THE ARK OF 1803
THE MASTER’S HOLIDAY
“One licking more likely,” said Lewis Hoyt. He grinned as he took the big smooth-faced chip from Moses and added his signature. “Here, Molly, it’s your turn. Remember, you want to leave room for all the others that can possibly squeeze on.”
“If I couldn’t write smaller than that I wouldn’t sign,” retorted Molly Royce over his shoulder. “He’s got to stand treat and that’s all there is to it.”
While the three signers were busy at the master’s table, a little cloud of turkey feathers broke suddenly over a group of boys and girls who were gathered round the fireplace of the big schoolhouse. Jimmy Claiborne had thrown a handful of the feathers he was plucking at Louis Gist.
Louis, who was busy with another turkey, dropped it and sprang at Jimmy. Jimmy dodged among the others. The benches were overturned. In a moment a skirmish had broken out and the school was a mass of dodging figures, laughs and screams.
“Stop that racket,” cried Moses Ayer, pounding on the master’s table. “Listen here! — Jimmy Claiborne, you and Louis stop your fussing and come and sign this petition. Quit fooling. He may be banging at the door any minute.”
“Louis says Marion Royce don’t want me to go on the ark,” shouted Jimmy, “and I want to know if it’s true.”
“Come and sign,” yelled Moses. “The ark won’t be starting for a month and this petition goes into effect to-day. Quit your squabbling and come here.”
“I tell you you won’t go to New Orleans on the ark,” screamed Louis Gist, swinging his turkey round his head as he charged with it.
“Never mind New Orleans, I tell you,” cried Moses, reaching after Jimmy as Jimmy dodged the turkey swung at him. “Look out what you’re doing!” He caught at the turkey to ward it off, tripped over a puncheon, and went over, dragging the turkey and its holder with him.
Lewis Hoyt was still grinning. He caught the passing Jimmy by a fringe of his buckskin and drew him to the master’s desk.
“Sign here, if you’ve got sense enough,” he said. “You look as if you’d been rolling in a torn feather bed. If I were Marion Royce I’d leave you two muddle-heads behind even if I had to fill your places with girls.”
“I guess Marion would be mighty glad to fill one of their places with a girl,” gasped Moses Ayer, emerging from the little boys who had promptly fallen over him when he tripped.
Everyone laughed and looked at Milly Ayer. She blushed and bent over her book. She was one of the older girls who had sat quietly in the back rows, paying no attention to the younger ones about the fire.
“Don’t mind him, Milly, he’s only your brother,” said Louis Gist. Now that Jimmy Claiborne was captured he could return to finish plucking his turkey at the fireside. “Won’t we have a grand barbecue, if the old rascal doesn’t come!”
“We’ll have it even if he does come,” insisted Moses Ayer. “I guess an old toper that can stay away from his school four days at a time hasn’t much right to keep us from having a holiday. I guess he’s pretty lucky to be allowed to teach here at all.”
Lewis Hoyt, who was patiently guiding Jimmy Claiborne’s hand through the evolution of his long name, looked up.
“You can depend on it, Master Hempstead wouldn’t be here in Fish Creek teaching us if he wasn’t addicted to the bowl. He’s a scholar, and some day you’ll regret you didn’t appreciate what he’s tried to teach you.”
“Lewis is preaching again,” cried Moses. “What’s Master Hempstead taught us except the way to the Marietta tavern?”
“Who needs to go to Marietta since the Claibornes bought their new still, — except to hide himself?” asked Louis Gist.
There was a sudden silence over all the room. It was so quiet that Jimmy Claiborne’s labored writing was heard, and all the older scholars exchanged glances. The Claiborne still had been a bitter subject at Fish Creek, and some of the older boys had said that it was already ruining Jimmy Claiborne.
Lewis Hoyt held his hand closed over Jimmy’s as the silence fell, — a silence timed by the steady booming of the puncheon mauls at the little shipyard where the ark was building.
Jimmy’s hand trembled and stopped. Lewis steadily drove it to the finishing of the name.
“I wish there wasn’t a still on the whole length of the Ohio river,” Lewis said very quietly. “Come here, Louis Gist, it’s your turn to sign.”
Jimmy Claiborne went back to the fire, sullen, red-faced and silent, and while the incident was soon dismissed by the others he sat looking into the fire or plucking savagely at the feathers of his turkey. He and Louis had caught them that morning, just outside the schoolhouse, in their turkey trap.
Over at the shipyard the treenail hammers sounded, blending their sharp raps with the measured hollow strokes of the mauls. All the men on the creek were working on the ark which young Captain Marion Royce was building to go down to New Orleans with the spring “fresh.”
Jonas Sparks, the veteran shipwright, had come down from Marietta to oversee the work. Even Gaffir Hoyt was working there, and Uncle Amasa Claiborne, half of whose scalp the Indians had taken thirty years before.
And Louis Gist had told Jimmy that Marion would not let him go. Jimmy knew why. They were gradually coming to distrust him. He and Kenton and MacAfee were one party in the Fish Creek school; Moses and Lewis and Louis Gist another.
He wanted to go to New Orleans. He was entitled to. All winter long he had planned it. Marion Royce would not dare refuse. But Louis’ unconsidered speech rankled in his bitter heart. He would have been glad to escape into the woods, but he sat sullenly plucking his turkey for the barbecue, entrenched behind his knowledge that he had as much right in the schoolhouse as any of the others who chattered around him.
Free public schools had not yet been established in Ohio, but the pioneer families maintained a “subscription school” for their children in primitive schoolhouses of logs afterwards widely known as “Brush College.” Here masters of greater or less merit taught school six days in a week, with no holidays. Not a few, indeed, of the early schoolmasters of this new region were men whom certain weaknesses of character or appetite had exiled from the older walks of civilization. Except for such infirmities many of them were instructors of remarkable ability.
Master Hempstead’s foible was the all too common one of a fond and apparently ungovernable liking for beverages which inebriate. On a number of occasions he had dismissed school in the middle of the forenoon, and after touching homilies to his pupils, had walked out and not been seen again for several days. He had then reappeared, visibly the “worse for wear.”
Marietta, then a vigorous young colony of farmers and shipwrights from New England, was the Mecca to which Master Hempstead’s erratic pilgrimages were directed; and it was from one of these, after an absence of four days, that he was returning, in no very pleasant humor, on the morning of our story.
In the meantime his little kingdom had run riot and tasted the sweets of self-government. An exuberant hilarity indeed was in the air during these first years of the century just past. Moreover, Ohio had become a state that month, and daring schemes for capturing New Orleans from the Spanish were on foot.
On every day of Master Hempstead’s absence his pupils, numbering nineteen, of various ages, had assembled, in expectation of his reappearance. They played “gool,” “I spy” and “hide-and-seek” in the underbrush about the stumpy clearing. Of more interest still was a trap for wild turkeys which the boys had constructed at a distance in the woods.
This trap was a covered pen of stakes and brush, into which a “tunnel” led from the outside. This subway, as well as the pen, was baited with corn, and wild turkeys, which abounded in the forest, were thus allured to enter. The two turkeys which the boys were plucking this morning had been caught in this way.
It was the custom at these early subscription schools of Ohio for the master to “stand a treat” on New Year’s Day, and provide, at his own expense, a bushel of hickory nuts and ten pounds of candy. This coveted festival Master Hempstead had ignored, much to the dissatisfaction of his pupils; and now they determined to bring him to terms.
To guard against a surprise they had closed the door and barricaded it with their benches, which consisted merely of rough “puncheons,” each having four wooden pins for legs; and Moses Ayer, Lewis Hoyt and Molly Royce had prepared a species of “round robin,” containing the demands of the school, written laboriously on a large, smooth chip.
Such was the state of affairs when, at about ten in the forenoon, the instructor entered the clearing where the schoolhouse stood, and was promptly espied by more than one pair of sharp eyes at the one small, four-pane window.
Beyond doubt the man was in bad plight. His indiscretions were heavy upon him; a raging headache and many other aches oppressed him sorely; his coonskin cap was pulled low over watery eyes. He noted the smoke from the rock chimney and strode to the door.
But the latch-string, that ancient token of hospitality, had disappeared within its hole, and the door itself was fast shut. He thundered at it with his fist, but obtained no response, unless an ambiguous and irritating snicker from within could be thus construed.
“Open the door! It is I, the master! Open this door!” he shouted.
Still no response; but now the window was pushed slowly aside, and out through the hole there came a long stick, to the end of which was tied a huge, fresh, white-walnut chip; on the smoothed side of this the master at length noticed there was a black, coarse scrawl.
“What’s this?” exclaimed the irate pedagogue, starting backward as they dangled the chip under his nose.
“Read it, master!” yelled a chorus of wild voices from within the dark hole. “Read it, master! Ye can’t come in till ye do.”
With a snarl of disdain Master Hempstead snatched at the chip.
“‘Read it!’” he muttered. “That’s more than you could do yourselves, I warrant. What blockhead of ye wrote this? What ignoramus of ye spelled it?” In truth the spelling was not above reproach. But those were pioneer days. The chip read as follows:
We the undersined Scollars of Fish Creke want and are determined to have a Hollerday. You didn’t give us one at New Yere’s. You can’t kepe school here again til you do. Ohio is a State. We want to cellarbrate it. We dimmand that you get a bushel of hickerry nuts, or wallnuts ten ponds of Candy and five ponds of Raizeans. Say you will or you cant come in. Sine your name at the bottom of this with your led pensel to let us know you mene it and all will yit be wel. If you dont you cant never come in here again for you are a bad-drinking Old Fellar.
|Moses Ayer||James Claiborne|
|Lewis Hoyt||Louis Gist|
|Molly Royce||And all the rest of us.|
This, as must be confessed, was hardly respectful or complimentary, but these were rough times and these children had much to learn. Master Hempstead was accustomed to the utmost consideration. The man of learning had then, as now, the highest place in the regard of the community, and his anger seethed, as, with the hastily adjusted aid of his horn-bowed glasses, he perused this gage of rebellion.
“Numskulls!” he shouted. “After all I have taught ye, to spell like that! Y-e-r-e, year! R-a-i-z-e-a-n-s, raisins! T-i-l, till! P-o-n-d-s, pounds! S-i-n-e, sign! O you young ignoramuses! You will go out into the world and disgrace me!”
“Sign your name, master!” shrilled the unfeeling chorus inside.
“O you young vipers! Vipers whom I have cherished in my bosom! Mox anguis recreatus! Sting the hand that nourished you! And spell like that!”
“Sign it, master! You got to sign it! H-i-l-l-e-l H-e-m-p-s-t-e-a-d, Hillel Hempstead. Sign it!” still yelled the dissonant chorus within.
“Ingrates! Thankless cubs! Good instruction has been wasted on ye! Open the door, that I may flog it out of ye!”
“No — no — no, master, you can’t come in!” retorted the young rebels. “You have got to sign that, and promise not to whip us!”
“Compacts with a mob! Truces with rebels! Never!” shouted the wordy old schoolmaster.
“Parley is at an end. Prepare to suffer. You shall have your deserts.”
Master Hempstead hurled the walnut chip back in at the window — where it caused lively dodging of youthful heads — and made ready for active operations.
At the wood-pile hard by lay a small hickory log, some ten feet in length and four or five inches in diameter. Heaving this up in his arms, he ran with it full tilt against the door, delivering a blow which made the whole house tremble and started the latch-bar in its socket.
“Hear that, ungrateful hearts!” he vociferated. “I am now illustrating to ye the principle of the battering-ram, which played so noble a part in the wars of antiquity. Vespasian and Titus employed it against the gates of stiff-necked Jerusalem. And thus do I batter in the gate of this stronghold of young deviltry!”
He came bang! against the door again, this time with such effect that the latch gave way and the benches were pushed back.
Yet again the doughty pedagogue drew back, and panting hard, made another staggering rush with his improvised ram. This time the shock was so forceful that everything gave way, so suddenly that both master and “ram” fell in headlong at the doorway.
The “principle,” indeed, was well illustrated; but Master Hempstead had still to deal, hand to hand, with his youthful rebels.
Lewis, Moses and the others were athletic youngsters, and the master, owing perhaps to his many “vacations” at Marietta, was at best somewhat tottery.
The battle went sorely against him. With shouts of triumph they dragged him forth into the yard, and holding him down in the snow, clamored loud for his signature. Still, with reproaches, he refused it, calling down upon them the vengeance of all known powers of good and evil.
But now an interruption occurred. Milly Ayer, who had thus far sat quietly in the back row, now donned her hood in haste, and slipping forth in the midst of the mêlée, ran down to the creek bank, where the ark was being built, to summon aid.
“Help! help!” she cried, then waved her red hood to attract attention, for her cries were drowned in the din of hammers below.
Young Captain Royce was the first to see and hear. Between Milly and himself there had long existed a warm friendship.
“What is it, Milly? What’s happened?” he shouted, and all the hammers stopped short.
“O Marion, come quick!” cried Milly. “They are fighting at the schoolhouse!”
The young captain was half-way up the bluff before these words were all spoken. The others followed him; even old Jonas Sparks, Gaffir Hoyt and Uncle Amasa Claiborne hurried stiffly to the schoolhouse in the wake of Marion Royce and Milly.
But the most sedate of them could but smile at the spectacle which was there presented. Moses Ayer and Lewis Hoyt were holding Master Hempstead fast with his back to a tree trunk, while Louis Gist was trying to bind him to it with green hazel withes. The smaller boys, equally excited, were endeavoring to bear a hand, and yelled like young redskins; while Molly Royce and the other girls looked on with something akin to enthusiasm.
“Here, here, boys! Do you know what you are doing?” the young captain exclaimed.
“What’s the trouble?”
“He’s got to sign it!” shouted Moses, hotly.
“Yes, he’s got to!” yelled Lewis.
“Yes, Mack, help us make him sign it!” chimed in Molly Royce.
“Be quiet, Molly!” replied Marion, putting his impetuous young sister aside with one hand as he strode nearer. “We will see about this. Let go, Lewis! Let go, Mose! Master Hempstead, what’s the matter here?”
The master, who had been kicking hard and hitting right and left at his assailants, recovered his dignity and struck an attitude.
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is such ingratitude!” he cried, in injured accents. “These whom I have taught with so great patience, whose dull wits I have fostered, lo, they have lifted up the heel against me!”
“But what is it, Master Hempstead, that they want you to sign?” asked Marion, laughing in spite of himself.
“An exorbitant demand! Preposterous extortion! Stuck under my very nose at the schoolhouse door on an illiterate chip!”
“And he’s got to sign it!” interrupted Mose.
“But what is it? Let’s see it,” said Marion.
With that, Jimmy Hoyt came running with the chip, which, on being read aloud, caused Jonas Sparks and Uncle Amasa Claiborne, who had now come up, to chuckle audibly.
“And I kinder reckon, master, that they was in a fair way to make ye put yer name to it!” cried the old shipwright. “I guess ye better sign it.”
“No, no, but the rising gineration musn’t be incouraged to be sassy!” cried Gaffir Hoyt. “They’re sassy enough now. Give ’em an inch and they’ll take an ell.” Uncle Amasa agreed with him.
“Cut some switches and drub the young scamps,” said Uncle Amasa.
Public opinion being thus divided, every one, including Milly Ayer, looked to Marion for the guiding word. Already this little community had come to rely upon his judgment in emergencies.
The young captain laughed good-humoredly. “I don’t want to set my word before that of my elders,” he said, “but drubbing isn’t always the best medicine. The boys have been rough and hasty. But from all accounts, Master Hempstead hasn’t set them quite so good an example of late as we wish he would. Lewis, you and Mose and Molly must beg Master Hempstead’s forgiveness for misusing him. If they do that, you will overlook it, master, will you not?”
“Hey, what? Forgive them!” cried the still agitated pedagogue. “Forgive them! Well, anything but their bad spelling! Anything but that!”
“Wal, master, that is a fault you must try to remedy!” cried old Jonas, laughing. “Good spelling is the gift of Heaven. I only wish that it had been given to me.”
“But the holiday!” exclaimed Molly. “We want the holiday!”
“What do you say, Master Hempstead?” Marion asked him, with much respect. His manner did more than any words could have done to remind the young people of the great regard in which a master was and should be held. “A holiday to celebrate the admission of Ohio to the Union would be no very bad thing, would it? Suppose you give them one and let us all come to it.”
“But I haven’t the means. I’m a poor man!” protested the master. “Candy and raisins cost good money at Marietta.”
“And so does gin and whisky!” muttered Moses, under his breath.
“Hush, Moses!” said Marion. He turned to the other older men. “How would it be if we all give something, and have the celebration next month just before the ark starts to New Orleans?”
The faces of the young people fell visibly at this suggestion of postponement, but the motion was carried, and it was arranged that the holiday should take place the day before the ark should leave for its long adventurous voyage down the Mississippi.
The master pointed to the gaping schoolhouse doorway. “In, ye renegades,” he ordered, and they trooped noisily in to straighten the overturned benches and settle down to their study after the four days of unofficial vacation.
Jimmy Claiborne did not follow them. He waited until the men were starting back to the shipyard, then he stopped Marion Royce.
“Louis Gist says you won’t let me go on the ark,” he said, fixing the young captain with his sombre, discontented eyes. “I guess Uncle Amasa could make you, seeing what a share we’ve got in the cargo, but I just wanted to ask you if it’s true — what Louis said — that you don’t want me.”
Marion wished, as he looked gravely at the boy, that the ark were not taking the Claibornes’ share of the cargo at all, but he only said:
“That depends on yourself, Jimmy.”
Jimmy made no answer in words. He turned and strode off towards the woods behind the schoolhouse clearing. Marion called to him, but he gave no sign of hearing, and after waiting a moment longer Marion went back to his work.
THE ARK IS LAUNCHED
“The boy means to make trouble,” he said to himself. But beyond the annoyance which would result from being obliged to refuse, if Jimmy got Uncle Amasa to plead for him, there seemed to be nothing much that Jimmy could do. Young as he was — scarcely twenty-two — Marion Royce had already won the confidence of the settlement by his courage and coolness, and those who had chosen him as leader and captain would certainly uphold him in any position which he might take in regard to the selection of his crew. But between being merely upheld in a disagreeable duty, and having the cordial good feeling of all the shareholders, there was much to choose.
He was tempted, as he went along through the woods between the little shipyard and the schoolhouse, to turn a deaf ear to his own better judgment. But he had made three trips down the river to New Orleans, and he knew the importance of an efficient crew, just as he knew the danger of a single insubordinate spirit.
“If it were anybody else but Jimmy Claiborne”, he thought, “it would not so much matter.” There were the twenty barrels of peach brandy and whisky — the Claibornes’ share of the cargo — and in the long monotonous days and nights only ceaseless vigilance would keep the men from broaching them. If Jimmy were in the crew, his sense of proprietorship in this portion of the cargo would make the danger of it very much greater.
It was a voyage of untold perils. Every year an increasing number of white outlaws, hidden in the caves along the river, harried and robbed the boatmen who floated down from the upper settlements. There were lurking bands of hostile Indians. And there was the river itself with its treacheries; its snags; its mud bars and its floods. It was no unusual thing for an ark to set out as this one was about to do, provided against all foreseeable disasters, and never be heard from afterward. Some were wrecked, some were robbed and their crews obscurely murdered. But no tidings of their fate came back to the solitary homes on the upper Ohio.
To set out on such a voyage with a single man or boy who could not be trusted, might mean the loss of the boat or even of every life on board of her. Marion Royce looked ahead of him, suddenly throwing back his shoulders and breathing deeply.
“It’s got to come, and it had better be over with at once,” he said aloud. “Oh, Uncle Amasa! Ho, Uncle Amasa! Hold on and let me catch up with you!”
The old man could be seen through the thinning trees that covered the slope leading down to the creek’s mouth. He stopped and waited for the captain to come up to him.
“We’ll get them twenty barrels down from the still this afternoon, son,” he began, as Marion joined him. “It’s time to get your cargo collected, and them casks will do just as well down here at the shed where there’s room for ’em. We’re pretty crowded with them up to the still.”
“It isn’t the cargo I’m worrying so much about,” said the captain slowly. “It’s the supercargo.”
The old man looked at him shrewdly. He understood as well as if Marion had told him in so many words that he did not want to take Jimmy.
“It’s a rough voyage,” the captain said. “If I thought it would help to make a man of Jimmy I’d take him and risk his stirring up a feeling of insubordination in those Marietta fellows that he knows better than I do. But my feeling is that Jimmy ought to stay at home. There’s plenty of chance for him to show what stuff he’s made of, and if we get back all right we may be able to take him next year. The boy’s a little wild, and it won’t do him any good to go to Natchez — all devildom is loose at Natchez. And then there may be a French fleet at New Orleans. There may be fighting. The Spaniards may have shut the city in our faces. We may have to fight to be allowed to land, but if we do have to, I guess ten thousand or so rivermen will help us to show the Spanish governor whether he can shut the gate of the world to us Americans.”
“Ye think there’s any truth in that tale of Bonaparte’s seizing the Mississippi, son?”
“No,” said the captain, “I don’t. I believe Jefferson is going to buy out the Spaniards or drive them home, and that the country will belong to us clear to the sea.”
“Hm,” said the old man. “Well, son, if there’s goin’ to be any such doings down to New Orleans, I’d be terrible sorry for Jimmy to miss it. I reckon I couldn’t very well leave Maria. I expect I’m pretty tolerable old for a trip like what you say it is to go down the river, even when everything is fav’rable. I’d mebby do best to cossett what’s left of my scalp and not run the risk of losing it to a strange Indian when I could just as easy lose it to one nearer home. I don’t reckon Maria would consent to my going, but I’d set a right smart store on one of our family havin’ a hand in them doin’s down to New Orleans, and I reckon them rivermen at Natchez won’t corrupt Jim any more than the roustabouts around Marietta shipyard. I just reckon you’ll have to take him along, son.”
There was no resentment whatever in the old man’s tone. He made no defense of Jimmy, although Jimmy was his idolized grandson, and Jimmy’s father had been taken captive by the Indians before Jimmy was a year old — which was sixteen years ago — and nothing had ever been heard of him. But Uncle Amasa had lived as a pioneer among pioneers, where every man had to stand by himself, for himself, and for those whom his presence protected. He made no defense of Jimmy.
There was an uncomfortably long pause. They were near enough to the little shipyard at the mouth of the creek, so that they stopped to finish their discussion before they joined the men who were working. Little old Uncle Amasa stood shrunken like a withered bush on which a workman had hung his coat and cap. Captain Royce faced him, young and alert and vigorous, sure of his judgment, but reluctant to oppose the old man whom the entire settlement loved.
“Uncle Amasa,” he said at length, smiling at the shrewd light-gray eyes that looked into his, “you’ve always been too hasty.”
“Aye,” admitted the old pioneer, “and if I’d been a trifle hastier, I’d ’a’ saved my whole scalp instead of only half of it. It’s a grand thing to be hasty, son, when you’re dealing with savages.”
“You were hasty when you bought the still without considering how it would affect the settlement here,” continued the captain, gravely. “Until this year, good Master Hempstead and his like had to go clear to Marietta to indulge their little foibles. You want me to tell you why you are so anxious to have Jimmy go with me on this trip? It’s because you see you were too hasty, and you want to separate him as far as possible from that new still. But I’m afraid that you can’t do that so long as I am taking the twenty barrels of brandy and whisky along in the cargo. I’ll take the cargo, or I’ll take Jimmy. I can’t take both even for all the things you’ve done for me and mine, and for the help you’ve been in building the ark here. As long as I’m captain, and the whole settlement has appointed me to represent them in disposing of their year’s harvest and work, I owe my first duty to the safety of the cargo and the lives I’m taking along with me. The Marietta hands will have no right in the boat, and I can handle them if Jimmy isn’t along to stir up insubordination.”
“He’ll be along,” said Uncle Amasa, cheerily. “If there are to be doin’s at New Orleans, I’d like for him to see them and have them to tell to his children when he grows old. Life is pretty much all in the way you see it, and I’ve seen a heap, and I want that Jimmy should. The only comfort I’ve ever had in these long years since his pa disappeared is been in thinking of the strange secrets he must have got to know. I reckon if James was to come back from captivity alive, I’d be so curious to hear about his experiences that I’d clean forget to rejoice at having him home again.”
The young captain looked at Uncle Amasa. Queer characters were the rule rather than the exception among the settlers who had willingly turned their backs on civilization and safety, but in all his experience he knew of no other pioneer whose foolhardiness could be inspired by sheer curiosity.
“Do you mean to say, Uncle Amasa, that since you can’t go yourself the chance of your grandson seeing new things makes you insist upon my taking him, even if his presence jeopardizes the welfare and success of the whole expedition?”
“Jimmy will be good, I reckon,” said the old man, “and he’s old enough now; so I should like for him to see a little of the world.”
“You’re a shareholder, like the rest of us,” said the captain, “and I don’t mean to seem disrespectful; but I think you’re acting hastily, Uncle Amasa, and I hope you won’t encourage Jimmy to feel that he has a right to come without my consent, for I should have to put him off, and that would be a humiliation, and I don’t want to embitter him any more than I can help. But I won’t have him on the ark, and that’s all I can say about it.”
“Well, well, we won’t discuss it, son; we won’t discuss it at all,” said Uncle Amasa. “But I’d like to know how ye think I would look going back to his widowed mother and telling her that you didn’t trust her only son to conduct himself as bravely as any of you?”
A smile broke over the young captain’s face at the idea of any such message going to the acrid lady who had made the Claibornes’ home-clearing a place to be cautiously approached and discreetly avoided. “I wouldn’t say anything to Maria at all,” he advised. “I would just gradually get Jimmy out of the notion.”
The captain felt that he had not come out of the argument at all well. It seemed rather absurd for a man to set himself against a boy — a boy, moreover, whom he had seen grow up — but there were so many reasons for Jimmy’s own sake why he should not be allowed to go that Uncle Amasa’s calm refusal to even consider them filled him with uneasiness. If the grandson proved as unimpressionable as the grandfather, there was trouble ahead. And Marion Royce felt that he was undertaking enough in this venture without adding anything that might bring about disorder or mutiny.
They went down the hill, the captain silent, Uncle Amasa gossiping cheerily as a snow-bird, and both men were soon at work on the great ninety-foot ark or “broadhorn” that still rested on its rude ways at the edge of the creek.
“We’ll get it into the water before night,” said the captain, looking lovingly at the unwieldy bulk that was more like a scow, built to be towed, than like a boat designed to navigate itself among channels and currents. It would, indeed, be more at the mercy of the elements than any scow, because its high freeboard would catch the wind as well as its clumsy upperdeck. It was built of rough hewn timbers, and put together with pins and treenails, so that it could be readily taken apart and sold as lumber for house-building in New Orleans, when its service as a cargo boat should be over.
Jonas Sparks, the old Marietta shipwright, who was overseeing the work, nodded at the captain. There was still a vast amount of decking or roofing to be done, and for this some of the lumber was still to be brought over from Marietta sawmill.
“It would be a good job done,” said Jonas Sparks, “if you could get your timber sawed up to Marietta while she is swelling. It will save that much time.”
“The new Pittsburgh mill hands haven’t come,” said the captain, “and they can’t get enough men at Marietta to work on the new brig and run the mill. The men won’t work. I expect we’ll have to go up and saw the lumber ourselves. What do you think?”
“Well,” said Jonas, to whom the difficulty of getting any sort of skilled or regular labor was too familiar to cause annoyance, “we’ll just put her into the water and see what can be done about getting the boards. There comes Charlie Hoyt with another load of the Claibornes’ whisky.”
A wagon team was drawing into the shipyard clearing with a load of casks. Everyone about the ark went to the shed in which the cargo for the ark was being gradually piled up, and soon the men were busy helping Charlie Hoyt unload. When he had finally driven off again, considerable time had been wasted, and in the afternoon, when the boys trooped down after school to help in the launching, they found that it had been necessary to postpone it for another day. Next month, when the river should have risen with the melting snows, the delay of a day might mean all the difference between success and failure, safety and total wreck. But the Ohio was still locked between its ice banks, below the mouth of the creek, and a day meant little or nothing to the pioneers of the wilderness.
As thieving Indians occasionally slipped into the clearings at night, Jonas Sparks had volunteered to sleep in the shed, which served as storage warehouse for such portions of the cargo as the settlers had already brought down. He took his meals at the Royces, however, and it was sometimes late before he picked up his lantern and his rifle and went over to the shipyard.
It was late that night. There was no moon, and his lighted lantern showed the tree trunks like moving shapes in the snow; but the old shipwright trudged along as fearless as in the open day, swinging his lantern as if it did not make him a target for any unseen red or white enemy who might be skulking through the woods.
Suddenly he began to run. Flames had shot up in the clearing around the shipyard, and he heard the crackle of the huge pillar of fire that flared and waved to the height of the treetops.
