MOTHER'S fears were well grounded. A few days after father had returned home, a man named Sharpe, who disgraced the small office of justice of the peace, rode up to our house, very much the worse for liquor, and informed mother that his errand was to "search the house for that abolition husband of yours." The intoxicated ruffian then demanded something to eat. While mother, with a show of hospitality, was preparing supper for him, the amiable Mr. Sharpe killed time in sharpening his bowie-knife on the sole of his shoe.
"That," said he to Will, who stood watching him, "that's to cut the heart out of that Free State father of yours!" And he tested the edge with brutally suggestive care.
Will's comment was to take down his rifle and place himself on the staircase leading up to father's room. There was trouble in that quarter for Mr. Sharpe if he attempted to ascend those stairs.
But the justice, as mother surmised, had no notion that father was at home, else he would not have come alone. He ate heartily of the supper, which Will hoped would choke him, and passing from drowsiness to drunken slumber, soon tumbled from his chair. This so confused him that he forgot his pretended errand, and shambled out of the house. He was not so drunk that he could not tell a good bit of horseflesh, and he straightway took a fancy to Prince, the pet pony of the family. An unwritten plank in the platform of the pro-slavery men was that the Free Soil party had no rights they were bound to respect, and Sharpe remarked to Will, with a malicious grin:
"That's a nice pony of yours, sonny. Guess I'll take him along with me." And he proceeded to exchange the saddle from the back of his own horse to that of Prince.
"You old coward!" muttered Will, bursting with wrath. "I'll get even with you some day."
The justice was a tall, burly fellow, and he cut so ridiculous a figure as he rode away on Prince's back, his heels almost touching the ground, that Will laughed outright as he thought of a plan to save his pony.
A shrill whistle brought Turk to the scene, and receiving his cue, the dog proceeded to give Sharpe a very bad five minutes. He would nip at one of the dangling legs, spring back out of reach of the whip with a triumphant bark, then repeat the performance with the other leg. This little comedy had a delighted spectator in Will, who had followed at a safe distance. Just as Sharpe made one extra effort to reach Turk, the boy whistled a signal to Prince, who responded with a bound that dumped his rider in the dust. Here Turk stood over him and showed his teeth.
"Call off your dog, bub!" the justice shouted to Will, "and you may keep your little sheep, for he's no good, anyway."
"That's a bargain!" cried Will, restored to good humor; and helping the vanquished foe upon his own steed, he assured him that he need not fear Turk so long as he kept his word. Sharpe departed, but we were far from being rid of him.
About a fortnight later we were enjoying an evening with father, who was now able to come downstairs. He was seated in a big arm-chair before the open fire, with his family gathered round his side our frail, beautiful mother, with Baby Charlie on her knee, Martha and Julia, with their sewing, and Will, back of mother's chair, tenderly smoothing the hair from her brow, while he related spiritedly some new escapade of Turk. Suddenly he checked his narrative, listened for a space, and announced:
"There are some men riding on the road toward the house. We'd better be ready for trouble."
Mother, equal to every emergency, hurriedly disposed her slender forces for defense. Martha and Julia were directed to help father to bed; that done, to repair to the unfurnished front room above stairs; Will was instructed to call the hired man and Jane, who was almost as large and quite as strong as the average man; and the three were armed and given their cue. They were all handy with their weapons, but mother sought to win by strategy, if possible. She bade the older girls don heavy boots, and gave them further instructions. By this time the horsemen had reached the gate. Their leader was the redoubtable Justice Sharpe. He rode up to the door, and rapped with the butt of his riding-whip. Mother threw up the window overhead.
"Who's there, and what do you want?" she demanded.
"We want that old abolition husband of yours, and, dead or alive, we mean to have him!"
"All right, Mr. Sharpe," was the steady answer. "I'll ask Colonel Lane and his men to wait on you."
The hired man, who had served in the Mexican War, here gave a sharp word of command, which was responded to by trampling of heavy boots upon the bare floor. Then, calling a halt, the pretended Colonel Lane advanced to the window and shouted to the horsemen:
"Set foot inside that gate and my men will fire on you!"
Sharpe, an arrant coward, had retreated at the first sound of a man's voice, and after a short parley with his nonplused companions he led them away -- outwitted by a woman.
As a sort of consolation prize, Sharpe again made off with Prince; but Will's sorrow in the morning was short-lived, for the sagacious little creature slipped his halter and came flying home before the forenoon was half spent.
After this experience father decided that, for our sakes as well as for his own, he must again leave home, and as soon as he recovered a measure of his strength he went to Grasshopper Falls, thirty-five miles west of Leavenworth. Here he erected a sawmill, and hoped that he had put so many miles between him and his enemies that he might be allowed to pursue a peaceful occupation. He made us occasional visits, so timing his journey that he reached home after nightfall, and left again before the sun was up.
One day when we were looking forward to one of these visits, our good friend Mr. Hathaway made his appearance about eleven o'clock.
"It is too bad to be the bearer of ill tidings," said he, "but the news of your husband's expected visit has been noised about in some way, and another plot to kill him is afoot. Some of his enemies are camped at Big Stranger's Creek, and intend to shoot him as he passes there."
