Nancy Huston Banks.

Round Anvil Rock A Romance online

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It was this which made his absent-minded eyes clear and keen as he drew
near the court-house. He had come earlier than usual but others, equally
anxious, were there before him. And then the court-house was in a way
the mart of the whole region, especially for the sale of horses.
Rough-looking men with the marks of the stable and the race-track upon
them, were riding the best quarter nags up and down the forest path and
pointing out the delicate leg, the well-proportioned head, and the
elegant form, which made the traits of the first race-horses in
Kentucky. Foremost among these first men of the turf was Tommy Dye,
scanning the quarter nags with a trained eye. As soon as the judge saw
him, he knew that General Jackson was not far away, for wherever the
general went, there also was to be found his faithful henchman, Tommy
Dye. It was he who arranged the cockfights in which the general
delighted, declaring a game cock to be the bravest thing alive. It was
he who was always trying to find for him a race-horse which could beat
Captain Haynie's Maria. This famous racer had beaten the general's
Decatur in that year's sweepstakes, and he had sworn by his strongest
oath that he would find a horse to beat her if there was one in the
world that could do it. But Tommy Dye and other eager, tireless agents
of the general had already searched far and wide. They had gone over all
the horse-raising states with a drag-net, they had sent as far as other
countries. And no horse which even promised to beat Maria had yet been
found, so that the general's defeat was still rankling bitterly, for it
was the bitterest that he had ever met or ever was to meet. He did not
feel his defeat in the first race for the Presidency nearly so deeply
and keenly as this; and then that was afterward retrieved by a most
brilliant victory. But, as a friend once said of him - although he went
on achieving great victories of many kinds, overcoming powerful enemies,
conquering the Indians, subduing the lawless, defying the Spanish and
the French, vanquishing the British and slaying single-handed the Dragon
of the Bank - he could never find a horse to beat Maria.

But he was still trying everywhere and under all circumstances however
unpromising. On that day he cast anxious glances through the open door
of the log court-house at the horses which Tommy Dye, in a forlorn hope,
was having paraded up and down the forest path. He turned away with a
sigh, and went on talking to the United States Attorney for Kentucky at
whose request he had come to the court-house that day. He had done for
his own territory in a lesser degree, the identical thing which Joseph
Hamilton Daviess was desperately striving to do for this country; and he
had consented to give him the benefit of his own experience, and to
advise him as to ways and means. These were always strenuous with Andrew
Jackson, and Joe Daviess himself was not a man of half measures. In mind
and body he was quite as powerful as the man to whom he now listened
with such profound deference. He was also a handsomer man and younger.
He was fully as tall, too, with as lordly a bearing; the most marked
contrast in their appearance being in their dress. General Jackson wore
broadcloth of the cut seen in all his older portraits; Joe Daviess wore
buckskin breeches and a hunting shirt belted at the waist, both richly
fringed on the leg and sleeve. The suit was the same that he had worn
when he rode over the Alleghanies to Washington, to plead the historic
case before the Supreme Court. But the rudest garb could never make him
seem other than the courtly gentleman that he was. He was a scholar
moreover, and a writer of books. A great mind, and ever eager to learn,
he now stood listening to General Jackson with the humility of true
greatness. He bowed to the judge, seeing him enter, but he did not move
or cease to listen. His grave, intent face brightened suddenly as if a
light had passed over it, when he saw Father Orin's merry, ruddy
countenance look in at the open door. He and the priest were close
friends, although they held widely different faiths, and argued fiercely
over their differences of opinion whenever they met - and had time - and
notwithstanding that neither ever yielded to the other so much as a
single hair's breadth.

