to mind, and he speculated on the young man’s
whereabouts. How long would he hide from the settlers, thinking a mob
was after him to give him short shift?

“Just long enough to feel sure he could find me in the court-house,”
was the borderer’s decision on this point. “On learning I’ve gone and
that he’s safe in the settlement, he’ll wait just long enough to get a
horse and come pounding after the girl. Wish I’d left a note for him to
stay there, although that would have no effect on a young man in love.”

Realizing the folly of further speculation, he brought his mind to bear
on his immediate surroundings and strolled out to see his horse. The
faithful animal ran to him to be petted. To leap on his back and speed
down the trail would take but a minute. He had his arms and had eaten.
While making much of the horse, he cast his glance about. The woods
were quiet, scarcely a breath stirring the foliage. The itching to be
off almost tempted him, then he turned away and walked but a few rods
toward the cabins when Watts came from behind a bush.

“No, John,” he said before the other could speak; “I decided not to
risk it. For a bit I believed it could be done; then I saw _tsiskwaya_,
the little sparrow, fly upward, afraid of something on the ground.”

“_Tsiskwaya_ saw a snake,” suggested Watts.

“He wore Cherokee paint,” smiled Sevier.

The chief lowered at him evilly, a heavy scowl distorting his dark
face. The borderer knew something had gone wrong with his enemy and
philosophically decided he ought to be benefitted by whatever had
displeased the chief.

“My brother is angry because I did not ride down the trail,” he said.

Watts snarled like a tree-cat, then forced his face to composure and
said:

“I am angry at your narrow escape. If you had gone down the trail, the
snake might have bitten you. Who knows? Bad dreams would have come to
me if you had been harmed.”

“Just what does that mean?” Sevier suspiciously asked.

Watts pointed to the end of the village, where warriors were filing in
between the first cabins.

“Old Tassel comes, and with him is the Tall Runner, the man of the
Wolf, who Polcher said was dead.”

Sevier could scarcely credit his eyes. Old Tassel and Tall Runner rode
ahead of the band.

“Then I am free to go. I do not need to wait for the Green Corn Dance
to wipe out all sins,” he cried.

“Little John is as free as the birds of the air,” quickly assured
Watts. “His horse is waiting. He has his rifle, pistol and ax. He had
better go before Old Tassel asks him to stay. If there is a snake in
the woods, I will drive him away.” And he raised two fingers to his
lips and whistled shrilly. The signal was promptly answered. “The path
is open and smooth,” he said to Sevier.

There was a strong possibility that Old Tassel would insist on his
remaining in the village. Sevier had learned, however, that he
invariably profited by doing the opposite to what hostiles like Watts
wished him to do. Now that luck had permitted him to meet Old Tassel,
whose pacific inclinations were a thorn in the side of the war-faction,
he instantly became determined to win some advantage from the encounter.

“Where is the man Polcher?” he asked.

“He is here somewhere.”

“I think my medicine is telling me to see Old Tassel before I go,” he
announced. With that he hastened forward, followed by the chief, and
overtook Old Tassel in front of the council-house.

The old chief was not prepared for the meeting, and his alarmed manner
of glancing about suggested an expectation of beholding a band of
Chucky Jack’s famous riflemen. His show of perturbation impelled Sevier
to wonder what tricks the wily old diplomat was up to. The Tall Runner
ignored Sevier’s presence entirely.

“My brother did not think to see me here,” greeted Sevier, grasping the
chief by the hand.

“My brother is far from home,” mumbled the chief.

“Not when he is in the home of his friends,” corrected Sevier. “Come,
let us open a bag of talk. I sent you a talk by Tall Runner to say I
would meet you in council. I am here alone to do so.”

Old Tassel stared in amazement at his audacity. The warriors behind the
old man exchanged puzzled glances and tightened their grip on their
axes. Sevier noted the hostile demonstration and read the red minds
easily. Never before had they been given such an opportunity. Many
times Chucky Jack and his mounted riflemen had struck them and wounded
them sorely. Now he was in their midst, far from the settlements and
seemingly alone. The last fact they could scarcely believe.

As their gaze turned to suspiciously sweep the forest, John Watts spoke
up, assuring:

“Little John rides alone. My young men found him and brought him here.”

“To this white town of peace,” added Sevier. “What could be better than
to hold our talk in a peace town, where evil thoughts and bloodshed are
not known?”

Old Tassel’s braves glanced at Watts, as if asking if that were the
reason the borderer was still alive, and found their answer in his
gloomy eyes. Old Tassel shook off his confusion and assented:

“We will hear my brother’s talk. The Cherokees do not want war with the
whites. My brother would be safe in a peace town or a red town, as safe
as he would be on the Holston or the French Broad.”

The sullen countenances of his followers and the half-masked ferocity
of Watts left room for doubt as to the unanimity of this sentiment, but
no word was spoken as the two chiefs and representative men filed into
the council-house and took their places.

After a decorous pause Sevier rose and said:

“Evil birds have whispered to the Cherokees, and the nation now refuses
to keep the chain of friendship from dragging on the ground. It lies in
the dirt, no matter how high my people lift their arms. It is the end
in the Cherokee country that is allowed to drag. This should not be.
White men and women and children going to Kentucky have been killed by
the Cherokees. This must not be.

“The Cherokees have killed many white settlers who have crossed the
Holston and the French Broad. Their bones have not been covered. Our
settlers were told by North Carolina they were right in going there. It
is too late to call them back. They will hold the land because the
bones of their dead have not been covered.

“We hear that the Cherokees now plan to join hands with Alexander
McGillivray and his Creeks; that war-talks have been sent back and
forth between the two nations. Let the Cherokees beware how they take a
red ax from the Creeks.

“Where did the Creeks get their lands? From those they struck in the
head. Who filled the Creek cabins with guns and powder? A Spanish King
over the big water. How does Spain treat the Indians? Go and ask the
old men among your people, among the Creeks and the Seminoles, who have
received the stories from the old men behind them. Ask the old men of
this nation what their fathers’ fathers told them of De Soto.

“If the Cherokees take the red ax from the Creeks and should break off
all the heads of the settlers along the French Broad, the Holston, the
Nolichucky and the Watauga, what would they gain? The Creeks as
friends. They have never been a true friend to any neighbour. Spain a
friend? When you bait a sacred war-eagle with the carcass of a deer and
kill it, you pray to it not to take vengeance on you, saying it is no
Cherokee that killed it, but Askwani—a Spaniard. Why do you pray to
turn the dead eagle’s vengeance against the Spaniards? Because it is
burned into your heads from the old, old times how cruelly Spain used
your people.

“_Hayu!_ If you do not sound the red war-whoop, the Creeks can do
nothing. They can not harm you. If you join with them Spain will see
they get your lands. Then Spain will take all the land for herself. If
you hold up the chain of friendship so it does not drag on the ground,
I will promise you that our settlers shall not go beyond the boundary
we agree upon at the grand council.

“The land now held south of the Broad and the Holston must remain ours
to cover the dead you have slain. We will cover your dead with presents
and will not wander from our land to your land. If you make this treaty
and stand to it, I promise I will lead my riflemen against the Creeks
should they try to steal any of your lands. I have spoken.”

The boldness of this talk amazed the warriors. At the least they had
expected Sevier to be very conciliatory. His blunt reminder of what the
Kentucky settlers had suffered, his firm insistence that the settlers
below the French Broad would not vacate the land and his calm offer of
assistance left them speechless. His magnificent assurance, although
isolated from his friends by many miles of enemies, touched their
imagination and commanded their deepest respect. Even Watts, although
determined to take the red path, could not suppress his admiration. The
effect on Old Tassel was very marked.

Sevier believed that Watts’ eagerness to have him leave the village
without meeting the old chief was due to some half-promise on Tassel’s
part to favourably consider the Creeks’ request for an alliance in a
general war against the whites. If Old Tassel had intimated any such
willingness, it was now obvious that Sevier’s plain speaking was
impelling him to reconsider and weigh the consequences most carefully.

Watts fumed with impatience to denounce Sevier and his riflemen and to
urge his hearers to declare war at once, but etiquette demanded that
Old Tassel speak first. The old chief did not relish his task and
faltered and hesitated but managed to say:

“My brother’s words have entered my ears. North Carolina has sent me
many talks, promising I should have justice and that all new people be
moved off my land. I am an old man. The promises must be kept very
soon, or I shall not live to see them kept. Now they tell me the
Watauga settlements are not a part of North Carolina and that I must
send my talk to the Thirteen Fires, to the Great Council of America. So
much going about to get justice troubles me.”

Sevier quickly replied:

“I will keep the promises I make in the grand council I am asking you
to come to. The Watauga settlements are to become a separate fire and
blaze beside the thirteen.”

Unable to restrain his fierce passions longer, Watts leaped to his feet
and cried:

“Why should we wait longer to have promises kept? Why should we believe
new promises will be remembered better than the old? What power has
Little John to make the settlers keep off our lands? Even now the
settlements do not know where they belong. North Carolina does not want
them. The Great Council of America has not taken them in. Who, then, is
to see that the promises are kept?

“_Ku!_ Spain tells these settlers they must not travel on the
Mississippi, and the river is closed except to the friends of Spain.
Little John is a brave man, but he can not shoot his rifle across the
big water. Spain speaks, and her voice comes across the water, and she
is obeyed. Let us go to no grand council until the whites have left our
lands.” Then whirling on Sevier he cried, “I have said you are a brave
man. I meant the days when we fought each other on the border. I do not
mean now—today. For you have sneaked through the woods and kept from
sight until safe in a peace town. You would talk soft if you were in
Little Talassee, face to face with McGillivray.”

Sevier knew Watts was trying to drive him into the wilderness where the
paths were red, and he accepted the challenge by retorting:

“I will go to Little Talassee. I will speak face to face with
McGillivray, and, after I have finished, go and ask him if I spoke
soft.” Turning to Old Tassel he demanded, “What do you say to my talk?
Will you come to a grand council on the French Broad or on the Holston
after I have returned from McGillivray’s town?”

Old Tassel, beset by his desire for peace, yet feeling the surge of his
warriors’ will for fighting, now found a loophole. He gravely replied—

“When you come back from carrying your talk to McGillivray, I will go
to a grand council on the French Broad.”

“You have given your promise in the council-house of a peace town. It
is to be so,” said Sevier, picking up his rifle and preparing to go.

Watts stepped forward and extended his hand, and, as Sevier grasped it
and searched his face, he said:

“Little John is still a brave man. Whether it be peace or war, you are
a brave man. And will you go to little Talassee?”

Sevier dropped his hand and coldly replied—

“Unless stopped by a Chickamauga bullet, I shall go there.”

Watts clicked his strong teeth and whispered:

“McGillivray will keep you safe there. You will not get in his trail
again.” Then turning to the curious warriors he cried out, “Ho! A brave
man goes to Little Talassee. You will not harm him. But, if you see
white man turning back before reaching McGillivray’s town, you may know
he is a coward and treat him as such.”

Ignoring the hostile glances, Sevier glided from the council-house and
made for his horse. He now had his chance to go to McGillivray on the
Coosa, and a fringe of Cherokee warriors would see to it that he did
not turn back alive.

Hurrying to the corral, he saddled his horse and mounted and confided:

“Well, old fellow, that’s where I reckon to go, to Little Talassee. But
I’d rather go alone instead of being chased there. Coming back will be
harder.”

As he rode down the white path, he kept his eyes opened for signs of
Polcher. He did not anticipate any attack from the tavern-keeper until
he left the vicinity of the village, for Watts must have warned that no
blood was to be shed so long as the path was white. When he struck into
the main trail leading southwest, then he would be traversing a red
way, and there would be no ancient law holding Polcher back. However,
that was a detail to be attended to when encountered. What worried him
considerably was not the tavern-keeper, sure to be in ambush somewhere
ahead, but Kirk Jackson and the Tonpits.

He had barely cleared the outskirts of the village when he discovered
some one was following him. He reined in, expecting to behold the van
of the Cherokees coming to make sure he did not double back to the
north. But there was but one man, and he ran with no efforts at
concealment. To the contrary he now began calling Sevier by his
Cherokee name, “Tsan-usdi.”

“I am here,” called out Sevier.

As the Cherokee burst into view, the borderer recognized him as the
father of the little girl who prayed to the beaver.

“You want me?” Sevier asked.

“I go with you. Old Tassel has spoken it.”

“How far do you go with me?”

“Until we reach the land of the Creeks.”

“To see that I do not turn back,” sneered Sevier.

“To see no bad Indians cross your path,” was the grave correction.

Sevier’s hostility vanished. Old Tassel feared his promise of safe
passage might be violated by some of the younger men and wished to
shift all responsibility of the borderer’s fate on to the Creeks. Still
half a measure of solicitude was decent of him, and Sevier knew he had
him won from thoughts of war for the time being at least.

“You are?”

“The Jumper, of the Ani-Kawi.”

“A man of the Deer clan should know the trails. We will go on, Little
Brother. Tell me when the white path turns red.”

“I will tell you,” grunted the Indian.

“Tell me where is the man called Polcher?”

“In the forest. Somewhere along the red path.”

Trotting ahead, the Jumper led the way for several miles, and yet
Sevier could detect no signs of Cherokees in the rear. He said as much
to the Jumper, who drew a half-circle in the air behind him, saying:

“They are from there to there. We shall not see them so long as we go
toward the Coosa.”

“It is well,” said Sevier.

The Jumper raised a hand and then threw himself prostrate with his ear
to the ground. Sevier quieted his restless horse and listened. He heard
nothing. The Indian rose and informed:

“Men come. We must leave the trail.”

“Why should we hide, Little Brother? What is there to fear along the
white path that leads to the white town?”

“Nothing to fear from men of my colour,” said the Jumper with a touch
of irony. “But I can not answer for the whites.”

“White men!” exclaimed Sevier, dismounting and leading his horse aside
and into cover.

His first thoughts were of Tonpit, the man who, despite his weakness
and ambitions, was so necessary to Spain and Charles III’s field
representative, Alexander McGillivray.

“They bring horses to trade in Great Hiwassee,” the Indian added.

Sevier’s hopes fell, then rebounded as he discredited the Indian’s
ability to know who was coming and their purpose. Thus far he had been
able to detect nothing but the usual forest sounds.

“How do you know that?” he demanded.

“Some of the horses have no riders.”

Sceptical, Sevier composed himself to wait in patience. After what
seemed a long time, there came a burst of voices and the trampling of
hoofs, and above the confusion roared a coarse voice hurling curses at
animals and men.

“Hajason!” muttered the Jumper, his face scowling.

“Red Hajason!” softly cried Sevier, mechanically shifting his rifle.

The Jumper touched his hand as it lay on the gun, and he warned:

“You must not think of that. You are still in the white path.”

Sevier lowered the rifle and asked—

“Does he trade at Hiwassee?”

The Indian nodded. Had not Sevier’s errand concerned the fate of the
Western settlements, he would have considered his journey well worth
the danger just for an opportunity to confront and kill this man whose
name was anathema from the Watauga to the French Broad and throughout
the Carolinas east of the mountains.

Wherever horses were stolen and hurried to hidden forest depots, the
name of Red Hajason was known and detested. That he continued to carry
on his thievery was due to his practice of sending agents to do the
actual work while he remained in his stronghold somewhere at the
headwaters of the Hiwassee River in the southwestern corner of North
Carolina. When not at this camp, it was said he made his home over the
line in South Carolina, “that delight of buccaneers and pyrates,” as
the Rev. Hugh Jones, chaplain to the honourable Assembly of Virginia,
characterized that commonwealth in 1750.

Border-folks, however, denied that Red Hajason was compelled to shuttle
back and forth between the Hiwassee and the Tugalo rivers and openly
charged he had been seen in the capital of North Carolina, seemingly on
excellent terms with some of those who pretended to safeguard the
destiny of the State. This would not be surprising, as in formative
periods the devil takes advantage of chaos to walk close to saints.

But the over-mountain country was closed ground to the king of
horse-thieves; there was no doubting that fact. A bullet on sight was
what he would receive did he venture forth where he sent his men. Thus
it had happened that Sevier, while having had the pleasure of hanging
several of Red Hajason’s tools, had never looked on his face.

The Jumper increased his vigilance and cunningly took Sevier’s horse by
the nose to prevent a whinney.

“We must go deeper into the woods,” he urged.

“Listen, Little Brother, I must see this Red Hajason,” whispered
Sevier, dismounting. “Take the horse back. I will stay here.”

“This path is white,” frantically protested the Indian, anticipating
from Sevier’s frowning visage a bloody settlement with the outlaw.

“My eyes can not shed blood,” soothed Sevier. “He shall pass
unharmed—this time. But I must see him.”

The Jumper reluctantly led the horse deeper into the cover, and Sevier
hid himself and waited. The Cherokees owned many horses, excellent
animals. A brisk trade was carried on between the friendly Indians and
the settlers. And there was much trading between Cherokee and Creek,
only it was the white man’s horse that sometimes went to the Southern
nation. And Hajason traded stolen nags for honest ones and through
unsuspected agents sold the latter to the whites.

Hajason was not dubbed “Red” because of rufescent hair or complexion.
He was Red because of his deeds, his readiness to spill the blood of
the weaker. Only affairs of great importance had restrained Sevier from
taking a posse of his swift-riding riflemen and running down the
scourge long before this.

The cavalcade now drew near, and he could easily make out the oaths and
commands being shouted in English by Hajason, sprinkled with orders in
the Cherokee tongue. Now they burst into view, two half-breeds riding
ahead, a dozen horses following them. Bringing up the rear were three
white men. Sevier had eyes for only one of the trio, a giant of a man,
whose features were an amazing mass of brutality and evil passions,
whose bearded lips opened seldom except to permit the escape of a
blasphemy.

His companions cowered under his tongue-lashings, while his thunderous
epithets hurled at the head of the drove kept the breeds jumping
convulsively. He passed within a dozen feet of Sevier, and the borderer
had ample opportunity to study him in detail and time to regret that
his hands were tied by the ancient law. With his pistol he could have
obliterated a great evil, and he was powerless to act.

So intent was he on scanning the outlaw’s burly body and repulsive face
that he all but overlooked the horse he was riding. The moment he
noticed the big black his interest in Red Hajason became a minor
matter. There was no mistaking the animal. Not another horse on the
border that showed those white knees, for all the world like two
bandages. The horse was Tonpit’s favourite mount. Staring
incredulously, Sevier darted his gaze over the rest of the animals and
found the small bay Miss Elsie always rode.

“By all the red gods in the East, he’s got the major’s and the girl’s
nags!” gasped the borderer, craning his neck and risking discovery to
watch the cavalcade move up the trail.

Tonpit and his daughter had disappeared from home the night of Old
Thatch’s death. Their departure was, presumably, the result of the
Creek’s message from McGillivray. Lon Hester had disappeared the same
night.

“They were bound for Little Talassee,” he mused. “They rode in haste,
or I should have overtaken them. And yet the girl had to have time to
rest. Polcher and Hester are free to come and go among the Cherokees. I
know Polcher is ahead, waiting for me. Hester is just the man to dicker
with Hajason for fresh animals for the major and the girl. But their
horses appeared to be fresh. Why change them?”

He stared longingly up the trail, fighting down his impulse to pursue
Red Hajason and kill him, if need be, to get the truth. To shed blood
would be a violation of the law he had invoked to save his own life. He
heard Hajason shouting a boisterous greeting in the Cherokee tongue and
knew he had glimpsed some of the warriors advancing on either side of
the trail. To go after the outlaw and scare the truth from him would
mean an encounter with the Indians, who had been ordered to treat him
as a coward did they catch him turning back. They would not slay him on
the white path, but they surely would make him a prisoner.

He almost wished he had delayed his departure until Hajason had
arrived. And yet, had Fate worked that way, new complications would
have arisen and the trail to the south might not have been open to him.
Next rose the puzzling point: why should Hajason come in person to
superintend the sale or exchange of a dozen horses? The outlaw was a
villain of large activities. He was well known and hospitably received
in Great Hiwassee. His immunity to danger consisted in leaving details
to his subordinates.

“No!” growled Sevier. “He never came just to get rid of the horses. He
has had many deals with this town. He could have sent a boy and a talk
and made the trade. He came for a purpose. The nags happened to be on
hand, and he fetched them.”

The Jumper pressed through the bushes behind him and touched his
shoulder and anxiously insisted:

“Little John loses much time. The medicine of the Deer tells me Death
creeps down the trail, even though it be a white trail.”

And he nervously fumbled a small bag hanging round his neck and rolled
his eyes in alarm toward the village.

“I am ready,” Sevier said, springing into the saddle. “Death ever lurks
where Red Hajason is.”

“Chief Watts’ Chickamaugas are very close,” warned the Jumper.

“Let them come,” was the careless reply. “We have not turned back, not
so much as a foot.” And, shaking the reins, he rode down the trail with
his guide at his stirrup.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER VII

  IN THE MAW OF THE FOREST

Once they struck into the old Creek trail the Jumper went on ahead; for
this was a red path and the Indian by scouting in advance was supposed
to reduce the chances of a surprise attack by Polcher. Near sundown
they came to a small creek where the Jumper wanted to camp for the
night.

“Let my brother gather wood for the fire while I look about the forest
for signs,” said Sevier, eager to reconnoiter his back trail.

The man of the Deer clan guessed his purpose and reminded—

“If you are seen turning back, if only for a few steps, there are those
who will be glad to kill you.”

“I shall not be seen turning back,” reassured Sevier. “I go to find
signs and kill a wild turkey.”

“The forest has eyes that watch you,” warned the Jumper. “My medicine
has told me that Death walks along the Creek trail.”

“Death walks everywhere,” carelessly returned Sevier. “And it skips the
brave to touch the coward.”

Taking his rifle, he crossed the trail and, as soon as he was out of
hearing of the Cherokee turned north and made for a heavily wooded
hill. He had noted this elevation shortly before arriving at the creek
and knew it would be an excellent vantage point for spying on the back
country. He ascended it without detecting any signs of his trackers and
lost no time in climbing a tree. The stretch of country he had covered
that afternoon was spread out below him in broad relief. For the most
part the view consisted of the forest crown but there were occasional
openings and it was on the nearest of these that he focused his gaze.

He glimpsed nothing that hinted at pursuit. He studied the birds but
was unable to discover any symptoms of alarm. This emptiness of the
trail puzzled him, for he had been convinced his every step would be
dogged until he crossed into the country of the Creek. Leaving the
tree, he descended the hill and, pausing only long enough to knock over
a turkey, made his way back toward the creek.

He had reached a point due east from the camp when he was startled by
the sharp report of a gun. Dropping the turkey, he ran to the trail and
crossed it, thinking his guide was the victim of some treachery. Before
he came in sight of the fire he heard the Jumper wailing and moaning,
and yet not as one who cries out when physically hurt. In fact, he knew
a material wound could elicit no complaint from the Jumper. Slowing his
pace, he advanced more cautiously and halted for a moment at the edge
of the woods and surveyed the Indian.

The Jumper was lamenting in a dismal manner. He was busy trimming some
small branches into tiny rods.

Stepping forth Sevier demanded—

“Was it your gun I heard?”

The Jumper groaned and held up the small rods. There were seven of
them, seven being the sacred number of his people. Sevier took one of
the rods and examined it. He found it was sourwood.

“You have killed a wolf?” he asked.

“I shot at one, thinking it was a turkey in the bushes,” shivered the
Jumper. And he snatched up his gun and began unscrewing the barrel.
“Now will Kanati, the Lucky Hunter whose watch-dog the wolf is, be very
angry with me. Already I feel myself turning blue.”

“The Lucky Hunter will know it was a mistake,” soothed Sevier,
appreciating how serious a fault it was for any but the ceremonial
wolf-killer to shoot at a wolf. “While you finish your medicine for the
gun I will go back and get the turkey I dropped.”

According to the Cherokee belief the gun was spoiled unless treated at
once by a medicine-man. In the absence of a shaman one must make his
own medicine as best he could. As Sevier well knew the incident reduced
the Indian’s value as a guide and scout to zero. As a fighter he had
become nil. Even if the bad spirit could be immediately exorcised from
the offending barrel the Jumper would not dare fire it at a lurking foe
for fear of making another mistake and rekindling the rage of the
mighty Kanati. And those who stalked the borderer along a red path
would not show themselves for an open shot.

Disturbed by the incident Sevier recovered the turkey and hastened
back. The Jumper was heating the slim rods over a small fire near the
edge of the water and as Sevier came up he commenced inserting them in
the gun-barrel. Sevier watched him in silence as he completed his task
and leaned forward to place the defiled barrel in the creek, where it
must remain for the night.