“The ark is burning!” he shouted, forgetting in his excitement that no one could possibly hear him. He rushed down to the clearing and saw the great flames lapping up the shed like thirsty dogs. Bright embers floated out over the trees, and some circled down onto the ark, which had not yet begun to burn. As the old shipbuilder saw all this, he realized that the fire was too far along for anyone to stop it or to hope to save any of the cargo in the shed. The light in the sky would soon bring all the settlers in the neighborhood, accustomed as they were to an alert vigilance against Indian surprises. So he hurried down to the creek to break through the covering of snowy ice and carry bucketful upon bucketful of water, which he poured over the half-decked boat. The intense heat of the fire so close at hand was scorching the timbers and the steam rose in white masses as the icy creek water ran in thin streams over the ark.
Marion Royce was the first to reach the fire. The flames were at their height, waving long streamers above the treetops so that their light could be seen for ten miles down the river, and settlers farther down thought that Marietta was burning.
“What could have started it?” asked the captain, as he and Jonas came up from the creek with a hogshead nearly filled between them.
“I can’t imagine,” said the shipbuilder. “The Indians would rather have stolen the stuff than burnt it up, and no one round hereabouts has any grudge agin’ the ark.”
“You didn’t see anyone?” asked the captain.
“No one but Jimmy Claiborne,” answered Jonas. “Just as I came into the clearing I saw him runnin’ for dear life along the road to the Ayreses, to get help, I reckon, and that’s why I didn’t lose any time carryin’ the alarm. I knew he’d take it.”
“Jimmy Claiborne!” echoed the captain. A thought flashed into his mind, but he refused to consider it.
“I wonder if we couldn’t slide the blocks out from under her and let her drop down the ways,” he said. “She’s beginning to burn here at the bow, from the heat. We can’t keep her from burning. The ways are bound to go. Look, Jonas! Merciful goodness — Look out!”
The shed had caved in. The column of fire hung for a moment like the jet of a waterspout, then dropped back into the heart of the fire, and the flames billowed out in a huge circle that swept the bows of the ark and curled in blue threads about the ways on which it rested.
“We can’t do it singlehanded,” shouted Jonas, above the terrible roar of the fire. “We can’t move it. It’s got to go unless somebody comes to help us. It’s frozen to the ways and the tackle is all in the shed.”
“We’ve got to do it,” the captain shouted back. He took up a puncheon maul and began desperately pounding at the blocks that kept the ninety-foot hull from dropping down the snowy, ice-crusted ways.
“Great stars, man, can’t you let it alone?” cried the shipwright. “Can’t you see that even if you did start her she’d smash herself on the bottom of the creek? We’ve got to have men and tackle to let her down.”
There was a shout from the edge of the clearing, and Jonas and the captain turned to see Moses Ayer and Lewis Hoyt and Louis Gist come plunging towards them, having outrun their elders who were following.
“Run to Uncle Amasa’s to get his hoisting tackle,” cried Jonas to Louis Gist. “We’ve got to launch the ark, and everything we had here is burning up in the shed. Here, Mose, come and tote water.”
The two boys hurried to carry out his orders, and Lewis Hoyt caught up a board and began shoveling snow onto the ark. The heat was frightful, and the boys smelt their buckskins singeing as they rushed about the fire, and the cinders fell on them.
“Where’s Jimmy Claiborne?” asked Moses Ayer when Louis came back alone with the rope and tackle, staggering under the weight of the heavy coil.
“Wasn’t there,” gasped Louis. “Uncle Amasa’s on the way, though.”
Marion Royce turned sharply to Moses. “Jimmy went to your house to give the alarm,” he said.
“He never came to our house,” declared Moses. “I saw the fire myself, through the chink over my bed where the plug has come out. I called Pop and came over. Jimmy never came near us.”
The captain’s face set. “We’ve no time to bother about Jimmy, now,” he said. “One of you carry this tackle into that biggest walnut tree and make it fast about fifteen feet above the ground. It’s only to steady the strain as she drops down. Make it fast, though. We don’t want it giving way.”
Moses was already half-way to the tree. “All right,” he shouted.
Lighted only by the fire that reflected red pools in the snow, the men and boys worked at the launching that should save the ark. The great flatboat was frozen to the ways, and it seemed as if nothing but superhuman power would ever start it. Then, suddenly, an appalling report came from the burning shed. The ground shook with it, and the flames burst out again into vast torches that flared above the trees a moment and then fell back extinguished. Timbers and brands of fire shot hither and thither through the air. The men sprung away with terrorized faces.
“The whisky casks have burst,” said the captain. “I thought they had gone long ago. Is anyone hurt?”
At the edge of the clearing the light of the flames showed a figure outstretched — a grim patch of darkness on the reddened snow.
Lewis Hoyt was the first to reach it. He turned to face the anxious men who hurried to him.
“It’s Master Hempstead!” he cried. “He isn’t killed. This beam must have struck him and knocked him down as he was coming to the fire.”
Half a dozen men bent down to examine the crumpled figure of the unconscious schoolmaster, and as they were separating to let the captain and Charlie Hoyt carry him away to be cared for by the women at the Royces, a shout made them turn to the fire again.
“The ark!” cried a dozen voices. “The ark is going!”
The vibration of the explosion had accomplished what the men alone could not have done, and the ark was slipping down the ways.
“Here,” cried Marion Royce, “take this,” and quite unconscious that it was a human being whom he was handing over absently, he dashed back to the assistance of Jonas Sparks.
But by the time he reached the ways the ark was grinding the ice of the creek, her bottom scraping the bed of the shallow stream.
Moses Ayer came up, trembling from the terrible strain on the windlass when the ark shot down. The perspiration was raining down his drawn, excited face.
“She’s launched!” he said.
JIMMY LEAVES FISH CREEK
“Is he dead?” asked Jimmy, in a hoarse whisper.
Charlie Hoyt stared at him. “Dod rot!” he ejaculated. “You’re trembling! What’s the matter with you? The master’s not dead. Look at that.”
Then Jimmy saw the schoolmaster’s breath coming faintly like a frosty thread. He drew his own breath more freely.
“If you’re afraid to carry him, I’ll call Mose,” went on Charlie. “He’s hurt on the head. If it weren’t for that we could leave him over there by the fire till he sobers up. I wonder where he got it. Stocked up at Marietta, most likely. Here’s part of a corn-bin cover, shot out of the fire. We can lay him on that. It will carry better.”
The long bin cover, with its charred edges, was a clumsy thing to carry, and the two stumbled slowly along the dark path to the Royce’s cabin. They set their burden down several times to rest and get a better hold. Once Charlie fell and the schoolmaster slid from his rude stretcher into the snow. Perspiring and breathless they picked him up again and went heavily on.
Several women had gathered at the Royce’s from the neighboring cabins. They were all brave women, used to the alarms and hardships of their wild life, and they received the little party, that looked so much grimmer than it was, without excitement.
“It looks to me kinder like a fight,” said Charlie, when he had examined the master’s bruises carefully in the light of a tallow dip.
“It must have been a fight,” said Mrs. Royce. “That is never a blow from a flying timber. His eye is puffing up, too. He couldn’t have been lying long when you found him.”
The master roused a little. His arm went out as if to ward a blow. “They’ll drive — me — out,” he muttered. “How — tish y’se’f — cherished ’n my bosom — ’n ye turn — ’gainsht me.” His arm fell and he began to weep; a pitiable object.
Jimmy had taken no part in his resuscitation. He stood looking into the fire, beside the hearth. Now that he no longer feared that the schoolmaster would die, he was absorbed in his own sullen thoughts. Milly Ayer saw his look, and his clenched hands, and went over to him.
“You didn’t come back to school,” she said. “We missed you.”
“I’ll never go back to that school,” he answered. She could see the flush creep over his dark face.
“Oh, Jimmy!” she said. “When there’s hardly a month more before everybody will be going off on the ark?”
Milly reddened. She had forgotten in the excitement of the fire the trouble of the morning that had brought the quarrel between Jimmy and Louis Gist. She was about to tell him that Marion would change his mind, when the door flew open and her brother Mose and Shadwell Lincoln burst in.
“The ark is all safe,” they both cried at once. “The men are going to stay about and watch, though. Everything’s gone. All the flax, and the Hoyt’s corn, and the Claiborne whisky. And pretty near all the carpentering tools of the neighborhood.”
It was a grave loss. Tools were expensive and hard to get, and the rotted flax that had been stored in the shed had been intended to clothe the settlement for a year.
“Has anyone found out who started it?” asked Mrs. Royce, to turn the thoughts of the others from their common loss.
Moses threw a meaning look toward Jimmy Claiborne. “We haven’t found out,” he said, with hot-headed emphasis, “but everybody has a suspicion. It was done by someone who had a grudge agin the ark and wanted to set it afire to spite Marion Royce. The ark’s built of such heavy timber that it wouldn’t burn easily, but if the shed burned the ark was bound to go with it. And it would have gone, too, if Jonas and Marion hadn’t saved it.”
“No one in the settlement would have taken such a revenge as that,” said Mrs. Royce.
“Just you wait and see,” said Mose. He was boiling with indignation. Not that he had anything against Jimmy Claiborne, himself. He was simply a born partisan. Whatever came up, he must take sides and, usually, come to blows to settle it. Until a blow had been struck, Mose seldom considered a matter disposed of. He bore upon his person the evidence that he lived up to his point of view. “I guess whoever did it will be found out pretty soon, and ’pears to me Fish Creek won’t be the place for him after that.”
The women who had joined in the growing disapproval of the Claibornes in regard to bringing a still into Fish Creek settlement found themselves embarrassed at having the prejudice taking such direct expression. They wished they had not all spoken so openly before those who were too young to reason or be discreet. It was Milly who saved the situation.
“I ought to go home,” she said. “Mother and the children are alone. Mose, are you coming?”
“I can’t,” said Mose. “I’ve got to help Marion. He wants me to be on hand. Mebby to-morrow he’ll want us to start up to Marietta to help cut the lumber, if the new hands don’t get there from Pittsburgh. The new brig’s keeping everyone busy over to Marietta.”
“Jimmy,” said Milly, “will you take me?”
Jimmy reached for a rifle that stood among several muskets in a rude rack near the fireplace. The Ayers’ clearing was one of the farthest away, and while the neighborhood had been safe from prowling Indians for over a year the men still went about armed at night. He looked carefully to the flint and priming, and taking it in his arm, waited for her while she said good night.
For awhile they trudged in silence. Mose’s ill-considered words were ringing in their ears. As they skirted the shipyard clearing they saw the men silhouetted against the burning heap of ruins. Jimmy gripped his rifle in a spasm of unreasoning hate. He wondered how little old Uncle Amasa could be among them; friendly, wise, harboring no resentment.
“Isn’t that Uncle Amasa, there by the maple tree?” asked Milly.
“Yes, that’s him,” said Jimmy. “’Twouldn’t be me, that’s certain.”
“It’s all a mistake,” said Milly. “You mustn’t think of what schoolboys say.”
“I guess they heard their elders say it. It wouldn’t have come popping into their heads alone.”
“You mustn’t mind,” she said.
“You don’t catch me minding,” said Jimmy, throwing his head back. “I’m not through with Fish Creek settlement yet.”
There was a long silence, broken only by their feet in the crusted snow. Milly thought pityingly of the thankless home that Maria Claiborne had made for Jimmy and his grandfather. She wished that Marion had not said so positively that he would not have Jimmy on the ark. She would talk to Marion to-morrow and try to win him over. Now that the Claiborne cargo was destroyed, he would be apt to reconsider.
“You may get a chance to go to New Orleans, after all,” she said. “You mustn’t blame Marion, Jimmy. Think of the responsibility he will have, every day and night of that long journey — and, perhaps, fighting.”
“Well, I guess I can hold up my end of the fighting,” said Jimmy. “I never failed to do it yet.”
“That’s the trouble,” said Milly. “You and Kenton and MacAfee are so quarrelsome.”
“I know what you mean, Milly,” said Jimmy, feeling his heart harden against even her friendliness. “You’re going to try to persuade Marion to take me. Well, I ain’t going to have you do it. I won’t go. Not that way. Marion’s got to take me because I’m as good a man as the rest of ’em, or I don’t go. And if he should happen to change his mind and want me, he’ll have to ask me mighty perticular. I won’t be hanging round having every one point to me as the boy that set fire to the building shed.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, anxiously. “Oh, Jimmy, promise me that it won’t be something you’ll be sorry for.”
“Sorry? I guess not. I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet,” he added. “I’m going down to my place and think about it, and mebby get some beaver skins. The last time I was down I saw signs of them on a little creek. They’re mighty scarce now. Uncle Amasa says they won’t be a beaver between here and Cincinnati next year.”
Milly felt relieved. The place Jimmy spoke of was an almost unbroken strip of forest, about five miles away, on which Jimmy had made “tomahawk improvements” — girdled a few trees and planted a little patch of corn. He and Uncle Amasa had built a cabin there, and sometimes stayed there for weeks on end when Maria was more than usually fiery-tempered. Trappers knew the little cabin well.
“You won’t go till Marion gets through with the lumber sawing?” she asked. “There’ll be so few men at the settlement if they have to help saw lumber up at Marietta.”
Jimmy could not see her face, but her matter-of-course tone staggered him. He wondered if girls could really feel things — if they had real pride; if they understood what it was to smart under a wrong until the pain cried for a sharp revenge. He shut his teeth on the hard words that came to him, and after a moment, said quietly:
“No, Milly. I can’t wait. I’ve got to get away. I guess I wasn’t made for civilization. I guess I don’t fit.”
They were entering the clearing about the Ayers’ cabin. Light came through the window, showing that the fire was being kept up and that those within were astir.
“I’ll watch you inside the door,” Jimmy said, halting in the path.
“Won’t you come in?” she begged. “You can sleep in Mose’s shake-down in the loft.”
A little shiver passed through him. “In Mose’s shake-down?” he repeated. “No, I’m obliged to you just as much. I’ll trouble you to keep this gun for Marion. It’s his. I won’t have a chance to return it.”
“Why, Jimmy, you aren’t going into the woods to-night?”
“Why not?” he asked. “Haven’t I been in the woods at night before this? Run in, now. Good night, Milly.”
The girl stood, helpless against the bitterness in his guarded voice.
“Good night, Milly.”
“Good night,” she faltered. “Oh, Jimmy, it’s perfectly terrible for you to go —— .”
She moved slowly towards the door. He watched her indistinct figure blend into the shadow of the cabin wall. Then the door opened, letting a flood of light across the snow. Mrs. Ayer stood in the doorway a moment while Milly said something to her, and then she called:
“Jimmy Claiborne, come in this minute, child!”
Jimmy slipped behind a tree.
Still he made no answer. The warmth and the sight of the two women waiting for him, with nothing but kindness and tenderness in their hearts, moved him strangely. He was so unused to it. But he did not answer, and after waiting a moment longer they stepped back inside and the door shut them from his sight.
Choking down something that smarted in his throat, he strode away from the clearing.
Twenty minutes later he had reached the Claiborne home cabin. He knocked sharply on the door.
“Let me in,” he shouted. “Ma! It’s me. I want to get my gun.”
No answer came from within. He pounded with both fists. “Ma!” he repeated.
After awhile he realized that his mother must be awake, and he changed his voice from a shout to a conversational tone. “I only want my gun,” he said, persuasively. “There’s been a big fire at the shipyard, and all our whisky’s burned up. Let me in and I’ll tell you about it.”
He began to narrate the events of the night, taking heart as he heard a slight stir inside the cabin. He talked on, apparently telling the story to the panel of the thick, treenail-studded door. When he had finished he repeated his petition, “I only want my gun, Ma.”
The one window opened a crack and something struck Jimmy on the head. It was a powder horn. Then his gun came rattling after it, and the window shut decisively. Jimmy picked up his gun.
“I hope Uncle Amasa don’t calculate to come back to-night,” he reflected. “I guess Ma didn’t like his going off like that to the fire and leaving the cabin unprotected. But la, it would be a brave Indian that would break into Ma’s cabin when she didn’t want him to.”
With his gun in his arm he felt himself again. He struck briskly into the woods, following paths as familiar to him as the roads about the settlement. Nothing stirred the deep loneliness — but he was not lonely. He crossed the Ayers’ tract, the four hundred acres belonging to the Lincolns, the Hoyts’ improved lands, crossed a branch of the river and entered the unbroken timber. There was almost no wind. The frosty air still gave no hint of morning, and the occasional breaks in the trees showed a sky brilliantly crowded with stars.
The anger died slowly out of him. If he had turned back it would have flamed up again; but, as he drew steadily away from the scene of his wounded pride, his wrongs seemed to be left behind and he felt only the drowsiness of his long tramp. He would have been glad to crawl into the hollow of a rotten tree, but he was too wary, and he held on, crunching through the untrodden snow, his feet moving in a sort of rhythm with the unformed thoughts that kept moving in his brain. The dim knowledge that it was good to be away from other human beings, who disapproved of his restlessness — for Jimmy’s outbreaks were always the result of restlessness — that it would be good to creep a little further into the wilderness, where the white men had never yet trod, and that this was what made Uncle Amasa dwell wistfully on the past when he had been a pioneer in the territory — all this and more slipped through his thoughts. The spell of the wilderness was on him, and he looked forward to the days he would spend in the hut, watching his traps and collecting pelts for the ark to take down to New Orleans. His face grew hard again as the thought of the ark crossed his mind. His fist clenched.
“I’ll pay them,” he muttered.
JIMMY SAVES A STRANGER
More howls. He stood motionless, listening. For a moment there was silence, and then the howling began again. It was not growing nearer.
“Timber wolves,” he muttered. “It’s been a hard winter and they’re coming nearer the settlements. I wonder what they’re after. Sounds as if they were near the cabin.”
He went forward briskly. They might have come about the cabin to see if they could find anything in the traps. One of them might even have tumbled into a turkey trap. They did not stop howling, but the howls grew more and more distinct as Jimmy advanced.
“They’re round the cabin, as sure as judgment,” he said, as he hurried along. “Some fool trapper’s gone and jerked some meat up against the wall too high for them to reach it. Well, I’m not going to stay outside to favor all the wolves in Ohio.”
He was within a hundred yards of the cabin. He knew it by the fallen maple that he clambered over, as he had done a hundred times. The wolves were certainly at the cabin. Between their howls he could hear them snarling amongst one another and scratching like dogs against the bark-covered walls of the hut.
Suddenly he heard a shot. A sharp howl of rage answered it.
“There’s one gone,” he muttered. “That fool trapper’s tired of listening to ’em.” He mechanically fingered his own gun.
He listened, expecting to hear another shot when the trapper had had time to reload, but there was none. The wolves were silent.
“Scared ’em away,” he thought, advancing cautiously from tree to tree. “If only he don’t have the idea of shooting me, this is the time for me to get in.”
He stopped again. A thrill of horror shot down his spine. He felt his hand lose its grip on the rifle. The wolves had broken out snarling and snapping, but the sound that sickened him was the cry of a man in deadly peril. Not a cry for help, since he could not know that there was help anywhere to hear. But simply the cry of a human animal at bay, and then the thick blows of the gun-butt on the heads of the attacking wolves.
“I’m coming!” shouted Jimmy, clutching his rifle, with more than his own strength returned to him. “Hold hard there! I’m coming!”
Even after he was close enough to get a sight on the black mass that snarled and fought together, he dared not shoot for fear of hitting the man he was trying to save. Then he made him out, a taller shadow than the rest, pinned against the wall of the cabin, holding off the wolves with the thick blows of his gun-butt.
Aiming at the outer mass, Jimmy cocked his rifle and fired. Two of the grotesque shapes sprang high into the air and fell back dead. There was an immediate fight over the carcasses.
“Run round to the back, and push in the window!” cried Jimmy. “They’ll be at you again in a minute. Make haste.”
“Can’t move. Leg’s broken.”
Jimmy gave a cry of dismay.
“Fire into ’em,” said the man against the wall.
Jimmy loaded quickly and fired again. As the third wolf fell the others drew away, dragging one of the carcasses with them. The man against the wall now sent a bullet after them and they broke into flight.
“Quick,” said Jimmy, “before they come back!” He ran to the man and put a shoulder under his arm.
“That’s my good leg,” said the man, dryly; “come the other side.”
“Well, hurry,” said Jimmy. “Here’s the door. There ought to be a staple about here. Steady a minute. Land sakes, man, don’t faint yet. Wait till we’re inside. So — careful of the sill. Don’t trip. You’re all right now. Drop down anywhere. I must get the door fastened. You can’t strike a light?” He fumbled hurriedly with the staple and tongue inside the door. Then he drew a breath of thankfulness.
“Queer,” he said, controlling his excitement, “we haven’t had any wolves here this winter. Did you bring them with you, sir?”
But the stranger had fainted.
Jimmy made a light and set a torch burning in a socket against the wall. Then he examined the stranger’s broken leg. Then he looked around the cabin. It was as bare of restoratives as an empty cornfield.
He shook the stranger. “Wake up,” he said. “You’ve got to tell me what to do.”
The man groaned, and finally opened his eyes and shivered. “Make a fire,” he said.
It was an unwritten code that whoever used the cabin would leave wood for the next comer to start a fire with, and Jimmy soon had a blaze crackling. Then, under the stranger’s direction, and with nothing more than a couple of splints torn from the bunks against the wall and some rags of elk-skin from the man’s coat, Jimmy bound up the broken leg.
A sickly light was coming in at the little cabin window by the time this task was finished. The wolves had not been heard again, but as Jimmy pushed the door open and looked out, he saw that the carcasses of the three dead wolves had been dragged away, leaving only the bloody traces of their presence in the trampled snow.
“I’ve a dead horse somewhere down by the branch,” the stranger said, “and a few rations. I don’t know if you could find the place.”
“That’s all right,” said Jimmy. “I’ve got some lye hominy hidden here, if no one’s discovered it.”
He pulled out the corn shucks that made a mattress for one of the bunks, lifted a plank and drew out a bag of corn. From the same recess he brought a long-handled spider.
“You’re mighty at home here,” the stranger commented.
“It’s the only home I’ve got,” said Jimmy, with sudden fierceness. “It’s mine.”
The stranger looked at him curiously.
“Well,” he said at last, “I’m mighty glad you happened along just when you did. I rode by here about sundown, and hailed, but there was no one here. Then my horse fell through a hole down by the branch and broke his neck and my leg, and it took me the balance of the night to crawl back here, only to get set on by those timber wolves. Law, they were famished.”
“What were you doing in this piece of woods,” Jimmy asked, “so far off the roads?”
“Just looking round for a chance to preempt land. I’m on my way down the river, really. The rest of my party are about fifty miles below, and I’d calculated to join ’em, but now I suppose I’m laid up here for weeks.”
“It’s too bad,” said Jimmy. “I was going down the river — going down on a flatboat, you know, with the fresh. Marion Royce is getting his ark ready. I was going with him.”
“And ain’t you goin’?”
“No,” said Jimmy, “I ain’t going. Marion says he don’t trust me.” He wondered at himself as he said it.
The stranger was silent. Jimmy went out to get water, carrying his loaded gun in case the wolves came back. They did not show themselves, however, and he returned with water, his gun, and a turkey frozen solid and covered with a light coat of snow.
“Found him in one of my traps,” he explained.
The stranger, who had moved over with Jimmy’s help to one of the bunks, looked on at the preparations for breakfast with interest varied by twinges of excruciating pain. He was a small man, much bearded, with very blue eyes as sharp as gimlets. At Marietta Jimmy would have instinctively avoided him. But the fact that he had saved the man from a horrible death, and that the stranger was helpless with his broken leg, somehow discounted his intuitions, and he tried to keep him entertained so that he would forget his suffering. He told of the way he lived weeks at a time at the cabin, and trapped and dressed skins, and it was natural that in the course of his narrative he should mention Uncle Amasa, who so often shared his retreat.
“Amasa?” exclaimed the stranger. “Amasa Claiborne?”
“That’s the one, — my grandfather.”
The man ripped out an oath. “You don’t mean it,” he added hastily. “Why, I knew your grandpa, — why, let me see, it was all of twenty years ago, I’m thinking. Yes, that’s what it was. Do you think he will be coming here?”
“I’m afraid he won’t. He’s helping Marion Royce,” answered Jimmy. “There’s a lot to be done yet, and not enough hands at Marietta to work the mill.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said the stranger. “I’d of liked to see him, I tell ye.” His voice expressed more relief than regret, but Jimmy was too busy to notice it. “Then you’ll be James Claiborne’s son,” he added. “I’ll be durned.”
“Did you know my father?” asked Jimmy.
“Know your father?” repeated the stranger. “Do I know the back of my hand? Your father and me was together no longer ago than last spring on the Natchez trace.”
Jimmy wheeled round. “What!” he gasped. “My father — living?”
“If your father’s Jim Claiborne, son of old Unc. Amasa, he’s more alive than I came near being this night gone. What’s the matter with ye?”
Jimmy looked squarely into the light blue eyes. “Then why ain’t he come back?”
“Don’t ask me,” said the stranger. “Mebby he’s not wanted. I guess your Uncle Amasa would know where to look if he was sot on it.”
“Uncle Amasa is just pining to slip away and look for him,” said Jimmy.
“Is he going on the flatboat with that friend of your’n?”
“No, Marion thinks he’s too old,” said Jimmy. “Besides, he has to stay and take care of Ma.”
“Your friend seems to be full of prejudices,” said the stranger, thoughtfully. “Now, here’s what I’ve got to say. You can take it or leave it, and welcome. You’ve done me a turn that I’ll not forget. No, I ain’t thankin’ ye. But if you want to look atter me a spell, till I’m on my legs again, I’ll do this. I’ll take you down the river till we meet up with my party and then we’ll join your pappy. Mebby about that time your friends’ boat will be getting down the stream, and ye’ll have the satisfaction of hailing them from Cincinnati, or one of the settlements along the way. I’m a stranger to ye, but you’ll have the liberty of making up your mind without any pesterin’ from me. Ye’re free to follow the dictates of your own heart. It’s but a small return for a man to make, whose been saved from what ye saved me from; and, besides, on the roads two’s safer than one.”
The man with the broken leg had done some quick thinking. He had his own reasons for wishing to get down the river. With Jimmy to help and wait on him, he would be able to start much sooner than alone. And once among his friends, some convenient disposal of Jimmy would soon offer itself. He might even turn him over to his father. When the stranger said he knew James Claiborne, he spoke the entire and absolute truth.
“I’d like to see my father, if it’s true,” said Jimmy, slowly. “I’d go a good ways, and so would Uncle Amasa. I wish I could get word to him.”
“And leave me to shift for myself the time it would take ye to go and come?”
“I forgot,” said Jimmy, bent over the steaming hominy.
“The thing to do,” said the stranger, “is this: If Uncle Amasa don’t get out here before we’re ready to leave, write him a message on the wall that you’ve gone to find your pappy; then he’ll understand.”
A smile flitted over the man’s face, the first that had shone on it. It was the smile that a revengeful and unscrupulous man might wear as he wiped out an old and bitter score.
“I might do that,” said Jimmy, who had not seen the smile. “That’s a good idea. But most likely he’ll come.”
Uncle Amasa was busy at the shipyard, however, and as fear helped on the rapid setting of the broken leg, the stranger was able to hobble about on rude crutches within ten days.
Jimmy made a trip over to Marietta for him, and bought two horses, not without inward trepidation, for it was no light thing that he was venturing, even to find a father whom he had supposed dead.
“I’ve got my gun,” he reflected. “Nothing can happen. As long as he’s crippled he’s my captive, I’m not his.” But even as he said it he knew that he was really captive to the man’s helplessness and dependence on him.
His hand shook as he wrote in charcoal on the rough log of the mantelpiece,
“I hev gon after my fathur.
UNCLE AMASA’S NEWS
RUSH College was having its long deferred holiday. The candy and raisins had come from Marietta, and all the young people of the settlement, as well as most of the older ones, had gathered to see the ark off, and celebrate its departure with unusual festivities.
Uncle Amasa was not there. He had gone to join Jimmy at their little cabin, a fortnight or so earlier, and had not yet returned. He was to bring Jimmy with him. Marion had consented to take him on the ark.
Two bonfires gleamed ruddily on the creek bank, where a fiddle’s moving strains rose and fell, blending to a chorus of joyous voices and much laughter. Just within the mouth of Fish Creek, where the swollen current of the Ohio “backs up” the smaller stream, lay the ark of 1803, laden with everything which such craft carried, and ready to cast off in the morning. The crew of seventeen hardy fellows had come together, young frontiersmen, ready to brave all the perils and hardships of a voyage of a hundred days, exposed every day of it to wreck and hostile bullet. New Orleans was farther away to these pioneer youths of Ohio than is Australia to us, and the voyage thither was subject to a hundred times greater perils. Yet every year an increasing number of these unwieldy arks made the long voyage, and the arksmen rendered a good account of themselves against all enemies by the way, and steering warily past snag and shoal, made the wished-for port, shrewdly trafficked their cargoes and, late in the year, got back to Ohio, Kentucky or Pennsylvania, with pockets well lined with Spanish gold, and packs replete with trinkets.
