“And do you intend to leave home now?”
“I must; there are those who depend upon me, and they shall not be disappointed.”
“I am afraid, Walter, you are pursuing the wrong course. It is best that wiser and older heads than yours should be concerned in the struggle which must come, if the people resist this new tax.”
“Father would have done as I am doing; and, since I am to fill his place, it is fit I should do what I can.”
“But how will you reach Boston without a horse or money?”
Walter hesitated. By returning to Portsmouth he could get the animal which McCleary had proposed he should ride, and yet to do so would delay him greatly, in addition to the possibility of arousing suspicion against his friend.
By leaving the main road six miles farther on, and striking across a tract of wooded country, the distance could be reduced materially; but even then there would remain at least fifty miles to be traversed.
“I can walk to Salem,” he said, at length; “and there, William Cotton will provide me with a horse.”
“It is a desperate journey, and dangerous, if some should learn why you had undertaken it. I—”
“You would not bid me stay, mother, but rather urge me forward. I have no time to lose.”
“You will at least wait until I can put up some food.”
“Yes; it will be necessary to eat, I suppose. Bread and cheese will be enough, and even that must be got together quickly.”
Mrs. Neal made no attempt to dissuade her son from his purpose. That which he had said concerning his father had been sufficient to silence her on the score of danger; and, when the small store of provisions were wrapped in a stout piece of cloth and placed in the pocket of his coat, she kissed him, but did not dare trust her voice to speak.
With a stout hickory stick as a walking-cane, Walter set out, and there was sufficient in his mind to provide ample food for thought during the first two hours of the journey. He was not at all certain that, now that the cost of making an attachment of his property was to be added to the amount of his tax, Ephraim Foulsham would be willing to advance the money; and, even if the sum could be raised in such a manner, it was so much increased that he could not hope to see the wished-for mill under erection until another season at the earliest.
At the end of the second hour he had accomplished at least nine miles of the distance, and could well afford to indulge in a brief halt while partaking of his food.
“Nine miles from home means eleven from Portsmouth,” he said aloud, as if the sound of his own voice gave him encouragement. “By this path Salem cannot be more than twenty-four miles away, and I must make it in five hours in order to reach Boston by sunrise. It can be done if I do not allow myself too much time in which to rest my legs, and-”
He ceased speaking very suddenly, for at that instant, as if they had descended from the clouds, two horsemen stood before him.