On a Sunday afternoon in December, 1863, two horsemen were making their
way across Big Corn Valley in the direction of Sugar Mountain. They had
started from the little town of Jasper early in the morning, and it was
apparent at a glance that they had not enjoyed the journey. They sat
listlessly in their saddles, with their carbines across their laps, and
whatever conversation they carried on was desultory.
To tell the truth, the journey from Jasper to the top of Sugar Mountain
was not a pleasant one even in the best of weather, and now, with the
wind pushing before it a bitterly cold mist, its disagreeableness was
irritating. And it was not by any means a short journey. Big Corn Valley
was fifteen miles across as the crow flies, and the meanderings of the
road added five more. Then there was the barrier of the foothills, and
finally Sugar Mountain itself, which when the weather was clear lifted
itself above all the other mountains of that region.
Nor was this all. Occasionally, when the wind blew aside the oilskin
overcoats of the riders, the gray uniform of the Confederacy showed
beneath, and they wore cavalry boots, and there were tell-tale trimmings
on their felt hats. With these accoutrements to advertise them, they
were not in a friendly region. There were bushwhackers in the mountains,
and, for aught the horsemen knew, the fodder stacks in the valley, that
rose like huge and ominous ghosts out of the mist on every side, might
conceal dozens of guerrillas. They had that day ridden past the house of
the only member of the Georgia State convention who had refused to affix
his signature to the ordinance of secession, and the woods, to use the
provincial phrase, were full of Union men.
Suddenly, and with a fierce and ripping oath, one of the horsemen drew
rein. “I wish I may die,” he exclaimed, his voice trembling with long
pent up irritation, “if I ain’t a great mind to turn around in my tracks
an’ go back. Where does this cussed road lead to anyhow?”
“To the mountain—straight to the mountain,” grimly remarked the other,
who had stopped to see what was the matter with his companion.
“Great Jerusalem! straight? Do you see that fodder stack yonder with the
hawk on the top of the pole? Well, we’ve passed it four times, and we
ain’t no further away from it now than we was at fust.”
“Well, we’ve no time to stand here. In an hour we’ll be at the foot of
the mountain, and a quarter of a mile further we’ll find shelter. We must
attend to business and talk it over afterwards.”
“An’ it’s a mighty nice business, too,” said the man who had first
spoken. He was slender in build, and his thin and straggling mustache
failed to relieve his effeminate appearance. He had evidently never seen
hard service. “I never have believed in this conscriptin’ business,” he
went on in a complaining tone. “It won’t pan out. It has turned more men
agin the Confederacy than it has turned fer it, or else my daddy’s name
ain’t Bill Chadwick, nor mine neither.”
“Well,” said the other curtly, “it’s the law, Bill Chadwick, and it must
be carried out. We’ve got our orders.”
“Oh, yes! You are the commander, Cap’n Moseley, an’ I’m the army. Ain’t
I the gayest army you ever had under you? I’ll tell you what, Cap’n
Moseley (I’d call you Dick, like I useter, if we wasn’t in the ranks),
when I j’ined the army I thought I was goin’ to fight the Yankees, but
they slapped me in the camp of instruction over there at Adairsville, an’
now here we are fightin’ our own folks. If we ain’t fightin’ ’em, we are
pursuin’ after ’em, an’ runnin’ ’em into the woods an’ up the mountains.
Now what kind of a soldier will one of these conscripts make? You needn’t
tell me, Cap’n! The law won’t pan out.”
“But it’s the law,” said Captain Moseley. The captain had been wounded in
Virginia, and was entitled to a discharge, but he accepted the position
of conscript officer. He had the grit and discipline of a veteran, and
a persistence in carrying out his purposes that gave him the name of
“Hardhead” in the army. He was tall and muscular, but his drooping left
shoulder showed where a Federal bullet had found lodgment. His closely
cropped beard was slightly streaked with gray, and his face would have
been handsome had not determination left its rude handwriting there.
The two rode on together in silence a little space, the cold mists,
driven by the wind, tingling in their faces. Presently Private Chadwick,
who had evidently been ruminating over the matter, resumed the thread of
“They tell me,” he said, “that it’s a heap easier to make a bad law than
it is to make a good one. It takes a lot of smart men a long time to make
a good one, but a passel of blunderbusses can patch a bad one up in a
little or no time. That’s the way I look at it.
“What’s the name of this chap we are after? Israel Spurlock? I’d like
to know, by George, what’s the matter with him! What makes him so
plague-taked important that two men have to be sent on a wild-goose chase
after him? They yerked him into army, an’ he yerked himself out, an’ now
the word is that the war can’t go on unless Israel Spurlock is on hand to
fling down his gun an’ run when he hears a bung-shell playin’ a tune in
Captain Moseley coughed to hide a smile.
“It’s jest like I tell you, Cap’n. The news is that we had a terrible
victory at Chattanooga, but I notice in the Atlanta papers that the
Yankees ain’t no further north than they was before the fight; an’ what
makes it wuss, they are warmin’ themselves in Chattanooga, whilst we are
shiverin’ outside. I reckon if Israel Spurlock had been on hand at the
right time an’ in the right place, we’d a drove the Yanks plumb back to
Nashville. Lord! I hope we’ll have him on the skirmish line the next time
we surround the enemy an’ drive him into a town as big as Chattanooga.”
Private Chadwick kept up his complaints for some time, but they failed
to disturb the serenity of the captain, who urged his horse forward
through the mist, closely followed by his companion. They finally left
the valley, passed over the foothills, and began the ascent of Sugar
Mountain. Here their journey became less disagreeable. The road, winding
and twisting around the mountain, had been cut through a dense growth
of trees, and these proved to be something of a shelter. Moreover, the
road sometimes brought the mountain between the travelers and the wind,
and these were such comfortable intervals that Mr. Chadwick ceased his
complaints and rode along good-humoredly.
The two horsemen had gone about a mile, measuring the mountain road,
though they were not more than a quarter of a mile from the foot, when
they came suddenly on an old man sitting in a sheltered place by the
side of the road. They came on the stranger so suddenly that their
horses betrayed alarm, and it was all they could do to keep the animals
from slipping and rolling into the gorge at their left. The old man was
dressed in a suit of gray jeans, and wore a wool hat, which, although
it showed the signs of constant use, had somehow managed to retain
its original shape. His head was large and covered with a profusion
of iron-gray hair, which was neatly combed. His face was round, but
the lines of character obliterated all suggestions of chubbiness.
The full beard that he wore failed to hide evidences of firmness and
determination; but around his mouth a serene smile lingered, and humor
sparkled in his small brown eyes.
“Howdy, boys, howdy!” he exclaimed. “Tired as they look to be, you er
straddlin’ right peart creeturs. A flirt or two more an’ they’d ’a’
flung you down the hill, an’ ’a’ follered along atter you, headstall an’
stirrup. They done like they weren’t expectin’ company in an’ around
The sonorous voice and deliberate utterance of the old man bespoke his
calling. He was evidently a minister of the gospel. This gave a clew to
Captain Moseley’s memory.
“This must be Uncle Billy Powers,” said the captain. “I have heard you
preach many a time when I was a boy.”
“That’s my name,” said Uncle Billy; “an’ in my feeble way I’ve been
a-preachin’ the Word as it was given to me forty year, lackin’ one. Ef I
ever saw you, the circumstance has slipped from me.”
“My name is Moseley,” said the captain.
“I useter know Jeremiah Moseley in my younger days,” said Uncle Billy,
gazing reflectively at the piece of pine bark he was whittling. “Yes,
yes! I knowed Brother Moseley well. He was a God-fearin’ man.”
“He was my father,” said the captain.
“Well, well, well!” exclaimed Uncle Billy, in a tone that seemed to
combine reflection with astonishment. “Jerry Moseley’s son; I disremember
the day when Brother Moseley came into my mind, an’ yit, now that I hear
his name bandied about up here on the hill, it carries me back to ole
times. He weren’t much of a preacher on his own hook, but let ’im foller
along for to clench the sermon, an’ his match couldn’t be foun’ in them
days. Yit, Jerry was a man of peace, an’ here’s his son a-gwine about
with guns an’ pistols, an’ what not, a-tryin’ to give peaceable folks a
smell of war.”
“Oh, no!” said Captain Moseley, laughing; “we are just hunting up some
old acquaintances,—some friends of ours that we’d like to see.”
“Well,” said Uncle Billy, sinking his knife deep into the soft pine
bark, “it’s bad weather for a frolic, an’ it ain’t much better for a
straight-out, eve’y-day call. Speshually up here on the hill, where the
ground is so wet and slipperyfied. It looks like you’ve come a mighty
long ways for to pay a friendly call. An’ yit,” the old man continued,
looking up at the captain with a smile that well became his patriarchal
face, “thar ain’t a cabin on the hill whar you won’t be more than
welcome. Yes, sir; wheresomever you find a h’a’thstone, thar you’ll find
a place to rest.”
“So I have heard,” said the captain. “But maybe you can cut our journey
short. We have a message for Israel Spurlock.”
Immediately Captain Moseley knew that the placid and kindly face of
Uncle Billy Powers had led him into making a mistake. He knew that he
had mentioned Israel Spurlock’s name to the wrong man at the wrong time.
There was a scarcely perceptible frown on Uncle Billy’s face as he raised
it from his piece of pine bark, which was now assuming the shape of a
horseman’s pistol, and he looked at the captain through half-closed
“Come, now,” he exclaimed, “ain’t Israel Spurlock in the war? Didn’t a
posse ketch ’im down yander in Jasper an’ take an’ cornscrip’ ’im into
the army? Run it over in your mind now! Ain’t Israel Spurlock crippled
some’r’s, an’ ain’t your message for his poor ole mammy?”
“No, no,” said the captain, laughing, and trying to hide his inward
“Not so?” exclaimed Uncle Billy. “Well, sir, you must be shore an’ set
me right when I go wrong; but I’ll tell you right pine blank, I’ve had
Israel Spurlock in my min’ off an’ on’ ev’ry since they run him down
an’ kotch him an’ drug ’im off to war. He was weakly like from the time
he was a boy, an’ when I heard you call forth his name, I allowed to
myself, says I, ‘Israel Spurlock is sick, an’ they’ve come atter his ole
mammy to go an’ nuss him.’ That’s the idee that riz up in my min’.”
A man more shrewd than Captain Moseley would have been deceived by the
bland simplicity of Uncle Billy’s tone.