Father Orin now came straight toward him, merely nodding and smiling at
those whom he passed, and reaching Joe Daviess' side, he coolly ran his
hand deep down in his friend's pocket, precisely as if it had been his
own. The attorney-general made believe to strike out backward with his
left hand - his right being full of papers. But he laughed, and he did
not turn his head to see how much money the priest had taken and was
calmly transferring to his own pocket. And then, chuckling and nodding
his gray head, Father Orin quietly made his way round the court room,
keeping close to the wall, and taking care to pass behind the jury which
sat on a bench of boards laid across two logs. He was now making his way
to the little platform of logs on which the judge was sitting. The judge
saw him coming and hastily shook his head, knowing from long experience
what he was coming for. But Father Orin only chuckled more merrily and
drew nearer. When he put out his hand the judge surrendered, knowing how
useless it would be to resist while a few Spanish dollars or even a few
bits of cut money were left in his wallet, or there was want in the
wilderness which the priest's persistence could relieve. But his left
eyebrow went up very high in a very acute angle, as he leant far over to
one side and ran his hand into the depths of his breeches pocket.

"There!" he said, handing over what he had. "I am glad I haven't got any
more. Hereafter, when I see you coming, I'm going to take to the woods.
Much or little, you always get all there is," he said, ostentatiously
buttoning the flap over his empty pocket. "Oh, by the way, Father,
somebody wants you over yonder in that corner. Those men, standing
there, asked me just now if I knew where you were. They have got into
some sort of a snarl, and they want you to straighten it out."

"Very well, I will go and see," said the priest, simply, being used to
all sorts of calls, temporal as well as spiritual.

The two men had already seen him, and were standing to receive him when
he came up. One of them was a member of his own church and known to him
as a man of large affairs. The other, a lawyer and a Protestant, he had
a much slighter acquaintance with. It was the lawyer who spoke after
both had greeted him warmly, as if they felt his appearance to be a

"We have been hoping you might come. We are in trouble and think you are
the man to help us set matters right," said the lawyer.

"What is it?" laughed Father Orin. "I don't know anything about law."

The lawyer laughed too. "Well, you see, Father, it isn't law exactly.
That is, not the kind of law that I know. That's just where you come in.
It's this way. My client here has won a suit. He was bound to win it and
I told him so before it came to trial. The law was clear enough. But you
see, Father, law isn't always justice. You can keep within the law and
do mighty mean things. And my client here doesn't want to do anything
that isn't right. He, as you know, is a clean, straight man. He has
scruples about the rights that this decision gives him. It's a knotty
question. The other man thinks that he is being cheated, and my client
isn't quite sure himself. I didn't know what to advise in such a case. I
could tell him what the law of the land and the court - of this
court - was, and I have told him. But I couldn't tell him anything about
the law of that other land or that Higher Court. I don't know any more
about those than you know about my laws and my court. And so we have
decided to ask you, to leave the whole dispute to you, and the other man
has agreed to let you decide it. He is a Protestant, as I am, but that
has nothing to do with this business. We are all perfectly willing to
leave it to you; we will all abide by your decision without another

Father Orin hesitated. "I don't know that I can see any more clearly
than the rest of you. Well, call the other man," he then said. "We can
try to find out what is right, anyway. We can't go far wrong if we do
our best to treat the other man as we should like him to treat us. Come
over here where we will be more to ourselves, and fetch the other man."

The judge was too busy to notice the consultation, but after a while he
saw the four men leaving the court room together, with quiet, smiling
faces. They all stopped for a moment in the doorway to allow Father Orin
to shake hands with Peter Cartwright. The young preacher had been
delayed on his way, and was just now entering the court-house. He did
not smile when the priest said something which made the others laugh.
His square jaw was grimly set, and his fiery black eyes looked over the
heads of the crowd at the tall figure of General Jackson which towered
above every one else in the court room, with the exception of the
attorney-general. These two great lawyers still stood absorbed in
low-toned conversation. But the young preacher had no eyes for Joe
Daviess nor for any one except Andrew Jackson. As soon as he could free
his hand from Father Orin's clasp he entered the court room and went
straight up to General Jackson and stood still in front of him, looking
at him. Both the gentlemen turned in surprise at the young
backwoodsman's abrupt approach. Both were much older and taller than he,
and very different altogether from this square-built, rough-mannered
youth. But they may have felt the power that was his as well as theirs,
for neither gave a sign of the impatience that both were quick to feel
and almost as quick to show. Peter Cartwright was gazing steadily up
into General Jackson's eagle eyes - which few could face, which turned
many a stout heart from a firm purpose - without swerving for an instant
from what he meant to do.