Turning back, the Jumper plucked the turkey and prepared it for the
coals, groaning and grimacing as he worked but taking no heed of his
white companion.

“What is it now, my brother?” asked Sevier.

“The Crippler (rheumatism) has me,” lamented the Jumper, rubbing his
legs. “I have angered a Deer ghost.”

“You shall make a prayer to the Black, Blue and White Ravens. The Two
Little Men of the Sun Land shall come and drive the intruder away,”
comforted Sevier.

“Only a shaman can make the prayer,” was the doleful reply.

Sevier turned away in disgust. He had counted on the Jumper as a
powerful ally for defensive work at least. His woodcraft and sharp ears
and eyes would be invaluable in detecting the secret approach of
Polcher. Now his superstitions had changed him from an asset to a
liability. It was useless to argue with him. Deer ghosts sent
rheumatism as a punishment for some deer killed without placating the
spirit.

Every one knew that the Little Deer, chief of all Deer spirits, watched
over all his subjects. Never could one fall by the hunter’s arrow or
bullet without the Little Deer standing at the victim’s side and asking
the clotted blood if “it had heard”; that is if the blood had heard the
hunter begging forgiveness for the life he had taken. Obviously the
Jumper at some time had failed to repeat the prayer and as a result he
was now useless.

“I can not sleep tonight. I will keep watch,” mumbled the Jumper after
the turkey had been served.

“_Siyu!_ (good)” agreed Sevier, thankful for a chance to snatch a few
hours of sleep.

He had slumbered for several hours when a bullet clipped into the boll
of a hemlock near his head and brought him to his feet, rifle in hand.
The Jumper, with protruding eyes and gaping mouth, sat leaning against
a tree. He made no move to investigate the murderous assault. The fire
was down to a bed of coal.

Without a word Sevier glided into the woods. Polcher had had his first
try, he concluded. He circled the camp and halted every few rods to
locate the enemy by some telltale sound. Unsuccessful, he returned to
the fire and lay down at a distance from the dying embers. The Jumper
already had concealed himself in some thicket. With the first streak of
dawn the borderer rose and dug the Jumper from his hiding-place under a
huge stump and ordered him to scout the woods for signs of the midnight
visitor.

But the Jumper was now far beyond the point of suffering fear of bodily
violence. His brains swarmed with outraged ghosts. Strange
superstitions crawled through his thoughts. During the night his
medicine-bag had become dislodged from his neck, a most conclusive
warning that the Little Deer was greatly displeased with him. The
danger of assassination did not impress him as being vital. Bad Luck
had settled her talons in his soul; beside which bullets were nothing.

“Will you go or not?” asked Sevier as the Indian tarried by the white
ashes and stared timidly about.

“Last night I dreamed of the Little Deer, small as a dog and white,” he
whispered. “He told me to go back to the village and give cloth to the
shaman, who will make me a prayer and give me new medicine. Ah! The
Crippler is twisting every bone in my body.”

“Old Tassel sent you to go with me,” persisted Sevier.

“No chief of the Cherokees gives orders after the Little Deer has
spoken,” rebuked the Jumper.

“Of course; that is true,” surrendered Sevier, now resigned to
proceeding alone.

The Jumper dragged himself to the creek and removed the gun-barrel and
plucked out the rods, then cleaned the barrel and screwed it in place.
That the man he had been so solicitous for the day before should now
stand in deadly danger made no impression on him. His own soul was in
imminent peril of turning blue. The anger of the Deer ghosts remained
unappeased. He could only think of hastening home and bankrupting
himself in order to buy the shaman’s intercession.

With head bowed and moving listlessly he went up the trail. Only once
did a flicker of yesterday’s zeal show in his sombre eyes; that was
when he halted and glanced back to warn—

“You are in a red path now.”

Sevier nodded and answered—

“So the bullet fired in the night told me.”

The Jumper resumed his gloomy way and the borderer saddled his horse
and rode south.

John Watts had charge of the warriors enforcing this trip to the Coosa.
The mystery of their failure to appear on the trail while he was spying
from the hilltop was now quite obvious. Watts dared not slay until
Chucky Jack endeavoured to return through the land of the Cherokee, but
he was perfectly willing to hold his warriors back and give Polcher his
chance to make a “kill.”

Polcher, however, must be mounted, which would necessitate his sticking
close to the trail if he would not have his victim leave him far
behind. Sevier found some consolation in this thought and, leaning over
the neck of his horse, he looked for signs and found them within a mile
from the creek. The traces indicated that the tavern-keeper had left
his horse near the trail while he beat back through the woods to shoot
at the shadowy form by the dying fire. On returning to his horse, so
the signs read, he had led him some distance, then mounted to spur on
as fast as the night would permit.

A glance told Sevier these truths, and red rage smouldered in his heart
as he pictured the man withdrawing before him and planning murder,
while the Cherokees formed an implacable barrier to drive him to his
slayer. His anger did not blind his woods sense, however; and when the
forest promised decent travel for his mount he swung from the path and
made wide detours. Once he came upon tracks of a horse in the forest
mould and decided his foe was indulging in a similar manœuvre.

Yet the day passed without any demonstration from the man ahead or any
sign of the Cherokees behind. Both red and white were in their places,
never a doubt of that. At sundown Sevier found water and followed it
some distance from the trail. Selecting a small circle of cedars he
made his fire where he could not be seen unless the prowler approached
very close. He had saved enough of the turkey to suffice him for food;
and after the first darkness came to hide his movements he shifted his
horse up-stream. Returning to the cedars, he gathered small boughs and
rolled them in his blanket. Then, heaping fresh fuel on the fire, he
withdrew into the night and took up his position between the sprawling
roots of a mighty oak.

He planned to sleep through the first of the night, being confident no
prowler would approach the cedars so long as the blazing fire suggested
he was awake and alert. The flames would consolidate into coals about
midnight; it was then that any lurking assassin would seek the
blanketed decoy.

With the woods instinct he timed his slumber accurately. As he opened
his eyes and caught the reek of the smouldering fire and beheld the
glowing coals staring through the foliage he softly rose to one knee
and raised his rifle.

The disturbing voice of a screech-owl raised his _wa-huhu_. Sevier
pricked his ears, then relaxed as the dismal notes were repeated. They
were genuine and no Indian signal. This corroborated his theory that
Chief Watts’ men were holding back to give the mixed-blood every
opportunity to kill. Something stirred on the borderer’s left, a faint
rustling. The smoke from the fire would have repelled a night animal.

The darkness made vision useless except as he gazed toward the coals.
He aimed his rifle at these. A minute passed and the glowing coals
vanished, advertising the intervention of a solid body.

With finger on the trigger Sevier waited for a count of ten, when the
explosion of the assassin’s rifle tore a red hole in blackness. Almost
at the same moment Sevier fired. Something collapsed and the twinkling
embers reappeared.

As he fired the borderer fell flat and remained motionless. The silence
shut in again. The adventure was finished. Yet Sevier held back until
he had reloaded. Then, armed with rifle and ax, he edged forward. He
had covered half the distance to the cedars when his moccasin touched
something that impelled him to drop his gun and spring forward.

But the form he grasped made no effort at defence. Groping about until
he found the hands and had made sure they held no weapons, he dragged
the limp figure up to the fire and dropped some dry grass on the coals.
The flames flared up and revealed the face of the dead man. It was not
Polcher but one of the two whites who had ridden with Red Hajason.

With a smothered exclamation of surprise he drew back under the bushy
boughs and crouched on his heels. He observed by the expiring light
where the bullet had pierced his blanket and he had no regrets for the
death he had dealt. He was chagrined, however, for not anticipating Red
Hajason’s entrance into the grim game. It was to afford the outlaws a
chance to strike, rather than to give Polcher a clear field, that the
Cherokees were moving leisurely. Hajason immediately on arriving at
Great Hiwassee must have learned from Chief Watts about the white man
riding for the Coosa. And how many men had Hajason sent down the trail?
Was he one of the trailers?

“I only wish he’d been this chap,” muttered Sevier. “That peace law is
bad medicine when it stopped me from shooting him on sight.”

_Wa-huhu_ called a screech-owl. Another owl answered from the east and
another from the west.

“The Cherokees,” he murmured, securing his blanket and stealing from
the cedars and making for his horse. “They heard the two shots and are
puzzled to know how it came out.”

_Wa-huhu_ came the call, now much nearer. And the notes were tinged
with impatience, as if the dead man had promised to answer.

Sevier threw back his head and sent the answer ringing through the
forest aisles.

He was now convinced his life would be in peril every mile of the way
to the Creek country. Old Tassel had feared he might come to harm while
in the Cherokee country and had sought to evade responsibility by
sending the Jumper to guard him. What might happen to him after he
crossed the southern boundary did not concern the old chief. But
Polcher, Watts and Hajason were determined he should never reach Little
Talassee. He summed the situation up by telling himself:

“From now on I must push ahead as fast as possible. I can’t be watching
for Polcher and at the same time dodge the gang behind me.”

Yet one must sleep and a horse must rest even though two-score
Cherokees were stealing like ghouls about the abandoned camp-fire and
its dead man. So, shifting his blanket to a deep covert and trusting
that his horse would not be found, he slept until sunrise. He sought
his horse only after making a circle around the animal; for if other
killers were in the vicinity and had stumbled upon the horse they would
wait there in ambush, knowing the sun would bring their victim.

But no one was in hiding near the horse; and he threw on the saddle and
returned to the main trail without being molested. He rode at a furious
gallop and had covered a mile before being reminded of the enemy. A
rifle spat at him from the brush and he fancied he felt the wind of the
bullet. His only notice of it was to throw himself flat over the
saddle-horn and urge his mount to greater efforts.

For several miles he rode at top speed and slowed down only when
confronted by a swampy stretch bordering a sluggish creek. Dismounting,
he placed his ear to the ground and caught the _thud-thud_ of pursuing
hoofs. When standing erect he was unable to hear the hoof-beats, and he
knew he had ample time to make the miry ford. Walking ahead to test the
footing, he soon waded the creek and helped his mount up the bank and
gained firm ground. Springing into the saddle, he rode a few rods up
the trail and backed off behind some hemlocks and cocked his rifle.

The minutes passed. Perfect serenity seemed to mark the trail and the
surrounding forest. Then wild fowls rose from the creeks and winged
away. Peeping from his hiding-place, he beheld a white man afoot
leading a horse. The animal was a big black, and a second glance noted
the white knees. It was Major Tonpit’s favourite steed. The man halted
at the edge of the swamp and studied the tracks. Then, climbing into
the saddle, he urged the horse into the muck. As he lifted his head to
examine the opposite bank Sevier recognized him as another of the trio
who rode with Hajason behind the drove.

Possessed with the notion of making the fellow a captive and learning
something from him about his master, Sevier spurred into the open just
as his tracker reached the middle of the ford. Sevier flung up his left
hand and cried—

“Up with your hands!”

The man stared at him, nonplussed for a second, then recognized him and
threw up both hands and fired. Without raising his own gun Sevier
pulled the trigger, the two reports sounding as one. The borderer felt
his brown hair twitch; his opponent toppled off into the creek. The
black horse wheeled with a shrill whinny of alarm and dashed
frantically back over the trail.

“Two!” Sevier ejaculated, pricking on toward the frontier of the Creek
country. “That whittles Red Hajason’s fighting strength down quite a
bit. Unless he’s back there I shouldn’t stand in any more danger from
that direction. Now to watch out for Polcher.”

On gaining an elevation that commanded a view of the last ford he
reined in and glanced back. A score of Cherokee warriors were swarming
across the creek. One stumbled and fell over the dead man, and by the
commotion the discovery created Sevier knew they were greatly excited.
They carried the body back to the bank, then held a council as though
hesitating as to what course they should pursue. Finally a runner was
despatched to the rear and the band came on; only now they moved
cautiously, as if suspicious of every bush and tree.

Sevier smiled in quiet satisfaction. He was sure he had cleaned out the
white assassins, else the Indians would have waited for a third to
precede them. For the rest of the day he nursed his speed, walking much
to rest his horse and racing madly only when the trail stretched in a
straight line for any distance. Whether afoot or flashing down the
leafy alley at break-neck pace, he momentarily expected the
tavern-keeper to announce his presence with singing lead. Abrupt turns
in the path were negotiated carefully, some being avoided by detours.
Night found him far advanced on his journey without having discerned
any signs of Cherokees or Polcher.

At last he stood at the edge of Little Talassee. His ride through the
Creek country had been accompanied by stealth and superb woodcraft and
had been uneventful. The wandering bands of warriors that might have
intercepted him were avoided without much effort. This taught him the
Creeks did not imagine a hostile white man was so far within their
territory. It also carried the conviction that Polcher took it for
granted Red Hajason’s men would prevent his coming. This belief
necessitated the conclusion that some of the Cherokee runners had
passed round him and informed the tavern-keeper he need bother no
longer with Chucky Jack as others had undertaken the work of removing
him.

Sevier had timed the last leg of his journey so as to permit an
entrance to the village after sundown. From his hiding-place he halted
and observed the emperor’s home. It was a large handsome house,
pleasingly situated back from the river and surrounded by shade trees
and extensive beds of flowers. The grounds presented nothing to view
which would suggest the red man. It might have been a bit of Pensacola
or New Orleans. It was the environment of a white man.

Back of the big house were some two-score neat little cabins that
constituted the slave-quarters, while scattered about the residence in
a seemingly haphazard manner were outbuildings for supplies and
equipment. The entire effect on the borderer was that of a town rather
than Emperor McGillivray’s private estate.

Near Sevier’s hiding-place was a large corral filled with horses. Other
animals grazed outside. Waiting until evening had blurred the
landscape, Sevier left his horse to graze and ventured among the
outbuildings. From the opposite side of the grounds came a chorus of
melodious voices as the slaves sang and made merry. Lights sprang up in
the big house, fires twinkled before the cabins in the slave-quarters,
but the edge of the estate where Sevier reconnoitred seemed deserted.

He had stolen by a sleepy herder and with a horseman’s love had paused
to admire the many excellent animals when a big bay passed near him and
caused him to start convulsively. There was no mistaking the bay. It
was one of Stetson’s nags, and he would have taken oath it was in
Jonesboro the night of his departure. Wondering at the mystery of it
all, he rounded a long structure that was used as a granary and dropped
as though shot as a light flared up within twenty feet of him.

An Indian had stepped from the end of a cabin and had revived a
smouldering torch by swinging it violently round his head. Sevier
remained motionless, his travel-stained forest dress blending with the
shadows and logs. But the Creek had no eyes for intruders. Besides the
torch he carried a shallow wooden platter of steaming food. Intent on
his business he walked to the window of the cabin and, after thrusting
his torch into a socket, shoved the platter through a narrow aperture
beneath the window, grunting unintelligibly all the time.

For the first time Sevier discovered the cabin was used as a place of
detention, for there were iron bars across the window. The face of a
white man pressed against the bars and the prisoner said something to
the Creek.

Sevier sucked in his breath and then gasped:

“Kirk Jackson! So that’s the reason for Stetson’s nag being down here.
Kirk Jackson, and he’s a prisoner!”

The Indian removed the torch and walked round the end of the cabin.
Sevier glided forward. Jackson had retired from the window. The
borderer glanced over his shoulder to make sure no more torches were
approaching and, confident no one could discover him unless by physical
contact, he seized the iron bars and shook them gently, and called
Jackson by name.

There was a moment of intense silence, then a cautious voice whispered—

“Who is it?”

“Sevier. Chucky Jack.”

“Good Lord! What luck!” Jackson fervently murmured, and his face came
close to the bars and his hand was thrust to grasp that of the
borderer. “The door is fastened on the outside. No danger here of any
one setting a prisoner free. Throw up the bar—”

He choked the rest off with a groan of dismay and Sevier began to face
about just as a familiar voice exulted:

“Now, —— you, I have you where I want you! There are no white paths
here!”

And before Sevier could close in the newcomer thrust a pistol in his
face and pulled the trigger. The weapon missed fire. The borderer’s
outflung hand caught his assailant’s wrist, the other fumbling for the
throat.

“Help! Help! This way!” yelled the man in English.

“Polcher!” roared Sevier, forgetting his danger from the Creeks.

And he redoubled his efforts to get at the man’s throat.

But Polcher was fighting purely on the defensive and evading the
groping fingers.

“Look out, Jack!” yelled Jackson at the window.

Sevier glanced about to see whence came the new danger and at first
thought the cabin was on fire. This fancy was instantly dispelled by
the appearance of several torches round the corner, and before he could
think to release Polcher and make a break for it a dozen Creek warriors
had penned him in against the cabin. Polcher wrenched himself free and
with a howl of rage leaped to an Indian and snatched an ax.

“Stand back there, Polcher!” cried a clear, strong voice using
faultless English. “What the devil do you mean by prowling ’round my
gaol and raising a riot like this?”

As the newcomer passed through the circle Sevier beheld a tall, slender
figure of commanding carriage, and a dark, immovable face. The man was
faultlessly dressed after the fashion of the seaboard cities. In his
hand he carried a light riding-whip. And Sevier knew he had met
Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the Creeks.

“What’s the matter with you? Why don’t you speak?” sharply demanded
McGillivray.

Polcher chuckled sardonically and pointed to Sevier leaning against the
wall and informed:

“You have another guest, your Majesty. He was trying to kill me.”

“That is why you snapped your pistol in my ear before I saw you, I
suppose,” dryly spoke up Sevier, now stepping forward to meet the
emperor.

McGillivray snatched a torch from one of the warriors and thrust the
flame close to Sevier’s face.

“And who the devil are you?” he curiously asked, his eyes twinkling in
appreciation as they ranged up and down the lithe, upright figure.

“John Sevier, of the Nolichucky, come all the way from Jonesboro to
talk with you,” was the calm reply.

“——! Nolichucky Jack? And here?” cried McGillivray, his French blood
overwhelming his usual Indian taciturnity.

“They call me that among other names,” modestly admitted Sevier.
“Wishing to see you, I had to come here.”

“Well, I admire your courage,” declared McGillivray, his dark eyes
slightly bewildered. “Why were you fighting with Polcher?”

“Because he snapped a pistol in my face and said he had me where he
wanted me. Oh, I’d have jumped him anyway. He only happened to see me
first. I’ve promised myself that some time I shall hang him for a
murder he committed.”

McGillivray’s black brows drew down.

“Have a care, sir,” he curtly warned. “Alexander McGillivray is the
only man who gives the law in the country of the Creeks.”

“If you value your life you’ll string this man up now, while you have
him!” Polcher fiercely broke in.

McGillivray turned on him, and his voice had an edge as he warned:

“Men who volunteer me advice usually regret it. As for valuing my life,
it would be in no danger if Chucky Jack had all his riflemen at his
back.”

“That is true, sir,” warmly averred Sevier. “I know of no red wampum
hanging between us.”

“Not so fast,” muttered McGillivray, staring at him meditatively. “I
didn’t mean it that way. If there is no red wampum, neither is there
any white wampum between us. You’ve come here without being asked. I’m
not yet ready to smoke with you.”

“At least we could go inside and sit down and have a talk,” suggested
Sevier.

“Why, certainly, we can do that. And some cakes and a glass of wine
into the bargain,” laughed McGillivray. “My surprise at your coming
made me forget my hospitality. Only remember, I did not ask you to
bring a talk, and we shall talk without belts.”

“That suits me perfectly,” assured Sevier, taking his rifle from where
he had stood it against the cabin when seeking to attract Jackson’s
attention.

McGillivray waved his hand and the warriors closed about the borderer.
Polcher disappeared in the darkness, after loitering to see if he were
included in the emperor’s hospitality. As McGillivray strode on ahead,
leading the way to the big house, he laughed softly but laughed much.
As he drew up at the door a slave in gay livery threw it open and
humbly stood aside. The emperor slapped his leg with the riding-whip
and exclaimed:

“——! But this is unexpected. If I’d offered ten thousand pounds in gold
I couldn’t had you brought here alive. Behold! You’re here without my
even asking.”

“Yet it cost something for me to get here,” said Sevier.

“Meaning just what?”

“Two dead men on the Great War-Path. They tried to stop me.”

McGillivray’s eyes danced.

“Good! Whose men? Watts’? Dragging Canoe’s—”

“Oh, none of the friendly Indians,” Sevier interrupted, smiling as he
read McGillivray’s ardent hope that Cherokees had been slain and that
their deaths would precipitate the nation into a war against the
settlements. “Merely two renegade whites. Two of Red Hajason’s men.”

The emperor’s face fell. Sevier only raised the red ax against his
Northern neighbours. He eyed the borderer gravely; then a little smile
curled his thin lips and he said:

“Those two are better than nothing. If this Red Hajason lived nearer my
country I should send some of my young men to break off his head. He
rather got the best of me on a batch of horses. And he’ll never come
himself with a drove; always sends some of his tools.”

Sevier yawned. Instantly the emperor stood aside, bowed courteously and
lamented:

“I am forgetting myself. Please leave your rifle and belt with the
servant. And enter. You are most welcome to Little Talassee—my guest?
Prisoner? I wonder!”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER VIII

  THE EMPEROR OF THE CREEKS

The McGillivrays were one of the prominent families springing from
pre-Revolutionary marriages between the white traders and backwoodsmen
and the Southern Indians. The rapid progress made by the Cherokee and
Creek nations can largely be traced to such unions, as the white stock
invariably was excellent. The descendants from such mixed marriages are
not to be confused with some of the Western squaw men’s offsprings of
later times.

The children of the Southern mixed-marriages, as in the case of
Alexander McGillivray, were sent away to seaboard cities, or to Europe,
to be educated. These returned with advanced ideas which they soon
promulgated among their mothers’ people. One result in the South was an
early introduction of schoolhouses and the importation of teachers.

McGillivray was an excellent type of the fruit of such a mixed
marriage. From his beautiful half-breed mother, Sehoy Marchand, he had
inherited the vivacity and audacity, the brilliancy and polish of the
French, and the more reserved traits of the Creeks. From his father,
Lachlan McGillivray, he received a shrewd Scottish mind and an ability
to solve complicated problems and profit thereby. He was born at Little
Talassee in 1746 and was a year younger than Sevier. Of him a President
of the United States, more than a century later, was to write—

“Perhaps the most gifted man who was ever born on the soil of
Alabama.”[1]

If he was actuated by great ambitions, he entertained them
legitimately; for his mother’s family of the Wind was very powerful; by
inheritance and tutelage he was propelled to aspire to high things. His
mental equipment, too, was that of a man licensed to dream of lasting
success and influence. If he was crafty, his need, nay, the instinct of
self-preservation, required craft. James Robertson, Sevier’s old
friend, characterized him as being—

“Half Spaniard, half Frenchman, half Scotchman, and altogether a Creek
scoundrel.”

But Robertson was biased in his judgment because of his hatred for
Spain; and there was a strain of Spanish blood in the polyglot emperor.
Others of his generation pictured him as fiend and treacherous in his
dealings. These charges are not substantiated by any known facts and
resulted from the stress and heat of the times. That he played one
power against others with consummate adroitness is a matter of historic
record—England, Spain and America. He wore the military trappings of
the British, he was fond of his Spanish uniform, and finally the
insignia of an American officer; the last after Washington made him a
brigadier general. But at the time of Chucky Jack’s visit to Little
Talassee he was all for Spain.

As Sevier faced him in the comfortable living-room of the big house it
was without the prejudices of many contemporaries. As McGillivray stood
by the table and rested the tips of his long, tapering fingers on the
polished board, his spare six feet of muscle gracefully inclined toward
his “guest,” his smooth, dark handsome face portraying only solicitude
for the comfort of his new acquaintance, Sevier knew he was in the
presence of a gentleman.

After Sevier had seated himself McGillivray tapped a bell and gave an
order to the half-breed servant. Wine and cakes were brought. All that
surrounded the man reflected the opulence resulting from a partnership
with Panton, Forbes and Leslie, whose importations yearly ran to nearly
a quarter of a million of dollars. And yet this atmosphere of
well-being contained no suggestion of the garish. The impression was
that the house of McGillivray always had enjoyed a king’s income.

Sinking into a chair across from Sevier, the emperor studied the
borderer with courteous curiosity. Then, raising his glass, he gave—

“To your good health and—discretion.”

“I thank you. The last is proven by my seeking you in a time of great
need,” said Sevier.

McGillivray’s dark eyes became luminous.

“Ha!” he softly exclaimed. “If you come for assistance you can count on
McGillivray of the Creeks to the hilt.”

“Not so fast,” restrained Sevier. “The need I speak of is yours as well
as mine.”

“I don’t understand you,” McGillivray coldly replied. “I know of no
personal embarrassment. The Emperor of the Creeks often gives aid. He
has never received any.”