For then, as now, the settlers’ wives, daughters and sweethearts longed for silk gowns and bonnets à la mode, laced kerchiefs and jeweled combs; and much hard work at the pioneer clearings unquestionably earned them.
The Ohio was rising, steadily rising, much as it had risen every spring for thousands of years previously, much as it has risen for a hundred years since. Yet, how unlike the Ohio of the present day it was!
Only a few scattered clearings then notched the virgin forests that stretched along its banks from Cairo to Pittsburgh. Cairo, in fact, did not then exist. Louisville and Cincinnati were but two pioneer hamlets, hardly known to each other.
No steamboat had as yet made the shores resound to its whistle; no suspension bridges spanned the broad stream. Lurking parties of hostile Indians lay in ambush at the narrower reaches of the channel; and, at certain points, still-more-to-be-dreaded bands of white outlaws had their haunts and lay in wait to rob the adventurous “arks” that floated down the river to seek their distant and only market at the French city of the Gulf.
The river craft of those days were indeed picturesque, and characteristic, too, of Yankee skill and ingenuity.
The ark, also called the broadhorn, often of seventy or eighty tons burden, a hundred feet in length, fifteen or sixteen feet of beam, was a great rude, home-hewn craft, usually decked, generally roofed over, and intended, as its name signified, to carry a little of everything.
There was also the “keel,” — a long, slim, graceful boat, of from fifteen to thirty tons burden, steered by a rudder instead of the long “sweep” of the ark, and often propelled up-stream by oars and poles.
And even when to these are added the barges, skiffs and ferry flats, but an inadequate idea is gained of the number and variety of these craft; for there were the horse-boats, having rude paddle-wheels propelled by horse-power instead of steam, the cordelle-boats, the floating “smithies,” or blacksmiths’ boats, the tinman’s boats, the floating grist mills, the traveling drygoods stores, that regularly plied up and down this great waterway, and lastly the brigs and ships, built at Marietta, that carried cargoes down to New Orleans and thence passed out to sea, bound for foreign ports.
Rhythmic waves from the turbid, mighty current, sweeping past the creek mouth, beat into it at intervals, causing the heavy ark to rock slowly at its moorings. Fitfully then could be heard the impatient trampling of horses beneath the rough slab roof forward; a cow lowed for her calf, and turkeys and chickens “quuttered” drowsily on their roosts.
The fiddle was still going merrily; yet all the while a sharp-eyed old hunter stood a little apart from the dancers, watchful as a sentinel in war time; and within the ring of the firelight were stacked a dozen or more well-oiled flint-lock rifles, where they could be seized at a moment’s notice; for an attack by the Indians was still among the possibilities of an evening gathering.
There were other cares, however, and other hopes of a more personal nature; for ere long the tall young frontiersman whom the others called “captain,” and who seemed to be the leading spirit of the gathering, drew apart from the others, perhaps to look to the hawsers that held the ark, for he approached and tried their tension.
Very soon, however, he was joined by the handsome girl with whom he had led the Virginia Reel, and standing in the flickering shadows of the great trees down the bank, Marion Royce and Milly Ayer conversed long and earnestly.
The youthful arksman was a good type of that hardy generation of a century ago, that laid the foundation for the present greatness of the middle West. He was the offspring of pioneer stock from Virginia and New England, inured to labor, accustomed to danger, strong of arm, quick of eye, rough and ready in action, but manly and honest of heart.
Not yet twenty-two, he had already made three voyages to New Orleans. The long and turbid river-way, with its thousand perils, had grown familiar to him. Not his courage alone, but his coolness in danger and his wary carefulness, day and night, had led his fellows to choose him leader and captain for this fourth voyage on which these pioneer families had staked so much.
“It will be a long summer,” said Milly, soberly. “We shall not hear from you, perhaps, in all that time. But by September, Marion, — you will surely come back then?”
“Perhaps, if all goes well”, replied he, gravely. “But no one at home need fret if it is October or November. So many things may hold us back — head winds on the river, leaks, lending a hand with other boats; and then the delays of making our market at New Orleans.”
“And what if it is true that the Spanish governor will not let you land there?” Milly questioned. “The men on that Marietta keel that went up last night told father so. They said the dons had mounted a twelve-gun battery on the levee and would sink the first Yankee boat that comes down.”
“That may not be true,” replied Marion, doubtfully. “But let them try that if they dare. New Orleans is the front door of this whole great country, and woe be to those who try shut it in our faces.”
“But, if there is fighting, do try to keep out of it, Marion!” exclaimed the girl.
“The fighting would be short,” said the young man. “Don’t you worry about that, Milly. They do say Thomas Jefferson is figuring to buy up that whole country down there and send the Spaniards home.”
“But, father says that savage man, Napoleon Bonaparte, means to seize this whole country up the Mississippi for France. Father says that a French fleet may be at New Orleans before you get down there, and that’s the real reason,” Milly continued, lowering her voice, “why father wouldn’t send Jerry with the other horses. He is afraid you will lose them all. And Aunt Betty Lord is only sending half her winter’s spinning of yarn — she’s so afraid the French will get it!”
Marion laughed. “There’s cargo enough without Aunt Betty’s yarn,” said he. “We’ve never sent so much before, even though we don’t carry those twenty barrels of Claiborne peach brandy and whisky. I’m worried about Uncle Amasa. He ought to have been back. I’d hate to have to go without Jimmy, now that everything’s straightened out.”
“What did Master Hempstead tell you, Marion?”
For she knew that the schoolmaster had had a long talk with the young captain on the day following the fire.
“Why,” said Marion, “he said that he was on his way to take toll of the peach brandy in the shed, when he saw that the shed was on fire, and he heard the hoofs of a horse being ridden away at a gallop. Then Jimmy Claiborne came along and accused him of trying to steal their whisky, and they began fighting. When the master fell, Jimmy ran away, probably afraid that he’d killed him. Then, probably, he saw from the woods that the fire was destroying everything, and he came back to help.
“Master Hempstead said he expected to be discharged. He felt more humiliated at having been a disgrace to a noble profession than from any personal loss of dignity.”
“And you persuaded the Committee to keep him? Oh, Marion, I know you did. It is just like you,” said Milly.
The captain laughed. “Where do you think we would find another Oxford graduate to teach in this wilderness? Would you like to know the quaint way in which he vindicated himself? He quoted from Sophocles: ‘He who surpasses his fellow citizens in wisdom is no longer a member of the city. Its laws are not for him, since he is a law unto himself.’”
Milly laughed. “And, meanwhile, the mystery of who set the fire remains a mystery?”
“It remains a mystery, — look yonder, Milly!” he exclaimed. “If that isn’t Uncle Amasa! and he’s alone!”
They ran back to the scene of the merrymaking. The dancers had stopped, and were clustering three deep around the old pioneer. As Milly and Marion joined the crowd the fiddles were silenced by a lifted hand.
“Jimmy’s gone!” whispered the listeners, looking at one another with awed faces. “Gone — no one knows where. Uncle Amasa’s spent all this time searching among the settlements. He found where Jimmy had passed through on horseback, with another man, but he never caught up with them, and he’s given up hope. Jimmy left a word on the wall of the cabin saying that he’d gone to find his father!”
As this message passed among the settlers, their faces grew sober in the firelight. There was not a soul among them but believed that Jimmy’s father had been killed by the Indians, and the message sounded like an ill omen. Gravely, almost solemnly, the party broke up.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Amasa,” said Marion, moving away with the old man. “Jimmy can take care of himself. He’s made for the wilderness. He’ll come back, or we may pick him up in some town along the way. He is in no danger that you haven’t been in and come out of — remember that.”
“I know,” said Uncle Amasa. “I know; but I’d ruther he had taken his chances along with ye, and seen some of the doin’s down to New Orleans. It would have been a sight safer. There’s been treachery in this, Marion; there’s been treachery, or the boy wouldn’t have written that message. It’s uncanny. The lad is being led to his death.”
“No such thing,” said Marion, stoutly. But his heart misgave him, and he determined to watch closely, as he went down the river, for the runaway.
Daybreak saw the clumsy craft with its heterogeneous cargo float slowly forth from the shadows of the creek mouth to the tune of a mighty creaking of its great sweeps, till it was caught by the river current outside, and the long trip of two thousand miles began.
With the river running five or six miles an hour, it would seem that a hundred miles a day might be made; but snags and shifting mud banks rendered it hazardous to float by night, save when the moon was full. Slack water, too, at the numerous bends, and the necessity of frequently crossing over to avoid islands and rafts of drift, consumed much time, so that often twenty miles in a day was as much as could be accomplished with a due regard for safety.
They tied up the first night in a creek mouth on the Virginia bank, fifteen miles below Blennerhassett’s Island, having spent an hour there, viewing the mansion and the flower gardens.
For this beautiful island, so sadly associated with the early history of the Ohio, was then in the heyday of its prosperity. Harman Blennerhassett and his accomplished wife had come there five years previously, and wonderful accounts of their luxurious home, their wealth and culture had spread up and down the two great rivers, from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.
The ark made good progress during the next day and the day following. By three o’clock of this third afternoon it reached Letart’s “Falls.” Here the sweeps were double-manned, and the boat was about to run down this bit of quick water when the sudden onset of a thunder-squall led Marion Royce to countermand his order, and pole the ark to the shelter of the trees on an island just above the rapids.
The delay bade fair to be brief, but it was fraught with grave consequences. While lying-by there, waiting for the gust of rain to spend itself, Shadwell Lincoln espied a new barge on rough timber ways, masked by cedar shrubbery, upon the Virginia side of the river. The wind and rain, waving the cedar aside, gave them glimpses of it, otherwise it would have escaped notice.
They hailed it, but received no answer. Moses Ayer then fired his rifle to attract the attention of those ashore. At the report a flock of buzzards rose from close by the barge.
“That’s queer,” said Lewis Hoyt. “Let’s have a look at that barge, Cap’n.”
Marion nodded. Lewis and Moses Ayer climbed into the small skiff, which the ark towed astern, and pulled into the bank, distant no more than a hundred yards. Landing a little above the barge, they pushed through a tangled thicket of cedar and wild grape-vines, and disappeared from view; but Moses soon came off again in haste.
“’Tis a new fifty-foot barge,” he exclaimed, “and four men have been at work on her — but they will never do any more work!”
“Why not?” said the captain.
“’Cause they’re dead and scalped!” replied the boy, his dark young eyes dilating with suppressed excitement.
“Redskins!” muttered several of the crew.
“But, how long ago?” questioned Marion.
“Just done!” cried Moses.
Captain Royce cast a hasty glance alongshore, and then toward the thick trees of the island, in the shadow of which they were lying.
“Are you sure? The rain would freshen the signs,” he said. “Are you very sure — and why did not Lewis come off with you?”
“He’s watching!” exclaimed Mose. “He said he would watch while I came off to tell you. There’s a path leads back from the barge to three cabins and a clearing. We smelled smoke from the cabins. Lewis said he would watch them.”
“But if redskins are about they heard you fire”, said Marion. “Stand by, to pole off, men.”
Then, after another searching glance alongshore, he jumped into the skiff himself and rowed hurriedly to the shore to fetch Lewis aboard. He knew Indians well, and feared that they were lying in wait to capture the ark.
As the skiff touched the bank he whistled twice, the signal for calling a man ashore. Apparently Lewis did not hear. After waiting a minute or two, Captain Royce landed cautiously, to see for himself how recently the attack had been made, but had scarcely forced his way through the cedar to the little yard of chips and hewings about the barge, when he heard a shot close at hand, and thought also that he heard Lewis running.
The echoes of the shot had hardly ceased from the wooded side of the opposite island, however, when a volley appeared to be fired over there, and was followed by the peculiar quavering yell of the Shawnees!
A skulking war party had surprised the unfortunate builders of the barge. Beyond doubt, too, the Indians had seen the ark crossing over, and all through the shower had been lying in wait in the woods on the island.
Caught at such a disadvantage, Marion Royce justified his reputation for coolness in danger and good judgment. His first anxiety was for his ark and crew. Bounding through the cedar and vines, he hailed the startled crew, calling sharply to them to shove off instantly and not wait for him.
“You, Merrick, Lincoln, Gist, shove off! Get her into the current!” he shouted. “I’ll catch you in the skiff! Shove off!”
The Indians were firing shot after shot; and five or six of the savages, hideously painted, dashed out from the bank through the shallows, to board the ark. Gist fell overboard, shot while pushing hard with his pole. Merrick was also slightly wounded. But the boat was off, and immediately the strong current that made round the foot of the island bore the heavy craft away and into the rapids below.
As soon as they were afloat the arksmen dropped to cover behind the thick planks of the rail, and crawling to the gun-room amidships, secured their rifles. Moses Ayer and Shadwell Lincoln stood by the sweeps to keep her head with the stream.
The ark was now out of danger of capture; and, observing this, her plucky young captain took thought for his own safety and that of Lewis Hoyt. Twice he shouted to the boy, but the only answer was several rifle bullets from the redskins on the island. Three canoes put out, noticing which, Marion was constrained to ply his oars to escape down the rapids. By dint of vigorous exertion he overtook the ark two miles below. It was not till he had got on board that he learned of the loss of Gist, whom none of the crew expected ever to see again.
Lewis was running down the Virginia shore, keeping the ark in sight. The boy hailed them from the bank about a mile below, and was taken aboard in the skiff. He had been fired at, but was unhurt. Gist, they had little doubt, had been killed or was drowned.
In a profound gloom for his loss, the arksmen continued their voyage.
What they did not know, and could not guess, was that they left behind them another member of the crew.
Jimmy Claiborne had been floating down the river in a canoe, waiting to be picked up by the ark, when he had been captured by these same Shawnees.
A DANGEROUS “GOBBLER”
HE adventure of Louis Gist was indeed a singular one. He had set his pole in the sandy bottom to help push the ark off, and he and Merrick and Kenton were pushing hard together when a bullet from one of their Indian assailants ashore broke the setting-pole between his hands, and, penetrating his deerskin jacket, struck a rib, which it also broke. But the lead was deflected, and passing half round his body beneath the skin, lodged there as a little blue lump against a rib on the other side!
The breaking of the pole and the shock caused him to pitch overboard; and, as he was but an indifferent swimmer, he would probably have drowned then and there had it not been for a strong eddy of the current at the foot of Letart’s Island. This eddy swept him round with it like a bit of flotsam, and lodged him in shallower water, amid clots of foam and driftwood.
Here his knees touched bottom and he got his head up. He thought himself mortally wounded, for the shock of the bullet directly over his heart had been heavy. Moreover, he was in great pain and bleeding considerably, and in this predicament he seemed partially or wholly to have lost consciousness.
When at length he came to himself, he had a confused impression that there had been a terrible battle, that the ark had been taken, and all his late companions killed.
By this time it had grown dusk, and he heard, or thought that he heard, the Indians on the other side of the island. The ark had already passed down the rapids and was out of sight; but Gist fancied that the redskins had towed it round to the Virginia side of the island.
After awhile he crawled out to the water on the Ohio side of the island, and made his way through the brushwood up to the head of it. Here he lay all night, in great misery; but early the next morning he saw a skiff with four men coming down the river, and was able to attract their attention.
They took him with them as far as the settlement at the mouth of the Scioto, where a pioneer surgeon laid open the little blue lump on his rib with a hunting-knife, and extracted the Indian bullet.
Three or four weeks later he was able to work his passage back up the river on a Wheeling flatboat, and told the people at home that the ark was captured by the Indians, and that to the best of his knowledge and belief, he, of all her crew, was the sole survivor.
Such endings of the early efforts of commerce and travel on the Ohio were of too frequent occurrence to render the tale incredible; and, although some had their doubts, most of the settlers believed that Gist’s account was but too likely to be true.
Thus far no such overwhelming disaster had befallen the little pioneer settlement at Fish Creek.
In very truth there were sorrow and mourning at every cabin, and especially in those of the Royce and Ayer families. To Milly Ayer and Mary Royce the year 1803 bade fair to be the saddest of their young lives.
But the stout ark all the while was floating bravely on — past the mouth of the Kanawha, where, in 1749, the ambitious Céleron buried his leaden plates, asserting the claim of France to the entire Ohio Valley; past Point Pleasant, where, in 1774, General Lewis and his rangers fought a fierce, indecisive battle all day with the famous Shawnee chief, Cornstalk, and his braves; past the mouth of the Big Sandy, near which a gigantic railroad bridge now spans the broad river; past the Scioto mouth, where Portsmouth, Ohio, then showed only a few scattered cabins; and so onward till, after nine days, they had come to that little town on the beautiful bluffs now known the world over as Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is said to have been christened Losantiville, in 1788, by the first schoolmaster of that region, one John Filson, whom the Indians subsequently scalped. From the depths of his classical erudition Filson manufactured the name to fit the location, namely: L for Licking River, os for mouth of the same, anti for opposite, and ville for town — The-town-opposite-the-mouth-of-the-Licking.
It was customary for arks’ crews to have a “liberty day” at the embryo metropolis, but on this occasion Marion Royce dissuaded his fellows from stopping there longer than was necessary to make sure that there was no trace in the town of Jimmy Claiborne. They tied up for the night to the Kentucky bank, a little below where Covington now stands, and the next day floated down to the mouth of Big Bone Creek.
The Ohio was still rising, the current waxing stronger and more rapid each day. Thus far the ark had tied up only by night, but her young captain had a particular reason for stopping at this point.
During his previous visits to New Orleans Marion had met many odd characters along the levees, among others a certain French doctor and savant, named Buchat, who was vastly interested in the natural history of the New World, and after an odd fashion of his own was incessantly questioning the hunters and boatmen who came down the great river. The latter generally considered him crack-brained; but Marion understood him better, and liked the vivacious old gentleman.
Dr. Buchat had heard of the huge skeletons of mastodons (then called mammoths) which had been found by the settlers in the Ohio Valley, and was very curious concerning the localities where they were discovered. Marion Royce, who had once ascended Big Bone Creek for game, gave the old Frenchman such information as he was able concerning the size of the thighbones, vertebræ and skulls which he had seen in the basin of the Lick.
Marion’s account so fired the enthusiasm of the collector that he offered the young man a thousand francs if he would unearth a skeleton of one of these huge creatures and fetch it down the river on his next trip.
A thousand francs — about two hundred dollars — was a sum not to be despised in those days of small means, especially by a young pioneer who was contemplating a home of his own in the near future. Marion had determined to win this, if it could be done without jeopardy to the ark and cargo.
Big Bone Creek is but a very small affluent of the Ohio, little more than a brook, in fact. It enters from the Kentucky shore through a fringe of willows, between low, sugar-loaf hills, then densely wooded by lofty sycamore and walnut. At low water boats could ascend this creek; but now the rising current set back into the mouth of it for a distance of fully two miles.
Wood-wise and wary, the young ark’s captain tied up to the Kentucky shore, two miles above the creek mouth, and sent Kenton round about through the woods to reconnoiter the lick. For, as it was a place frequented by deer and elk, it had come also to be a place of ambush for the stealthy redskins.
Kenton came upon the ashes of a campfire, two or three days old, on one of the hills overlooking the lick, and concluded that Indians had recently been watching there. The presence of a large herd of deer about the springs, however, convinced him that they had gone away.
Very early the next morning, therefore, the ark dropped down to the creek mouth and was poled up through the slack water for a distance of nearly two miles. But to guard against surprise, it was moored out in the stream, instead of being tied to the bank, by driving down three setting-poles, so as to give forty feet of open water all around it.
Shadwell Lincoln, with seven of the crew, including young Moses Ayer and Lewis Hoyt, was left in charge. Marion himself, with the others, set off for the lick, provided with axes and a shovel. From where the ark lay they had not far from two miles to go, through the forest and over hills.
Big Bone Creek is peculiar in that it comes almost wholly from five or six copious sulphur and saline springs, which issue from the earth in the marshy basin above mentioned.
When the first white hunters came here in 1729 the whole marsh bristled with enormous white bones — hence the name. Naturalists and collectors have now carried off everything in sight; but those who have patience to excavate the marsh are able occasionally to unearth bones of amazing magnitude.
In 1803, however, it was still possible to find partly buried skeletons intact, or nearly so. Marion Royce and his arksmen had not long to search for one, and were soon busy at their strange task.
The Royce and Ayer family traditions have it that the arksmen dug out a huge mammoth skeleton here, and were occupied until May 3 hauling it down to the ark on bob-sleds, which they constructed for the purpose. Many of the great molar teeth and numbers of the small bones were missing from this and all other skeletons found here; but, by overhauling several different skeletons, they were able to make up these deficiencies in part.
Like the deer, elk and buffalo, the mastodon was a constitutionally salt-hungry herbivore. Great numbers of them, venturing into the soft marsh about these saline springs, were “mired” and perished miserably, either from hunger or the attacks of the carnivora.
For centuries the numerous “licks” of this Western wilderness were veritable death traps for the larger game. Not only were the heavy buffalo and heavier mastodon bogged in the treacherous salt sloughs, but the deer and elk were constantly preyed on by panthers, wolves, and Indian hunters that had learned to ambush these localities.
The mouth of the Big Bone was now near to being a trap for the ark. An immense raft of driftwood had set into it from the rising current of the Ohio outside. For a mile below where the ark lay the creek was rilled by it, and so dense was the pack that it became a question whether the crew would be able to force a passage through it to the open river.
Otherwise, that part of the crew left aboard were passing dull days, particularly the two boys, Moses and Lewis; for Captain Royce had left strict orders with Shadwell Lincoln that while he was absent at the lick the men must remain closely aboard, and be constantly on guard against a surprise by Indian war parties, a precaution necessary from the exposed position of the ark in the narrow creek.
But the weather had now turned warm, and the lagoon, overhung by great trees, was like a hothouse. A flock of buzzards hung about them, often alighting among the poultry on the roof of the ark. Hawks and a pair of eagles also troubled them, and by night a large owl paid them visits.
Moses and Lewis longed to go ashore and hunt, but true to his orders Lincoln would not allow it. A little sport offered, shooting turkey gobblers, numbers of which, allured by the plaintive “yeapings” of the turkeys aboard the ark, appeared on the creek bank. One ambitious young gobbler flew out to them of his own accord, and began “strutting” on the roof.
The morning before the captain and his party returned with their sled-loads of bones a more exciting incident occurred, which well illustrates the perils that beset the daily life of the pioneers.
A little after daybreak, while still most of the crew were asleep, another turkey-cock was heard gobbling in the woods a little way back from the creek bank. First Moses, then Lewis, rifle in hand, sat watching behind the plank bulwarks. There was rivalry between them as to which should first catch sight of these wild visitors.
For some time they heard the bird gobbling at intervals of a few minutes; but this particular turkey-cock appeared to be wary and disinclined to show himself.
Then, at length, Moses noted an odd circumstance, and drew suddenly down to cover of the planking.
“Lay up, Lew!” said he. “I believe that’s a redskin!”
Gobbling like a turkey in the woods, to lure the white settlers near enough for a shot, was a common stratagem with the Indians in those days — one that cost more than one pioneer his scalp. Some of the savages were adepts at imitating all the notes of the wild turkey, from the plaintive “yeap-yeap, yop-yop” of the hens, to the noisy, defiant gobble of the big, bronze-breasted, red-wattled turkey-cocks.
The human ear could detect nothing wrong with this call; perhaps the ear of a turkey is keener, for what Moses Ayer had noted was that their own turkeys were not responding as usual to this early caller.
But Lewis believed it was a turkey, so many had come out in sight there. The two boys argued it for some time, and meantime the gobbling continued at intervals, apparently about a gun-shot back from the creek.
Not only Charles Hoyt, but Merrick and Wistar Royce, Marion’s brother, who had now appeared from their bunks, thought that it was probably a turkey. Lewis declared that he would go ashore to shoot it, but Lincoln forbade it, although he, too, believed it to be a bird.
Moses still insisted that it was a skulking Indian trying to pick up a scalp, and the discussion and banter waxed so hot at length that the boy determined, privately, to prove himself in the right.
He seemed to retire to his bunk, as if for another nap, but made his way astern, past the horses. Here he let out the painter line that held the skiff sufficiently to allow him to reach the bank in it, and then, watching his chance, while the others were washing up and preparing breakfast, effected a landing unobserved, but on the bank opposite where he had heard the turkey gobble.
Concealing himself in the laurel boughs, he carefully reprimed his rifle and lay quiet till he had heard the turkey again. Thereupon, feeling tolerably certain that the Indian — if it were one — had not seen him land, he made a wide detour through the forest and crossed the creek at a point where the stream was shallow, half a mile above where the ark lay. From here he worked his way cautiously down the other bank, crawling from one thicket to another, with a stealth which even an Indian might have envied.
But now the youthful woodsman was at a disadvantage. The “gobbling” of the suppositious turkey-cock had ceased. With that to guide him he could easily have located the “gobbler.” For the first time he felt afraid. Either the Indian had sighted him, and was waiting for him to come nearer, or else had grown tired of the effort and gone away.
For half an hour or more the boy lay still in the brush, watching and listening, not daring to stir a twig. He was already within two hundred yards of where the ark lay, but young cane, vines and other brush made thick cover all along the bank.
Fortune favored him at length, otherwise he would not have dared to make another move. Down the bank, almost opposite the ark, a pair of redbirds suddenly began making a fuss, as they do when their nests are disturbed; a catbird also uttered its low, squalling note. Some enemy was disturbing the birds there, and with a good notion that it might be the Indian, Moses now crept slowly nearer.
All the while he could hear plainly the voices of the men on the ark and smell the smoke of their morning pipes. Lewis and Charles Hoyt were talking and laughing. He heard the latter say that he — Moses — had got the sulks and gone to his bunk!
The redbirds continued scolding. He could see them flying about over a laurel clump, and crawling still nearer, he presently detected a slight movement of the canes near an old heap of driftwood, within a few yards of the creek water and not more than a hundred feet distant. Keeping his eyes fixed on the spot, he presently saw a feathered scalp-lock rise slowly there — for a peep at the ark!
The sight sent a curious thrill along the boy’s nerves, and for some moments he lay very quiet. Then, plucking up his courage, he looked yet again to his priming and crawled a little nearer. He could see the Indian more clearly now, and distinguished his ear, shoulder and tawny right arm, with its dull brass armlet. Eager, but silent as a crouching panther, the Indian was watching the ark and listening to the voices of the men.
Moses, too, could discern as well as hear them, and it made his heart beat quickly to see Charles Hoyt walk unconcernedly aft, his head and shoulders fully exposed above the planking of the bulwarks; for he knew now that the lurking savage, unable to lure any of the arksmen ashore, had crawled down to the bank with the intention of shooting at least one of the whites, then making his escape.
“Come, help water the horses!” he heard Hoyt call out; and then Lewis and Merrick lounged aft, an easy mark for the concealed savage, who was hardly more than twenty yards away.
This feeling of suspense and apprehension for his companions changed to something akin to horror when he saw Wistar Royce swing himself up by a stanchion to the roof of the ark and move about, feeding and watering the poultry in their cages up there. Surely the Indian could not hope for a fairer mark!
Apparently the latter thought so himself, for the boy saw him raise the long barrel of a rifle into view and slide it slowly across a log of the drift heap.
For some seconds Moses had been holding his own rifle in readiness to shoot. It was his first experience stalking an Indian, however, and he felt not a little afraid. If he missed his aim, the redskin would no doubt return the shot on the instant, or else rush upon him with knife and tomahawk before he could reload.
But the sight of the savage making ready to fire at Wistar served to renew his courage, and he cautiously cocked his rifle.
At so little a distance, however, the savage heard the click of the hammer. He glanced suddenly in Moses’ direction. Their eyes met as the boy fired. Through the smoke he saw the Indian leap to his feet with a frightful whoop, and dropping his own empty rifle, he darted back through the underbrush to escape. But he immediately perceived that the savage was down, writhing about and making distressful sounds. But even these movements wholly ceased before Moses had his rifle reloaded, for his bullet had entered near the Indian’s right armpit and passed completely through his body.
Meanwhile the shot had produced a considerable commotion on the ark. The crew seized their guns to repel an attack. Moses’ absence was immediately discovered, however, and seeing the skiff at the other bank, the men at once concluded that he had gone ashore to shoot the turkey. Shadwell Lincoln hailed him by name, and fearing lest the arksmen might fire on him in the brush, Moses was constrained to answer.
“Come aboard, you young scamp!” shouted Lincoln. Bidding Wistar and Lewis haul the skiff round, he went ashore after Moses himself, being minded to give the boy a “wigging” for disobeying orders. “Come aboard, you scamp!” he shouted again. “Did you not hear me tell you not to go ashore after that gobbler?”
But Moses, who had by this time possessed himself of the Indian’s rifle, knife and feather-bedecked head-dress, stepped proudly out of the brush in full view of them all, and holding up his trophies, said, “Here’s your turkey gobbler!”
