Read CHAPTER I of Rodney‚ the Ranger With Daniel Morgan on Trail and Battlefield , free online book, by John V. Lane, on ReadCentral.com.

“YOUYOU SIMPLETON!

A sturdy boy in homespun, a lad of nearly fourteen years, whose eyes were clear and gray and whose face was resolute and honest, led his little sister by the hand, for she was small and the road was rough.

“We’ll rest, ’Omi, when we come to the big tree. Are you cold?” he asked, for there was the chill of March in the wind, though the sun lay very warm in the sheltered places.

“No. Who?” she asked, pointing a tiny hand at two riders turning the corner, a youth of about seventeen and a young girl. Their horses were spirited and the black groom following urged his horse.

The youth was not attractive, though his riding habit was the fashionable product of a London tailor in the style of 1772. His hair was dark, his eyes steely blue and set close to a long nose; his mouth was ill adapted to a pleasant smile.

The girl was attractive, a fact people were quick to recognize, and she was so accustomed to seeing them turn and look after her that she would have been piqued had they not done so. Her ways were wilful but there was a grace in them all. Mischief lurked in the dark blue eyes, which now lighted with genuine pleasure. She fluttered from her horse as a bird alights and threw her arms around the child, exclaiming, “And how is little Naomi?” Then, holding the child from her, she looked in her face and said, “You are a dear. Aren’t you proud of her, Rodney?”

“She’s just as good as she looks,” the boy replied, blushing with pleasure, and then glanced at the youth, who did not appear to notice him but slyly spurred his horse, so that the animal in swerving would have knocked Rodney into the ditch had the lad not been nimble.

“Nith; red,” said the child, clutching the girl’s scarlet cloak.

“Yes, and you like my poor, old red hat, too, don’t you? though Cousin Mogridge says it ill becomes me.”

“Eth, pretty too,” and the child pouted her lips for a kiss.

Not one, but several, were most graciously given her with the admonition: “Next time you be sure and remember me and my name. Say Lisbeth Danesford.”

“Lithbeth Danethford,” repeated the child, looking up into the face of the girl, her big, brown eyes full of seriousness. “I like ’oo.”

“Have a care, ’Omi, for once Lisbeth knows that she’ll treat you as she does her other admirers.”

This remark was surprisingly impolite for Master Rodney Allison, but he was offended that Lisbeth had not introduced him to her London cousin, whom he was itching to thump. Moreover he had experienced Lisbeth’s fickleness.

She ignored him and said: “’Omi, where did you find such eyes? They are like stars with dew on them,” but suddenly she broke off and, with a bound, snatched from her cousin’s hand the whip with which he was about to lash Rodney.

The youth, evidently not liking the conversation, had again spurred his horse against young Allison, who without ceremony had seized the bit and set the animal on his haunches, nearly upsetting the rider.

Lisbeth had seen enough to know what had caused the trouble. “Boys are bullies,” she cried. “Here’s a test for your valour. Who’ll rescue my abused hat from the dragon?” saying which she sent it spinning over the fence.

Now the dragon was nothing less than a full grown and surly bull grazing in the pasture.

Rodney, enraged at Mogridge’s insolence and taunted by her words and the sight of the hat scaling like a low-flying swallow, yielded to the mad impulse to follow it. He would show the arrogant London youth what a Virginia boy dared do!

The bull had lifted his head in amazement, which gave place to rage at the red thing flashing before his sullen eyes. Snorting, he charged just as the lad snatched the hat from the ground and, turning, ran toward the fence.

It was a foolhardy deed, and the boy’s chance of escape seemed hopeless, when the unexpected happened.

A little figure climbed the fence and with a shrill cry ran to meet him, waving her red cloak to distract the brute’s attention.

The boy started to run between the bull and the girl, but she shrieked, “I’m all right. Run for your life!”

Had not the beast hesitated, uncertain which of the two was his tormenter, this story would be brief indeed. Before Mogridge had dismounted the two had reached safety.