“No,” said he; “Spurlock is not sick. He is a sounder man than I am. He
was conscripted in Jasper and carried to Adairsville, and after he got
used to the camp he concluded that he would come home and tell his folks
“Now that’s jes like Israel,” said Uncle Billy, closing his eyes and
compressing his lips—“jes like him for the world. He knowed that he was
drug off right spang at the time he wanted to be getherin’ in his craps,
an’ savin’ his ruffage, an’ one thing an’ another bekaze his ole mammy
didn’t have a soul to help her but ’im. I reckon he’s been a-housin’
his corn an’ sich like. The ole ’oman tuck on might’ly when Israel was
snatched into the army.”
“How far is it to shelter?” inquired Captain Moseley.
“Not so mighty fur,” responded Uncle Billy, whittling the pine bark more
cautiously. “Jes keep in the middle of the road an’ you’ll soon come to
it. Ef I ain’t thar before you, jes holler for Aunt Crissy an’ tell her
that you saw Uncle Billy some’r’s in the woods an’ he told you to wait
With that, Captain Moseley and Private Chadwick spurred their horses up
the mountain road, leaving Uncle Billy whittling.
“Well, dang my buttons!” exclaimed Chadwick, when they were out of
“What now?” asked the captain, turning in his saddle. Private Chadwick
had stopped his horse and was looking back down the mountain as if he
expected to be pursued.
“I wish I may die,” he went on, giving his horse the rein, “if we ain’t
walked right square into it with our eyes wide open.”
“Into what?” asked the captain, curtly.
“Into trouble,” said Chadwick. “Oh,” he exclaimed, looking at his
companion seriously, “you may grin behind your beard, but you just wait
till the fun begins—all the grins you can muster will be mighty dry
grins. Why, Cap., I could read that old chap as if he was a newspaper.
Whilst he was a-watchin’ you I was a-watchin’ him, an’ if he ain’t got a
war map printed on his face I ain’t never saw none in the ‘Charleston
“The old man is a preacher,” said Captain Moseley in a tone that seemed
to dispose of the matter.
“Well, the Lord help us!” exclaimed Chadwick. “In about the wuss whippin’
I ever got was from a young feller that was preachin’ an’ courtin’ in my
neighborhood. I sorter sassed him about a gal he was flyin’ around, an’
he upped an’ frailed me out, an’ got the gal to boot. Don’t tell me about
no preachers. Why, that chap flew at me like a Stonefence rooster, an’ he
fluttered twice to my once.”
“And have you been running from preachers ever since?” dryly inquired the
“Not as you may say, constantly a-runnin’,” replied Chadwick; “yit I
ain’t been a-flingin’ no sass at ’em; an’ my reason tells me for to give
’em the whole wedth of the big road when I meet ’em.”
“Well,” said the captain, “what will you do about this preacher?”
“A man in a corner,” responded Chadwick, “is obleeged to do the best he
kin. I’ll jest keep my eye on him, an’ the fust motion he makes, I’ll”—
“Run?” suggested the captain.
“Well, now,” said Chadwick, “a man in a corner can’t most ingener’lly
run. Git me hemmed in, an’ I’ll scratch an’ bite an’ scuffle the best way
I know how. It’s human natur’, an’ I’m mighty glad it is; for if that old
man’s eyes didn’t tell no lies we’ll have to scratch an’ scuffle before
we git away from this mountain.”
Captain Moseley bit his mustache and smiled grimly as the tired horses
toiled up the road. A vague idea of possible danger had crossed his mind
while talking to Uncle Billy Powers, but he dismissed it at once as a
matter of little importance to a soldier bent on carrying out his orders
at all hazards.
It was not long before the two travelers found themselves on a plateau
formed by a shoulder of the mountain. On this plateau were abundant
signs of life. Cattle were grazing about among the trees, chickens were
crowing, and in the distance could be heard the sound of a woman’s
voice singing. As they pressed forward along the level road they came
in sight of a cabin, and the blue smoke curling from its short chimney
was suggestive of hospitality. It was a comfortable-looking cabin, too,
flanked by several outhouses. The buildings, in contrast with the
majestic bulk of the mountain, that still rose precipitously skyward,
were curiously small, but there was an air of more than ordinary neatness
and coziness about them. And there were touches of feminine hands here
and there that made an impression—rows of well-kept boxwood winding like
a green serpent through the yard, and a privet hedge that gave promise of
rare sweetness in the spring.
As the soldiers approached, a dog barked, and then the singing ceased,
and the figure of a young girl appeared in the doorway, only to disappear
like a flash. This vision, vanishing with incredible swiftness, was
succeeded by a more substantial one in the shape of a motherly looking
woman, who stood gazing over her spectacles at the horsemen, apparently
undecided whether to frown or to smile. The smile would have undoubtedly
forced its way to the pleasant face in any event, for the years had
fashioned many a pathway for it, but just then Uncle Billy Powers himself
pushed the woman aside and made his appearance, laughing.
“’Light, boys, ’light!” he exclaimed, walking nimbly to the gate. “’Light
whilst I off wi’ your creeturs’ gear. Ah!” he went on, as he busied
himself unsaddling the horses, “you thought that while your Uncle Billy
was a-moonin’ aroun’ down the hill yander you’d steal a march on your
Aunt Crissy, an’ maybe come a-conscriptin’ of her into the army. But
not—not so! Your Uncle Billy has been here long enough to get his hands
an’ his face rested.”
“You must have been in a tremendous hurry,” said Captain Moseley,
remembering the weary length of mountain road he had climbed.
“Why, I could ’a’ tuck a nap an’ ’a’ beat you,” said the old man.
“Two miles of tough road, I should say,” responded Moseley.
“Go straight through my hoss lot and let yourself down by a saplin’
or two,” answered Uncle Billy, “an’ it ain’t more ’n a good quarter.”
Whereupon the old man laughed heartily.
“Jes leave the creeturs here,” he went on. “John Jeems an’ Fillmore will
ten’ to ’em whilst we go in an’ see what your Aunt Crissy is gwine to
give us for supper. You won’t find the grub so mighty various, but there
is plenty enough of what they is.”
There was just enough of deference in Aunt Crissy’s greeting to be
pleasing, and her unfeigned manifestations of hospitality soon caused
the guests to forget that they might possibly be regarded as intruders
in that peaceful region. Then there were the two boys, John Jeems and
Fillmore, both large enough, and old enough, as Captain Moseley quietly
observed to himself, to do military service, and both shy and awkward to
a degree. And then there was Polly, a young woman grown, whose smiles all
ran to blushes and dimples. Though she was grown, she had the ways of a
girl—the vivacity of health and good humor, and the innocent shyness of a
child of nature. Impulsive and demure by turns, her moods were whimsical
and elusive and altogether delightful. Her beauty, which illumined the
old cabin, was heightened by a certain quality that may be described as
individuality. Her face and hands were browned by the sun, but in her
cheeks the roses of youth and health played constantly. There is nothing
more charming to the eye of man than the effects produced when modesty
parts company with mere formality and conventionality. Polly, who was as
shy as a ground squirrel and as graceful, never pestered herself about
formalities. Innocence is not infrequently a very delightful form of
boldness. It was so in the case of Polly Powers, at any rate.
The two rough soldiers, unused to the society of women, were far more
awkward and constrained than the young woman, but they enjoyed the big
fire and the comfortable supper none the less on that account. When, to
employ Mrs. Powers’s vernacular, “the things were put away,” they brought
forth their pipes; and they felt so contented that Captain Moseley
reproved himself by suggesting that it might be well for them to proceed
on their journey up the mountain. But their hosts refused to listen to
such a proposal.
“Not so,” exclaimed Uncle Billy; “by no means. Why, if you knowed this
hill like we all, you’d hoot at the bar’ idee of gwine further after
nightfall. Besides,” the old man went on, looking keenly at his daughter,
“ten to one you won’t find Spurlock.”
Polly had been playing with her hair, which was caught in a single
plait and tied with a bit of scarlet ribbon. When Spurlock’s name was
mentioned she used the plait as a whip, and struck herself impatiently in
the hand with the glossy black thong, and then threw it behind her, where
it hung dangling nearly to the floor.
“Now I tell you what, boys,” said Uncle Billy, after a little pause; “I’d
jes like to know who is at the bottom of this Spurlock business. You all
may have took a notion that he’s a no-’count sorter chap—an’ he is kinder
puny; but what does the army want with a puny man?”
“It’s the law,” said Captain Moseley, simply, perceiving that his mission
was clearly understood. “He is old enough and strong enough to serve in
the army. The law calls for him, and he’ll have to go. The law wants him
now worse than ever.”
“Yes,” said private Chadwick, gazing into the glowing embers—“lots
“What’s the matter along of him now?” inquired Mrs. Powers, knocking the
ashes from her pipe against the chimney jamb.
“He’s a deserter,” said Chadwick.
“Tooby shore!” exclaimed Mrs. Powers. “An’ what do they do wi’ ’em, then?”
For answer Private Chadwick passed his right hand rapidly around his
neck, caught hold of an imaginary rope, and looked upwards at the
rafters, rolling his eyes and distorting his features as though he were
strangling. It was a very effective pantomime. Uncle Billy shook his head
and groaned, Aunt Crissy lifted her hands in horror, and then both looked
at Polly. That young lady had risen from her chair and made a step toward
Chadwick. Her eyes were blazing.
“You’ll be hung long before Israel Spurlock!” she cried, her voice thick
with anger. Before another word had been said she swept from the room,
leaving Chadwick sitting there with his mouth wide open.
“Don’t let Polly pester you,” said Uncle Billy, smiling a little at
Chadwick’s discomfiture. “She thinks the world an’ all of Sister
Spurlock, an’ she’s been a-knowin’ Israel a mighty long time.”
“Yes,” said Aunt Crissy, with a sigh; “the poor child is hot-headed an’
high-tempered. I reckon we’ve sp’ilt ’er. ’T ain’t hard to spile a gal
when you hain’t got but one.”
Before Chadwick could make reply a shrill, querulous voice was heard
coming from the room into which Polly had gone. The girl had evidently
aroused some one who was more than anxious to engage in a war of words.
“Lord A’mighty massy! whar’s any peace?” the shrill voice exclaimed.
“What chance on the top side of the yeth is a poor sick creetur got? Oh,
what makes you come a-tromplin’ on the floor like a drove of wild hosses,
an’ a-shakin’ the clabberds on the roof? I know! I know!”—the voice here
almost rose to a shriek,—“it’s ’cause I’m sick an’ weak, an’ can’t he’p
myself. Lord! ef I but had strength!”
