Jasper County, South Carolina, Welcome!
MOVING FINGER OF JASPER
Copyright ©2001, GRACE Fox PERRY, her heirs and assigns, all rights reserved. Used with permission by SCGenWeb, Jasper County web site.
The final portion of this book is a work of fiction. However, the central character was a real person, a famous figure who was known to have crossed the county in the 1700s.
By GRACE Fox PERRY
Broken-off twigs and a mat of pine needles were unable to keep wilderness ground from feeling harder and colder than any other, thought the man from England. And he lay without relaxation upon the improvised bed, his eyes wide in the Carolina darkness. He was conscious only of a grudging thankfulness for the comfort and warmth of his companions bodies, pressed close on either side of him underneath the cloaks. Already, the sleepers were snoring.
Like them, the man was spent with exhaustion. Unlike them, he had been harboring a certainty that slumber would not come easily. That this perverse foreboding proved so accurate was small satisfaction to him.
He felt sure that so much peering, long-sustained, ought to dispose eyeballs to sleep. Eyelids should droop speedily, smarting and sore as they were. Too, the elusive, inadequate blazes hacked months ago into tree-bark by the townships settlers had afforded the searchers an aching of limbs, pained consequence of assailing thicket phalanges with axes, once his companions admitted being lost.
They exhibited minor concern. Such matter-of-factness, once, could have stirred provocation in him. Oh, lost before we been, Sir, they mouthed placidly, and not more than a fortnight since. Daylights breaking should make it slight matter to come along of the way back to Purysburg, and the Savannah River landing we left. And all in good time, Sir, you will see, Sir, a more likely guide can be found.
Well, perhaps they knew, the traveler thought now. Not that he could bring himself to care. If he disappeared without a trace, it might be one solution. No doubt, a liability less would actually be an advantage to The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
The turmoil of his mind had produced a physical quivering. His teeth cut into his lower lip, for he knew the sore unkindness it would be to waken his two bedfellows. Clenching his hands together, he willed his body to quiet.
Who would have thought events could take a turn so grievous? So bitterly unbelievable?
His breathing slowed. Muffled pellets of recollection were rolling together into words. Soon, the morphemes arranged themselves into phrases; became the ones used by the examiner nine years before, in 1728. . . . "Must expect every mans hand to be against him." Surely, such were posed as ecclesiastical catchwords, and used only for endowing an occasion with solemnity. This ironic, literal meaning was not to be thought of, or borne.
The swish of branches above him overlaid the night cries in the forest, only to add more verbiage, seemingly. Exhort. Mindful of duties. Determined upon the correct- ness of issues. Reprove, rebuke. Yes, those too. Always, always, careful, alert to the design of inclination.
The man went rigid. Cant and jargon! He had been alert to many things, and carefulness had resulted in disputings. It had spawned emptiness and failure. What, now? It was late, but it was possible for sails to be reset. Vows could be forgotten. A cousin on an estate near Bristol might have need of a steward.
Everything would be known in England but, somehow, that mattered no longer. As for the Savannah people, their vengeful motives in bringing the lawsuit were clear. The raw, new settlement on the river bluff was without barristers ; it was common knowledge that any sort of legal action signified months of weary frustration. What his enemies really desired was stripping him of influence and respect, thus making his recall by the Society a certainty.
Through the blackly-moving foliage overhead, two stars impinged their points again and again upon the wide-held gaze of the Englishman. With a similar directness, elements of the whole terrible business began to come at him through the darkness. In sharp, questing regularity, pieces bombarded his senses ; with recurrent, thrusting stabs, portion assaulted his motives.
Sophia stumbled, and fell sprawling. Her foot had struck a cypress-knee, hidden in the tangled undergrowth.
With a muttered imprecation, she raised her jolted body and jerked it into a sitting posture. Most of the light from the solstitial sky was greedily appropriated by the lushness; this verdure of Purysburg that was so solid and frustrating.
Tears of vexation stood in her eyes. She snatched up her fallen brown sunbonnet. Black earth had soiled one string. She flung the bonnet with a furious askewness upon her tumbled hair.
A work-reddened fist was shaken at a symmetrical evergreen.
"I might have known not to take this path, no matter where the cow has got to! " Sophia shouted. "As if the miserable heat, the Indians, the briars, the swamp miasma in this trackless Carolina country were not enough, you sneaky old cypress-knobs are at variance with us!"