THE CAVE ROBBERS
N the same morning that Moses Ayer shot the “gobbler,” Marion Royce and his men came down from Big Bone Lick with their four sled loads of mammoth bones. The ark, however, was blockaded for a week by the dense pack or raft of driftwood, which had set back from the Ohio into the creek mouth.
As long as the river continued to rise, the drift pack was forced back into the slack water with an increasing pressure which defied the efforts of the crew to open a passage through it. On the eighth night, however, the “fresh,” as rivermen term rising water, slackened and fell a few inches, when immediately, as from a magic touch, the densely jammed pack loosened and began floating out into the river.
By dint of poling hard the men got out of the Big Bone early on the morning of the ninth day, and resumed their voyage. That afternoon they passed Vevay, where newly arrived Swiss settlers were beginning to erect log houses and clear land for vineyards.
A bright moon enabled them to go on that evening, and early in the night they passed the mouth of the Kentucky. By the next noon Sand Island was sighted, and here Captain Royce tied up to take a look at the rapid water ahead; for the ark had reached the “Falls of the Ohio,” now made easy for ascending steamers by the canal.
La Salle, the famous early explorer of Western rivers, is said to have been here in 1669, and tradition tells of various efforts to maintain forts and found a settlement here during the tumultuous eighteenth century warfare. In May of 1778, George Rogers Clark was here and built a log blockhouse on Corn Island, in the midst of the rapids. But even as late as 1803 only a few scattered houses could be discerned alongshore from the river.
The falls here are the only real obstruction to navigation on the Ohio, and like most of the so-called “falls” of Western rivers, are more formidable in name than in reality. At low water the rapids are dangerous to inexperienced boatmen, but when the Ohio is in flood, hardly a ripple breaks the swift current.
After a cautious look ahead, Captain Royce double-manned the sweeps and ran the quick water without other incident than an acceleration of the ark’s progress.
The life of an arksman floating down the Ohio and Mississippi was an easy one when all went well, yet subject hourly to most perilous contingencies. Beyond manning the sweeps, the crew had little to do, save to prepare their food and care for their live stock.
During the first six days after passing the falls the ark made unusually good progress, the moonlight enabling Captain Royce to continue during at least a part of four of the nights. They passed the then uncleared site of Evansville and of Henderson, not yet the home of the naturalist, Audubon, and threading the great “oxbows” of the river, came where the mighty Wabash, flowing down past old Vincennes, poured its grand stream of clear, green water out across the roily Ohio.
On the last of these nights, Moses was standing at the great steering oar, his gaze fixed curiously on the high bluffs beside which the ark was passing. Somewhere at the bow he supposed that Lewis was swinging his feet and thinking pretty much the same thoughts as Moses himself. The great boat with all its freight was wrapped in utter silence. Hours ago, it seemed to Mose, the cocks had awakened the echoes of the shore with their drowsy “oo — oo —— oo —— OO,” and tucked their heads under their wings again.
“These must be the palisades Marion talked about,” Mose reflected. Marion had told him to call him if they were reached before daybreak, for it would mean that they were passing along the Illinois shore, through the region of the cave robbers.
The high limestone cliffs were gray in the moonlight, but here and there Moses saw deep black fissures, the entrances of caves. Remembering his orders, he called to Lewis.
“Lew! Oh Lew! Ahoy the bow!”
There was no answer.
“Must have dropped asleep,” Moses said to himself. He put his fingers into his mouth and whistled shrilly.
In a moment half a dozen men had come running to the deck.
“What’s happened? What’s the matter? Where’s Lewis?” they asked.
“Asleep, I guess,” said Mose. “Here’s the cliffs, Cap’n.”
Marion Royce looked uneasily at the peaceful face of the moonlit palisades. As the ark floated past, close in shore, the crew stood at the starboard rail, speculating as to the extent of the caverns. Suddenly a voice called from the water behind them, and they saw an arm upraised.
“It’s Lewis!” exclaimed Marion. “Throw a line out, Kenton!”
Lewis caught the line without trouble and the men soon had him aboard, dripping and excited.
“Bad stretch of water to bathe in, Lewis,” said the captain, gravely.
“I didn’t mean to fall in,” said Lewis. “A canoe stole past to port of us, and before I could cry out an Indian had slipped up behind me and shoved me into the water, but I took him with me. When we came up to the surface someone in the canoe reached out to us, but instead of pulling us in I saw a knife flash and the Indian who had pulled me overboard went down without a gurgle, cut through the throat. I dived under, for I didn’t want to make any closer acquaintance with the Indian in the canoe. Then I came up, and here I am. Where’s the canoe?”
“It must have put into one of the caves,” said the captain. “What I can’t understand is how it could have happened without Moses hearing.”
“I was looking at the palisades,” said Mose. “It all happened at the bow, ninety feet away. By the time the ark had floated its own length it was all over.”
“Go down and get dry clothes, Lewis,” ordered the captain. “Keep a sharp watch, the rest of you. There is something extraordinary about this — two Indians in a canoe try to murder the watch aboard an ark, and the second Indian, instead of doing his part and killing the steersman as the ark drifts by, knifes the first Indian. I never heard of such a thing. Are you sure you weren’t dreaming when you fell overboard?”
“Dreaming?” chattered Lewis, stopping on his way to the cabin. “Look at that!”
They wheeled and stared behind them. Around a small jutting ledge an empty canoe was drifting towards them, dancing giddily in the ark’s shining wake. Almost as they looked a shot rang out from a cave that they were passing and John Cutler, one of the oldest men of the crew, lurched into Kenton’s arms.
“Veer off shore,” ordered the captain, quietly. “Steady — the sweeps. MacAfee, stand by ready to catch that canoe. Careful with the oar. Don’t upset the canoe with it. Steady — steady with the sweeps — back water all you can. Shad Lincoln, stand by to help MacAfee.”
“Aren’t we going back to kill the Indian that shot Cutler?” indignantly asked Kenton, as he saw the ark swing away from the shore.
“Not here,”, said the captain. “Too rocky — can’t land. Is John badly wounded? Take him into the cabin. I’ll be in and dress it as soon as we’re by these caves.”
“I’m all right,” said Cutler, raising himself by Kenton’s help. “Better hold right on, Marion. There may be a party — may have fired just to draw us into a trap.” He swayed, and tottered into the cabin.
“We shall go back!” cried Charlie Hoyt, savagely. “Cutler, too, of all of us!”
“We’ll scalp every one we can lay hold of!” added Moses, hotly.
Their blood was boiling. It was all that the young captain could do to preserve order. But his voice was quiet and his tone so commanding that it cowed them. They were crouched under the rail, all excepting those who were obliged to stand exposed at the sweeps, and MacAfee, who was coolly trolling for the dancing canoe. Another shot followed them, but fell short.
“They’re all back there in that cave,” said Lincoln, in his slow, deliberate way. “It must irk them to see you fishin’ for their war canoe and not be able to pot you. Let me take a turn, MacAfee; maybe I can catch it.”
“Let the canoe go,” called Marion. “It’s not worth getting shot for.”
But MacAfee had deftly secured his prize, and the weighted spear which he had thrown stuck quivering in the bottom of the light craft. He drew in his line cautiously, and then Lincoln helped him take the canoe aboard.
“Here’s news,” drawled Lincoln. He held up an unfolded sheet of paper. MacAfee snatched it from him.
“It was in the bottom of the canoe, weighted with a stone,” Lincoln explained. “That Indian that knifed Lewis’s Indian seems to be friendly to all of us, sending us messages on a letter stolen from a murdered courier, apparently.”
“Hush up, Linc. Someone get a light.”
In the lee of the rail they pored over the paper, which might not, after all, be meant for them.
“It’s written in blood!” cried Moses.
It held only one word, traced with the writer’s forefinger, and that word was — DANGER.
“Wait!” said Mose. “Isn’t that an initial, straggled there?”
“I was wonderin’ if you’d any of you see that,” said Lincoln. “I saw it the first thing.”
“There are two of them,” said Marion, controlling his excitement with a great effort. “Look, Lincoln, do you make out what I do?”
“I expect so. I make out a ‘J. C.’”
“J. C.!” repeated Moses. He stared from Marion to Lincoln, and back to Lewis, who stood trembling as if he had taken a chill. “Why —— do you suppose that’s meant for Jimmy Claiborne?”
The light of the cabin lantern which they had brought out showed their awed, startled faces. “I think it is,” began Marion, slowly.
“Hey —— you,” he cried, looking up; “man the sweeps! We’re getting too far out.”
“But the man in the canoe was an Indian,” objected Lewis, “and he must have sent the message. He barely had time to write it with the blood that spurted over him from cutting the Indian’s throat. Ough! I just saw it spout up as I went down.” He gave a great shiver at the memory that would haunt him while he lived.
“The man in that canoe was Jimmy Claiborne,” said the captain. “I’m sorry, men. We can’t land, now. Not with this warning.”
“Not to-night. Get your rifles, Kenton and MacAfee. Lincoln, you and Lewis at the sweeps. Lew needs to get warm. Don’t shoot unless we’re attacked in canoes. We may have passed the danger Jimmy speaks of, or we may be floating into it. I must go and look after poor Cutler. Moses, mind your oar!”
Kenton and MacAfee confronted the captain as he started to go to the cabin. “We’re goin’ back for Jimmy,” they said, threateningly. “He saved Lewis, here. He’s saved the ark. Do you think we’ll slink off into safety and leave him to the savages?”
The captain wheeled on them. “Did Jimmy ask for help?”
“No, but —— ”
“Then mind his warning. He’s playing his game. He could have come aboard when he was in the canoe.”
“Dressed as an Indian?” asked Kenton, contemptuously. “How long would we have let him live?”
“While he told us his name,” returned the captain.
“You know better,” said MacAfee, hotly. “He daren’t risk it. You’re a coward, Marion Royce, that’s what.”
“And not avenge Cutler?” said Kenton. “Give us a boat. Give us the canoe if you won’t give us a boat, and we’ll go back.”
Marion Royce stood before them fearlessly. These were the men he had feared. Tried rivermen, both; utterly fearless, utterly insubordinate. A man named Merrick, and a younger one named Corson, both from Marietta, came forward and ranged themselves alongside Kenton and MacAfee. “We’re goin’ with ’em,” they said, sullenly. “We don’t turn our backs on no friend.”
Marion faced them. As they stood on the deck they were a fair mark in the moonlight for any chance robber who might pot them from the mouth of one of the caves. Lewis and Lincoln were at the sweeps. Moses, at the oar, was watching with his heart in his throat.
“You want to help Jimmy?” asked Marion.
“We’re goin’ to.”
“You want to avenge Cutler?”
“Aye; we’re goin’ to do that, too.”
“Then wait till daylight, and I’ll go back with you, with horses. Now, let me see to Cutler.”
He passed them without waiting for their objections. As he stepped into the cabin he met Charlie Hoyt. “Take your gun, and watch those Marietta fellows,” he said. “If one of them attempts to steal a boat, or leave the ark in any way, cover him, but don’t shoot. He’ll come down.”
He went to Cutler’s bunk, and found him raised almost to a sitting posture, gasping for breath. Examining his wound, he found him shot through the heart.
“Ain’t sufferin’ a mite,” panted Cutler, cheerily. “Just make me a dressing of slippery elm and stramonium leaves, with a leetle warm water, son. That’s what Jane allus doctored gunshot wounds with. A grand dressing it made.”
He began to cough, and Marion raised him in his arm. A bright stream of arterial blood gushed from between his lips. Hastily laying him flat, Marion tried to stop the hemorrhage with the means at his command, but it was a hopeless effort. The old pioneer, who had recovered from wounds and fevers in the wilderness, had succumbed to a stray bullet where he stood in comparative safety in the midst of his friends.
It was a pioneer’s death, merciful in comparison with Indian capture, but Marion clenched his hands as he looked down at him. Kenton and MacAfee would not have thought him wanting in loyalty. No one who had heard him coolly give the unwelcome order to man the sweeps and postpone vengeance knew what it had cost him to give it.
The shot that killed Cutler had come from some lurking Indian or white renegade; or, as Cutler himself had pointed out, might have been fired for the purpose of provoking the ark’s crew to land; a war party might have been lying in ambush. Jimmy’s warning pointed to that. Even if the miscreant had been alone and remained hidden in the recesses of the cave, it would have been impossible to capture him without losing one or more men. The current, also, was unusually rapid and the shore rocky and dangerous. It had been impossible to explain all this to the mutinous, excited men, but none of these facts were ignored by the quick-witted young captain, who held all their lives in trust for those at home, as well as the responsibility for their goods, and the ark, and now, as he looked down at John Cutler, he seemed to be saying:
“If I could avenge you — if I only could!”
It was only a moment that he stood so. Then a shot rang overhead, quickly followed by a volley. Feet ran along the deck, and shouted orders were repeated from bow to stern. Marion ran out, looking to the priming of his gun as he caught it up from a rack.
Howls and shouts were mingling in a pandemonium as he gained the deck. He stumbled over Moses, who was rolling over and over in the clutches of one of the assailants.
“Take this one, Marion,” said Lincoln, speaking almost hurriedly; “he’s got my knife. I’ll be back for him when I take in my sweep. Don’t you let him get away without getting back my knife. Molly Royce gave it to me.”
“Did you give her a penny for it?” asked Charlie Hoyt, as he staggered by, half carrying a struggling form that he lifted bodily when he reached the rail, and threw into the river.
Marion stooped to extricate Moses from his difficulties, and received a blow from Moses’ heavy boot heel that sent him reeling. Lewis caught him.
Marion staggered to his feet. “Cut loose their boat,” he said, stumbling towards the stern where the attackers’ boat rode in tow.
“Hold on — nothing in that but dead,” said Lewis. “We shot into ’em, just as they came out of a cave after us. They shot, but we dropped on the deck after we fired and they didn’t hit us. Mose is through with his Indian. — No! He’s under again!”
“Take my musket and beat him off!” shouted Kenton, who lay helpless in the scuppers.
“Don’t shoot!” cried the Indian, suddenly springing up and lifting his hand, “I’m a white man!”
“It’s Jimmy,” drawled Lincoln, coming back from his careful attention to the starboard sweep. “Why don’t you say who you are, you blockhead, letting Lewis get a bead on you before you introduce yourself? Have you got my knife, Marion?”
Jimmy, for it was he, stood panting over the prostrate Mose. “I wanted to get through lickin’ him,” he explained. “I was afraid if I said who I was he’d leave me for one of the real robbers.”
“And so I would have,” said Mose, sitting up and mopping a bleeding nose with his sleeve. “I don’t think you’ve any right to settle private quarrels when there’s something that wants doing like this.” He was incensed that he had expended his valor on a friend and neighbor, when the others had repelled real enemies. He got to his feet and felt of himself in high discontent. “You’ve broken one of my ribs, Jim Claiborne, and you’ll have to pay for it,” he said, fumbling with both hands to minister to his bleeding nose and his internal injuries at one and the same time.
It was such an absurd finish to a very grave danger, that those who witnessed it leaned against the cabin and the rail, laughing until they held their sides. Even Kenton was laughing, although a torn ligament twisted his face with pain the next minute.
The deck showed littered with scraps of clothing and two dead bodies, in the moonlight. The members of the crew who were unhurt fell to straightening up, and Jimmy, in his feathered head-dress and uncouth paint, took command of the obsequies of his recent companions. The two on deck he helped to drop overboard, where the river received them as it had often received their victims.
“There’s one in the boat you want to keep,” he said to Marion. “Whoever shot him gets a reward at Natchez from the government. He’s got a price on his head. I’ll show you which he is in the morning — one of Mason’s gang.”
Mason, the leader of a band of outlaws who had infested the river for years, had been killed and his head brought into the fort for ransom the year previous.
“The chap we’ve got back there,” Jimmy explained, condescendingly to Moses, “is Big Harp.”
At the name, familiar to all rivermen, the ark’s crew gazed upon Jimmy with something akin to reverence. He accepted the tribute for a full minute, growing tall in the pride of it. Then, as if he thought of something that touched him more closely than pride, his uncouth, painted face changed. He went over to Marion.
“I couldn’t get to you any other way,” he explained. “If I’d come aboard when that fellow dragged Lewis into the river, I ran a good chance of getting killed even before I could warn you. And if I hadn’t joined in the attack, they’d have killed me. I had to lead the party. You see, don’t you, Marion? There wasn’t no other way.”
He looked anxiously into Marion’s face. “You can trust me,” he added. “I’ve seen all I want of —— of revenge, and outlawry.”
“Have you?” asked Moses, elbowing forward.
“Oh,” said Jimmy, contemptuously — “you! Yes, I’m satisfied with you, too. All I want is to stay along on the ark — along with the horses and the chickens, after I’ve licked Louis Gist. I don’t see him anywhere. I thought he was goin’ along with you?”
“He went overboard, up the river,” explained Lewis Hoyt.
The thought of Louis Gist made them silent a moment, and Marion remembered poor Cutler, the only other victim of their perilous voyage so far.
“Oh,” said Jimmy; “well, I guess I’m not going to hold that grudge any longer. Marion, will you take me along?”
Marion had stood silent, thinking of Uncle Amasa hiding his breaking heart under a brave front as the ark sailed away. He wanted to say, “Oh, Jimmy, why did you!” but instead of that he held out his hand, and the tall young Indian grasped it and shook it up and down in a way inherited from an Anglo-Saxon ancestry.
“Will we?” said Marion; “well, you just try us! Some of these fellows wanted to mutiny to go back for you, on account of your letter — didn’t you, Kenton?”
“I think you might look at my leg,” grumbled Kenton, shamefacedly.
sun had risen before the crew of the ark finished their grim clearing of the decks and the skiff in which the outlaws had rowed out to attack the ark. There was no way of telling who had fired the shot which killed the notorious outlaw, on whose head a price of a thousand dollars had been fixed. Marion was in favor of burying him in the river with his two companions of the skiff, but Jimmy had the matter very much at heart.
“Just let me have his head,” pleaded that young savage. “If I can take his head to the fort I won’t ask them for the reward — honest, I won’t. But this Big Harp was just about the worst of the whole lot, and mebby if the others learn that he’s paid for his crimes they won’t be so venturesome. He was worse than the Indians.”
He spoke with so much emotion that Marion felt the force of his argument. If it became definitely proven that Big Harp had been delivered up to justice at the army post, it would make a great difference in the safety of the pioneers and rivermen. They — Big Harp and Little Harp, and John Mason — had been the leaders of a band of robbers, thirty or more in number, who for ten years were the terror of Ohio boatmen; they attacked “arks” and “keels” alike, and on several occasions had murdered the entire crew of the captured craft. Their actual headquarters had been Diamond Island, just below Henderson; but the caverns higher up the river made convenient lurking places, from which they could sally forth, or into which they could retreat secure from pursuit.
Jimmy watched the captain anxiously. In the bright light of sunrise, Jimmy’s paint and feathers failed grotesquely to conceal the white man. His head had been shorn, all but the scalp and forelock, which were put up in a piece of tin, with a bunch of turkey feathers, while the feathers of at least two turkeys hung to the hair of his scalp.
“You’re a sight,” said Moses, as he gazed on these uncouth adornments, while Marion was making up his mind.
“I’d ’a been more of a sight if this Big Harp had had his way with me,” answered Jimmy, whose eyes never left the young captain’s face. “He wanted to cut off my ears and eyelids because I wouldn’t tell him exactly when the ark would sail from Fish Creek. Only for Logan — the one I went away with from my cabin — he would have done it, too. Logan was a pretty good friend to me because I helped him to get away when he had a broken leg. He would have been caught and handed over to the authorities more than once if I hadn’t been along. He was pretty helpless. After he was killed by the Shawnees I lost my job, though, and as the robbers didn’t have any agricultural employment for me (they said that that was all I was fit for, because I wouldn’t turn pirate), they took my gun away from me and launched me in a canoe that happened to be hauled up in a creek where we camped. There was a dead Shawnee lying by it; and, before they let me go, Big Harp and that one-eyed fellow that you dumped out of the skiff just now, thought it would be fun to decorate me with his head-dress, so that I shouldn’t miss the clothes they took from me. Those outlaws actually lost a good hour fixing me up, and then put me into the canoe and shoved me off and told me I could go on and join my father at the Chickasaw Bluffs, and maybe he’d recognize me by the resemblance between us. They wouldn’t give me even a day’s rations. Big Harp said the ark would be along and that you’d take me in.”
Jimmy told these things stolidly, without laying any particular stress on them until he came to the way in which Big Harp and his gang had amused themselves by making him into a feathered object of derision before launching him on the river without food and with no more covering than the dead savage had worn. His voice trembled with rage when he told of that, and Moses, who was always the first to feel any strong emotion in those around him, and to respond to it, shut his fists passionately.
“I wish we could kill them over again,” Mose ejaculated. “We killed ’em too easy. They had ought to have hung.”
Jimmy looked at him. It was the first moment he had taken his somber eyes off of Marion since he had asked for te outlaw’s head.
“Yes, Mose,” he said, “even hanging would have been too good for ’em.”
“How did they get hold of you again?” asked Marion.
“I drifted for two days and nights before I could get ashore,” said Jimmy, taking up his story where he had left off. “They weren’t able to find the paddle that the dead Indian had had, or else they had hidden it themselves, so I had nothing to control the canoe with, and I couldn’t get to shore.”
“Why didn’t you drop overboard and swim for it?” asked Lewis.
“In that ice water, with that current and no knowing how long it would take me? You couldn’t swim in the river, even to-day, for fifteen minutes, without doubling up with a cramp and going down! What’s the use of asking me a fool question like that?”
“Yes,” added Moses, “what do you want to go interrupting him for?”
“You’re interrupting just as much yourself,” retorted Lewis.
Jimmy smiled at them, and then went on addressing Marion. “You get mighty hungry when you’ve been floating down the river two or three days. Finally, I paddled with my hands into a creek into which the water had backed up considerably. It was along about sundown, I reckon. There were some men working on board an ark — not as big as this, and not very much more than just decked over. They were hammering so hard, trying to get all they could done before night, most likely, that they didn’t hear me shout to them, but went right on working while I got my canoe beached and started to ’em. I had to pick my way through the blackberry bushes and grapevines that grew thick along the creek, and I was so sick from hunger that I expect I sort of crept towards ’em, wondering if I’d have strength to get to them before they stopped work and went home, and if I’d have strength left to shout when they stopped hammering. I was so glad to see honest men that that made me sort of sick, too. I’d ’a’ been pearter if it had been Indians or outlaws. But, just the thought that I was in sight of friends made me tremble so I couldn’t scarcely stand up. I never remembered my head-dress. When I was in the canoe I kept it on because I thought if I passed any Indians they wouldn’t notice me so much, and when I got into the creek and saw the white men I forgot everything except to try to get to them as quick as I knew how.”
“Did they fire at you?” exclaimed Moses.
“Fire? They fired the minute they clapped eyes on my head-dress over the bushes. They didn’t wait to see the color of the rest of me. The minute they fired I understood, but it was too late. Some Indians who were passing by ran in on them before they’d time to load again, and scalped the whole outfit, and took me captive. They were pleased to death with my decorations — I don’t know why; and they made a sort of mascot of me, except that I had to carry the loads, when we traveled, and they showed me by signs that I’d have to do squaw’s work when we got to camp. They fed me like themselves, but I was too faint to eat their sort of cooking; and you would be, too, if you had seen the way they cooked. Then I showed them I wanted to cook for myself, and they let me do it to get back my strength. I reckon it must have been a week. I didn’t keep track of time, and we didn’t go near any settlements. One night we camped in the mouth of a cave near the river. It was raining, and it had been raining all day. I expect I was feverish and my head was flighty, for I got an idea into it that I’d find the other mouth of the cave, which very likely overlooked the river, and sit in it and wait for you to come by in the ark. It was a little past the first quarter, and I thought it had been the last quarter of the moon when I left my cabin with Logan. You see I was mixed, but I thought I had it all clearly reasoned out. So I wandered off into the cave.”
“Did the Indians chase you?” asked Moses.
“No,” said Jimmy, “I don’t reckon they did. They had too much sense, probably, after they’d found how far in I’d gone. They hadn’t any idea of getting lost themselves. That cave was a hundred caves, all partitioned off and running in and out of each other. I expect I pretty near died in them. All I remember is creeping and crawling along on my hands and knees most of the time, half the time in the water and half the time out, and then I went sort of crazy and beat against the rocks and screamed until the whole cavern mocked and mocked me. The next thing I knew I was lying on blankets in a cave that was fitted up as a hiding-place, and I learned that my rescuers were part of Big Harp’s gang. When Big Harp and the rest came, they were so amused they couldn’t do enough for me. They said they had come down to meet you folks, and that I should lead the party.”
“How did you come to have the letter to write the warning on?” asked Moses, whose imagination had supplied the rest of the story, and run ahead of the narrator.
“Big Horn wasn’t a good reader,” said Jimmy, “and I had been given the letter, to make out what he couldn’t make out for himself. Big Horn thought it said something about the Governor sending some money by the brig that was to leave Marietta with the ‘fresh,’ and he thought it might be more worth while to make sure of the brig than to capture you fellows. But when he learned that the word that he thought was ‘money’ was ‘militia,’ he lost interest in the letter, and they decided not to wait very long for you folks. If you hadn’t come in a day or two, they would have gone back further into the caves until the brig was safely past.”
“I suppose,” said Lincoln, “that the ark we passed, where the men were scalped, was the place where you were captured.”
Jimmy looked absently at Lincoln. “I guess that’s about all,” he said to Marion. “Big Harp warned me, when we attacked you, that if I turned on any of the gang he and the rest of his crowd would avenge themselves on any of you they captured, if they got the best of the fight. That’s why I didn’t kill any of them when the fight began.”
“That’s why you pitched into me?” asked Moses, in a sympathetic voice.
“Yes,” said Jimmy. “I didn’t want to seem to be idling.” He fixed Marion with his steady, dogged eyes. “Now, may I have Big Harp’s head to take to the commandant at Natchez?”
Marion looked from one to another of the arksmen.
“Yes!” they shouted.
“Yes,” said Marion.
Cutler’s body was buried that evening on a wooded eminence of Cumberland Island, overlooking the Ohio and opposite the mouth of the Cumberland River. Many such solitary graves double-line the banks of these great water-ways — the unmarked resting places of victims of savage hate, or outlaw violence and robbery. Later, in the night, the ark passed Diamond Island, so long the home of the river pirates. It loomed beside them, safe, silent, wooded, wrapped in peace.
The next morning they were floating across the broad mouth of the Tennessee River, nearly half as wide as the Ohio itself, past the site of the pretty city of Paducah. At two that afternoon Cairo was sighted, with the broad channel of the Mississippi in plain view over the forest to the northwest.
Little enough like the populous and commercially important Cairo of to-day, was the Cairo of a century ago! Not a house was then to be discerned on the dreary mud-flats. The “town” consisted — this is not a joke — of a single long flatboat, moored by two infirm old cables to stumps ashore! Aboard this capacious “broadhorn,” however, there was a “tavern,” a “saloon,” a smithy and a general store; and, altogether, the queer craft harbored seventy or eighty persons, men and women. As was not unusual in those days, the saloon did the larger share of the business, and of the character of these early inhabitants of Cairo the arksmen were soon able to form an opinion.
For, contrary to their captain’s wishes, Merrick, Charlie Hoyt, Simon Corson, Kenton and MacAfee insisted on paying the floating “town” a visit, to indulge in a social glass and hear the news of the two rivers. The ark was, therefore, tied up for the night a few hundred yards above the “city,” which six of the older men visited in the skiff.
During the evening, however, an altercation occurred between the visitors and a crew of rough fellows at the saloon; and in the unseemly “mix-up” which followed, Simon Corson had his right eye badly injured — in a most unfair fight, it was claimed.
He came back to the ark, in that pitiful condition, a little past midnight. MacAfee, also, had been savagely kicked and beaten.
So incensed were Corson’s companions that it was with difficulty that Marion prevented them from turning on the town with their rifles, at dead of night. He did not forget the indignity, however, and “Cairo” had yet to hear from him on this score.
As for Corson, he was in his bunk for two weeks, and suffered a permanent disfigurement. It proved a costly social glass for him.
Casting off very early the next morning, the arksmen dropped down past Cairo, being jeered from the saloon door as they did so, and soon reached the confluence of the two mighty rivers.
It was a scene of quiet, yet imposing, grandeur. The strong, muddy current of the Ohio, fully a mile in width at flood, pushed forcefully out in opposition, and for a time seemed to have the mastery; but soon the more voluminous, stronger, and even muddier current of the great Father of Waters prevailed, and with a thousand boiling eddies and vast upheavals of the contending streams, the Ohio was forced to yield and was borne away captive.
It was a matter of no little surprise to Lewis and Moses — this being their first voyage — to find the Mississippi below the confluence with the Ohio no wider. But the depth was manifestly much greater and the current more rapid. Before noon that day the ark was passing Iron Banks, a line of dark-red bluffs along the left shore.