At this point Polly’s voice broke in, but what she said could only be
guessed by the noise in the next room.
“Well, what ef the house an’ yard was full of ’em? Who’s afeard? After
Spurlock? Who keers? Hain’t Spurlock got no friends on Sugar Mountain?
Ef they are after Spurlock, ain’t Spurlock got as good a right for to be
after them? Oh, go ’way! Gals hain’t got no sense. Go ’way! Go tell your
pappy to come here an’ he’p me in my cheer. Oh, go on!”
Polly had no need to go, however. Uncle Billy rose promptly and went into
the next room.
“Hit’s daddy,” said Aunt Crissy, by way of explanation. “Lord! daddy used
to be a mighty man in his young days, but he’s that wasted wi’ the palsy
that he hain’t more ’n a shadder of what he was. He’s jes like a baby,
an’ he’s mighty quar’lsome when the win’ sets in from the east.”
According to all symptoms the wind was at that moment setting terribly
from the east. There was a sound of shuffling in the next room, and
then Uncle Billy Powers came into the room, bearing in his stalwart
arms a big rocking-chair containing a little old man whose body and
limbs were shriveled and shrunken. Only his head, which seemed to be
abnormally large, had escaped the ravages of whatever disease had seized
him. His eyes were bright as a bird’s and his forehead was noble in its
“Gentlemen,” said Uncle Billy, “this here is Colonel Dick Watson. He used
to be a big politicianer in his day an’ time. He’s my father-in-law.”
Uncle Billy seemed to be wonderfully proud of his connection with Colonel
Watson. As for the Colonel, he eyed the strangers closely, apparently
forgetting to respond to their salutation.
“I reckon you think it’s mighty fine, thish ’ere business er gwine ter
war whar they hain’t nobody but peaceable folks,” exclaimed the colonel,
his shrill, metallic voice being in curious contrast to his emaciated
“Daddy!” said Mrs. Powers in a warning tone.
“Lord A’mighty! don’t pester me, Crissy Jane. Hain’t I done seed war
before? When I was in the legislatur’ didn’t the boys rig up an’ march
away to Mexico? But you know yourself,” the colonel went on, turning to
Uncle Billy’s guests, “that this hain’t Mexico, an’ that they hain’t no
war gwine on on this ’ere hill. You know that mighty well.”
“But there’s a tolerable big one going on over yonder,” said Captain
Moseley, with a sweep of his hand to the westward.
“Now, you don’t say!” exclaimed Colonel Watson, sarcastically. “A big war
going on an’ you all quiled up here before the fire, out ’n sight an’ out
’n hearin’! Well, well, well!”
“We are here on business,” said Captain Moseley, gently.
“Tooby shore!” said the Colonel, with a sinister screech that was
intended to simulate laughter. “You took the words out ’n my mouth. I was
in-about ready to say it when you upped an’ said it yourself. War gwine
on over yander an’ you all up here on business. Crissy Jane,” remarked
the colonel in a different tone, “come here an’ wipe my face an’ see
ef I’m a-sweatin’. Ef I’m a-sweatin’, hit’s the fust time since Sadday
Mrs. Powers mopped her father’s face, and assured him that she felt
symptoms of perspiration.
“Oh, yes!” continued the colonel. “Business here an’ war yander. I hear
tell that you er after Israel Spurlock. Lord A’mighty above us! What er
you after Israel for? He hain’t got no niggers for to fight for. All the
fightin’ he can do is to fight for his ole mammy.”
Captain Moseley endeavored to explain to Colonel Watson why his duty made
it imperatively necessary to carry Spurlock back to the conscript camp,
but in the midst of it all the old man cried out:—
“Oh, I know who sent you!”
“Who?” the captain said.
“Nobody but Wesley Lovejoy!”
Captain Moseley made no response, but gazed into the fire. Chadwick, on
the other hand, when Lovejoy’s name was mentioned, slapped himself on the
leg, and straightened himself up with the air of a man who has made an
“Come, now,” Colonel Watson insisted, “hain’t it so? Didn’t Wesley
Lovejoy send you?”
“Well,” said Moseley, “a man named Lovejoy is on Colonel Waring’s staff,
and he gave me my orders.”
At this the old man fairly shrieked with laughter, and so sinister was
its emphasis that the two soldiers felt the cold chills creeping up their
“What is the matter with Lovejoy?” It was Chadwick who spoke.
“Oh, wait!” cried Colonel Watson; “thes wait. You mayn’t want to wait,
but you’ll have to. I may look like I’m mighty puny, an’ I ’spec’ I am,
but I hain’t dead yit. Lord A’mighty, no! Not by a long shot!”
There was a pause here, during which Aunt Crissy remarked, in a helpless
sort of way:—
“I wonder wher’ Polly is, an’ what she’s a-doin’?”
“Don’t pester ’long of Polly,” snapped the paralytic. “She knows what
“About this Wesley Lovejoy,” said Captain Moseley, turning to the old
man: “you seem to know him very well.”
“You hear that, William!” exclaimed Colonel Watson. “He asts me ef I know
Wes. Lovejoy! Do I know him? Why, the triflin’ houn’! I’ve knowed him
ev’ry sence he was big enough to rob a hen-roos’.”
Uncle Billy Powers, in his genial way, tried to change the current of
conversation, and he finally succeeded, but it was evident that Adjutant
Lovejoy had one enemy, if not several, in that humble household. Such was
the feeling for Spurlock and contempt for Wesley Lovejoy that Captain
Moseley and Private Chadwick felt themselves to be interlopers, and
they once more suggested the necessity of pursuing their journey. This
suggestion seemed to amuse the paralytic, who laughed loudly.
“Lord A’mighty!” he exclaimed, “I know how you feel, an’ I don’t blame
you for feelin’ so; but don’t you go up the mountain this night. Thes
stay right whar you is, beca’se ef you don’t you’ll make all your
friends feel bad for you. Don’t ast me how, don’t ast me why. Thes you
stay. Come an’ put me to bed, William, an’ don’t let these folks go out
’n the house this night.”
Uncle Billy carried the old man into the next room, tucked him away in
his bed, and then came back. Conversation lagged to such an extent that
Aunt Crissy once more felt moved to inquire about Polly. Uncle Billy
responded with a sweeping gesture of his right hand, which might mean
much or little. To the two Confederates it meant nothing, but to Aunt
Crissy it said that Polly had gone up the mountain in the rain and cold.
Involuntarily the woman shuddered and drew nearer the fire.
It was in fact a venturesome journey that Polly had undertaken. Hardened
as she was to the weather, familiar as she was with the footpaths that
led up and down and around the face of the mountain, her heart rose in
her mouth when she found herself fairly on the way to Israel Spurlock’s
house. The darkness was almost overwhelming in its intensity. As Uncle
Billy Powers remarked while showing the two Confederates to their beds
in the “shed-room,” there “was a solid chunk of it from one eend of
creation to t’ other.” The rain, falling steadily but not heavily, was
bitterly cold, and it was made more uncomfortable by the wind, which rose
and fell with a muffled roar, like the sigh of some Titanic spirit flying
hither and yonder in the wild recesses of the sky. Bold as she was, the
girl was appalled by the invisible contention that seemed to be going on
in the elements above her, and more than once she paused, ready to flee,
as best she could, back to the light and warmth she had left behind; but
the gesture of Chadwick, with its cruel significance, would recur to
her, and then, clenching her teeth, she would press blindly on. She was
carrying a message of life and freedom to Israel Spurlock.
With the rain dripping from her hair and her skirts, her face and hands
benumbed with cold, but with every nerve strung to the highest tension
and every faculty alert to meet whatever danger might present itself,
Polly struggled up the mountain path, feeling her way as best she could,
and pulling herself along by the aid of the friendly saplings and the
After a while—and it seemed a long while to Polly, contending with the
fierce forces of the night and beset by a thousand doubts and fears—she
could hear Spurlock’s dogs barking. What if the two soldiers, suspecting
her mission, had mounted their horses and outstripped her? She had no
time to remember the difficulties of the mountain road, nor did she know
that she had been on her journey not more than half an hour. She was
too excited either to reason or to calculate. Gathering her skirts in
her hands as she rose to the level of the clearing, Polly rushed across
it towards the little cabin, tore open the frail little gate, and flung
herself against the door with a force that shook the house.
Old Mrs. Spurlock was spinning, while Israel carded the rolls for her.
The noise that Polly made against the door startled them both. The thread
broke in Mrs. Spurlock’s hand, and one part of it curled itself on the
end of the broach with a buzz that whirled it into a fantastically
tangled mass. The cards dropped from Israel’s hands with a clatter that
added to his mother’s excitement.
“Did anybody ever hear the beat of that?” she exclaimed. “Run, Iserl, an’
see what it is that’s a-tryin’ to tear the roof off ’n the house.”
Israel did not need to be told, nor did Mrs. Spurlock wait for him to go.
They reached the door together, and when Israel threw it open they saw
Polly Powers standing there, pale, trembling, and dripping.
“Polly!” cried Israel, taking her by the arm. He could say no more.
“In the name er the Lord!” exclaimed Mrs. Spurlock, “wher’ ’d you drop
from? You look more like a drownded ghost than you does like folks. Come
right in here an’ dry yourse’f. What in the name of mercy brung you out
in sech weather? Who’s dead or a-dyin’? Why, look at the gal!” Mrs.
Spurlock went on in a louder tone, seeing that Polly stood staring at
them with wide-open eyes, her face as pale as death.
“Have they come?” gasped Polly.
“Listen at ’er, Iserl! I b’lieve in my soul she’s done gone an’ run
ravin’ deestracted. Shake ’er, Iserl; shake ’er.”
For answer Polly dropped forward into Mrs. Spurlock’s arms, all wet as
she was, and there fell to crying in a way that was quite alarming to
Israel, who was not familiar with feminine peculiarities. Mrs. Spurlock
soothed Polly as she would have soothed a baby, and half carried, half
led her to the fireplace. Israel, who was standing around embarrassed
and perplexed, was driven out of the room, and soon Polly was decked
out in dry clothes. These “duds,” as Mrs. Spurlock called them, were
ill-fitting and ungraceful, but in Israel’s eyes the girl was just as
beautiful as ever. She was even more beautiful when, fully recovered from
her excitement, she told with sparkling eyes and heightened color the
story she had to tell.
