The Guns of Bull Run by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. The River Journey
"Best pour a little of this down his throat. It'll cut an' burn, but if there's a spark o' life left in him it'll set it to blazin'."
Harry became conscious of the "cutting" and "burning," and, struggling weakly, he sat up.
"That's better," continued the deep, masculine voice. "You've been layin' on your face, lettin' the Kentucky River run out of your mouth, while we was poundin' you on the back to increase the speed o' the current. It's all out o' you now, an' you're goin' to keep your young life."
The man who spoke was standing almost over Harry, holding a flask in one hand and a lantern in the other. He was obviously a mountaineer, tall, with powerful chest and shoulders, and a short red beard. Near him stood a stalwart boy about Harry's own age. They were in the middle of a raft which had been pulled to the south side of the Kentucky and then tied to the shore.
Harry started to speak, but the words stopped at his lips. His weakness was still great.
"Wa'al," said the man, whimsically. "What was it? Sooicide? Or did you fall in the river, bein' awkward? Or was you tryin' to swim the stream, believin' it was fun to do it? What do you think, Ike?"
"It wasn't no sooicide," replied the youth whom he had called Ike. "Boys don't kill theirse'ves. An' it wasn't no awkwardness, 'cause he don't look like the awkward kind. An' I guess he wasn't tryin' to swim the Kentucky, else he would have took off his clothes."
"Which cuts out all three o' my guesses, leavin' me nothin' to go on. Now, I ain't in the habit of pickin' floatin' an' unconscious boys out o' the middle o' the river, an' that leaves me in unpleasant doubt, me bein' of an inquirin' turn o' mind."
"It was murder," said Harry, at last finding strength to speak.
"Murder!" exclaimed the man and boy together.
"Yes, murder, that is, an attempt at it. A man set upon me to kill me, and in the struggle we fell in the river, which, with your help, saved my life. Look here!"
He tore open his coat and shirt, revealing his chest, which looked like pounded beef.
"Somebody has shorely been gettin' in good hard licks on you," said the man sympathetically, "an' I reckon you're tellin' nothin' but the truth, these bein' such times as this country never heard of before. My name's Sam Jarvis, an' I came with this raft from the mountains. This lunkhead here is my nephew, Ike Simmons. We was driftin' along into Frankfort as peaceful as you please, an' a singin' with joy 'cause our work was about over. I hears a splash an' says I to Ike, 'What's that?' Says he to me, 'I dunno.' Says I to Ike ag'in, 'Was it a big fish?' Says he to me ag'in, 'I dunno.' He's gittin' a repytation for bein' real smart 'cause he's always sayin, 'I dunno,' an' he's never wrong. Then I sees somethin' with hair on top of it floatin' on the water. Says I, 'Is that a man's head?' Says he, 'I dunno.' But he reaches away out from the raft, grabs you with one hand by them brown locks o' yours, an' hauls you in. I guess you owe your life all right enough to this lunkhead, Ike, my nephew, the son o' my sister Jane."
Ike grinned sympathetically.
"Ain't it time to offer him some dry clothes, Uncle Sam?" he asked.
"Past time, I reckon," replied Jarvis, "but I forgot it askin' questions, me havin' such an inquirin' turn o' mind."
Harry rose, with the help of a strong and friendly hand that Jarvis lent him. His chest felt dreadfully sore. Every breath pained him, and all the strength seemed to have gone from his body.
"I don't know what became o' the other feller," said Jarvis. "Guess he must have swum out all by hisself."
"He undoubtedly did so," replied Harry. "He wasn't hurt, and I fancy that he's some distance from Frankfort by this time. My name is Kenton, Harry Kenton, and I'm the son of Colonel George Kenton, who is here in Frankfort helping to push the ordinance of secession. You've saved my life and he'd repay you."
"We don't need no money," said Jarvis shortly. "Me an' Ike here will have a lot of money when we sell this raft, and we don't lack for nothin'."
"I didn't mean money," said Harry, understanding their pride and independence. "I meant in some other ways, including gratitude. I've been fished out of a river, and a fisherman is entitled to the value of his catch, isn't he?"