[Illustration: "'I wanted to shake the hand of a man like you.'"]

"This is General Jackson, I believe," he said.

Andrew Jackson bent his haughty head. His gaze was now enough to make
the bravest flinch. But the young preacher went on without the slightest

"I have been told, sir, that you wanted to see me. I am Peter
Cartwright. I understand that you intend to chastise me for what I said
at the camp-meeting. Well, here I am."

Andrew Jackson stared at him silently for a moment, as if he did not get
the drift of the words. And then he suddenly burst into a great roar.

"The man who told you that was an infernal fool! I did say that I wanted
to see you - to meet you. But I said so because I desired the honor of
knowing you, sir. I wanted to shake the hand of a man like you. Will you
give it to me now, sir? I shall take it as an honor. I am proud to know
a man who is ready to do his duty in spite of anybody on God's earth - as
a preacher should be. A minister of Jesus Christ should love everybody,
and fear no mortal man. Give me your hand again, sir. By the eternal, if
I had a few officers like you, and a well-drilled army, I could take old

With the meeting of the two men's hands a shout rang out from the crowd
now pressing in at the door. Shout followed shout, till the outcry
sounded far through the forest. It reached the ears of Philip Alston and
William Pressley, who were riding slowly toward the court-house. They
spurred their horses forward, wondering what could be the cause of the
unusual noise and excitement. When they had reached the court-house and
learned what the shouting meant, Philip Alston smiled in approval.

"Very fine, very patriotic," he said.

But his real attention was not for the crowd; he cared nothing for its
cries. He was looking at Joe Daviess and Andrew Jackson, the two famous
attorneys, who were again absorbed in grave, low-toned consultation.

"Do you happen to know, William, what these distinguished gentlemen are
discussing with such interest and gravity? It must be something of
importance. But of course you know, my dear boy. You needn't tell me if
it is any matter of state or any sort of a secret. I asked without
thinking. Pardon me," said Philip Alston.

He spoke in a low tone of gentle indifference. There was nothing to
indicate that he felt any special interest, but William Pressley
answered the question at once, and without reserve. Nothing pleased that
young man more than a chance to display his own first knowledge of
political affairs, either local, state, or national. A single word of
politics never failed to fire his ambition, to light that one spark in
his cold eyes. And Philip Alston knew how to strike the flint that lit
this spark, as he knew how to do almost anything that he wished to do.
So that William now told him what it was that these two powerful
guardians of the public peace and safety had met to discuss. He also
told him everything that the judge had said of his own determination to
do his utmost to aid Joe Daviess in carrying out the plans which were to
be laid that day. Philip Alston listened in silence, with his eyes on
General Jackson and Kentucky's attorney-general; looking first at the
one and then at the other, admiring and appreciating both. He had a
sincere, although purely intellectual admiration for any real greatness.
Thus gazing at the two men he saw how great was the responsibility
resting on them, and how ably and fearlessly they were meeting it. He
realized clearly that these two grave, honest, earnest, fearless
thinkers must find help for the whole country solely in the might of
their own minds and in the strength of their own hands. He knew that no
aid ever had been given, or ever would be given, by the government as
none could know better than themselves. All this and much more came to
Philip Alston, as he stood looking at Andrew Jackson and Joe Daviess
while listening to William Pressley. Through his whole life this had
been his attitude. He had always looked one way and rowed another, like
the boatman in The Pilgrim's Progress.

"And doubtless you too are giving valuable assistance," he said, turning
his inscrutable gaze on William Pressley, and speaking in the tone of
deference which often covered his contempt. "You will, however, be in a
position to make your services far more valuable and much more widely
recognized, should the attorney-general resign. There can be no doubt of
your succeeding him. No one else stands so close to the place. You shall
have it without fail if any influence can aid you. And then, when things
are as we wish them to be in this vicinity, we will send you to Congress
to look after our larger interests. But in order to do this, we must
both keep a keen lookout beforehand - there must be no mistakes. It might
be well for you to meet me to-morrow at Anvil Rock. I shall pass there
at twelve o'clock on my way to Duff's Fort. You can then tell me the
plans which these able gentlemen are now making. You will learn them
from your uncle. Take care to remember the smallest detail. Bear in
mind, my dear boy, that you will soon have this whole responsibility on
your own shoulders. You are now in excellent training for it.
Everything that passes between these brilliant lawyers must be of
personal value to you in the discharge of your future duties, and to me,
also, in order that I may serve you."

