“I have come to pray you to hold your hand till I send you better intelligence,” I said.
His brows knit again. “But this is too much. Am I to refrain from doing my duty till I get your gracious consent, sir?”
“Nay, nay,” I cried. “Do not misunderstand me. This thing is far graver than you think, sir. If you send your levies to the Rapidan, you leave the Tidewater defenceless, and while you are hunting a Cherokee party in the north, the enemy will be hammering at your gates.”
“What enemy?” he asked.
“I do not know, and that is what I go to find out.” Then I told him all I had gathered about the unknown force in the hills, and the apparent strategy of a campaign which was beyond an Indian’s wits. “There is a white man at the back of it,” I said, “a white man who talks in Bible words and is mad for devastation.”
His face had grown very solemn. He went to a bureau, unlocked it, and took from a drawer a bit of paper, which he tossed to me.
“I had that a week past to-morrow. My servant got it from an Indian in the woods.”
It was a dirty scrap, folded like a letter, and bearing the superscription, “To the man Francis Nicholson, presently Governor in Virginia.” I opened it and read:—
“Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.”
“There,” I cried, “there is proof of my fears. What kind of Indian sends a message like that? Trust me, sir, there is a far more hellish mischief brewing than any man wots of.”
“It looks not unlike it,” he said grimly. “Now let’s hear what you propose.”
“I can have my men at their posts by the week end. We will string them out along the frontier, and hold especially the river valleys. If invasion comes, then at any rate the Tidewater will get early news of it. Meantime I and my friends, looking for Studd’s powder-horn, with a mind to confirm your birthday gift to Miss Elspeth Blair, will push on to the hills and learn what is to be learned there.”
“You will never come back,” he said tartly. “An Indian stake and a bloody head will be the end of all of you.”
“Maybe,” I said, “though I have men with me that can play the Indian game. But if in ten days’ time from now you get no word, then you can fear the worst, and set your militia going. I have a service of posts which will carry news to you as quick as a carrier pigeon. Whatever we learn you shall hear of without delay, and you can make your dispositions accordingly. If the devils find us first, then get in touch with my men at Frew’s homestead on the South Fork River, for that will be the headquarters of the frontier army.”
“Who will be in command there when you are gallivanting in the hills?” he asked.
“One whose name had better not be spoken. He lies under sentence of death by Virginian law; but, believe me, he is an honest soul and a good patriot, and he is the one man born to lead these outland troops.”