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8. Red Ringan
Once at Edinburgh College I had read the Latin tale of Apuleius, and the beginning
stuck in my memory: "Thraciam ex negotio petebam"--"I was starting off for Thrace on
business." That was my case now. I was about to plunge into a wild world for no more
startling causes than that I was a trader who wanted to save my pocket. It is to those
who seek only peace and a quiet life that adventures fall; the homely merchant, jogging
with his pack train, finds the enchanted forest and the sleeping princess; and Saul,
busily searching for his father's asses, stumbles upon a kingdom.
"What seek ye with Ringan?" Mercer asked, when we had sat down inside with locked
"The man's name is Ninian Campbell," I said, somewhat puzzled.
"Well, it's the same thing. What did they teach you at Lesmahagow if ye don't know that
Ringan is the Scots for Ninian? Lord bless me, laddie, don't tell me ye've never heard of
Red Ringan?"
To be sure I had; I had heard of little else for a twelvemonth. In every tavern in Virginia,
when men talked of the Free Companions, it was the name of Red Ringan that came
first to their tongues. I had been too occupied by my own affairs to listen just then to
fireside tales, but I could not help hearing of this man's exploits. He was a kind of leader
of the buccaneers, and by all accounts no miscreant like Cosh, but a mirthful fellow,
striking hard when need be, but at other times merciful and jovial. Now I set little store
by your pirate heroes. They are for lads and silly girls and sots in an ale-house, and a
merchant can have no kindness for those who are the foes of his trade. So when I
heard that the man I sought was this notorious buccaneer I showed my alarm by
dropping my jaw.
Mercer laughed. "I'll not conceal from you that you take a certain risk in going to Ringan.
Ye need not tell me your business, but it should be a grave one to take you down to the
Carolina keys. There's time to draw back, if ye want; but you've brought me the master
word, and I'm bound to set you on the road. Just one word to ye, Mr. Garvald. Keep a
stout face whatever you see, for Ringan has a weakness for a bold man. Be here the
morn at sunrise, and if ye're wise bring no weapon. I'll see to the boat and the
I was at the water-side next day at cock-crow, while the mist was still low on the river.
Mercer was busy putting food and a keg of water into a light sloop, and a tall Indian was
aboard redding out the sails. My travels had given me some knowledge of the red
tribes, and I spoke a little of their language, but this man was of a type not often seen in
the Virginian lowlands. He was very tall, with a skin clear and polished like bronze, and,
unlike the ordinary savage, his breast was unmarked, and his hair unadorned. He was