Mrs. Spurlock listened with the keenest interest, and with many an
exclamation of indignation, while Israel heard it with undisguised
admiration for the girl. He seemed to enjoy the whole proceeding, and
when Polly in the ardor and excitement of her narration betrayed an
almost passionate interest in his probable fate, he rubbed his hands
slowly together and laughed softly to himself.
“An’ jest to think,” exclaimed Polly, when she had finished her story,
“that that there good-for-nothin’ Wesley Lovejoy had the imperdence to
ast me to have him no longer ’n last year, an’ he’s been a-flyin’ round
“I seed him a-droppin’ his wing,” said Israel, laughing. “I reckon
that’s the reason he’s after me so hot. But never you mind, mammy; you
thes look after the gal that’s gwine to be your daughter-in-law, an’ I’ll
look after your son.”
“Go off, you goose!” cried Polly, blushing and smiling. “Ef they hang
you, whose daughter-in-law will I be then?”
“The Lord knows!” exclaimed Israel, with mock seriousness. “They tell me
that Lovejoy is an orphan!”
“You must be crazy,” cried Polly, indignantly. “I hope you don’t think
I’d marry that creetur. I wouldn’t look at him if he was the last man.
You better be thinkin’ about your goozle.”
“It’s ketchin’ befo’ hangin’,” said Israel.
“They’ve mighty nigh got you now,” said Polly. Just then a hickory nut
dropped on the roof of the house, and the noise caused the girl to start
up with an exclamation of terror.
“You thought they had me then,” said Israel, as he rose and stood before
the fire, rubbing his hands together, and seeming to enjoy most keenly
the warm interest the girl manifested in his welfare.
“Oh, I wisht you’d cut an’ run,” pleaded Polly, covering her face with
her hands; “they’ll be here therreckly.”
Israel was not a bad-looking fellow as he stood before the fire laughing.
He was a very agreeable variation of the mountain type. He was angular,
but neither stoop-shouldered nor cadaverous. He was awkward in his
manners, but very gracefully fashioned. In point of fact, as Mrs. Powers
often remarked, Israel was “not to be sneezed at.”
After a while he became thoughtful. “I jest tell you what,” he said,
kicking the chunks vigorously, and sending little sparks of fire skipping
and cracking about the room. “This business puzzles me—I jest tell you
it does. That Wes. Lovejoy done like he was the best friend I had. He
was constantly huntin’ me up in camp, an’ when I told him I would like
to come home an’ git mammy’s crap in, he jest laughed an’ said he didn’t
reckon I’d be missed much, an’ now he’s a-houndin’ me down. What has the
man got agin me?”
Polly knew, but she didn’t say. Mrs. Spurlock suspected, but she made no
effort to enlighten Israel. Polly knew that Lovejoy was animated by blind
jealousy, and her instinct taught her that a jealous man is usually a
dangerous one. Taking advantage of one of the privileges of her sex,
she had at one time carried on a tremendous flirtation with Lovejoy.
She had intended to amuse herself simply, but she had kindled fires she
was powerless to quench. Lovejoy had taken her seriously, and she knew
well enough that he regarded Israel Spurlock as a rival. She had reason
to suspect, too, that Lovejoy had pointed out Israel to the conscript
officers, and that the same influence was controlling and directing the
pursuit now going on.
Under the circumstances, her concern—her alarm, indeed—was natural. She
and Israel had been sweethearts for years,—real sure-enough sweethearts,
as she expressed it to her grandfather,—and they were to be married in
a short while; just as soon, in fact, as the necessary preliminaries
of clothes-making and cake-baking could be disposed of. She thought
nothing of her feat of climbing the mountain in the bitter cold and the
overwhelming rain. She would have taken much larger risks than that;
she would have faced any danger her mind could conceive of. And Israel
appreciated it all; nay, he fairly gloated over it. He stood before
the fire fairly hugging the fact to his bosom. His face glowed, and his
whole attitude was one of exultation; and with it, shaping every gesture
and movement, was a manifestation of fearlessness which was all the more
impressive because it was unconscious.
This had a tendency to fret Polly, whose alarm for Israel’s safety was
“Oh, I do wisht you’d go on,” she cried; “them men’ll shorely ketch you
ef you keep on a-stayin’ here a-winkin’ an’ a-gwine on makin’ monkey
“Shoo!” exclaimed Israel. “Ef the house was surrounded by forty thousan’
of ’em, I’d git by ’em, an’, ef need be, take you wi’ me.”
While they were talking the dogs began to bark. At the first sound Polly
rose from her chair with her arms outstretched, but fell back pale and
trembling. Israel had disappeared as if by magic, and Mrs. Spurlock was
calmly lighting her pipe by filling it with hot embers. It was evidently
a false alarm, for, after a while, Israel backed through the doorway and
closed the door again with comical alacrity.
“Sh-sh-sh!” he whispered, with a warning gesture, seeing that Polly was
about to protest. “Don’t make no fuss. The dogs has been a-barkin’ at
sperits an’ things. Jest keep right still.”
He went noiselessly about the room, picking up first one thing and
then another. Over one shoulder he flung a canteen, and over the
other a hunting-horn. Into his coat-pocket he thrust an old-fashioned
powder-flask. Meanwhile his mother was busy gathering together such
articles as Israel might need. His rifle she placed by the door, and
then she filled a large homespun satchel with a supply of victuals—a
baked fowl, a piece of smoked beef, and a big piece of light bread. These
preparations were swiftly and silently made. When everything seemed to be
ready for his departure Israel presented the appearance of a peddler.
“I’m goin’ up to the Rock,” he said, by way of explanation, “an’ light
the fire. Maybe the boys’ll see it, an’ maybe they won’t. Leastways
they’re mighty apt to smell the smoke.”
Then, without further farewell, he closed the door and stepped out into
the darkness, leaving the two women sitting by the hearth. They sat
there for hours, gazing into the fire and scarcely speaking to each
other. The curious reticence that seems to be developed and assiduously
cultivated by the dwellers on the mountains took possession of them. The
confidences and sympathies they had in common were those of observation
and experience, rather than the result of an interchange of views and
Towards morning the drizzling rain ceased, and the wind, changing its
direction, sent the clouds flying to the east, whence they had come.
About dawn, Private Chadwick, who had slept most soundly, was aroused
by the barking of the dogs, and got up to look after the horses. As he
slipped quietly out of the house he saw a muffled figure crossing the
“Halt!” he cried, giving the challenge of a sentinel. “Who goes there?”
“Nobody ner nothin’ that’ll bite you, I reckon,” was the somewhat
snappish response. It was the voice of Polly. She was looking up and
across the mountains to where a bright red glare was reflected on the
scurrying clouds. The density of the atmosphere was such that the
movements of the flames were photographed on the clouds, rising and
falling, flaring and fading, as though the dread spirits of the storm
were waving their terrible red banners from the mountain.
“What can that be?” asked Chadwick, after he had watched the singular
spectacle a moment.
Polly laughed aloud, almost joyously. She knew it was Israel’s beacon.
She knew that these red reflections, waving over the farther spur of the
mountain and over the valley that nestled so peacefully below, would
summon half a hundred men and boys—the entire congregation of Antioch
Church, where her father was in the habit of holding forth on the first
Sunday of each month. She knew that Israel was safe, and the knowledge
restored her good humor.
“What did you say it was?” Chadwick inquired again, his curiosity
insisting on an explanation.
“It’s jest a fire, I reckon,” Polly calmly replied. “Ef it’s a house
burnin’ down, it can’t be holp. Water couldn’t save it now.”
Whereupon she pulled the shawl from over her head, tripped into the
house, and went about preparing breakfast, singing merrily. Chadwick
watched her as she passed and repassed from the rickety kitchen to the
house, and when the light grew clearer he thought he saw on her face a
look that he did not understand. It was indeed an inscrutable expression,
and it would have puzzled a wiser man than Chadwick. He chopped some
wood, brought some water, and made himself generally useful; but he
received no thanks from Polly. She ignored him as completely as if he had
All this set the private to thinking. Now a man who reflects much usually
thinks out a theory to fit everything that he fails to understand.
Chadwick thought out his theory while the girl was getting breakfast
It was not long before the two soldiers were on their way up the
mountain, nor was it long before Chadwick began to unfold his theory,
and in doing so he managed to straighten it by putting together various
little facts that occurred to him as he talked.
“I tell you what, Captain,” he said, as soon as they were out of hearing;
“that gal’s a slick ’un. It’s my belief that we are gwine on a fool’s
errand. ’Stead of gwine towards Spurlock, we’re gwine straight away
from ’im. When that gal made her disappearance last night she went an’
found Spurlock, an’ ef he ain’t a natchul born fool he tuck to the woods.
Why, the shawl the gal had on her head this mornin’ was soakin’ wet.
It weren’t rainin’, an’ hadn’t been for a right smart while. How come
the shawl wet? They weren’t but one way. It got wet by rubbin’ agin the
bushes an’ the limbs er the trees.”
This theory was plausible enough to impress itself on Captain Moseley.
“What is to be done, then?” he asked.
“Well, the Lord knows what ought to be done,” said Chadwick; “but I
reckon the best plan is to sorter scatter out an’ skirmish aroun’ a
little bit. We’d better divide our army. You go up the mountain an’ git
Spurlock, if he’s up thar, an’ let me take my stan’ on the ridge yander
an’ keep my eye on Uncle Billy’s back yard an’ hoss lot. If Spurlock is
r’ally tuck to the woods, he’ll be mighty apt to be slinkin’ ’roun’ whar
the gal is.”
Captain Moseley assented to this plan, and proceeded to put it in
execution as soon as he and Chadwick were a safe distance from Uncle
Billy Powers’s house. Chadwick, dismounting, led his horse along a
cow-path that ran at right angles to the main road, and was soon lost to
sight, while the captain rode forward on his mission.
Of the two, as it turned out, the captain had much the more comfortable
experience. He reached the Spurlock house in the course of three-quarters
of an hour.
In response to his halloo Mrs. Spurlock came to the door.
“I was a-spinnin’ away for dear life,” she remarked, brushing her gray
hair from her face, “when all of a sudden I hearn a fuss, an’ I ’lows ter
myself, says I, ‘I’ll be boun’ that’s some one a-hailin’,’ says I; an’
then I dropped ever’thin’ an’ run ter the door an’ shore enough it was.
Won’t you ’light an’ come in?” she inquired with ready hospitality. Her
tone was polite, almost obsequious.
“Is Mr. Israel Spurlock at home?” the captain asked.
