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Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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breath, he turned his head aside and soon lay still in

Colonel Bowie walked quietly back for his horse,


mounted the animal, and rode away as if nothing remark-
able had occurred, leaving the different bodies where they
had fallen.

This was his last duel. He was then on his way to join
that band of gallant spirits who so desperately fought for
the liberties of Texas ; and at the Alamo he fell, covered
with wounds, and with what the world calls glory.

IT was during the early settlement of the northern
counties of Virginia, a few years anterior to the American
^Revolution, that a young man perhaps we should rather
say boy, for his age was scarcely turned of sixteen stood
leaning against a large, old tree, in front of a dwelling of
better exterior than was common at that day in that section
of country.

It was a clear, cold, but pleasant autumnal night ; and
the fair moon, riding high in the heavens, poured down
her silvery light through the clear, frosty air, casting deep
shadows here and there, and giving to the bold scenery
around a picturesque variation. The youth was not warmly
clad, but he seemed not to feel the cold, as he stood, with
folded arms, leaning against the tree, his eye riveted upon
a lighted window of the dwelling before him, whence a low
sound of voices, occasionally mingled with a merry, ringing
laugh, reached his eager ear. Could his face at that
moment have been clearly seen, it would have shown a

contracted brow, compressed lips, and a somewhat wild,


and fiery fierceness of the eye, which would seem to bode
no good to whatever object had roused his vindictive hate.

The evening wore away, the hour grew late, but still the
youth stood in the self-same attitude, having for hours
scarcely changed his position, or moved a single muscle of
his stern features. At length the outer door of the dwelling
opened, and two figures appeared a youth and a maiden
both dimly perceived by the light behind. For a few
moments they stood conversing in low tones; when the
clear, musical voice of the maiden was heard to say :

" Good night, Henry, and let it not be long ere I see
you again."

" Good night, my dear Rose," was the rejoinder, " and
happy dreams to you."

There was another low, "good night," from the one
addressed as Rose ; and then the speaker retired, the door
closed, and the young man walked leisurely away, in an
apparently meditative mood.

As he was about to disappear among the surrounding
trees, the youth, who had been so long upon the watch,
suddenly started from his listless attitude, and, clinching
his hands nervously, as if he had some hated object already
within his grasp, took two or three hasty strides toward the
retreating figure, apparently with the intention of over-
taking and calling him to a strict account ; but suddenly,
as if actuated by another thought, he stopped, turned



quickly on his heel, and the next moment reached the door
of the dwelling, upon which he rapped with a kind of
nervous impatience. His summons was answered by a
colored domestic, who, on seeing him, exclaimed :

"Why, Marse Simon, dat you ?"

" I want to see Rose Walton," said the young man
sternly. The black seemed to hesitate for a moment, and
the other added : " Go and tell her so ! and be quick about
it, if you don't want to get yourself into trouble I"

As the black was turning away to communicate her
message, the person inquired for made her appearance.
She was a fine, comely lass of seventeen, with fair face and
bright eyes, and a general appearance exceedingly capti-

"Why, Simon," she said, in a tone of surprise, "methinks
your visit is rather late 1"

" I'm aware," replied the youth, in a tone of bitterness,
" that Rose Walton would rather I'd stay away altogether."

" Then why do you come at all ?" was the quiet rejoinder.

" That's my business," answered Simon, in a gruff, surly

" Certainly," returned the maiden, rather haughtily ;
''that is your business, unquestionably; and as it don't
concern me, I will leave you to transact it with yourself."

She was about to turn back, and make her words good,



when the youth suddenly, and somewhat fiercely, grasped
her by the arm, and rejoined :

" Not so fast, my beauty 1 I've got a word to say to
you !

" Unhand me, sir 1" cried Rose, indignantly " or I will
call for help !"

"You'd better call on your new love," sneered Simon.

" I will call on some one that will chastise your inso-
lence 1" she retorted.