“A crisis faces the Western settlements and the Creeks. Your nation can
not advance if my people go down.”

McGillivray sprang to his feet and tossed back his dark hair, snapping
his long fingers impatiently and darting angry, yet curious, glances at
the imperturbable borderer.

“What kind of talk is this for you to bring to me, a McGillivray of the
McGillivrays, Emperor of the Creek Nation?”

“It is because you are what you are that I bother to fetch my talk. I
come to the one man in the New World Spain leans on for support.
Without you Spain would fall to the ground in this Western country.”

The emperor’s irritation vanished, his fierce visage softened. Such
homage was very sweet, coming from John Sevier’s lips. He nodded
affably. He had reminded Spain of his own importance in his various
consultations with the royal governor, Don Estephan Miro.

“I believe his Majesty, Charles III, appreciates my services,” he
frankly agreed. “Our treaty of six weeks ago would seem to indicate
that much.”

“Could I have seen you before June first I would have urged you not to
sign that secret treaty.”

Leaning across the table, his face alive with resentment, McGillivray
hoarsely warned:

“Sevier, beware! Beware how you characterize any compact I sign with
Spain. You mouth the word ‘secret’ as if it were something shameful. I
tell you to heed your words, for you are in my power—and I am trying to
forget that fact.”

“To be in a gentleman’s power is to be his guest,” was the calm retort.

With a Gallic flinging out of hands and shrugging of shoulders the
emperor dropped into his chair, crying:

“You have disarmed me. Suppose we take up your reasons for coming
here—a most unusual proceeding you must admit—in view of the ‘secret’
treaty.”

Sevier’s gaze strayed to the window as if to peer forth and penetrate
the darkness.

“I have two objects,” he slowly began. “The most important is to find
Major John Tonpit. I admit I had hoped to overtake him before he
arrived here.”

“Tonpit? What the devil! It appears that all my guests come with but
one thought—to see Major Tonpit.” And McGillivray did not attempt to
conceal his exasperation. “That young man from your settlements, whom I
was forced to lock up, would hear of nothing but the Tonpits. The
Emperor of the Creeks was merely an agency through which he would find
the Tonpits. In truth, he seemed eager to tear the secret from me by
blood and violence. He seemed to believe I was hiding something from
him. My Creeks wanted to kill him on the spot, but there is much white
blood in me and I forgave him because of Miss Elsie Tonpit, who no
doubt has turned his head. So I saved him from my reckless fellows by
locking him up.”

“He’s in love with the girl. Why torture him? You are said to be kind
to prisoners. Why not let him see her?”

McGillivray groaned and rested his head against the back of the chair,
eying Sevier half humorously, half angrily.

“Why not let him see her?” he mocked. “I would give a thousand pounds
to see her myself.”

Sevier bounced from his chair and dropped back again.

“She has not come? Her father has not come?”

“Curse it! Are you trying to bait me?”

Sevier slumped low in the chair and glared blankly at the emperor.

“Not here,” he mumbled. “Then, where are they?”

McGillivray began pacing the room, a crafty cunning glittering through
his half-closed lids as he watched the borderer. Finally coming to a
halt before Sevier, he stared down at him and slowly inquired—

“Are you sure, John Sevier of the Nolichucky, that you don’t know where
they are?”

“If I did, would I be here?” asked Sevier bitterly.

The emperor weighed his show of sincerity and at last accepted it at
face value. His lofty brow became worried.

“Polcher said they started for here. He is much disturbed that they
haven’t arrived. You and Polcher could scarcely be called friends?”

“He’s the minor reason for my coming to Little Talassee. I’ve promised
myself the pleasure of hanging him.”

McGillivray’s lips tightened in displeasure at this bold assertion, and
his Indian blood came to the fore and he hissed—

“Be careful how you talk of hanging a friend of the Creeks in the
country of the Creeks.”

“Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the Creeks, I do not envy you your
friend.”

“So?” purred McGillivray. “You would wish me to call James Robertson
‘friend,’—the man whom I will drive from the Cumberland if my Creeks do
not catch and burn him before he can escape.”

Sevier laughed.

“Your chances of burning, or even scaring, Jim Robertson are as good as
mine are of becoming Emperor of the Creek Nation.” Then harshly, “This
man Polcher is a murderer. He killed an old man in cold blood.”

“Meaning he intended to kill him,” corrected McGillivray with ironical
gentleness. “Just as you intended to kill the two white men back on the
Great War-Path. Probably Red Hajason by this time is proclaiming you as
a murderer. Polcher’s ‘cold-bloodedness’ proves he had a definite
purpose. If he had slain without an object I would approve of his
hanging. Polcher is very useful to me.”

“He’s a low-down dog. His usefulness has helped you none in the
settlements.”

“That remains to be seen after Major Tonpit arrives. Doubtless you
think I would do much better if I made friends with the Western
settlers. They are a very pious people.” And the emperor threw back his
head and laughed scornfully. “Let me see; it was eight years ago that
some of your settlers at Wolf Hill in Virginia ran to their fort to
escape an Indian attack. They discovered their minister of the Gospel
had left his books in his cabin. Back they went, those pious men, and
returned with the books—and eleven scalps. I am told that after a
prayer service they hung the scalps over the fort gate.”

Sevier flushed, for the emperor had recited facts.

“The war between red and white has brought out much cruel hatred. Only
with peace can kindlier feelings come.”

“When the Legislature of South Carolina offered seventy-five pounds
bounty for every warrior’s scalp I suppose the State was hungrily
seeking a permanent peace.”

“You should add that the Legislature offered even a greater bounty for
the warrior alive,” coldly corrected Sevier. “After doing that you
could talk till you’re white-headed, reviewing the horrible atrocities
your Creeks have committed even during your civilized leadership.”

McGillivray’s gaze became that of a basilisk. For more than a minute he
glared at the man so thoroughly in his power. Next, with a startling
transition, a most winning smile drove the sullen ferocity from his
haughty features and he filled the glasses, reminding:

“Such talk is useless. It makes bad friends. I confess cruelties are
practised by the red men. But you didn’t come here to tell me that.”

“I came to find Tonpit. As a side errand I desire to hang Polcher. And
I also came as the result of a talk with Old Tassel.”

“Old Tassel?” exclaimed McGillivray, spilling some of his wine.

“I called on him at Great Hiwassee,” Sevier explained.

“Great Hiwassee! Indeed!”

“Before Old Tassel arrived I had a talk with John Watts.”

“Good God! Are you sure you’re not a ghost? You talked with Watts and—”

“And lived to come here? Why not?” And Sevier smiled serenely. “I told
Old Tassel I was bringing a talk to you. He is anxious to learn how it
results.”

McGillivray played with his glass, his gaze following the light darting
through the rich depths, his astute mind seeking to unravel the true
import of the borderman’s astounding assertions. Suspicions of
double-dealing on Watts’ part came and went, more of a suggestion than
a suspicion, for he knew Watts’ implacable determination to have done
with the Western settlements. The chief of the Chickamaugas could not
change. But there was a mystery in Sevier’s living to leave the town
once he had entered it.

“I’ll admit Watts would not receive my talk as I had hoped,” Sevier
frankly confessed. “He even showed resentment.” McGillivray smiled.
“But Old Tassel was deeply impressed.”

The emperor frowned.

“Old Tassel should be called Old Woman,” he muttered. “What was your
talk?”

“I told him if he would hold his warriors back from war I would promise
to keep the whites from any further trespass on the lands south of the
French Broad and the Holston. I told him that an alliance with Spain,
through the Creeks, would surely ruin the Cherokee Nation.”

“Anything else?” whispered McGillivray, setting down his untasted glass.

“I told him if he made a war-treaty with the Creeks he would lose many
warriors and gain nothing. I told him that even if he could kill off
all the settlers he would gain nothing, as in the end the Creeks would
take his lands.”

“Mr. Sevier,” murmured McGillivray, “why are you so foolish as to tell
me all this?”

Sevier knew that while McGillivray would not countenance unnecessary
bloodshed he would never permit any one man to stand between him and
the ambition of his life. Still he continued:

“Because Watts dared me to tell the talk to you, and because I told him
and Old Tassel that I would do it. But I have more to add.”

“I am sorry for you. Go on.”

“I wish to tell you, as I told the Cherokees, that the future of the
Creek Nation does not depend on the friendship of Spain; that your
treaty of last June is with the same people who made slaves of you in
the past. And I tell you now, Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the
Creeks, that if you have the best interests of your nation at heart you
will cast off this intrigue with Spain and make peace with the central
Government.”

McGillivray threw back his head and laughed long and discordantly.

“A border-leader turned missionary!” he jeered. “Why, man, I was
getting angry at you! Your insolence blinded me to the absurdity of it
all. Still, I admire you for going to Great Hiwassee. But when you
mention the central Government you remind me that facts are facts. Your
Government. Where is it? What can it do? Can it sail a boat on the
Mississippi? Can it send its goods to New Orleans? Does it resent any
action of Spain’s? Or does it meekly bow the head?”

Sevier restrained himself and evenly retorted:

“We are a free people. Just now we need many things. We soon shall have
them. War has exhausted us, but we shall make up our strength
overnight. We shall never submit.”

“Bah! You submit now,” wrathfully cried McGillivray. “You are powerless
now. Why should you think you will be strong tomorrow? Does weakness
breed strength? You say the future of my people and that of the
Thirteen Fires are tied up in the same bundle. God forbid! That is what
I am trying to escape from. We want none of your future, with its
humiliations, with its bending of the knee to Spain. We are free to
sail the Mississippi. We trade with New Orleans. When Spain speaks to
us she speaks softly. Without our aid she is powerless. My friend, we
shall use Spain rather than allow Spain to use us. Her future on this
continent is bound up with the future of the Creeks.”

And he rose and extended his arms, his inner vision painting a new and
mighty empire in which McGillivray of the Creeks and allied nations
played a leading rôle.

Abruptly changing and without waiting for Sevier to speak, he became
the smiling host again and asked—

“What is it I hear about your separating from North Carolina?”

“As you heard it as soon as, if not before, we did, there’s nothing new
to tell,” Sevier replied. “We are about to set up an independent State
and be admitted to the Union.”

“So? My agents are careless fellows,” sighed the emperor, shaking his
head ruefully. “Both careless and ignorant fellows. Why, they actually
informed me that the Western settlements have been given to the central
Government as North Carolina’s share of the war-debt. They led me to
believe Carolina was paying her debts with Western land. Never a word
about the new State.”

“A month from now they’ll be telling you about the new State,” Sevier
answered.

McGillivray simulated a density of understanding and rubbed his head in
perplexity.

“I can’t comprehend it,” he sorrowfully confessed. “The wine must have
muddled my poor head. Now let me see. North Carolina owes some five
million dollars, a ninth of the national debt, plus three millions
unpaid interest. France advanced much of the money and is asking for
the interest and some arrangement that ultimately will take care of the
principal. North Carolina, not having the five millions, votes to pay
some twenty-nine or thirty million acres of land. Now, if I have
followed you correctly, the thirty million acres refuse to be
considered as the equivalent of North Carolina’s share of the debt and
insist on being created into a State. It’s very bewildering.”

“Perhaps it will be clearer if you remember there are some twenty-five
or thirty thousand settlers who won those acres and who do not intend
to be turned over along with their lands like so many beaver pelts,”
Sevier replied. “Perhaps you can perceive that the very weakness of the
central Government which you have dwelt on is an excellent reason why
thirty thousand people will determine the future of the land they alone
won and developed. How will the central Government stop us from forming
a State if she is unable to resent any insult from distant Spain?”

“I don’t think she can.” And the admission was accompanied by a smile
of genuine amusement. “It’s absolutely humorous, the whole situation. A
man owes me a thousand pounds. He makes payment. Just as I am about to
count the money it hops up and says, ‘You can’t have me as payment for
a debt. But you shall take me as a partner and share with me what you
already have accumulated.’ What could I do? Perhaps I would demand that
my debtor bring me some better behaved money. Eh? What will North
Carolina say when she finds she’s lost her land and hasn’t paid her
debt?”

“She’ll do nothing,” assured Sevier. “There will be no violence, no
bloodshed. You don’t understand the true temper of the people on both
sides of the mountains. We’re kinsmen. And your amusing little
illustrations make you forget the simple fact that a new State must pay
its share of the national debt. Our new State will make good what
Carolina owes.”

There was a pause for several minutes, each trying to read the other’s
thoughts. Then McGillivray briskly said:

“You mention August. You’re to start building your new State next
month?”

“The forty delegates will meet on the twenty-third of August.”

“That will give you scant time to visit me and get back and take part
in the good work,” regretted McGillivray.

“Oh, my presence isn’t necessary,” promptly retorted Sevier. “If I
remain here as your—guest—everything will go along nicely. I arranged
for that.”

“Then you did consider the possibility of remaining with me for a
while?”

Sevier shook his head and frankly answered:

“No. My precautions were taken because of the chance of a Chickamauga
knife or a Creek ax reaching me before I got to you. I believed that
once I had talked to you I could return—always providing I dodged the
dangers of the homeward trail.”

“Such faith! Such faith!” murmured McGillivray with a whimsical smile.
“Do you know, Mr. Sevier, I must be on my guard against the charm of
your personality? I find myself liking you. It’s like walking into an
ambuscade.”

Sevier laughed lightly, pointed to the emperor’s full glass and raised
his own, saying—

“I drink to the success which will be best for you and your people.”

McGillivray started, gazed intently across the table and slowly moved
his lips in testing the words.

“—— me!” he cried. “I can’t see any snake in the bottom of that glass!
It rings honest, even if you and I don’t agree on what ‘best success’
is. You’re an honest man, Sevier, and we’ll drink it with honesty in
our hearts. And I thank you for the spirit which prompts it.”

The glasses were emptied just as the servant glided in and passed to
his master and gave him a written message. McGillivray read it and
frowned blackly, then glanced furtively at Sevier. He hesitated and
twisted the paper about his fingers; then he brusquely commanded—

“Show him in.”

Sevier appeared indifferent, but from the corner of his eye he watched
the emperor’s sudden change of expression. Something in the note had
aroused the Indian blood in him, had caused him to entertain a
suspicion. The door opened and Polcher entered, bowing low to
McGillivray and darting a look of hatred at the borderer.

McGillivray motioned for him to advance but did not ask him to be
seated. He bluntly began:

“Your note says you have something to tell me about Mr. Sevier which I
should know at once. Why didn’t you tell it to me when you first
arrived?”

“Your Majesty, the surprise of not finding Major Tonpit here, the
surprise of finding the man Jackson here, drove it from my mind until
John Sevier came. Ever since he entered your Majesty’s home I have been
trying to get a word to you. Only now have I succeeded.”

“Very well; go on. What is it?”

Sevier eyed Polcher closely, anticipating what was coming. The
tavern-keeper gazed only at McGillivray and said:

“The man Jackson, acting under Chucky Jack’s orders, killed your Creek
messenger. He was seen to do it by a settler, who was murdered to close
his mouth. But before the witness died he told me of the crime.”

“What? What’s this?” roared McGillivray, turning to glare at the
composed face of the borderer. “What have you to say, Sevier?”

And the long hands opened and closed as if searching for a deadly
weapon or an enemy’s throat.

“Do you believe it?” Sevier quietly asked.

“You heard the charge. Answer!” thundered the emperor.

“Pardon me; but if you already believe it, it is useless for me to
answer,” Sevier replied in the same level voice.

McGillivray was nonplussed by this method of defence and finally
demanded of Polcher—

“How do you know this to be so?”

“I saw the messenger’s scalp on Sevier’s table in the court-house.”

“——! Sevier, you must speak now. Polcher either has hung himself or
you,” McGillivray bitterly exclaimed. “My messenger has not returned. I
have thought nothing of his absence because he was to guide the Tonpits
here and the woman would prevent a quick journey. Now answer the
charge.”

“A scalp of a Creek was placed on my table in the court-house by
Polcher,” the borderer slowly informed. “I had never seen it until it
was placed there by Polcher. The Creek would not have been killed if
you had sent him openly to Jonesboro. I knew nothing about him until he
was dead. You sent him by stealth—”

“You admit he was slain?” hissed McGillivray.

“Certainly. But not by Kirk Jackson, as this dog says. The scalp was
taken to Polcher by an old man crazy with drink. The old man was to get
a jug of whisky if he brought a Cherokee scalp—to Polcher.”

“He lies. —— him! He lies!” gritted Polcher.

McGillivray glanced from the flushed face to the composed one. Sevier
coolly continued:

“Your common sense will tell you there can be no question of veracity
between me and your tool. The old man who took the scalp did not,
however, kill the Creek. I am frank to admit that, although he was a
tool of Polcher’s and did as Polcher commanded—as he believed.”

“A Cherokee scalp,” mumbled McGillivray, his anger subsiding for the
moment as he recognized the advantage to his cause had a Cherokee been
killed and scalped by a Western settler.

“He lies—” began Polcher, but Sevier came to his feet and grasped a
decanter, warning—

“You say that again and I shall brain you; no matter how much I dislike
to make a scene in the home of McGillivray of the Creeks.”

“Keep your mouth closed, Polcher, until I speak to you,” the emperor
harshly commanded. “Sevier be seated—please. Now, Sevier, suppose you
enlighten me as to what you know about this.”

Sevier readily complied, omitting only the fact that he knew who had
killed the messenger.

“Jackson was in the bush and overheard Polcher’s bargain with the old
man and came and told me about it. I directed him to waylay the old man
and take the scalp from him. Polcher had demanded a Cherokee scalp for
his whisky. The old man believed he had found a dead Cherokee, and he
scalped him. Jackson believed the scalp belonged to a Cherokee; so did
I until I saw it. I did not want any scalp to be paraded at the tavern,
where Polcher and his men would make use of it in inflaming the
Indians.”

“But this Jackson fled! He didn’t wait for an investigation,” reminded
McGillivray in an ominous voice.

“If he had killed a Creek he scarcely would have fled here,” said
Sevier. “He was being chased by a tavern mob. I was away from the
village. He already knew the girl was to go to Little Talassee. He was
crazy to overtake her. That was the true reason of his leaving
Jonesboro in the night without even waiting to let me know where he was
going.”

“True, he would be a fool to come here after killing my man,” mused
McGillivray. Then with fresh suspicion, “But how did he know the girl
and her father were coming here?”

Sevier was unwilling to implicate the girl.

“From something he had learned,” he countered. “I can tell you exactly
what he learned, and how, but not in the presence of this man.”

“We still have the death of my Creek to clear up,” reminded
McGillivray, scowling blackly. “This old man found the dead body and
scalped it?”

“Believing it was a Cherokee. And I went and buried the body so it
could not be found and be made the cause of a border war,” Sevier
replied.

“But some one did kill the messenger.” With a lightning glance at the
tavern-keeper he demanded, “Will you say Polcher killed him?”

Sevier was human and the temptation was strong. The rascal was seeking
his life and would hesitate at nothing to accomplish his ends.

“No, I can’t say that. I only wish I could. Polcher didn’t kill him. He
only killed the old man he had hired to bring in a scalp.”

“Then you do know who killed him?” cried Polcher.

“You speak as if you were surprised,” growled McGillivray.

“I’m surprised he admits as much,” Polcher defended.

McGillivray nodded for the borderer to proceed.

“Not in the presence of that man,” Sevier refused.

“By heavens, Sevier, you’re taking a high hand!” the emperor
passionately cautioned. “Please remember that any man worthy to stand
in my presence is worthy to hear any explanation that involves him in a
serious matter. I demand you tell me what you know concerning the death
of one of my people.”

Polcher grinned triumphantly.

“After he leaves the room I’ll tell you who killed your Creek,”
retorted Sevier.

“You’ll tell in his hearing, or else the Creeks have forgotten their
knack of making a man talk,” rumbled McGillivray.

“Between such men as you and I that is boy’s talk,” rebuked Sevier with
a smile. “I’m disappointed in you.”

“I’m quite in earnest. This man, my paid agent, makes a charge against
you—a prisoner—in your presence. You exonerate him of the killing and
confess that you know the murderer. You also admit Polcher doesn’t
know. I stand back of my men. I’ll put threats aside and appeal to your
sense of justice. If Polcher doesn’t know who killed the Creek it is
only right that you should speak before him.”

Sevier elevated his brows and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling.
Finally he said:

“There is justice in what you ask. It can’t make much difference, as he
will never dare go back to the Watauga settlements to serve you again.
I’ve decided to tell you what I know. The Creek was killed by an
Indian-hater, a man whose entire family was butchered by Indians. The
deed was done unknown to any settler; otherwise it never would have
been committed. We will cover your dead with many presents. But as you
sent him secretly into our settlements, with orders to skulk in the
bushes, thereby giving the impression to any who might see him that he
was there for mischief, I should say part of the responsibility for his
death was yours, Alexander McGillivray.

“Had you sent him to me he would have been unharmed; for then he would
have come openly, just as the Cherokee, Tall Runner, came and departed
in safety. However, your Creek is dead, and the fanatic will not be
handed over for you to kill. There’s the whole truth. Young Jackson is
as innocent of the whole affair as you are.”

“I believe you, Sevier; but you talk big when you say the Creeks shall
take no reprisal,” McGillivray bitterly observed.

“You can kill me or Jackson, but the settlement won’t turn over the
half-crazed slayer of your Creek,” Sevier calmly reiterated. “It is for
me to say that you talk big when you complain because your secret
messengers aren’t received and protected in Jonesboro at almost the
moment you hold as prisoners Kirk Jackson and myself, who came here
openly.”

“Came here to make trouble,” ventured Polcher.

Sevier directed a sleepy smile at the tavern-keeper and remarked to the
emperor:

“I’ve been thoroughly honest and above board with you. Suppose you ask
your trusted agent to be the same.”

“You can’t make his Majesty believe I’m anything but honest with him,”
defied Polcher.

“_Ku!_” grunted Sevier. “You killed a war-eagle out of season, Polcher.
It has spoiled your medicine. The Great Crystal of the Cherokees would
show you floating in blue shadows. Death is very close to you. Now tell
the emperor why your friend Red Hajason went to Great Hiwassee and took
with him the horses rode by Major Tonpit and his daughter when they
departed from Jonesboro.”

Polcher was astounded. When he could master his tongue it was to give a
shrill cry of alarm, and for a moment his smug mask of complacency
slipped and revealed the stark terror in his soul.

“Lies! Lies!” he choked.

McGillivray was fairly bewildered by the unexpected revelation and
glanced swiftly from the borderer to his henchman.

“Tonpit’s horses in Red Hajason’s hands,” he mumbled. Then fiercely,
“Polcher, look at me! So. Eye to eye! What do you know about this?”

“Nothing! Nothing! The man lies!” Polcher’s frightened voice persisted.

McGillivray swung about and for nearly a minute searched the depths of
Sevier’s steady blue eyes.

“No,” he softly concluded, “he speaks the truth.”

Raising a silver whistle to his lips, he blew two short blasts. Almost
instantly a dozen warriors glided into the room and encircled the three
men. Pointing to Polcher, the emperor ordered:

“Take this man away. Turn out the dogs.”

“I’ve served you, McGillivray—”

“What?”

“I’ve served your Majesty faithfully. I give my word of honour I will
not try to escape until after you have investigated this ridiculous
story.”

“You will come to no harm if you’re innocent; and the Emperor of the
Creeks knows how to make up for his mistakes with many presents. But if
you have played me false you will—if you are wise—cut your own throat
tonight. If you attempt to leave the grounds the dogs will get you.”

“I do not wish to leave the grounds,” sullenly replied Polcher as they
led him away.

After the warriors and their prisoner left, McGillivray remained
staring at the door, seemingly forgetful of Sevier. Black care was
worrying his handsome countenance. Speaking gently, he at last asked—

“Do you know anything about the Tonpits, besides what you’ve told?”

“I only know that the man called Hester was the man Polcher used in
communicating with Major Tonpit. Hester took orders from Polcher. He
left Jonesboro the night the Tonpits set out. The settlers have long
believed he is mixed up with Red Hajason. If he is, why not Polcher,
his master? I had supposed he went to guide the Tonpits to you, taking
the place of the dead Creek. I was surprised to find no trace of the
Tonpits on my journey here. Red Hajason had their horses. It must
follow he has the Tonpits. Polcher’s a bad one. You’re foolish to trust
him.”

“He’s always been humble enough,” muttered McGillivray.

“Humble? Why, he considers himself to be a better man than you,
Alexander McGillivray,” laughed Sevier. “And a better man than Tonpit.
In Jonesboro he played the part of tavern-keeper and played it well.
But, harkee, McGillivray of the Creeks, you’ve had dealings with no man
as crafty as he. Show him an advantage in taking your head in a basket
to any State capital, and he’ll try for the reward.”