"We'll talk about that later on, but me bein' of an inquirin' turn o' mind, I'm wonderin' what your father will say about you when he sees you. I guess I better doctor you up a little before you leave the raft."
Ike returned from the tiny cabin with an extra suit of clothes of his own, made of the roughest kind of gray jeans, home knit yarn socks and a pair of heavy brogan shoes. A second trip brought underclothing of the same rough quality, but Harry changed into them gladly. Jarvis meanwhile produced a bottle filled with a brown liquid.
"You may think this is hoss liniment," he said, "an' p'r'aps it has been used for them purposes, but it's better fur men than animiles. Ole Aunt Suse, who is 'nigh to a hundred, got it from the Injuns an' it's warranted to kill or cure. It'll sting at first, but just you stan' it, an' afore long it will do you a power o' good."
Harry refused to wince while the mountaineer kneaded his bruised chest with the liquid ointment. The burning presently gave way to a soothing sensation.
Harry noticed that neither Jarvis nor Ike asked him the name of his opponent nor anything at all about the struggle or its cause. They treated it as his own private affair, of which he could speak or not as he chose. He had noticed this quality before in mountaineers. They were among the most inquisitive of people, but an innate delicacy would suppress questions which an ordinary man would not hesitate to ask.
"Button up your shirt an' coat," said Jarvis at last, "an' you'll find your chest well in a day or two. Your bein' so healthy helps you a lot. Feelin' better already, boy? Don't 'pear as if you was tearin' out a lung or two every time you drawed breath?"
"I'm almost well," said Harry gratefully, "and, Mr. Jarvis, I'd like to leave my wet clothes here to dry while I'm gone. I'll be back in the morning with my father."
"All right," said Samuel Jarvis, "but I wish you'd come bright an' early. Me an' this lunkhead, Ike, my nephew, ain't used to great cities, an' me bein' of an inquirin' turn o' mind we'll be anxious to see all that's to be seed in Frankfort."
"Don't you fear," replied Harry, full of gratitude, "I'll be back soon in the morning."
"But don't furgit one thing," continued Jarvis. "I hear there's a mighty howdy-do here about the state goin' out o' the Union or stayin' in it. The mountains are jest hummin' with talk about the question, but don't make me take any part in it. Me an' this lunkhead, Ike, my nephew, are here jest to sell logs, not to decide the fate o' states."
"I'll remember that, too," said Harry, as he shook hands warmly with both of them, left the raft, climbed the bank and entered Frankfort.
The little town had few lights in those days and the boy moved along in the dusk, until he came near the Capitol. There he saw the flame of lamps shining from several windows, and he knew that men were still at work, striving to draw a state into the arms of the North or the South. He paused a few minutes at the corner of the lawn and drew many long, deep breaths. The soreness was almost gone from his chest. The oil with which Samuel Jarvis had kneaded his bruises was certainly wonderful, and he hoped that "Aunt Suse," who got it from the Indians, would fill out her second hundred years.
He reached the hotel without meeting any one whom he knew, and went up the stairway to his room, where he found his father writing at a small desk. Colonel Kenton glanced at him, and noticed at once his change of costume.
"What does that clothing mean, Harry?" he asked. "It's jeans, and it doesn't fit."
"I know it's jeans, and I know it doesn't fit, but I was mighty glad to get it, as everything else I had on was soaked with water."
Colonel Kenton raised his eyebrows.
"I was hunting the bottom of the Kentucky River," continued Harry.
"No, thrown in."
Colonel Kenton raised his eyebrows higher than ever.
Harry sat down and told him the whole story, Colonel Kenton listening intently and rarely interrupting.
"It was great good fortune that the men on the raft came just at the right time," he said, when Harry had finished. "There are bad mountaineers and good mountaineers--Jarvis and his nephew represent one type and Skelly the other. Skelly hates us because we drove back his band when they attacked our house. In peaceful times we could have him hunted out and punished, but we cannot follow him into his mountains now. We shall be compelled to let this pass for the present, but as your life would not be safe here you must leave Frankfort, Harry."
"I can't go back to Pendleton," said the boy, "and stay there, doing nothing."
