The second day after this, in the afternoon of the day, as the Captain and his man Duncan were advancing on their journey, they perceived a person ahead, coming towards them, with a long slouching walk, as if in considerable haste, and a stick in his hand.
If that man had not his face the wrong way, said the Captain, I should take him for the revenue officer, Teague ORegan; he has a good deal of his appearance, both in his person and his gait. But he cannot have mistaken his direction so much as to be coming this way, instead of going to his district.
I dinna ken, said Duncan; these Irish ay put the wrang end o their speech foremost; and why not put the wrang end o their course now and then?
As they were debating, the person approached, and it was discovered to be Teague.
He had advanced to a pass of the mountain, where he was met and opposed by two men of an athletic personal appearance, who forbade him, at his peril, to proceed farther. They were armed with clubs, and presented a very choleric countenance. The revenue officer had thought it not advisable to encounter them, being two to one, and proposed rather to fall back, and join himself to the Captain and the Scotchman, who might support him in his march.
These two men were of the name of Valentine and Orson; so called, either from the fierceness of their nature, or from their superior strength, resembling the two champions of that name, of whom we read in books of romance. They had been born and bred in these mountains.
Valentine had the advantage of some education with a Welch school-master, who passed his native language upon the young man for Latin; so that conceiving himself to have acquired the rudiments of this tongue and therefore qualified to enter on the study of some one of the learned professions, he had deliberated whether he should plead law, preach, or be a physician; but happening one day to see a member of congress riding along, with a boy behind him carrying a portmanteau, he had taken it into his head to be a member himself, and had canvassed frequently for that delegation, but had been disappointed; one person and another coming forward, and taking off the votes. He had made up his mind for some time past to make an experiment of personal force, to intimidate competitors. For this purpose, he had taken to his assistance another young man of the name of Orson, whom he found in the neighbourhood, and with whom sallying out as a kind of squire, or armour-bearer, he could knock down any one that had the impudence to set up against him in the district. Orson had not actually been suckled by a bear, like his name sake in romance; but he was a rough, stout man, and well qualified to bear a part in this mode of canvassing.
The rumour had prevailed by some means, that Teague was coming forward to stand a trial in that district; whether propagated by some wag, who passed him on the road, and was disposed to amuse himself with the apprehensions of the two rustics; or to some mistake on the part of travellers, who had come through the village in the neighbourhood.
The Captain, however, and the revenue officer himself, had resolved their menace into a dislike of the excise law, and a wish to intimidate, or prevent by force, the opening an inspection office in that district.
Under these impressions, advancing to the pass, they were met by the young men, who made a show of battle; though on their part not a little disconcerted at seeing Teague return with a reinforcement, and with the advantage of cavalry.
The Captain placed himself in the centre, on horseback, and a little in advance of the two wings on foot, Duncan and Teague. The north Briton, preserved a composed manner, and shewed a steady countenance. The Hibernian, on the other hand, willing by an appearance of great rage, and much valour, to supersede the necessity of battle, or blood shed, stood with his right foot before his left, flourishing his cudgel, and grinning like an angry person, who was impatient for the onset.
As is the manner of heroic men, the Captain thought proper, before the commencement of hostilities, to accost the adverse combatants, to see whether it might not be in his power to remove, or at least allay their prejudices against the obnoxious law, and induce them to suffer the officer to pass. Accordingly he addressed them in the following words:
Gentlemen, the law may be exceptionable on general principles, or locally unequal in its operation to you in this district. Nevertheless, it is the law, and has received the sanction of the public voice, made known through the constitutional organ, the representatives of the people. It is the great principle of a republican government, that the will of the majority shall govern. The general will has made this a law, and it behoves individual minds to submit.
I wad na sleech and prig wi them, said Duncan, stepping forward and flourishing his cudgel. I wad na hae many words about it. But just see at once whether they will dare to stap the high road. Gin they persist, I can tak ane o them, and ye and Teague can tak the ither, and my lug for it, I sal gae the ane that fas to my lot, a weel payed skin, I warrant him. Say dinna ya tak up time fairlying about the matter; but gae on, and try our rungs o'er the hurdies o' them. I sal gar this stick crack oer the riggin o the loons, in a wie while.
Teague, in the mean time, was on the back ground, endeavouring to look sour, making wry mouths, and grinning occasionally: all this with a view to support the threats of the north Briton.
Duncan, said the Captain, for he had not attended to Teague, put up your cudgel. Policy oftentimes avails more than force. The law in question may be odious, and great allowance ought to be made for the prejudices of the people. By soft measures, and mild words, prejudices may be overcome. These appear to be but young men; and rashness is a concomitant of early life. By expostulation we may probably have the good fortune to be able to pass on, without being under the necessity to attempt battery, or shed blood.
The two young men were not to be intimidated by a show of cudgels, or grinning, and wry mouths; but still conceiving that the object of the Captain was to force an election in favour of his precursor, the Hibernian, and not understanding the scope of his harangue, but supposing hem to speak of the law of election where the votes of the majority, that is the greater number of votes, constitutes the representative, they were as much disposed to use force as at first; and, advancing, appeared ready to sustain the shock.
An affray must have ensued; for the Captain having taken every possible measure to avoid blows, was now resolute to force the pass, even at the risk of battle. But just at this instant, a grave man coming from the village, who had known the character, and had been frequently a witness of the conduct of the young men, addressed them: Young men, said he, will you be eternally running into errors of this kind? Have you interrogated these gentlemen, and understood from themselves whether any of them are candidates, and mean to disturb you by setting up for Congress in this district? It is possibly the humour of some wag coming up the road, and knowing your disposition, that has created the surmise.
The fact was, that some wag who had passed Teague on the road, and who had known the apprehensions of Valentine, had given rise to the report. For he thought to amuse himself by it, knowing the extravagancies into which it would of course throw the two young men. For the whole country, not long before that time, had heard in what manner they had mistaken individuals for public candidates. On one occasion they had fought with a mason and his barrow-man, and abused them considerably. On another occasion, they had knocked down a potter with a bag of earthen-ware, and broken several of his vessels. For this reason, the grave man, of whom I spoke, who had got a hint by some means of what they were about, had traced the young men, and coming up at the critical moment, addressed them as I have before said, exhorting them to make enquiry first, whether their apprehensions were well or ill founded; and not take it for granted that either of these personages, were competitors for Congress, before the fact had been ascertained, and their pretensions considered by an amicable expostulation.
Candidates for Congress! said the Captain; what could have put that into the young mens' heads? it is true, this bog-trotter, who is now an excise officer, was on the point once of being a candidate, or at least of being elected a representative of the union; but having escaped that, though with some difficulty, he is not in the executive department; and has received an appointment to the collection of the revenue of a district beyond this, to which he is now on his way; and is far from having any thoughts of an election of any kind whatever.
The two young men, at this, were relieved from their fears, and their minds seemed dilated with unusual joy. Stepping forward, they shook hands with Teague, and invited him to drink with them; but the Captain apologized, alledging the necessity on the part of ORegan, to press forward as speedily as possible, and to be on the spot where the functions of his duty called him. This apology seeming to suffice, they all three made obeisance to the young men, and to the grave looking man; and passed on.