We drew bridle at the cross-roads; he stretched his legs in his
stirrups, raised his arms, yawned, and dropped his huge hands upon
either thigh with a resounding slap.
"Well, good-bye," he said, gravely, but made no movement to
"Do we part here?" I asked, sorry to quit my chance acquaintance
of the Johnstown highway.
He nodded, yawned again, and removed his round cap of silver-fox
fur to scratch his curly head.
"We certainly do part at these cross-roads, if you are bound for
Varicks'," he said.
I waited a moment, then thanked him for the pleasant
entertainment his company had afforded me, and wished him a safe
"A safe journey?" he repeated, carelessly. "Oh yes, of course;
safe journeys are rare enough in these parts. I'm obliged to you
for the thought. You are very civil, sir. Good-bye."
Yet neither he nor I gathered bridle to wheel our horses, but
sat there in mid-road, looking at each other.
"My name is Mount," he said at length; "let me guess yours. No,
sir! don't tell me. Give me three sportsman's guesses; my
hunting-knife against the wheat straw you are chewing!"
"With pleasure," I said, amused, "but you could scarcely guess
"Your name is Varick?"
I shook my head.
"No. Look sharp to your knife, friend."
"Oh, then I have guessed it," he said, coolly; "your name is
Ormond—and I'm glad of it."
"Why are you glad of it?" I asked, curiously, wondering, too, at
his knowledge of me, a stranger.
"You will answer that question for yourself when you meet your
kin, the Varicks and Butlers," he said; and the reply had an
insolent ring that did not please me, yet I was loath to quarrel
with this boyish giant whose amiable company I had found agreeable
on my long journey through a land so new to me.
"My friend," I said, "you are blunt."
"Only in speech, sir," he replied, lazily swinging one huge leg
over the pommel of his saddle. Sitting at ease in the sunshine, he
opened his fringed hunting-shirt to the breeze blowing.
"So you go to the Varicks?" he mused aloud, eyes slowly closing
in the sunshine like the brilliant eyes of a basking lynx.
"Do you know the lord of the manor?" I asked.
"Who? The patroon?"
"I mean Sir Lupus Varick."
"Yes; I know him—I know Sir Lupus. We call him the patroon,
though he's not of the same litter as the Livingstons, the Cosbys,
the Phillipses, Van Rensselaers, and those feudal gentlemen who
juggle with the high justice, the middle, and the low—and who will
juggle no more."
"Am I mistaken," said I, "in taking you for a Boston man?"
"In one sense you are," he said, opening his eyes. "I was born
"Then you are a rebel?"
"Lord!" he said, laughing, "how you twist our English tongue!
'Tis his Majesty across the waters who rebels at our home-made
"Is it not dangerous to confess such things to a stranger?" I
His bright eyes reassured me. "Not to all strangers," he
drawled, swinging his free foot over his horse's neck and settling
his bulk on the saddle. One big hand fell, as by accident, over the
pan of his long rifle. Watching, without seeming to, I saw his
forefinger touch the priming, stealthily, and find it dry.
"You are no King's man," he said, calmly.
"Oh, do you take me for a rebel, too?" I demanded.
"No, sir; you are neither the one nor the other—like a tadpole
with legs, neither frog nor pollywog. But you will be."
"Which?" I asked, laughing.
"My wisdom cannot draw that veil for you, sir," he said. "You
may take your chameleon color from your friends the Varicks and
remain gray, or from the Butlers and turn red, or from the
Schuylers and turn blue and buff."
"You credit me with little strength of character," I said.
"I credit you with some twenty-odd years and no experience."
"With nothing more?"
"Yes, sir; with sincerity and a Spanish rifle—which you may have
need of ere this month of May has melted into June."
I glanced at the beautiful Spanish weapon resting across my
"What do you know of the Varicks?" I asked, smiling.
"More than do you," he said, "for all that they are your kin.
Look at me, sir! Like myself, you wear deer-skin from throat to
ankle, and your nose is ever sniffing to windward. But this is a
strange wind to you. You see, you smell, but your eyes ask, 'What
is it?' You are a woodsman, but a stranger among your own kin. You
have never seen a living Varick; you have never even seen a
"Your wisdom is at fault there," I said, maliciously.