"I had no such purpose. I know that you are bound to be in active life, and I was already meditating a longer journey for you. Listen clearly to me, Harry. The fight here is about over, and we are going to fail. It is by the narrowest of margins, but still we will fail. We who are for the South know it with certainty. Kentucky will refuse to go out of the Union, and it is a great blow to us. I shall have to go back to Pendleton for a week or two and then I will take a command. But since you are bent upon service in the field, I want you to go to the East."
Harry's face flushed with pleasure. It was his dearest wish. Colonel Kenton, looking at him out of the corner of his eyes, smiled.
"I fancied that you would be quite willing to go," he said. "I had a letter this morning from a man who likes you well, Colonel Leonidas Talbot. He is at Richmond and he says that President Davis, his cabinet, and all the equipment of a capital will arrive there about the last of the month. The enemy is massing before Washington and also toward the West in the Maryland and Virginia mountains. A great battle is sure to be fought in the summer and he wants you on his staff. General Beauregard, whom you knew at Charleston, is to be in supreme command. Can you leave here in a day or two for Richmond?"
Harry's eyes were sparkling, and the flush was still in his face.
"I could go in an hour," he replied.
"Such an abrupt departure as that is not needed. Moreover the choice of a route is of great importance and requires thought. If you were to take one of the steamers up the Ohio, say to Wheeling, in West Virginia, you would almost surely fall into the hands of the Northern troops. The North also controls about all the railway connections there are between Kentucky and Virginia."
"Then I must ride across the mountains."
"These new friends of yours who saved you from the river, are they going to stay long in Frankfort?"
"Not more than a day or two, I think. I gathered from what Jarvis said that they were not willing to remain long where trouble was thick."
"How are their sympathies placed in this great division of our people?"
"I inferred," he replied, "from what Jarvis said that they intend to keep the peace. He intimated to me that the silence of the mountains was more welcome to him than the cause of either North or South."
Colonel Kenton smiled again.
"Perhaps he is wiser than the rest of us," he said, "but in any event, I think he is our man. He will sell his logs and pull back up the Kentucky in a small boat. I gather from what you say that he came down the most southerly fork of the Kentucky, which, in a general way, is the route you wish to take. You can go with him and his nephew until they reach their home in the mountains. Then you must take a horse, strike south into the old Wilderness Road, cross the ranges into Virginia and reach Richmond. Are you willing?"
He spoke as father to son, and also as man to man.
"I'm more than willing," replied Harry. "I don't think we could choose a better way. Jarvis and his nephew, I know, will be as true as steel, and I'd like that journey in the boat."
"Then it's settled, provided Jarvis and his nephew are willing. We'll see them before breakfast in the morning, and now I think you'd better go to sleep. A boy who was fished out of the Kentucky only an hour or two ago needs rest."
Harry promptly went to bed, but sleep was long in coming. Their mission to Frankfort had failed, and action awaited his young footsteps. Virginia, the mother state of his own, was a mighty name to him, and men already believed the great war would be decided there. The mountains, too, with their wild forests and streams beckoned to him. The old, inherited blood within him made the great pulses leap. But he slept at last and dreamed of far-off things.
Harry and his father rose at the first silver shoot of dawn, and went quickly through the deserted street to a quiet cove in the Kentucky, where Samuel Jarvis had anchored his raft. It was a crisp morning, with a tang in the air that made life feel good. A thin curl of smoke was rising from the raft, showing that the man and his nephew were already up, and cooking in the little hut on the raft.
Harry stepped upon the logs and his father followed him. Jarvis was just pouring coffee from a tin pot into a tin cup, and Ike was turning over some strips of bacon in an iron skillet on an iron stove. Both of them, watchful like all mountaineers, had heard the visitors coming, but they did not look up until they were on the raft.
"Mornin'," called Jarvis cheerfully. "Look, Ike, it's the big fish that we hooked out of the river last night, an' he's got company."
"I want to thank you for saving my son's life," said the Colonel.
"I reckon, then, that you're Colonel George Kenton," said Jarvis. "Wa'al, you don't owe us no thanks. I'm of an inquirin' turn of mind, an' whenever I see a man or boy floatin' along in the river I always fish him out, just to see who an' what he is. My curiosity is pow'ful strong, colonel, an' it leads me to do a lot o' things that I wouldn't do if it wasn't fur it. Set an' take a bite with us. This air is nippin' an' it makes my teeth tremenjous sharp."