The breaking of a sweep, however, compelled the men to tie up for two or three hours, and while they were here a “keel” of forty tons, from St. Louis, came alongside and spoke them, in the hope of buying eggs and poultry.
Thus far they had seen but few boats on the Ohio, and had actually spoken but two, both from up the Wabash — the one a broadhorn, the other a keel from Vincennes. Yet now, as a chance result of the erratic navigation of those days, the Mississippi seemed suddenly to swarm with ascending and descending flats, keels and skiffs. Merry salutes from the horns and bugles of the boatmen were heard every few minutes.
A ship, too, was lying-by in the bay below Iron Banks; and a “smithy” also passed while the captain of the keel was hailing them — a cheery ding-dong from the blacksmiths’ anvils resounding from the steep bank.
Soon after the keel had left them two large arks from Kaskaskia veered in, to pass the time of day and ask whether any late news had been heard from down the river. For the attitude of the Spaniards toward Americans at New Orleans was now the absorbing topic of interest. Whether they could make a market or not meant much to these arksmen, whose all was often at stake on the chances of a voyage.
A skiff and two “covered sleds” from Cincinnati, loaded with horses, also came in sight up-stream, and seeing the three arks lying-by in company, they also veered in and joined the little flotilla at the foot of Iron Banks.
No such warm weather had as yet been experienced, not even at Big Bone Creek.
Herons and other aquatic birds were flapping lazily up and down the shores; the sunshine was so hot and the air so stagnant that the horses and other live stock beneath the low roofs of the arks were manifestly distressed.
There was much talk of a hostile Indian band at Island No. 10; and the captains of the two arks from Kaskaskia proposed an arrangement very common in those days, namely, that they should make the three broadhorns and the two covered sleds fast to each other by spars and hawsers, and so float down in company, for mutual aid and protection in case of attack, either by the savages or riotous white boatmen.
Self-reliance and a disposition to manage his own boat without depending on others, were leading traits of Marion Royce’s character; but, since the other captains asked it and his own crew liked the idea, he consented; and the three larger craft were made fast abreast, with the two Cincinnati flats and the skiff astern, and in this order they poled off from Iron Banks.
It was now about four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun still very hot and the air close and sultry. Clouds were rising in the northwest, however, with promise of a breeze or a shower; and, being desirous of catching the first cool breath that came, Moses Ayer, Lewis Hoyt and Wistar Royce climbed on the roof of their ark. Here they could overlook the entire flotilla, as well as the shores of the river.
The peculiar aspect of the sky at once attracted their attention.
“That’s a mighty queer-looking cloud!” Lewis exclaimed. “Looks like smoke, and see how the edges of it are rolling in together!”
“There’s a thunder-squall coming,” said Wistar. “It’s coming fast, too!”
“Below there, Mack,” he shouted to his brother, who was forward under the roof. “Squall coming!”
The young captain climbed to the roof to see for himself, for the roofs of the two large Kaskaskia boats on each side of them obstructed the view from the deck of the ark. He had hardly done so, however, when they saw the trees on the other shore of the river sway, bend, and twist violently. Branches, twigs and leaves were whirled upward, and immediately the intervening water of the river was wildly agitated, appearing to rise in the air in vast white sheets.
No opportunity was afforded for precautions of any sort. They barely had time to swing down from the roof when, with a wild howl, the squall — a true tornado — was upon them!
Everything loose on the roof — the large poultry-cages, spare sweeps, oars, setting-poles, and a part of the mammoth bones — were whirled upward and away; and, not only from their ark, but from all the others, everything loose went flying to leeward. The roof of the ark to windward of them was torn off, and, with a terrific crash, went hurtling over their heads.
The shouts of the men blended with the squalling of poultry and the hideous squeals of terrified or injured horses. Immediately, too, the heavy craft felt the impulse of the tornado, and went drifting rapidly before it.
Whether they would have been safer apart than together is not easy to say. The two flatboats astern prevented the arks from using their sweeps; and, seeing that all six of the boats were being blown rapidly toward the bank, Marion Royce shouted to the captains of the two Kaskaskia arks to cut the hawsers and try to get clear of each other, so as to use their sweeps.
If they heard, which is doubtful, nothing was done; in fact, the craft to windward was in great distress from waves that were breaking aboard her.
Captain Royce then seized an ax and cut the cables himself. His instinct was to get free. As he did so one of the spars caught, and slipping inboard, crashed through the gun-room, seriously injuring MacAfee, who had run in there for shelter. But the pressure of the wind still held the boats together; they drove on before the gale, and within five minutes all went ashore where a gravel bank rose steep out of deep water.
Fortunately for the ark, it had the middle berth; for, owing to the momentum and weight of the mass of boats, the Kaskaskia ark next the bank gave beam, and was so crushed that it immediately filled and sank, the crew with difficulty escaping across to the other boats.
One of the flats astern — the one inshore — also sank. Six of the horses aboard it, whose halters it was impossible to cut, were drawn down; the other fourteen of the poor animals succeeded in keeping their heads above water. The boatmen were powerless to do anything for them; indeed, the attention of all was given to rescuing the crews of the two wrecked boats.
Rain was now falling in such sheets that it was impossible to see objects twenty yards away. What became of the six-ton skiff that had joined them no one knew. So dire was the confusion and uproar of the disaster that none of the survivors was able to give any information concerning it — whether it was swamped, with all on board, or had got free and gone out of sight below the foot of the bluff. It was manned by four pioneers, one of them a clergyman named Willis, from the new settlement at Fort Jefferson, a little below the mouth of the Ohio.
Two men had been drowned or crushed on board the wrecked Kaskaskia ark; the other one had also lost a man, probably knocked overboard and drowned when the roof was blown off. A man was also reported missing from the Cincinnati flatboat.
Even after the tornado had passed and the waves subsided, the three craft which had escaped were in bad plight, having lost nearly all their sweeps, poles and other gear. Evening was at hand, and being unable to get away, they lay there against the bank all night.
By working hard with lines and a pulley-block, eight of the horses in the water were hauled out. The other flat from Cincinnati, being a small craft, could take but three of them aboard, however, and what to do with the poor animals became a serious question with their almost equally luckless owners. Our arksmen finally made shift to find room for them alongside their own horses. Captain Royce consented to take them on shares, and pay one-half what he could sell them for in New Orleans, when he came back up the river in the fall.
A large brindled wolf-dog, called “Tige,” from one of the wrecked boats, also came aboard and savagely refused to go ashore with his former friends and master.
It was a dreary night for all concerned; doubly so for the crews of the foundered boats, who had now no alternative before them save to trudge disconsolately back along the river bank for hundreds of miles, and deem themselves fortunate if they reached home without losing their scalps.
Working by lantern-light, our own arksmen hewed out new steering sweeps from planks ripped from the bulwarks, and succeeded in getting off at daylight. They had had enough of river partnerships. Captain Royce gave such friendly aid as he was able to the other boats, but firmly declined to establish any closer relations with them. Altogether this first day on the Mississippi had been an exciting one, but even greater perils were at hand.
Here, by Marion Royce’s orders, the men took their rifles and lay concealed below the rail of the ark, Merrick and Charlie Hoyt alone standing exposed at the sweeps. After this fashion they passed down the narrow reach on the left, keeping a sharp eye to both shores.
No enemies were sighted, however, and at four in the afternoon the infant town of New Madrid came into view, on its pretty plain along the right bank, which as yet the river had not gnawed away. The place was one of the feeble efforts of the Spaniards to establish colonies in the Mississippi Valley.
For, although at the date of our story, the Spanish were in possession of New Orleans and the lower course of the river, this control was nominal and temporary, the outcome of treaty between France and Spain, rather than real or permanent. The two nations which, for the century prior to 1803, had so long and so bitterly contended for the mastery of this peerless region, were France and England; and, for a period of time as great as that which has elapsed since the War of the Revolution, the whole Mississippi Valley was virtually French territory. The Louisiana Purchase marked the close of an era, the end of a century of French sovereignty; this event transferred the control of by far the most important portion of what is now the United States, from the French to the Anglo-American people.
At New Madrid not less than a hundred river craft of every variety were tied up, either for purposes of trade or repair; “keels” and barges from Pittsburgh, the full-rigged brig from Marietta, four arks from Vincennes, flatboats from far up the Wabash, with a great number of skiffs, and pirogues from the various military posts. So diverse and heterogeneous a gathering of boatmen could hardly meet and mingle without friction; and, in strict point of fact, the first thing our arksmen saw, on veering to the bank, was a “rough-and-tumble” between the Marietta brig’s crew and some boatmen from up the Wabash.
The latter had a flatboat loaded with sugar, and live turkeys, not less than three hundred of which fine birds were confined in huge wooden cages on the roof of their craft. The brig’s crew, victorious in the scuffle, levied heavily on the flatboatmen’s turkeys.
At last, the little garrison at the post attempted to restore order, but with indifferent success; the brig’s crew threatened to sack the town if molested, and appeared able to make good the menace. Such was New Madrid in 1803.
Marion Royce’s only object in landing here was to procure two strong sweeps for the ark. Having accomplished this in the course of an hour or two, he resumed his voyage and continued for two hours longer before tying up in the eddy at the foot of an island for the night.
Here, both the arksmen and their live stock were badly tortured by large, ravenous mosquitoes. Moreover, they sorely missed their poultry, this and the milk from their two cows being important items of the food supply.
They were also rendered apprehensive from a bold visit by a canoe containing four Indians, supposed to be Choctaws, that came alongside the ark and held up a bearskin as if to sell it. But Marion was of the opinion that their real motive was to learn if an attack on them would be likely to prove successful. Three men watched, by turns, all night.
As they were putting off at daybreak, three lumber-laden arks from Pittsburgh appeared and made a landing near them for repairs, one of them having run on a snag during the night. That day they made about sixty miles, passing Island No. 31 at four in the afternoon; and then crossing over to avoid Flour Island, tied up for the night at the foot of a high bluff of yellow clay, crowned by forest.
A huge tree which had fallen down the bank afforded opportunity to make fast, although the current was here very swift and strong, making in against the bank so forcefully that the ark was pressed hard against the great branches of the tree-top, which lay partly in the water.
Flour Island, so called from a disaster to flour-laden boats which had recently occurred there, lay over opposite them; and there appeared to be an Indian camp near the lower end of it, judging from the fires, and an uproar of savage outcries that was borne to their ears. No such swift, dangerous currents had been encountered anywhere since the voyage began as these which set in through the “races” between the islands and bluffs. The ark, being deep-laden, they were not a little apprehensive for her safety.
Just as they were making fast, too, another lumber-laden barge came drifting past, close into shore, and struck them with such force as to stave in the bulwarks aft and break two stanchions that supported the roof.
As the two boats hung in contact for a moment, there was a singular accession to the crew of the ark. A large pet bear, terrified, perhaps, by the crash, and seeing, as he thought, a way of escaping ashore, broke his chain and leaped across from the lumber barge to the roof of the ark just as the two boats swung clear of each other.
With a muttered malediction from her captain, who seemed in a bad temper, the lumber boat drifted away on the swift current. The bear, meanwhile, was making for the shore, but when he attempted to clamber down the other side of the roof, his chain caught in a crack between the planks and brought him up short at the bulwarks of the main deck below.
Thus, the pet of the lumbermen was transferred from one craft to the other, and all in a space of less than five seconds of time!
In the gathering dusk the arksmen stood staring after the barge which had given them so rude a salute. Captain Royce then hailed them:
“Hallo, the barge!”
“Hallo, the ark!” was the gruff response from the receding craft.
“You’ve left something!” Marion shouted, laughing.
“And good riddance!” was the uncivil response.
Meanwhile the wolf-dog, Tige, who considered himself guardian of the ark, set upon the bear, tooth and nail, but came off badly from the encounter. The crew gathered round, and after looking the newcomer over by lantern-light, secured him more comfortably and fed him. He was a fine black bear, about a year and a half old.
After supper, and as the evening passed, Marion Royce, according to his custom when repairs were needed, set to work to replace the broken stanchion posts, and called Moses Ayer to hold the lantern for him. Lewis Hoyt was on the roof out forward, doing lookout duty and watching the fires on Flour Island; but the rest of the crew had turned in.
Presently Lewis came back aft. “I think there’s a buffalo up the bluff,” he said.
Moses laughed. Captain Royce, busy with his adz, paid little attention; buffalo were still to be found on the prairies along the river.
Lewis stood near them for a few moments, then went forward again. The ark chafed against the tree branches with harsh, creaking sounds; frogs were croaking, and from the island, at intervals, came a singular noise, as of some large horn blown with great effort. This was followed by the reports of guns and loud yells; but whether the savages over there were celebrating some festival, or fighting, was not clear.
Captain Royce went on with his work. Before long, however, Lewis joined them again. “There’s something up the bluff,” he insisted.
“How d’ye know?” said Moses. “You can’t see it, can you?”
“But I can hear it,” replied Lewis, nervously. “A stone or something rolled down just now.”
“Stones and earth often roll down when the water is high,” remarked Captain Royce.
“But I tell you there’s something up there!” repeated Lewis.
“Oh, Lew’s scared,” said Moses.
“No more scared than you!” retorted Lewis. “If it’s a buffalo, I’m going to shoot it.”
“Don’t you go to firing, Lewis,” Marion said. “Let the buffalo go. And you had better get up on the roof again,” he continued. “I want you to keep a sharp eye up-stream for boats or floating trees. Don’t come down here again till I send a man to take your place.”
Thus admonished, Lewis climbed on the roof once more and remained there for an hour or so, when Moses, his task of holding the lantern being over, went up to see if anything new had happened.
Of late the two boys had wrangled somewhat; ever since Moses had shot the “gobbler” he affected a certain superiority over Lewis, although he was not as old as the latter by a year. Lewis resented this.
“I know what you came up here for,” Lewis said, shortly. “You think you will have that bear!”
“Well, what if I do?” exclaimed Moses. “You claimed Tige.”
“Tige is only a dog,” replied Lewis. “He will not fetch anything, but we can swap that bear for a silver-mounted rifle at New Orleans.”
“And I shall have it!” insisted Moses. “You were all so fast to claim Tige. Now, I claim the bear.”
“You never want to play fair in anything!” exclaimed Lewis.
“And you are always whining when anybody gets even with you!” Moses retorted.
What further plain truths the boys might have told each other is not certain; but, at this juncture, both were startled by a pebble that came bouncing down the bluff and hopped clear across to the roof of the ark, thence off into the river.
“Now, what do you think did that?” whispered Lewis, gripping his rifle and peering sharply into the night mists that enveloped both river and bluffs.
“Oh, ’twas just a little slide of loose earth that came down, and the stone happened to hop across here,” said Moses.
“But that’s just the way it did twice before,” whispered Lewis. “I tell you, Mose, there’s something up there. I believe I can see something, too, up there against the sky, ’mongst the tree trunks,” he added. “I’ve a good notion to fire at it.”
“Mack told you not to,” said Moses.
“Well, then, you go get Tige and put him up here, and get the lantern,” rejoined Lewis, after they had listened a while. “Let’s tie the lantern to the end of one of these long, new setting-poles, and hoist it up high. Maybe we can see then what’s up there.”
This idea pleased Moses. He swung down from the roof, put Tige up, and getting the lantern, proceeded to light the candle, after the tedious method of those days. Passing his arm through the big wooden ring, he was about to climb up to the roof when a deep rumble was heard, like low, heavy thunder.
The ark started violently, then seemed to receive a tremendous impulse, as if pushed off by a giant hand from the bank. It careened far over. Every timber cracked. The live stock lurched and leaped back, tugging at their halters. Then the heavy craft appeared to rise, like a ship on a great wave at sea. Momentarily, too, a sharp crash was heard, accompanied by a shock as from a sudden blow. The whole forward end of the roof broke down, and distressed squeals rose from the horses.
Moses Ayer, who was on the rail in the act of climbing up, was pitched headlong into the river. As he rose he felt the side of the ark come hard against him, and a loose plank from the roof slid down close beside his head. He caught hold of it and held on, floating with the current.
Captain Royce and Shadwell Lincoln, who were still awake in the gun-room, sprang forth at the first rumble, but were thrown down by the violent lurch that followed it. Shouts of terror were heard from those who had been asleep.
No one knew what had happened; but, hearing the crash forward, Captain Royce made his way there as fast as he could, and tried to learn the extent of the damage. The ark was rocking heavily, and immediately her young captain perceived that they had broken adrift and were floating down-stream. Shouting to Hoyt and Lincoln, he bade them man the after-sweep with all speed and try to keep clear of the bank; for the craft was going broadside to the current.
It was not till the men tried to work the sweep that they discovered a long tree trunk lying afoul of them forward — across the broken roof. Apparently, it had fallen on them from up the bluff; yet they did not appear to be leaking.
Distressed cries of “Hallo, the ark!” were now heard astern; and the captain at once began calling the crew by name, to see if any one were missing. All answered except Moses and Lewis. It was then remembered that Lewis had been on lookout duty upon the roof.
“That’s Mose back there in the water!” Wistar Royce exclaimed. “I know by the voice.”
“Get out the skiff!” exclaimed the captain, and all haste was made to do so; for, by Captain Royce’s orders, the skiff was now hauled aboard every night.
Wistar, meanwhile, was answering Moses’ shouts, calling out to him to keep afloat, if he could, till they got to him. Claiborne and Lincoln immediately put out, rowing back against the stream, and found the boy floating with both arms clasped about the plank. He was wet and cold, but otherwise uninjured.
“But where is Lewis? Do you know anything about Lewis?” were Marion Royce’s first questions when they had Moses aboard.
Moses could tell them little, however, except that Lewis had been on the roof, and that he thought he had heard him shout, “You red scamp, you!” when the landslide occurred, for such they now concluded had been the cause of the accident. The side of the bluff, and with it a number of trees, had slid down into the river.
Such subsidences of the banks are of common occurrence in time of flood on the Mississippi, owing to the undermining action of the powerful current. Tracts, many acres in extent, with the forest growing thereon, are suddenly submerged.
They succeeded in cutting away the tree that fouled them, and then they moored the ark against a willow bank three or four miles below. Lewis’ disappearance had filled the young captain with the gravest solicitude. It was feared that the tree had struck and crushed him. It was now noticed, too, that Tige was not aboard the ark; and Moses remembered about hoisting the dog to the roof a few moments before the landslide occurred.
“That tree knocked them both overboard,” said Charlie Hoyt, with conviction, and all were inclined to agree with him.
Captain Royce would not go on, however, till careful search had been made, and as soon as day dawned he and Wistar, with Charlie Hoyt and Lincoln, took the skiff and pulled back up-stream to the bluff whence they had been so roughly cast adrift.
No trace of the missing boy was here discovered, however; they landed, and climbing up the bank, saw where the entire side of it had collapsed, and a dozen or more large cotton-wood trees had slid down. It was one of the latter that had fallen aboard the ark.
The search alongshore, both above and below, was continued for an hour or more, and they shouted repeatedly, but obtained no response. The conclusion forced on the minds of all was that the boy had been knocked overboard when the roof broke down, and had been swept away by the rapid current and drowned.
On returning to the ark, Captain Royce found that three or four hours’ work would have to be done before going on. Two horses were so badly crushed that it became necessary to kill them. A third was slightly injured, and was put in slings. To some extent, too, the roof was patched up; but when all was done, the old craft bore visible evidence of rough usage.
It was not till past noon that they got off from the willow bank and resumed the voyage — with heavy hearts.
By four o’clock that afternoon another high bluff came into view down the river — the third of that picturesque series known to boatmen as the Chickasaw Bluffs.
And this was ever afterward memorable to our arksmen. As they drifted down near it shouts were heard from the woods crowning the river-front. The barking of a dog also came to their ears. Two men could be seen high up the bluff, and one of them was swinging his arms as if making signals.
“I believe that’s Lewis!” Moses shouted, in great excitement. “Lewis and Tige!”
“But that other looks like an Indian!” exclaimed Wistar.
They scarcely knew what to think of it at first, but as the ark floated past they made sure that it was Lewis; and Captain Royce at once ordered the men at the sweeps to veer inshore. So swift was the current, however, that the ark floated on for a mile or more before a landing could be effected.
But they had no more than carried a line ashore to some willows, growing on a low point, when Tige, barking joyously, burst through the cane thickets, and was followed a moment later by Lewis himself. And with him — to the astonishment of the arksmen — was a brawny Indian, decked out after the manner of a Chickasaw chief, but grinning broadly and holding up his right hand in token of a peaceful intent.
OU needn’t be scared!” Lewis exclaimed, for Moses was getting his rifle. “He’s somebody you know. Guess who he is! Guess! Guess! Hurry and guess — only you’ll never guess! And he got me out of the river!”
The captain and Lincoln stared with all their eyes, as Lewis and his big rescuer came aboard, the Indian grinning broadly and offering to shake hands.
“Me come see my son,” he announced in good, but halting, English. “Me James Claiborne one time. Now me Sam Hokomoke.” “He’s a chief,” added Lewis, excitedly. “A Chickasaw chief.”
“James Claiborne!” ejaculated Marion.
He was incapable of another word. He simply stood and stared.
“Jimmy!” shouted Moses, dashing past into the cabin, “Jimmy! Here’s your pa!”
Marion had mechanically reached out and grasped the Indian’s hand and was bewilderingly shaking it. As soon as he recovered himself a little, he released it and allowed Lincoln to follow his example.
Lincoln spoke with much gravity. “You don’t say,” he drawled. “No wonder his robber friends told Jimmy that his pa would know him by the resemblance, when they fixed him up.”
James Claiborne, or Sam Hokomoke, drew himself up slightly, and the smile died out of his face at this reference to his having robber friends.
“Now you’ve offended him!” said Lewis, angrily. “I tell you he’s a big chief in his tribe, though he isn’t dressed in his war togs.”
“Oh,” murmured Lincoln; “just a social call. Well, we’re mighty glad to see you, Sam Hokomoke, or James Claiborne, whichever name you like the best, and we know Jimmy will be.”
“We are very glad to have you here,” said Marion, rousing from his stupefaction to his responsibilities as captain. It was almost impossible for him, any more than for Shadwell Lincoln, to accept him as a white man, like themselves. He had lost all resemblance to a white man at first glance. He was the color of seasoned leather, and the fact that he had fallen into the Indian ways of speech in his seldom practised English, made it seem as if he could not possibly understand everything they said as easily as they understood one another.
“We have missed you,” continued Marion, realizing that this was an absurd way to state the case, but unable for the life of him to think of a better one.
James Claiborne grinned again. He had said more already than he was accustomed to, and apparently Marion’s statement did not strike him as being in need of any verbal acknowledgment.
“Here’s Jimmy!” shouted Moses, dashing out of the cabin in front of him, like a herald before a royal pageant. “Jimmy, here’s your pa! — Ain’t it the greatest thing you ever set your eyes on?” he whispered to Lincoln, as he squeezed close in to the quickly thickening group. “Think how Jimmy set out to find him, and the dangers he went through, and the suffering, and to have his pa just come strolling aboard — and a regular Indian chief!”
“I guess I had some hand in it,” said Lewis, darting a scornful look at Mose.
“H’m! Might have knowed you’d be grumbling because you ain’t the whole show,” retorted the ever-ready Mose.
Considered as a consummation, such as Moses described it, the meeting between Jimmy Claiborne and his father left a good deal to the imagination. Jimmy had advanced forward, thrust from behind, forcibly, rather than moved by an impelling filial emotion. Within arm’s length of the big Indian he came to a dead halt. The pressure from behind had withdrawn itself, leaving him rooted to the deck. He was face to face with his father, but it took a shrewd physiognomist to discover it. James Claiborne Hokomoke, on his side, made no advance. The traditions of fifteen years among the Indians may have made the American observances strike him as inadequate to the occasion. Perhaps he would have preferred to hold some sort of council, and sit in a circle for hours, before a word was spoken on either hand. The arksmen grew fidgety. Jimmy grew red. Some intuition of this embarrassment evidently stirred the white man’s brain in Hokomoke, bringing with it a train of more or less faded and obliterated memories.
“You my son?” he asked.
Jimmy hesitated. “I reckon I am,” he answered, deprecatingly. He did not mean to appear doubtful, but he was embarrassed. A more positive answer would have seemed to him pushing — like attracting attention to himself. His eyes strayed imploringly to Marion, but the young captain had stepped back to give him the entire floor.
“Humph! Ugly!” was his father’s comment.
There was a moment of astonishment at this unexpected sally. With his long scalp and forelock and the rest of his hair in half grown tufts, and the paint only partly worn off his face, Jimmy’s appearance certainly was not such as to make a parent proud. A great laugh went up from the men, in which Sam Hokomoke joined as heartily as any one, and with that laugh the atmosphere of constraint cleared, and Jimmy felt at ease.
The white man, who had so unaccountably turned his back on his family and disappeared for so many years, was almost indifferent to the news they poured into his ears about Fish Creek and its people. He asked no questions, but he listened with some show of interest to the things they told him of his father, and Maria, his wife. He accepted the hospitality which Marion extended him, but expressed no enthusiasm when it was proposed that he should return with them to Fish Creek in the autumn. He made no further explanation of his reluctance than might be gathered from the simple comment, “Squaw good,” and he had no messages for Maria, although to his father he sent several long speeches, beautiful with Indian symbolism and sentiment.
“But how on earth did you meet each other, and where in the world have you been?” asked Marion of Lewis, when they were floating down the river again, and a reserved relationship had established itself between Jimmy and his father.
“Been chasing along the bank,” replied the boy. “I ran by you last night. Didn’t you stop somewhere?”
“We stopped and went back to look for you,” replied Captain Royce.
“That was when I went by you, and didn’t know it!” exclaimed Lewis. “Then after we had run a long way, Sam Hokomoke climbed up that high bluff and saw ye comin’ down-stream. And I tell ye I was glad!”
“But how came you ashore in the first place?” exclaimed Moses. “Did you jump ashore when the tree fell on us?”
“No, I didn’t!” replied Lewis, shortly. “I didn’t have a chance. I went head foremost into the river! But that wasn’t the first of it,” Lewis added. “The whole bluff slid down to begin with, and Sam Hokomoke with it.”
“Didn’t I tell ye that there was someone up there?” Lewis interrupted himself to say to Moses. “Didn’t I say so?”
“You said you believed there was a buffalo up there,” Moses admitted.
“I said ‘something’ was up there,” insisted Lewis. “Well, ’twas Hokomoke” — somehow it seemed impossible to call him by the name of Claiborne. “He tossed them little stones down to attract our attention, just for fun, but when the bank caved in he was as surprised as anybody, I guess, for down he came with it, head first; but he gave a mighty jump, and landed on the ark roof, within three feet of me. I thought he was going to scalp me, and I clinched him — for there was no chance to get up my gun.”
“Was that when you said, ‘You red scamp, you?’” exclaimed Moses.
“Maybe,” replied Lewis. “I don’t know what I said. I thought he meant me, and I clinched, and Tige jumped for him, too. But just then something struck us. D’ye say ’twas a tree? The whole roof went smash, and Tige and me and Hokomoke went heels over head into the river.
“I guess I’d ’a’ been drowned sure,” Lewis continued, more soberly. “I went down, down, down, and swallowed considerable water. I thought I never’d come up; but when I did, he had me by the hair, and was makin’ for the bank with me. He got out and pulled me out. I thought he had only hauled me out to get my scalp, and I tried to break away from him. But he began to say, ‘Me no kill! Me no kill! Me white man,’ Tige, too, never once offered to bite him after we got ashore.
“As soon as I found I hadn’t got to fight, I began to look for the ark,” Lewis went on, “but it had gone. I hallooed four or five times, but couldn’t hear anything of you, though I heard somebody, whose voice sounded like Mose’s, away down the river. We sat and rested a while, and then Hokomoke gave me a pull by the arm, and said, ‘Me go catch white man’s boat.’ And we started after you through the swamps and cane — an awful place to get through in the night. I don’t believe I would ever got down here if it hadn’t been for him. I told him about us, and then he told me who he was. That’s all.”
In spite of their efforts to keep him longer, Sam Hokomoke took leave of the arksmen the next day at a camp of his tribe near the fourth Chickasaw bluff.
“It’s cert’n’y curious,” said Jimmy, as they watched him disappear, waving his hand and grinning back at them, “to think I have a father who is a full-fledged Indian chief, and that I have an invitation from him to visit him or call upon him for assistance whenever I please.”
“The strangest part of it is that the Spaniards have treaties with them against us Americans, and that they’re our worst enemies,” said Marion.
No adventure worthy of note now befell them for a number of days. They passed the mouth of the St. Francis River and many natural meadows, or prairies, at several of which settlers’ cabins had recently been built. Here they were sometimes able to exchange corn and wheat for eggs, poultry, bear meat and venison.
In two days the mouth of the Arkansas River was passed. At the new settlement of Palmyra they tied up for a day and a half, in order to obtain larger sweeps and to mend the roof of the ark. The next day the Grand Gulf Hills came in view, and during the afternoon both Captain Royce and Shadwell Lincoln found that all their skill and experience barely sufficed to keep their heavily-laden craft out of Grand Gulf Eddy. For here the channel narrows, and has a vast whirlpool on each hand.
