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

WHAT THE PACKAGE CONTAINED

“What’s the trouble here, Rodney?” asked Angus, shouldering his way in through a throng of the curious, assembled about the door of the cabin.

The hearty voice of his friend helped Rodney to collect himself. “There has been a sudden death; he was a man I knew,” he replied.

“I reckon you’ve lost a good friend,” said Angus, when he saw the face of the figure on the couch. “He certain sure did you a good turn.”

Rodney’s look showed that he wondered just what his friend meant. He was not aware that Angus knew the man.

Seeing that Rodney seemed puzzled, Angus said: “Why, that time he euchred old Denham. You told me then ye didn’t know him.”

“What do you mean? This the man who paid off the mortgage? Oh! if I had known that!”

It all came to Rodney Allison, as light comes to one who has been blind, and is made to see. This man, instead of a knave, had been his friend! He had won the money in gambling that it might be used for a right purpose. He had so used it, and taken from his own purse as well. The sense of having done an injustice is very bitter when the injured has passed beyond one’s power to atone!

When everything had been done that might be, and Allison and McGregor were walking away, the latter said: “I’ve found a feller as is lookin’ fer a good horse. He saw Nat when you rode in this mornin’ an’ he asked no end o’ questions, whar ye lived, how ter git thar an’ said he was thinkin’ o’ buyin’. I ’lowed as how ‘twould take a tote o’ money ter buy. Thar goes the identical minion o’ King George, now.”

Rodney looked in the direction indicated. “That knave!” he exclaimed. “I’d never sell Nat to him if I needed the money to buy bread.”

“Don’t like his looks, eh? Yer powerful fussy. He ain’t the best lookin’ feller I ever did see, but I reckon his money’s good.”

The other made no reply. He could not explain his antipathy to Mogridge, for it was he whom Angus had pointed out. So he’s here, thought Rodney, wondering what he could want with a horse.

Allison was not an unduly inquisitive youth, but it may readily be imagined his pulse quickened when he sat down with his mother to open the package which had been given him by the “Chevalier.” It almost seemed that the man had known he was about to die, though his manner had been so cheerful.

Ah! Here was money the package had seemed heavy nearly fifty pounds in all; and here was his gold watch and seal ring and a letter. He quickly opened the letter and read with wonderment in his eyes, and then tears.

“MY DEAR RODNEY: The man, whose life your father once saved at risk of his own, and whom you again saved from the bullet of a savage, wishes to express his sense of obligations. Please accept the contents of this packet as such an expression, for the obligations themselves cannot be repaid; also what I have tried to provide in the will which you will find enclosed. I would suggest that you consult the lawyer whom you brought to me at my request. Rightly cared for, the inheritance will ensure your mother and sister against want and afford you the chance of which you have been deprived on account of lack of funds. I’m sure you will understand that I do not allude to ‘Chance,’ the fickle goddess of the gaming table, and I have been happy to learn you profited by the lesson I taught you. Had I learned a similar one at your age, that one may not obtain something for nothing and be happy in the possession, I might have been of some service in the world. Instead, my life has been a failure, and that which I am leaving to you was the fruit of the service of my forebears. May you never feel the humiliation of uselessness, of having contributed nothing to the world that was of value!

“The property is in England, and not until the war shall be ended, I presume, will it be possible for you to come into the inheritance. I am leaving no near kindred. My little son died in Canada during my absence; his name was Louis. Elizabeth Danesford’s mother I knew when she was a girl and lived in London, and, for her sake, her daughter, had she lived, was to have had the half of what I’m leaving to you. The estate in England, which Louis would have inherited, reverts to a distant cousin.

“I do not know whether your father ever told of his acquaintance with me, nor what his feelings toward me may have been. Surely, there was ample cause why they should have been unpleasant, but I like to think they were kindly. He loved me despite the sore distress I so often caused him, but when I struck him down, thinking him an enemy, and fled, believing myself a murderer, he must ever after have thought I deserted him. I hope he knows better now.

“After that horrible experience I joined the army in Canada and a year later was married. Louis was born and, after six years of such happiness as one who believes himself a criminal may enjoy, my wife died and Louis went to live with her parents near Lachine. One day I met a man who recognized me and, fearing exposure, I fled to New York, later to Philadelphia and then to Virginia at the outbreak of Dunmore’s war. After that I returned to Canada only to learn that Louis had died. It seemed as if a fatality pursued all I loved. I went to England, determined to give myself up to justice, but was astounded to learn that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed. I was told your father did not die but was put aboard ship for the Colonies. Believing that England, however much in fault as to administration, was right in fighting to retain her government over this country, I again entered the army. The day on which I had the serious attack of heart trouble, and called for assistance and you came, I saw that in your face which told me you must be near of kin to David Cameron. I wonder that I never had noted the resemblance. If you are like him, as I believe, you will not leave the world the poorer for having lived in it, and at the end will not, as I, feel impelled to recall these lines which that wretch Wharton wrote:

“’Be kind to my remains, and oh! defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend.’

“RICHARD W. RALSTON.”

“Dick Ralston! And but for him I would not have had David. The ways of Providence are past finding out, Rodney.”

