“What’s the result?” he cried again. “Why, that there’s nothing to be had in the land except what the merchants bring. There’s scarcely a smith or a wright or a cobbler between the James and the Potomac. If I want a bed to lie in, I have to wait till the coming of the tobacco convoy, and go down to the wharves and pay a hundred pounds of sweet-scented for a thing you would buy in the Candleriggs for twenty shillings. How, in God’s name, is a farmer to live if he has to pay usury for every plough and spade and yard of dimity!”
“Remember you’re speaking to a merchant,” I said. “You’ve told me the very thing to encourage me. If prices are high, it’s all the better for me.”
“It would be,” he said grimly, “if your name werena what it is, and you came from elsewhere than the Clyde. D’you think the proud English corporations are going to let you inside? Not them. The most you’ll get will be the scraps that fall from their table, my poor Lazarus, and for these you’ll have to go hat in hand to Dives.”
His face grew suddenly earnest, and he leaned on the table and looked me straight in the eyes.
“You’re a young lad and a new-comer, and the accursed scales of Virginia are not yet on your eyes. Forbye, I think you’ve spirit, though it’s maybe mixed with a deal of folly. You’ve your choice before you, Mr. Garvald. You can become a lickspittle like the rest of them, and no doubt you’ll gather a wheen bawbees, but it will be a poor shivering soul will meet its Maker in the hinder end. Or you can play the man and be a good Virginian. I’ll not say it’s an easy part. You’ll find plenty to cry you down, and there will be hard knocks going; but by your face I judge you’re not afraid of that. Let me tell you this land is on the edge of hell, and there’s sore need for stout men. They’ll declare in this town that there’s no Indians on this side the mountains that would dare to lift a tomahawk. Little they ken!”
In his eagerness he had gripped my arm, and his dark, lean face was thrust close to mine.
“I was with Bacon in ’76, in the fray with the Susquehannocks. I speak the Indian tongues, and there’s few alive that ken the tribes like me. The folk here live snug in the Tidewater, which is maybe a hundred miles wide from the sea, but of the West they ken nothing. There might be an army thousands strong concealed a day’s journey from the manors, and never a word would be heard of it.”
“But they tell me the Indians are changed nowadays,” I put in. “They say they’ve settled down to peaceful ways like any Christian.”
“Put your head into a catamount’s mouth, if you please,” he said grimly, “but never trust an Indian. The only good kind is the dead kind. I tell you we’re living on the edge of hell. It may come this year or next year or five years hence, but come it will. I hear we are fighting the French, and that means that the tribes of the Canadas will be on the move. Little you