The outburst over, she breathed hard a bit. She scrubbed one hand against her skirt and cupped it about her chin. Stubbornly she sat on, flexing one ankle and then the other against the thongs of her shoes. Then--she lifted her head and listened.
Were the stout ti-ti bushes bordering the path rustling of themselves? No, there was noise beyond the making of the temperate winter breeze.
The crackling of branches was much too definite, she decided. The sound was that of a purposeful, measured breaking. It could not be an animal, then ; such noise had to be made by human hands. And soon, she heard the footsteps.
She waited, not moving; wary, but scarcely afraid because of long familiarity with the forest. A mans head came into sight above the desiccated underbrush, and then his moving body was revealed by a bit of afternoon sunlight that managed a spotty penetration into the dank greenness of the woodland. Sophia saw at once that he was not one of her Purysburg neighbors; indeed, he looked like no resident of the township, for all his rough woodsmans clothes and the pair of bundles slung across one shoulder. He stopped, some ten feet away. Now, she could see that he carried a portmanteau in his hand.
"Sir," she blurted out, "at first I thought you might be some wild animal, coming to devour me!"
Quickly, he set the portmanteau down beside him. "Madam," was his grave answer, "I cannot help perceiving you are English. No wild animal I ever heard of would dare expose his ears to the ungodly racket that only an angry Englishwoman is capable of making when provoked."
Confusion showed beneath the sunbonnets awry, agitated brim. A pinkness lay upon the firm round chin; the mouth was tremulous. As the man drew nearer, he was aware of an attractive visage, despite the shadowed eyes that hinted of deep anxiety.
She spoke rapidly, to cover her disadvantage. "It is .. . true I lost my temper, Sir, and I am sorry, but I have been searching and all in vain for my milk-cow this last past hour, and I can look no longer for I must get back to my child. My husband is making shoes this week at Ebenezer, across the river in the Georgia colony, and the baby is in the house alone."
The stranger stepped forward and extended both hands. "Then permit me to assist you to your feet and so hasten your return."
How resonant his voice is, she thought. The strength in his hands and wrists also surprised her, for he was not a tall man, nor was he heavy-set. Standing beside him, she was almost as tall as he. Hatless, his dark hair waved in soft, free thickness upon the shoulders of his leather jerkin. One small lock of it had fallen forward onto his forehead when he leaned over, and now the strands were almost brushing the scholars line between his straight, uncompromising brows.
Abruptly, he turned about and she was conscious of the strong thin jaw, the brooding profile. Something seemed to tell her that grave trouble had. set its weightiness upon this man. Perhaps her own racked heart, filled with secret hope after months of tragedy, augmented her perception of anothers mental distress.
These were fleeting thoughts as she straightened her bonnet, settled her cape, and shook the dirt from her skirt of faded homespun. Then, she remembered to introduce herself. "I am Mrs. Sophia Zev-Breffler."
He did not seem to note her hesitation. She thought she heard him mutter, "Can it be? " But he bowed and said, "My mother had me christened with the name John Benjamin." Picking up his leather case, he added, "I left Savannah yesterday with two companions, and my destination is Charlestown. Heaven willing."
A few feet behind, she walked with swiftness along the over grown trail, to keep up with his firmly moving gait that seemed to scorn the bushes slapping against his gaiters. But the distance between them lengthened, until a covey of frightened partridges scampered across the trail in front of her. Presently, she saw the stranger turning into the wide main path. Here, he waited for her. Since there was room now for two persons to walk abreast, he slowed his pace to hers when she had joined him.
They covered a little way, with few words said. All at once he stopped suddenly and exclaimed, "Now I could have vowed I heard the lowing of a cow, right about here, a little while ago!"
"I doubt it. I searched here, and called and called."
"Then let me try. First, show me where your house is: then Ill come back and set myself to tracking down your wayward bossy. After being lost myself in these Purysburg woods throughout yesterday, I am in no mood to permit the caprice of a cow to best me. I shall find her; you will see."
In a moment, she pointed. "See, beyond this pine thicket and that tangle of myrtle, the grove of oaks over there with the extra-heavy Spanish moss? Just at that spot, you will find a pathway to the left. Follow it, and you will reach my cabin. . . ."
