Page images

the milk, and with his aids galloped on after his private carriage which had gone before. Braddock had scarcely been gone before they saw the provincials following. “Why, bless me! Owen Gray,” cried Mrs. Gray elevating her glasses, “ef thar don't go Noah Stevens, the son o' Mr. Elmer Stevens down on the Rappahannock.” Noah Stevens halted a few moments with his command at the door, while the negroes were sent to bring them some refreshments. Then they moved on. Owen Gray remembered how sad and melancholy the return from the battle-field was. He kept two of the wounded a long time at his house, and they told him how their general had been slain, and they were forced to bury him during the night while flying from the foe. It was a melancholy narrative, and one which Owen Gray never wearied of discussing. A year had elapsed since Braddock's defeat, and the tavern was so far removed from the scenes of hostility that he only heard of the war afar off. The travellers who stopped at his inn brought him many wild stories of defeats and conquests and the constant wrangling of the governors with the legislature, until the old man exclaimed: “I declar', I don't know whether we are fightin' the French and Injuns or England. I wouldn't be surprised ef, after we beat the French, we have to turn around and whip the English.” “Owen, don't let your pesky tongue wag that way, unless ye want to come to the halter,” cried his cautious wife. “Which I don't, Becky.” “Then don't be hintin’ about fightin' England.” “They've got to bein’ so pesky mean, I don't know but we'll have to fight 'em yet.” “It’s time enough to talk about that when the time comes, so don't go to cuttin' off your head in advance.” This quieted the old man for a while; but the next rumor of Loudon's oppression produced another outburst of rage. “Egad! I've half a notion to take up my gun and go and fight myself,” he vowed. On the evening in question, Mr. Gray had been to the village four miles away, and while there heard a rumor of a threatened invasion by the Erench and Indians. The wife had scolded him for going out on such a day. “Some one "will come along and tell you the news, Owen, without your goin' out in the rain to hunt it up,” she had declared. “Where are you goin' now?” she asked, rather sharply, as he rose from his seat in the chimney corner and started toward the door.

“I want to take one more look down the road before it's dark,” he answered.

“You’ll get wet.”

“No; it's quit rainin’.”

“Put on your coat.”

He thought there was no need to do that, as he was going no farther than the piazza.

“I want to see ef the niggers have everything snug and in order,” he declared. On the broad old-fashioned Virginia piazza, he gazed up the long road leading to the distant mountains, now dim and almost concealed by the heavy mist, dark clouds and advancing shadows of night.

“I never saw sich weather for this season,” declared the old man. “Here, Dick! Dick! I say you, Dick!”

“Here, massa, here,” and a negro boy about sixteen appeared around a corner of the house.

“Oh, you plaguey dog! so I must always split my throat with howling, before I can get you to answer, eh?”

“Hi, massal sure Dick always come when he hear massa hallo!” o

“Do you, you black rascal? Have you put the sheep in their pen?”

“Yes, massa.”

“And the cows?”

“Am fed, massa.”

“Did you feed the horse in the barn?” “Yes, massa.” “Now begone, you black rascal, and feed yourself.” With a broad grin on his ebony face the negro turned about and hurried away to the kitchen. Mr. Gray gazed off into the night, listened to the sighing of the wind among the wet branches of chestnuts and vines, mingled with melancholy lowing of a distant cow, that had strayed from the fields, and remarked: “It will be a bad night. I don't suppose any traveller will come at this hour.” An old lantern, made of tin perforated with holes to emit light, hung on the porch, sending its shattered rays far and wide along the broad road which ran past the house. The inn-keeper returned to his comfortable seat in his great armchair by the fire, for, although summer had not yet gone, the night was so damp and chill that a fire was comfortable. He re-filled his pipe, thrust the tobacco into it with his thumb, and, by a skilful swoop among the coals, captured one of the glowing embers on the top, and proceeded to send volume after volume of puffs up the chimney. Mr. Owen Gray was wrong when he prophesied that there would be no caller at the inn on that night. At the moment that he was sitting by the fireside enjoying his pipe, a wayfarer was slowly plodding his way along the road. His leggins were stained with mud, and the clay adhered to his shoes in great, thick coats, until he could scarcely drag his weary feet along. He was an old man, poorly clad, and his thin gray locks hung down his shoulders. His old, three-cornered hat was battered, faded and worn. His face showed weariness and agony, yet he was silent, grim and determined. “There it is again,” he said, as a dim light flickered along the dark road. “It must be a house, and, perchance, I can get lodging there for the night.” On he trudged through the dampness and mud. The light grew more distinct, until he was near enough to see the great old inn, like a castle, grim and gloomy, before him. He ascended the steps to the piazza and, seizing the old-fashioned brass knocker, gave three raps, which brought Mr. Gray out of his revery to the door. He gazed for a moment at the man before him in astonishment, then asked: “Who are you?” “A wayfarer, who seeks shelter and food,” was the answer. “By my soul, you look as if you stood in need of both.”

« PreviousContinue »