“Not, as you might say, adzackly at home, but I reckon in reason it won’t
be long before he draps in. He hain’t had his breakfas’ yit, though hit’s
been a-waitin’ for him tell hit’s stone col’. The cows broke out last
night, an’ he went off a-huntin’ of ’em time it was light good. Iserl is
thes ez rank after his milk ez some folks is after the’r dram. I says,
says I, ‘Shorely you kin do ’thout your milk one mornin’ in the year;’
but he wouldn’t nigh hear ter that. He thes up an’ bolted off.”
“I’ll ride on,” said the captain. “Maybe I’ll meet him coming back.
It was an uneventful ride, but Captain Moseley noted one curious fact. He
had not proceeded far when he met two men riding down the mountain. Each
carried a rifle flung across his saddle in front of him. They responded
gravely to the captain’s salutation.
“Have you seen Israel Spurlock this morning?” he asked.
“No, sir, I hain’t saw him,” answered one. The other shook his head. Then
they rode on down the mountain.
A little farther on Captain Moseley met four men. These were walking,
but each was armed—three with rifles, and one with a shot-gun. They had
not seen Spurlock. At intervals he met more than a dozen—some riding and
some walking, but all armed. At last he met two that presented something
of a contrast to the others. They were armed, it is true; but they were
laughing and singing as they went along the road, and while they had not
seen Spurlock with their own eyes, as they said, they knew he must be
farther up the mountain, for they had heard of him as they came along.
Riding and winding around upward, Captain Moseley presently saw a
queer-looking little chap coming towards him. The little man had a gray
beard, and as he walked he had a movement like a camel. Like a camel,
too, he had a great hump on his back. His legs were as long as any man’s,
but his whole body seemed to be contracted in his hump. He was very spry,
too, moving along as active as a boy, and there was an elfish expression
on his face such as one sees in old picture-books—a cunning, leering
expression, which yet had for its basis the element of humor. The little
man carried a rifle longer than himself, which he flourished about with
surprising ease and dexterity—practicing apparently some new and peculiar
“Have you seen Israel Spurlock?” inquired Captain Moseley, reining in his
“Yes! Oh, yes! Goodness gracious, yes!” replied the little man, grinning
“Where is he now?” asked the captain.
“All about. Yes! All around! Gracious, yes!” responded the little man,
with a sweeping gesture that took in the whole mountain. Then he seemed
to be searching eagerly in the road for something. Suddenly pausing,
he exclaimed: “Here’s his track right now! Oh, yes! Right fresh, too!
“Where are you going?” Moseley asked, smiling at the antics of the little
man, their nimbleness being out of all proportion to his deformity.
For answer the little man whirled his rifle over his hump and under his
arm, and caught it as it went flying into the air. Then he held it at a
“ready,” imitating the noise of the lock with his mouth, took aim and
made believe to fire, all with indescribable swiftness and precision.
Captain Moseley rode on his way laughing; but, laugh as he would, he
could not put out of his mind the queer impression the little man had
made on him, nor could he rid himself of a feeling of uneasiness. Taking
little notice of the landmarks that ordinarily attract the notice of
the traveler in a strange country, he suddenly found himself riding
along a level stretch of tableland. The transformation was complete. The
country roads seemed to cross and recross here, coming and going in every
direction. He rode by a little house that stood alone in the level wood,
and he rightly judged it to be a church. He drew rein and looked around
him. Everything was unfamiliar. In the direction from which he supposed
he had come, a precipice rose sheer from the tableland more than three
hundred feet. At that moment he heard a shout, and looking up he beheld
the hunchback flourishing his long rifle and cutting his queer capers.
The situation was so puzzling that Captain Moseley passed his hand
over his eyes, as if to brush away a scene that confused his mind and
obstructed his vision. He turned his horse and rode back the way he had
come, but it seemed to be so unfamiliar that he chose another road, and
in the course of a quarter of an hour he was compelled to acknowledge
that he was lost. Everything appeared to be turned around, even the
Meanwhile Private Chadwick was having an experience of his own. In
parting from Captain Moseley he led his horse through the bushes,
following for some distance a cow-path. This semblance of a trail
terminated in a “blind path,” and this Chadwick followed as best he
could, picking his way cautiously and choosing ground over which his
horse could follow. He had to be very careful. There were no leaves on
the trees, and the undergrowth was hardly thick enough to conceal him
from the keen eyes of the mountaineers. Finally he tied his horse in a
thicket of black-jacks, where he had the whole of Uncle Billy Powers’s
little farm under his eye. His position was not an uncomfortable one.
Sheltered from the wind, he had nothing to do but sit on a huge chestnut
log and ruminate, and make a note of the comings and goings on Uncle
Sitting thus, Chadwick fell to thinking; thinking, he fell into a doze.
He caught himself nodding more than once, and upbraided himself bitterly.
Still he nodded—he, a soldier on duty at his post. How long he slept he
could not tell, but he suddenly awoke to find himself dragged backward
from the log by strong hands. He would have made some resistance, for he
was a fearless man at heart and a tough one to handle in a knock-down
and drag-out tussle; but resistance was useless. He had been taken at
a disadvantage, and before he could make a serious effort in his own
behalf, he was lying flat on his back, with his hands tied, and as
helpless as an infant. He looked up and discovered that his captor was
“Well, blame my scaly hide!” exclaimed Chadwick, making an involuntary
effort to free his hands. “You’re the identical man I’m a-huntin’.”
“An’ now you’re sorry you went an’ foun’ me, I reckon,” said Israel.
“Well, I ain’t as glad as I ’lowed I’d be,” said Chadwick. “Yit nuther am
I so mighty sorry. One way or ’nother I knowed in reason I’d run up on
“You’re mighty right,” responded Israel, smiling not ill-naturedly. “You
fell in my arms same as a gal in a honeymoon. Lemme lift you up, as the
mule said when he kicked the nigger over the fence. Maybe you’ll look
purtier when you swap een’s.” Thereupon Israel helped Chadwick to his
“You ketched me that time, certain and shore,” said the latter, looking
at Spurlock and laughing; “they ain’t no two ways about that. I was
a-settin’ on the log thar, a-noddin’ an’ a-dreamin’ ’bout Christmas. ’T
ain’t many days off, I reckon.”
“Oh, yes!” exclaimed Spurlock, sarcastically; “a mighty purty dream, I
bet a hoss. You was fixin’ up for to cram me in Lovejoy’s stockin’. A
mighty nice present I’d ’a’ been, tooby shore. Stidder hangin’ up his
stockin’, Lovejoy was a-aimin’ for to hang me up. Oh, yes! Christmas
dreams is so mighty nice an’ fine, I’m a great min’ to set right down
here an’ have one er my own—one of them kin’ er dreams what’s got forked
tail an’ fireworks mixed up on it.”
“Well,” said Chadwick, with some seriousness, “whose stockin’ is you
a-gwine to cram me in?”
“In whose else’s but Danny Lemmons’s? An’ won’t he holler an’ take on?
Why, I wouldn’t miss seein’ Danny Lemmons take on for a hat full er
shinplasters. Dang my buttons ef I would!”
Chadwick looked at his captor with some curiosity. There was not a trace
of ill-feeling or bad humor in Spurlock’s tone, nor in his attitude.
The situation was so queer that it was comical, and Chadwick laughed
aloud as he thought about it. In this Spurlock heartily joined him, and
the situation would have seemed doubly queer to a passer-by chancing
along and observing captor and prisoner laughing and chatting so amiably
“Who, in the name of goodness, is Danny Lemmons?”
“Lord!” exclaimed Spurlock, lifting both hands, “don’t ast me about
Danny Lemmons. He’s—he’s—well, I tell you what, he’s the bull er the
woods, Danny Lemmons is; nuther more ner less. He hain’t bigger ’n my
two fists, an’ he’s ’flicted, an’ he’s all crippled up in his back, whar
he had it broke when he was a baby, an’ yit he’s in-about the peartest
man on the mountain, an’ he’s the toughest an’ the sooplest. An’ more ’n
that, he’s got them things up here,” Spurlock went on, tapping his head
significantly. Chadwick understood this to mean that Lemmons, whatever
might be his afflictions, had brains enough and to spare.
There was a pause in the conversation, and then Chadwick, looking at his
bound wrists, which were beginning to chafe and swell, spoke up.
“What’s your will wi’ me?” he asked.
“Well,” said Spurlock, rising to his feet, “I’m a-gwine to empty your
gun, an’ tote your pistol for you, an’ invite you down to Uncle Billy’s.
Oh, you needn’t worry,” he went on, observing Chadwick’s disturbed
expression, “they’re expectin’ of you. Polly’s tol’ ’em you’d likely come
“How did Polly know?” Chadwick inquired.
“Danny Lemmons tol’ ’er.”
“By George!” exclaimed Chadwick, “the woods is full of Danny Lemmons.”
“Why, bless your heart,” said Spurlock, “he thes swarms roun’ here.”
After Spurlock had taken the precaution to possess himself of Chadwick’s
arms and ammunition, he cut the cords that bound his prisoner’s hands,
and the two went down the mountain, chatting as pleasantly and as
sociably as two boon companions. Chadwick found no lack of hospitality at
Uncle Billy Powers’s house. His return was taken as a matter of course,
and he was made welcome. Nevertheless, his entertainers betrayed a spirit
of levity that might have irritated a person less self-contained.
“I see he’s ketched you, Iserl,” remarked Uncle Billy, with a twinkle in
his eye. “He ’lowed las’ night as how he’d fetch you back wi’ him.”
“Yes,” said Israel, “he thes crope up on me. It’s mighty hard for to fool
these army fellers.”
Then and afterward the whole family pretended to regard Spurlock as
Chadwick’s prisoner. This was not a joke for the latter to relish, but it
was evidently not intended to be offensive, and he could do no less than
humor it. He accepted the situation philosophically. He even prepared
himself to relish Captain Moseley’s astonishment when he returned and
discovered the true state of affairs. As the day wore away it occurred
to Chadwick that the captain was in no hurry to return. Even Uncle Billy
Powers grew uneasy.
“Now, I do hope an’ trust he ain’t gone an’ lost his temper up thar in
the woods,” remarked Uncle Billy. “I hope it from the bottom of my heart.
These here wars an’ rumors of wars makes the folks mighty restless.
They’ll take resks now what they wouldn’t dassent to of tuck before
this here rippit begun, an’ it’s done got so now human life ain’t wuth
shucks. The boys up here ain’t no better ’n the rest. They fly to pieces
quicker ’n they ever did.”