Sophia eased the drowsy baby gently into his cradle. There had not been cows milk for him, but she had fed him a little mush and tea, and then nursed him until he seemed satisfied. Now, he would sleep. She replenished the fire on the wide hearth of clay. In spite of the afternoons mildness, dropping of the sun had freed a chilliness in the air for, after all, it was early December. From a shelf she took an earthenware bowl, placed it on her working table, and began to assemble the materials for corn-meal batter.
"Holioa ! " the call sounded from outside.
She hurried to push back the ax-hewn board that covered the doorway. There stood the slender stranger; and a few feet away beside the stockaded poultry run, the brindled cow was firmly tethered to a sapling.
"Oh, Sir," she cried, "Im ever so much obliged to you! " She stepped outside. "I scarce dared hope you could locate her with such dispatch!" "She had got almost to the public-house, near the river landing. The Frenchman there vouched for the fact that she was yours."
"You had no trouble bringing her home, I trust?"
"Not the slightest. And I also met one of my companions and told him of my errand here. So I now make the offer to milk your cow for you, Mrs. Breffler, if you will fetch a pail."
"I fear that would be imposing, Mr.--Benjamin."
"Not in the least. After all, I could relish a sip of milk. Yesterday, while we were lost, my companions and I suffered terribly from thirst, and the pangs of it are with me yet."
"Then I consent to your kindness, Sir, for I do need the milk to make a good bread-batter." She disappeared into the cabin and was soon back out again, bearing a wooden pail, a hand-basin of water, a small piece of lye soap and a towel. "Here are things to cleanse your hands. And now I make this condition: that I may also refresh you with a bit of tea and a wedge of baked hoe-cake before you resume your journey." She added, a little primly, "Were my--Mr. Breffler here, he would also make haste with the hospitality of our house, I have no doubt."
"I am sure he would. And I shall be honored to accept your kind invitation to tea. So, Bossy! Stand still, now."
"I shall take your bags inside. The ground is damp."
After the passing of a brief interval the stranger was entering the open doorway of the hut, swinging the container full almost to the level now with foaming whiteness. His keen eyes traveled about him. There was no flooring, of course, for he knew that scarcely any of the settlers in this rude wild place had yet been able to obtain the finished planks. However, several flattened animal skins interrupted the starkness of the ground, and the sleeping babys cradle, though fashioned from a wine keg, rested upon a colorful woven cart-robe. Over in one corner, the bed of block-supported shuckings was covered with patchwork quilts that were bright and clean. A kettle steaming on the hearth added a homelike touch.
On her part, Sophia was noting that the mans shoes did not match his rough apparel. They were of fine leather, with silver buckles. "I am most grateful, Sir," she said, taking the pail of milk. "Please sit you down." She indicated a home-made chair of slabs with a cowhide seat. "Here, I shall pour you a pannikin of the milk, which you shall drink as I prepare the bread."
He seated himself and accepted the milk gratefully. While he sipped it, his eyes were upon her. She had removed her threadbare woolen pelisse, and her energetic movements revealed a young and lissome figure. The much-washed dress she wore was shaped to her waist with a vivid belt of snakeskin.
He remarked, "I was a little surprised to find you not Swiss, Madam, like the other settlers here. Once, last year, I was in Purysburg, and encountered only the French language spoken."
"My first husband, Pierre Zevren, was Swiss. He-- departed--early in the summer after a long siege of fever, and shortly following the death of our first child, a little girl."
"I am sorry." His murmur was automatic.
"In September, I was married to Mr. Brefiler, the shoemaker, who is a Salzburger from Ebenezer." She broke an egg and stirred it into the batter. "Pastor Boizius of the Germans at first was dubious of marrying us; then he agreed that it was suitab1e. Mr. Brefflers wife and children had recently died of the summer fever which raged in Ebenezer, too. And I did know that a woman cannot manage alone in this outer wilderness of the Carolina province." She spoke all this in a monotone, devoid of expression, as though the sentences had been prearranged and repeated to herself many times, and as though her mind were elsewhere.
The man was sure her lips were trembling. He set the empty pannikin in the window sill and said, to divert her, "I am acquainted with Pastor Bolzius--a good man and a kind and able leader. He and Pastor Gronau are great assets to these Georgia Lutherans."
She had finished beating the mixture, and her eyes went to the hearth. The smoke was rising thinly now, so the glowing coals were ready. She poured the batter into an iron spider she had rubbed with fat, raked coals to the hearth-front, and placed the spider upon them with the skill of practice. Then, she seated herself upon a stool, turned her head away and--suddenly, the man was conscious that tears were streaming, as though floodgates had been dashed wide from her very heart.