William's chest swelled out with pride, and he held his head higher in
conscious rectitude. He had not a doubt of his ability to fill the
place, nor thought of doubting that he was doing what was right and wise
in being perfectly candid with Philip Alston. He thought it most likely
that he could secure the appointment without that gentleman's influence.
He was quite sure that he would not require any one's assistance in
filling it. Still, he was willing to pay all proper deference to an old
friend, and to the foster-father of the girl who was to be his wife.
These thoughts were an open book which Philip Alston read with another
queer smile, while thanking him for the promise to come to Anvil Rock.

"I will leave you now," Philip Alston said. "I have business to-day,
also, at Duff's Fort. And you, left alone, will be free to join your
uncle and the distinguished gentlemen who are working with him."

The two great lawyers had not seen Philip Alston up to the moment that
he turned to leave the court-house, when General Jackson's eagle eye
fell upon him.

"Why, there's Philip Alston now!" he exclaimed in an undertone and with
a frown. "The splendid audacity of the magnificent rascal! Think of his
coming here - right under our noses - to-day, too, of all days! And he
knows perfectly well that we know him to be the leader, the originator,
the head and the brains of all this villany!"

"Yes. But how are we going to prove it?" asked the attorney-general.
"Believing a thing and proving it are two different things. If I could
only once get my hand on a particle of evidence. - Do you suppose he
could have known what we were talking about?" with sudden uneasiness.
"He is intelligent enough to guess, without hearing a word. It is
scarcely possible that Judge Knox could have been so thoughtless as to
speak of our plans to his nephew - that solemn, pompous young fool who
was with Alston. Surely, even Robert Knox couldn't have been so
indiscreet in a matter of life and death, such as this!"

"Not when he was sober; and he hasn't been drinking to-day. As for
yesterday - that is another matter," said General Jackson. "Robert Knox
always means to do exactly what is right, but what a man means is
sometimes very different from what he does, especially when he doesn't
know what he is doing."



None of this strife had yet touched Cedar House. Even the hazy sadness
which had dimmed Ruth's bright spirits as she had watched the young
preacher ride away, had passed as quickly as mist before the sun. For it
is one of the mercies that happy youth never sees life's struggle quite
clearly, and that it is soon allowed to forget the fleeting glimpses
which may cloud its happiness for an instant.

Her thoughts were now solely of the young doctor's coming. He had not
named the hour; the epidemic made him uncertain of his own time. But he
had said that he would come during the day, so that it was necessary to
be ready to receive him at any moment. And there were many pleasant
things to do in preparation for his coming. More roses were to be
gathered, and other flowers also, were blooming gayly among the sober
vegetables as if it were mid-summer. So that the first thing Ruth did
was to strip the garden, with David to help her and no one to hinder.

The judge and William had gone away from the house as soon as breakfast
was over, saying they would try to return in time to see the visitor.
Miss Penelope was busy in seeing that the coffee-pot was washed with hot
water and rinsed with cold, and scoured inside and out till it shone
like burnished silver. The widow Broadnax, too, was as busy as she ever
was, sitting in her usual place in the chimney-corner, looking like some
large, clumsily graven image in dark stone, and watching her
half-sister's every movement without winking or turning her head. So
that Ruth and David were left to follow their own fanciful devices, free
to put flowers everywhere. They wrought out their fancies to the fullest
and the more fantastic, as the artistic instinct rarely fails to do in
its first freedom. When they were done, the great room of Cedar House
was an oddly charming sight, worth going far to see. Never before had it
been so wonderful, strange, and beautiful. It had now become an
enchanted bower of mingled bloom and fragrance, shadowed within yet open
to the sun-lit day and the flashing river.