" No threats, Rose 1" returned the youth ; " I'm not just
in the mood to bear 'em. I feel, just now, as if the devil
was in me ; and if anybody was to interfere now between
us, I don't know what mought come on't. Rose," he pur-
sued, in a low, hurried, passionate tone, " I know I'm a
big, ugly, awkward, uneducated youth ; but I've got feeling
as well as others I've got passions as well as others and
(interjecting a wicked oath) I'll tell you what it is, Rose,
whoever trifles with 'em had better take care I Rose, you
know I love you love you to madness ; you know you
encouraged me in it ; you know you gin me to expect that
some day you'd be my wife ; but lately, from some cause,
you've treated me coldly you've hardly spoke to me civil
you haven't met me as you used to do you've seemed
as if my company wasn't pleasant to you."

" I think you must be mistaken. Simon," returned the
other, in a softened tone.


" No, I'm not mistaken, Rose !" he vehemently replied ;
"I know I've seen for myself. I'll tell you what the
cause is of this change in you. You've got your fancy
fixed upon another that you like better. You always had
a liking for Harry Leitchman ; and now that you think
you've got him safe, you're ready to drop me. But it won't
do, Rose I tell you it won't do. The man that dares to
step between me and you has got to answer for't ! Yes,
Rose, (with another wicked oath,) afore he shall get you
away from me, I'll have his heart's blood 1"

" Why, Simon, don't speak in such a manner I" said the
girl, in considerable alarm "you terrify me !"

" Can't help it, Rose you'll find it just as I say. Boy
if I am, I've got the strength and passions of a man; and
if I find the last is trifled with, the other shall serve me for
a revenge that shall ring along the borders when you and
me are dead and gone !"

"Why, Simon, what do you mean ?" cried Rose Walton,
growing more and more terrified at the wild passions of
the other ; which she, for mere pastime to gratify a foolish
vanity had carelessly and thoughtlessly fanned into a flame
that might now destroy her. " I never heard you talk so
strangely before. "

" Because I was never so certain I had cause," replied
he. " For some time back I've suspicioned that some-
thing was wrong; I've kind o' thought that Henry


Leitchman was taking my place in your favor ; and only
yesterday I overheard him say as much to one of his
friends. To-night I met him, and suspicioning that he
was coming here, I drew back out of sight and followed
him. Rose, for many a long hour I've been standing by
that there old sycamore, watching the room where I knew
you and Harry was. I could hear you talk, but I couldn't
hear what you said ; and I could hear you laugh, and that
said plain enough that you was happy. I saw you both
come to the door, and heard your tender 'good night;'
and, Rose, some dreadful wicked thoughts came over me
then, and I started after Harry. If I had a followed him,
I don't know what mought have came on't but I thought
I'd come back and hear what you had to say first. Now
tell me, Rose, and tell me the truth Do you prefer
Leitchman to me ?"

"Why, how can you ask such a question, Simon?"
answered the girl, evasively, and slightly changing color.

" But I do ask it, Rose, and I want you to answer me I"

" Well, come in, then, a few minutes, and let us talk the
matter over."

."No, Rose, I'll not come in to-night you can answer
that question where you are."

" Why, do you want me to flatter you to your face, and
tell you that I like you the best ?"

" No, I don't want any flattery I've had enough of that


I've had too much of that. I just want you to be
sincere, for once in your life you've trifled With me
enough, Rose. Yon either like me best, or you don't
you either prefer me to Harry, or you don't and I want
to know which ?"

" And can you for a moment suppose," said the girl, in
a soft, insinuating tone, "that I prefer him to you ?"

" I judge more by your actions than your words, Rose."

" What ! do you accuse me of prevarication ?" she
replied, with some spirit.

" And if I did, I reckon I'd hit pretty near the truth,"
he rejoined. " Now answer me, straightforward are you
ready to dismiss Leitchman, and have no more to say to
him ?"

" Sir !" cried Rose, with a flush of indignation " I
think you forget that you are talking to the daughter of
Colonel Walton. I will allow no one to question me as to
whom I like or dislike ! If my manners are displeasing to
you, you certainly have the privilege of remaining away."

"But I can't remain away, Rose you know that."

" Then take me as you find me, Simon, and be con-
tented. Do not forget that I am something older than
you that I have a spirit which will not be dictated to by
any one and, least- of all, by one younger than myself."