No trouble, however, had come to Captain Moseley. Though he was confused
in his bearings, he was as serene and as unruffled as when training
a company of raw conscripts in the art of war. After an unsuccessful
attempt to find the road he gave his horse the rein, and that sensible
animal, his instinct sharpened by remembrance of Uncle Billy Powers’s
corn-crib and fodder, moved about at random until he found that he was
really at liberty to go where he pleased, and then he turned short about,
struck a little canter, and was soon going down the road by which he had
come. The captain was as proud of this feat as if it were due to his own
intelligence, and he patted the horse’s neck in an approving way.
As Captain Moseley rode down the mountain, reflecting, it occurred to him
that his expedition was taking a comical shape. He had gone marching up
the hill, and now he came marching down again, and Israel Spurlock, so
far as the captain knew, was as far from being a captive as ever—perhaps
farther. Thinking it all over in a somewhat irritated frame of mind,
Moseley remembered Lovejoy’s eagerness to recapture Spurlock. He
remembered, also, what he had heard the night before, and it was in no
pleasant mood that he thought it all over. It was such an insignificant,
such a despicable affair, two men carrying out the jealous whim of a
little militia politician.
“It is enough, by George!” exclaimed Captain Moseley aloud, “to make a
sensible man sick.”
“Lord, yes!” cried out a voice behind him. Looking around, he saw the
hunchback following him. “That’s what I tell ’em; goodness, yes!”
“Now, look here!” said Captain Moseley, reining in his horse, and
speaking somewhat sharply. “Are you following me, or am I following you?
I don’t want to be dogged after in the bushes, much less in the big road.”
“Ner me nurther,” said the hunchback, in the cheerfulest manner. “An’
then thar’s Spurlock—Lord, yes; I hain’t axt him about it, but I bet a
hoss he don’t like to be dogged atter nuther.”
“My friend,” said Captain Moseley, “you seem to have a quick tongue.
What is your name?”
“Danny Lemmons,” said the other. “Now don’t say I look like I ought to be
squoze. Ever’body inginer’lly says that,” he went on with a grimace, “but
I’ve squoze lots more than what’s ever squoze me. Lord, yes! Yes, siree!
Men an’ gals tergether. You ax ’em, an’ they’ll tell you.”
“Lemmons,” said the captain, repeating the name slowly. “Well, you look
“Boo!” cried Danny Lemmons, making a horrible grimace; “you don’t know
what you’re a-talkin’ about. The gals all ’low I’m mighty sweet. You
ought to see me when I’m rigged out in my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ duds.
Polly Powers she ’lows I look snatchin’. Lord, yes! Yes, siree! I’m gwine
down to Polly’s house now.”
Whereat he broke out singing, paraphrasing an old negro ditty, and
capering about in the woods like mad.
“Oh, I went down to Polly’s house,
An’ she was not at home;
I set myself in the big arm-cheer
An’ beat on the ol’ jaw bone.
Oh, rise up, Polly! Slap ’im on the jaw,
An hit ’im in the eyeball—bim!”
The song finished, Danny Lemmons walked on down the road ahead of the
horse in the most unconcerned manner. It was part of Captain Moseley’s
plan to stop at Mrs. Spurlock’s and inquire for Israel. This seemed to
be a part of Danny’s plan also, for he turned out of the main road and
went ahead, followed by the captain. There were quite a number of men at
Mrs. Spurlock’s when Moseley rode up, and he noticed that all were armed.
Some were standing listlessly about, leaning against the trees, some were
sitting in various postures, and others were squatting around whittling:
but all had their guns within easy reach. Mrs. Spurlock was walking
about among them smoking her pipe. By the strained and awkward manner
of the men as they returned his salutation, or by some subtle instinct
he could not explain, Captain Moseley knew that these men were waiting
for him, and that he was their prisoner. The very atmosphere seemed to
proclaim the fact. Under his very eyes Danny Lemmons changed from a
grinning buffoon into a quiet, self-contained man trained to the habit of
command. Recognizing the situation, the old soldier made the most of it
by retaining his good humor.
“Well, boys,” he said, flinging a leg over the pommel of his saddle, “I
hope you are not tired waiting for me.” The men exchanged glances in a
curious, shame-faced sort of way.
“No,” said one; “we was thes a-settin’ here talkin’ ’bout ol’ times. We
’lowed maybe you’d sorter git tangled up on the hill thar, and so Danny
Lemmons, he harked back for to keep a’ eye on you.”
There was no disposition on the part of this quiet group of men to be
clamorous or boastful. There was a certain shyness in their attitude,
as of men willing to apologize for what might seem to be unnecessary
“I’ll tell you what,” said Danny Lemmons, “they ain’t a man on the
mounting that’s got a blessed thing agin you, ner agin the tother feller,
an’ they hain’t a man anywheres aroun’ here that’s a-gwine to pester you.
We never brung you whar you is; but now that you’re here we’re a-gwine
to whirl in an’ ast you to stay over an’ take Christmas wi’ us, sech ez
we’ll have. Lord, yes! a nice time we’ll have, ef I ain’t forgot how to
finger the fiddle-strings. We’re sorter in a quandary,” Danny Lemmons
continued, observing Captain Moseley toying nervously with the handle of
his pistol. “We don’t know whether you’re a-gwine to be worried enough to
start a row, or whether you’re a-gwine to work up trouble.”
Meanwhile Danny had brought his long rifle into a position where it could
be used promptly and effectually. For answer Moseley dismounted from his
horse, unbuckled his belt and flung it across his saddle, and prepared to
light his pipe.
“Now, then,” said Danny Lemmons, “thes make yourself at home.”
Nothing could have been friendlier than the attitude of the mountain men,
nor freer than their talk. Captain Moseley learned that Danny Lemmons was
acting under the orders of Colonel Dick Watson, the virile paralytic;
that he and Chadwick were to be held prisoners in the hope that Adjutant
Lovejoy would come in search of them—in which event there would be
developments of a most interesting character.
So Danny Lemmons said, and so it turned out; for one day while Moseley
and Chadwick were sitting on the sunny side of Uncle Billy’s house,
listening to the shrill, snarling tones of Colonel Watson, they heard
a shout from the roadside, and behold, there was Danny Lemmons with
his little band escorting Lovejoy and a small squad of forlorn-looking
militia. Lovejoy was securely bound to his horse, and it may well be
supposed that he did not cut an imposing figure. Yet he was undaunted. He
was captured, but not conquered. His eyes never lost their boldness, nor
his tongue its bitterness. He was almost a match for Colonel Watson, who
raved at all things through the tremulous and vindictive lips of disease.
The colonel’s temper was fitful, but Lovejoy’s seemed to burn steadily.
Moved by contempt rather than caution, he was economical of his words,
listening to the shrill invective of the colonel patiently, but with a
curious flicker of his thin lips that caused Danny Lemmons to study him
intently. It was Danny who discovered that Lovejoy’s eyes never wandered
in Polly’s direction, nor settled on her, nor seemed to perceive that she
was in existence, though she was flitting about constantly on the aimless
little errands that keep a conscientious housekeeper busy.
Lovejoy was captured one morning and Christmas fell the next, and it
was a memorable Christmas to all concerned. After breakfast Uncle Billy
Powers produced his Bible and preached a little sermon—a sermon that was
not the less meaty and sincere, not the less wise and powerful, because
the English was ungrammatical and the rhetoric uncouth. After it was over
the old man cleared his throat and remarked:—
“Brethern, we’re gethered here for to praise the Lord an’ do his will.
The quare times that’s come on us has brung us face to face with much
that is unseemly in life, an’ likely to fret the sperit an’ vex the
understandin’. Yit the Almighty is with us, an’ of us, an’ among us; an’,
in accordance wi’ the commands delivered in this Book, we’re here to
fortify two souls in the’r choice, an’ to b’ar testimony to the Word that
makes lawful marriage a sacrament.”
With that, Uncle Billy, fumbling in his coat pockets, produced a marriage
license, called Israel Spurlock and his daughter before him, and in
simple fashion pronounced the words that made them man and wife.
The dinner that followed hard on the wedding was to the soldiers, who
had been subsisting on the tough rations furnished by the Confederate
commissaries, by all odds the chief event of the day. To them the
resources of the Powers household were wonderful indeed. The shed-room,
running the whole length of the house and kitchen, was utilized, and
the dinner table, which was much too small to accommodate the guests,
invited and uninvited, was supplemented by the inventive genius of
Private William Chadwick, who, in the most unassuming manner, had taken
control of the whole affair. He proved himself to be an invaluable aid,
and his good humor gave a lightness and a zest to the occasion that would
otherwise have been sadly lacking.
Under his direction the tables were arranged and the dinner set, and when
the politely impatient company were summoned they found awaiting them
a meal substantial enough to remind them of the old days of peace and
prosperity. It was a genuine Christmas dinner. In the centre of the table
there was a large bowl of egg-nog, and this was flanked and surrounded by
a huge dish full of apple dumplings, a tremendous chicken pie, barbecued
shote, barbecued mutton, a fat turkey, and all the various accompaniments
of a country feast.
When Uncle Billy Powers had said an earnest and simple grace he gave his
place at the head of the table to Colonel Watson, who had been brought in
on his chair. Aunt Crissy gave Chadwick the seat of honor at the foot,
and then the two old people announced that they were ready to wait on the
company, with Mr. Chadwick to do the carving. If the private betrayed any
embarrassment at all, he soon recovered from it.
“It ain’t any use,” he said, glancing down the table, “to call the roll.
We’re all here an’ accounted for. The only man or woman that can’t answer
to their name is Danny Lemmons’s little brown fiddle, an’ I’ll bet a
sev’m-punce it’d skreak a little ef he tuck it out’n the bag. But before
we whirl in an’ make a charge three deep, le’ ’s begin right. This is
Christmas, and that bowl yander, with the egg-nog in it, looks tired.
Good as the dinner is, it’s got to have a file leader. We’ll start in
with what looks the nighest like Christmas.”
“Well,” said Aunt Crissy, “I’ve been in sech a swivet all day I don’t
reelly reckon the nog is wuth your while, but you’ll ha’ ter take it thes
like you fin’ it. Hit’s sweetened wi’ long sweet’nin’, an’ it’ll ha’ ter
be dipped up wi’ a gourd an’ drunk out’n cups.”
“Lord bless you, ma’am,” exclaimed Chadwick, “they won’t be no questions
axed ef it’s got Christmas enough in it, an’ I reckon it is, kaze I
poured it in myself, an’ I can hol’ up a jug as long as the nex’ man.”