Then followed a long and anxious consultation, which ended without any plan of rescue.
All of which had been overheard by Will, who was confined to his bed with an attack of ague. In him, he decided, lay the only hope for father's safety; so, dressing, he presented his fever-flushed face to mother. As he held out a handkerchief, "Tie it tight around my head, mother," said he; "then it won't ache so hard."
A remonstrance against his getting out of bed brought out the fact that he contemplated riding to Grasshopper Falls!
He was almost too weak to stand, a storm threatened, and thirty miles lay between him and father; yet he was not to be dissuaded from his undertaking. So Julia and Martha saddled Prince and helped the ague-racked courier to his saddle.
The plunge into the open air and the excitement of the start encouraged Will to believe that he could hold out. As he settled down to his long, hard ride he reflected that it was not yet noon, and that father would not set out until late in the day. Prince seemed to discern that something extraordinary was afoot, and swung along at a swift, steady gait.
Big Stranger's Creek cut the road halfway to the Falls, and Will approached it before the afternoon was half gone. The lowering sky darkened the highway, and he hoped to pass the ambush unrecognized; but as he came up to the stream he made Out a camp and campers, one of whom called out carelessly to him as he passed:
"Are you all right on the goose?" -- the cant phrase of the pro-slavery men.
"Never rode a goose in my life, gentlemen," was the reply.
"That's Cody's boy!" shouted another voice; and the word "Halt!" rang out just as Will had galloped safely past the camp.
Will's answer was to drive the spurs into Prince and dart ahead, followed by a rain of bullets. He was now well out of range, and the pony still strong and fleet.
The chase was on, and in the thrill of it Will forgot his weakness. A new strength came with the rush of air and the ring of hoofs, and "I'll reach the Falls in time!" was his heartening thought, as pursuer and pursued sped through the forests, clattered over bridges, and galloped up hill and down.
Then broke the long-impending storm, and the hard road became the bed of a muddy stream. The pursuit was abandoned, and this stimulus removed, Will felt the chills and weakness coming on again He was drenched to the skin, and it was an effort to keep his saddle, but he set his teeth firmly in his resolve to accomplish his heroic purpose.
At last! A welcome light gleamed between the crystal bars of the rain. His mission was accomplished.
His ride had been longer by ten miles than that famous gallop of the friend of his after years -- Phil Sheridan. Like Sheridan, he reached the goal in time, for father was just mounting his horse.
But the ride proved too much for his strength, and Will collapsed. Father started with him, a few days later, for Topeka, which was headquarters for the Free State party.
Father acquainted mother of their safety, and that he had gone to Topeka because he feared his life was no longer safe at Grasshopper Falls.
Party strife in Kansas was now at its height. Thousands came into the territory from adjacent slave states simply to vote, and the pro-slavery party elected a legislature, whose first meeting was held at Le Compton. This election the Free Soilers declared illegal, because of fraudulent voting, and assembling at Topeka in the winter of 1855-56, they framed a constitution excluding slavery, and organized a rival government. Of this first Free-Soil Legislature father was a member.
Thenceforth war was the order of the day, and in the fall of 1856 a military governor was appointed, with full authority to maintain law and order in Kansas.
Recognizing the good work effected by the emigrant-aid societies, and realizing that in a still larger Northern emigration to Kansas lay the only hope of its admission as a free state, father went to Ohio in the following spring, to labor for the salvation of the territory he had chosen for his home. Here his natural gift of oratory had free play, and as the result of his work on the stump he brought back to Kansas sixty families, the most of whom settled in the vicinity of Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls.
This meant busy times for us, for with that magnificent disregard for practical matters that characterizes many men of otherwise great gifts, father had invited each separate family to make headquarters at his home until other arrangements could be perfected. As a result, our house overflowed, while the land about us was dotted with tents; but these melted away, as one by one the families selected claims and put up cabins.
Among the other settlers was Judge Delahay, who, with his family, located at Leavenworth, and began the publishing of the first abolition newspaper in Kansas. The appointing of the military governor was the means of restoring comparative tranquillity; but hundreds of outrages were committed, and the judge and his newspaper came in for a share of suffering. The printing-office was broken into, and the type and press thrown into the Missouri River. Undaunted, the judge procured a new press, and the paper continued.
A semi-quiet now reigned in the territory; father resumed work at the sawmill, and we looked forward to a peaceful home and the joy of being once more permanently united. But it was not to be. The knife wound had injured father's lung. With care and nursing it might have healed, but constant suffering attended on the life that persecution had led him, and in the spring of '57 he again came home, and took to his bed for the last time.
All that could be was done, but nothing availed. After a very short illness he passed away -- one of the first martyrs in the cause of freedom in Kansas.
The land of his adoption became his last, long resting-place. His remains now lie on Pilot Knob, which overlooks the beautiful city of Leavenworth. His death was regretted even by his enemies, who could not help but grant a tribute of respect to a man who had been upright, just, and generous to friend and foe.