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

HOW RODNEY AND ANGUS BECAME FRIENDS

“Say, Sim, what’s the story you’s goin’ to tell, the one yer cousin told ye?”

“Yes, tell us about it, Sim.”

The pupils of the cabin school were having recess. A few weeks before David Allison had moved his family up to Charlottesville from the “tide-water country,” and had opened this school.

“Well, ye see ” began Sim.

“Yes, we see all right, but thar ain’t much fun lookin’ at you gittin’ ready to tell a story. You sure are slower’n our ol’ nigger, Absalom.”

“Give Sim a chance!”

Angus MacGregor spoke as one with authority and his stockily built body looked capable of enforcing the order. Sim proceeded.

“As I was sayin’, Bill, that’s my cousin, he lives over in the Shenandoah valley two looks and a yell from the Jumpin’-off Place, was out fishin’ with another feller. When they was goin’ home an’ come out inter the clearin’ roun’ Fin Anderson’s cabin, they see an ol’ Injun, Bowlegs they call him, snoopin’ roun’. They hid an’ watched perceedin’s. When ol’ Bowlegs found no one was ter home what’s he do but walk right in and bring out a jug o’ corn liquor an’ set right thar an’ fill his gullet. Then the ol’ varmint laid down fer a snooze.”

“Oughter tarred an’ feathered the ol’ cuss,” said Angus.

“That’s jes’ what Bill thought, but they didn’t have no tar, let alone feathers. But Fin Anderson’s a curis feller, an’ Bill remembered that when he went out inter that country he toted along a feather bed; ‘lowed he wanted somethin’ different to sleep on ter home than he had in ther woods. When Bill thought o’ that feather bed he jes’ sithed fer tar, when he’d make a turkey gobbler outer Bowlegs. Well, while they’s rummagin’ roun’ ther cabin they found some wild honey Fin had brought in, so they took that an’ daubed ther ol’ feller from head ter heel and then rolled him in the feathers.”

“Kinder rough on Fin’s feather bed.”

“Oh, he’d sure enough lay it to the Injun. After they got back home an’ told the story some o’ the fellers ’lowed as how they’d go over an’ give Bowlegs a lickin’ ter boot. Well, when they got in sight o’ the ol’ rascal, he was jes’ soberin’ up, sittin’ thar rubbin’ his eyes. ‘Bout that time he seen ther feathers stickin’ out all over him an’ he let out a whoop an’ went tearin’ off through the brush, sheddin’ feathers at every jump like an ol’ settin’ hen scared off’n her nest.”

“They oughter licked the ol’ redskin; they’re all thieves,” said Angus with an important air.

“He stole the liquor but it looks like some one else stole the honey and feathers.”

All eyes turned toward the speaker who had joined the group unobserved. He was Rodney Allison.

The face of Angus turned red as a beet. Here was this upstart new boy with an air of questioning his authority. By means of Angus’ ability to give any boy in the neighbourhood a sound drubbing if necessary he had become the recognized leader. Evidently this new boy needed to be shown his proper place.

“Huh! Bill an’ his friends ain’t thieves, I can tell. An Injun is a born thief, so are most niggers, an’ I’ve been told that, when England used to send her thieves to Virginny, some of ’em turned schoolmasters after they landed.”

Sammy Dawson snickered and it was Rodney’s turn to get red in the face.

“I know one schoolmaster,” he said, “who is an honest man and always was, though thieving must be more fun than trying to teach some o’ the lunkheads who go to his school.”

Sammy didn’t snicker this time, but his eyes grew big and round.

Angus began to swell with anger. He stepped forward and shook his fist under Rodney’s nose. Then he found his speech. “I’ve known o’ folks,” he said, “who weren’t wanted down in the tide-water country, comin’ up this way an’ bein’ sent back with their hides tanned;” saying this, he tried to slap Rodney’s face.

In all the house of MacGregor probably there never had been a more surprised member than was Angus five minutes later, for David Allison had taught his son other things than were found in books; but he also had taught that this knowledge was not to be used except rarely, and when absolutely necessary. Rodney uneasily recalled this part of the instruction after the fight was over, and he had time to reflect on his part in bringing it on. Evidently he wasn’t doing anything to make the family popular with their new neighbours, whereas, if he’d kept his mouth shut instead of interrupting the conversation, all would have been well.