“His ambitions fly above a money reward. He seeks a high position
under——in the new order of Western affairs. Yet what you tell me looks
bad.” And he sighed as if weary from continued disappointments. “I’ve
depended so much on Major Tonpit.”

He blew his whistle, this time but once, and two men entered. Speaking
to them in the Creek tongue, he directed:

“You will start immediately for Great Hiwassee and learn if Red Hajason
has brought horses there.” Then to Sevier, “Describe the animals.”
Sevier did so, and the description was repeated to the men. “You will
find out where Red Hajason is now. One of you will return to me with
what you have learned. The other shall remain until he has seen John
Watts. Ask him in my name if he knows anything about the white man
called John Tonpit, and about the white girl, Tonpit’s daughter. This
gives you my voice.”

And he slipped a curiously carved ring from his finger and handed it to
the elder of the two men.

As they withdrew he said to Sevier:

“We’ll drop it until I receive word from Hiwassee. I admit part of the
blame for my Creek’s death. Let that go by. I want to talk with you as
friend to friend.

“You imagine me to be a blind tool of Spain’s. You couldn’t make a
greater mistake. I hold and intend to hold this Southern country. I
welcome Spain so long as Charles III helps me to strengthen my grip on
it. Spain knows that if she tries unfairness with me she loses what she
now holds. Spain has fleets and needs the fur trade. Her day has passed
in Europe. What she gets she must get over here. She will pay well for
what she gets. We have something to sell. She is willing to buy. What
is there wrong in that?

“If your Western settlements could sell what you raise, you would be
very powerful. But you are hemmed in. The thirteen States are satisfied
with the Atlantic coast. That is all they have cared for. They have no
sympathy with over-mountain development. They are not strong enough to
combat Spain, and they know their Western country can amount to nothing
so long as Spain holds the Mississippi. Spain holds the Mississippi.
Now she asks the Western settlements to form a Government under her
protection. The thirteen States will not try to stop you from doing
that.

“You say you won’t put on the yoke of Spain. Spain doesn’t ask you to
wear a yoke. She knows she can’t win what she must have—our trade—by
force. To stop the intrigues of France and England she does want a
Government over here—a new republic will answer perfectly—that will be
in sympathy with her and favour her in trade. Outside of a commercial
advantage, Spain asks nothing from you or me. It only means Spain’s
backing while the new Government west of the Alleghanies gets on its
feet. Once the new Government stands alone and needs no European help,
Spain would retain her trade advantage because of her just and kindly
treatment of us during our development.”

He paused and Sevier shot in—

“What do you get out of such a combination?”

With great dignity McGillivray promptly answered:

“I should still be Emperor of the Creeks. I should retain a monopoly of
the Creek trade and, very probably, should have a voice in the affairs
of the Cherokee Nation. No, no. Don’t misunderstand me. I shall not
interfere with the rights of the Cherokees. John Watts and others are
convinced of that. My influence would always be to knit the two nations
firmly together. Once that is accomplished we will be invincible.”

“Against whom?”

“Why, against any trespasser,” McGillivray slowly replied.

“Possibly against Spain?”

“If she attempted any injustice, yes. And we’d whip her, too. For she
would have to bring the fight to us or lose all she has over here.”

“Invincible against the new Western republic?”

“If the Western settlements treated us wrongly. Certainly.”

“What if you should decide we were treating you unjustly, when, as a
matter of truth, we were treating you fairly?”

“Spain would easily adjust any such differences.”

“But, knowing you could defy Spain, would you permit her to settle
disputes in our favour?”

For the first time during their interview McGillivray completely lost
control of himself. Leaping up, he struck the table and overturned the
wine. Kicking over his chair, he began raging from one end of the room
to the other, his dark face furious with passion. Sevier replaced the
decanter and rescued a book from a puddle of wine. Gradually
McGillivray’s emotion subsided. Returning to the table, he righted his
chair and sank into it, staring gloomily at Sevier.

“Do you know,” he softly began, “you have been in great danger. You
have the quality of making men like you to an unusual extent. You also
have the knack of maddening men. For the moment my Creek streak told me
to kill you. I am glad I did not give in to it.”

“So am I,” said Sevier, pulling a pistol from the breast of his
hunting-shirt. “For I should have acted on an impulse, perhaps, and
defended myself.”

McGillivray’s eyes half closed as he watched Sevier twirl the pistol.

“You came in here to have wine and cakes,” he murmured. “And you
brought a deadly weapon with you.”

“You have a long knife inside your coat,” smiled Sevier.

“What do you propose doing?”

“Make up for my part in our bad manners,” laughed Sevier, taking the
pistol by the muzzle and handing it across the table.

McGillivray’s eyes flew open. He smiled graciously and murmured:

“A gallant gentleman. I meet you half way. Wine and weapons do not go
well together.”

And pulling a knife from inside his coat he tossed it and the pistol on
a couch at the side of the room.

Speaking sorrowfully, he said:

“Sevier, I have just shown you a wonderful world and you interrupted to
ask silly questions. God knows you nearly drove me out of my reason. I
can’t bear to have commonplace objections thrown at me when I am
painting a picture of new kingdoms. I took you up where you could see
yourself as one of the great men of America and you didn’t seem to
sense it.”

“If you showed me the whole world from the top of a mountain it
wouldn’t tempt me any, Alexander McGillivray, so long as I knew misery
and injustice dwelt at the foot of the mountain.”

“Will you go with me to Governor Miro at Pensacola?”

“Only as your prisoner—by force.”

“But Miro is a friend of your friend, of the man who hates me, James
Robertson.”

“Miro has been friendly with Jim; but Jim understands that Miro never
lets courtesy or friendship interfere with his master’s orders. If
Charles III says for Miro to do a thing, Don Estephan Miro does it,
regardless of whom it hits or hurts.”

McGillivray bowed his head and sighed, and said:

“Then I must go beyond what I expected would be necessary, beyond my
own inclination; for it is not according to my best judgment. But so be
it. You are a stubborn man, John Sevier. I will agree with you that we
can form no allegiance with Spain. Say the word and I will inform Don
Miro to that effect.”

“What is that word?”

“That you will form an independent Government out of the Western
settlements.”

“No!”

“The central Government will not oppose you.”

“That makes no difference.”

“The West is ripe for the move.”

“The move will not be made.”

“You will have twenty thousand riflemen. I will pledge you twenty
thousand Indians. You shall have supreme military command. Together we
can laugh at Spain, oust her from the Mississippi and bury the ax so
deep there shall be no more burning of cabins, or of prisoners at the
stake. It will mean the absolute end of Indian warfare, and a
prosperity such as men never dreamed of.”

“Once for all, McGillivray of the Creeks, I will form no alliance with
Spain. I will work to establish no separate Government, as that would
dismember the Union. There is one thing I will do, whether we create a
new State or fail.”

“Well?”

“I will protect the Western settlements against the Indians, be they
Creek or Cherokee.”

“By ——! You throw a red ax. Then this is the ax I hurl back to you,”
snarled McGillivray. “My treaty with Spain will stand. I shall surely
win over the Cherokees. The Chickasaws, who now cling to Robertson’s
hand because of their chief’s friendship for him, shall join us or be
stamped out. We will blot out the Western settlements. The Ohio and
Northwestern tribes are eager to join us. If you remain alive to see
the border cabins in flames you will remember the offer I made to you
in all friendliness. Then will you decide whether you followed a
straight or a crooked trail.”

“If it must be so,” sighed Sevier.

McGillivray tapped the bell and rose. Sevier also stood. The servant
entered and made a low obeisance.

The Emperor of the Creeks stared moodily at the borderer, hospitality
struggling against resentment. Almost sullenly he said:

“If you will give me your promise you will not attempt to escape from
the village during the night, I shall be pleased to have you shown to a
guest room. The bed is better than what we furnish in the cabins.”

“I have no desire to leave the village tonight. I promise. But I would
like to know if my horse—”

“Your horse has been brought in and has received excellent care. I take
your promise to save you from a disagreeable death. It is impossible
for you to escape. The dogs are out. See here.”

Stepping to the window, he leaned out and whistled shrilly on his
fingers.

A wild chorus of baying answered the signal, and in the faint moonlight
Sevier beheld a dark patch swerve from between the cabins, running
close like wolves. They swept up to the house with two men behind them.
Halting beneath the window, they leaped up to caress their master’s
hand. For a minute or two McGillivray called them by name and stroked
the heads of the milling mass. They were gaunt, tawny brutes, one being
more than a match for any man unarmed.

Stepping back from the window, McGillivray remarked:

“It would be hard for one to escape my pets. They are a special breed.
A streak of the mastiff, and the rest is pure devil. They’re trained to
touch no one in the village; but woe to the man who goes out of bounds
against my orders. Give me a thousand such and I’ll chew up the foolish
Chickasaws and never lose a warrior.”

Sevier shuddered and followed the servant. His room was on the first
floor and at the end of the building. It was large and comfortably
furnished. The furnishings were what one would expect in the homes of
the seaboard rich but with perhaps more of the Spanish mode than would
be found in the North. On a shelf in the corner was a row of books, but
Sevier was not overfond of books and gave them scant heed. What did
arouse his interest was a wall decoration formed of hunting-knives,
arranged so as to suggest the rising sun, the polished blades being the
rays. In the collection were home-made weapons of sturdy strength and
the more gracefully shaped pieces of European origin.

The windows were open and there was nothing to prevent Sevier from
stepping out on to the grass ground. After the servant had left him he
remained at the window and looked across the silent, empty grounds to
where Jackson was imprisoned in the cabin. How surely had the young
Virginian answered to the call of love, even to entering a deadly trap.
Such was the drawing-power of love for a maid. Such should be the
whole-souled quality of a man’s love for his country.

And where tonight were the Tonpits? Were they alive, and if so, in Red
Hajason’s camp? It sickened him to think of the girl in that rough
environment, her austere father powerless to protect her. If Jackson
hadn’t been captured and could have known of their plight he could have
rallied some riflemen—but that was as useless as wishing for last
year’s sunshine.

“Oh, for a few days of liberty and fifty of my riflemen!” groaned
Sevier. Then came the wild, fantastic thought of calling on McGillivray
and offering to go and bring the Tonpits to Little Talassee. He
believed McGillivray would gladly take him at his word. He would object
to the riflemen being employed but he would willingly furnish a hundred
or more Creeks.

However, that would be playing McGillivray’s game, Spain’s game, the
devil’s game. If Jackson could get back to the Nolichucky and arouse
the men—the inspiration thumped against his mind like a blow. If only
Jackson could escape and run the Creek and Cherokee gantlet! The
Cherokees would be on the alert to prevent Chucky Jack’s return; Chief
Watts would see to that. A man must need have wings to escape the
ferocious dog-pack. Still such chances were created for men to take and
laugh at. There could be no doubting the young Virginian’s zeal for the
business; nor his woods cunning in putting it through.

Stepping to the book-shelf, Sevier tore a blank page from one of the
volumes. On a table in the corner was a quill and a horn of ink; for
McGillivray of the Creeks handled a quill as readily as did any of his
white contemporaries and kept much writing material easily accessible.
The borderer wrote a few hurried lines to Stetson, explaining his fears
and exhorting the settler to raise enough men to make the raid a
success.

He refrained from speaking of his own plight and simply said the raid
on Red Hajason’s camp could be made without any fears of an Indian
attack during the riflemen’s absence from Jonesboro. Sanding the note,
he carefully examined the fan of knives on the wall and selected four
of extra length, stout of haft and keen of edge.

This done, he extinguished the candle and returned to the window. The
problem of the dogs remained. They ran in a pack and kept patrolling
the edge of the extensive grounds. Sevier assumed from what McGillivray
had said that he would not be attacked while inside the grounds. But to
be discovered would be to spoil his plans. He leaned far out the window
and looked and listened. The slave-quarters were on the other side of
the house. The pack had gone in that direction when McGillivray
dismissed it.

Slipping out the window, the borderer stole to the corner of the house
and waited until he glimpsed a shadowy mass passing behind the slaves’
cabins. Then retracing his steps, he bowed low and ran swiftly, keeping
to the shadows of the outbuildings as much as possible. The light was
faint and barely sufficient for him to distinguish one cabin from
another, but his sense of location carried him to the window with the
iron bars. Gliding up to this, he whispered Jackson’s name.

“Who is it?” Jackson murmured, cautiously approaching the window.

“Sevier! Here are four knives and a message. Put two knives under your
bed. I will remove the bar from the door. When you hear me whistle,
look out and see if the dogs are making for the big house. If they are
you must make for the corral and mount a horse and ride for your life.
Give the message to Stetson. It orders him to raise some riflemen to go
with you to the camp of Red Hajason, an outlaw. I believe you will find
the Tonpits prisoners there. Take them back to Jonesboro and hold them
even if you have to make Major Tonpit a prisoner. On no account is he
to reach this place. The note explains all—”

“But you? Can’t you come with me?” pleaded Jackson.

“I must stay. I’ve given my word. Remember, when I whistle. If the dogs
don’t come to me then you must decide for yourself how much risk you
can take. Don’t try it unless you believe you can make it; as that
wouldn’t help Miss Elsie any. To be caught by the dogs may mean death.
Look out for the Cherokees if you get through. Good-bye.”

Retreating in the shadows of the buildings, he beheld the pack trotting
toward the big house. They were just getting clear of the
slave-quarters and Sevier ran for the window, knowing it was a matter
of seconds. He gained the low sill without the pack sounding an alarm
and noiselessly vaulted into the room and let out his pent-up breath in
a deep sigh of content.

“And you gave your word!” spoke up a harsh voice.

Peering about, he sought to pierce the darkness but was baffled. He
knew it was McGillivray but he could not see him.

“I thought I saw a slinking figure outside. I couldn’t believe it was
you. I felt ashamed to come down here to make sure. I believed I was
insulting you by coming. Now I find you’ve broken your promise.”

It was on the tip of Sevier’s tongue to deny the accusation hotly, but
that would arouse the emperor’s suspicions as to the truth.

“A man may walk about the village without breaking his promise not to
leave the village,” he sullenly replied. “Where the devil are you?”

“Walking in the village!” bitterly derided McGillivray. “You started to
escape and became frightened at the dogs.”

Sevier said nothing. McGillivray repeated under his breath:

“Frightened at the dogs? Hah! You’ve been trying to find Polcher.”

Still Sevier made no answer. McGillivray opened a door and secured the
lighted candle he had left outside. Holding it high, he strode up to
the borderer and scanned him closely.

“Your eyes gleam as if you had succeeded in something. Did you find
Polcher?”

Sevier smiled, refusing to speak. McGillivray made to set the candle on
the table, and his keen gaze at once noticed the absence of the four
knives. He leaped to the wall and a glance told him they had been
hastily wrenched from their fastenings.

His right hand plucked a pistol from inside his coat. Levelling it he
demanded—

“Where are those knives?”

“Ask Polcher,” defied Sevier.

“If you have harmed Polcher I will kill you,” promised the emperor.
Still keeping an eye on his “guest,” he stepped to the window and
sounded his whistle. Up raced the pack in answer to the familiar call,
with the two keepers trotting behind them. Scrambling and crowding, the
brutes leaped up until their red eyes glared into the room. Without
shifting his gaze from Sevier, McGillivray extended a hand and fondled
whatever head came within reach. To the keepers he said:

“One of you stay with the dogs. The other run to Polcher’s cabin and
see if any harm has come to him.”

The order was promptly obeyed and Sevier’s spirits rose as he observed
the man was making off in the direction of the slave-quarters.

“You still refuse to talk?” demanded McGillivray.

“I prefer to wait,” was the calm reply.

The dogs continued leaping up at the window; their master kept up his
blind caresses. The one guard stared stupidly at the tableau of the two
men, one with arms folded and counting the precious minutes, the other
with a pistol ready in his hand and frowning heavily.

At last there came a patter of feet, and McGillivray straightened and
brought the pistol to bear on Sevier’s deep chest.

“If the verdict is against you I have decided to shoot you here,” he
grimly informed.

“I reckon I wouldn’t deserve it. I never promised not to harm Polcher.
I’ve told you several times I fully intend to hang him.”

“Good heavens! You couldn’t have hung him—alone!” cried the emperor.

Up dashed the messenger and sagged against the window-sill and waited
for his master to turn and address him. But McGillivray would not
remove his gaze from Sevier and commanded over his shoulder:

“Speak, you fool! The man is waiting to know if he lives or dies.”

“The man Polcher was asleep,” panted the man.

“Asleep? You mean he is dead?” cried the emperor, beginning to contract
his trigger-finger.

“No, your Majesty,” faltered the man, fearing a rebuke for stating the
truth. “I found him asleep. He woke up and cursed me. I told him I was
obeying your Majesty’s orders. At that he sprang from his blankets and
began dressing.”

“Alive!” exclaimed McGillivray, slowly lowering his pistol.

“If your Majesty please, I hear some one coming,” spoke up the second
keeper.

In another moment Polcher stood outside the window, blinking at the
candle and impatient to learn what it all meant.

“I am sorry to have disturbed your rest,” McGillivray harshly informed.
“But my guest has been roaming about the village, and four of my knives
are missing from the collection. It seems it was a false alarm.” Then,
wheeling on Sevier, he shouted, “—— it, man! Why don’t you speak? It’s
dangerous to play tricks on McGillivray of the Creeks.”

“I wish to remind his Majesty that he has done me the dishonour of
accusing me of breaking my word and of having killed a sleeping man.
When I execute Polcher he will be wide awake,” Sevier haughtily
replied, fighting for more time.

“If the All Powerful would tell me what has happened perhaps my poor
wits might put it together and guess the truth,” meekly suggested
Polcher, inwardly raging with impatience.

McGillivray, deeply irritated, briefly narrated the fact of Sevier’s
theft of the knives and of his absence from his room and his return to
it.

Polcher, standing shoulder-deep among the dogs, gripped the
window-sill, his eyes flaming as he sensed the truth.

“He took the knives to use against your pets. But he returns without
them. So he must have taken them to some one else. Perhaps to the man
called Jackson. I advise—”

With a shout of rage McGillivray leaped through the window and ran
toward the cabin, the pack at his heels. The emperor’s passion subsided
as he saw the cabin door was closed; then flared high as a closer
approach revealed it was unfastened. He tore the door open and Polcher
leaped inside and kicked about the narrow confines and swept his hands
over the rought pallet of straw.

“He’s gone!” shouted the tavern-keeper as he bounded over the threshold.

A guard, who had run to one side, now sounded a second alarm.

“The horses are loose!” he screamed.

“To the woods with the dogs! To the woods! Take command, Polcher! Let
the dogs have him if they catch him! Arouse the warriors! That man must
not escape!”

-----

Footnote 1:

  Roosevelt’s “Winning the West.”

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  CHAPTER IX

  POLCHER’S LITTLE RUSE

All night the search for Jackson worried the forest. Sevier slept but
little as McGillivray occupied an adjoining room and walked the floor
much of the time, pausing only when some messenger came to report or
when he deemed it necessary to leave the house to give fresh orders. At
sunrise Sevier from his window saw the wearied pack limp into the
village, the two keepers staggering behind them, kept moving by the
animals’ haul on the leashes. As the dogs were passing the borderer’s
position McGillivray ran out of the house and demanded of the keepers—

“Why are you back without the white man?”

“He took to water and washed out his trail,” grunted one of the
Indians. “He rode fast, although the night was very black. We lost time
at the creek in picking up his trail again. Then we followed only to
find he had taken to water again. With the dogs on the leash we made
slow headway.”

“On the leash? I told you to let the dogs have him!” thundered
McGillivray. “You should have loosed them.”

“We did slip two free, Petro and Little One, the fiercest and swiftest
of the pack. We sent them after him the moment we left the village,”
was the humble reply. “Petro did not come back. We found him where the
white man first took to the water. Here, Little One!” And the Indian
pulled forward a huge brute whose sides had been wickedly slashed. And
he explained, “The Little One crawled back to meet us before we found
Petro’s body. Came back like this. I was afraid to set them all free,
fearing they would come up with him one or two at a time. And surely he
is a black spirit.”

The emperor’s eyes turned toward the open window and made Sevier think
of a flash of a knife as it leaps from the sheath in the sunlight.

“I have my guest to thank for this,” slowly remarked the emperor. “My
best dog gone and another all but done for. And the prisoner still
free. Take the dogs away and see they are well fed and rested.”

He would have turned back to the house, but Polcher now came galloping
from the forest, his horse in a lather. McGillivray called out to him
and the tavern-keeper raced up and sprang to the ground.

“The dogs have failed. What about you?” asked the emperor.

“I think I shall get him,” replied Polcher. The words sent a chill to
Sevier’s heart. “Your warriors are spreading out to the east and west
to cut in ahead of him. And I have sent runners north to warn the
Cherokees to bar his path. I do not see how he can escape.”

“Luck seems to be against me,” complained McGillivray. “The prisoner
told me he had spent much time in the Shawnee country. He must be very
cunning.”

“Let him be as cunning as the whole Shawnee Nation and yet he must pass
through the neck of the bottle before he can escape,” boasted Polcher.
“I don’t care how much he wanders about in the Creek country. He is our
prisoner until he strikes into the Cherokee country and gets beyond the
Hiwassee River. Even should he by some miracle dodge the Cherokees of
Great Hiwassee and the lower villages and cross the river he will stand
but a small chance of reaching the Tellico. But should he do that still
the Cherokees will stick at his heels till he reaches the French Broad.
We’ll see if his Shawnee cunning can carry him that far!”

Polcher’s confidence and enthusiasm invigorated McGillivray’s spirits
and his sombre countenance lightened.

“You have done well, Polcher. I think we shall bag the young man yet.”

He walked toward the house with more confidence in his step, but on
second thought halted and called after Polcher, who was leading his
horse away—

“One word more, Polcher: how far will my Creeks go?”

“Until they get him,” was the laconic answer.

“I’m afraid that won’t do. The Cherokees might not understand. They may
think I’m riding rough-shod over their land,” McGillivray worried.

“Not at all, your Majesty,” hastily reassured Polcher. “The messengers
I sent are intelligent fellows. They will explain the situation fully
to John Watts. He will welcome any aid that will stop the man from
getting back to the Watauga settlements. It’s as much his game as it is
ours.”

“We’ll hope so. But after I’ve eaten I think I will send a talk to
Watts and Old Tassel to make sure they understand.”

“If your Majesty please, I’m sure Watts will be in hot pursuit of the
man before your talk can reach Great Hiwassee. As for Old Tassel, I
didn’t think it wise to have the messengers see him. He’s weak. The
less he knows about things the better it will be. Time enough to
explain to him after we’ve caught our man.”

McGillivray frowned a bit, inclined to disfavour any risk of arousing
the Cherokees’ resentment, but accepted the advice by nodding his head
and waving his hand in dismissal.

In a few minutes there came a soft tap on Sevier’s door and a
house-servant entered and informed—

“My master asks Mr. Sevier to join him at the table.”

Sevier made ready to follow and noted that the servant was curiously
studying the knives on the wall.

“Only the four are missing,” laughed the borderer, suspecting the man
was under orders to make sure the “guest” had not secreted a blade on
his person. “I am unarmed. Lead the way.”

With a deep bow the servant did so, and Sevier soon stood in a pleasant
side room. McGillivray was at the window. A table was set for two. The
emperor haughtily returned the borderer’s greeting and motioned for him
to be seated.

After the servant had served them and had withdrawn Sevier blandly
asked—

“How goes the chase?”

“You should know. You were at the window when I talked with the Indians
and with Polcher,” was the cold reply.

“Jackson is a brave fellow. He deserves to escape,” Sevier stoutly
maintained.

“My four knives helped him,” McGillivray grimly reminded, his gaze
becoming baleful.

“Then thank God for the knives!” Sevier devoutly cried.

“I would much prefer he had died than to have lost Petro,” the Emperor
dissented.

“Then, shame on you, Alexander McGillivray!”

“Ha! You’ve saved up more bold words over night,” gritted the emperor,
leaning back in his chair. “Be careful, Sevier. You are not in my white
town of Coosa. You are in the red town of Little Talassee on the Coosa
River. A vast difference.”

“I’m where a dog is valued more highly than a clean young American.”

“American? It’s seldom I hear the word,” McGillivray grimly taunted. “I
fear it will never become the fashion. But do heed my warning about
picking your words. I am irritable this morning, inclined to act on
impulse.”

“I feel quite safe, sir. You have too much white blood in you, and you
have mixed too much with white men, to descend to barbarism.”