"Have you seen a Varick?"
"No; but the partridge—"
"Pooh! a little creature, like a gray meadow-lark remoulded! You
call it partridge, I call it quail. But I speak of the crested
thunder—drumming cock that struts all ruffed like a Spanish grandee
of ancient times. Wait, sir!" and he pointed to a string of birds'
footprints in the dust just ahead. "Tell me what manner of creature
left its mark there?"
I leaned from my saddle, scanning the sign carefully, but the
bird that made it was a strange bird to me. Still bending from my
saddle, I heard his mocking laugh, but did not look up.
"You wear a lynx-skin for a saddle-cloth," he said, "yet that
lynx never squalled within a thousand miles of these hills."
"Do you mean to say there are no lynxes here?" I asked.
"Plenty, sir, but their ears bear no black-and-white marks.
Pardon, I do not mean to vex you; I read as I run, sir; it is my
"So you have traced me on a back trail for a thousand miles—from
habit," I said, not exactly pleased.
"A thousand miles—by your leave."
"Or without it."
"Or without it—a thousand miles, sir, on a back trail, through
forests that blossom like gigantic gardens in May with flowers
sweeter than our white water-lilies abloom on trees that bear
glossy leaves the year round; through thickets that spread great,
green, many-fingered hands at you, all adrip with golden jasmine;
where pine wood is fat as bacon; where the two oaks shed their
leaves, yet are ever in foliage; where the thick, blunt snakes lie
in the mud and give no warning when they deal death. So far, sir, I
trail you, back to the soil where your baby fingers first dug—soil
as white as the snow which you are yet to see for the first time in
your life of twenty-three years. A land where there are no hills; a
land where the vultures sail all day without flapping their
tip-curled wings; where slimy dragon things watch from the water's
edge; where Greek slaves sweat at indigo-vats that draw vultures
like carrion; where black men, toiling, sing all day on the
sea-islands, plucking cotton-blossoms; where monstrous horrors,
hornless and legless, wallow out to the sedge and graze like
"Man! You picture a hell!" I said, angrily, "while I come from
"The outer edges of paradise border on hell," he said. "Wait!
Sniff that odor floating."
"It is jasmine!" I muttered, and my throat tightened with a
"It is the last of the arbutus," he said, dropping his voice to
a gentle monotone. "This is New York province, county of Tryon,
sir, and yonder bird trilling is not that gray minstrel of the
Spanish orange-tree, mocking the jays and the crimson fire-birds
which sing 'Peet! peet!' among the china-berries. Do you know the
wild partridge-pea of the pine barrens, that scatters its seeds
with a faint report when the pods are touched? There is in this
land a red bud which has burst thundering into crimson bloom,
scattering seeds o' death to the eight winds. And every seed breeds
a battle, and every root drinks blood!"
He straightened in his stirrups, blue eyes ablaze, face burning
under its heavy mask of tan and dust.
"If I know a man when I see him, I know you," he said. "God save
our country, friend, upon this sweet May day."
"Amen, sir," I replied, tingling. "And God save the King the
whole year round!"
"Yes," he repeated, with a disagreeable laugh, "God save the
King; he is past all human aid now, and headed straight to hell.
Friend, let us part ere we quarrel. You will be with me or against
me this day week. I knew it was a man I addressed, and no
"Yet this brawl with Boston is no affair of mine," I said,
troubled. "Who touches the ancient liberties of Englishmen touches
my country, that is all I know."
"Which country, sir?"
"And when Greater Britain divides?"
"It must not!"
I unbound the scarlet handkerchief which I wore for a cap, and
held it between my fingers to dry its sweat in the breeze. Watching
it flutter, I said:
"Friend, in my country we never cross the branch till we come to
it, nor leave the hammock till the river-sands are beneath our
feet. No hunting-shirt is sewed till the bullet has done its
errand, nor do men fish for gray mullet with a hook and line. There
is always time to pray for wisdom."
"Friend," replied Mount, "I wear red quills on my moccasins, you
wear bits of sea-shell. That is all the difference between us.
Good-bye. Varick Manor is the first house four miles ahead."
He wheeled his horse, then, as at a second thought, checked him
and looked back at me.