For some ten minutes longer, the conversation was con-
tinued in much the same strain the girl, with the cunning


and skill of an accomplished coquette the quick percep-
tions of one master of the human heart alternately ex-
citing and tranquilizing the spirit of her rough, impetuous,
but ardent admirer ; playing upon his feelings as one plays
upon the strings of an instrument of music ; now with soft
blandishments taming down his rough, fiery jealousies to
gentle words ; now rousing him from a too tender strain tb
expressions harsh, wild, threatening and fearful.

At length the interview closed, and the youth retired
from the unequal combat scarcely wiser than he came. He
was not satisfied, but he scarcely knew with what he had
to find fault. That the girl was intellectually his superior,
he secretly admitted, and the conviction was not a pleasing
one ; that she was a coquette, he was convinced ; that she
had been playing upon his feelings, he half believed ; that
she she was worthy of a true and honest affection, he
seriously doubted ; but that he loved her ardently, wildly,
madly he was too certain for his own peace of mind.

With a thousand strange fancies crowding upon his
brain, not one of which he then felt himself competent to
analyze, he hastened his steps down a winding walk, and
soon entered a rough, narrow road, which at that day ran
through a thinly populated country from one settlement to
another. Mechanically he turned to the right, and, in a
thoughtful, abstracted mood, for some quarter of an hour,
pursued his way through a thick, dark wood, barely able


to see his course by the light of the moon, which here and
there seemed to struggle through the interlacing branches
of the gigantic trees that lined his pathway on either side.

At length he entered a hollow, where an opening, made
by a broad but shallow stream, let in the light of the moon
more clearly ; and there, seated upon a stone, he espied a
human figure. A single glance assured him that it was
his rival, and the sight roused into activity all his jealous
and vindictive passions. The same wicked intentions
which he had experienced when first setting out to follow
Leitchman, after his interview with Rose, now came over
the youth with redoubled force, and he felt that the earth
was too small to contain them both.

Henry seemed not to hear the approach of Simon, but
sat buried in a reverie, evidently induced by the soothing
murmurs of the purling stream, and the sentiment awakened
by the fascinating witchery of the fair girl with whom he
had so recently parted.

For a few moments the youth seemed to hesitate ; and
then advancing straight to the other, he said, in a surly
tone :

"What are you doing here ?"

The young man started, looked aroufid, and ascertaining
who was his interrogator, replied

" What is that to you, Simon ? You are not my keeper."


"It's a good deal to me, Leitchman, as I'm able to
make you understand, keeper or no keeper."

" Why, how now, Simon ! You appear to be getting
rather insolent for a boy !"

Henry was two years the senior of Simon, and, though
not so tall, was more gracefully built, and more comely in

" Don't call me boy, Henry Leitchman !" cried Simon,
in a furious tone, striding up to the other with clinched
hands, his whole sinewy frame fairly trembling with
passion. " Don't call me boy ag'in, or, by heavens ! I'll
strike you as you sit 1"

" Nay," said Henry, rising, V if that is your game, you'll
find there are two that can play at it."

" Yes, much better than at t'other game," sneered Simon ;
"for two can't play at that, and me be one of 'em !"

" What do you mean ?" demanded Leitchman.

"Well, s'pose you try to guess," replied the youth ; "and
if you can't guess if you haven't got wit enough to guess,
and it's my opinion you haven't you'd better go back to
Rose Walton, where you've wasted too much of your time
already, and ask her."

"Aha!" said the other; "I begin to understand you
now. If I am not mistaken, you are getting somewhat


" Have your stupid brains been able to get all that there
into 'em ?" returned Simon. " Well, then, let me tell you,
I'd be very sorry to get jealous of you! but I don't want
you to waste any more time in that there quarter. Rose
don't like it, and I don't like it, and that settles, the

"See here, Simon," said the young man, slowly and
deliberately, "you had better go your way, and let me
attend to my own business. This looks as if you had
followed me to fix a quarrel upon me ; but it strikes me
you are making a fool of yourself."

"Well, its my opinion," retorted Simon, "you'll find
something else strike you harder than that ;" and suiting
the action to the word, he drew back his arm, and planted
a heavy, almost stunning blow, full upon the face of him
he now considered his deadly foe.