“I don’t know that,” slowly replied the emperor. “When I first learned
of my dog’s death—by my own knives—my Indian blood ran very hot. And I
tell you seriously, Sevier, and I mean every word of it, that while I
prefer to win my ends without resorting to brutality I will allow no
white man’s comfort or life to stand between me and success. I have
saved many captives from the torture; but if the giving of you to my
Creeks to play with would bring me success you should pass under the
skinning-knives most surely.”

Sevier bowed gravely and retorted:

“I believe you, McGillivray of the Creeks. And if my passing under the
knives of your warriors will block your schemes, then my hide is very
much at your service.”

McGillivray could not suppress a flash of admiration. With a short
laugh he said:

“After all, we may be able to remain friends. You make people like you,
even those who try to hate you. I thought I hated you during the night.
This morning I was positive of it. But I can’t. —— me! You are a man.
Still, I shall send you to your death in cold blood if I decide your
death is necessary for my plans.”

“I understand you perfectly,” was the cheery reply. “There are times
when a liking for a man goes only so far. Don Estephan Miro has a
genuine liking for Jim Robertson, yet he’d cut his throat if he had the
chance and his royal master should command it.”

And the borderer attacked the deer venison with much gusto.

McGillivray had no appetite and was content to play with his food while
his gaze wandered to the window, watching for a messenger to bring good
news. Suddenly he pushed back his chair and leaped to the window.
Several Indians were emerging from the mouth of the trail and a white
man rode in their midst.

“—— me! But they’ve got him!” he triumphantly cried.

“Where are your Creek eyes?” Sevier contemptuously demanded. “The white
man is much too large for Jackson. He wears a beard. Great Injuns! It’s
Red Hajason!”

McGillivray’s exultation changed to bitter disappointment. The newcomer
certainly was not Kirk Jackson; nor did he bear himself as a prisoner,
although surrounded by warriors. He still carried weapons in his belt
and held his head high. As the emperor stared Polcher ran across the
open ground and intercepted the cavalcade. He exchanged a few words
with Hajason, then turned and ran toward the big house.

“The rascal has courage, but he shall hang if any harm has come to the
Tonpits,” muttered McGillivray.

“Your man Polcher seems to be acquainted with him,” murmured Sevier
between mouthfuls.

The horsemen passed from sight. McGillivray conquered his desire to run
out and interrogate the outlaw and resumed his chair at the table,
forcing himself to an appearance of indifference. He had barely
swallowed a mouthful of the meat when the servant came in and mumbled
something.

“Bring my pistols,” the emperor curtly commanded.

The servant turned to a small desk and produced a brace of Spanish
weapons, long of barrel and profusely inlaid with gold and silver.
Thrusting one of these into the bosom of his coat and dropping the
other in his lap, McGillivray next directed—

“Now show both of them in.”

Polcher came first, bowing low. Behind him with head erect stalked the
huge form of Red Hajason. Just inside the threshold the outlaw halted
and stared insolently at the emperor.

“Red Hajason, of the Hiwasee and the Tugalo rivers,” announced Polcher,
standing to one side. “He was picked up by your Majesty’s Indians while
on his way here with an important talk for you.”

“I’ve heard of you, Hajason,” lazily informed the emperor. “And I never
heard anything good. I was just telling John Sevier that if you have
done what you’re charged with doing I probably shall have to hang you.”

Hajason opened his bearded lips in an ugly grin and replied—

“My neck’ll stand a heap of hangin’, I reckon. An’ it ain’t never been
cracked yet. But I ain’t here to talk ’bout hangin’. I come to talk
trade.”

“Well, what have you to trade?”

“A white man an’ a white woman.”

“Major Tonpit and his daughter?”

“Them’s the two,” grinned the outlaw.

“—— your insolence!” softly hissed McGillivray, the hand in his lap
closing over the pistol.

“It’s been done many times,” grunted Hajason, beginning to grow angry.

“You and Polcher worked together in this?” demanded McGillivray.

“Work with him? With that double-faced varment? Red Hajason works
alone,” growled the outlaw.

“But the man called Hester helped you in this little coup,” said
McGillivray, now folding his arms and leaning back to stare the outlaw
squarely in the face.

Again the outlaw’s brutal good humour asserted itself, and he chuckled
and informed:

“I don’t count Hester as a partner. Jest a dog-gone fool. Howsomever,
I’ll admit it was him what put the game up to me an’ showed me there
was money in it. That’s all I asked of him.”

Darting a wrathful glance at Polcher, McGillivray bitterly reminded:

“Hester was your trusted tool. You pick your men well!”

“I shall kill him when I meet him,” promised Polcher.

To the outlaw McGillivray said:

“Suppose you say just what sort of a bargain you wish to make with me.
After all, we may be able to trade.”

“An’ why not?” eagerly cried Hajason, the lust for profit showing in
his gleaming eyes. “I’ve got somethin’ ye hanker for. Ye’ve got
somethin’ I want.”

“Yes; I want the Tonpits. What will you take?” promptly asked
McGillivray.

“Two thousand pounds,” was the cool response.

“If it was possible for you to leave this village without being torn to
bits by my dogs I would advise you to peddle your wares elsewhere,”
said McGillivray. Then he let himself go, and in a voice that trembled
with passion he denounced, “You base-born cur! You dare step between
McGillivray of the Creeks and his ambitions? You dare dictate what he
shall pay for stolen goods?”

With the snarl of a wild animal Red Hajason dropped his hand to his
belt, but Polcher pushed the muzzle of his pistol against the shaggy
head, while the emperor’s folded arms opened and a second pistol was
brought to bear. Polcher deftly slipped his hand along the giant’s belt
and removed his weapons, stood back from him and looked inquiringly at
the emperor, his eyes asking whether he should shoot or not.

Hajason realized his peril. Fighting down his anger, he moistened his
lips and apologetically said:

“Hard words always rile me. I come here alone to drive a bargain. Why
shouldn’t I have some ambitions as well as ye? Ye don’t own the
Tonpits. They come to me without my askin’, an’ I’ve held ’em in camp.
Tonpit has money an’ offered me a thousand pounds, gold, for to be free
along with the girl. Afore bargainin’ with him I come to see if ye’d
outbid him. That’s all.”

For a full minute McGillivray pondered over his frank statement; then
he smiled whimsically, replaced his pistol and brusquely admitted:

“Yes; you have a right to take your profit. If you had accepted the
major’s thousand pounds he would have come to me. I’ll give the two
thousand for the safe delivery of him and the girl here at Little
Talassee. Two thousand pounds for the two. McGillivray, Emperor of the
Creeks, does not have to haggle over terms. When can you have them
here? Time presses.”

Red Hajason combed his beard and turned to stare at Sevier. Pointing to
the borderer he said:

“If that man can be kept here, so’s he can’t interfere, I’ll not lose a
minute in gittin’ back to my camp. I’ll return here, fetchin’ the
Tonpits, as fast as hossflesh can bring us.”

“Mr. Sevier plans to spend the Summer with me,” quietly assured
McGillivray. “Should he go away, it will be on a very long journey and
in a direction opposite to the one you will take in returning to your
camp.”

Polcher smiled. Hajason was slower to catch the point, but when he did
he broke into a loud guffaw.

“—— my liver, McGillivray,” he cried, “but ye’re a neat one! ‘Opposite
direction!’ To the Twilight Western land, eh? Ha! Ha! An’ takin’ along
mighty little skin on that fox body of his, eh? Good! I’ll eat an’ git
a fresh hoss from ye an’ start back on the hump.”

“The sooner the better,” insisted McGillivray.

Polcher handed back the outlaw’s weapons and the two departed, Polcher
bowing himself out in his best landlord’s manner, Red Hajason giving
his back abruptly and shaking the table with his heavy tread.

“He doesn’t seem to have much respect for you,” remarked Sevier,
smiling as he beheld the flare of anger flushing McGillivray’s face.

“The dog! The miserable dog! And he’s all white. Mark you that, Sevier!
There is no Indian blood in him. He’s a completed product of your race.”

“Once I get back to the Nolichucky I hope to improve the race. We’ve
weeded out quite a few of his kind,” Sevier lightly responded.

McGillivray tossed his pistols aside and left the table. Standing
beside Sevier’s chair, he abruptly began:

“We’ve been making believe a bit. We’ve talked at cross-purposes. I’ve
no more time to be polite. It’s business from now on. Will you give me
your word not to try to escape if I allow you the freedom of Little
Talassee?”

“No, sir!”

“Will you promise not to escape until after the Tonpits arrive?”

“No, sir! I propose to escape at the first opportunity.”

“But you came here to see them.”

“I shall leave here to stop their coming here.”

“If that’s your frame of mind I must make you a prisoner,” regretfully
decided McGillivray. “I’m honestly sorry to have to do it. I enjoy your
company. I get small opportunity to talk with intelligent men. But
you’re meddling with big affairs. You threaten to annoy me, to
embarrass me. I would be a fool to permit it.”

“There’s something much larger, much grander, than the schemes you’re
planning, Alexander McGillivray. Your little ambitions to pose as ruler
of a Creek-Cherokee federation, under the protection of Spain, will
never be realized. Shut me up in your stoutest prison or kill me, but
don’t be foolish enough to believe that my dropping out will give you a
clear trail. Only after you’ve killed the soul of some twenty-five or
thirty thousand people west of the mountains can you place your feet on
the path leading to a realization of your mad dreams.”

McGillivray picked up the pistols and thrust them under his coat and
firmly replied—

“Yet I will enter that path and walk to the end even if it requires the
death of every settler this side of the Alleghanies!”

Sevier sprang up and sternly demanded—

“Send for my gaoler.”

McGillivray summoned the servant and directed him to bring Polcher and
six warriors. While they waited, the two men stood with the table
between them, eying each other in silence. Through the window Sevier
glimpsed Red Hajason riding into the forest. Then the door opened to
admit the tavern-keeper and the Creeks.

“This man is my prisoner,” McGillivray tersely explained. “He is to be
watched closely, but no harm is to come to him unless he is caught
outside his cabin. If he manages to get out of his cabin, if only a
foot from the door, he is to be killed. You, Polcher, will be
responsible for him. You can command what guards you may find
necessary. I give him into your charge, and see to it you can produce
him when I send for him.”

“Rest easy, your Majesty, that he shall be produced when wanted,”
Polcher joyously promised.

“Take him away.”

Sevier fell in between the warriors and was led out-doors. Polcher
walked behind him with drawn pistol.

Without glancing back the borderer said—

“You’d like mighty well to have me make a bolt for it.”

“I’d love to have you,” hissed Polcher. “And some one we both know is a
big fool to bother with you for a second. You thought you held the
whip-hand after I killed Old Thatch. You reckoned you was through with
me when I quit Jonesboro on the jump. But all scores come to a
reckoning sometime, and here you are in Little Talassee; and before
Winter comes I’ll be back on the Nolichucky burning a few of our old
friends. But I promise you Bonnie Kate shall not burn.”

With a low groan Sevier gripped his fingers till the nails cut the
flesh. Maddened with rage, he still had mind enough to know Polcher was
endeavouring to force him into open violence. Then the pistol at his
head would crack and the tavern-keeper would be exonerated for killing
a refractory prisoner.

“Remember this, Polcher. You’re to die by the noose, and I’m going to
be the hangman,” whispered Sevier.

“Bah!” laughed Polcher scornfully.

It was the cabin Jackson had been imprisoned in that they took him to.
As he was passing through the doorway a servant, sent by McGillivray,
came running up with a roll of blankets. Polcher considered this
forethought to be a sign of weakness in the emperor and hurled the roll
viciously at the borderer’s head and swung the door and dropped the
heavy bar.

Pausing outside at the window he softly gibed:

“McGillivray is a mad fool. After he clears the way Spain will rule
through men like me. I tell you this as I’m positive you won’t repeat
it to the emperor. And when I am ruler I shall find a bonnie wife in
Bonnie Kate. That is, if I decide to marry her.”

Sevier bent and found one of the two knives Jackson had concealed under
his pallet of straw and glided cat-like to the window, the knife held
behind him. Never suspecting he held a weapon, yet rendered uneasy by
the awful anger raging in the blue eyes, Polcher gave ground and saved
his life. Keeping the weapon behind him, Sevier contented himself with
saying—

“You will pay for everything when you pay for your neck.”

Polcher began to feel afraid of the imprisoned man. There was something
so inexorable in the borderer’s low-pitched voice; it was more menacing
than any raving in overtones. Sevier could not harm him—now. But let
him get free and no obstacles could prevent him from reaching the man
who had dared to utter the name of Bonnie Kate in his boasts.
Retreating still farther from the white face at the window, the
tavern-keeper selected three Creeks and ordered them to guard the cabin
until he returned.

Two of the men remained in front to watch the door and window, while
the third guarded the rear, lest by some miracle Chucky Jack should
break loose. Although the Creeks were thrown in contact with Sevier
less often than their Northern brothers, his reputation had lost none
in travelling South. That their emperor ranked him high was shown by
the hospitality at the big house. The man Jackson had not been taken
there.

In spite of his taunts Polcher was far from satisfied with the
situation. The feeling grew upon him that so long as Sevier lived so
long would he have a Nemesis on his trail. To have Sevier a prisoner
meant nothing. He had been a prisoner at the big house. The only
difference in his status now was the change of quarters. Then, too,
McGillivray might change his mind. His soul was not the red man’s, and
he admired his captive.

Should the Tonpits arrive and should the emperor decide his success was
sure, it would be like him to release Chucky Jack and have him up to
the house for wine and cakes again. Then the inevitable would
happen—Chucky Jack would escape. And there was a deadly quality in
Sevier’s last threat which inclined Polcher to great uneasiness. So the
obsession grew up in his mind that neither the fate of Spain’s nor of
McGillivray’s plans was so important to him as the knowledge that
Sevier had breathed his last.

“So long as he lives my neck is in danger,” he muttered. “—— him and
his talk of the noose.” And he rubbed his neck nervously. “If I had a
little more Cherokee in my veins I’d begin to think I was a fool to
kill that eagle. Now if he was to die—but he is not to be harmed! He
must be treated like a high and mighty gentleman, curse him—unless he
breaks loose. Ah! There’s a thought. If some one would kindly help him
get clear of the cabin where I could shoot him down or feed him to the
dogs. It’s worth thinking about.”

Only the more he meditated over the idea the more pronounced became the
problem of securing a trustworthy tool. Even did he bribe a slave or
Indian to unfasten the door to Sevier’s little prison there remained
the risk of the accomplice being detected and telling the truth. In
event of violated orders McGillivray would have the truth if he dragged
out a man’s heart by the roots to get it.

He even considered the possibility of inducing some one to open the
door and then shooting him down and openly branding him as a traitor to
his master. But such a scheme demanded that he be alone with his
accomplice when the trick was played. The arrival of an Indian on the
scene would spoil the game.

“There would sure be some slip up,” he told himself. “—— it! There’s
but one way left. I must free him myself, shoot him in his tracks and
let McGillivray suspect the whole nation. No one being guilty there
will be no one to confess. But what if I didn’t hit him? What if he
escaped or he killed me. Huh! There is one way that’s sure. Kill him
inside the cabin, then drag him out and claim I jumped him outside.”

But how to make it appear logical that Sevier had escaped without help?
There were two points of egress possible, providing a man had the
proper tools and plenty of time—the door and window. To cut through the
door from the outside, so as to make it appear the job had been done
from the inside, would require the presence of a knife in the cabin.
There would be no time to hack a hole through the stout door after
shooting the prisoner through the window; and Sevier would be certain
to investigate any assault made on the door while he lived. The same
objections were encountered in considering the window.

“It’s got to be done mighty quick,” summed up Polcher. “The door’s got
to be thrown open the minute he’s potted through the bars. He’s got to
be dragged outside before the sound of a shot disturbs any one.”

For the rest of the day he worked on the idea and at last came to a
solution, which, after testing it from all angles, gave every promise
of success because of its simplicity and directness. At no time would
it oust him from control of the situation, and he whittled it down to
so fine a point that only one shot would be necessary.

Shortly before sunset he visited the slave-quarters and, selecting a
dull-witted man, directed him to take a platter of food and carry it to
the prisoner after the slaves had had their supper. This would mean an
hour after dusk. In concluding his directions he touched the fellow’s
belt and said—

“And have a knife in there so he won’t try to reach through the window
and catch you as you pass the pan through the hole.”

The slave’s eyes grew round with fear. He had no heart for any errand
that suggested danger. And it was whispered among the slaves that even
the emperor was afraid of this white man. Returning to Sevier’s cabin,
he dismissed all the guard but one. To him he said:

“When the slave comes with the food you may go. He will stay until
relieved.”

The Indian grunted and Polcher hurried to his own cabin and secured his
rifle and a brace of pistols.

Making into the woods, he skirted the village until in the rear of the
locked cabin. The beauty of his scheme was the assurance no harm could
come to him if it failed. If it did not work tonight, then tomorrow
night. When it did work the warriors and their emperor would be called
to the spot by excited cries and the sound of a shot. They would rush
up to find the slave dead, stabbed with his own knife, and the prisoner
dead outside the open door. The explanation would be simple.

The slave foolishly entered the cabin with the food instead of
thrusting it through the slot. Sevier, quick to see his chance, had
snatched the fellow’s knife and inflicted a mortal wound and then
sprang from the cabin to fall before Polcher’s pistols or rifle.

Sevier was as hungry for night as was Polcher. The two knives cached
under his straw bed would soon permit him to dig out enough iron bars
to squeeze his slender body through the opening. He must work softly so
as not to alarm the guard outside. But should one of the guards
discover him at his task the fellow must be quieted and secured. For
such a contingency he thanked McGillivray for the blankets; at the edge
of sunset he swiftly used his knife and turned one blanket into narrow
strips and braided these into a tough rope.

When Polcher came and gave instructions to the guard Sevier hid the
blanket-rope under the bed, fearing lest the tavern-keeper should
venture to peep inside and discover signs of his handiwork. Early in
the day, when Bonnie Kate’s name fell from the rascal’s lips, the
borderer would have forgotten his plans to escape and would have been
content to flash a blade through the bars and rip open the lying
throat. Now he was calmer and would accept nothing but escape. Polcher
could pay up later.

He stood at the window as if idly looking out on the dusk-littered
opening, but in reality cutting deep into the window-sill to get
beneath the end of a bar. The one guard was impatient to be relieved
and was giving scant heed to the cabin. The knives were strong and keen
and the task was far easier than Sevier had anticipated. He soon came
to the end of one bar and, testing it gently, knew he could bend it
back and upward with one push of his powerful arm. Leaving it, he
assailed the next, estimating that he must loosen four.

The dogs had not yet been turned out, and, whereas he had originally
planned to take his time and escape during the night, he now was
determined to make the break while only the slave was on guard. He
rejoiced that Polcher’s voice had carried the information to him. A
slave would be much easier to deal with than a warrior. He would
succumb to fear and refrain from attempting to give any alarm. Whether
or not he should escape directly after receiving his supper would
depend, however, on whether the dogs were loose or chained in the
slave-quarters.

He worked feverishly and, having learned the knack of the job, made
better time in cutting to the embedded end of the second bar. The sun
by this time had waded deep into the forest and the film of shadow over
the village blurred objects a few rods from the cabin. The guard began
grumbling in a minor tone and walked a dozen feet from the cabin and
stared impatiently toward the fires in front of the slave-quarters. The
slaves were singing and dancing about the fires, and the warrior grew
very peevish. The third bar was ready to be forced clear.

The guard stalked back in front of the window but never bothered to
give it a glance. Turning abruptly and grumbling more forcefully, he
retraced his steps and walked some distance from the cabin. Now Sevier
caught the wild melody of a slave drawing near, singing, perhaps to
bolster up his courage. The Indian called sharply to him. The man came
on slowly, his song hushed. The Indian went to meet him and paused to
warn him not to leave the cabin until relieved. The slave slowly came
on, bearing a steaming dish in one hand, his other nervously feeling of
the knife in his rawhide belt. The fourth bar was cut free at the lower
end.

Standing to one side of the window, his strips of blanket in one hand,
Sevier thrust the two knives into his belt to have a hand free for
receiving the pan when it came through the slot. He heard the slave
halt at the end of the cabin near the door. He thought he caught the
murmur of voices. The discovery startled him, although it was possible
the slave was muttering to himself. Then he stiffened and his jaws
clamped together as there came a muffled groan and the thud of a heavy
body falling to the ground.

His first thought was that Kirk Jackson, unable to break through the
Creek and Cherokee lines, had doubled back and was to repay his debt by
setting him free. A moment of silence, then the sound of a heavy body
being dragged to the door. The next moment the window was blocked by a
man’s head and shoulders.

“Sevier,” whispered a low voice. “Where are you?”

Had it been Jackson, the door would have been thrown open immediately.
Turning his head away, Sevier fiercely whispered—

“On the bed.”

And plucking a knife from his belt he tossed it on the straw.

“I can make you out now!” hissed Polcher, reaching his pistol far
between the bars. “—— you! This is where I win!”

He fired and found his arm caught in an iron grip. A hand was fumbling
at his head. He essayed to throw it off but decided its efforts were
weak and futile, and he believed he had wounded his man. To make sure
he reached his free hand for his second pistol. The grip on his right
wrist was amazingly strong for a wounded man. A panic seized him as the
pistol caught. Then something touched the back of his neck, pressed
against the sides, began crowding his Adam’s apple. He tried to shriek.
From a great distance came Sevier’s metallic voice, crying:

“So you’ll bother Bonnie Kate, eh? You killed an eagle out of season.
It spoiled your medicine. The noose, you know—”

McGillivray of the Creeks stood in front of the big house when a
muffled shot rang out. There followed no outcry, yet the shot was a
sinister omen to the emperor’s moody train of thought. He could not
locate the sound but believed it came from the direction of Sevier’s
cabin. He walked in that direction until he met a warrior. Of him he
asked—

“Where is the man Polcher?”

“He stands at the window of the cabin, talking with the white man,”
answered the warrior. “I heard a gun shoot. I ran to look and found
him. I spoke and asked him if anything was the matter. He didn’t speak.
Just stood with his face against the bars. There were no other guards
there.”

Instantly suspicious that the tavern-keeper was planning to play him
false, having been won over by the borderer’s magnetism, the emperor
ordered:

“Call the warriors and surround the cabin. Tell Polcher to come to me.
If he refuses, bring him.”

The warrior melted away in the darkness. He had scarcely departed when
a figure broke through the gloom and McGillivray greeted:

“I was just sending for you, Polcher. My men tell me you were guarding
the cabin alone.”

“Your messenger must travel far to find Polcher,” returned a well-known
voice and Sevier, now standing by the emperor’s side, presented a
pistol. “Polcher is dead. Died by the noose, as I said he must die.”

McGillivray stood as one paralysed. Finally he choked out:

“God! Is it possible!”

“Take me into the house!” hissed Sevier as a loud yell broke up the
evening calm. There came the patter of moccasined feet running swiftly.
“Inside, quick!”

Propelled by the prodding pistol, the emperor led the way into the
house, panting:

“—— you, Sevier! Polcher was right. I should have killed you! You
bribed one of the Indians.”

“With what?” growled Sevier. “A slave brought me my supper. Polcher
killed him at my door. Then tried to shoot me through the window. The
game was simple. I, dead, was to be dragged out. Polcher would claim
the slave opened the door and that I killed him. Then he came up and
killed me; that would have been his story. With a strip of your blanket
round his throat he now stands dead, tied to the only iron bar in the
window I did not remove. He was caught in his own trap. Take me to the
room where I slept last night.”

The pistol muzzle was all compelling, and, picking up a candle from the
hall table, McGillivray with bad grace led the way into the apartment
containing the collection of knives.

“But you can’t escape!” exploded McGillivray, his bewilderment slowly
passing. “I don’t imagine you plan to murder me. Even if you did, you
couldn’t get clear of the village.”

“McGillivray of the Creeks, it’s a chance for me to escape or your
life,” sternly admonished Sevier. “Do as I say and you live, although
it may mean my recapture. Try any tricks and you’re a dead man as
surely as Polcher is a dead man.”

McGillivray of the McGillivrays was now his old unperturbed self and
whimsically declared:

“My life comes first. What will you have?”

“Order your servant to bring your horse and rifle to this window. I
took Polcher’s pistols. I shall want powder and bullets. Then tell your
Creeks that I escaped to the south and order them to take the dogs and
go in that direction.”

The village was now in an uproar. Torches were flitting back and forth;
men were surrounding the big house. The dogs, infuriated by the
confusion, were raising their ferocious voices, demanding to be
released for action. As Sevier finished a hundred warriors ran to the
lighted window, calling out to their master that the man Polcher was
dead and that Little John had escaped by using black magic. Some
terrible evil spirit had slain a slave, wrenched the iron bars from the
window and tied the dead Polcher up to the window.