“Angus, let’s shake hands. I didn’t mean any offence and said more than I ought.”

Angus took the proffered hand rather reluctantly, and on his face was a look of suspicion, visible along with a black eye and a bleeding nose. Then he said: “You don’t come to school; got larnin’ enough, I reckon.”

“I have to work days, but study what I can nights,” was the reply.

“I saw ye workin’ with the nigger this mornin’. I ’lowed as how down in the tide-water country an’ in most other places folks as ’sociate with niggers ain’t much thought on. A slave has ter be kept in his place.”

“The work has to be done and there are only Thello and I to do it. He is not a slave, nor is his wife. Mother granted ’em freedom after grandfather gave them to her. Father doesn’t believe in slavery. But they would die before they’d leave us.”

“I reckon they’re niggers jes’ the same.”

“Yes, and I would trust ’em farther than I would most white folks.”

“I got no use fer mixin’ with niggers.”

“Look here, Angus, I thought you and I shook hands.”

“Well, I didn’t like ter refuse to meet ye half way,” replied the boy, sullenly, adding “My father says he allus ’spicions roosters as don’t crow.”

“What do you mean?”

“I ’low as how ’twould be like most fellers, as had licked another, to brag about it.”

So Angus suspected the proffered friendship! “Well, you see, when I came to think it over, I saw that I was partly to blame,” said Rodney. “I broke into the talk and invited trouble. I don’t like to hear any one blamed because their skins happen to be black or red, but it wasn’t exactly my business, as the talk wasn’t addressed to me.”

“I reckon you’re all right,” said Angus, holding out his hand, this time with a heartiness which was unmistakable. Then he said, “I’m glad you’ve come up inter this neck o’ woods, but I’m sorry ye bought that place o’ Denham, unless ye paid cash down an’ mighty little at that. The land’s worn out and the ol’ skin-flint has stuck two or three others in the same way. Had a mortgage on it, an’ then foreclosed.”

“I don’t know what arrangements father made,” replied Rodney, uneasy in mind because of what MacGregor had told him. He knew his father was not considered a good business man, but always believed the other man as honest as himself. “Anyhow I’m much obliged to you, Angus, for the warning. Come over and see me, will you?”

“Thank ye, I’ll do that,” was the reply, and the boys parted friends.

While working in the field that afternoon, Rodney was so absorbed in assisting and giving Thello directions about the work they were doing, that he did not notice the approach of a tall man on horseback until a pleasant voice greeted him: “Is this David Allison’s son?”

“Yes, sir,” Rodney replied, recognizing Mr. Jefferson of Monticello.

“I overheard some of your directions about the work, and concluded you have a good understanding of it.”

The boy flushed with pleasure. “Thank you, sir. Thello thinks I’ve a lot to learn.”

“‘Deed no, Marse Rodney. Yo’ certain sho ”

“Modesty is a good quality, my boy. I had a long talk with your father the other day. He is anxious for you to have all possible advantages. Now I have books in my library which I’m sure would afford you both interest and profit. If you will come to Monticello soon we’ll select some,” saying which he rode away.

“‘Scuse me, Marse Rodney, but dey’ll sho’ think yo’s not one ob de quality ef yo’ talks dat ar way ‘bout what ol’ Thello thinks.”

Rodney made no reply. He stood looking after the man on horseback who had spoken so kindly and who had such pleasant eyes, clear hazel in colour, and which so invited one’s confidence.

David Allison was an enthusiastic admirer of Thomas Jefferson, and, on coming to Charlottesville, had at his first opportunity called on him with a letter of introduction. At times he would speak so enthusiastically that Rodney would notice a smile on his mother’s face as she said: “You should remember, David, that you often have too much confidence in men. There are those who say that he is striving to be popular and to win success, and, to please the rabble, would destroy laws and customs under which the Old Dominion has flourished.”

“Aye, lass, that’s true o’ the part but not of all. Look ye at the lack o’ schools. Teaching is honourable work in the old country and in New England. What is it here, an’ what chance have the childer to ither teaching than I’m able to gie them? Thomas Jefferson is an inspiring leader under God’s direction I do believe. He’s surely a fine man to meet an’ seems disposed to help our Rodney.”