IT was in the Spring of the eighth year following the
founding of our settlement that certain events took place, each of which
was to have an influence on my life. I was nineteen years of age at this
time, and known throughout the community as Big John Wallace. I stood
six feet three inches and weighed —according to stillards at Shooper’s
Wharf, at which a schooner, owned and captained by one of that name,
touched monthly during the Summer—two hundred and twenty pounds.
Needless to say, my great size was a source of constant mortification to
me. The lads of my own age joked me about my huge hands and feet, and
the girls at the dances looked startled if I requested them to honor me.
I think I must have been very good-natured, because neither teasing nor
jeers seemed to affect me. I was fond of music and loved dancing, and
thanks to my father’s training—in Scotland he had held the county
championship for running, jumping, wrestling and boxing—I got through it
well in spite of my size.
Let me say just here that two years previous to this
happening I am about to relate, an English sportsman of independent
means and, I understand, of blue blood, had purchased a large section of
prime forest from the government, at a point some forty miles east of
us, on the shore of the lake. His name was Hallibut. He was of
autocratic and overbearing manner, fond of his drink and a true lover of
the hunt. With him he had brought a number of dissolute companions, most
of them, like himself, scions of noble family.
Colonel Hallibut’s house, the first to be built of
lumber, he having brought a portable sawmill into the forest with him,
was a big, rambling structure, erected to stand the stress and wear of
the elements. All about it he had built a wall of oaken timbers, why, I
cannot say, unless indeed it was because he feared an attack by the
Indians, whose rights he had in a measure usurped in taking from them
their best trapping grounds. Within the stockade were huge kennels for
dogs, of which he kept a great many, some of them big, ferocious brutes.
Too, he owned horses, it was said, of thoroughbred Arabian strain, also
guns of newest pattern.
Many stories had come down to us of wild carousals held
in the big white house and certain lawless depredations committed by the
men who enjoyed the freedom of the Englishman’s home, and of one of the
latter it is my wish to speak particularly now.
This man, whom I had never seen, was known as Gypsy Dan.
Why he was so called I cannot say, unless it be on account of his
eccentricity in dress and a penchant for living in the open; certain it
is he had no Zingarioan blood in his veins. This man, we had learned,
acted as scout to Hallibut, that is to say, he and a number of wild
fellows under him roamed the forest and located the game which Hallibut
and his ilk later followed and killed.
On several occasions we had found our crops trampled and
destroyed; our fences tom down, and calves, sheep and cattle missing.
More, we had lost hams and shoulders from our smokehouses; but never had
we been able to glimpse Gypsy Dan at close range. Needless to say, then,
not one of us, hard-working, law-abiding and God-fearing as we were,
bore this man any great love. So it was, that when he came unexpectedly
and fearlessly among us—as I am about to relate—you can understand why
he was given no friendly welcome.
There had been a logging bee at Sandy Jamieson’s place,
at which the best men and the best oxen in the community had striven in
competition. Red McDonald’s span of roans, “Buck” and “Bright,” had
proved their supremacy over “Bill” and “Tom,” Neil Cameron’s span of
blacks, and McDonald was happy as a result. His voice boomed out in
laughing jibe at his vanquished neighbour, and from one end of the long
supper table to the other, men with sun-blistered faces and brown arms
laughed at his witty sallies.
Neil Cameron sat silent, eating heartily, and paying no
attention to his neighbour’s witticisms. It was a well-known fact
amongst us that he and Red McDonald were rivals in clearing, tilling and
saving. Both had done well during the eight years they had striven side
by side. Cameron’s stumpy fields were many; his crops were clean and his
harvests, bushel for bushel, as great as Red McDonald’s; as was also the
amount of money he had put by each year through disposal of his surplus
grain and roots. Like McDonald, Cameron was a fair and just man,
hospitable as all Scotchmen are, and close-fisted when it came to a
deal. They were good friends, too, in spite of the thrift-fence between
them, those two with hair now turning grey on the temples and faces more
deeply lined than when they caught first glimpse of the forest they were
“Ho, Neil Cameron"” called little Pat O’Doone, who never
worked, but was always invited to bee or raising because he could play,
the fiddle, and possessed a pretty daughter, who was the best dancer in
the community. “Look down your long nose, man, and see if you can’t find
Cameron laughed then. Nobody could withstand the
Irishman’s droll humor.