"You will see queer folk yonder at the patroon's," he said. "You
are accustomed to the manners of your peers; you were bred in that
land where hospitality, courtesy, and deference are shown to
equals; where dignity and graciousness are expected from the
elders; where duty and humility are inbred in the young. So is it
with us—except where you are going. The great patroon families,
with their vast estates, their patents, their feudal systems, have
stood supreme here for years. Theirs is the power of life and death
over their retainers; they reign absolute in their manors, they
account only to God for their trusts. And they are great folk, sir,
even yet—these Livingstons, these Van Rensselaers, these
Phillipses, lords of their manors still; Dutch of descent,
polished, courtly, proud, bearing the title of patroon as a noble
bears his coronet."
He raised his hand, smiling. "It is not so with the Varicks.
They are patroons, too, yet kin to the Johnsons, of Johnson Hall
and Guy Park, and kin to the Ormond-Butlers. But they are different
from either Johnson or Butler—vastly different from the Schuylers
or the Livingstons—"
He shrugged his broad shoulders and dropped his hand: "The
Varicks are all mad, sir. Good-bye."
He struck his horse with his soft leather heels; the animal
bounded out into the western road, and his rider swung around once
more towards me with a gesture partly friendly, partly, perhaps, in
menace. "Tell Sir Lupus to go to the devil!" he cried, gayly, and
cantered away through the golden dust.
I sat my horse to watch him; presently, far away on the hill's
crest, the sun caught his rifle and sparkled for a space, then the
point of white fire went out, and there was nothing on the hill-top
save the dust drifting.
Lonelier than I had yet been since that day, three months gone,
when I had set out from our plantation on the shallow Halifax,
which the hammock scarcely separates from the ocean, I gathered
bridle with listless fingers and spoke to my mare. "Isene, we must
be moving eastward—always moving, sweetheart. Come, lass, there's
grain somewhere in this Northern land where you have carried me."
And to myself, muttering aloud as I rode: "A fine name he has given
to my cousins the Varicks, this giant forest-runner, with his boy's
face and limbs of iron! And he was none too cordial concerning the
Butlers, either—cousins, too, but in what degree they must tell me,
for I don't know—"
The road entering the forest, I ceased my prattle by instinct,
and again for the thousandth time I sniffed at odors new to me, and
scanned leafy depths for those familiar trees which stand warden in
our Southern forests. There were pines, but they were not our
pines, these feathery, dark-stemmed trees; there were oaks, but
neither our golden water oaks nor our great, green-and-silver
live-oaks. Little, pale flowers bloomed everywhere, shadows only of
our bright blossoms of the South; and the rare birds I saw were
gray and small, and chary of song, as though the stillness that
slept in this Northern forest was a danger not to be awakened.
Loneliness fell on me; my shoulders bent and my head hung heavily.
Isene, my mare, paced the soft forest-road without a sound, so
quietly that the squatting rabbit leaped from between her forelegs,
and the slim, striped, squirrel-like creatures crouched paralyzed
as we passed ere they burst into their shrill chatter of fright or
anger, I know not which.
Had I a night to spend in this wilderness I should not know
where to find a palmetto-fan for a torch, where to seek light-wood
for splinter. It was all new to me; signs read riddles; tracks were
sealed books; the east winds brought rain, where at home they bring
heaven's own balm to us of the Spanish grants on the seaboard; the
northwest winds that we dread turn these Northern skies to
sapphire, and set bees a-humming on every bud.
There was no salt in the air, no citrus scent in the breeze, no
heavy incense of the great magnolia bloom perfuming the wilderness
like a cathedral aisle where a young bride passes, clouded in
But in the heat a heavy, sweetish odor hung; balsam it is
called, and mingled, too, with a faint scent like our bay, which
comes from a woody bush called sweet-fern. That, and the strong
smell of the bluish, short-needled pine, was ever clogging my
nostrils and confusing me. Once I thought to scent a 'possum, but
the musky taint came from a rotting log; and a stale fox might have
crossed to windward and I not noticed, so blunted had grown my nose
in this unfamiliar Northern world.
Musing, restless, dimly confused, and doubly watchful, I rode
through the timber-belt, and out at last into a dusty, sunny road.
And straightway I sighted a house.
