You are to remember that I was a country lad who had never set foot forth of Scotland. I was very young, and hot on the quest of new sights and doings. As I walked down the unpaven street and through the narrow tobacco-grown lanes, the strange smell of it all intoxicated me like wine.
There was a great red sunset burning over the blue river and kindling the far forests till they glowed like jewels. The frogs were croaking among the reeds, and the wild duck squattered in the dusk. I passed an Indian, the first I had seen, with cock’s feathers on his head, and a curiously tattooed chest, moving as light as a sleep-walker. One or two townsfolk took the air, smoking their long pipes, and down by the water a negro girl was singing a wild melody. The whole place was like a mad, sweet-scented dream to one just come from the unfeatured ocean, and with a memory only of grim Scots cities and dour Scots hills. I felt as if I had come into a large and generous land, and I thanked God that I was but twenty-three.
But as I was mooning along there came a sudden interruption on my dreams. I was beyond the houses, in a path which ran among tobacco-sheds and little gardens, with the river lapping a stone’s-throw off. Down a side alley I caught a glimpse of a figure that seemed familiar.
’Twas that of a tall, hulking man, moving quickly among the tobacco plants, with something stealthy in his air. The broad, bowed shoulders and the lean head brought back to me the rainy moorlands about the Cauldstaneslap and the mad fellow whose prison I had shared. Muckle John had gone to the Plantations, and ’twas Muckle John or the devil that was moving there in the half light.
I cried on him, and ran down the side alley.
But it seemed that he did not want company, for he broke into a run.
Now in those days I rejoiced in the strength of my legs, and I was determined not to be thus balked. So I doubled after him into a maze of tobacco and melon beds.
But it seemed he knew how to run. I caught a glimpse of his hairy legs round the corner of a shed, and then lost him in a patch of cane. Then I came out on a sort of causeway floored with boards which covered a marshy sluice, and there I made great strides on him. He was clear against the sky now, and I could see that he was clad only in shirt and cotton breeches, while at his waist flapped an ugly sheath-knife.
Rounding the hut corner I ran full into a man.
“Hold you,” cried the stranger, and laid hands on my arm; but I shook him off violently, and continued the race. The collision had cracked my temper, and I had a mind to give Muckle John a lesson in civility. For Muckle John it was beyond doubt; not two men in the broad earth had that ungainly bend of neck.
The next I knew we were out on the river bank on a shore of hard clay which the tides had created. Here I saw him more clearly, and I began to doubt. I might be chasing some river-side ruffian, who would give me a knife in my belly for my pains.