“Red Mack's Buck and Bright are too big-boned and strong
for your game little yoke of Blacks, Neil,” said Sandy Jamieson.
“Bone and muscle don’t always count,” spoke up a jeering
voice, and turning I saw a stranger standing just behind O'Doone; a
tall, well-formed fellow with swarthy face and clustering dark hair
falling to his shoulders. He wore a jacket of scarlet and in his ears
were rings of yellow metal. My first impression of him was not pleasant.
All eye3 had turned upon the stranger who stood there,
his arms folded across his breast, a half amused smile on his thin lips,
returning the surprised looks of the farmers contemptuously.
“Who are you, Man?” asked Red McDonald, rising from the
table, “and what do you want here?”
The other was slow to answer. He had turned his head
slightly, and now his eyes were fixed on the face of Flora McDonald, who
was helping to wait at table, and had just come up with a platter of hot
I saw her start, saw her eyes lift to the stranger’s; saw
the color dye her cheeks before his stare.
Bob McDonald and Jack Cameron, who were one on either
side of me at table, half rose from their seats. I, too, stood up. There
was a queer, tightening sensation in my muscles, a quivering and
pricking of my skin, like a dog whose hackles rise at sight of a wolf.
The feeling was new to me.
Red McDonald stood now confronting Gypsy Dan, for he I
knew it surely was, from the description which had been given me.
“You’re not wanted here,” McDonald addresed him sternly,
The man showed his white teeth in a sneer, and placing
his fingers in his lips, blew a shrill whistle.
Almost immediately from the trees about the cabin sprang
a number of wild-eyed men, dressed as grotesquely as their leader, and
ranged themselves beside him.
There were some ten or more of them, all armed with
flintlock muskets and carrying knives in their belts.
A tense silence had fallen. The men at the table stared
stupidly up at Red McDonald and the unwelcome strangers, paralyzed, I
suppose, at the suddenness and unexpectedness of the thing.
Gypsy Dan was smiling.
“Easy, my good fellow,” he addressed Red Mack, “and a
little more courtesy, if you please.”
McDonald stood, his face set, his hands clenched. Once he
made as though to rush in and strike that smiling face, but the men who
had ranged themselves beside their leader lifted their muskets, and he
held himself in check.
“What do you want here, Gypsy Dan?” he asked again.
The fellow swept his plumed hat from his head and bowed
“First, supper, kind sir,” he answered. “Then—well, we
will see. Perhaps I shall claim a kiss from ” and he motioned toward
Flora McDonald, who stood wide-eyed, watching and listening.
I went up to him then, brushing aside my friends who
attempted to stay me, and, catching hold of his arm as his hand swept
downward toward his knife, I twisted it sharply, so that he cried out in
sudden pain. Then lifting him, I hurled him among his fellows, sending
them rolling like so many nine-pins.
This was the signal for general action. There was a rush
of feet, a hoarse, jumbled cry of angry voices, and the men of the
Settlement, seizing handspike, axe or whatever weapon was handy, rushed
But Red McDonald's voice thundered out in command.
“Back, men, back! They are armed and will kill you. See,
they are moving off! Let them go, we want no bloodshed here.”
True enough, Gypsy Dan and his followers were vanishing
among the trees.
Jack Cameron had gone across to Flora McDonald. His hands
held hers as though in silent assurance that she would never need for a
protector. As for me, I thought with a pain in my heart of how perfectly
those two, promised to one another, were mated.
By and by we sat down at table again. But it was a silent
meal. Gone was the banter and chatter, gone the laughter from Red
McDonald’s voice when he turned toward Neil Cameron and spoke.
“Neil Cameron, as Satan entered Eden, so has lawlessness
come into our community. My oxen will continue to outhaul yours, if so I
can make them, my land yield greater crops, and my money box outweigh
your own. But when comes a time of common menace to our peace and
lives—as now—how about it, Neil Cameron?”
And Cameron, shaking back his grizzled locks, answered.
“I am a better farmer than you, Red McDonald; a
thriftier, too, which I shall continue to prove. But because I am Scotch
and, I hope, a man I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you against a
common foe, as we stood shoulder, to shoulder at Balaclava, and fought
to the urge of the pipes; and God help those who come against us.”