Though it was sweetened with syrup, the egg-nog was a success, for its
strength could not be denied.
“Ef I hadn’t ’a’ been a prisoner of war, as you may say,” remarked
Chadwick, when the guests had fairly begun to discuss the dinner, “I’d
’a’ got me a hunk of barbecue an’ a dumplin’ or two, an’ a slice of
that chicken pie there—I’d ’a’ grabbed ’em up an’ ’a’ made off down the
mountain. Why, I’ll tell you what’s the truth—I got a whiff of that
barbecue by daylight, an’ gentulmen, it fairly made me dribble at the
mouth. Nex’ to Uncle Billy there, I was the fust man at the pit.”
“Yes, yes,” said Uncle Billy, laughing, “that’s so. An’ you holp me a
right smart. I’ll say that.”
“An’ Spurlock, he got a whiff of it. Didn’t you all notice, about the
time he was gittin’ married, how his mouth puckered up? Along towards
the fust I thought he was fixin’ to dip down an’ give the bride a smack.
But, bless you, he had barbecue on his min’, an’ the bride missed the
“He didn’t dare to buss me,” exclaimed Polly, who was ministering to her
grandfather. “Leastways not right out there before you all.”
“Please, ma’am, don’t you be skeered of Iserl,” said Chadwick. “I kin
take a quarter of that shote an’ tole him plumb back to camp.”
“Now I don’t like the looks er this,” exclaimed Uncle Billy Powers,
who had suddenly discovered that Lovejoy, sitting by the side of Danny
Lemmons, was bound so that it was impossible for him to eat in any
comfort. “Come, boys, this won’t do. I don’t want to remember the time
when any livin’ human bein’ sot at my table on Christmas day with his
han’s tied. Come, now!”
“Why, tooby shore!” exclaimed Aunt Crissy. “Turn the poor creetur loose.”
“Try it!” cried Colonel Watson, in his shrill voice. “Jest try it!”
“Lord, no,” said Danny Lemmons. “Look at his eyes! Look at ’em.”
Lovejoy sat pale and unabashed, his eyes glittering like those of a
snake. He had refused all offers of food, and seemed to be giving all his
attention to Israel Spurlock.
“What does Moseley say?” asked Colonel Watson.
“Ah, he is your prisoner,” said Moseley. “He never struck me as a
“Well,” said Chadwick, “ef there’s any doubt, jest take ’im out in the
yard an’ give ’im han’-roomance. Don’t let ’im turn this table over,
’cause it’ll be a long time before some of this company’ll see the likes
of it ag’in.”
It was clear that Lovejoy had no friends, even among his comrades. It was
clear, too, that this fact gave him no concern. He undoubtedly had more
courage than his position seemed to demand. He sat glaring at Spurlock,
and said never a word. Uncle Billy Powers looked at him, and gave a sigh
that ended in a groan.
“Well, boys,” said the old man, “this is my house, an’ he’s at my table.
I reckon we better ontie ’im, an’ let ’im git a mou’ful ter eat. ’T ain’t
nothin’ but Christian-like.”
“Don’t you reckon he’d better eat at the second table?” inquired
Chadwick. This naïve suggestion provoked laughter and restored good
humor, and Colonel Watson consented that Lovejoy should be released.
Danny Lemmons undertook this gracious task. He had released Lovejoy’s
right arm, and was releasing the left, having to use his teeth on one of
the knots, when the prisoner seized a fork—a large horn-handle affair,
with prongs an inch and a half long—and as quick as a flash of lightning
brought it down on Danny Lemmons’s back. To those who happened to be
looking it seemed that the fork had been plunged into the very vitals of
The latter went down, dragging Lovejoy after him. There was a short,
sharp struggle, a heavy thump or two, and then, before the company
realized what had happened, Danny Lemmons rose to his feet laughing,
leaving Lovejoy lying on the floor, more securely bound than ever.
“I reckon this fork’ll have to be washed,” said Danny, lifting the
formidable-looking weapon from the floor.
There was more excitement after the struggle was over than there had been
or could have been while it was going on. Chadwick insisted on examining
Danny Lemmons’s back.
“I’ve saw folks cut an’ slashed an’ stobbed before now,” he explained,
“an’ they didn’t know they was hurt tell they had done cooled off. They
ain’t no holes here an’ they ain’t no blood, but I could ’most take a
right pine-blank oath that I seed ’im job that fork in your back.”
“Tut, tut!” said Colonel Watson. “Do you s’pose I raised Danny Lemmons
for the like of that?”
“Well,” said Chadwick, resuming his seat and his dinner with unruffled
nerves, temper, and appetite, “it beats the known worl’. It’s the fust
time I ever seed a man git down on the floor for to give the in-turn an’
the under-cut, an’ cut the pigeon-wing an’ the double-shuffle, all before
a cat could bat her eye. It looks to me that as peart a man as Lemmons
there ought to be in the war.”
“Ain’t he in the war?” cried Colonel Watson, excitedly. “Ain’t he forever
and eternally in the war? Ain’t he my bully bushwhacker?”
“On what side?” inquired Chadwick.
“The Union, the Union!” exclaimed the colonel, his voice rising into a
“Well,” said Chadwick, “ef you think you kin take the taste out’n this
barbecue with talk like that, you are mighty much mistaken.”
After the wedding feast was over, Danny Lemmons seized on his fiddle and
made music fine enough and lively enough to set the nimble feet of the
mountaineers to dancing. So that, take it all in all, the Christmas of
the conscript was as jolly as he could have expected it to be.
When the festivities were concluded there was a consultation between
Colonel Watson and Danny Lemmons, and then Captain Moseley and his men
were told that they were free to go.
“What about Lovejoy?” asked Moseley.
“Oh, bless you! he goes over the mountain,” exclaimed Danny, with a grin.
“Lord, yes! Right over the mountain.”
“Now, I say no,” said Polly, blushing. “Turn the man loose an’ let him
There were protests from some of the mountaineers, but Polly finally had
her way. Lovejoy was unbound and permitted to go with the others, who
were escorted a piece of the way down the mountain by Spurlock and some
of the others. When the mountaineers started back, and before they had
got out of sight, Lovejoy seized a musket from one of his men and turned
and ran a little way back. What he would have done will never be known,
for before he could raise his gun a streak of fire shot forth into his
face, and he fell and rolled to the side of the road. An instant later
Danny Lemmons leaped from the bushes, flourishing his smoking rifle.
“You see ’im now!” he cried. “You see what he was atter! He’d better have
gone over the mountain. Lord, yes! Lots better.”
Moseley looked at Chadwick.
“Damn him!” said the latter; “he’s got what he’s been a-huntin’ for.”
By this time the little squad of militia-men, demoralized by the
incident, had fled down the mountain, and Moseley and his companion
hurried after them.
Middle Georgia, after Sherman passed through on his famous march to the
sea, was full of the direst confusion and despair, and there were many
sad sights to be seen. A wide strip of country with desolate plantations,
and here and there a lonely chimney standing sentinel over a pile of
blackened and smouldering ruins, bore melancholy testimony to the fact
that war is a very serious matter. All this is changed now, of course.
The section through which the grim commander pushed his way to the
sea smiles under the application of new and fresher energies. We have
discovered that war, horrible as it is, sometimes drags at its bloody
tumbril wheel certain fructifying and fertilizing forces. If this were
not so, the contest in which the South suffered the humiliation of
defeat, and more, would have been a very desperate affair indeed. The
troubles of that unhappy time—its doubts, its difficulties, and its swift
calamities—will never be known to posterity, for they have never been
It was during this awful period—that is to say, in January, 1866—that
Lawyer Terrell, of Macon, made the acquaintance of his friend Ananias.
In the midst of the desolation to be seen on every hand, this negro was
the forlornest spectacle of all. Lawyer Terrell overtook him on the
public highway between Macon and Rockville. The negro wore a ragged
blue army overcoat, a pair of patched and muddy blue breeches, and had
on the remnants of what was once a military cap. He was leading a lame
and broken-down horse through the mud, and was making his way toward
Rockville, at what appeared to be a slow and painful gait. Curiosity
impelled Lawyer Terrell to draw rein as he came up with the negro.
“Howdy, boss?” said the negro, taking off his tattered cap. Responding to
his salutation, the lawyer inquired his name. “I’m name’ Ananias, suh,”
The name seemed to fit him exactly. A meaner-looking negro Lawyer
Terrell had never seen. There was not the shadow of a smile on his
face, and seriousness ill became him. He had what is called a hang-dog
look. A professional overseer in the old days would have regarded him
as a negro to be watched, and a speculator would have put him in chains
the moment he bought him. With a good deal of experience with negroes,
Lawyer Terrell had never seen one whose countenance and manner were more
“Well,” said the lawyer, still keeping along with him in the muddy road,
“Ananias is a good name.”
“Yasser,” he replied; “dat w’at mammy say. Mammy done dead now, but she
say dat dey wuz two Ananiases. Dey wuz ole Ananias en young Ananias. One
un um wuz de Liar, en de udder wuz de Poffit. Dat w’at mammy say. I’m
name’ atter de Poffit.”
Lawyer Terrell laughed, and continued his cross-examination.
“Where are you going?”
“Who? Me? I’m gwine back ter Marster, suh.”
“What is your master’s name?”
“Cunnel Benjamime Flewellen, suh.”
“Colonel Benjamin Flewellen; yes; I know the colonel well. What are you
going back there for?”
“Who? Me? Dat my home, suh. I bin brung up right dar, suh—right ’longside
er Marster en my young mistiss, suh.”
“Miss Ellen Flewellen,” said Lawyer Terrell, reflectively. At this remark
the negro showed a slight interest in the conversation; but his interest
did not improve his appearance.
“Yasser, dat her name, sho; but we-all call her Miss Nelly.”
“A very pretty name, Ananias,” remarked Lawyer Terrell.
The negro looked up at this, but Lawyer Terrell had his eyes fixed on the
muddy road ahead of him. The lawyer was somewhat youngish himself, but
his face had a hard, firm expression common to those who are in the habit
of having their own way in the court-house and elsewhere.
“Where have you been, Ananias?” said the lawyer presently.
“Who? Me? I bin ’long wid Sherman army, suh.”
“Then you are quite a soldier by this time.”
“Lord! yasser! I bin wid um fum de time dey come in dese parts plum tell
dey got ter Sander’ville. You ain’t never is bin ter Sander’ville, is
“Not to say right in the town, Ananias, but I’ve been by there a great
many times.” Lawyer Terrell humored the conversation, as was his habit.
