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There remained for Rodney nothing to do but obey orders, though he was loath to leave. The spirit of victory was in his soul. That had been a glorious battle and the right had triumphed. The bloodhounds had put their tails between their legs and fled. He did not realize that they would rally and soon be close upon the heels of the retreating Americans, and that nothing would save the latter but the winter floods which were to fill the rivers and delay the British.
Through a land ravaged by war, over roads deep with mud, where might be found only the poorest accommodations for man or beast, Rodney Allison rode homeward. His arm give him little trouble except the fear it might always be stiff. The nearer he came to home the more he longed to be back with the army. It troubled him to think that in the victories he was sure would follow he could not have a part.
"I'm never able to win promotion," he said to himself, rather bitterly. The picture of that winter night, the witching face of Lisbeth and her mocking laugh as she rode away, kept recurring to his mind. What a girl she had been, the best playmate even a boy might wish; always ready for a lark, daring, mischievous, with wit as keen as a blade and quick as a flash. He could not think of her as dead, and the bitterness of his heart at the trick she had played upon him troubled him now as he looked back upon it. "She didn't know what she was doing, did she, Nat, old boy?"
Nat had been plodding along but now lifted his head with some show of interest. The hard life he had led since the day Mogridge had stolen him had not quite broken his spirit, though he was gaunt and worn with cruel service.
"I've got you, Nat, if I haven't got a promotion, and of the two I'd rather have you," said his rider, patting his shoulder.
The lad was nearing his long journey's end. In the distance were the mountains. A few miles further and Monticello would be visible. Over those mountains lay what seemed to the lad a great world. The life he had lived in it seemed like another life and Ahneota, little Louis, the Indian village and all, but the fancies of a dream. Sometime he would go back there.
When he saw the familiar house a thought came to his mind, and he wondered it had not come sooner. Would he find them as he had left them, mother, and 'Omi, and Zeb, and Mam, and Th.e.l.lo?
For an instant he almost feared to go on. Ah, there was Mam, waddling across from house to shed, probably going to call Th.e.l.lo from his favourite seat in the sunshine on the sheltered side of the building.
The door opens and his mother runs out. She has seen him riding up, and she cries: "Rodney, my boy!" and throws her arms about his neck, standing on tiptoe, for he is tall.
"Only one arm left for hugging, Mother. This is the only badge I bring back from the war," and he pointed to his arm in the sling, adding, as he notes her alarm, "it's nothing serious. How are you all?"
"All well and happy now you are back, all save poor old Th.e.l.lo, who's very miserable, but sight of you will make him forget his aches, I'm sure. Why, Rodney, where did you find Nat? Don't you know me, Nat, or have they treated you so badly you've forgotten old friends?"
Naomi, now grown to a handsome girl, ran out and it was some minutes before quiet was restored. Then Rodney asked for Zeb.
"I sent him to Philadelphia. I learned a very dear friend of ours living there is in sore trouble, and I hope he will succeed in having her return with him."
"Any one I know?"
"Some one you are much interested in. Your friend, Captain Enderwood, who had been to Philadelphia to see her, came all the way to Charlottesville to tell us about her. He also told me how she was the one who had you released from prison and nursed you through your sickness while you were unconscious, and made herself sick in consequence."
"You don't mean--you can't mean--"
"I mean that Elizabeth Danesford is alive. The mistake came from the report that she couldn't live. Doesn't it seem too good to be true?"
and Mrs. Allison watched Rodney's face as she added: "She is very poor. Captain Enderwood wished to marry her, he frankly told me so, but you know it would require more than poverty to weaken Lisbeth's resolution. The captain had heard her speak of me as her adopted aunt and he came all the way to Charlottesville to tell me about her. You see, her uncle and aunt in Philadelphia are dead and she has no kin in this country save a cousin who is not able to render her much if any a.s.sistance."
"She'll not be poor if we ever get what the 'Chevalier' left to us in his will, for half of what he gave to me, you know, he said he should have given to her."
"It may be difficult to persuade her to accept it. Enderwood, you know, offered to share his fortune with her and she refused." There was a questioning smile on Mrs. Allison's face.
Two days later Zeb returned from the Quaker City, very much downcast in appearance until he saw Rodney, when his face lighted with pleasure that was unmistakable.
"Looks how Tarleton let ye off easy."
"He was busy looking after himself. But, Zeb, it seems you failed in your errand. Is Lis--is Miss Danesford sick?"
"No. I reckon," and Zeb gave a shrewd glance at Rodney, "the wrong man was sent. She looks pale and tired. She has to work hard; she's runnin' some sort of a girls' school, an' I'd ruther train a yardful o' raw recruits."
"I'm sorry you could not persuade her to come," was all Mrs. Allison said, but she looked at her son, who remained silent.