The Emperor stood in the open window. Sevier stood against the wall at
one side with the pistol raised and levelled.

“Now earn your life,” whispered the borderer.

“Take the dogs and go south!” roared the emperor. “He seeks to escape
that way. One of you bring my horse and rifle, powder and bullets here
to this window. Off! All of you.”

The crowd rushed away. The dogs, however, had already been brought out
and taken to the cabin. They had found the scent and were following it
to the big house.

“You must stop them!” warned Sevier.

McGillivray thrust his head from the window and energetically repeated
his command. The keepers could not understand why their terrible pets
should be so keen to enter the master’s house, but McGillivray of the
Creeks was not to be questioned and they began belabouring the animals
and dragging them away. A servant came up, skirting the milling mass of
struggling brutes, leading McGillivray’s favourite mount. The emperor
groaned and muttered—

“I’d prefer you had taken all my horses rather than to take King.”

“He will be unharmed and you shall have him back, providing he is not
torn by your pack or shot by your warriors,” comforted Sevier.

“Curse you, Sevier—”

“Go ahead. Curses never hurt any one yet,” encouraged Sevier as the
emperor halted.

“It’s a foolish habit. I’ll wait,” mumbled the emperor.

“Send the servant away.”

McGillivray obeyed. By this time the dogs had been dragged to the
southern limits of the village and the warriors were already scouting
the trail that led to the gulf. Sevier made the emperor face the wall
and with a sheet ripped from the bed tied his hands behind his back.
Forcing him to be seated on the bed, he proceeded to secure his ankles.
When he improvised a gag the royal prisoner opened his mouth to shout
for assistance, but the pistol silenced him.

“John Sevier, I’ll have your life for this,” he whispered.

The borderer thrust the gag into his mouth and made it fast, remarking:

“You’re getting off easy. It would be better for the settlements if I
could bring myself to stop your plotting for all time. If we meet on
the border there will be no quarter.”

With that he leaped through the window and into the saddle and galloped
away to enter the northern trail. The few warriors and slaves he passed
recognized the horse and marvelled that their master should be riding
north after sending the dogs and the fighting-men to the south.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER X

  THROUGH THE NECK OF THE BOTTLE

Sevier’s lead in the race for freedom depended largely on the length of
time McGillivray’s plight should remain undiscovered. The dogs would
balk at going south and their keepers would soon realize the fugitive’s
trail lay not in that direction. Given the sunlight, the borderer’s
fleet mount would cover miles before a pursuit to the north could be
organized. But night reduced the pace of all horses to a mediocre
plane. Sevier entered the trail on the gallop but was quickly compelled
to rein in and proceed cautiously.

He rode with his ears tuned to catch the first note of alarm behind
him. He had advanced but a short distance when he came to a shallow
stream. He turned his horse into this and followed it slowly toward the
east. He believed it was the same water Jackson had taken to in hiding
his trail. On leaving it he swung back to strike into the Great
War-Path, going by the map he carried in his mind. As he broke through
a patch of broom-sage on the side of a low hill and entered the
hard-packed path the sinister sound he had been anxiously anticipating
floated to him on the evening air; a long-drawn bell-like note.

“Sooner than I had expected,” he grimly muttered, shaking the reins.

Now he rode recklessly, bending low to escape the clawing boughs and
trusting to his horse to keep to the path. The animal soon splashed
into running water. Reining in with some difficulty, he forced the
animal to ascend the stream for a quarter of a mile, this time
travelling due west. Then followed a repetition of his first manœuvre
of beating back to the main trail. He planned to follow the Coosa until
he had crossed into the Cherokee country when he would leave it below
Turkey Town. Riding across country, he could pick up the river again
and follow its headwaters until in the neighbourhood of the Hiwassee.

On re-entering the trail he had covered but a short distance when he
was startled again to hear the baying of the dogs. He had counted on
the animals being delayed on reaching the two streams. Not knowing
whether he had followed the streams west or east, the pack would have
to course the streams in both directions before correcting the fault.

“Sharp devils, those Creeks!” he grumbled. “Outguessed me, or learned a
lesson from trying to catch Jackson. They either divided the pack, half
searching the creeks while the other kept straight ahead, or else
they’ve paid no attention to the water and are holding all the brutes
to the path.”

This suspicion impelled him to ignore the next stream. The two detours
already made had cost him time and distance. He could tell by the
increased volume of the baying that the chase was closing in. Then
followed a short period of silence so far as the chase was concerned,
only to be snapped by a frantic, exulting chorus close behind him.

“They’ve let them loose!” he gritted, driving his heels into the
quivering flanks.

To be overhauled and dragged from the saddle was not on Sevier’s
program. He pushed ahead until the trail opened into a strip of meadow
land bounded by the waters of the Coosa and a sharp slope of a
rock-littered ridge. Here it was possible to distinguish form.
Dismounting, he led the horse up the rocky slope and tied him to a
tree. Stumbling on, he came to what he was searching for, several
boulders so arranged as to afford protection on three sides. To get at
him the dogs must enter the pocket by the one mouth.

Placing his rifle and pistols before him, he slipped off his
hunting-shirt and wrapped it about his left arm. Sticking his two
knives into the ground, he settled on his heels to wait. Somewhere in
the night a whippoorwill—_waguli_ the Cherokees call it because of its
song—was monotonously reiterating its plaintive cluster of notes. From
deeper in the forest came the screech-owl’s _wa-huhu_; but of human and
four-footed enemies there was never a sound.

When the crisis broke it was so close at hand as to seem to be in his
very face; a triumphant chorus of the bloodthirsty trackers. Sevier’s
wide gaze made out several vague forms racing up the slope to where
reared the frightened horse. He counted five, one running behind the
other, their undulating bodies suggesting the approach of a monster
serpent.

The horse shrilly voiced his terror; the pack swerved aside and came
for the rocks. Raising his rifle, the borderer carefully covered the
leader and fired. Down crashed the brute, its mates leaping over the
dead form and dashing onward. Dropping the rifle, he snatched up the
two pistols and held his fire for a brace of seconds. He caught one a
dozen feet from the opening between the rocks and disabled a third when
it was almost upon him. Seizing the knives, he rested on one knee and
plunged a blade through the heart of the fourth as it leaped against
him. The impact of the huge body bore him backward but he managed to
regain something of his balance as the remaining animal closed in and
grabbed for his throat and instead caught the bandaged arm.

Stabbing and slashing, Sevier pressed the fighting, and after a few
moments of convulsive struggling the beast suddenly relaxed, his teeth
still locked through the tough folds of the hunting-shirt. It required
much effort to release the shirt from the ferocious jaws. Having
succeeded, he ended the misery of the wounded beast. He was bruised and
battered and bore some slight abrasions on the left arm, but otherwise
was uninjured. Recovering his weapons, he took time to reload them,
then limped to his horse and climbed into the saddle.

He was satisfied the dogs were far in advance of their keepers and that
the rest of the pack were still on the leash. Returning to the trail,
he resumed his flight. Far behind him sounded the ominous baying, but
he gave it scant heed. The dogs at the creek had picked up his trail,
but the fight among the rocks had increased his optimism. His star was
in the ascendancy.

For three days and nights Sevier made his way north, each hour bringing
him nearer the neck of the bottle through which he must pass. Jackson’s
flight undoubtedly had aroused the country. McGillivray’s runners
despatched on the heels of the young Virginian must have sent a cloud
of Cherokees across all paths. The Creeks in large numbers were beating
the country as they advanced. It was obvious to the borderer that
McGillivray had been promptly released and had lost no time in calling
back the men and dogs from the southern trail. But there had been no
sign of the dogs for the last seventy-two hours.

There was a menace in the rear, however, more deadly than the
dogs—columns of smoke which warned the Cherokees to be on the watch for
a fugitive. He tried to make himself believe that Jackson had won
through, but there ever remained a doubt. The young ranger was cunning
in woodcraft, else he never would have brought his hair back from the
Ohio country. But to run the lines of John Watts’ men demanded a bit of
luck along with forest wisdom.

As Sevier drew near the neck of the bottle late in the afternoon of the
third day he decided the race was not to the fleet. He would save time
and insure his final escape by remaining concealed until the edge of
the chase had dulled itself. Once his enemies believed he had broken
through the search would broaden and move north to the Hiwassee,
leaving him the comparatively easy task of following along behind the
hunters.

Possibly his shift in tactics was influenced largely by the nature of
the country he was entering. To the east and north stretched an
extensive area of swamp land, dotted with hummocks and thick with bog
growths. Nearly a mile back in the dismal region a rounded dome, formed
by sturdy hardwoods, cut the flat sky-line and marked a low hill. He
studied the terrain ahead carefully. His horse was badly fagged for
want of rest and pasturage. He, himself, was worn by lack of sleep and
food. Behind him were the Creeks, urged on by the ire of their emperor.
And he had no doubt that the Cherokees were blocking every path ahead.

Leading his horse, he skirted the edge of the swamp until he found a
faint trail where hunters had penetrated in search of wild fowl. Taking
his horse by the bridle, he encouraged the weary animal to follow him
among the quaking morasses. The path was narrow and barely to be
discerned and wound among many death-traps. More than once the borderer
passed over only to have the horse flounder deep in the slime. Once
under way, however, there was no turning back. He must pass on even if
forced to abandon the horse. And King, as the emperor had named him,
had grown to trust his new master, and Chucky Jack was not one to leave
a friend.

“I’ll stick by you, old fellow, as long as you can keep above the
muck,” he promised after extricating the frightened animal from an
especially bad bit.

The steaming vegetation masked them from the view of any standing on
the edge of the swamp, but if it had not been at the beginning of dusk
the occasional flight of startled water-fowl must have betrayed them.
As the light faded Sevier renewed his efforts, scarcely pausing to pick
and choose. He must reach the low hill before the night blinded him.
The last quarter of a mile was a desperate plunge. Several times he
believed the horse was lost and pulled his pistol to give a clean
death, when the intelligent animal by a super-effort won the right to
live.

When he felt firm ground under his soaked moccasins he had no thought
of Creek or Cherokee and threw himself down to rest. The horse gladly
shifted for himself and found the pasturage rank and rich. Some time
during the night Sevier groped his way up the slope and cut boughs and
indulged in the luxury of a bed. But he did this as one in a dream and
had scant recollection of it when he awoke in the morning.

With the new sun to warm him he worked the stiffness out of his joints
and succeeded in knocking over a water-fowl with a stick. Selecting
some dry sticks that would give a minimum of smoke, he lighted a tiny
fire inside a dense clump of swamp-cedar and ate his first full meal
since leaving Little Talassee. He saw that the food problem would cause
him no worry; the swamp was carpeted by game birds. Water remained to
be found.

Hunting up his horse, he followed his trail to a spring. With thirst
and hunger satisfied, he proceeded to examine the low hill, or knoll,
and as he had expected discovered it was surrounded by the swamp.
Toward the north, however, the signs indicated an easier escape than
that afforded by the route he had taken in gaining his refuge. He could
see occasional groups of deciduous trees that demanded a stout soil.

Ascending to the top of the knoll, he climbed an oak and obtained a
wider survey of the country. In the east the lowlands met the sky-line.
The extent of the swamp to the south, his back track, was much less but
so hazardous to contemplate that he wondered how he ever managed to
cross it with the horse. The Great War-Path skirted the swamp on the
west, and the solid forest wall in that direction was quite close, not
more than half a mile away, but was barred by open expanses of water.

The path to the north was the way out. Now that he possessed a high
coign of vantage he could trace the course most desirable to follow.
For many minutes he examined the country, jotting down in his mind
certain landmarks to go by.

A smudge of smoke in the southwest held his gaze, one of the ominous
pillars that had followed him for three days. Another column, directly
south, was crawling high above the forest crown. A third in the east
marked the long line established by the Creeks. As he was about to
descend something vague and sombre in the north caught and held his
gaze. Now it took shape and ballooned upward, opening like the petals
of a black flower. The Cherokees were signalling to the Creeks that
they, too, were on guard and waiting for their old foe to be driven
into their arms.

“The trap is well set,” mused Chucky Jack.

As he slid down from his perch his attention was attracted by the
action of the myriads of water-fowl in the north. They began rising in
fan-like formations at the very edge of the swamp; nor did they circle
about and return to their feeding-grounds, but flew some distance to
the east before descending. He waited and after a time a second flock,
much nearer his refuge, took wing and whirred away.

“They’re coming,” he mumbled, beginning to locate the probable path of
the advancing enemy.

Dropping to the ground, he hastened to the foot of the knoll and caught
King and led him into a thicket and secured him. Then with his rifle
ready he stole to the shore of his little “island” and ensconced
himself in a thicket of willows. He believed he had been there nearly
an hour when directly in front of his position and within a few rods of
firm land he observed a violent agitation among the bushes and caught
the sound of a guttural voice raised in alarm.

Sevier crept from under the willows.

“Awi-Usdi! _Higinalii?_”

There was but one voice and it was calling on the Little Deer and
asking if the super-spirit were not a friend. Sevier struck into the
bog and again heard the frenzied voice crying:

“Little Deer! You are my friend?”

Leaping from rotting stump to decaying log, the borderer found himself
committed to a precarious pathway. Often his foot found a transient
resting-place only to leave black water behind as it was lifted.
Sluggish snakes were disturbed by his passing and swam across slimy
pools.

“Awi-Usdi!” Now the voice was filled with despair.

Springing to a long tree-trunk, inches deep in its pile of vivid green
mould, Sevier ran to the end and parted the bushes. For a moment he was
astounded by the spectacle he beheld. An Indian face was floating on
the water, the painted features registering all the horrible
anticipation of a hideous death.

Placing his rifle one side, Sevier manœuvred gingerly until he could
reach down and grasp the scalp-lock. Although he could lift the head a
trifle and easily drew the submerged body close to the log, he was
unable to lift the man from the slime.

“What’s holding you down?” he demanded as a brown arm came from the
dark water and clutched frenziedly at his wrist.

“Awi-Usdi heard my prayer! He sent you!” gasped the Indian.

“What’s holding you down?” angrily demanded Sevier.

“My feet are caught in the roots of a water-soaked stump,” groaned the
warrior.

“Let go my wrist. I’ll get you out if you do as I say.”

Staring up into the bronzed face with a strange light in his eyes, the
Indian released his hold, whereat Sevier dropped in a sitting posture
on the end of the log and extended a foot before the imprisoned savage
could sink. The hand caught the foot, and as hope brought intelligence
the warrior did not make the mistake of pulling his rescuer into the
death-trap. Supporting him with his foot, the borderer gathered the
tops of several bushes into a bunch and forced them down until the
Indian could grasp them.

“Now don’t waste your strength,” quietly commanded Sevier as he slipped
off his shirt and bent down a small sapling which he held with his left
hand. “You have an ax in your belt?”

The Indian nodded vigorously.

Supporting himself by the sapling, Sevier grimaced and dropped into the
slime beside the Indian. He had no trouble in securing the ax, but he
grunted loudly in disgust as he shifted his hold on the bowed sapling
and allowed his body to sink beneath the stagnant water. He remained
long enough to locate one of the imprisoned feet, then pulled himself
above the filthy surface. Filling his lungs, he drew the ax from his
belt and again descended. He worked cautiously to avoid chopping the
foot and after delivering three or four blows was compelled to rise
again.

For thirty minutes he repeated the manœuvre, scoring nothing on some
trips down, feeling the blade bite deep into the tenacious root at
other times. At last the Indian gave a yelp of joy and kicked one foot
free. The release of the other foot was quickly effected as the Indian
managed to use the liberated member as a lever.

As the two bedraggled men sat on the log, puffing for breath and
staring at each other, Sevier smiled and greeted—

“Jumper of the Deer clan, how did you do a thing like that?”

The Jumper wiped the muck from his face and in a weak voice explained:

“As Tsan-usdi knows, I shot at a wolf. It was bad medicine. It made me
jump among the roots, thinking the stump was stout and strong. When my
feet hit the roots they caught round my ankles like serpents and the
stump sank. Kanati, the Lucky Hunter, is still angry because I shot at
his watch-dog.”

“But I came and pulled you out. Kanati must be over his anger,” soothed
Sevier.

“The Little Deer sent you when I prayed,” said the Jumper.

“The Little Deer will help no man who is being punished by the Lucky
Hunter. The bad medicine has worked itself weak. Kanati forgives you.
The Little Deer forgives you. Has the little girl got her new tooth
yet?”

The Jumper’s doleful features lighted up. Hope gleamed in his small
eyes, and his strong chest expanded as he began to feel himself a
warrior once more, a man of the Deer, unafraid because the gods were
smiling. The reference to his child caused him to fairly beam with
gratitude.

“She looks many times in the glass Tsan-usdi gave her. She know it will
bring a big, strong tooth. Ah! It is good to know the Lucky Hunter is
no longer angry.”

“Then suppose we get to dry land and clean up,” Sevier suggested,
taking his rifle and rising. “And why did the Jumper come out here
alone?”

“I was sent to kill a bad white man.”

“But I am the only white man here.”

“I was told a bad white man was between our warriors and the smoke
signals of the Creeks. I saw birds flying away when the sun went down
yesterday. I believed the bad white was here. I waited till sunrise and
came. I found—my friend.”

Sevier led the way to the spring where they cleaned themselves and the
borderer’s garments. This done Sevier inquired—

“Where is Old Tassel?”

“At Turkey Town.”

“I thought he was at Great Hiwassee. Have the Cherokees caught a white
man called Jackson?”

The Jumper shook his head, saying:

“Creek runners came and our warriors went out; but he must be very
cunning. He was not seen. His trail was not found.”

This was the best of news for Sevier. With Jackson beyond the barrier
and speeding on to the settlements there was a chance he might raise
the riflemen and sweep down on Hajason’s stronghold in time to prevent
the departure of the Tonpits for Little Talassee.

“Have you seen Red Hajason?”

“He got fresh horses at Turkey Town and rode fast for his home three
days ago,” the Jumper replied.

This news was not so pleasant.

“Where is John Watts?”

The Jumper waved a hand toward the line of smoke signals in the north.

“Waiting to catch me?”

The Indian nodded.

“What does Old Tassel do at Turkey Town?”

The Jumper hesitated, loyalty to his people vieing with gratitude to
his rescuer.

“The shamans perform the sacred rites very soon,” he slowly retorted.

“For going to war?” sharply demanded Sevier, his gaze contracting.

“They have looked in the great crystal and found war floating in it.”

“When did they go to water?”

“They do not begin the rites till two days from now.”

Sevier leaped to his feet and glared eagerly toward the north. Wheeling
about, he caught the Jumper by the arm and said—

“Little Brother, you owe me a life.”

“Take it!” proudly answered the Jumper, holding out his war-ax.

“You shall pay me another way. I must give a talk to Old Tassel before
the Cherokees go to water. You must take me through John Watts’
Chickamaugas. You must take me to Turkey Town unseen. You shall leave
me near the town and no one shall know you brought me.”

“I can do that, Tsan-usdi,” quietly agreed the Jumper.

Sevier’s face grew troubled.

“It will be hard to see Old Tassel alone. Watts’ Chickamaugas will go
there to perform the rites.”

“The Chickamaugas went to water before you reached the Creek country.”

“Good! I remember Major Hubbard said that back in Jonesboro, only he’s
always hearing of war-parties to excuse his killings.” Then to himself,
“—— those hostiles. They’ve been on the red path for years. They don’t
count if the rest of the nation can be held back.”

“If we are to reach Turkey Town in time we must travel all night. We
must cross that before dark.” And with a shiver the Jumper pointed
north across the traps of the slime-covered swamp.

“It shall be done. I must take my horse out.”

“Then Little John’s horse must grow wings like _awahili_, the
war-eagle.”

Sevier replied:

“But I brought him in here, and from the south. The trail to the north
is not so bad.”

“Little John’s medicine is very strong,” conceded the Jumper.

Moving by night with the stealth of phantoms, with the Jumper leading
the way; following little-travelled side-paths, sometimes doubling
back, often making wide detours to avoid the Cherokees hastening south
to be in at the killing of the white man, the two edged their way
toward Turkey Town. The first day they covered but a short distance,
satisfied to work to the east and taking time to rest; for it was the
Jumper’s plan to make a dash round the left of the Cherokee line and
cover the distance with a rush during the last twenty-four hours of
grace.

The second night they made notable progress, escaping detection by
inches when they stole between two large groups of warriors. With the
morning sun they found themselves above the smoke signals. They had
passed through the barrier and would now have to guard against
stragglers only. Sevier was impatient to make an open ride for it, as
he feared he might be too late. Did he arrive after the warriors had
gone to water Old Tassel would consider himself hopelessly committed to
a program of war and, being surrounded by men of the belligerent lower
towns, he would be too weak to resist the pressure.

The Jumper insisted, however:

“They do not begin the rites until tomorrow. The ceremony takes four
days. We must move cunningly until dark. If I am seen by Watts’
Chickamaugas——”

“You shall not be seen. We will move cunningly,” agreed Sevier.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER XI

  SEVIER OFFERS THE RED AX

Old Tassel wished he had remained at the Little Tennessee towns instead
of coming to the country dominated by the war-spirit of the
Chickamaugas. In particular did he regret his visit to Turkey Town,
where messages from McGillivray poured in upon him and where he could
not hide from the persuasive tongue of John Watts. As he was fond of
reminding those who met him in council, he was an old man.

When the pressure of the war-faction threatened to become irresistible
he could only console himself with thinking that war might not come in
his day. Now, here in Turkey Town, even this sorry consolation was
denied him. Pacifist and diplomat, he had been overwhelmed by the
enthusiasm of Watts and the insistence of Dragging Canoe.

In seeking to temporize he had drifted unconsciously with the tide.
Like one helpless in a dream-drama he now found himself in the
council-house about to listen to the formal speeches which preceded the
sacred rites of getting the eagle’s feathers, the shamans’ recital of
the formula for those about to take the war-path, the going to water
and the chewing of the charmed root. Even now he would have entered a
protest and asked time to reconsider, but the Chickamauga chiefs had so
cunningly hurried him along he found himself accepted as a war votary.

Watts felt so secure that this day would see Cherokee and Creek
enrolled in a common cause he did not hesitate to return to his
warriors, who were waiting to pounce upon Sevier. The borderer’s escape
from McGillivray’s hands would soon take on a tinge of the supernatural
if the man were not caught. The runners, who had brought the news and
the emperor’s request for co-operation, told of the slaughtered dogs.
This feat alone was bound to make a tremendous sensation throughout the
nation and redound mightily to Sevier’s reputation unless he were run
down immediately.

There was no doubt in either Cherokee or Creek minds as to Sevier’s
hiding-place. It had to be in the narrow strip of territory between the
two lines of smokes. Even had Watts felt uneasy to leave Old Tassel’s
side the necessity of capturing Chucky Jack would have called him away.
Already one refugee from the Creek country had passed the Cherokee
lines—Kirk Jackson. The young Virginian’s successful flight escaped
being a disgrace to the Cherokee Nation because he had penetrated deep
into the country before the runners arrived with the news.

Warriors had been sent after him and there was a chance he might be
overtaken before he could reach the French Broad. But there would be no
excuse if Chucky Jack, prize of all prizes, slipped through the
Cherokees’ hands. Thus, despite his inclination to remain at the
village until Old Tassel was irrevocably crowded into the war-pact,
Chief Watts was compelled to rejoin his lynx-eyed warriors. And Old
Tassel sat disconsolate and heavy-hearted among the hot-bloods.

There were staid and sophisticated head men in Old Tassel’s train who
would be pleased to see the red ax buried. These lived in the Eastern
towns and had mingled with the whites and had begun to realize the
irresistible momentum of the tide sweeping down over the Alleghanies.
Old Tassel knew he could count on his followers, but he had permitted
John Watts to believe he would consent to war, and he feared the scorn
of the fighting chief and his men.

Now that he knew he was being carried along with the red tide and was
to be dashed against the Western settlements he sought surcease from
worry by whipping himself into a rage. God knows he had had much to
bitterly complain of. But despite the injustices worked him he could
not establish a lasting anger. His attempt to cultivate a blood-lust
failed. He had held to the white trail too long. Even in these great
moments of regret he recalled certain victories he had won by guile and
cunning, or fair dealing, when never an ax was reddened with blood.

The long benches were full and the majority of those present were
flushed with thoughts of conquest. Theoretically they could not fail.
Old Tassel was an Indian and not to be put out of countenance by the
death of white folks. It was the ever present fear of disaster to his
people that worried him. Even the most perfect of theories may end in
alarming facts. And there was the rub. He could not be sure the Creeks
would do all they boasted. If a single link in the chain broke, the
chain would fly to pieces. Then it would be Old Tassel’s domain that
would first feel the vengeance of Chucky Jack and his horsemen.

