Once at Edinburgh College I had read the Latin tale of Apuleius, and the beginning stuck in my memory: “Thraciam ex negotio petebam”—“I was starting off for Thrace on business.” That was my case now. I was about to plunge into a wild world for no more startling causes than that I was a trader who wanted to save my pocket. It is to those who seek only peace and a quiet life that adventures fall; the homely merchant, jogging with his pack train, finds the enchanted forest and the sleeping princess; and Saul, busily searching for his father’s asses, stumbles upon a kingdom.
“What seek ye with Ringan?” Mercer asked, when we had sat down inside with locked doors.
“The man’s name is Ninian Campbell,” I said, somewhat puzzled.
“Well, it’s the same thing. What did they teach you at Lesmahagow if ye don’t know that Ringan is the Scots for Ninian? Lord bless me, laddie, don’t tell me ye’ve never heard of Red Ringan?”
To be sure I had; I had heard of little else for a twelvemonth. In every tavern in Virginia, when men talked of the Free Companions, it was the name of Red Ringan that came first to their tongues. I had been too occupied by my own affairs to listen just then to fireside tales, but I could not help hearing of this man’s exploits. He was a kind of leader of the buccaneers, and by all accounts no miscreant like Cosh, but a mirthful fellow, striking hard when need be, but at other times merciful and jovial. Now I set little store by your pirate heroes. They are for lads and silly girls and sots in an ale-house, and a merchant can have no kindness for those who are the foes of his trade. So when I heard that the man I sought was this notorious buccaneer I showed my alarm by dropping my jaw.
Mercer laughed. “I’ll not conceal from you that you take a certain risk in going to Ringan. Ye need not tell me your business, but it should be a grave one to take you down to the Carolina keys. There’s time to draw back, if ye want; but you’ve brought me the master word, and I’m bound to set you on the road. Just one word to ye, Mr. Garvald. Keep a stout face whatever you see, for Ringan has a weakness for a bold man. Be here the morn at sunrise, and if ye’re wise bring no weapon. I’ll see to the boat and the provisioning.”
I was at the water-side next day at cock-crow, while the mist was still low on the river. Mercer was busy putting food and a keg of water into a light sloop, and a tall Indian was aboard redding out the sails. My travels had given me some knowledge of the red tribes, and I spoke a little of their language, but this man was of a type not often seen in the Virginian lowlands. He was very tall, with a skin clear and polished like bronze, and, unlike the ordinary savage, his breast was unmarked, and his hair unadorned. He was naked to the waist, and below wore long leather breeches, dyed red, and fringed with squirrels’ tails. In his wampum belt were stuck a brace of knives and a tomahawk. It seemed he knew me, for as I approached he stood up to his full height and put his hands on his forehead. “Brother,” he said, and his grave eyes looked steadily into mine.