About two weeks later he announced that he was going to Philadelphia and no one questioned him as to what his errand might be, though it was evident to Zeb that Rodney's mother was much pleased.
He had recovered from his wound, and good care and plenty to eat had restored some of Nat's good spirits, so that man and horse made a very pleasing appearance as they set forth on the long journey. Nat found his rider impatient and both were tired when at evening they reached the tavern where they were to stop for the night. After supper Rodney sat on the veranda watching the arrivals and departures, for the house was a much frequented public resort on the main thoroughfare.
A REWARD GREATER THAN PROMOTION
Rodney had risen from his seat to step inside when the arrival of a coach, which bore the marks of a long journey, attracted his attention.
The light from the small paned windows shone dimly, but he saw that only two pa.s.sengers alighted, one a young woman accompanied by an old man who appeared to be very feeble and leaned heavily on her. "Father and daughter," was Rodney's thought, but his words were, "May I a.s.sist," as he went to meet them.
The girl turned a white, tired face toward him, the face of Elizabeth, but, oh! so unlike that which had mocked him three years before!
"Rodney!" The girl's voice trembled.
"Aye, la.s.s," said the old man in a weak, quavering voice. "Would the laddie were here the noo. I'm a sair burden for your frail strength."
For an instant Rodney's face was whiter than Elizabeth's.
"Father! I am here," he cried and took the tottering man in his strong young arms.
It was a strange story to which Rodney listened that evening, one of thrilling interest and unusual even in the annals of wild frontier life.
Not all Indians were grateful, especially when maddened by l.u.s.t for war and vengeance. In the gray light of the dawn of the morning, after the fierce conflict at Point Pleasant, the savage who, because of his greed for scalps, had skulked behind when his fellows had crossed the river the night before, bore little resemblance in his war paint to the Indian David Allison once had warmed and fed within the walls of the stockade on a cold winter night; but he instantly recognized his benefactor. For hours David Allison had lain unconscious in the place where he had fallen. During the night he had regained consciousness, but could make no outcry louder than a moan. He had thought to drag himself toward the camp where he might attract the attention of his comrades, but had failed, and lay back against a fallen tree, his face gray and ghastly.
The morning mists hung low over the river, and, under cover of these, the savage paddled away un.o.bserved, his captive lying in a faint on the bottom of the canoe. No prisoner ever received kinder treatment at the hands of an Indian than did David Allison. As he gradually regained his strength he yearned for home and pleaded to be taken back to Virginia, but his captor was obdurate; he wanted the man for a companion and in many ways gave evidence of affection for him.
One day, in a quarrel with another savage, the Indian was killed.
Shortly after, Allison made his escape and in a canoe drifted down the Ohio. He felt unequal to attempting to work his way back as he had come and so decided to go with the current down the Ohio into the Mississippi. His utmost endurance and shrewdness were put to many severe tests before he reached a white settlement and eventually New Orleans. There, when about to take ship for Norfolk, he was taken sick with a fever which left him without strength or money.
The desire to return home, whatever might be the sacrifice, became almost a mania with him, but he would not beg his way. And so he struggled on, meeting with disappointment again and again, yet never yielding in his purpose. Then, on the threshold of success, when he landed in Philadelphia without money and without friends, he was taken seriously ill. By what seemed the merest chance Elizabeth learned of him, and it was through her efforts and sacrifices that he was spared, to enjoy in the comforts of home and family, years, scant in number but abundant in happiness.
Rodney Allison won promotion--the esteem of all who knew him--and who could wish for greater? A few years later, on the spot where had stood the lodge of Ahneota, he built a home such as he planned that night, years before, when he lay by the spring looking down on the sleeping Indian village; and Zeb was his neighbour, prosperous and respected.
Some called Rodney "Colonel" Allison because of his military experience and influence, but he preferred the t.i.tle of "Squire," and by this he was generally known among neighbours and friends. In the Indian wars he was serviceable in securing peace, for he was trusted alike by red people and white. Through influential friends, of whom General Morgan was one, he was able to accomplish much that was of benefit to the pioneers with whom he had cast his lot.
Soon after Benedict Arnold's treason, Rodney received a letter from Donald Lovell, then a captain in the army. "Uncle d.i.c.k," the letter said, "exclaimed when he heard of it: 'what a pity that a British bullet had not taken his life before a British bribe killed his good name!'" It became a custom for Rodney and Zeb to yearly exchange letters with Donald Lovell who, later in life, established his home down on the far-away Kennebec River.
"Squire" Allison's children were David, and Harriet, and Elizabeth, and Rupert, and Donald; and Elizabeth's eyes were very dark blue with long lashes, at times as serene as the eyes of the beautiful lady whose portrait had greeted those who came to "The Hall." At other times they flashed, as did those which her father, when a shivering soldier lad, saw looking out of the old coach and mocking him as he stood guard one bleak winter night.