It was now the latter part of June, and despite many perils and accidents, the ark was getting well toward its destination. But the night after they had passed Grand Gulf proved one of the most exciting of the voyage. No favorable place for tying up to the bank had presented itself that afternoon, but as twilight came on they veered into a small bayou, which opened into the forest on the eastern, or Mississippi, shore.
Such creek mouths were far from being ideal stopping-places on account of mosquitoes, which, at this season, tortured man and beast almost beyond endurance. The day had been very warm, and despite the best that could be done for their comfort, the live stock on the ark suffered exceedingly.
Only ten of the crew mustered at mess that night. Corson had not yet recovered; Clark MacAfee still complained of his injuries, and Obed Hargous and Wistar Royce were also ill from the effects of bad water.
It was a dismal place, this narrow bayou, overhung with lofty trees, and the gray, trailing mosses, which brushed the roof of the ark. Around, on every hand, thousands of frogs were croaking, while here and there water-moccasins lay stretched along dead cypress limbs that had fallen on the stagnant waters. One was found on the roof of the ark as the crew were tying up.
Moses and Lewis made short work of this intruder, and set lanterns forward and aft, the better to see if more snakes crept aboard.
While eating supper they could hear the bellowing of alligators, which began immediately after dark. The bayou appeared to be a haunt of these formidable reptiles. Alligators, indeed, seem to have been far more numerous, as well as larger, a century ago than at present. We now rarely hear of one being seen above the mouth of the Red River; but in early days they were found as far north as New Madrid and the mouth of the Ohio. If we may believe the accounts given by boatmen, an alligator twenty feet in length was not an unusually large reptile in the days of the Louisiana Purchase.
Meanwhile the horses, frightened probably by the sound, were snorting loudly. It became evident that the reptiles smelled the live stock. It was not believed at first that they could clamber aboard; but fears of this soon arose, for one of the big reptiles, having apparently climbed out on a fallen magnolia, dashed for the side of the ark, forward, where he struck his head so hard as to cause a considerable shock to the boat. This raised a great commotion among the horses. The claws, or flippers, of other alligators could be heard constantly scratching the sides, and at length the big fellow came tumbling over the rail at the very heels of the horses.
The uproar that followed can be imagined; the men shouting, the horses kicking and squealing, Tige barking, and the pet bear growling in a savage chorus.
As if terrorized into abnormal activity, this alligator lashed right and left with his formidable tail, and snapped savagely at the legs of the horses and at the pike-poles with which the crew attacked it.
One of the horses kicked the reptile and it scuttled back against the bulwarks, rattled, dashed headlong past the gun-room, and jammed itself between a post there and the rail. Here it stuck fast, and Captain Royce, who had run to get a rifle, approached and fired the piece into the reptile’s gaping throat.
No more of the saurians got on board, or the voyage might have ended then and there; but it was not till day dawned that the scaly creatures began to sink, and swim away to their coverts.
At sunrise they poled out of the bayou, and were glad to feel the ark floating with the river again. But adventures and accidents, as has been often noted, rarely come singly. The current bore them over toward the Spanish, or Louisiana shore, and as the ark drifted past a bank of thick willows, it was suddenly drawn into the rapid outset of water through a crevasse.
As is frequently the case along the lower course of the Mississippi, the surface of the river current is here higher than the swamps lying adjacent to the banks, inundating the surrounding country, and either finding its way back to the main stream, hundreds of miles below, or else, as in the case of the Atchafalaya Bayou, reaching the Gulf of Mexico by other channels.
So vast is the quantity of alluvial mud brought down by this mighty stream that the river constantly exhibits a tendency to deposit and raise banks for itself above the level of the low country through which it flows. From the nature of things, however, these banks cannot go on increasing in height beyond a certain well-marked limit.
Charlie Hoyt and Wistar Royce were standing by the long sweep, or steering oar, at the time, and Lewis Hoyt had just gone forward on lookout duty. As they floated past the willow bank a skiff with four rowers, farther out on the river, came up and hailed them. Lewis turned to answer and asked, “What news of the Spaniards?”
As he listened for their reply he felt the bow of the ark swing shoreward, and glanced back at the steersmen. But Wistar and Charlie were staring at him. He then saw the gap in the bank and the water surging through it — a gap no more than fifty feet wide; but, before he could even shout to the steersmen, the ark had headed into it and was sucked through.
For a hundred yards or more the torrent ran with great force, then spread itself over a submerged swamp of cane, willow, and other small growth, amid the tops of which the heavy craft went crashing its way for fully a quarter of a mile before the arksmen could check it.
It came to rest, finally, on a ridge thickly timbered with magnolia and live-oak trees, in the midst of which was a dense tangle of young bays and myrtle bushes and trumpet vines. Wedged securely between a live-oak, whose great branches swept the after-deck, and a tall magnolia at the bow, like a pile at the end of a pier, the ark was as securely docked as if it had reached the end of its travels.
It had all happened so suddenly that when Captain Royce came out of the cook’s galley, he was amazed to find the ark in a hammock a quarter of a mile back of the river.
“Well, Lewis,” drawled Shadwell Lincoln, “you’re a boss pilot. Reckon our voyage ends here. Looks as if we’d have to foot it the rest of the way.”
Charlie Hoyt, Wistar Royce and Lewis Hoyt stood staring at the disaster that their negligence had wrought.
“Oh, shut up, can’t you?” said Moses. “This ain’t any time for sarcasm. I guess Lewis didn’t come in here on a pleasure junket.”
Lewis, surprised at having Moses siding with him, cast a grateful look at him. The extreme gravity of the situation, however, was fully apparent to all. How to get so heavy a craft back into the river was a difficult problem. Once off the hammock, all hands, working together, might pole the ark back to the gap; but the strength of a hundred men would hardly have sufficed to force it against the torrent that poured through the gap in the bank.
MacAfee, who had made several voyages, thought that in four weeks the river would fall, and that perhaps by that time they might be able to haul back into the Mississippi. But Merrick and Kenton, and Obed Hargous, boatmen of experience, thought this unlikely.
“When we warp her out of this timber,” said Marion, “she will be strained and sprung so that we can’t keep her afloat. Probably, we’ll have to unload and take her to pieces, and put her together again on the river.”
“That will take months,” said Moses.
“One thing,” said Lewis. “The men in the skiff told me that the Spaniards have closed New Orleans. We couldn’t land our goods, even if we got there. There’s going to be a fight. The rivermen are drilling at Natchez, and troops are coming down from Kentucky and everywhere.”
“Is that true?” asked Marion.
“I expect so,” said Lewis. “I don’t see why they should make it up, do you?”
“I’ll take a skiff and go find out how things stand,” said Marion. His confidence for a moment had deserted him. He felt obliged to get away from the men who were looking to him to be told what to do next. The heavy shock of having their trip brought to so hopeless a termination almost unnerved him. He had hoped so much from this year’s voyage.
He launched his skiff at the edge of the hammock, Kenton and Moses shoving him off, and rowed away across the flooded savannah to the river bank.
When he returned, he confirmed all that the men in the skiff had told Lewis. There was at present no outlet for the cargoes that were collecting below Natchez. The rivermen were preparing to fight. As to the ark, he had talked to a number of barge captains, and they had suggested a project for getting the boat back into the river, when it should have been warped off the hammock.
A week was spent in taking off the horses, for whom a rude shelter was built from the cabin timbers of the ark. Some of the cargo was also unloaded. For another week part of the crew were busy in making harness from lines and hawsers, which they had on board for moorings and “cordelling,” while others cut down tall, high feathering pines to be used as rollers under the ark. The live-oak was also cut down and a way cleared for the re-launching.
They christened the hammock “Ararat.”
When they were ready to get the ark down into the swamp, the crews of two corn-laden barges from St. Louis came across to render assistance, bringing with them hawsers and pulley-blocks.
The great broadhorn was finally floated on the submerged savannah, and it was comparatively easy for the men to pole back to the river gap, where the hardest of their task yet awaited the arksmen. Here the clumsily wrought harness came into play again. Claiborne and Lincoln had also contrived hames, roughly hewn out of green willow wood.
A strong post was set in the river bank, on the south side of the gap. A section off the trunk of a large hollow tree was fitted upon the post so as to revolve on it, for hawsers to reeve round. Their supply of line running short, three extra hawsers were bought from passing boats, and a double pulley-block constructed from seasoned plank and two iron bolts.
With such rude tackle, contrived wholly by the ingenuity of the pioneers, twelve of the horses were at length hitched to a long hawser, reeved through the pulley-block and running round the post, and the ark was hauled foot by foot up into the river.
The St. Louis corn barges had gone on, but other barges had been lying-by to render such assistance as was in their power, and they were on the point of giving a cheer for the ark when they noticed that all the labor spent upon her had been in vain.
The ark was sinking.
“I don’t reckon she’ll sink,” said Kenton; “but she’ll be durn wet to sleep in.”
“What did it?” cried Lewis.
“Sawyer, I guess, while she was comin’ through the gap. It was an awful pull. Ain’t nothin’ left to show what done it, now,” said MacAfee.
“There’s a bayou a little way below here that we can pole her into and lay her up,” said Marion. “Let go the hawsers. Lewis, you and Lincoln watch the cargo and the horses. Get ashore. I don’t believe she can sink. Let go the lines — all together — Claiborne, you and Kenton and Mose man the sweeps. I’ll look out forward. Watch the water, you fellows. If she settles any further, call out. Give us time to get off in the skiffs. I don’t think she’ll settle much farther.”
The ark had sunk to her gunwales, and now floated like a raft. The whole crew were on deck, excepting the two who had been set ashore to watch the cargo and horses. With her dismantled cabin piled amidships, she looked a wreck indeed, and excited much sympathy from the craft that passed her. About a mile below, the arksmen worked her into a flooded bayou, up which they were obliged to pole for a considerable distance before reaching shoal water.
On this bayou the arksmen, directed by Marion, established a permanent camp. The cargo was brought over by small boatloads, and some was loaded and brought across by land on the horses, and stored in a shelter which was built for it. There were no means of re-shipping it by other barges, for all the craft on the river were loaded with their own freight; and, besides, the port was still closed to the Americans.
At this camp Marion overhauled the great flatboat as well as he could, without getting it out of the water, and so heavy had been the damage done by the snag and the strain of bringing the ark through the gap that, as Moses said, the cross-bottoming and closing of the seams was about as much work as building two new flatboats.
Weeks passed, and the stifling malarial summer wore through. One after another the men sickened with a local fever, against which their familiar remedies seemed powerless. They recovered, but the great heat which made work during the middle of the day impossible, kept them prostrated. The dews fell like rain every night, and made sleeping on the ground, as they were accustomed to doing in the northern woods, more dangerous than they knew. The air they breathed was full of heavy scents from blossoming bays and magnolias.
Marion realized, too late, that he had been led by a forlorn hope into entering a cul de sac. He kept up the spirits of the men, however, and after nightfall led many an excursion up and down the bayou, spearing alligators by torchlight, from the skiffs. The men enjoyed this, for there are few more exciting sports, and it helped to keep the alligators at a distance from the camp, where they were too fond of coming at night to look for garbage around the cooking quarters, and terrify the horses and Tige. His life, poor fellow, was not a happy one. Jimmy had captured a baby alligator, about two feet long, and was trying to tame him in a little corral near the camp. Natural sin was deeply rooted in his nature, however, and he and Tige, who could not leave such small fry to scoff at him unpunished, kept up a constant and deadly warfare; and yet it ended in the little reptile’s drooping away from too much civilizing, until, like a flower out of water, he withered up, his skin grew cracked and dingy, and he died and was buried with melancholy rites.
Marion also sent the men fishing a good deal, and they trolled all the way to the head of the bayou after green trout, or black bass, as they are called in the north.
It was on one of these trips that the boys made a curious discovery which greatly excited the imagination of Moses, and led Jimmy to think of something which indirectly saved the fortunes of the crew, and, in all probability, Marion Royce’s life as well.
The two were paddling up a branch of the bayou, which they had never explored before. It was just sunrise, for they usually made these expeditions about daybreak, and brought back the camp’s breakfast. The creek was very narrow — not more than ten feet across from one high bank to the other, but fully fifteen feet deep in most places, and fed by many little springs, which they could see purling at the bottom. The still water at the surface was so clear that they could see the clean sand and the tufts of grass in which the fish hid, motionless. After the months on the dirty Mississippi, and the black waters of the lower bayou, this little creek was a marvel of delight to the boys, and they paddled along, their blades brushing the banks as they went.
“It’s the first perfectly clear water we’ve seen since we left home, isn’t it?” said Mose. “My, don’t it make you homesick?”
Jimmy shook his head. He had not been homesick. The ark had been his first real home. “Look!” he cried.
Moses looked, and saw, blocking the little creek ahead of them, the ribs of an ancient, many-oared galley. It rose, skeleton-like, to the surface of the water, hung with tatters that looked like sea-weed and turned out to be rust-eaten chains. The boys paddled up to it and felt them over, dipping their arms in to the shoulder. They could see it as clearly as if it had been out of water.
“Curious, ain’t it?” said Jimmy. “Escaped, most likely, from Corsairs, or Spaniards, or something. Wonder what became of the crew?”
“Let’s go ashore and look,” suggested Mose.
There was a tiny strip of shelving beach, up which they drew the skiff, and then they wandered about the landing-place.
“Here are some marks on these magnolias,” said Moses, after prowling about for awhile. “Right opposite each other. A ship on this, and a square on the other. Do you suppose there’s a treasure hid between them?”
Jimmy studied the deep scars in the smooth trunks attentively. “Uncle Amasa always said that pirates didn’t bury treasure,” he said. “They spent it all. No; I reckon that’s just a mark to show where the next fellows were to land, and what they’d find when they got here.”
“I bet there’s treasure,” said Moses, excitedly. “Let’s come up here every morning, and dig until we’ve dug all round the landing, and see if we don’t find it!”
Jimmy looked at him with paternal indulgence. “Don’t you get work enough on the ark to suit you?” he asked. “Come on into the woods a bit and see what they meant by these marks.”
They went up a pine-needle-covered slope and gained a tiny little cleared plateau, and saw an orderly line of live fig trees. If the boys had been southern born, this might have told them that they were looking at the place where people had lived, but they knew nothing about the habits of fig trees, and they did not even guess that the late crop of brown fruit which hung to the branches was good to eat. Experience with sundry prickly pears had made them cautious where they had at first been venturesome, and they left the figs alone. A few silvery boards strewed the cleared ground, and at a little distance a row of strange little wooden edifices, like the dog tents of soldiers, were falling into decay. Moses bent down and peered into one of them.
“Why, they’re graves!” he exclaimed, in an awed voice. “I wonder why they were covered like this.”
“To keep animals from rooting up the dead, I reckon,” answered Jimmy, who was practical. “The people from the boat must have come and lived here and waited for their friends a long time, and died of some fever, one by one, so that each fellow was decently buried. That’s all I can make of it, and I reckon that satisfies me. Don’t it you?”
“No, it don’t,” said Moses, decidedly. “I want to hunt for the treasure.”
Jimmy looked at the younger boy thoughtfully, without answering. He saw that the vision of treasure had filled Moses’ imagination so that the terrible parallel that these lost graves and relics of a boat foreshadowed, for their own desolate plight farther down the bayou did not even occur to him. Nothing could be gained by pointing it out, moreover, so he kept his peace. He examined the ground carefully, and searched the bottom of the creek, when they finally returned to their skiff; but the sands of many years had sifted back and forth, and he saw nothing.
“Mebby he got away,” he muttered, “when there wasn’t any one left to look after. Lord A’mighty, I hope so.”
“Who got away? What ye talking about?” asked Moses.
“The last one, of course,” said Jimmy. “We counted nine of those hen coops. Some fellow must have buried the last one, mustn’t he? We didn’t find any traces of him anywhere, so I reckon when there wa’n’t anybody left to look after, he got away, and mebby lived to get somewhere. I hope so.”
“Then he probably took the treasure with him, if there was any?” asked Mose, who was still cherishing visions.
Jimmy stared at him. “Oh, dod rot you and your treasure,” he said, roughly. “I mean — of course, he took it. Wouldn’t you?”
“Sure — of course,” said Mose. But this view of the case was a great blow to his fancies, and they rowed down to camp almost in silence.
When they got back to the ark, Moses was full of their discovery, and told the men about the galley and the marks on the trees, and discussed the possibility of treasure. But Jimmy drew Marion aside to propose a very different idea.
“Mack,” he said, abruptly, “I want to take one of the skiffs and go to Natchez.”
Marion lifted his head sharply. “What for?” he asked. He was the color of clay, and staggered as he stood. “What for?” he repeated, sharply.
“I’m afraid I’ll lose my head if I don’t go,” answered Jimmy.
“Your head, man? What’s the matter with you? Are you sick, too?”
“It’s the same as mine,” persisted Jimmy. “The others can’t tell who shot him, but they’re all willing I should negotiate for the crowd, because he gave me the most trouble. I mean Big Harp — his head. I want to take it to Natchez, and give it over to the commandant at the fort and have it stuck up on the palisades, so that there won’t be so much outlawry along the river for a while. I got to studyin’ about it up the bayou, and I think it’s my duty. I oughtn’t to wait.”
Was this Jimmy Claiborne? The boy who talked about his duty to other rivermen? Marion looked at him with a dawning understanding of what the month among the outlaws, and the months on the ark, had been to the boy who had been condemned at home. He knew nothing of the way the incident up the bayou — which had fired the younger boy with enthusiasm for treasure hunting — had brought home to this one what he owed to his fellows. And the young captain stood silent, staring out of feverish eyes at the big fellow who faced him.
“Jimmy,” said Marion, leaning back against a magnolia, “do you know that you’re the only man I can count on?”
“Me?” said Jimmy.
“Yes, you. Kenton is around, and that’s about all. He’s discouraged. MacAfee’s discouraged. Merrick’s a pretty sick man. I’m discouraged. Oh, boy,” he broke off, “if you knew what a load this expedition is to carry about on —— ”
“On a chill?” suggested Jimmy.
“Yes, that’s it. On a chill. A band of those ruffians who are loafing around Natchez could come up here and wipe us out — the way we stand. There’s Charlie and Lewis Hoyt, and there’s Shadwell and Moses and you, and that’s about all.”
He leaned against the magnolia and thrust his hands deep in his pockets and regarded Jimmy with a countenance so dismal that Jimmy felt himself stricken with an icy foretaste of fear; not fear for his life or limb, but that fear known as responsibility for others, which he now realized was the thing that most brave men carried about with them, even when they slept. Marion had carried it all through the voyage. Was he laying it down?
“You’ll be all right by mid-day,” said Jimmy, with outward cheerfulness. “You’ll be all right, Mack. Don’t you go and worry. Everything’s doin’ all right. The men are gettin’ on pretty well. Corson has his chill, and then about noon he gets up and waters the horses. Every fellow is able to do something. They ain’t knocked out. Why, if any danger was to come along it would brace ’em right up.”
Marion frowned. “I want you to know how things are,” he said, a little impatiently. “I don’t want you to think things are all right, and then some morning have the whole load fall on you without any warning, that’s all.”
He pulled himself up with an effort. “If you go to Natchez, you’d better find out from somebody who’s had experience in this climate how they treat these fevers. You’d better take Lincoln with you, for you’ll probably have a fight on your hands. There’s a rough crowd there, and if you’re alone you’ll probably lose your ‘Big Harp.’ Find out everything you can about the chances of deposit at New Orleans. The commandant probably won’t tell you much, but what he does say will have truth in it; and all these rumors that we’ve been getting have nothing definite, except that we can’t deposit and ought to fight. The men along the river don’t know any more about the plans of the French than we do. I hope there’s no fight coming; but if there is, God willing, we’ll take a hand in it.”
“You bet,” said Jimmy. He cleared his throat, because what he had to say embarrassed him. “Mack,” he began, “I reckon you know I’ll stand by you? If you’re going to be sick, don’t you go and worry. I’ll stand by the ark. I can put the thing through. You can trust me.”
Marion smiled wearily. “You will be captain, Jimmy?”
Jimmy flushed. His lip trembled. “You’re the captain of this expedition,” he answered in a voice that he tried hard to make steady, “and captain you’re going to stay, Mack, whether ye’re up or on your back here in camp; and I’ll see that your orders get carried out, that’s all. But don’t you worry — you hear me?”
“All right,” said Marion. “I guess we understand each other.”
“I reckon we do,” said Jimmy.
The young captain moved away towards the shelter of poles where Kenton was feeding the horses. He walked unsteadily, and Jimmy saw him wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. A heavy weight settled on Jimmy’s heart. And this was the man Jimmy had sworn to be revenged upon, for forbidding him to join the crew! At that moment, watching him going off to look after the welfare of the camp when he should have been in bed, Jimmy would have welcomed the chance of laying down his life for Marion Royce.
If Marion should let sickness get hold of him so that he could not command the expedition, what would become of all of them? In the crew there were but Marion and himself who had the gift of leadership. The others, efficient enough in other ways, all had disqualifications for commanders, and would quickly have brought the rest of the crew to riot and mutiny and chaos. The fact that Marion had been afraid of Jimmy’s influence at the outset, pointed to the influence which Jimmy had it in him to wield, for either good or evil, and now Jimmy wondered that he had ever threatened to cast it against law and order.
He continued to turn it all over and over in his mind through the process of helping get the breakfast of fish and pot porridge; and even after he and Shadwell had provisioned their skiff and started down the river towards Natchez, he continued to think of it.
He did not communicate his thoughts to Lincoln. No one ever confided in Lincoln. He was too unsympathetic. With his drawling indolence, he scoffed at everything. Jimmy looked at him and wondered if he had ever felt a responsibility.
“Well,” said Shadwell at length, returning the look with one of languid tolerance, “you’re most as talkative as your pa. What’s the matter?”
“Nothin’,” said Jimmy.
“Old Mack’s petering out,” observed Shadwell. “Fussed like an old granny about our getting off. You’d think we were goin’ to New Orleans. Wanted to have Lewis come along, at the last minute, and leave them short-handed.”
Jimmy pulled away at the oars. “Good thing, too, if we could have him,” he said. “You just wait till it comes to pullin’ back; you’ll think so, too.”
Lincoln lay back in the stern and waved off the mosquitoes. A little later in the day the breeze would come up and blow them away for a time, but now they swam in the sunlight like singing clouds.
“Dod rot ’em,” said Lincoln.
They shot out into the river and the current took Jimmy’s work away from him.
Only two boats were floating down, but from the crews of these they received much disconcerting news.
The climax of the long grievance had come. The Spaniards could no longer arbitrarily keep the gate of the world closed to the frontiersmen. For the West an outlet was necessary at New Orleans. The flatboats must unload there and deposit their goods pending reshipment in sea-going vessels. Ten years before, when the Spaniards had denied this privilege, the West had talked of war, and a treaty had been made which gave the Americans the right to unload their goods. The term of the treaty had expired and the Spaniards had withdrawn this right of deposit. All was again chaos, rendered more formidable by the great increase in the river traffic. What with their market closed and the talk of a French invasion, it was no wonder that the rivermen were ready and anxious to fight.
As they neared Natchez they received more news. Bonaparte, with a navy behind him, was coming to colonize the Mississippi Valley as a “Grand French Empire of the West.” Meanwhile, the arksmen who ventured below Point Coupée — “the Line of West Florida” — as it was called, would probably be stopped by a Spanish battery, recently planted there by the governor.
The flotilla at Natchez was evidence of the reality of this blockade. As Jimmy and Lincoln wound in and out among the fleet it seemed to them that the army which it represented, all the way down to the line, must overwhelm the Spanish troops if it came to fighting. In fact, the arksmen had little fear of the Spaniards. It was Bonaparte and his General Victor whom they feared.
The Marietta brig was moored among barges and broadhorns, and Jimmy soon picked out a man he knew, who consented to watch their skiff while they went ashore. He expressed a good deal of curiosity as to their errand, but Jimmy deemed it unwise to give any information, and made no mention of the plight in which they had left the rest of the crew and the ark.
The sun was setting as they went up to the fort and applied for admittance. On the parade ground the flag was being lowered, and the recruits who were drilling had been formed to salute it. The notes of a bugle died away. The little gun, on the parapet overlooking the river, leaped forward with a loud report.
“You can’t see the colonel,” said the sentry, in answer to Jimmy’s request. “Come to-morrow morning, after guard mounting.”
“We must see him,” said Jimmy, looking towards the dispersing group about the flagstaff. “It’s important. We’ve got to get back up the river to-night.”
The sentry looked at him stolidly, and returned his musket to his shoulder.
Two figures came towards them: one, whom the boys saw was the commandant; the other a civilian, a slender young gentleman, dressed quietly in black. Without further parley Jimmy started forward to waylay them.
“Halt, you!” said the sentry. “I tell you, you can’t see him.”
“I’ve got to see the commandant,” said Jimmy, loudly, with his eyes fixed on the nearing figures. “I’ve brought the head of Big Harp, and I don’t want to leave the fort with it. Some of the cut-throats around here would be glad to break my head in exchange for it, if I take it away.”
His words reached the commandant, as he had intended that they should, and he and his companion looked up, Both men appeared in rare good humor, which was, doubtless, the reason for the attention which the two arksmen received.
“You wish to see me?” the colonel asked. “You say you have Big Harp’s head?”
“Come this way.” He led the boys out of hearing of the sentry. “You will pardon me, Governor,” he added to the young gentleman with him, “but this is the fourth time that Big Harp’s head has come to me within the year. If a patriot had as many heads to give for his country as an outlaw has to have offered for ransom, our enemies would never come to the end of them. What proof have you, young sir, and, in faith, who are you that you wear a scalp-lock with a civil tongue? Your garments bespeak the arksman from Kentucky, but your head looks as if it might be forfeit, like our friend’s here.”
“Aye, sir, it came near being,” said Jimmy, smiling; “and to him, at that. But since it had to be the one or the other, I’m glad to have had it as it is.” He began fumbling with the leather thong that tied the bag he carried.
“Oh, not so fast,” expostulated the colonel. “It’s an ill sight to sup on. Governor Claiborne, here, would be offering a ransom for the return of his appetite. Let it wait until to-morrow.”
“Governor Claiborne?” repeated Jimmy. He looked with astonishment on the young gentleman in black.
The governor looked back at him in some amusement. “Well,” said the governor, briskly, “what is it? I assure you there’s no ransom just at present on my head, that you should covet it.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Jimmy, hastily. “I was surprised. My name is Claiborne.”
“The devil it is!” said the governor. “You do me too much honor. And what’s the beginning of it? I didn’t know there were any head-hunters amongst our family. Where are you from?”
“From Ohio,” said Jimmy. “We came from Virginia. Uncle Amasa, my grandfather, is descended from William Claiborne.”
“I see, cousins,” said the governor. “Well cousin, my advice to you while you are in Natchez is that you go and make the acquaintance of the barber.” He put his hand into his pocket and brought out some silver pieces.
Jimmy drew back, flushing haughtily. “We have to get back to our ark,” he said. “We have left some very sick men up a bayou just below the place where we were shipwrecked. One of my errands was to learn from some doctor who knows the fevers how to take care of our sick.”
The bearing of the two older men changed at once. They asked questions of Jimmy and Lincoln, and as one question brought up another they eventually had the history of the voyage from the moment of Jimmy’s joining the crew, and Jimmy’s anger cooled.
“One thing I brought that I thought might be sent on its way if you knew who it was meant for,” he added, fishing in his pocket. “It’s a letter that the outlaws took from a despatch messenger that they killed. They thought it had something to say about money being sent by a brig from Marietta, and they had me read part of it. But when they found it was about militia, they were disappointed and let me keep the letter. Here it is.”
The outer addressed sheet was missing, but the rest, including the sheet which Jimmy had used for his message, was all there, and as it was growing dark the colonel unfolded a little pocket lantern, and putting it together, stuck a candle in it, and read the letter carefully. Then he handed it to the governor, who also read it. They looked at each other.
“I congratulate you,” said the colonel.
“Thank you. But the purchase may not go through.” The governor turned to Jimmy. “Have you read this letter, my son?”
“They made me; — most of it, but as I didn’t know who it was from nor who it was to, I didn’t learn much.”
“You didn’t recognize the signature of President Jefferson, nor my initials, with the dashes between them?”
“Indeed, sir, but I’d never happened to hear of you at all,” said Jimmy, candidly, “until the colonel here introduced you, and I could not make out the signature. Are you the one that’s to be picked out to receive the territory from Napoleon Bonaparte if the President buys it, as the letter says he’s offered to? Faith, I’d like to see that, sir. I’d like to be able to tell Uncle Amasa that one of our folks had a hand in such a thing as that. He’d be right proud to hear it.”
The governor looked in stupefaction at the unmoved young arksman who spoke with so little deference, and yet from such an honest pride. Then he threw back his head and laughed boyishly, loud and long. The colonel, after glaring a moment, also threw his head back, and Jimmy, after looking doubtfully from one to the other, joined them.