The girl, almost breathless, turned to Rodney, stamped her foot and between her gasps cried: “You you simpleton!”

Rodney Allison, being now in his right mind and a sensible lad, realized the merited rebuke, though scarcely from the girl who had dared him to make the venture.

“I fancy Squire Danesford will think you one too, Bess, when he hears of you facing charging bulls like a Spanish picador, all to save churlish fools from their folly,” said her cousin, sneeringly.

“Don’t you dare tell him! If you do I’ll never speak to you again.” There was a tearful note in the girl’s voice and a disagreeable one in the youth’s laugh.

Again he laughed and with flaming face she cried, “Perhaps you had better tell him all while you’re about it; how you sat your horse like a pat of dough and watched me do it.”

It was Rodney’s turn to laugh, which he did most heartily, and Mogridge, his face redder than his fancy waistcoat, wheeled his horse and rode after the girl who was spurring ahead.

“I’d like to roll him in the mud and you’d like to have me do it, wouldn’t you, ’Omi?”

Naomi, trudging confidingly by his side, looked inquiringly out of her big eyes, stars with plenty of dew on them now, for during the excitement she had lifted up her voice in wailing and the tears had flowed freely.

Not until the riders drew rein at “The Hall” did Henry Mogridge overtake his cousin in the headlong race home. As it was, she dismounted before he could offer assistance and ran up the steps and across the white pillared veranda into the great wainscoted hall. An instant she paused, looking up at the portrait of a beautiful woman hanging there, and then went to her room.

The flickering light from the logs in the big fireplace relieved the shadows on the face in the frame, a face so like that of the girl’s as to leave no doubt whence she had inherited her charms.

The colour of hair and eyes, the poise of head, all were strikingly like, but in the girl’s face was a wilful recklessness, perhaps due to lack of a mother’s care, the mother she had never known, but more than probable an inheritance from her father, the reckless, hot-headed, sporting squire.

At table that evening the girl said little and made an excuse to leave before the last course.

Would her cousin tell her father? At the thought a look of defiance was in the girl’s face, a look not pleasant to see there.

As for the youth with the long nose and the narrow eyes, he had other plans for the present. Just now he was making himself as companionable as possible to his uncle, and it must be admitted he knew somewhat of the ways in which to do this. He told of the latest plays and scandals, to all of which the squire listened with occasional interruptions and allusions to what he knew of the London of the Fifties.

“Jupiter!” cried Mogridge, “but I’d think you’d find the Old Dominion mighty tame after the pleasures and associations you enjoyed in that good old town.”

“It’s all in adapting one’s self, my boy. I’m a bit old and Lisbeth is too young to show you what pleasures the Old Dominion really can afford. I’ll have to turn you over to the Reverend Pothero. He’s a rare blade and sure cure for ennui.”

“We hear tales of some of your Virginia parsons, and the joke of it is the stories, many of them at least, come from churchmen.”

“Oh, well, some things might be better, I suppose, but what can you expect when so few desire to take up the work in this country? To tell the truth, it sometimes was confoundly lonely at The Hall before Pothero came. But you haven’t told me anything of the government’s latest policy with respect to these colonies. Will Lord North’s hand be strong on the helm and what have we to fear from that arch demagogue, Pitt?”

“North’s hand will be as firm as the king’s and no firmer. Pitt will be dead when he has ceased to be a demagogue. The king speaks of him as ‘That Trumpet of Sedition,’” replied Mogridge with an air of sagacity.

“I fear you are right. His words have afforded the would-be traitors in this land their chief encouragement.”

“And from what I hear they seem to be having their way in Virginia.”

“Yes, there’s the very old Harry to pay here. Men whose position and interests lie in retaining the old order of things are catering to the rabble for a little temporary advantage. You see, the past few years, the Scotch-Irish immigrants have been pouring into the northwestern part of the colony. By nature and education they are hostile to rightful authority, are Dissenters and opposed to contributing in the way of taxes for the support of the established order.”