“Nor would we have had a home but for him, mother.”

“True, I forgot that. He had a kind heart and I remember what an attractive gentleman I thought him, the day he came here. Think what he might have been!”

The day on which the remains of Ralston were laid at rest, Rodney, on returning home, found Mam in a state of agitation. She beckoned him into the house and hoarsely whispered: “Dar’s a dirty Injun in de shed. I wouldn’ ‘low him ter set foot in dis yar house, I wouldn’, not ef he’d scalped me on de spot. He grunt, an’ squat, an’ ’lowed he done wouldn’ stir less he seed you.”

“I’ll bet I know him,” saying which, Rodney ran out and, as he suspected, found Conrad stolidly waiting for him.

“Where’s little Louis, Conrad?”

“He vould stay mit der priest at Detroit. He say he a medicine man be himself.”

As Rodney wrote the letter Conrad was to take back through the hundreds of miles of forest to the son of Richard Ralston, he thought what a pity the boy’s father died without seeing him. The son should know, however, that he was loved and that his father had been a brave man and that, if he but chose to return to England, he might come into his inheritance. What would he choose, the life of the missionary with all its dangers and sacrifices, or that of a country gentleman, rather what would his advisers choose for him?

Weeks lengthened into months and months into years, slowly so far as concerned the progress of the war, but swiftly with regard to the growth of the country. Notwithstanding Continental money was becoming almost worthless, bountiful crops were raised and the greater part of the population were engaged in work.

The surrender of Burgoyne had proved the success necessary to enable that wise old man, Benjamin Franklin, to secure recognition of the United States by France. A French fleet hovered along the coast and annoyed the British without accomplishing anything decisive. The American people seemed less inclined to make great effort, relying on French aid to secure independence for them. Corruption, depriving the army of supplies and money, the weakness of Congress, unable to do more than suggest and leave to the several states to respond or not as they chose, all served to delay the war. But for Washington, patient and wise, standing as a tower of strength about which the patriotic people might rally, the end of it all might well have been in doubt. The people of the country, however, did not doubt. The great majority of them believed their cause invincible.

Washington’s army had chased Clinton’s British troops from Philadelphia back to New York, and would have inflicted serious punishment upon them but for the treachery of General Charles Lee. As it was, Washington saw the hand of Providence in the fact that, after two years, his and the British army were back in their old positions with the British less confident and powerful. General Howe on returning to England had remarked: “Things go ill and will not go better.”

The Wyoming massacre, perpetrated by Indians and Tories, sent a thrill of horror over the land, and the man who had been thinking the war would be ended without further assistance from him burned to fight the foe. The successes of Clark in capturing British posts west of the Alleghanies, and so laying the foundation of our claim to that vast territory, increased Rodney’s restlessness.

“Zeb,” he said to his friend on hearing the report, “I’m beginning to long to go West again.”

“You ought to know what is thought of a man as fools with fire after havin’ his fingers burned once.”

“I can’t help it. I know that is a wonderful country. Great work will be done there in the next few years and I want a share in it.”

“I reckon I’d wait till the war is over an’ the redskins are tamed.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to. But it’ll be either the West or the war for me before long.”

Zeb looked shrewdly at his friend, wondering why he was so restless, for he had prospered. “It’s nigh two years since we licked Burgoyne an’ they don’t make much headway. Reckon we’ll hev to go back an’ show ’em how we used to do it. But, if we ain’t needed, it will be too bad to leave things here just as we’ve got ’em into shape.”

“You ought never to go to the front again, Zeb. You’ve done your share and, with your wound and your rheumatism, you couldn’t last long in camp. You stay at home and take charge of matters and let me go. I heard yesterday that the British are having things their own way down in South Carolina, murdering and pillaging. Cornwallis evidently intends to frighten the people into submission and then invade Virginia.”

“He hasn’t licked ’em to a standstill yet awhile. Thar’s Sumter an’ Marion left, an’ the boys o’ the mountains, oh! but he’ll have trouble.”

“I hear the Tories down there are helping the British much more than the Tories in any other part of the country have been able to do.”

“Unless they do they won’t help much. They were goin’ ter help Burgoyne an’ didn’t amount to a pinch o’ snuff. All they can do in the way o’ fightin’ is killing women an’ children an’ then scalpin’ ’em. Anyhow, if ye can’t keep contented at home any longer I’ll try to look after matters here while you are away. But why not get advice from your friend at Monticello? ’Pears to me you have done your share of the fightin’.”

“I don’t like to bother him with my petty affairs, with his many important duties. Being governor of Virginia is enough for one man, let alone all he’s doing for national affairs and for education. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did something to abolish slavery; father believed he would. You know Mr. Jefferson says he trembles for the future when he thinks that God is just.”

“We’ll never live to see it, Rodney.”

Rodney inherited his father’s hatred of slavery, and his kindly feelings toward all men, but the following morning, when he went to the stable and found that Nat, together with saddle and bridle, had been stolen in the night, and thought of what Mogridge had asked Angus well, it was fortunate for both that young Allison and Mogridge did not meet that morning.