Going quickly to her, he laid his hand gently upon one heaving shoulder. "What is it, lass? Why are you so troubled?"
"Oh, Sir, I am in such desperate straits, and I do not know who can help me! " Her sobs were pitiable and wild.
"If I can supply any help, I do it only too willingly. It is the Sabbath day, you know. I would read the prayers to you, if it could furnish comfort." So strong was habit.
She dried her eyes on her pocket-cloth, and made an effort to check the sobs. "I did not know you were a man of God, Sir."
He made a sound that could not be described, it was so short and bitter. "Man of God? Once I would have said so. Now, rather I think I must be truly a child of wrath. But, yes, I am a clergyman, even a fellow of Lincoln College. I was sent out to Savannah by the churchs Gospel Society, almost two years since."
"Since you are a parson, I can then speak in confidence? This must not be known."
"That is understood."
Her active grief was lessening, but in the tear-marked eyes she turned to him was the look of an animal trapped. "You see, I cannot confide in Pastor Boizius, since Mr. Breffler is a Salzburger and he would lean to him."
"We parsons are yet so despicably human ! Well, since my gown and bands are in my portmanteau, let me this once be only a listener, who is likewise no stranger to trouble." He stepped back, brought the chair, and seated himself nearer to her.
"I will be brief, Sir. We were orphans, my brother and I. He came out to Georgia with Oglethorpe, and sent word for me to follow. He paid half the passage-fare from Dover; the other half he promised upon my arrival. But he became ill and died with lung-fever before I landed, and I had to become a bonded servant in order to pay the debt."
"A servant? But you have some learning, I knew that "at once."
"My mother taught me while she lived. But I did not wish to return to England and live with relatives; servants were needed here and I am strong, I did not mind. A little later, Pierre came out with Mr. Pury as a teacher, and we became acquainted in Savannah. Our languages were different and he had scant time for courtship, but it was enough. We loved each other. He paid my debt with what little money he had, and we were married and came on here. I was happy and the hardships were nothing. But people began to fall ill when the provinces supplies and help were ended. Many died, and many could not plant and harvest crops to keep themselves, much less pay a teacher for the children. The silk-makers work but seldom."
He nodded. "It does seem to me a poor remains of a place, for the auspicious beginning advertised by Colonel Pury."
"It is fallen on bad times indeed, Sir. I am afraid the heavy miasma hereabouts affects the health of settlers. Pierre had to take up carpenter work to eke out a living for us, though he was not used to it. But he was ever the light-hearted one, and the woods rang freely with his ay Swiss ballads, and he romped and played with our little girl each night and morning. And then they both fell ill. And when she died it seemed to break his spirit."
She closed her eyelids tightly, while the tears slipped downward. "The raging fevers had left him weak and moody, and he would mutter, and curse this place."
The popping of a coal recalled her to her baking. "Oh, the browning hoe-cake is quite driven from my mind!" Hastening to her feet, she lifted a long-handled implement from a hook and with it gave the bread an anxious turn. "It is not over-done." In a moment, she said, "Then --he went away."
"He did not die, then? I thought you meant--"
"No . . . no. But he had become obsessed with the idea of leaving." Engrossed in her narration, she turned and sat again upon the stool, holding in absent fingers the cooking tool she had used. "The baby had been born then, and I was feverish, too. I begged Pierre to wait a while, until I was strong again, and the baby was a little older. But one day, and it was while he was still very shaky on his feet, he would contrarily go upriver with a companion to the country of the Pallachucola Indians. First, word came to me that they were lost. Then, after some days, the news came that their bodies had been found and buried by the Indians."
He made a sound of sympathy. "It was a hard experience for you, certainly, very hard ! But so it is with women on the frontier."
She sprang from the seat. In sudden frenzy she whirled about. Pounding the implement on the ground, she cried, "But Pierre is not dead, Sir! I am sure he is not dead!"
"Eh? What is this now? " For a moment, he wondered if the womans trouble had deranged her mind.
She seemed to read his thought. "I am rational, Sir, please believe it! I want to show you something. Let me set the bread to cool, and I will get it."
From a hiding place between the blocks of pine that supported the bed, she produced two small sheets of letter paper and pressed them against her breast with fingers that quivered.
