Salute to Adventurers
5. My First Coming To Virginia
There are few moments in life to compare with a traveller's first sight of a new land
which is destined to be for short or long his home. When, after a fair and speedy
voyage, we passed Point Comfort, and had rid ourselves of the revenue men, and the
tides bore us up the estuary of a noble river, I stood on deck and drank in the heady
foreign scents with a boyish ecstasy. Presently we had opened the capital city, which
seemed to me no more than a village set amid gardens, and Mr. Lambie had come
aboard and greeted me. He conveyed me to the best ordinary in the town which stood
over against the Court-house. Late in the afternoon, just before the dark fell, I walked
out to drink my fill of the place.
You are to remember that I was a country lad who had never set foot forth of Scotland. I
was very young, and hot on the quest of new sights and doings. As I walked down the
unpaven street and through the narrow tobacco-grown lanes, the strange smell of it all
intoxicated me like wine.
There was a great red sunset burning over the blue river and kindling the far forests till
they glowed like jewels. The frogs were croaking among the reeds, and the wild duck
squattered in the dusk. I passed an Indian, the first I had seen, with cock's feathers on
his head, and a curiously tattooed chest, moving as light as a sleep-walker. One or two
townsfolk took the air, smoking their long pipes, and down by the water a negro girl was
singing a wild melody. The whole place was like a mad, sweet-scented dream to one
just come from the unfeatured ocean, and with a memory only of grim Scots cities and
dour Scots hills. I felt as if I had come into a large and generous land, and I thanked
God that I was but twenty-three.
But as I was mooning along there came a sudden interruption on my dreams. I was
beyond the houses, in a path which ran among tobacco-sheds and little gardens, with
the river lapping a stone's-throw off. Down a side alley I caught a glimpse of a figure that
'Twas that of a tall, hulking man, moving quickly among the tobacco plants, with
something stealthy in his air. The broad, bowed shoulders and the lean head brought
back to me the rainy moorlands about the Cauldstaneslap and the mad fellow whose
prison I had shared. Muckle John had gone to the Plantations, and 'twas Muckle John or
the devil that was moving there in the half light.
I cried on him, and ran down the side alley.
But it seemed that he did not want company, for he broke into a run.
Now in those days I rejoiced in the strength of my legs, and I was determined not to be
thus balked. So I doubled after him into a maze of tobacco and melon beds.