The house was of stone, and large and square and gray, with only
a pillared porch instead of the long double galleries we build; and
it had a row of windows in the roof, called dormers, and was
surrounded by a stockade of enormous timbers, in the four corners
of which were set little forts pierced for rifle fire.
Noble trees stood within the fortified lines; outside, green
meadows ringed the place; and the grass was thick and soft, and
vivid as a green jewel in color—such grass as we never see save for
a spot here and there in swampy places where the sun falls in early
The house was yet a hundred rods away to the eastward. I rode on
slowly, noticing the neglected fences on either hand, and thought
that my cousin Varick might have found an hour to mend them, for
his pride's sake.
Isene, my mare, had already scented the distant stables, and was
pricking forward her beautiful ears as I unslung my broad hat of
plaited palmetto and placed it on my head, the better to salute my
hosts when I should ride to their threshold in the Spanish fashion
we followed at home.
So, cantering on, I crossed a log bridge which spanned a ravine,
below which I saw a grist-mill; and so came to the stockade. The
gate was open and unguarded, and I guided my mare through without a
challenge from the small corner forts, and rode straight to the
porch, where an ancient negro serving-man stood, dressed in a
tawdry livery too large for him. As I drew bridle he gave me a
dull, almost sullen glance, and it was not until I spoke sharply to
him that he shambled forward and descended the two steps to hold my
"Is Sir Lupus at home?" I asked, looking curiously at this mute,
dull-eyed black, so different from our grinning lads at home.
"Yaas, suh, he done come home, suh."
"Then announce Mr. George Ormond," I said.
He stared, but did not offer to move.
"Did you hear me?" I asked, astonished.
"Yaas, suh, I done hear yoh, suh."
I looked him over in amazement, then walked past him towards the
"Is you gwine look foh Mars' Lupus?" he asked, barring my way
with one wrinkled, blue-black hand on the brass door-knob. "Kaze ef
you is, you don't had better, suh."
I could only stare.
"Kaze Mars' Lupus done say he gwine kill de fustest man what
'sturb him, suh," continued the black man, in a listless monotone.
"An' I spec' he gwine do it."
"Is Sir Lupus abed at this hour?" I asked.
There was no emotion in the old man's voice. Something made me
think that he had given the same message to visitors many
I was very angry at the discourtesy, for he must have known when
to expect me from my servant, who had accompanied me by water with
my boxes from St. Augustine to Philadelphia, where I lingered while
he went forward, bearing my letter with him. Yet, angry and
disgusted as I was, there was nothing for me to do except to
swallow the humiliation, walk in, and twiddle my thumbs until the
boorish lord of the manor waked to greet his invited guest.
"I suppose I may enter," I said, sarcastically.
"Yaas, suh; Miss Dorry done say: 'Cato,' she say, 'ef de young
gem'man come when Mars' Lupus am drunk, jess take care n' him,
Cato; put him mos' anywhere 'cep in mah bed, Cato, an' jess call me
ef I ain' busy 'bout mah business—'"
Still rambling on, he opened the door, and I entered a wide
hallway, dirty and disordered. As I stood hesitating, a terrific
crash sounded from the floor above.
"Spec' Miss Dorry busy," observed the old man, raising his
solemn, wrinkled face to listen.
"Uncle," I said, "is it true that you are all mad in this
"We sho' is, suh," he replied, without interest.
"Are you too crazy to care for my horse?"
"Oh no, suh."
"Then go and rub her down, and feed her, and let me sit here in
the hallway. I want to think."
Another crash shook the ceiling of solid oak; very far away I
heard a young girl's laughter, then a stifled chorus of voices from
the floor above.
"Das Miss Dorry an' de chilluns," observed the old man.
"Who are the others?"
"Waal, dey is Miss Celia, an' Mars' Harry, an' Mars' Ruyven, an'
Mars' Sam'l, an' de babby, li'l Mars' Benny."
"I'll be, too, if I remain here," I said. "Is there an inn near
"De Turkle-dove an' Olives."
"'Bout five mile long de pike, suh."
"Feed my horse," I said, sullenly, and sat down on a settle,
rifle cradled between my knees, and in my heart wrath immeasurable
against my kin the Varicks.