"We're with you," said the colonel, who was adaptable, and who saw at once that Jarvis was a man of high character. "It's cool on the river and that coffee will warm one up mighty well."
"It's fine coffee," said Jarvis proudly. "Aunt Suse taught me how to make it. She learned, when you didn't git coffee often, an' you had to make the most of it when you did git it."
"Who is Aunt Suse?"
"Aunt Susan, or Suse as we call her fur short, is back at home in the hills. She's a good hundred, colonel, an' two or three yars more to boot, I reckon, but as spry as a kitten. Full o' tales o' the early days an' the wild beasts an' the Injuns. She says you couldn't make up any story of them times that ain't beat by the truth. When she come up the Wilderness Road from Virginia in the Revolution she was already a young woman. She's knowed Dan'l Boone and Simon Kenton an' all them gran' old fellers. A tremenjous interestin' old lady is my Aunt Suse, colonel."
"I've no doubt of it, Mr. Jarvis." said Colonel Kenton, "but I don't think I can wait a second longer for a cup of that coffee of yours. It smells so good that if you don't give it to me I'll have to take it from you."
Jarvis grinned cheerfully. Harry saw that his father had already made a skillful appeal to the mountaineer's pride.
"Ike, you lunkhead," he said to his nephew, "I told the colonel to set, but we did'nt give him anythin' to set on. Pull up them blocks o' wood fur him an' his son. Now you'll take breakfast with us, won't you, colonel? The bacon an' the corn cakes are ready, too."
"Of course we will," said the colonel, "and gladly, too. It makes me young again to eat this way in the fresh air of a cool morning."
Samuel Jarvis shone as a host. The breakfast was served on a smooth stump put on board for that purpose. The coffee was admirable, and the bacon and thin corn cakes were cooked beautifully. Good butter was spread over the corn cakes, and Harry and his father were surprised at the number they ate. Ike, addressed by his uncle variously and collectively as "lunkhead," "nephew," and "Ike," served. He rarely spoke, but always grinned. Harry found later that while he had little use for his vocal organs he invariably enjoyed life.
"Colonel," said Jarvis, at about the tenth corn cake, "be you fellers down here a-goin' to fight?"
"I suppose we are, Mr. Jarvis!"
"An' is your son thar goin' right into the middle of it?"
"I can't keep him from it, Mr. Jarvis, but he isn't going to stay here in Kentucky. Other plans have been made for him. When are you going back up the Kentucky, Mr. Jarvis?"
"This raft was bargained fur before it started. All I've got to do is to turn it over to its new owners today, go to the bank an' get the money. Then me an' this lunkhead, Ike, my nephew, both bein' of an inquirin' mind, want to do some sight-seein', but I reckon we'll start back in about two days in the boat that you see tied to the stern of the raft."
"Would you take a passenger in the boat? It's a large one."
Samuel Jarvis pursed his lips.
"Depends on who it is," he replied. "It takes a lot o' time, goin' up stream, to get back to our start, an' a cantankerous passenger in as narrow a place as a rowboat would make it mighty onpleasant for me an' this lunkhead, Ike, my nephew. Wouldn't it, Ike?"
Ike grinned and nodded.
"The passenger that I'm speaking of wouldn't be a passenger altogether," said Colonel Kenton. "He'd like to be one of the crew also, and I don't think he'd make trouble. Anyway, he's got a claim on you already. Having fished him out of the river, where he was unconscious, it's your duty to take care of him for a while. It's my son Harry, who wants to get across the mountains to Virginia, and we'll be greatly obliged to you if you'll take him."
Colonel Kenton had a most winning manner. He already liked Jarvis, and Jarvis liked him.
"I reckon your son is all right," said Jarvis, "an' if he gits cantankerous we kin just pitch him overboard into the Kentucky. But I can't undertake sich a contract without consultin' my junior partner, this lunkhead, my nephew, Ike Simmons. Ike, are you willin' to take Colonel Kenton's son back with us? Ef you're willin' say 'Yes,' ef you ain't willin' say 'No.'"
