Ride the River

When daylight crested Siler's Bald, I taken up my carpetbag and rifle and followed the Middle Prong toward Tuckalucky Cove.

"Echo," Ma said, "if you be goin' to the Settlements you better lay down that rifle-gun an' set up a few nights with a needle. City folks dress a sight different than we'uns and you don't want to shame yourself."

There was money coming to us and I was to go fetch it home. Pa had wore hisself out scratchin' a livin' from a side-hill farm, and a few months back he give up the fight and "went west," as the sayin' was. We buried him yonder where the big oak stands.

The boys were trappin' beaver in the Shining Mountains far to the westward and there was nobody t'home but Regal an' me, and Regal was laid up. He'd had a mite of a set-to with a cross bear who didn't recognize him for a Sackett. Regal was my uncle, a brother to Pa, and when he was a boy he'd gone off a yonderin' along the mountains to the Settlements. Regal was tall, stronger than three bulls, and quick with a smile that made a girl tingle to her toes.

"Don't you be in no hurry," he advised me. "You're cute as abutton and you've got a nice shape. You're enough to start any man a-wonderin' where his summer wages went. No need to marry up with somebody just because the other girls are doin' it. I've been yonder where folks live different and there's a better way than to spend your years churnin' milk an' hoeing corn. But one word of caution: don't you be lettin' the boys know how good you can shoot. Not many men would like to be bested by a spit of a girl not five feet tall!"

"I'm five-feet-two!" I protested.

"You mind what I say. When you get down to the settlements, you mind your P's an' Q's. When a man talks to a girl, he's not as honest as he might be, although at the time he half-believes it all himself. There's times a man will promise a girl anything an' forget his promises before the hour's up."

Philadelphia had more folks in it than I reckoned there was in the world. When I stepped down from the stage I made query of the driver as to where I was wishful of goin' and he stepped out into the street and pointed the way.

The place I was heading for was a rooming-and-boarding house kept by a woman who had kinfolk in the mountains. It was reckoned a safe place for a young girl to stay. Not that I was much worried. I had me an Arkansas toothpick slung in its scabbard inside my dress and a little slit pocket where I could reach through the folds to fetch it. In my carpetbag I carried a pistol.

First thing when I got to my room was to take a peek past the curtain, and sure enough, the man who followed me from the stage was outside, makin' like he was readin' a newspaper.

When a girl grows up in Indian country hunting all her born days, she becomes watchful. Gettin' down from the stage, I saw that man see me like I was somebody expected. I started off up the street, but when I stopped at a crossing, I noticed him fold his news paper and start after me. Any girl knows when a man notices her because she's pretty, but this man had no such ideas in mind. I'd hunted too much game not to know when I am hunted myself.

If he wasn't followin' me because he liked my looks, then why? My reason for coming to Philadelphia was to meet up with a lawyer and collect money that was due me. By all accounts it was a goodly sum, but who could know that? The only reason I could think of for someone to follow me was because he knew what I'd come for and meant to have it.

Amy Sulky set a good table. She seated me on her left and told folks I was a friend from Tennessee. The city folks at the table bowed, smiled and said their howdy-dos. Opposite me sat a quiet, serious-looking man with a bald head and a pointed beard. He was neat, attractive, and friendly. He asked me if I intended to stay in the city and I told him I was leaving as soon as I'd done what I came for. One thing led to another and I told him about us seeing that item about property left to the "youngest descendant of Kin Sackett." I told him we'd found the notice in the Penny Advocate . It had come wrapped around some goods sold us by the pack peddler.

"That strikes me as odd, Mrs. Sulky," he said, turning to her. "The Advocate has but a small circulation here in Pennsylvania. I imagine few copies get beyond the borders of the state. It must have been sheer chance that Miss Sackett saw the item at all."

He glanced at me. "Have you inquired at the address?"

"No, sir, I have just come to town. We wrote to them and they said I must come to Philadelphia to establish my relationship."

"Odd," he said again. "It is none of my business, of course, but the procedure seems peculiar. I know nothing of the legalities. Perhaps they were required to advertise for heirs, but if so, they used an unlikely method. No doubt they were surprised when they heard from you."

The talk turned to other things, but he'd put a bee in my bonnet. I was wondering if there might be some crookedness afoot.

It was a puzzler that we'd been left money by kinfolk of Kin Sackett, because Kin had been dead for nigh onto two hundred years. Kin was the first of our blood born on American soil. His pappy had been old Barnabas Sackett, who settled on Shooting Creek, in North Carolina.

At breakfast Amy Sulky advised me to have a care. "This town is full of sharpers trying to take money from honest folk."

When I started to leave the house, the man with the bald head was leaving too. "Miss Sackett? I know nothing of your affairs, but be careful. Don't offer any information you don't have to, and above all, don't sign any papers."

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

The man with the newspaper was standing near a rig tied across the street. He was a thickset man wearing a gray hard hat and a houndstooth coat. If he was wishful of not being seen, he was a stupid man. I walked away up the street, and after a moment, he followed.