“Would I had been with you!” was all I said. “But now you have more than a gang of Meebaw raiders to deal with. There’s an invasion coming down from the hills, and this is the first wave of it, I want word sent to Governor Nicholson at James Town. I was to tell him where the trouble was to be feared, and in a week you’ll have a regiment at your backs. Who has the best horse? Simpson? Well, let Simpson carry the word down the valley. If my plans are working well, the news should be at James Town by dawn to-morrow.”
The man called Simpson got up, saddled his beast, and waited my bidding. “This is the word to send,” said I. “Say that the Cherokees are attacking by the line of the Rappahannock. Say that I am going into the hills to find if my fears are justified. Never mind what that means. Just pass on the words. They will understand them at James Town. So much for the Governor. Now I want word sent to Frew’s homestead on the South Fork. Who is to carry it?”
One old fellow, who chewed tobacco without intermission, spat out the leaf, and asked me what news I wanted to send.
“Just that we are attacked,” I said.
“That’s a simple job,” he said cheerfully. “All down the Border posts we have a signal. Only yesterday we got word of it from the place you speak of. A mile from here is a hillock within hearing of the stockade at Robertson’s Ford. One shot fired there will tell them what you want them to know. Robertson’s will fire twice for Appleby’s to hear, and Appleby’s will send on the message to Dopple’s. There are six posts between here and the South Fork, so when the folk at Frew’s hear seven shots they will know that the war is on the Rappahannock.”
I recognized old Lawrence’s hand in this. It was just the kind of device that he would contrive. I hoped it would not miscarry, for I would have preferred a messenger; but after all the Border line was his concern.
Then I spoke aside to Shalah. In his view the Cherokees would not attack at dawn. They were more likely to wait till their supports overtook them, and then, to make a dash for the Rappahannock farms. Plunder was more in the line of these gentry than honest fighting. I spoke to the leader of the post, and he was for falling upon them in the narrows of the Rapidan. Their victory over the Meebaws had fired the blood of the Borderers, and made them contemptuous of the enemy. Still, in such a predicament, when we had to hold a frontier with a handful, the boldest course was likely to be the safest. I could only pray that Nicholson’s levies would turn up in time to protect the valley.
“Time passes, brother,” said Shalah. “We came by swiftness, but we return by guile. In three hours it will be dawn. Sleep till then, for there is much toil before thee.”
I saw the wisdom of his words, and went promptly to bed in a corner of the stockade. As I was lying down a man spoke to me, one Rycroft, at whose cabin I had once sojourned for a day.