Ike said nothing, but grinned and nodded.
"The resolution is passed an' Harry Kenton is accepted," said Jarvis. "We start day after tomorrow mornin', early."
Breakfast was finished and Colonel Kenton rose and thanked them. He still said nothing about pay. But after he and Harry had entered the town, he said:
"You couldn't have better friends, Harry. Both the man and boy are as true as steel, and, as they have no intention of taking part in the war, they will just suit you as traveling companions."
They spent the larger part of that day in buying the boy's equipment, doing it as quietly as possible, as the colonel wished his son to depart without attracting any notice. In such times as those secrecy was much to be desired. A rifle, pistols, plenty of ammunition, an extra suit of clothes, a pair of blankets, and a good supply of money were all that he took. One small package which contained a hundred dollars in gold coins he put in an inside pocket of his waistcoat.
"You are to give that to Jarvis just after you start," said the colonel. "We cannot pay him directly for saving you, because he will not take it, but you can insist that this is for your passage."
They were all at the cove before dawn on the appointed morning. Colonel Kenton was to say Harry's good-bye for him to his friends. The whole departure had been arranged with so much skill that they alone knew of it. The boat was strong, shaped well, and had two pairs of oars. A heavy canvas sheet could be erected as a kind of awning or tent in the rear, in case of rain. They carried plenty of food, and Jarvis said that in addition they were more than likely to pick up a deer or two on the way. Both he and Ike carried long-barreled rifles.
The three stepped into the boat.
"Good-bye, Harry," said the colonel, reaching down a strong hand that trembled.
"Good-bye, father," said Harry, returning the clasp with another strong hand that trembled also.
People in that region were not demonstrative. Family affection was strong, but they were reared on the old, stern Puritan plan, and the handshake and the brief words were all. Then Jarvis and his silent nephew bent to the oars and the boat shot up the deep channel of the Kentucky.
Harry looked back, and in the dusk saw his father still standing at the edge of the cove. He waved a hand and the colonel waved back. Then they disappeared around a curve of the hills, and the first light of dawn began to drift over the Kentucky.
Harry was silent for a long time. He was becoming used to sudden and hard traveling and danger, but the second parting with his father moved him deeply. Since he had been twelve or thirteen years of age, they had been not only father and son, but comrades, and, in the intimate association, he had acquired more of a man's mind than was usual in one of his years. He felt now, since he was going to the east and the colonel was remaining in the west, that the parting was likely to be long--perhaps forever.
It was no morbid feeling. It was the consciousness that a great and terrible war was at hand. Although but a youth, he had been in the forefront of things. He had been at Montgomery and Sumter, and he had seen the fire and zeal of the South. He had been at Frankfort, too, and he had seen how the gathering force of the massive North had refused to be moved. His father and his friends, with all their skill and force, strengthened by the power of kinship and sentiment, had been unable to take Kentucky out of the Union.
Harry was so thoroughly absorbed in these thoughts that he did not realize how very long he remained silent. He was sitting in the stern of the boat, with a face naturally joyous, heavily overcast. Jarvis and Ike were rowing and with innate delicacy they did not disturb him. They, too, said nothing. But they were powerful oarsmen, and they sent the heavy skiff shooting up the stream. The Kentucky, a deep river at any time, was high from the spring floods, and the current offered but little resistance. The man of mighty sinews and the boy of sinews almost as mighty, pulled a long and regular stroke, without any quickening of the breath.
The dawn deepened into the full morning. The silver of the river became blue, with a filmy gold mist spread over it by the rising sun. High banks crested with green enclosed them on either side, and beyond lay higher hills, their slopes and summits all living green. The singing of birds came from the bushes on the banks, and a sudden flash of flame told where a scarlet tanager had crossed.
The last house of Frankfort dropped behind them, and soon the boat was shooting along the deep channel cut by the Kentucky through the Bluegrass, then the richest and most beautiful region of the west, abounding in famous men and in the height of its glory. It had never looked more splendid. The grass was deeply luxuriant and young flowers bloomed at the water's edge. The fields were divided by neat stone fences and far off Harry saw men working on the slopes.