Leitchman staggered, but quickly recovered himself, and
sprung at his antagonist with the fury of a wild beast. The
next moment the two combatants were locked in a fierce
embrace ; and both came heavily to the ground, and rolled
over and over in the struggle of life and death. But the
iron, muscular strength of Simon soon proved more than
a match for that of his older opponent, who found to his
dismay that he was rapidly yielding to the grasp which the
youth had obtained upon his throat. Determined not to


ask quarter from one he had always regarded as his infe-
rior, he made a last, despairing effort, and, drawing a small
clasp-knife from his pocket, and forcing open the blade,
struck the youth in his side though, being weak from the
contest, he inflicted a light, rather than a dangerous,
wound. Simon, roused to fiendish fury by the pain, and
what he considered an underhand attempt upon his life,
suddenly released his hold upon the throat of his adversary,
and, wrenching the knife from his hand, plunged it furiously
several times into the breast of the latter, exclaiming, with
with an oath :

" Take that ! and that ! and that I"

" You've kill'd me !" said Henry, in a low, feeble tone.

11 Oh, my God ! you've killed me !"

Simon started to his feet, and felt a strange, indescrib-
able sensation of awe and terror creep through his iron
frame. Had he done a murder ? had he committed that
great deed which would make him amenable to the highest
penalty of the law ? It was a terrible thought a thought
that seemed to freeze his before heated blood, and send it
coldly and shiveringly to his very heart. Was he indeed a
murderer ? a being to be branded with that awful crime ?
a being to be hunted down by his fellows as some wild
beast ? He was himself a poor and almost friendless boy;
but he who lay before him who had fallen by his hand


had rich and powerful connections ; and he knew enough
of the world to be certain that justice, in his case, would
not be stayed in her course by any influence which he or
his indigent family could bring to bear.

" Harry, are you dead ?" he said, in a voice of agony, as
he bent over the insensible form of his late rival, whom he
would now have given the world to restore to life. " Speak
to me, Harry one word, just one single word and tell me
you're going to live ; and I'll give up all I'll give up Rose,
who's more to me than all the rest and I'll go far away,
and never trouble you nor her any more !"

But there was no answer ; the wounded man lay still,
weltering in his blood ; and after looking at him a moment
or two longer, as he lay there, pale and ghastly, in the soft,
silvery light of the watching moon, Simon turned and fled,
muttering as he ran :

" He's dead ! he's dead I I've killed him I and now I've
got to fly where none can reach me. Good-bye, Rose. If
it hadn't been for you, I'd never have done this deed ; but
now it's done, I've got to fly where I shall never look upon
your face again."

With the speed of a murderer running from justice, he
flew to his humble cabin in the woods, and, waking his
parents, told them, with rapid utterance, and with tears in his
eyes the last tears he ever shed through tender emotion


what he had done, and all for his passionate love of the
beautiful Kose Walton.

Then seizing his rifle, and such few necessary articles as
he could conveniently carry, he took a hurried farewell of
his afflicted friends ; and alone, in the very bloom of youth,
set out for the untrodden wilds of the then far distant West,
never to return.

The wounded man recovered, and subsequently married
the object of his choice ; but for many long years the
wandering youth was harrowed with the thought that the
brand of the murderer was upon him.

Years still rolled on, and the name of that boy grew
famous upon the borders, and became a terror to the red
men of the forest, who found in him their most bitter,
vindictive, relentless and invincible foe. His career, begun
in blood, was traced in blood through a long period of time ;
and only ceased when the foes of his race had retreated from
before the conquering march of their white invaders, or had
found their final rest in the happy hunting-grounds of the
Great Spirit.

Who that is familiar with the history of the early
settlements of the Great West, is now ignorant of the
heroic deeds, the daring exploits, and hair-breadth escapes
of the great border hero, General Simon Kenton ? And
yet how few have ever known the cause which first led



him to the wilderness, and made him so reckless of an
unhappy life ? For he was the man of the youth whose
first wild passion and its almost tragical consequences we
have here recorded !