"There!" cried Ruth, looking round, with her head on one side. "There
isn't one forgotten spot for another flower. Now, I must run and dress.
And you must wait here till I come back, David, dear, for the doctor may
arrive at any moment, and somebody should be ready to welcome him. Why!
aunt Molly has actually followed aunt Penelope clear to the kitchen, so
that there is no one left but you. Don't go till I come back."

She went up the broad, dark stairs, turning on almost every step to
look down over the room and drink in the beauty and sweetness. David,
also, drank it in still more eagerly, taking deep intoxicating draughts,
as the thirsty take cool, sparkling wine. He then sat quietly looking
about and waiting. His book was in his pocket, as it nearly always was
when not in his hand. But he had grown shy of reading "The Famous
History of Montilion - Knight of the Oracle, Son to the true Mirror of
Princes, the most Renowned Pericles, showing his Strange Birth,
Unfortunate Love, Perilous Adventures in Arms: and how he came to the
Knowledge of his Parents, interlaced with a Variety of Pleasant and
Delightful Discourse," since Ruth had laughed at it, and had laid the
blame for his weakness upon the romance. And then his craving for the
romantic and beautiful was satisfied for the moment by gazing about this
big, strange, shadowy, embowered room. Moreover, Ruth came back very
soon. When beauty is young, fresh, natural, and very, very great, it
does not need much time for its adornment. Ruth's toilet was like a
bird's. A quick dip in pure, cold water - a flutter of soft garments as
the radiant wings cast off the crystal drops - and she was ready to meet
the full glory of the sunlight. When she thus came smiling down the
stairs that day, with the dew of life's morning fresh upon her, David
turned from the flowers.

"Yes, indeed! Isn't it a lovely frock!" she cried, running her hand
lightly over the big, puffy, short sleeve. "It is one of the last uncle
Philip had made in New Orleans, and fetched up the river. You might draw
this muslin through my smallest ring. See this dear little girdle - way
up here right under my arms - and so delicately worked in these pale blue
forget-me-nots, that look as if they were just in bloom. See!" - lifting
the gauzy skirt as a child lifts its apron - "Here is a border of the
forget-me-nots all around the bottom. But you are such a goose that you
don't know how pretty it is unless I tell you," pretending to shake him,
with trills of happy laughter. "All the same, you shall look at the
slippers, too! You shall see that the kid is as blue as the
forget-me-nots, - whether you want to or not!" drawing back the skirt and
putting out her foot.

And the boy gazing at her face, forgot his bashfulness far enough to
admire the frock and the slippers as much as she thought they deserved.
Neither of these children of the wilderness knew how unsuitable her
dress was, that it had never been intended for wearing in the morning
anywhere, or for the forest at any time. Ruth had worn only the
daintiest and finest of garments all her life, without any regard for
suitableness. From her babyhood to this day of her girlhood, it had been
Philip Alston's pride and happiness to dress her as the proudest and
richest father might dress his daughter, in the midst of the highest
civilization. Ruth knew nothing else, and those who knew her would
scarcely have known her, seeing her otherwise. It was only the few
strangers stopping at Cedar House, on their way over the Wilderness
Road, who gazed at Ruth in wondering amazement. Naturally enough, those
who had never seen her before could not at first believe the evidence of
their own dazzled eyes. To them this radiant young creature in her rich,
delicate raiment could not seem real at first; she was too lovely, too
like an enchanting vision born of the dim green shadows of the forest, a
bewitching dryad, an exquisite sprite.

Some such thoughts as these crossed the mind of Paul Colbert as he
looked at her through the open door. He had ridden up unheard, had
dismounted, tying his horse to a tree, and had then stood for several
minutes without being seen by Ruth or David. When he spoke, they thought
that he had just arrived. Ruth went forward to welcome him with the ease
and grace that marked everything she did. Nature had given her a pretty,
gentle dignity, and Philip Alston's cultured example had polished her
manner. She now did all the graceful offices of the hostess, quietly and
simply. She said how sorry she was that neither her uncle nor her cousin
was at home. They wished, she said, to be there when he came, so that
they might try to thank him for his kindness to her. But one or the
other would return very soon; both had hoped to do so before his

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Online LibraryNancy Huston BanksRound Anvil Rock A Romance → online text (page 7 of 20)