Jarvis and Ike were still silent. The man glanced at Harry and saw that he had not yet come from his absorption, but Samuel Jarvis was a joyous soul. He was forty years old, and he had lived forty happy years. The money for his lumber was in his pocket, he did not know ache or pain, and he was going back to his home in an inmost recess of the mountains, from which high point he could view the civil war passing around him and far below. He could restrain himself no longer, and lifting up his voice he sang.
But the song, like nearly all songs the mountaineers sing, had a melancholy note.
"'Nita, 'Nita, Juanita, Be my own fair bride."
He sang, and the wailing note, confined between the high walls of the stream, took on a great increase in volume and power. Jarvis had one of those uncommon voices sometimes found among the unlearned, a deep, full tenor without a harsh note. When he sang he put his whole heart into the words, and the effect was often wonderful. Harry roused himself suddenly. He was hearing the same song that he had heard the night he went into the river locked fast in Skelly's arms.
"'Nita, 'Nita, Juanita."
rang the tenor note, rising and falling and dying away in wailing echoes, as the boat sped on. Then Harry resolutely turned his face to the future. The will has a powerful effect over the young, and when he made the effort to throw off sadness it fell easily from him. All at once he was embarked with good comrades upon a journey of tremendous interest. Jarvis noticed the change upon his face, but said nothing. He pulled with a long, slow stroke, suited to the solemn refrain of Juanita, which he continued to pour forth with his soul in every word.
They went on, deeper into the Bluegrass. The blue sky above them was now dappled with golden clouds, and the air grew warmer, but Jarvis and his nephew showed no signs of weariness. When Harry judged that the right time had come he asked to relieve Ike at the oar. Ike looked at Jarvis and Jarvis nodded to Ike. Then Ike nodded to Harry, which indicated consent.
But Harry, before taking the oar, drew a small package from his pocket and handed it to Jarvis.
"My father asked me to give you this," he said, "as a remembrance and also as some small recompense for the trouble that I will cause you on this trip."
Jarvis took it, and heard the heavy coins clink together.
"I know without openin' it that this is money," he said, "but bein' of an inquirin' turn o' mind I reckon I've got to look into it an' count it."
He did so deliberately, coin by coin, and his eyes opened a little at the size of the sum.
"It's too much," he said. "Besides you take your turn at the oars."
"It's partly as a souvenir," said Harry, "and it would hurt my father very much if you did not take it. Besides, I should have to leave the boat the first time it tied up, if you refuse."
Jarvis looked humorously at him.
"I believe you are a stubborn sort of feller," he said, "but somehow I've took a kind o' likin' to you. I s'pose it's because I fished you out o' the river. You always think that the fish you ketch yourself are the best. Do you reckon that's the reason why we like him, Ike?"
"Then, bein' as we don't want to lose your company, an' seein' that you mean what you say, we'll keep the gold, though half of it must go to that lunkhead, Ike, my nephew."
"Then it's settled," said Harry, "and we'll never say another word about it. You agree to that?"
"Yes," replied Jarvis, and Ike nodded.
Harry took his place at the oar. Although he was not as skillful as Ike, he did well, and the boat sped on upon the deep bosom of the Kentucky. The work was good for Harry. It made his blood flow once more in a full tide and he felt a distinct elation.
Jarvis began singing again. He changed from Juanita to "Poor Nelly Gray":
"And poor Nelly Gray, she is up in Heaven, they say, And I shall never see my darling any more."
Harry found his oar swinging to the tune as Ike's had swung to that of Juanita, and he did not feel fatigue. They met few people upon the river. Once a raft passed them, but Jarvis, looking at it keenly, said that it had come down from one of the northern forks of the Kentucky and not from his part of the country. They saw skiffs two or three times, but did not stop to exchange words with their occupants, continuing steadily into the heart of the Bluegrass.
They relieved one another throughout the day and at night, tired but cheerful, drew up their boat at a point, where there was a narrow stretch of grass between the water and the cliff, with a rope ferry three or four hundred yards farther on.
"We'll tie up the boat here, cook supper and sleep on dry ground," said Jarvis.