A DISCUSSION having sprung up between some gentlemen
who had met in a social circle, as to whether it was most
proper to consider every man honest till he proved himself
to be a rogue, or to consider every one a rogue till he
proved himself to be an honest man, one of the party, who
had aforetime been a traveling bank agent, said he would
narrate an incident of his own experience, which, if it
amounted to nothing more, he thought would at least prove
pretty conclusively that it is never safe to judge of a
stranger by his appearance.

"The Spring of 18 ," he began, "found me a traveler
through a certain portion of the West, on business connec-
ted with the bank of which I was at that time the agent,
and for the transaction of which business I carried with me
a considerable sum of money. At the town of L****, in
the State of Kentucky, where I chanced to remain some
three or four days, putting up at one of the principal hotels,
I became acquainted with a gentleman who arrived in the

place the day after myself, and whom, from his appearance



and representations, I believed to be a clergyman from the
eastward, traveling partly for his health and partly on a
visit to some distant friends.

"We became acquainted somewhat incidentally, and
from the very first I was much taken by his appearance.
He was some thirty years of age, of a slight, genteel figure,
had pale and somewhat ascetic features, was dressed in a
plain suit of black, and wore a white neckcloth and gold

" In the course of conversation he gave me considerable
information concerning himself; and in return I acquainted
him with my business, and informed him that I should
shortly set out en route for the city of N****** in the
adjoining State of Tennessee.

" ' Why, then, sir,' he said, 'if it be agreeable to you, we
will become fellow-travelers, for that is also one of the
places I wish to visit myself.'

" ' I should be most happy of your company,' I replied ;
' but, unfortunately, my business will require me to lay over
at some two or three different towns on the way.'

" ' It will not make any material difference to me, 7 he
rejoined ; ' and merely for the sake of your company, I will
suit my time to yours. Traveling as I am for health and
pleasure, and not business, I am in no haste a long stage
is always irksome and fatiguing and I am satisfied I shall


enjoy the trip much better by keeping myself with so con-
genial a companion.'

" This arrangement having finally been agreed upon, the
Rev. Mr. Kinney stated that he had a friend somewhere in
the vicinity whom he wished to visit ; but though this
would require his absence for the present, he would return
punctually at the time appointed for my departure.

" Shortly after this he left the hotel, and I saw nothing
more of him till near the hour agreed upon ; but he
returned according to promise, anci we both set off to-
gether the stage, which conveyed us from the town of
L****, being crowded with passengers.

"At the village of S*****, where I made my first halt,
Mr. Kinney also made his, and we both, as before, put up
at the principal public house. I proceeded to transact the
business which called me thither, and he to amuse himself
by sauntering through the place, and admiring the rather
romantic scenery in the vicinity. Three hours sufficed to
arrange all my affairs for a fresh start ; but as the stage
only passed through the village once in twenty-four hours, I
supposed I should have to remain over till the following day.

" In this respect I was agreeably disappointed ; for
shortly after returning to the hotel, my clerical friend
appeared, and inquired what time I should be ready to set




" ' I am ready now, for that matter,' I replied, ' but there
is no stage till to morrow.'

" ' Fortunately, my friend,' he rejoined, ' I have just met
with an old acquaintance, who, with a team of his own, is
on his way from a village a few miles back of here to the
town of p******^ where I believe you mentioned it was
your intention to make another halt ; and if agreeable to
you, we can gain one stage by going through with him ;
so that when the next regular conveyance comes along,
you will probably be ready to take it and save at least one
day's delay.'

" ' The idea/ I replied, ' is a very agreeable one to me
for in these small places, after business is over, time always
hangs heavily upon my hands ; but I do not 'wish to be
intrusive, and your friend may not care to be encumbered
with a stranger.'

"'Oh, I will settle that!' he rejoined; 'in fact I have
already done so ; for thinking that you, like myself, would
like to resume your journey ^t the earliest practical mo-
ment, I have spoken to Mr. Worrell to that effect, and
he has expressed himself as being highly pleased at having
us for companions.'

" Not to prolong my story with needless detail, I will
merely state that the matter was soon arranged to the satis-
faction of all parties my reverend companion seeking his
friend, and the latter bringing him back to our hotel in a

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 20 of 22)