Old Tassel cast a mournful glance over the assemblage and rose and said:

“I am an old man. My path is very steep and slippery. Now it leads me
to this council where war or peace is to be decided.”

He paused and glanced furtively about. With the exception of his own
personal following this ambiguous announcement was received with
indignant glances. Thrown into something of a panic he hastily added——

“I believe most of the men here are for war.”

A loud chorus of affirmatives accented the truth of this statement.

With a poorly suppressed sigh Old Tassel continued—

“Is there any one here who has a talk for us?”

Up sprang one of Dragging Canoe’s leading warriors, who began:

“I have a talk for the Cherokee Nation. It is a very old talk. It is as
old as the first war-wampum. So long as we raised the ax and gave blow
for blow, we were respected by the whites. Since we have put down white
paths we have been crowded from our own trails and thrown into the
briars and on the rocks, and the white men have filled those trails. In
the old days we suffered, for we had bows and arrows against guns.
Today it is not so. Spain, through the Creek Nation, will supply us
with many guns and much powder. Already she has given us much.

“We will not have to run from the white man’s gun or dodge his bullets
to get within arrow-shot. We are men. This is our country and we will
hold it. There was a time when our land reached to the Ohio and the
Great Kanawha and the Catawba, and to the west as far as our young men
cared to hunt. Now we do not touch the Cumberland, except on its upper
waters, while the French Broad holds us back if we go toward the rising
sun.

“Brothers, we are like an old man, once tall and good to look upon, but
now bent and withered. There is but one medicine that will make us
young and strong and straight. It is a red medicine—the blood of the
whites. The all-powerful Red Spirits of the East do not love those who
give up their lands without a fight. I speak with the voice of the five
lower towns. I speak for war, war, war!”

The speaker’s fervour exploded whatever restraint his hearers had been
practising, and in a frenzy of martial emotion brawny arms waved axes
and many voices thundered:

“War! War! War!”

Even Old Tassel’s eyes gleamed with savagery, suggesting new fires
blooming through dead ashes. Then returned the old killing doubt: Could
the white man be driven out? His gaze once more became dull and
lifeless; and more for the sake of restoring a formal atmosphere to the
council than because he wished to prolong the sitting he asked—

“Is there any one else who brings a talk to us before we follow the
shamans?”

There was a bustling about at the entrance and a swirl of confusion as
a man heavily blanketed unceremoniously pushed his way into the room
and stood before the chief. Throwing back the blanket from his head and
figure, he addressed Old Tassel, saying—

“I bring you a talk, Utsidsata.”

“Tsan-usdi!” croaked Old Tassel, his jaw dropping in amazement.

The assemblage, stunned to silence at beholding the man their
redoubtable chief and the Creeks were seeking, glared incredulously.
Then broke forth a storm of guttural execrations, and brown hands
stretched forward to grasp the impudent intruder. Even in their rage,
however, all remembered the kind of man Chucky Jack was. His daring to
venture into the council while being hunted by the fighting-men of the
two nations was a mighty check to homicidal impulses. And no hand
touched him.

“Yes, it is Little John who brings the talk. Little John, who lives on
the Nanatlugunyi—‘the spruce-tree place’—once an ancient home of the
Cherokees. I am here with my talk, even as I promised you at Great
Hiwassee that I would come. Did Little John ever give his word to Old
Tassel, or to any of his people, and then take it back?”

He paused for rhetorical effect, and the aged chief began to feel the
influence of his audacious presence. Swinging about and pointing his
extended hand at the astounded and wrathful faces, he defied:

“Did I not say I would return and give a talk to
Utsidsata—‘Corn-Tassel’—called Old Tassel by the white men? Then why
are the Cherokees surprised to see me? Have I ever broken my word? Then
why are hands clawing near my back as if a panther was near?”

Facing the chief again, he rapidly continued:

“I have always kept my word with you. Who else of those you count as
friends have done the same? Is he a Creek? Does McGillivray always keep
his word? Or does he first build for McGillivray and ask you to help
him, and then tell you he is too tired to help you build, but some
other time. _Hayi!_”

“My men want war, Little John, for the wrongs the white men have done
them,” weakly retorted Old Tassel, still scarcely able to believe
Chucky Jack had slipped through so many fingers.

“Your men shall have war, Utsidsata. Men shall have the thing they
crave; but let them beware lest the thing they seek does not bring
death to them.”

“Ha! The white man is a fool to talk of Cherokees dying when he stands
alone with his enemies in the war-council at Turkey Town,” passionately
cried the orator from the lower towns.

Sevier turned on him and extended a knife, handle first, and challenged:

“So, Little John is a fool to say what he does, to speak of death? Here
is a sharp knife; here is my heart. Use the knife; kill my heart. But
remember this, and all here remember it—there is one now who is
rallying the riflemen of the Watauga. Before my blood can dry they will
be riding a hundred miles deep into your country and will be burning
your towns and corn and driving your people into the mountains, even as
they have done before when you shed the white man’s blood.”

Abashed the warrior refused the knife. Old Tassel cried—

“Who calls the riflemen together when Little John is in Turkey Town?”

“The man called Jackson, who was held a prisoner of the Creeks in
McGillivray’s own town until I unfastened the door and told him to go.
Did the Creeks and their dogs stop him? Could the renegade Cherokees
under John Watts stop him? He laughs at you and carries my word to the
riflemen. My word is this: Unless I cross the French Broad on a certain
day the men of the Holston, of the Nolichucky, the Broad and the
Watauga, are to enter the Cherokee Nation, killing and burning. For if
I do not come it will be known that Old Tassel has broken faith, doing
me harm after asking me to a council on my return from the Creeks.”

The warriors glanced uneasily at each other and refused to meet the
sharp gaze of the white man. Little John was once more establishing his
influence. McGillivray was considered to be a mighty war-leader; yet he
had been unable to hold Little John or Little John’s friend. If the
Emperor of the Creeks could not hold two of the borderers prisoners in
his own village, what guarantee did the Cherokees have he could aid
them in withstanding the attack of some three thousand riflemen?

Old Tassel, greatly alarmed at the prospect of having the northern and
eastern towns destroyed, hastily insisted:

“McGillivray does not make war for the Cherokees. It is for the
Cherokees to say whether they will have war or peace. The Creeks live
far from the western settlements. They talk like children at times.
This council has not voted for war.”

“Not yet voted for war?” scornfully replied Little John. “Then take
this talk from me and have done with talking. You can have war. I am
not here begging for peace. I am tired trying to remain friendly with
the Cherokees. Take your vote and go to water; then chew your sacred
root and see if the medicine can stop our bullets. At Great Hiwassee I
gave you a friendly talk and asked you to a grand council. And before
doing that I sent a talk to you by Tall Runner—a peace talk.

“Now I will give you no more peace talks; for you do not like them. You
want war. These young warriors from the lower towns want war. You can
always have what you want if your medicine is strong. As I stood at the
door I heard this warrior shouting for war.”

And he turned to Dragging Canoe’s orator and snatched the ax from the
nonplussed warrior’s belt. With his knife he slashed his own forearm
and allowed the blood to drop on the head of the ax.

Before the stupefied circle could more than draw a breath he waved the
gory ax above his head and threw it at the feet of Old Tassel, defying—

“You, who want red war, pick up that red ax!”

Old Tassel drew back as if it were a deadly serpent. Wheeling on the
owner of the ax, Sevier invited:

“You pick it up for him. He is old and his bones are lame. You are
young and strong. You love war. Yours is the voice that raises the red
war-whoop. It is your ax and my blood is on it. You pick it up!”

The startled warrior glared from the chief to the borderer, then
dropped his gaze and folded his blanket about him and drew back.

“Ho! Dragging Canoe’s brave cries for the white man’s blood but will
not take back his own ax when there is white blood upon it!” jeered
Sevier, spurning the weapon with his foot. “Is there any one from the
lower towns who wants to pick up the ax? Remember, the Creeks will help
you—the Creeks who could not hold two white men prisoners. What
Chickamauga wants it? I call on the men from Running Water, from
Nickajack, from Long Island, from Crow Town, from Lookout Mountain
town. Who wants the red ax?”

Old Tassel scrambled to his feet and in a low voice announced:

“Red axes have no place in a peace council. Go back to the Nolichucky,
Little John, and tell your riflemen to put away their guns. The
Cherokees do not go to water or lay down a red path. I am an old man.
My path is steep and slippery. I will not make it red with blood. You
gave me a promise at Great Hiwassee. I gave you one. I said if you came
to me after going to McGillivray I would meet you in a grand council on
the French Broad. I will do so. Go to your home, Little John, before
your men ride into my country. You shall find nothing but white trails
between here and the French Broad. I have said it.”

“_Ku!_ But there is something else. How can I hold my riflemen back
when Creek warriors are crossing your land to strike us in the head? If
you are honest, see to it the Creeks are turned back home. For my
riflemen will believe you have given them a bloody belt if they see
them on your land. Ride! Ride fast, Utsidsata! Reach the Tellico before
I reach the Nolichucky, so my men may know your talk is straight when
you say you will come to a grand council. Send out warriors to drive
McGillivray’s Creeks where they belong—back on the Coosa. I will not
answer for peace unless this is done.”

Leaving the village, followed by the black scowls of the fighting-men,
Sevier lost no time in striking for the Hiwassee River a hundred miles
away. He left the warriors in the council-house inert and speechless
under the impress of his bold speech. His personal magnetism had once
more stood him in good stead, and did Old Tassel ride for the Tellico
before Watts returned to Turkey Town there was every likelihood of the
Cherokees refusing to complete their war-pact with the Creeks. A few
miles from the village, as he galloped along the eastern bank of the
upper Coosa, he found the Jumper waiting for him.

“Brother of the Deer, you have a talk for me,” he saluted as he drew
abreast of the silent figure.

“The man called Red Hajason is ahead with Creek warriors. They will
turn east at Fighting Town and make for the head of the Hiwassee, where
Red Hajason has his village.”

“Tsan-usdi thanks you. Old Tassel votes for peace. Go to him and say
that Little John demands the Creeks with Hajason be turned back home.”

The Jumper led a horse from the bush and scampered down the trail while
Sevier resumed his journey. The borderer knew he would not be molested
in the immediate vicinity of Turkey Town, but so soon as he encountered
warriors who had not learned of his last talk with the old chief there
was likely to be trouble. For it was accepted as a fact throughout the
nation that Old Tassel had been won over by the war-faction. So Sevier
held to the trail for a scant score of miles and then turned aside into
the forest, to proceed by stealth until the news of Old Tassel’s latest
decision could be carried to the northern towns.

Behind him the Cherokee smokes still answered the Creek signals, the
watchers confident that Chucky Jack was bottled up between the lines.
The result of the peace talk had not yet been conveyed to Chief Watts.
And Chucky Jack smiled as he pictured McGillivray’s rage on being told
Old Tassel was opposed to the Creek alliance.

“If he sticks to his word and keeps on being opposed!” Sevier murmured
as he picked his way beneath the ancient trees. “Can Watts win the
chief back again? Not if fear for his towns on the Little Tennessee
sends him home without meeting Watts. If he rides for home he will
sweep the country with the news that the ax is buried. I’ll save time
by waiting a bit to make sure. If he stays at Turkey Town, then Watts
will make him change his mind.”

That night he made his camp on the side of a hill overlooking the trail
to the north. Before sunrise he was up and anxiously scanning the worn
ribbon of a path where it debouched into an opening. Either Old Tassel
and his followers would pass within a few hours or had succumbed to the
insistence of the Chickamaugas. If the old chief was still for peace he
must be within a few hours’ ride of the borderer and would press on
hotly to avoid being overtaken by Watts.

With his gaze fixed on the opening Sevier saw the mist-ghosts rise and
draw their shrouds about them and vanish before the level rays of the
sun. For two hours the open trail was purified by sunlight; then a
horseman, riding hard, broke from the woods. Behind him came others,
until the borderer counted nearly two score, and in the middle of the
galloping line rode Old Tassel.

“I’ve won!” softly exclaimed Sevier, sinking limply back on the moss.
“Old Tassel hurries to the Tellico. That means peace! Now, McGillivray
of the Creeks, go ahead with your secret treaty with Spain, and be ——
to you!”

In great elation Sevier shot a turkey and ate his breakfast and
leisurely followed on after the warriors. The cry of peace would
radiate on all sides of their advance. Twice during the day he saw
Cherokees. One party he avoided. The second was afoot and hidden by a
twist in the trail and he rode into them unexpectedly. Instead of
seeking to force him to pass between them, they drew to one side.

Yet he halted and sternly asked—

“Is it peace?”

They presented empty hands, and an elderly warrior gravely answered—

“It is peace, Tsan-usdi.”

He galloped on. Could he but intercept the Tonpits he would set back
McGillivray’s plans for two years; and during that period of grace he
was confident his riflemen would increase in numbers until a show of
force on Spain’s part would be folly.

Toward evening, while looking about for a place to camp, he came to a
point in the trail where Old Tassel’s band had split into two parties.
The larger had turned in an easterly direction, the smaller had stuck
to the main trail leading north. He deduced the reason for this
division almost at once. The Jumper had told Old Tassel that Little
John wanted the Creeks and Hajason turned back, and the bulk of the
warriors were following the outlaw to strip him of his escort. The
chief and a few men had pushed on to make the Tellico.

With a solid night’s rest refreshing him and his mount Chucky Jack took
after the eastbound band; for he must be near at hand when Red Hajason
told the Tonpits they were free to go to Little Talassee. He knew Major
Tonpit would bitterly resent any interference with his plans and would
insist on going to the Emperor of the Creeks. In that event Sevier
planned to use the girl as a lever and take her from her father by
force if necessary. Did Jackson succeed in returning with the riflemen
the task would be simple; if he failed, then Chucky Jack must depend
upon his own medicine.

A day and a night and another morning, and just as he was about to
light his tiny fire there came the noise of many horsemen riding
carelessly. He stood at the head of his horse to prevent the animal
from betraying him. First came the Creeks who had gone north with
Hajason, and the borderer’s heart sang in victory. Behind them,
taciturn and determined, rode Old Tassel’s Cherokees. The Creeks were
sullen and talked none with their escort. Sevier now knew that Hajason
was alone, and no sooner had the Indians passed out of hearing than he
was riding madly along the trail to overtake the outlaw.

Near midday a bullet clipped through foliage on his right and missed
him only because of the Providential intervention of a hemlock bough.
He dropped behind his horse and drove the animal to a huge oak, where
he left him to slip into the woods and scout toward the source of the
murderous assault. He had advanced a score of rods when the rifle
barked again, this time back near the trail, showing his assailant had
doubled back.

Sevier ran rapidly, sacrificing cover for speed, for he feared his
unseen enemy was planning to steal his horse. As he broke into the
trail and beheld his mount by the oak there came the _thud-thud_ of
swift hoofs ahead, and he smiled grimly at the error in his reasoning.
The fellow had left his horse in the trail and was eager only to escape
after his two unsuccessful attempts at murder.

The borderer spurred after him, rejoicing at the prospect of an open
fight. Only once, however, did he sight his quarry. He had topped a
rise and the horseman ahead was beginning the descent of a low ridge.
Already the horse was hidden from view. Throwing forward his rifle and
taking quick aim, Sevier fired. The man’s fur hat leaped into the air.
On gaining the ridge Chucky Jack found the trail to be empty.

“He can consider that a promise of what’s coming,” Sevier told himself
as he paused to reload.

He raced on recklessly, feeling only contempt for a white man who would
seek to ambush one of his own colour, but he pulled his horse in
sharply enough on discovering the trail of the fugitive now showed two
sets of tracks. Either some one was pursuing him or had emerged from
the woods to ride with him.

“They’re friends. Two against one,” he decided after studying the
tracks carefully.

Night overtook him without his sighting the couple. This time he
arranged his camp with much cunning, camping apart from his evening
fire and arranging his blankets so as to resemble the muffled form of a
sleeper. He fell asleep at once and slumbered peacefully until aroused
by a rifle-shot.

“Daylight is when I want to meet you, my lads,” he drowsily murmured
before turning over and going to sleep again.

With the first light he returned to the dead camp-fire and retrieved
his blanket. There was a hole through one end of it. He examined the
ground and found where the intruder had stolen forward to shoot and
then ran away without investigating the success of his shot. That he
had retreated in haste was indicated by the broken sticks and the torn
up moss.

“Never even stopped to see if he got me,” murmured Sevier with a grin.
“Wonder if it was Hajason or the man who joined him. Hajason seemed to
have enough grit when he faced McGillivray.”

His visitor had come afoot and his trail was lost once he struck into
the main trail. Sevier lost some time in searching for the men’s camp,
then shrewdly decided he could pick them up by pressing on to the
headwaters of the Hiwassee. Moving cautiously, for even a coward’s lead
is not to be despised in the daylight, he covered a dozen miles and was
brought to keen attention by the muffled report of a rifle some
distance away.

This shot was not intended for him, and the field of conjecture was
very wide. Had it been followed by other shots he would have believed
the riflemen were heading off Hajason and his mate. But the forest
remained quiet enough and, leading his animal, he stole on. Suddenly a
frantic scrambling of a heavy body in a dense growth sent him to
shelter; and yet neither of the outlaws’ mounts could be creating this
confusion.

He stood erect, his gaze betraying his astonishment as a woman’s voice
close at hand shrieked the one word—

“Father!”

The anguish in her voice bespoke a deadly fear. Sevier darted toward
the sound. Again the voice rang out, this time in a cry of despair,
followed by a hoarse shout of triumph. And the bushes parted and a
maddened horse, riderless and with blood-smears on his flank, plunged
out and past the borderer.

Throwing caution to the winds, Sevier plunged ahead. A familiar voice
was exclaiming:

“Run ye down, pretty bird, didn’t I? Wasn’t fit for ye to wipe yer
leetle feet on—an’ now!”

Sevier became a shadow, but the speaker obviously attributed any noise
he had heard to the mad plunges of the riderless horse, for he
continued:

“Hajason can play some folks double, but not me, young woman. Now ye
quit that foolishness an’ git up on yer pins, or it’ll be the worse for
ye.”

Parting some cedar boughs, Sevier beheld Lon Hester. The villain was
still wearing his bedraggled cock’s feather and was standing beside his
horse and staring evilly at the limp form of Elsie Tonpit, where she
lay unconscious after being unseated by her crazed mount. The little
drama was clear; the girl had escaped and Hester had pursued and shot
her horse.

“—— if she ain’t pretty’s a picter,” gloated Hester, his face growing
bestial.

The girl was alive and Sevier waited. Hester continued, speaking aloud
to check off certain data:

“I can’t go back to Jonesboro. McGillivray might pay a ransom, an’ he
might string me up without even sayin’ thank ye. I reckon I’ll keep her
for myself, seein’ as nobody else ’pears to want her.”

It was at this point that Sevier noiselessly stepped from cover and
quietly informed—

“But I want her, Mr. Hester.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER XII

  TONPIT CHANGES HIS PLANS

“Chucky Jack!” Hester dully exclaimed.

“Drop your gun.”

The bully’s readiness to obey convinced Sevier the weapon had not been
reloaded since discharged at the girl’s horse. The borderer glided to
the girl and kneeled at her side. She breathed. The borderer started to
rise, and Hester pulled an ax from the back of his belt and hurled it.
Sevier ducked and raised his rifle. The ax smashed against the barrel
and knocked it from his grasp. Believing he had Chucky Jack at a great
disadvantage, Hester leaped forward, his hands outstretched, his
diabolical fingers crooked to claw his opponent’s eyes. Like a cornered
rat he knew he must fight as he had never fought before.

To save the girl from being trampled upon Sevier stepped over her body
without pausing to pick up his rifle. The two crashed together within a
few feet of the silent form. Still having the girl in mind, the
borderer exerted all his energies to force Hester back. The bully was
quick to realize that so long as there was danger of their falling on,
or stepping on, the girl Sevier would fight defensively, postponing any
attempt to use either of the long knives in his belt.

Sevier had not forgotten his weapons, but as Hester was unarmed he was
quite willing to meet him barehanded and make him a prisoner. Hester
bulked larger than the borderer and had made man-maiming a study.

He grunted in relief as Sevier clinched and made no effort to draw a
knife. The bully blessed his luck for relegating the contest to the
plane of sheer brutality.

“I’ve always hankered to git a chance at ye,” he panted, clawing at
Sevier’s eyes.

Sevier ducked back his head and struck upward, a short-arm jolt, the
heel of his palm catching the bully under the nose and eliciting a howl
of pain. Fighting to spare the girl, Sevier manœuvred his antagonist
back a dozen feet. Then he flashed a smile of relief into Hester’s
distorted face and the bully’s moral fibre began to weaken. The fact
that Chucky Jack had accomplished his first objective was an earnest of
a second victory. Hester redoubled his ferocious efforts.

Sevier played back right willingly, his slim form giving and resisting
with the supple strength of a steel spring. Hester’s eyes grew a bit
worried. In Jonesboro he had often told his cronies that Chucky Jack
was allowed to have his own way because of his prowess as a rifleman,
and that in a man-to-man contest he would soon lose his fighting
reputation. In drunken confidences at the tavern he had also gone on
record as asking nothing better than to be turned loose in a fight with
Sevier, each man armed only with his hands.

Now that these ideal conditions were afforded him he discovered he was
not making any headway. Repeatedly he essayed his _coup de maitre_, a
play for the eyes, and each time he failed by the edge of a second and
received terrific punishment in return. His long, pointed nails
scratched the borderer’s forehead and furrowed his face, but they could
not extinguish the blaze in the deadly blue orbs.

He shifted his tactics and endeavoured to use his feet and knees, but
instantly the borderer pressed close until there was not enough room
for delivering a telling kick, or for a drive of the knee.

“Any more tricks you haven’t tried?” murmured Sevier, viciously
plunging his knuckles into the front of the red throat.

Coughing and gasping, Hester faintly cried out a blasphemy and feared
he was being mastered at his own game. He now knew Sevier could have
blinded him a dozen times had he so desired. A terrible fear of the
slim fighter began to smother his rage. Judging Chucky Jack by his own
standards, he fully expected that when the borderer had wearied of
playing with him he would destroy his sight and leave him to find a
hideous death in the forest. For that was the death he had planned for
Sevier, and he could not imagine a man foregoing the pleasure once he
secured the advantage.

The two knives in Sevier’s belt hung just back of the hips to be out of
the way while riding. They were long, terrible weapons. Hester believed
Sevier could have used these at the beginning of the fray and had
refrained for the greater joy of blinding his foe. He could not know
that Sevier had fought with his hands in order to take a prisoner, and
that once the borderer was committed to this style of battle he had all
he could do to protect his eyesight and dared not leave his face
unprotected while he fished for a knife.

And Sevier smiled as he blocked each attempt, but he was more keenly
concerned than Hester imagined. Suddenly the bully butted his head and
at the same time wrenched a hand free and plunged it to the borderer’s
belt. Sevier bowed his head and received the blow on his forehead, the
two skulls crashing together with sickening force. For a second the
borderer’s head swam; in the next he had struck Hester’s hand to one
side, but not before the bully’s long fingers had gripped a knife.

“Now!” yelled Hester, stabbing joyously.

“And now!” replied Sevier, avoiding the thrust and pulling the second
knife. “I like this much better.”

Hester was surprised at the expression of relief on Chucky Jack’s face.

“Ye was skeered of my hands?” he grunted, thrusting tentatively.

“I was afraid,” confessed Sevier, stepping to one side and forcing him
toward the bushes. “Just as I’m afraid of a mad-wolf’s bite. But this
is clean sport. I like it.”

Hester believed him and woefully regretted his shift to the knives. But
he grew optimistic as he observed Sevier kept darting glances about, a
dangerous practice for a knife-fighter, and exulted:

“Gittin’ sick, eh? Tryin’ to find a chance to sneak out, eh?”

“Hardly that,” corrected Sevier, scoring him in the forearm. “I had
planned to take you alive. Now I’ve decided to kill you; and as Miss
Tonpit is recovering her senses I’m just looking for a place where you
can die without disturbing her.”

As he spoke he thrust and slashed and drove the bully back to the
fringe of bushes.

Hester’s face glistened with sweat. Did he dare shift his gaze aside,
he believed he would behold cowled Death waiting for him. Then there
rang a long-drawn cry that caused the combatants to throw up their
heads and for a moment to neglect their grim business.

“Elsie-e-e! Oh, Elsie-e-e!” called the voice, and Sevier heard the girl
stir behind him.