“I understand that the other side, the men who are using these ignorant people for their purposes, have control of the House of Burgesses.”

“Fools! to think they can scare England by refusing to buy goods of her just because she wishes them to pay a small tax. I’ve just heard that Colonel Washington met Richard and Francis Lee at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg the other night after the governor, God bless him! had dissolved the Burgesses; that with Tom Jefferson and Patrick Henry they laid their plans for uniting with the rebels in the other colonies. I can’t understand of what such men as Washington are thinking. Treason, pur et simple, that’s what ’twill come to.”

“Henry is a wonderful orator, they say.”

“Words, words, and more words. Where he learns ’em all is a mystery, for he’d much rather talk than study. He’s infatuated young Jefferson, who’s yeoman on his father’s side, but who’s as smart as he is conceited. What do you suppose that young scamp is trying to accomplish? Nothing less than the ruin of the old families of this Dominion, sir. He would so change our laws that, instead of our estates descending to the eldest son and thus being kept up, they would be divided among the children, as is done in Massachusetts. And he would disestablish the church, he would, by gad, sir!”

The squire’s face, always florid from high living, was now so purple with passion that his wily nephew, fearing apoplexy, changed the subject.

“By the way, uncle, why don’t you send Lisbeth to England to finish her education? She’s growing to be a handsome woman and surely, if you’ll pardon me, your broad acres can yield sufficient to fit her for the high position she’ll be called to occupy.”

“She’s but a girl, all I have. She’s like her dead mother and I I can’t let her go.”

“But think what her mother would wish. Go over with her.”

“I can’t leave the estate. The slaves are only to be depended on when they have a capable overseer. Mine is not altogether trustworthy.”

“Excuse me but I don’t think it right for her to associate with servants and people like the Allisons. By the way, who are these Allisons? When riding this afternoon we met the boy and child, and Lisbeth made much of them. Surely they are not of our class.”

“Allison is a Scotchman. I happened to be at Norfolk when he landed from the old country. The captain told me the fellow had been brought on board unconscious and with a bad wound in his head. I liked the man’s face, and asked no questions. He never spoke of the matter. I paid the cost of his passage and let him work it out. He’s a good accountant.”

“An objectionable person, probably an escaped convict,” remarked Mogridge with the air of a judge.

“On the contrary he seems a most respectable man. To be sure he’s a Dissenter, but one has to expect that. I’ve always found him trustworthy. He has taught a field school for years and the children make good progress under his instruction.”

“You can’t mean that you allow Lisbeth to go to such a school?”

“Well, you see,” replied the squire as if in excuse, “the school is a small one, confined to my neighbours’ children, otherwise I wouldn’t allow it.”

“So she associates with such boys as that Allison.”

“He’s a fine lad. His mother was a Tawbee, old Squire Tawbee’s daughter. She was a playmate of mine and lived at Greenwood till it had to be sold, after the squire’s death, to pay the debts.”

“But you don’t know about the father?”

“I said,” replied the squire, rather testily, “that he’s a decent man except for his revolutionary notions. He wants to say ‘amen’ every time Patrick Henry opens his mouth. That, I have no patience with. England has helped us fight our foes. This hullabaloo about no taxation without representation fills the ears of the ignorant. Why, fifty years ago the chronic growlers opposed the establishment of a postal service because the government, without consulting the colonies, charged postage on the letters.”

“It seems, however, that you are providing a living for a man who is a chronic growler and opposed to you.” There was the evident suggestion of a sneer in Mogridge’s voice.

“Well, I suppose I might look at it that way. I took him up when he hadn’t a friend.”

“Pardon me, but I do not see how one might look at it in any other way. A fellow who will do as you say he is doing, is an ingrate.”

The squire frowned, but made no reply, and Henry Mogridge smiled unpleasantly, for he saw that his words were surely poisoning his uncle’s thoughts respecting the Allisons.