Before I show you these, I must explain." Her eyes, enormous with impulsion, were fixed on his. "When our little girl was two weeks old, Pierre pressed each of her tiny feet against a paper and outlined each one with a pencil. The right foot drawing he gave to me, the left he carried always in his pocket. Last week, an Indian brought me this."
She held out the papers side by side; then extended to him the one that was more tattered than the other. The smudged pencil drawing, so tiny it was scarcely more than doll-sized, was unmistakably a left footprint.
"See, they match ! " she cried. She was now almost beside herself with excitement. "He can not write English and I can not read French! This is his message to me!"
Her listeners brows were drawn in deep concern. "It would appear so. But could not the Indian have taken this paper from the dead body of your husband?"
"No, no, I have been too upset to tell it all in order!
The redskin was not a Pallachucola, he is a Yamacraw, whom Pierre once befriended in Savannah. The Yamacraw said he had gone with a white friend to Charlestown, and there he had seen my husband! Pierre had been very ill, and how he got to Charlestown is a long story. But he is better now, and works every day, the Indian said. Oh, I know its true, true as the day is long! I must go to him!"
"And you have not told this to your--to Mr. Breffler?"
"Oh, I could not dare! " She went pale with fright at the idea. "He is a good man in his way, but stern and stubborn, and he would never let me go. He would re-s fuse in his German tongue, and then appear not to understand my English. Oh," she was weeping again, "I do not love him, Sir! It is Pierre I love--my husband! I have to find a way to get to him, without anybody knowing. Especially any Salzburger! But how, how, how?"
"Aye," the man said, as if to himself, "sometimes a problem seems to brook no solution, but an answer for it is bound to be hidden somewhere. Please, lass, strive for control and we will think together. . . Now, may I trouble you for some of that good bread? Its aroma is uncommonly enticing to a hungry man."
"Oh, forgive my selfishness, Sir, but I am so distraught! I shall make the tea immediately, so you may eat." The tears ceased, while she busied herself and served him; if somewhat distractedly
He entreated her to join him. Obediently, she drank a little tea, but he was quite soon aware that the agitation she endeavored to suppress had rendered her incapable of relishing food.
Hunger somewhat appeased, he strove for bits of conversation. Random topics that might beguile her from her discomposure would do. He mentioned the yield of fruit in the Georgia colony; he went on to marvel at the amount of seed and cuttings supplied the settlers by the Savannah Trustees Garden. Then he spoke of the Spanish threat to Fort Frederica on the Southern coast. He had been there and knew the danger, he said.
Particles of late-day sunlight advanced across the room to encroach upon the firelights lessened swath. Inevitable as times passing, the mans locked-in thoughts pushed slowly outward and intruded upon the talk.
"A little while ago, maam, I spoke of misfortune I had known. It is not one with yours: nevertheless I have fared so ill that all my hopes are wrecked. Perhaps some assuagement could come to me if I permit myself to talk of it. That is, if you could bear to hear."
"I shall do my best to listen, Sir. I am so grateful for your kind patience with my outbursts."
The baby cried out in his sleep. She was at the cradle instantly, to see that all was well. The man arose and set his cup upon the table; there, hands clenched behind him,
- he stood motionless a moment. Then he took a restless turn about the room and stopped as suddenly across from her. Between fire and doorway his face appeared carved in angles, and with understanding beyond her years she saw that his mien was rendered stern because he was so sad and desolate.
"The names I gave you, John and Benjamin, are my Christian names. I did not speak my surname to you then, I know not why, unless because of this deep-seated bitterness I feel. But I shall tell it to you after a little, for I would not be deceitful. More than ever I did before, I tried to be honest with myself last night when we were lost, and I was faint and weary and lying on cold hard ground. I shall be honest now.
"I know you deemed it more than passing strange, maam, for a mission parson, bound for Charlestown, not to take ship in Savannah ; I know you thought how odd it was for him to journey instead to Purysburg, and risk losing himself in the wilderness."
"Could I think clearly, I might have, Sir."
"Then know that I am actually running away! I who jaunted out from England trailing my banners of righteousness! Here, involved in a lawsuit, for the world like a common felon; today a miserable failure in the eyes of all persons of consequence ; now a disgrace to the cloth and bands and the orders I proudly assumed. What else is left but skulking through woods to Port Royal Island? What other the choice than becoming the wretch they have named me?"
Sophia shook her head in vigorous negation. "You are not a wicked man! I would stake my life upon it!"