“I’ll bear it in mind,” the governor said. “If there is anything to see, by Jupiter, you shall see it, and more thereafter. But now, colonel, how about the sick men up the bayou? They must be gotten out of there. Can’t we send up some men and put them aboard their ark and fetch them out where they’ll have a chance for life and limb?”
“We certainly will,” said the commandant, and they were soon deep in ways and means.
The head of Big Harp the colonel delivered to an orderly whom he called to him, to be guarded until morning, when it should be displayed on the Natchez trace, as a warning to all outlaws and a protection to the pioneers along the river.
“The bounty will be paid to you,” he promised Jimmy, as he sent the two boys away in command of a barge-load of men and a surgeon.
“I’d rather not take it, sir,” said Jimmy. “It would be blood money. Spend it in making the river safer for the arksmen. I’m mighty grateful to you for arranging to get us out of the bayou with our cargo, and if we can land it at New Orleans and sell it and get home with all safe, we’ll count ourselves lucky enough.”
“The river is open,” said the colonel. “You’ll have no trouble with the Spaniards. They got frightened when they heard about the Independent Army you arksmen were organizing, and have restored the right of deposit. But with all this rumor of a French invasion threatening, no one will buy goods. I’m afraid we can’t help you there, so you’d better accept the money, though your unwillingness does you credit, I’ll be bound.”
“I’d rather not, sir,” answered Jimmy, “and the others didn’t have half as much trouble with him as I did. I’d rather you’d use it to protect the rivermen.”
The governor, who was still with them, clapped his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. “You’re one of us, all right,” he said. “The colonel will keep it in trust for you, to buy land — or get an education at the University of Virginia, where the rest of the family have gotten their learning. Would that suit you?”
“I’ve got plenty of land,” said Jimmy, doubtfully, “and I expect I’d never come to be governor even if I went to the University. I reckon it had better go into protection for the arksmen along the river. I’ll be comin’ down occasionally myself, and I’d like to feel that my money is out keepin’ watch along shore somewhere, or else helping to fit out explorers in the wilderness, like Uncle Amasa’s always pining to. I reckon that would suit me best.”
“Well, well, we needn’t equip an expedition with it now,” said the colonel. “Good luck to you, and au revoir.”
“Goodbye,” said Jimmy, “and thank you.”
“Goodbye, cousin! See you in New Orleans,” shouted the governor.
Marion Royce was down with the fever when he was helped aboard and the voyage resumed, and Jimmy took his place, in a measure, and there was no demur. Even Shadwell Lincoln showed him a sarcastic deference since the interview with the governor.
Night and a dense fog covered the river, when they reached the line of West Florida.
Suddenly, as the ark floated downward, its headway was slowly arrested, and they heard the jangle of a bell ashore. The ark came to a standstill.
Lewis, who was leaning over the port bow, heard the dull swish of the current against a cable, and saw that a raft of driftwood had already collected against it. He dropped on his knees and started to crawl aft to report.
Before he was half-way there, however, there was a dull red flash in the fog, accompanied by a tremendous report, and a cannonball howled over the ark. So startling a salute might well have caused confusion, but the pioneer arksmen did not lack coolness in danger. The horses, indeed, jumped and made some noise, but not a man spoke; and Lewis, reaching Jimmy, whispered his news.
He had hardly done so when a second red flash and report followed. They heard this ball skipping on the water ahead of them. Still another gun roared its hostile salutation, soon followed by a fourth report; and but for the poor shooting of the Spanish gunners, it must have gone hard with the ark. But, meanwhile, Jimmy was not idle. Swinging down from the port bow, he found that he could touch the cable with his foot. It was a strong line; but glad to find that it was not a chain, as he had at first feared, he sent Moses for a large, sharp knife from the cook-room. Then, bidding Wistar and Lewis bear a hand at a line which he looped round his own body, he reached down, and after several efforts, cut the hawser.
It parted with a splash, and immediately the ark floated on, silently as before. Four or five more shots were fired, but all went wide of the ark; the gunners appeared to think that the enemy was farther down-stream.
After passing the Spanish battery, the ark floated on during the remainder of the night, and until eight or nine o’clock the following morning, when, the fog clearing away, they found themselves heading down a narrow passage between two islands. Being still apprehensive of capture, they tied up under cover of a wooded bank in this narrow arm of water.
No one came off to them here, although they saw several boats in the channel outside the islands; and that night they went on again by moonlight, but had much difficulty at a succession of great eddies in the river. In one of these the ark floated round and round for an hour or more before they could row out of it.
Very few boats were seen that day, and these few were mostly market-boats, plying to and fro between the city and the numerous large plantations on both banks. Moses and Lewis had never seen such fine places before. There were extensive gardens of vegetables and flowers, and the plantation houses looked palatial to their unaccustomed eyes.
What astonished them still more was that the river was so much higher than the fields of cane and cotton on each side of it. When floating near the bank they could look down on the gardens from the ark roof.
Toward morning of the third night they arrived within a mile and a half of the city. As Jimmy had determined to go on in advance that day, to make inquiries as to the real condition of affairs, the ark was moored to what, in the dusk of the early morning, was believed to be a wild-wood bank.
After tying up, Lewis and Moses jumped ashore to look about them. They had gone but a few steps, however, when they found themselves in a grove of thick trees, with yellow balls showing amidst the dark-green, glossy leaves.
“Oranges, aren’t they, Lew?” Moses exclaimed.
“Guess so,” said Lewis, doubtfully. “Must be. Wonder if they are wild, or do they belong to somebody?”
They had heard oranges described, but had never tasted one. A few steps away there was what appeared to be a green hedge, having numerous gaps in it; beyond were more of the thick, dark-green trees with the scattered yellow fruit.
The two boys now advanced to one of the gaps in the hedge, but had scarcely peeped through when a little bareheaded lad and a tall, black-eyed girl stepped out from a covert.
The girl said something to them, laughing heartily; something in a rapid, tripping tongue, which they did not in the least understand. Moses afterward said that it sounded like, “Bonesure-messr-may-voo-venny-arboner!” — which may have been, “Good morning! You have called early!”
Like most boys in pioneer days, Lewis and Moses were not very bashful. Seeing that the girl was laughing, they laughed in turn, and pointed to the small yellow globes in the trees. Thereupon the little lad picked up several oranges, and gave them each one, with a bow and flourish of his hand. Moses thumbed his as if it had been an apple, then essayed to take a big bite from it, with the result that the juice flew, some of it into his own eyes!
Noting this, the girl laughed heartily. Moses, winking hard, was inclined to make angry remarks; but the boy, approaching with grave politeness, showed the newcomer how to pull off the peel. He also peeled an orange for Lewis, and invited them to be seated on a bench near by. There was a house not far off, half-hidden by trees.
A stout, dark-haired man appeared, with a huge yellow and white dog, that sniffed the strangers and then wagged his tail. The man drew near and said, “Buenas días!” and asked what appeared to be an abrupt question.
Moses nodded at a venture, although he did not understand a word, but Lewis shook his head. The dark man looked perplexed and angry; but the girl said something about “Norah,” to which the man replied — still to quote from Moses — “Ah — see — Norah.”
The girl ran away again, but soon returned with a tall, austere woman, whose auburn hair was turning gray. The woman glanced hard at the boys, and with a strong Irish accent said:
“The señ;or general wishes to know where you came from and what you are doing here, for sure.”
Lewis replied that they had come down the river on an ark, and that they had seen the oranges on the trees.
“We did not come to steal them,” Moses added, honestly enough. “We will go right away if you say so.”
The woman smiled broadly, then turned and repeated what they said in Spanish. The small lad, meanwhile, was peeling more oranges for them. But the man cried out as if in much excitement, and the woman asked them gravely when they had come down the river.
“Last night,” replied Moses.
“We always float by night when there is a moon,” Lewis explained, to help out Moses’ statement.
“Norah” interpreted, and the man grew even more excited.
The Irishwoman fell to laughing. “But, sure, his honor wants to know how ye got by the fort?” she said to the boys.
“Fort?” said Moses, inquiringly, and looking hard at Lewis. “‘Fort?’” he repeated. “We didn’t see any fort” — which was literally true; there was too much fog.
But the man fairly jumped at this reply, and sputtered angrily.
Little wonder, for this short, dark man was the Spanish intendant of New Orleans, Señor Morales himself, the same who had ordered the embargo! He had chanced to be spending the night at the up-river house of a French Creole friend, Doctor Lecassigne, whose children our youthful arksmen had found in the orange-orchard. That an ark had floated past his fortifications and never even seen them was not flattering to Señor Morales’ pride!
Doctor Lecassigne, a lean, sallow man, who had now come from the house, sought to soothe the irritation of his distinguished guest. Norah, meanwhile, was asking the boys what they had brought in their ark and what they had seen on the way.
“Sure I was once in Philadelphia mesilf,” she said. “And a fine, brave gintlemon was Gin’ral George Washington! Many’s the toime I’ve handed him his coffee. Ah, sure,” she added, “I’ve lived in ivery part of the world.”
The boys rather liked old Norah. Lewis told her of their nocturnal battle with the alligators; and, not to be outdone, Moses threw in an account of his Indian “Gobbler,” and the great bones which they had brought for Doctor Buchat.
“Doctor Buchat!” cried Norah. “Sure, he must be a frind of me master here,” and she spoke to Doctor Lecassigne, who became interested at once.
He went to call Señor Morales again, and immediately they both expressed a great curiosity to see the bones. The boys, therefore, led the way back to the river, where the ark lay moored.
Jimmy had already set off along the levee for the city; but Shadwell Lincoln, who had as usual been left in charge, threw out a plank for them all to come on board. He was a good deal disturbed, however, when Lewis whispered to him that the short, dark man was the hated intendant.
Of the mastodon skeleton on the ark roof, there still remained seven or eight of the long ribs, the huge skull, femur bones, one long, curved tusk and many of the smaller bones. Both Doctor Lecassigne and General Morales examined them in astonishment at their enormous size. They sent back to the house for Norah to interpret, and asked a great many questions. The intendant seemed now to forget his anger, and assented good-humoredly when Doctor Lecassigne proposed that the ark should be allowed to remain there till he could send for Doctor Buchat, who seems to have been a friend of both.
Doctor Lecassigne, who was a very genial, kind-hearted man, went into the cabin to see how Marion Royce and the other sick men were coming on, and his favorable report, especially of the captain, gave the utmost relief to the crew. He then showed them a better place to moor their craft, in a short canal which opened through the levee a little way below his house. A water-gate at the end of this little canal allowed a stream to flow from the level of the river down to a mill for grinding corn and sawing lumber. There were numbers of such mills along the levees, the millstreams flowing out of the river instead of into it, presenting the odd spectacle of creeks flowing backward from their mouths till their waters were lost in the swamps at a distance.
When Jimmy returned he was surprised and a little startled to learn that in his absence they had had Señor Morales for a visitor. The intendant had already returned to the city in his barge; but Doctor Lecassigne assured them that although the intendant was a somewhat choleric man and inclined to narrow political views, he would probably give them no farther trouble, particularly if they were to send him a present of a showy horse.
This overture they concluded, rather reluctantly, to make; and since Lewis and Moses had seen and spoken with the general, it was judged best that they should take one of their handsomest animals to his house in the city that very afternoon.
They set off, accordingly, leading a large bay horse — one of their very best. Meanwhile Doctor Buchat had arrived to see his long-expected mammoth bones, which proved even bigger than he had been told. But his disappointment that the skeleton was not complete was keen, and he was willing to pay but four hundred francs for what Marion Royce had brought.
The New Orleans of that day extended for about a mile along the river-front, and was surrounded on the back or land side by a ditch or moat, filled with water, and inside this ditch by a row of tall pickets, consisting of cypress logs driven into the earth close together. On this side, leading out into the back country, were two gates with drawbridges; on the levee by the water there was another gate, both above and below the town.
The people were chiefly French and negroes, with a small Spanish and American population, and the number of inhabitants is said to have been ten thousand.
At each gate there was a battery of cannon, and along the river-front were a number of larger guns, deemed very heavy ordnance for the times. Negro slaves did the work of stevedores along the levee. Several hundreds of them were constantly to be seen at the latter place, and when not at work the rival gangs beguiled the time dancing, singing, and sometimes fighting pitched battles. It was all very novel to Moses and Lewis — the palisades, the cannon, the drawbridges, the long rows of houses and the gay shops. But, although strangers, they experienced little difficulty in finding the intendant’s house. For, on mentioning his name to a group of young darkies, the latter, mightily pleased at sight of the horse, led the way there of their own accord.
Señor Morales was not at home, however, and they had to content themselves with giving the horse in charge of his equerries, with Captain Royce’s compliments. Their errand accomplished, it would have been better if they had returned at once; but they wished to see the town, and set off on a long tramp through the streets.
Even in 1803, with a population of only ten thousand, New Orleans was a gay and picturesque little city. Lewis and Moses found so much to see that the shades of evening surprised them while they were still wandering along the streets.
It was no more than a mile and a half along the levee to the ark, however. The boys continued on, peeping into the candle-lit cabarets, coffee-houses and verandas, where gaily attired people were talking, singing and playing.
Presently, however, a sereno, or patrol, stopped them, on account of their pioneer dress, perhaps, and said a great deal which they did not in the least understand. His tone and manner were so censorious that Moses thought they had better turn back. Accordingly they hastened to the gate near Fort St. Louis, by which they had entered, but found it shut. A watch-fire burned in the street near it, and a soldier in uniform, with musket and bayonet, was walking up and down before it.
As they drew near this sentry, he shouted: “Centinela alerta!” at the top of his lungs — the usual fifteen-minute cry of a Spanish soldier on guard duty.
But the boys thought that he had shouted to them, and were startled by his vehemence.
The soldier continued on his beat, but looked hard at them; and not to provoke him into shouting like that again, the boys went back a little way to see what would happen next.
Something happened immediately. From out a side street near the palisadoes they heard a little bell ringing, and saw a queer procession coming — two tonsured men in black robes, who bore a black banner and a kind of a tray; while behind them, at a rapid pace, trotted four or five attendants, each carrying a lantern. Bringing up the rear were twelve soldiers, having muskets and bayonets fixed.
These, most likely, were Spanish priests, proceeding to a military execution. Moses and Lewis were apprehensive lest the soldiers might be looking for them, and promptly scudded to the cover of several long tiers of molasses hogsheads on the levee.
The ominous procession passed, however; and, satisfied now that they were not objects of pursuit, Lewis and Moses came out from their hiding-place and followed. Walking rapidly, priests and soldiers proceeded to the Plaza de Armas (now Jackson Square), passed the Cabildo, aduana and barracks, and went to the calabozo, or prison, in the rear.
Several hundred people had collected here, and there were also numbers of soldiers and three serenos with torches. Way was made for the strange procession. When it stopped before the prison door the by-standers drew back, and every one sank on his knees with bowed head — every one except our two youthful pioneers from the Ohio. They had no idea what it was all about, and simply stood still.
Immediately attention was attracted to their irreverent attitude. One man whispered to them brusquely, and attempted to pull Moses down. Not understanding a word, and resenting having hands laid on him, Moses gave him a push. The stranger insisted. Moses pushed him headlong. Lewis, too, squared about to assist his companion. Thereupon two soldiers attempted to seize him. Lewis promptly clinched with the one nearest, and cross-locking his leg, threw him heavily to the ground. Moses, too, proved more than a match for the other.
Our two young arksmen broke away and ran through the crowd, shoving the people right and left. But a sereno caught hold of Moses, and as he was unable to break loose again, they secured him, and with many threats and buffets, hustled him away to a circular wooden structure, hard by the calabozo. This was the “little calabozo,” which the Creoles called the “calaboose,” answering to our lockup, or police-station. Moses was thrust in without ceremony, and found himself in very undesirable company.
Lewis meanwhile had broken through the crowd and started off at a rapid run. Several soldiers, serenos and others, chased him hotly, and shouted savage orders after him in Spanish, none of which he in the least comprehended.
When it came to running, Lewis was quite at home; they could not catch him. All along the water-front the chase continued, and Lewis was getting well away when he came to the palisadoes, by Fort St. Louis, where they projected into the river.
Finding himself likely to be cornered here, he was about to double back on his pursuers when he saw a number of skiffs drawn up in a row. To shove one of them off was but the work of an instant. There was a paddle in it, and he got clear of the levee before the serenos could reach him. They hailed the sentry at the gate, however, and he, running up, touched off his gun. But by this time Lewis had paddled out past a five-oared galley which lay near the bank. Keeping outside this and several other craft that lay crowded along the levee, he escaped up-stream and returned to the ark.
Captain Royce was disturbed when he learned that Moses had been made a prisoner. He knew the ways of the Spanish authorities well enough to understand that nothing could be done for a captive until the following day, and that to obtain Moses’ release was a problem. It was suggested that the best method of procedure would be to go to the prefect, or alcalde, the next day, with a substantial present.
As it chanced, however, the present was not needed. Moses succeeded in solving the problem himself. He found himself in disagreeable company — ten dirty negroes, thieves and fighters, some of them intoxicated; a number of French sailors, a few Mexicans, and a pirate or two from below the Belize. This motley crew received him with open arms and a shout of sinister welcome. They passed him round, picked his pocket, and even tried to strip him of his leather jacket, moccasins and coonskin cap.
But Moses had not been a fighter all his life without learning something of the science of self-defense; and finding that he was being stripped, he hit out at his tormentors with such force that they stood away from him, objurgating him for un mauvais Kaintock. Others stole upon him in the obscurity, and for an hour or so Moses was in his natural element.
What light there was came from a lantern suspended from a peg in a wooden post at the center of the enclosure. This post apparently supported the roof. After a time Moses backed against it and stood there on the defensive.
As the night advanced many of the prisoners lay down and slept; but the young arksman leaned against the post listening to all that went on. What would be done with him in the morning caused him anxiety.
The lantern went out at last; the candle was consumed; and after a time he caught the twinkle of a star through a chink in the roof of the building. It was near the top of the post, and led the boy to think that the roof was not very thick or strong there. He was accustomed to climbing trees; it occurred to him that he might break out, and he clasped the post with his arms and “shinned” up.
He had twelve or fifteen feet to climb before his head bumped into the roof. It did not feel very solid, and pressing his head up against it, he began giving upward pushes, grasping the post hard and jumping up. One of the covering boards yielded, and reaching up with one hand, he pushed it aside, got his head through the hole, and then climbed out on the roof.
His operations had created a hubbub among his fellow prisoners below; clods and old bones flew about his legs, but he could hear no stir outside. So, sliding down to the eaves of the calaboose at the back — for he thought there was a sentry at the gate — he swung off, dropped to the ground, and decamped forthwith.
He ran out toward the levee. A sereno, with his lantern, was walking to and fro; but Moses easily kept away from him, and stealing along the encumbered levee up-stream, came to the palisadoes by the fort, as Lewis had done earlier in the night.
The row of skiffs here attracted his attention, and deeming his own need great, he was not slow in appropriating one. The river current was so strong, however, that he was fully two hours paddling the skiff against it, up to the ark. Day was breaking as he reached it. Thus ended the two boys’ first visit to the Crescent City in 1803. The skiffs were returned to their places that afternoon.
The weather was hot; fevers prevailed, and Marion Royce had not recovered enough to dispose of his cargo. A great number of arks, flatboats and other up-river craft, came down to the city. The water-front of the “American quarter” for a mile was crowded with boats, and the town was so thronged with frontiersmen that the Spaniards had difficulty in maintaining even the semblance of law and order.
It must be confessed that Señor Morales’ reluctance to have American craft make New Orleans their market was not wholly unreasonable. The little city was in turmoil night and day. Roisterers were no sooner arrested and put in the little calabozo than a mob of their fellows collected and set them free. At last, to save themselves further trouble, the boatmen pulled the little calaboose down. They were so numerous and aggressive that the Spanish dared not interfere with them in earnest, lest they should take full possession of the town.
The wide-awake French population had grown very restless. These people had little fondness for the Spaniards, and ardently longed for the appearance of the French fleet. Equally they disliked the frontiersmen. “Napoleon will make you hop very soon,” they said to the Americans in the Creole “gombo,” or patois. “General Victor is already at sea. When he arrives you will all toe the mark.”
Doctor Lecassigne and Doctor Buchat remained Marion Royce’s warm friends, however. The ark had not moved from its berth in the canal near the plantation house of the former. Here, too, they often saw Señor Morales, and once met the aged Governor Salcedo.
News had already come that Spain had ceded West Florida and Louisiana to France. The Spaniards were merely awaiting the arrival of French officials and a garrison. The Creoles had grand anticipations of what New Orleans would be as the capital of the new French empire.
In point of fact there had been another and more extraordinary change. President Jefferson had commissioned Livingstone and Monroe to buy New Orleans and a small strip of land at the mouth of the Mississippi. But, while the negotiations were under way in Paris, Napoleon changed his mind. Suddenly, through Talleyrand, he offered the whole of Louisiana to the Americans, and the offer was finally accepted. The sale had already been made — April 30th, 1803.
Even after the news of the sale arrived, the people would not credit it. “Napoleon never gives up anything,” they said. “His fleet will come at Christmas.”
But this was one of the cases where Napoleon gave up something. He dared not send a fleet to New Orleans, for the reason that England, with whom he was at war, had a stronger fleet than his in the West Indian waters.
On November 30th the banner of Spain was lowered for the last time at the Cabildo, and the tricolor of France went up in its place. But the sight of it brought little joy to the Creoles, for the rumor of the transfer of Louisiana to the United States was now confirmed.
The French were taking possession merely to legalize the transfer. General Victor and the fleet were not coming.
As the Spanish troops were now withdrawn, and the French representative had no troops with him to police the city, lawlessness would have held full sway if the arksmen and rivermen had not offered their services to M. Laussat, and, forming a volunteer company, patrolled the streets day and night, in armed bands. These were stirring times for the arksmen from Fish Creek. Marion was about again, and Jimmy was everywhere in evidence, jealously guarding the city as if he were its sole custodian until the arrival of the American commissioners, Wilkinson and Claiborne. He knew, now, that the letter he had carried so long had held the first intimation to the governor that he would be chosen, in case the purchase was successfully brought about, to receive it from France. To whom the letter was addressed, Jimmy never knew; but it was evidently to some close personal friend of the President’s and the young Governor of Mississippi.
City life had made some change in Jimmy’s appearance. He had taken the governor’s hint and visited the barber. His own heart was so jubilant that he marveled at the despair of the Creoles. Women, and even men, were seen weeping in the shops and doorways. To them this transfer was but one more mocking irony of fate.
The time fixed for the entrance of the commissioners and the American troops was Tuesday, December 20; but the great event began for Jimmy the evening before, when, walking out by the Gate of France to the ark, he met Governor Claiborne and the French commissioner, M. Laussat, returning on horseback from a visit to one of the plantations.
“By Jupiter, but it seems to me that I see my young cousin from up the Ohio,” exclaimed the governor, reining in his horse. “Monsieur Laussat, permit me to present a young kinsman of mine from the West.”
He turned to his companion, and at that moment a bullet whizzed past his head. Turning back quickly, he saw that Jimmy’s upflung hand had caught the wrist of a swarthy little Creole. The pistol fell from the Creole’s hand.
“You would, would you?” said Jimmy, pinning him, now that he was unarmed, and taking him by the throat. “What shall I do with him, sir? He tried to shoot you!”
The governor looked down at the dark-skinned little partisan who had tried to kill him. “He seems to have no love for the idea of an American occupation,” he said. “I hope the city isn’t full of such patriotism for France. Let him go, cousin. My friend,” he added to the Creole, “if you were as good an American as you are a Frenchman, I would like to have a thousand of you at my back. As it is, I will ask you to walk in front of us; is it not so, M. Laussat?”
To Jimmy he held out his hand. “You are always goodness itself,” he said. “You will come to me to-morrow at the Cabildo?”
“Thank you,” murmured Jimmy. But he had no idea of doing so. He and the volunteer company would have their hands full in the Place d’Armes, preserving order.
Next morning the American troops approached in order of battle, to be received by the Spanish troops at the city gates. They were escorted to the Cabildo, where the keys of the city were handed to Claiborne, and the people were absolved by Laussat from allegiance to the French Consul. Commissioner Claiborne then welcomed them as citizens of the United States. The commissioners then passed out into one of the balconies and looked down on the cheering crowds that gazed up at them from the Place d’Armes. No other fanatic attempted to kill the representative of the new government, but Jimmy, among his volunteers, watched anxiously, as if the safety of the young man in the gallery depended upon him alone.
Slowly the tricolor of France was lowered, and the Stars and Stripes raised until they met midway of the flagstaff and were saluted. Then the flag of the United States rose, to the accompaniment of a great cheer from thousands of boatmen and soldiers, and New Orleans was an American city for all future time.
With the transfer came the hoped-for improvement. Within three weeks Captain Royce was able to dispose of nearly everything at fair rates, even to the old ark itself, in which they had come so far. Its sound oak planks went to repair the gun platforms and casemates at Fort St. Charles. And for little more than he received for these, Marion Royce had an opportunity to purchase a small “keel” boat of fifteen-tons burden for the homeward voyage.
A difficulty now rose, however. The horse-gear for the paddle-wheels, which they had brought for the return trip up the river, was too heavy for the keel. It required six horses, walking round on a kind of gallery, to operate the transverse shaft to which the paddle-wheels were attached. The keel was too narrow for a six-horse “circuit.”
Horse-boats were not uncommon on the Mississippi in those days; but most, if not all, of these devices consisted of a large horizontal wheel, round which the horses walked, as sailors walk round a capstan, the horizontal wheel being connected by cog-gear to the shaft beneath, which carried the two paddle-wheels.
Marion Royce now set his wits at work to devise something lighter and less cumbrous, adapted to his small keel. His two good friends, Doctor Lecassigne and Doctor Buchat, were much interested, and spent several days studying the problem with him.
But a Yankee sea-captain, named Grover, who chanced to be in port with his Boston brig, had the honor of suggesting to them a horse-power of the treadmill type, such as is now so commonly used for thrashing grain and sawing wood, where the weight of the horses, climbing on “lags,” propels the saw, or the “separator.”
At a “smithy” boat which had come down the river, our arksmen had such a horse-power made for them, and placed it low in the keel, amidships. The two paddle-wheels were attached to the topmost axle of the “lags” wheel, up the incline of which two horses walked abreast.
A week or more was occupied in making and adjusting the new gear, and there were many doubts as to its success; but on trial it was found that two horses were able to propel this light keel-boat against the river current at the rate of about four miles an hour. It was necessary, however, to have two spare horses. Four of their horses were reserved for this purpose.
They still had the pet bear, which had come to them so unexpectedly. Captain Royce had supposed that they might fall in with its former owners at New Orleans.
Moses, who still laid claim to the animal, had hopes of trading it for a rifle. But Doctor Buchat had taken a fancy to the bear, and named him “Napoleon,” and Captain Royce wished to give him to the genial Frenchman, who had repeatedly helped them.
Moses demurred to this; and the doctor, perceiving how matters stood with the boy, offered him a pair of antique, silver-mounted dueling pistols for his pet — not a very suitable present for a boy, but the only thing he could give.
The pistols were long-barreled old flintlocks, provided with “hair” triggers, and Moses was much elated. After a discussion, however, he reluctantly consented to give Lewis one of them; and this burning question being at last settled, the two boys set off to take Napoleon to Doctor Buchat’s house, which was on Good-Children Street, beyond the French market.
They confined the bear’s mouth in a strong muzzle and led him by his chain. Wistar Royce went along with them to lend a hand, in case of need, and to carry in a bag two vertebræ of the mastodon, which were overlooked in the hold of the ark when the rest of the skeleton was hauled to the doctor’s house.
Captain Royce had that day given each arksman his share of the proceeds of the voyage; and John Kenton, Clark MacAfee and Merrick also went along with the boys, bent on celebrating the occasion at the “Sure Enuf Hotel,” kept by a tremendously stout pioneer woman, known as “Old Ma’am Colby.” This was a place of common resort for flatboatmen, and was in a locality called “The Swamp,” at the farther end of Girod Street.
But the three boys went on with their bear past the American quarter, and entered the city proper by the Tchoupitoulas gate.
There chanced to be a festival in progress, which, judging from the date, may have been “King’s day,” a fete celebrated by the negroes with songs and dances.
A group of shouting youngsters set upon the boys, pelting them with little bags containing sugar and rice, also dust and snuff, that caused boisterous sneezing. The revelers began chanting an improvised song about les jeunes Kaintocks. This may have been good-natured chaff, but our young arksmen did not like it; no more did Napoleon, who was distressed by sneezing with a muzzle on his nose.
They got away from this first group of roisterers, and hastened toward the doctor’s house; but near the market they encountered a greater and much more formidable crowd, in fantastic dress, wearing masks and bearing grotesque effigies aloft on poles.