For a moment the borderer relaxed the pressure of his attack, and with
a loud yell Hester leaped backward and threw his knife and jumped into
the bushes. The knife, thrown blindly, landed haft first between
Sevier’s eyes and confused him for a second. Before he could pursue the
bully the girl’s name was shouted again, and the girl, now on her
knees, faintly answered:

“This way, father! Come to me!”

Sevier hesitated. He could hear his antagonist crashing away in frantic
flight and he knew he could easily overtake him. But close at hand
Major Tonpit was loudly calling, and the girl could not be left alone.
Now she was on her feet and staring at him wildly.

“Who are you with a knife in your hand?” she whispered.

He advanced and with a little scream of terror she drew back, not
recognizing him because of his disordered garments, his scratched and
soiled countenance.

“You’ve forgotten John Sevier?” he asked.

With a glad cry she ran to him and clutched his arm and stared about in
search of Hester.

“He’s run away, Miss Elsie,” Sevier soothed. “He won’t bother you any
more. And your father is coming.”

“Father escaped from them!” she rejoiced, and lifting her voice she
called to him.

Sevier picked up his rifle and examined the priming, then loaded
Hester’s gun. Securing Hester’s horse he swung Elsie into the saddle
and led the way back to his own mount, cautioning:

“Don’t call again. I can find him. If the outlaws are following him
he’ll bring them down on us. Hester will set them on our trail soon
enough without any help from us.”

Tonpit’s voice rang out again, this time impatiently, for he had heard
his daughter’s voice and knew she must be safe. Motioning her to be
silent, Sevier gave a soft whistle. A horse crashed through the
undergrowth and Tonpit was imperiously demanding:

“Where are you, Elsie? I’ve been horribly frightened.”

“This way, father,” she softly answered. “And not so loud, dear. Those
men will hear us.”

“There are two of them who won’t hear anything this side of the Last
Trump,” he hoarsely assured, spurring his mount into the trail. On
catching sight of Sevier, he levelled the pistol he was holding and
snapped it.

“Father!” groaned the horrified girl. “It’s Mr. Sevier, father.”

Tonpit leaned forward over his horse’s neck and blinked at the borderer.

“Then what the devil is he doing here with that scum?” he fiercely
demanded.

“He just saved me from Hester. Mr. Sevier is my friend,” she gently
reminded.

“Friend? We shall see,” was the grim reply. “If he is our friend he
will guide us to the trail that runs south.”

“You ride where?” asked Sevier, mounting his horse.

“To the Coosa River. And time is precious,” snapped Tonpit.

“You’ve been held prisoners by Red Hajason?” Sevier asked.

Tonpit nodded gloomily; then with a streak of suspicion he asked:

“How did you know about it? Has my daughter told you?”

“I’ve had no time to talk with your daughter,” Sevier coldly replied.
“I found her unconscious from a fall from her horse. Hester was with
her, and I was on the point of killing him when your call disturbed the
balance of battle long enough for him to escape.”

“Then I’m —— sorry I called,” growled Tonpit. “But Hester said you
killed the Indian, who was to be my guide.”

“He lied,” Sevier calmly retorted.

“He came in the Indian’s place,” continued Tonpit. “But he took us to
Red Hajason’s camp instead of to the Coosa. We’ve been held prisoners
ever since. Then Hajason went away, and I got two horses and Elsie and
I rode for it, followed by the band. We threw them off the trail
yesterday, but when we broke camp this morning several of them jumped
us. She rode ahead while I fought them off. I shot two and got away,
but, lost her. That’s all there is to tell, except I’d give a thousand
pounds to know what Hajason is up to.”

“I can tell you for nothing,” said Sevier. “He went to McGillivray of
the Creeks to bargain for your release. On returning he met Hester.
They tried to kill me and then separated when I chased them. Hester ran
into Elsie and shot her horse. Hajason by this time has connected with
the gang. McGillivray offered Hajason two thousand pounds, gold, for
the release of you and your daughter.”

“Ha!” cried Tonpit, his eyes flashing. “Good friend! True friend! And
by escaping we save him his gold. But how come you to know all this?”
And the habitual air of suspicion lowered from his gaze.

“I was in Little Talassee—his prisoner. I’ve just escaped. Polcher was
there—”

“Escaped from the Emperor of the Creeks!” exclaimed Tonpit, his tone
implying an inclination to disbelieve the statement. Then hurriedly,
“And Polcher? He helped to arrange for my ransom? He’s true-blue! He’s
humble, but he has served me faithfully. I shall reward him.”

“He’s—he has been rewarded, after a fashion,” said Sevier. “Major
Tonpit, you might as well face the truth now as later. McGillivray’s
game is played out. Old Tassel votes for peace. The Cherokees will not
join with the Creeks. Without them McGillivray’s pledge of twenty
thousand warriors is just ten thousand warriors short.”

“I don’t believe it, sir!” Tonpit passionately cried. “McGillivray of
the Creeks will be the saviour of the Western settlements! He has done
me the honour of picking me—” He halted and frowned heavily at Sevier’s
battered face. “I was forgetting that you’re on the other side; that
you prefer bloodshed and bowing the knee to Pennsylvania and
Massachusetts to a glorious freedom.”

“Just now I prefer clearing out from here before Hester can bring the
outlaws down upon us,” dryly retorted Sevier, pricking his horse up the
trail.

Tonpit wheeled his mount and would have struck to the south had not
Sevier caught the bridle of the girl’s horse and led it beside his own.

“Here, here, John Sevier!” Tonpit remonstrated, spurring after him. “We
ride to the Coosa.”

“You would be overtaken before sunset,” coolly replied Sevier,
increasing the pace. “By this time Red Hajason is in command of his
men. He knows you would ride in that direction.”

“Where I ride is my business!” angrily cried Tonpit, now on the other
side of his daughter and attempting to wrest the bridle from Chucky
Jack’s grasp.

“But, father, Mr. Sevier knows best,” pleaded the girl.

“Is it a girl’s place to teach her father wisdom?” harshly rebuked
Tonpit.

“You can’t ride south,” quietly informed Sevier. “Your cause is lost,
and I’ll be shot if you lose your daughter into the bargain.”

“Release that bridle!” thundered Tonpit, now beside himself with rage.

And he raised the pistol. The girl threw herself forward to block the
bullet, and cried:

“Shame, father! After what he has done for us! Better shoot me than
him.”

Tonpit sagged back aghast. A second more and he had pulled the trigger,
for his mind was curiously warped and his imprisonment had rendered him
irresponsible. To relieve the scene of its tragic atmosphere, Sevier
advised:

“You’d better load that pistol. We may need it soon. You’ve tried once
to shoot me with it.”

Tonpit’s cold face flushed and he mumbled:

“I was hasty. I apologize; I will reload it. Then my daughter and I
will ride south.”

“The trail south is open to you, but the girl rides north,” Sevier
calmly informed.

Tonpit’s eyes glowed wolfishly and without a word he began reloading
the weapon. The girl knew the climax would come the moment he finished
his task, and to Sevier she pleaded:

“You mean well, but after all my place is by my father’s side. I thank
you for what you’ve done. Now let us part good friends.”

“Your place is not in Little Talassee, where they plot to cut up the
Union,” was the firm response. “Your place is where Americanism
thrives, in the settlements, or in the cities over the mountains. Never
where McGillivray plots with Spain.”

“Mr. Sevier, I will shoot you if you persist in your interference,”
Tonpit announced.

“Then you will be a murderer and your daughter will refuse to ride with
you,” cheerfully countered Sevier. “If my death will restore the young
woman to the American settlements, why, I shall not have died for
nothing.”

“Put up your pistol, father,” commanded the girl. “If you do Mr. Sevier
any harm I shall ride north alone.”

Tonpit’s face became ghastly as he heard her ultimatum and caught a
reflection of his own stubborn will in her young face.

“You’ve tricked me, Sevier,” he whispered. “But there’ll be a reckoning
between us—”

“Hush!” cried the girl, placing her fingers against his lips.

Sevier tilted his head and meeting her questioning gaze nodded gravely.

“What is it now?” growled Tonpit.

“They’re after us, the whole gang,” informed Sevier. “Had you started
south you would be prisoners by this time. They’re on our trail and
we’ve no time for talk. Keep at my heels.”

He spurred ahead with the girl and Tonpit raced after him. Loud yells
from behind advertised their discovery by the outlaws. Rifles were
fired, but without aim, as none of the lead came near them. Sevier
twisted his head and motioned for Tonpit to ride beside him while the
girl led the way. As Tonpit drew up the borderer informed:

“We can’t outride them. Your girl is played out. A few miles ahead
there is a cave near the trail where we can hide. Once there one of us
can stand them off until the other gets help.”

“Get help? Who is there to help us in this cursed country?” groaned
Tonpit.

“The Cherokees,” said Sevier. “Because of my talk with Old Tassel they
will send men. Did McGillivray have his way the Cherokees would now be
at war with the settlements and be among those hunting us. You’ve lost
a chance to be Spain’s governor in the new world, but we’ll save the
girl.”

“Let us get to the cave,” gritted Tonpit.

He dropped back and Sevier rode beside the girl. Their pursuers came
fast and furious and the borderer knew they were gaining. The trail
with its twistings and its banks of forest growth prevented the
pursuers and the fugitives from glimpsing each other. Pointing ahead to
a lightning-shattered oak, Sevier directed:

“When we reach it you and Miss Elsie must dismount and make back into
the woods till you come to a high ledge. The cave is half-way up the
ledge and can’t be seen from below. Better hide among the rocks and
wait for me to lead you.”

As they reached the fallen tree Tonpit and Elsie dismounted and plunged
into the woods. Sevier gathered up the bridles and the three horses
swept on. For half a mile Sevier laid down the telltale trail, then
took to a ribbon of exposed rock and turned at right-angles to the
travelled path, his course paralleling that taken by the Tonpits.

A quarter of a mile of cautious advance brought him to the foot of the
ridge, and he turned south and soon came to the ledge. As he leaped to
the ground and led the horses deep among the rocks and brush Elsie
Tonpit’s face peered from behind a boulder. In another moment he was
leading father and daughter to the hiding-place.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



  CHAPTER XIII

  THE SENTENCE OF THE WILDERNESS

Although styled a cave by Sevier the hiding-place in the ledge was only
a rock recess, caused by the undercutting of surface waters. In this
pocket the borderer left the Tonpits while he went for assistance. He
was surprised on scouting toward the trail to hear the voices of the
outlaws raised in loud discussion. He had taken it for granted that
Hajason’s men would not observe the abrupt ending of the signs left by
the three horses and would continue their pursuit for some distance
beyond the ledge.

“I tell ye this is the girl’s hoss. I plugged him to stop the girl.
That skunk of a Sevier can’t make fast time carryin’ her on his saddle.
Old Tonpit’s nag must be ’bout blowed,” bawled Hester’s voice.

“My breed tracker says there was three hosses ahead,” boomed Hajason’s
deep bass. “He didn’t have to see ’em to know that. If ye fools hadn’t
rammed ahead of him an’ wiped out the signs he could ’a’ told where
they swung off the path. All we know now is that they turned off
somewheres atween here an’ where we stopped, or ’bout half a mile
ahead. We’ll have to scatter an’ search both sides of the path.”

“This hoss with his flank ripped open is the girl’s nag, I’m tellin’
ye,” persisted Hester. “If Sevier didn’t ride double then they must ’a’
took my hoss. If that’s the case an’ he’s within hearin’, I reckon I
can wipe out the need of searchin’ both sides of the path. My animal is
trained to prick up his ears when he hears this.”

Sevier darted back toward the three horses hidden among the rocks, but
he had scarcely started when the bully’s shrill whistle rang out.
Before he could cover quarter of the distance the whistling was
repeated several times and Hester’s mount came galloping through the
thickets in answer to his master’s call. The borderer essayed to catch
the bridle, but with a snort the animal jumped aside and crashed toward
the trail.

The excited cries of the outlaws, punctuated by Hester’s loud oaths of
admiration, greeted the arrival of the horse. Sevier’s only consolation
was the knowledge that although the faithful beast had answered the
call he could not guide the outlaws to the ledge. And yet, a quarter of
a mile even of thick forest did not afford as wide a margin of safety
as Sevier would wish. The borderer realized that whatever action he was
to take to safeguard the secret of the ledge must be initiated at once.

At a point where a twist in the trail hid the band from view Sevier
crossed to the other side. Moving parallel to the trail, he gained a
position opposite the horsemen just as Red Hajason was commanding:

“Spread out in a thin line an’ beat up the woods. The hoss come from
some spot near here. The trackers will go ahead an’ foller the hoss’s
tracks. When any one sights the runaways jest give a yell an’ lay low
till all of us can come up. Not a word, mind ye, till ye see something.”

Sevier crawled closer, until, by kneeling, he could detect the movement
of a horse on the trail. Raising his rifle, he fired. The animal
dropped, shot through the head. The rider, thrown violently to the
ground, quickly identified himself by cursing volubly as only Red
Hajason could curse.

Sevier, although deeply regretting his lead had killed the horse
instead of its master, thus distracted the outlaws from their purpose
of searching the woods in the vicinity of the ledge. He began falling
back, slipping noiselessly from tree to tree, while Hajason yelled for
his men to dismount and give chase. The men obeyed but displayed a
strong inclination to keep well together. Such a daring attack could
have been made by but one man, Chucky Jack, whose woodcraft was
superior to that of an Indian’s.

“—— ye for white-livered hounds!” roared Red Hajason. “Spread out! A
hundred pounds to the man what fetches me his head!”

Stimulated by this offer and spurred on by their fear of their leader,
the men lengthened the line, and Sevier knew he must give ground in
earnest. He was in a peculiar predicament, for his task was increased
two-fold by the appearance of Hester’s horse. He must adhere to his
original plan of securing assistance; the safety of the girl demanded
that. Yet he must remain in contact with the gang or the men would
become discouraged at their lack of success and return to investigate
the east side of the trail.

To find succour under the circumstances would demand something of a
miracle. Any band of Cherokees in the neighbourhood would scatter and
take to cover when they heard the sound of the chase. He had counted on
finding a village, unsuspected by the outlaws, and by a diplomatic
“talk” enlisting the aid of the warriors. The precipitate pursuit
eliminated any chance of finesse. Could he play the game until
nightfall he might find it possible to double back and lead the Tonpits
north.

Against this manœuvre bulked the obstacle of the horses and their guard
left in the trail. Once the outlaws lost him they would return to their
animals, arriving coincident with his return to the ledge.

“Devil of a mess!” Sevier inwardly raged as he knocked the legs from
under an outlaw closing in on his right. “Held up by these scum after
standing off both the Creek and the Cherokee Nations! If it wasn’t for
Miss Elsie I’d love to stay round these parts till there either wasn’t
any Chucky Jack or there wasn’t any outlaws.”

His shot at the man on the right brought the gang forward in a wild
rush, each eager to sight the fugitive before he could reload. Sevier
raced for his life until he gained enough leeway to pause and recharge
his rifle. He had barely finished when a rustling behind him sent him
to the ground, his gun levelled.

“_Wa-ya!_” softly called a voice.

“_Aniwaya!_” joyfully hissed Sevier, creeping forward. “Man of the Wolf
clan, where are you?”

A copper-coloured form rose almost at his elbow. The borderer
recognized Bloody Mouth.

“Little John never knew the hunting-call of the Wolf could sound so
sweet,” whispered Sevier.

“Tsan-usdi is chased by dogs,” growled Bloody Mouth, his eyes flaring
with blood-lust. “I will stick my ax in their heads.”

Drawing the warrior back as the outlaws advanced, Sevier hurriedly
asked:

“Where are the Cherokees? I want warriors.”

“You must travel till sundown to come up with them,” was the
discouraging rejoinder.

“That will not do,” muttered Sevier. “Bloody Mouth will do as his
brother says?”

“He will. By nightfall his wolf-call will bring many men of his clan.
Then we will hunt down and break off the heads of Tsan-usdi’s enemies.”

“I can not wait. There is a white woman I must take north. Take my
place and keep falling back. Wear my hat and hunting-shirt but do not
let them see you if you can help it. If they do see you they will think
you are Little John. Do not speak.”

“But I can shoot?”

“Ay, and shoot to kill. Lead them far. There are many horses back on
the trail. They shall all be yours.”

“_Siyu!_ I feel my medicine is very red,” gloated Bloody Mouth,
slipping on the shirt and taking the hat.

With this decoy to take his place Sevier sprinted away to pass around
the north end of the outlaws’ advance. Occasional shouts and much
rifle-fire kept him informed as to the continued success of his
deception. Bloody Mouth was retreating, and the few flittering glimpses
the horse-thieves caught of him convinced them they all but had Chucky
Jack in their power.

A crackling among the bushes near by caused Sevier to drop into a
hollow and draw his knife. A man in buckskin, evil of face and panting
with eagerness to work behind the fugitive and slay from ambush, passed
close to the borderer. Only the safety of the Tonpits prevented him
from stopping the outlaw. In another five minutes the fugitive knew he
was behind the line of searchers. Between him and the trail there could
be no menace except as he might encounter a straggler.

His return was unimpeded and, cautiously thrusting his head from cover,
Sevier beheld two-score horses and five guards. He was surprised at
this show of strength, having believed there could not be more than a
score of outlaws at the most. A new and daring plan formed in his mind;
to rout the guards and run off the animals would be a noble
counter-stroke. Without their animals Hajason’s men would feel helpless.

He carefully shifted his position, preliminary to covering the guards
with his rifle and demanding their surrender, but was interrupted by a
commotion in the bush above him. The guards observed it and raised
their guns; then they relaxed as Red Hajason and Hester stepped into
the trail and slowly walked toward the borderer’s position.

“I tell ye, the major’n the woman’s back where my hoss come from,”
persisted Hester. “To —— with Chucky Jack. Whistle yer gang back an’
let’s grab ’em.”

Hajason smiled cynically and retorted:

“D’ye s’pose I didn’t have brains ’nough to know they was back there?
That’s why ye run into me on comin’ back here. We both had the same
notion, I reckon. Sevier’s out of the way, bein’ chased toward sundown.
His goin’ takes the men out of the way. It gives us a chance to git the
major’n his girl an’ light out. Old Tassel’s ag’in war. That means
Chucky Jack will have plenty of time to fetch his riflemen down on me.
I’ve been lookin’ for it for more’n two years. I’m through with this
country. Me for the Creek Nation an’ the money McGillivray will pay for
the man an’ woman. Then for New ’Leans. Game’s played out on the
Hiwassee. Too many —— settlers crowdin’ in.”

“Where do I figger in the money McGillivray pays ye?” curiously asked
Hester.

“I’ll give ye five hundred dollars.”

“——! An’ after me fetchin’ ’em to ye!”

“Ye fetched ’em ’cause ye couldn’t handle the game yerself. It was me
that risked my neck in goin’ to McGillivray. Then I got to square some
of the men.”

Hester laughed mockingly.

“Ye’ll take these five men, mebbe. An’ after ye strike the creek border
they can carry in one eye all ye give ’em. Gimme a thousand an’ we’ll
round up the Tonpits, bunch the hosses an’ ride for the Coosa.”

“A thousand! Ye’re crazy. After Polcher dips his dirty paws in, what’ll
be left for me?”

“Polcher?” gasped Hester, rubbing his chin. “Huh! So he’s down there. I
don’t reckon I care for to see Mister Polcher. He must feel nasty the
way I fetched the Tonpits to ye. An’ he’s sure told McGillivray the
trick I played. I ain’t hankerin’ to see McGillivray, neither. Gimme
the five hundred now.”

“What do I git for the five hundred?” sneered Hajason.

“I’ll help round ’em up an’ help run ’em off till we strike the lower
towns. I’ve got some good friends there.”

Hajason stroked his beard thoughtfully; then he promised—

“As soon as we git the man an’ woman on hosses an’ ready to cut an’ run
I’ll hand over.”

Hester’s visage grew dark with passion, but he feared Hajason and
smothered his rage and reluctantly agreed:

“Ye drive a fussy bargain. But I’ll agree, providin’ ye can pay me the
minute we catch ’em.”

Hajason tapped a bulging belt under his hunting-shirt and assured:

“I’ve got it with me. Don’t fret any. I’ve been lookin’ for the game to
bust up an’ always go loaded. It’s yers once we nail ’em.”

“All right,” said Hester, catching a horse and mounting.

Red Hajason climbed into a saddle and ordered the guards to take the
horses down the trail a mile.

“We’ll save time pickin’ ’em up there,” he laughed.

“There’ll be some pretty profits out of the nags an’ the saddles,”
mused Hester. “S’pose I come in on that?”

“S’pose ye don’t, an’ save yer breath,” snarled Red Hajason. “Ye’re
lucky I ain’t found no fault for the way ye let them two slip through
yer hands while I was gone. I’m a fool to give ye even five hundred.”

Hester sighed and rode beside Red Hajason and remarked:

“Wal, if ye feel that way ’bout it, I reckon I won’t say nothin’ more.
I’ll jest take all ye’ve got.”

He had pistoled his man before Sevier could guess what was coming. The
borderer raised his rifle; then he lowered it as the five guards
sounded a shout of rage and started for the assassin. The last Sevier
saw of Hester the bully was galloping the two horses up the trail while
he held Hajason’s body in the saddle and unfastened the heavy
money-belt.

After the guards had pounded by his place of concealment Sevier darted
across the trail. The rearmost guard happened to glance back and see
him. He wheeled about with a yell of warning to his mates, but the four
swept on to kill Hester. The cry was answered from the woods, however,
and Sevier dived into cover just as the outlaws returned from chasing
Bloody Mouth.

The borderer had no idea of leading the gang to the ledge, and at once
he endeavoured to work north, parallel to the trail. The outlaws
pressed him close. He shot one and was instantly engaged by two others.
Clubbing his rifle, he knocked one senseless, whereat the second lost
all stomach for the fight and fled. The delay permitted others to come
up. Dropping his empty gun, he snatched up the rifles belonging to the
dead man and his senseless mate and discharged both pointblank at his
assailants. They fell back in confusion at this unexpected reception,
and the borderer leaped into a thicket armed only with his knives.

Frantic cries from the trail, followed by a volley of rifle-fire,
checked his flight and turned him back to investigate. As he emerged
into the trail a horseman threw up his rifle, only to have it knocked
aside by Kirk Jackson.

“John Sevier!” he yelled. “John Sevier without his shirt!”

Chucky Jack beheld his riflemen scuttling into the woods and out again
in the process of running the horse-thieves to cover. On the ground
were a dozen dead outlaws and two settlers. Stetson was standing beside
his horse, tying a bandage about his arm by using his teeth, the
process sadly weakening his emphatic sentiments concerning all
“varments.”

“Hester got away!” panted Sevier, throwing himself on to a horse. “He
went north—”

“We came from the north. We met him,” gravely informed Jackson. “We’d
been here sooner, but the men formed a ring and he and I had it out. I
found this on him.” And he touched the money-belt strapped outside his
hunting-shirt. “It’ll help raise the militia you’re going to need. Now
for Red Hajason—and Elsie!”

“Hajason is on the ground here somewhere. Elsie and her father are
near. Round up the rascals in the bush and I’ll fetch her to you.”

“No; I’ll go with you. Stetson is wounded, but he can handle the
fighting,” cried Jackson.

A shout from Sevier, and Major Tonpit and his daughter descended from
their hiding-place. Tonpit was stupefied by the defeat of his schemes
and showed neither resentment nor interest in the young people’s public
avowal of their shameless preference for each other’s arms.

“Creeks fooled. Cherokees quieted for a time at least. Spain blocked.
Hajason wiped out,” checked off Sevier as he rode ahead with the
despairing major by his side. “Now for Bonnie Kate and the building of
the new State.”

Escorted by two thousand men in buckskin, the delegates met at
Jonesboro on August twenty-third and voted that the people should elect
fifteen representatives, who were to write a constitution for the new
State and organize its Government. The North Carolina Legislature met
in November and repealed the Cessions Act and granted all that had been
asked in the Jonesboro petition. But the fifteen representatives
proceeded, nevertheless, and created the State of Franklin with John
Sevier as governor, thereby constituting one of the most unique
chapters in American history.

The new State endured for three years, then passed out of existence, to
be recreated in time as Tennessee. How Sevier was outlawed by North
Carolina, put on trial for high treason and rescued from the court-room
in a most amazing manner; how he was appointed brigadier-general by
Washington, unanimously selected six times as governor of Tennessee and
elected three times to Congress is told in history.

How in his last years he was often visited by John Watts and other
chiefs, with whom he had fought, and how they partook of his
hospitality and profited by his kind advice, rounds out a career
seldom, if ever, equalled in all border chronicles.


  [Illustration: Printer decoration]
  THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
  GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

Silently corrected typographical errors and inconsistencies;
retained non-standard spelling.





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