For the first time, she saw him smile. But the facial movement afforded brief easing to his tight-held lips.
"They might have convinced you differently."
"No, indeed, they couldnt! How did all this happen?"
His eyes upon the open doorway, he gestured with one hand. "That I asked myself last night, lying out there in the woods. It is true I am not guilty of these specific charges; they are contrived and trivial. Unfortunately, there is no barrister in Savannah to consult. But no matter. I am guilty of self-deception, a terrible, grievous sin. I have flayed a fellow-human with the utmost in contempt. I have walked stiff-necked with power, and dared to place my petty, judging rules upon the churchs very altar. Ah, last night, belatedly, the knowledge came! I knew I did all solely for the estimation of myself! It was not consideration for the church, or her; or even the One I thought I represented."
He strode heavily to the doorway and, with a wide sweep of his arm, struck his palm against one side. Thus he stood, his back to her, his shadow long, incongruous, upon the trodden skins.
Timidly, the woman approached him and touched his elbow. "You said her. You must have loved her very much, Sir."
"I did," he said, low. "For the first time in spoken words, I admit it. Her name was Sophy, like yours, strangely! And she was lovely and modest; and there was resolution in her countenance, as in yours. I can yet see the flower she placed amid her tresses that gleamed like molten gold, as she walked beside me amid the fragrant shrubs of the Trustees Garden. But I was blind and offered her nothing, a woman ripe for love, and taking in marriage. Unless you count the granting of per- mission to admire a learned bigot! Oh, readily enough, I extended that. I could not see what an affront it was!" His words held untold bitterness.
A moment passed. He managed to speak more calmly. "You see, she married another. And some days later, I humiliated her. For reasons seeming valid at the time, " withheld from her the Holy Communion. Only last night, in the darkness while my companions slept, I admitted the motives behind my action. Before sleep could come, I had to face the self I really was." His fingers went across his eyes, as if to shut out an unwelcome sight. "Today, I cannot blame her relatives for their anger and their notion of revenge, as expressed in this legal action. They have made me suffer and I deserved it fully."
Impulsively, the woman put out a hand to cover the one of his that clutched the doorpost. "Sir, both of us have known great sorrow, but this I know: much of life is yet before us."
"Possibly. For me there seems no future. What belief I had--"
"You are leaving here, you say--you feel you can do no other. At least, that is someting. Now--I could not dare to ask you, were my extremity less, but--did you say you go tomorrow to Port Royal?"
His hand slipped from under hers. "If we do not get lost again, that is my plan, yes. Then to reach the Beaufort settlement, and take ship to Charlestown."
"Oh, Sir, for the love of God in heaven, let me go with you to Port Royal, through the forest!"
He whirled, astounded. "Madam! No woman with a child could last out such a journey! The thickets are well-nigh impassable!"
"Yes, I can, I can ! You have no idea how strong I am, what my endurance is. I can walk anywhere! As for the baby--I have watched the Indian women, and it is no task at all to fasten a baby upon ones back. I will take along a piggin of milk and mush for him, I will--"
"There may be unseen difficulties! There are bound to be delays. Twice, at least, it will be necessary to hire boatmen."
Sobbing again, she caught at him beseechingly. She fell to her knees before him. "Do not refuse me! Oh, you cannot ! I must go, if I have to set out alone!"
"Please, Madam." Visibly moved, he raised her gently to her feet. "Even if I agreed and my companions would consent, you would need money for passage-fare to Charlestown, and I have but little."
"I also have a little." She flew across the room and from the shelf snatched up a little metal box and jerked it open. "See! " She drew out several pieces of the printed paper currency used in the Carolina province, and brandished them in triumph.
Suddenly, they both started. Distinct "halloos" came to their ears. There was the sound of mens voices calling.
"Mr. Wesley! Oh, Mr. Wesley!"
Sophias eyes were upon him, staring. Why had she not guessed? News of Savannahs storm-center parson had traveled up-river months before. There had been terrible scandal at Frederica. Could this kind stranger and that notorious man be one and the same?
He bowed. "Now you know the worst. John Wesley, who came to Christianize the Indians. John Wesley, the Holy Club priest who preached mere words and not the gospel he ought."
The metal box thudded to the ground. Abruptly, the mans arms were imprisoned in her frenetic grip.
"Tell your friends you will join them in good time!
Tell them I asked to have prayers read to me."