To eyes unused to such parades, the spectacle was a startling one. The maskers wore all sorts of frightful head-gear — cocks’ heads, with huge red combs and bills a foot long, lions’ heads and tigers’ heads, bulls’ heads and dogs’ heads, Indians, crocodiles, serpents with forked tongues; and all were crowing, growling, bellowing, barking, whooping and hissing, with an added chorus from scores of horns and conch-shells. The uproar, indeed, was incredible. In this fantastic mob our young friends found themselves suddenly engulfed, and became objects of most undesirable attention.
“Mira a los Kaintock malos!” (Look at these Yankee rascals!) cried a tipsy Spanish sailor, and immediately an eddy of maskers circled round them, bawling forth a song then much in vogue: —
Bille en nanquin,
Voleur du pain,
Chez Miche d’Aquin!”
which, freely translated, signifies that the “Americans” are rogues who dress in homespun, steal bread from the bake-shop, and are all jail-birds! This was not complimentary — if the boys had understood it.
They cared less for abusive songs, however, than for the horns that blared in their faces, and two “Indians” who danced about them, brandishing tomahawks. When Lewis and Moses caught sight of these pseudo-savages they made ready for trouble.
HE boys had never seen anything like this before — such horrible heads and faces — or heard such a din. The tightly-muzzled “Napoleon” rose on his haunches, rolling his eyes wildly round. Accustomed to play with the arksmen, he was not much afraid of anybody; but now he attempted to bolt. The boys held him with difficulty.
They still thought that it was probably “fun.” But when those two “redskins” rushed toward them with tomahawks they were alarmed, the whoops were so ugly, the hatchets looked so wicked! Out came Moses’ old dueling pistol, which — like a boy — he had taken with him under his deerskin smock.
Lewis’ hands were so wound in the bear’s chain that he could not draw his; but Wistar, with his heavy bag of mammoth back-bones, gave one “Indian” a “smash” over the head that felled him.
Fortunately for Moses, trouble with the hair-trigger resulted in his discharging the pistol harmlessly into the ground.
But the fracas now began in earnest, and it might have ended badly for our young Kaintocks had not a loud laugh been heard and a high-pitched but powerful voice bawled in a queer mixture of Spanish and French: “Paz! Paz, mes enfants! Paz, mes petits!” — “Peace! Peace, my children!”
This timely outcry came from a veranda close at hand, where a stout old priest in a brown gown, and a tall, dark man, wearing a military cloak, stood watching the revelers. Immediately the former came through the throng, stretching out his arms, pushing them all aside as if they were in very truth his “children.” His big, kind face shone in the torchlight like a benevolent gargoyle, and his voice was as oil on angry waves.
“Paz! Paz!” he murmured, soothingly, in that odd jumble of French and Andalusian. “No sangre! Todos de bon coeur!”
With his hands he patted one after another, even Napoleon, who snuffed him thoughtfully through his muzzle.
Beyond doubt this was kind old “Pere Antoine,” who, for forty years, was so amiable and ubiquitous a figure in the New Orleans of those early days; “Pere Antoine cheri,” whom, although he was a Spaniard by birth, the Creoles loved to adoration; the brown-gowned old Capuchin who married all the young couples, white, black and yellow, and christened all their children as fast as they came into the world; who heard and sympathized with them in all their troubles, griefs and sins.
He was the unselfish, incorruptible guardian and lover of the city’s poor, who handled alms-money by the hundredweight, but lived in a little hut in the suburbs and slept on two bare boards; who used to have a great brown leather bag at his girdle for a purse, often so full by mid-week of voluntary silver and gold that, big as he was, he could hardly carry it, yet always quite empty — such was his charity — by Sunday evening; the “cher Daddy Antoine” of the street gamins, who tagged after him for his blessing and lagniappe — and never failed to get both.
The dark man in the military cloak, who laughed so heartily at the warlike attitude of the three youngsters in coonskin caps, was Señor Casa Calvo, the Spanish commissioner, who continued to live in New Orleans after the transfer of the territory to the United States.
Feeling sure, from his kindly face and the respect accorded him by the revelers, that they had made a friend worthy of confidence, the boys spoke to the priest of Doctor Buchat, and by signs gave him to understand that they were taking the bear to his house. Wistar also showed him the two huge vertebræ.
So greatly piqued was their curiosity, that both the priest and Señor Calvo accompanied the boys to Doctor Buchat’s house. So much animated talk ensued over the mammoth skeleton that it was not till late in the evening that the good doctor found quarters for Napoleon — so late, indeed, that the old naturalist kept his youthful visitors overnight and to breakfast on the following morning.
This was the boys’ last trip to the city, for that day Captain Royce had completed his preparations for the long voyage up the river, not forgetting numerous presents for the people at home. Wistar, Charlie Hoyt and Lewis, who had saved their profits from the venture, also bought similar gifts.
Of Kenton, MacAfee and Corson less kindly mention can be made. Like many other arksmen of those times, they had squandered much of their money at saloons and gaming-places in “The Swamp”; and becoming much dissatisfied, they determined to quit their more prosperous comrades, and go home on foot through the wilderness, by the “Natchez trail.”
Putting together what they had left from their dissipations, they bought a horse and set off, Corson first riding for two hours, then hitching the horse beside the path, and going on afoot. When Kenton and MacAfee came up, MacAfee mounted and rode for two hours, then left the horse hitched for Kenton, who was coming on behind. By the time Kenton had ridden two hours he usually overtook Corson, who then took his second turn. This was termed “whipsaw traveling”, and must have been hard for the poor horse.
They expected to reach home in thirty-eight days, and long in advance of their former comrades on the “horse-boat.” Captain Royce sent a message home by them, and also a letter to Milly Ayer.
He had previously sent word home by two Cincinnati boats; neither of which, however, had been able to forward the message. Nor did the word or letter sent by Corson and his companions come to hand, for the three arksmen never reached the settlement on the Ohio; what became of them is not known. Savages or outlaws may have murdered them; or, owing to dissatisfaction, they may have gone to “East Florida” or the Carolinas to live.
The Milly Ayer, as her youthful captain had chivalrously christened their new keel-boat, was not ready to leave New Orleans for the homeward voyage until January 24th; and still another day was lost, waiting for a passenger who had offered Captain Royce a hundred and fifty dollars to be taken to St. Louis.
This passenger was none other than the waggish Lieutenant Charles Grimsby, who is supposed to have carried a despatch from General Wilkinson to Captain Amos Stoddard, the first American governor of St. Louis. Captain Stoddard, however, did not assume the duties of office until the 10th of March following.
The French settlers of St. Louis, indeed, were still in ignorance of the sale and transfer of the Mississippi Valley to the United States, and the horse-boat of our young arksmen was destined to bring them the first positive intelligence of this event. Like the Creoles at New Orleans, they were awaiting the arrival of a French army to take possession of the country in the mighty name of Napoleon Bonaparte.
On the morning of the arksmen’s departure — January 25th — an old acquaintance returned in great haste and jumped aboard the boat, resolutely bent on rejoining his former messmates. This was none other than Napoleon, the pet black bear, whom they had presented to Doctor Buchat.
When first seen by Lewis, the bear was coming back at a clumsy gallop up the levee, dragging his chain and pursued by a hundred young darkies, who were hastening his flight with stones and clods. Instinct, or keen scent, had brought him to the Milly Ayer. He leaped aboard, whimpering from mingled fear and gladness at recognizing his old friends of the ark.
But they, truth to say, did not want him. Word was at once sent to Doctor Buchat. It then transpired that the worthy savant of Good-Children Street was not desirous of recovering him; in fact, the doctor begged that Captain Royce would make some other disposition of the animal. He had turned cross in his new surroundings, and had been near devouring one of the doctor’s maid servants.
Shadwell Lincoln suggested a rifle-ball as offering an easy way out of the difficulty, but Moses and Lewis would not hear of this. They still retained an affection for their former pet.
Finally, since the bear was aboard and objected strenuously to going ashore, Lieutenant Grimsby proposed that he should take him to St. Louis as a present to the new governor; and with this destination in view, Napoleon began his return voyage up the Mississippi.
At last the long voyage began. The horses were fresh, the gear worked well, and the little craft plowed her way gallantly up the river, making fairly good time for many days, with few accidents.
Besides Lieutenant Grimsby, and Napoleon, twelve still remained from the crew of seventeen, which gave four shifts of three men each for duty — the lookout, the steersman, and the driver for the two horses.
Wary in all matters that touched the safety of his boat, Captain Royce had protected the horse-power on each side with thick planks, that no Indian or outlaw bullet might disable his team when at work. The stalls aft, where the resting animals stood, as also the cabin for the crew, were likewise covered in.
Twelve hours a day was the usual traveling time. They then tied up to the bank for the night, at some point chosen with an eye for defense and shelter.
Commanded with such sagacity and prudence, the Milly Ayer reached the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi on February 22nd, having lost but four days, which had been spent in fishing and hunting to replenish the food supply, and in foraging for the horses.
Here for once Marion Royce seems to have departed from his usual rule of carefully avoiding quarrels. He had never forgiven the brutal assault upon Corson at “Cairo.” Corson’s sightless eye had been a constant reminder of the indignity.
The evening they reached the confluence of the rivers it was agreed to give Cairo a surprise. We are at liberty to surmise, however, that the waggish Lieutenant Grimsby had something to do with this practical joke. His record afterward would seem to justify such a conjecture.
During the small hours of the night, after the thin mists began to rise from the river and lowlands, the Milly Ayer, using its sweeps instead of the horse-power, approached where the big “broadhorn” — which still sheltered Cairo and its queer population — lay moored to the muddy bank. Charlie Hoyt then quietly boarded it from the skiff.
At that hour every one appeared to be asleep. Stepping aboard cautiously, Hoyt first secured his skiff, then made one end of a hawser, which he had brought along, fast to the foot of a stanchion. This done, he crept along the shoreward rail, and with a large, sharp knife, severed the two old cables which held Cairo to the shore; then decamped in the skiff as silently as he had come, paying out the hawser.
This was some three hundred feet in length, and as soon as Hoyt got back to the keel he and his friends made the other end fast inboard, poled off from the bank, and then, heading down-stream again, set the horses at work with a free application of the whip.
The Ohio was then rising, and the old broadhorn was afloat at its moorings. Yielding slowly to the pull from the horse-boat, it floated out and away — as a coal barge is towed by a tug.
In great but silent glee, our boatmen touched up their horses. They meant to tow Cairo down into the Mississippi, then cut adrift and let it go on a voyage of discovery.
Before they had gone far, however, somebody waked up. First there were drowsy shouts astern, then louder ones and more of them, and then indeed pandemonium broke loose on the old craft. Lights glimmered in the misty darkness and candles were seen dodging to and fro. And now, hearing the clatter of the horse-power and the noise of the paddles from the keel, the Cairoese began hailing vigorously, to learn what was the matter.
“Ho, the barge!” they cried. “You’ve run foul of us! You’ve carried us clean away! Avast thar! Heave-to!”
They thought that some river craft had run into them, and did not for a considerable time discover the hawser, but continued shouting for help to get back to their moorings.
Nearly bursting with suppressed laughter, our arksmen said nothing, but kept the horses hard at work. And with the strong current helping on, both craft were now going down-stream at a great rate.
The Cairoese presently discovered the hawser, and divined the nature of the prank that was being played on them. Their hails for aid and information suddenly changed to threats and execrations not to be recorded here.
Soon, too, a rifle flashed and a bullet sang past; then another, and loads of buckshot began to whistle and to pepper the keel. Our delighted arksmen were all lying low, however, and had the horses well protected. They still held on, and kept the old broadhorn hurrying down the river at twelve-knot speed.
But the denizens of Cairo were not to be long trifled with. Many of them had experience as rivermen, and some were desperate characters. Instead of casting off the hawser, or cutting loose, numbers of them suddenly began hauling their end of it inboard, and despite the draft on it, soon shortened the distance between the two craft, with the evident design of boarding the horse-boat.
But this was what Captain Royce and Shadwell Lincoln had been looking for, and before much progress had been made, the former quietly cut adrift himself, and veering off, let Cairo go on its involuntary voyage down-stream.
Rifles still continued to crack, and not a few bullets came aboard the Milly Ayer. Captain Royce got away from his queer “tow” without much difficulty, however, and when day dawned was ten miles on his way up the Mississippi, bound for St. Louis.
It is said that Cairo did not get back to its former moorings for a week or more. And for years afterward rivermen were wont to relate the story of the joke which “Mack” Royce played on the “town.”
The Milly Ayer was five days going from the confluence of the Ohio up to St. Louis. But, at a little before noon on the 27th, it arrived in sight of the pretty clearing on the west bank of the Mississippi, where stood the hundred and eighty houses of squared logs which comprised the St. Louis of 1803.
Pierre Laclede, a French trader, cleared a site and built the first houses here in 1764. In 1803 the houses of the French traders and principal citizens stood along Main Street, each at the center of what is now a city block, surrounded by high palisades, or stone walls, for defensive purposes. Fruit and vegetable gardens were within these enclosures. There were two small taverns, a bakery, two smithies and two grist-mills. Many of the people were traders, and kept a stock of goods at their houses.
The luxuries, and even the necessities, of life were excessively dear; coffee was two dollars a pound, and sugar equally high-priced. A knowledge of this had led Captain Royce to lay in a stock of these staples, after consenting to take Lieutenant Grimsby as a passenger. And, as the event proved, he was able to clear a dollar a pound on four quintals of each.
At the outset, however, a mad prank on the part of the lieutenant came near getting them in trouble. Knowing that the French at St. Louis cherished a vast admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, and were expecting that he would shortly take possession of the Mississippi Valley, Grimsby bethought himself — since their pet bear was named Napoleon — to have some sport from the coincidence. He said nothing to Captain Royce, but persuaded Lewis and Moses to assist him, and told them what to shout as they drew in to the landing-place.
In those days the arrival of a keel-boat from New Orleans was an event. Not more than ten came up in the course of a season. As soon as the Milly Ayer was sighted, nearly the whole population came running to the river bank, and were both astonished and immensely delighted to see Moses and Lewis waving the tricolor from the top of the deck-house and hear them shouting:
“Vive Napoleon!” “Napoleon est ici!” (Napoleon is here!) “Napoleon chez vous!”
This was sufficiently bad French, but it was understood. And the effect ashore was tremendous!
For a time the simple French habitants were mute with astonishment. Then an answering shout rose: “Vive Napoleon! Vive la France!” It was like putting a match to fireworks. An indescribable excitement ensued. The settlers crowded the river bank. Trappers fired their guns in the air. And now from all the more distant houses, from the fort and from the watch-tower, many others — traders, soldiers, and even the governor and his secretary — came hastening to the landing-place.
Within five minutes more than a thousand people collected, all vastly astonished and overjoyed at the strange tidings.
A babel of eager questions now burst forth. Was it true? Where was the mighty Frenchman? And who was worthy to entertain him? All looked to Governor Delassus. With inward consternation the good governor bethought himself as to his somewhat scanty accommodations. In short, the prank was even more successful than the waggish Grimsby had anticipated. Intent on securing the full dramatic effect of his joke at the proper moment, the frivolous lieutenant had kept the bear out of sight, in the horse stalls, till the boat drew in to the bank. Then hauling him suddenly forth by his chain, he made him rear on his haunches in plain sight of all and shouted, “Voila Napoleon!”
Lewis and Moses, from the deck above, also cried, “Here’s Napoleon!” and burst into shouts of laughter.
A jest of this kind was quite in keeping with the rough humor of frontiersmen, but with these French people it fell very flat. They neither understood nor appreciated it; they were simply bewildered.
“Un ours!” (a bear!) they murmured, with glances of displeasure and many shrugs of disgust.
“Un ours!” What did it all mean, and what in the world were these Americans laughing at? Where was the joke? They failed to see anything laughable. “Un ours!”
No one laughed, and at last the lieutenant tried to explain his joke. “Son nom est Napoleon!” said he, pointing to the bear. “That is his name! Napoleon! He has come to see you!” and Grimsby burst out in another laugh.
Dismal silence continued to prevail ashore, except that several, still shrugging with comical little grimaces, muttered that Monsieur, l’Americain, appeared to be un farceur — a joker!
“Ah, well,” cried Grimsby, disgusted in turn by their lack of humor, “you had better take a good look at him! It is the only Napoleon that you will ever see come up the Mississippi! Your grand Napoleon has sold you out to the United States. Within ten days your new American governor will be here!”
At this juncture Capt. Meriwether Lewis, who had recently come there, made his way down to the bank, and hailing Captain Royce, whom he had previously met at Marietta, lent his aid to explain the matter to the governor and others. Captain Lewis was at this time completing his preparations for the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, which, under direction of President Jefferson, set off from St. Louis on the 10th of May following.
Lieutenant Grimsby had not seen the last of his joke, however. On setting off from the Milly Ayer the next morning, to lead Napoleon to the governor’s house, at the northeast corner of Main and Walnut Streets, he was stoned by some young loafers; and in his efforts to catch one of them he lost hold of Napoleon.
The bear, alarmed by the stones, galloped up the street and turned in at the open gate of one of the palisaded courtyards.
Immediately a great outcry ensued inside. Children and women screamed, and presently a gun was fired. Napoleon was creating a terrible commotion, and it was uncertain what damage to life or property he might be doing. But Grimsby, being overmatched by his assailants, was unable to go in pursuit of him. After a scuffle the lieutenant ran back to the river bank and called on Moses, Lewis and Wistar Royce to return with him.
The four set off together at a run, and on reaching the scene of the skirmish, found that Grimsby’s assailants had beaten a retreat, and a worse outcry than ever was issuing from within the courtyard of the house where the pet bear had taken refuge. But now the cries were those of pigs instead of human beings. The gate had swung to and latched, and the palisades were too high to scale.
After some delay Grimsby and his friends forced the gate, — for the case seemed urgent, — and found an odd state of affairs prevailing within. In one corner of the yard was a sow with a large litter of young pigs. To these Napoleon was paying assiduous attentions. But for each one that he seized he was forced to fight a pitched battle with the sow, which, in defense of her young, attacked him with great intrepidity, squealing and clacking her jaws in a most ferocious manner. With a stroke of his paw the bear was able to prostrate the sow, but immediately she was on her feet again, quite as fierce as before.
There was such an uproar that the rescue party did not at first notice what had become of the people of the house till they heard them calling out from the roof.
The man, a French trader, had a gun, the flint-lock of which he was endeavoring to put in order. He had fired once, but had failed to do the bear much injury. The trader’s wife, children and two or three female servants were behind him on the roof, and they all besought the arksmen to drive out the bear and save their poor pigs.
Grimsby and Moses laid hold of the chain and tried to pull Napoleon away, but he had become excited in the affray with the sow. He was bleeding from several slight wounds; and, moreover, had had a taste of young pork. He turned upon his masters so savagely that they were obliged to let him go, but they finally succeeded in driving him out of the enclosure.
Attracted by the clamor, a considerable crowd had collected in the street outside the gate, and when the bear rushed forth another hubbub rose. Napoleon ran up Market Street, however, which was then a mere country lane, and escaped through the broken gate of the stockade which enclosed the hamlet.
Outside the stockade there were clearings, fifty or sixty acres in extent, where the people raised wheat, corn and vegetables. It was while cultivating these crops a few years before that the settlers were surprised by the savages from the British post at Michilimackinac during the American Revolution. Across this cleared tract Napoleon was now escaping. On reaching the gateway of the stockade, Lewis caught sight of his shaggy black coat as he bounded over the charred logs that still encumbered the fields.
They all gave chase after him, for Grimsby was very desirous of presenting him to Major Stoddard; but the bear ran fast and reached the woods. For the time being, at least, he appeared to have had more than enough of civilization and its dubious luxuries — including young pigs with savage mothers. Lewis and Moses called after him in most endearing accents, but he still ran on. They could hear his long chain jingle as it dragged over logs; and now and then they sighted him, but could not overtake him.
Thinking, however, that he would stop after awhile, they followed on for several miles, through what was then a virgin forest of chestnut, walnut and sycamore.
At last they crossed a creek and saw the bear ascending a hill. Near the top of this hill they came upon him, hung up hard and fast by his chain, the ring in the end of which had caught between two fallen tree trunks. He was panting hard, and appeared to have had all the exercise he desired. He licked Moses’ hand when the boy patted his head, and went back with them in a very docile frame of mind to the governor’s house.
The arksmen were far too desirous of reaching home to dally longer than was necessary in St. Louis. Having landed his passenger according to agreement, and disposed of his venture in coffee and sugar, Captain Royce lost no time in returning down the river. He was not sorry to part company with the waggish Grimsby, whose propensity for practical joking rendered companionship with him both embarrassing and unsafe.
Having now the river current in aid of the paddle-gear, they reached the confluence with the Ohio in a little more than two days. After what had taken place there a week or more before, they judged it prudent to go past “Cairo” during the small hours of the night. Beyond doubt this was a wise precaution. It was learned subsequently that the population of the old “broadhorn” was watching the river for them. Practical jokes have an unpleasant habit of coming home to roost.
On March 19th they “cordelled” up Letart’s “Falls,” the scene of their encounter with the Shawnees, and a little before sunset, three days later — just a year and two days from the time when they had started — the Milly Ayer rounded the bend below Fish Creek, and came in sight of home.
As the familiar hillocks and clearings came into view, Lewis, Moses and Wistar waxed wild with excitement and delight. They danced and whooped; Moses actually stood on his head, and Marion Royce felt his own heart beating hard and fast. But he was pondering gravely on all that might have happened during their long absence, and on the evil tidings that he must bear to the mother of Louis Gist and the wife of John Cutler.
Not one word from home had reached them in all that time; but he supposed that Corson and MacAfee had arrived long ago, bearing his message that the horse-boat was on her way.
In point of fact, however, no news had come to the home people since that black day in early June, when Gist had found his way back and reported the capture of the ark by the Indians.
Gist’s account had been doubted by many, and for a long time those anxious little homesteads had waited and hoped that further tidings would come. But when September and October passed and winter drew on, even the most sanguine grew hopeless; and how disconsolately the spring opened! For, not only had these pioneer families lost the fruits of two years’ hard labor, but also their most efficient young men. There seemed nothing left them with which to begin another year; not even heart and courage to labor on.
In the Royce and Hoyt families there was mourning for both their sons; and at the Ayer farmhouse grief more silent, perhaps, but even more poignant, was felt. Milly was among those who had hoped bravely on till midwinter. She and Molly Royce were the last to give up faith that Marion, Lewis and Moses had somehow escaped and would yet come back.
But when March passed and no tidings came, despair fell on them, too, and the despair of such hopeful young hearts is sad to witness. The little settlement was in mourning none the less sincere that there was no black crape or sable plume for outward symbols of it.
Yet one emblem of their grief these sad-faced women and girls were able to contrive. They wove and fashioned little shoulder capes from homespun linen, and dyed them black with an “ink” made by boiling the twigs of the swamp-maple. Nine of these little black capes were worn that spring, and one of those pathetic little tokens of pioneer sorrow is still in existence, the property of a lineal descendant of Milly Ayer.
That afternoon Milly and Molly chanced to be coming from Mrs. Merrick’s cabin, when, as they climbed the hillside, where a vista of the Ohio opened to view, Molly saw the “keel” rounding the bend.
“There’s a boat coming, Milly,” she said, soberly enough; but Milly, thinking of one that would never return, had hardly the heart to look.
Boats on the river were always objects of interest then, however, and Molly presently turned.
“It’s a keel,” she said. “It must be a horse-boat, too, it comes so fast.”
“A Pittsburgh keel, it is likely,” Milly replied, apathetically; “or, maybe, Marietta.”
“Perhaps it is from New Orleans,” said Molly. “Oh, I wish we could hail them and ask if they had ever heard anything.”
They had no real intention of doing so bold a thing, yet for some moments they stood watching the approaching craft, which, to avoid the more rapid current, had been keeping well over to the Virginia shore.
“It’s going to cross!” Molly exclaimed, at last. “It’s heading this way! What a noise the paddles make!” — for the wind was southerly.
Sturdily the little keel stemmed the river current, making for the creek mouth.
“O Milly, I do believe they are going to call at our landing!” the younger girl now exclaimed in excitement. “Yes, they are coming right into our creek! Hear the horses’ feet clatter!”
“Perhaps they want to buy something — eggs, or milk, or potatoes,” said Milly. “We have a few eggs. We will go out on the bluff above the landing, and answer if they hail.”
There was a little belt of hickory and oak to pass through, and by the time the two girls had come out on the bluff the keel of our returning arksmen had entered the mouth of the creek, but was passing behind the thick, tall fringe of sycamores that bordered the stream.
A moment later it emerged into the cleared space about the jetty, and there stood Moses on top of the cabin roof. He had discovered them upon the bluff, and was swinging his cap, shouting:
“There’s Milly! There’s Molly!”
Thereupon Marion and Wistar, who were forward with pike-poles, to fend off, and Lewis, who was at the sweep aft, all looked up the bank and joined in Moses’ joyous shouts.
So sudden was the transition from sorrow to joy, it is not strange that instead of rushing down to the landing, the two girls, after a feeble effort to answer, sat down, quite overcome, and burst into tears. When Captain Royce and the others jumped ashore and ran up to where they were, Milly and Molly were found smiling, indeed, but with such wet cheeks that, noting the little black capes, Marion cried, “O Milly, who is dead?”
And it is said that Milly’s faint little reply was, “Nobody, Marion — except — except — you!”
We may be sure that these brave youths were not long convincing the girls that they were still very much alive; and, not only Milly and Molly, but all the rest of the little community. For just then Mrs. Ayer, who had seen the keel heading in, came hastening to the landing. The Hoyt boys’ father also made his appearance, and immediately the glorious news was shouted from house to house.
The last to hear of the safe return of the arksmen was Uncle Amasa. He had broken in the long months of grieving for the disappearance of Jimmy, whom he believed dead, and he came in slowly, with as much heaviness in his heart as he had of sympathy for those whom he was coming to congratulate. But when he neared the group about the landing he saw a figure that made his heart quicken. Jimmy saw him at the same moment.
“I — I’ve seen pa,” Jimmy said in strange, inconsequent sort of haste. “He sent his love to you.”
Old Uncle Amasa laid trembling hands on him, and wordlessly drew him close.
Jimmy looked about at the familiar place, scarred with the fire where the shed had stood. “The man that set it is killed,” he said. “He did it to spite you, grandfather, for an old, old grudge. He broached the barrels and then when he couldn’t drink any more he set fire to the shed and rode away, and I found him.” He looked back at the old man. — “Governor Claiborne of Mississippi sent his regards to you. He says we’re cousins. He was right at the head of everything. You would have liked that. I tell you, if you’d been at New Orleans, you’d have been proud of the family.”
Marion came up and shook Uncle Amasa’s hand. “You would have been proud right along,” he said, eagerly. “It was Jimmy that pulled us through.”
Uncle Amasa chuckled and patted Jimmy’s shoulder. “I kinder thought it would do Jimmy right much good to go out into the world,” he said.
Master Hempstead now came up and shook Jimmy’s hand. “When we last met did not Sir Balin smite Sir Lanceor until the blood flowed over his hawberk? Zounds, son, I am glad that you’ve found that somebody else was the incendiary.”
“I owe you an apology, sir,” said Jimmy with great respect. “I was too hasty.”
“It’s a grand thing to be hasty,” murmured Uncle Amasa, rubbing the bald side of his head where the Indians had scalped him.
“I guess the governor thought so when Jimmy saved him from the assassin’s bullet,” laughed Marion. “It seems to be all a question of being hasty in the right place. Don’t you think so, Jimmy?”
“I guess that’s it,” said Jimmy, happily.
Then began such a jubilee as this small settlement had never known before. “Brush College” had another holiday, and Master Hempstead became vastly exhilarated — wholly from joy, let us hope. No one, it is said, slept at all that night, — unless a few infants, — and dawn surprised the entire population at the capacious Royce cabin, still listening to the story of that memorable voyage.
Otherwise, too, the arksmen had great news to tell. New Orleans was no longer a Spanish possession, but an American city, where Western keels, arks and barges could go without let or hindrance; and the Mississippi was a free river from St. Louis to the Gulf.
It was then — along toward morning — that Master Hempstead waxed wondrously eloquent, and made a great speech, still remembered, in which, with prophetic vision, he predicted and portrayed the future glories of the middle West.
So much remains to relate that I bring the narrative to a close most reluctantly. The annals of the Royce and Ayer families have it that Milly and Marion made the most remarkable wedding tour of those times, journeying even to Philadelphia and to the new capital city of Washington, where they attended one of President Jefferson’s very democratic receptions. But those things belong to the annals of other years. Our task was but to tell the story of the Ark of 1803.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Stephens, Charles Asbury. The Ark of 1803: A Story of Louisiana Purchase Times. Illus. H. Burgess. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1904. Internet Archive, 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 16 July 2020. <https:// archive.org/ details/ arkof1803 storyof 00step>.