"Well, if you wish. Please loose me now. Please." She did, and he gathered up his case and bundles. He said, "Would you like to say good evening to them? You know Mr. Arieu, I think."
She followed outside, her whole body trembling. She waited there beside the poultry run and watched the men approach and saw Mr. Wesley meet and converse with them. One of the men she did recognize: old Benjamin Arieu, who lived a quarter-mile away. He had been exceedingly kind to them when Pierre was sick. She managed to wave; the men waved greetings, also. Then they turned and retraced their steps, while John Wesley walked back rapidly to her plot.
"It is madness," was his terse declaration. "To foster this wild scheme could surely convince my companions that I have taken leave of my senses." Pointing to the currency still closed tightly in her hand, he asked, "How much money have you there?"
She counted it aloud.
"I had not thought it could be enough," he said.
"Definitely, I cannot advise you to venture into this wilderness."
She tried to speak; failed. Her countenance, pale in the setting sun, went stark with disappointment. Then --she noted his quizzical expression ; fathomed the putposeful brightness of his eyes.
Head slightly inclined, he went on, "But I can advise this, lass: follow your heart. Had I done that, things might be different. Now if you are resolved--"
"Oh, I am! Even to death, I am!"
"Then be at Mr. Arieus door as soon as possible after daybreak. See that you wear a mans heavy breeches, and put on your stoutest shoes. Fetch along your childs supplies. If Providence wills us to reach Port Royal Island, all will be well, I think. My funds are scant, but I am just able to add to yours an adequate amount for your passage-fare to Charlestown."
Her face was beautiful in its look of purest, wildest relief. Breathlessly, she said, "And your companions? I daresay they will think--"
"No matter. I have been called a libertine, a wretch, already. Yesterday, John Wesley might have minded. Today, a bit more vileness of tongues has small significance with the person he has become. What about with you?"
"Not a whit! I mind nothing! And never concern yourself about the prayers today, Sir. I have changed my mind about listening." Mischief appeared in her smile. Her radiance made clear the fact that, in other circumstances, she would be gay and fun-loving.
He gave her back a smile. This time, his eyes crinkled and his well-shaped mouth relaxed. "It is probably as well that you excuse me. Mr. Arieu just brought the message that a French-speaking family not far from him would like the reading of prayers in their own language, and they are gathered and waiting for me now. I should not like them to miss the diversion my French accent will doubtless furnish."
"I have not the words to thank you, Sir. A blessing, thousand-fold, upon your life!"
He said, "No life could need a blessing more. Thank you for the refreshment, Mrs.--Zevren. And besides, for something priceless, and not easy to describe. The ethics of your action I pass over; on that, it would take a Solomon to decide. But I am grateful for encountering valor like yours: I think it courage that borders on the foolhardy, yet it puts to shame my weak despair. Let me say that on last night I plummeted to the nadir of my life. Today, I am reminded of the values at a zenith. I may not attain the peaks; yet I cannot give up. Good evening to you."
She stood and watched the resolute striding, for which the forest growth seemed to give way strangely, until he was out of sight. And softly she said, as though he heard, "Good night, John Wesley. I shall see you in the morning."
Extracts from John Wesleys Journal:
December, 1737, Purysburg.
. . . We arose neither faint nor weary, and resolved to make one more trial to find out a path to Port Royal. . . The day before, in the thickest part of the woods, I had broke many young trees, I knew not why, as we walked along ; these we found a great help in several places, where no path was to be seen ; and between one and two God brought us safe to Benjamin Arieus house, the old man we left the day before.
In the evening, I read French prayers to a numerous family, a mile from Arieus, one of whom undertook to guide us to Port Royal. . . . We were four in all . . and the next evening (after many difficulties and delays) we landed on Port Royal Island.
From the diary of Johann Martin Boizius, pastor of the Georgia colonists from Salzburg:
A very peculiar and mixed situation arose some time ago in Purysburg. . . . Two married men disappeared, getting lost in the virgin timberland. Now it came to light that the two men may be living . . on a plantation near Charlestown. . . . The woman deserted her second man--took child, money and her things and is reported to be already in Charlestown. Her husband came and asked me should he go after his wife. I had no advice to offer him. I trust that God will show him a way to deal with the woman who deserted him.
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Copyright ©2001, GRACE Fox PERRY, her heirs and assigns, all rights reserved. Used with permission by the SCGenWeb, Jasper County web site.