“Well, suh,” said Ananias, “don’t you never go dar; special don’t you go
dar wid no army, kase hit’s de longes’ en de nasties’ road fum dar ter
yer w’en you er comin’ back, dat I ever is lay my two eyes on.”
“Why did you come back, Ananias?”
“Who? Me? Well, suh, w’en de army come ’long by home dar, look like
eve’ybody got der eye sot on me. Go whar I would, look alike all de folks
wuz a-watchin’ me. ’Bout time de army wuz a-pilin’ in on us, Marse Wash
Jones, w’ich I never is done ’im no harm dat I knows un, he went ter
Marster, he did, en he ’low dat ef dey don’t keep mighty close watch on
Ananias dey’d all be massycreed in deir beds. I know Marse Wash tol’
Marster dat, kaze Ma’y Ann, w’ich she wait on de table, she come right
outer de house en tol’ me so. Right den, suh, I ’gun ter feel sorter
skittish. Marster had done got me ter hide all de stock out in de swamp,
en I ’low ter myse’f, I did, dat I’d des go over dar en stay wid um.
I ain’t bin dar so mighty long, suh, w’en yer come de Yankees, en wid
um wuz George, de carriage driver, de nigger w’at Marster think mo’ uv
dan he do all de balance er his niggers. En now, den, dar wuz George
a-fetchin’ de Yankees right whar he know de stock wuz hid at.”
“George was a very handy negro to have around,” said Lawyer Terrell.
“Yasser. Marster thunk de worl’ en all er dat nigger, en dar he wuz
showin’ de Yankees whar de mules en hosses wuz hid at. Well, suh, soon
ez he see me, George he put out, en I staid dar wid de hosses. I try
ter git dem folks not ter kyar um off, I beg um en I plead wid um, but
dey des laugh at me, suh. I follered ’long atter um’, en dey driv dem
hosses en mules right by de house. Marster wuz standin’ out in de front
porch, en w’en he see de Yankees got de stock, en me ’long wid um, suh,
he des raise up his han’s—so—en drap um down by his side, en den he tuck
’n tu’n roun’ en go in de house. I run ter de do’, I did, but Marster
done fasten it, en den I run roun’ de back way, but de back do’ wuz done
fassen too. I know’d dey didn’t like me,” Ananias went on, picking his
way carefully through the mud, “en I wuz mos’ out ’n my head, kaze I
ain’t know w’at ter do. ’T ain’t wid niggers like it is wid white folks,
suh. White folks know w’at ter do, kaze dey in de habits er doin’ like
dey wanter, but niggers, suh—niggers, dey er diffunt. Dey dunner w’at ter
“Well, what did you do?” asked Lawyer Terrell.
“Who? Me? Well, suh, I des crope off ter my cabin, en I draw’d up a cheer
front er de fier, en stirred up de embers, en sot dar. I ain’ sot dar
long ’fo’ Marster come ter de do’. He open it, he did, en he come in. He
’low, ‘You in dar, Ananias?’ I say, ‘Yasser.’ Den he come in. He stood
dar, he did, en look at me. I ain’t raise my eyes, suh; I des look in
de embers. Bime-by he say, ‘Ain’t I allers treat you well, Ananias?’ I
’low, ‘Yasser.’ Den he say, ‘Ain’t I raise you up fum a little baby, w’en
you got no daddy?’ I ’low, ‘Yasser.’ He say, ‘How come you treat me dis
a-way, Ananias? W’at make you show dem Yankees whar my hosses en mules
Ananias paused as he picked his way through the mud, leading his
“What did you tell him?” said Lawyer Terrell, somewhat curtly.
“Well, suh, I dunner w’at de name er God come ’cross me. I wuz dat full
up dat I can’t talk. I tried ter tell Marster des ’zactly how it wuz, but
look like I wuz all choke up. White folks kin talk right straight ’long,
but niggers is diffunt. Marster stood dar, he did, en look at me right
hard, en I know by de way he look dat his feelin’s wuz hurted, en dis
make me wuss. Eve’y time I try ter talk, suh, sumpin’ ne’r kotch me in de
neck, en ’fo’ I kin come ter myse’f, suh, Marster wuz done gone. I got up
en tried ter holler at ’im, but dat ketch wuz dar in my neck, suh, en mo’
special wuz it dar, suh, w’en I see dat he wuz gwine ’long wid his head
down; en dey mighty few folks, suh, dat ever is see my marster dat a-way.
He kyar his head high, suh, ef I do say it myse’f.”
“Why didn’t you follow after him and tell him about it?” inquired Lawyer
Terrell, drawing his lap-robe closer about his knee.
“Dat des zactly w’at I oughter done, suh; but right den en dar I ain’t
know w’at ter do. I know’d dat nigger like me ain’t got no business
foolin’ ’roun’ much, en dat wuz all I did know. I sot down, I did, en I
make up my min’ dat ef Marster got de idee dat I had his stock run’d off,
I better git out fum dar; en den I went ter work, suh, en I pack up w’at
little duds I got, en I put out wid de army. I march wid um, suh, plum
tell dey got ter Sander’ville, en dar I ax um w’at dey gwine pay me fer
gwine wid um. Well, suh, you mayn’t b’lieve me, but dem w’ite mens dey
des laugh at me. All dis time I bin runnin’ over in my min’ ’bout Marster
en Miss Nelly, en w’en I fin’ out dat dey wa’n’t no pay fer niggers gwine
wid de army I des up en say ter myse’f dat dat kind er business ain’t
gwine do fer me.”
“If they had paid you anything,” said Lawyer Terrell, “I suppose you
would have gone on with the army?”
“Who? Me? Dat I wouldn’t,” replied Ananias, emphatically—“dat I
wouldn’t. I’d ’a’ got my money, en I’d ’a’ come back home, kaze I boun’
you I wa’n’t a-gwine ter let Marster drap off and die widout knowin’ who
run’d dem stock off. No, suh. I wuz des ’bleege ter come back.”
“Ananias,” said Lawyer Terrell, “you are a good man.”
“Thanky, suh!—thanky, marster!” exclaimed Ananias, taking off his
weather-beaten cap. “You er de fus w’ite man dat ever tol’ me dat sence I
bin born’d inter de worl’. Thanky, suh!”
“Good-by,” said Lawyer Terrell, touching his horse lightly with the whip.
“Good-by, marster!” said Ananias, with unction. “Good-by, marster! en
Lawyer Terrell passed out of sight in the direction of Rockville. Ananias
went in the same direction, but he made his way over the road with a
It is to be presumed that Ananias’s explanation was satisfactory to
Colonel Benjamin Flewellen, for he settled down on his former master’s
place, and proceeded to make his presence felt on the farm as it never
had been felt before. Himself and his army-worn horse were decided
accessions, for the horse turned out to be an excellent animal. Ananias
made no contract with his former master, and asked for no wages. He
simply took possession of his old quarters, and began anew the life he
had led in slavery times—with this difference: in the old days he had
been compelled to work, but now he was working of his own free-will and
to please himself. The result was that he worked much harder.
It may be said that though Colonel Benjamin Flewellen was a noted
planter, he was not much of a farmer. Before and during the war he had
intrusted his plantation and his planting in the care of an overseer.
For three hundred dollars a year—which was not much of a sum in slavery
times—he could be relieved of all the cares and anxieties incident to the
management of a large plantation. His father before him had conducted the
plantation by proxy, and Colonel Flewellen was not slow to avail himself
of a long-established custom that had been justified by experience.
Moreover, Colonel Flewellen had a taste for literature. His father had
gathered together a large collection of books, and Colonel Flewellen had
added to this until he was owner of one of the largest private libraries
in a State where large private libraries were by no means rare. He wrote
verse on occasion, and essays in defense of slavery. There are yet living
men who believed that his “Reply” to Charles Sumner’s attack on the
South was so crushing in its argument and its invective—particularly its
invective—that it would go far toward putting an end to the abolition
movement. Colonel Flewellen’s “Reply” filled a page of the New York
“Day-Book,” and there is no doubt that he made the most of the limited
space placed at his disposal.
With his taste and training it is not surprising that Colonel Benjamin
Flewellen should leave his plantation interests to the care of Mr.
Washington Jones, his overseer, and devote himself to the liberal arts.
He not only wrote and published the deservedly famous “Reply” to Charles
Sumner, which was afterward reprinted in pamphlet form for the benefit
of his friends and admirers, but he collected his fugitive verses in a
volume, which was published by an enterprising New York firm “for the
author;” and in addition to this he became the proprietor and editor
of the Rockville “Vade-Mecum,” a weekly paper devoted to “literature,
science, politics, and the news.”
When, therefore, the collapse came, the colonel found himself practically
stranded. He was not only land-poor, but he had no experience in the
management of his plantation. Ananias, when he returned from his jaunt
with the army, was of some help, but not much. He knew how the plantation
ought to be managed, but he stood in awe of the colonel, and he was
somewhat backward in giving his advice. In fact, he had nothing to
say unless his opinion was asked, and this was not often, for Colonel
Flewellen had come to entertain the general opinion about Ananias, which
was, in effect, that he was a sneaking, hypocritical rascal who was not
to be depended on; a good-enough worker, to be sure, but not a negro in
whom one could repose confidence.
The truth is, Ananias’s appearance was against him. He was ugly and
mean-looking, and he had a habit of slipping around and keeping out
of the way of white people—a habit which, in that day and time, gave
everybody reason enough to distrust him. As a result of this, Ananias got
the credit of every mean act that could not be traced to any responsible
source. If a smoke-house was broken open in the night, Ananias was the
thief. The finger of suspicion was pointed at him on every possible
occasion. He was thought to be the head and front of the Union League,
a political organization set in motion by the shifty carpet-baggers for
the purpose of consolidating the negro vote against the whites. In this
way prejudice deepened against him all the while, until he finally became
something of an Ishmaelite, holding no intercourse with any white people
but Colonel Flewellen and Miss Nelly.
Meanwhile, as may be supposed, Colonel Flewellen was not making much of
a success in managing his plantation. Beginning without money, he had as
much as he could do to make “buckle and tongue meet,” as the phrase goes.
In fact he did not make them meet. He farmed on the old lavish plan.
He borrowed money, and he bought provisions, mules, and fertilizers on
credit, paying as much as two hundred per cent interest on his debts.
Strange to say, his chief creditor was Mr. Washington Jones, his former
overseer. Somehow or other Mr. Jones had thrived. He had saved money as
an overseer, being a man of simple tastes and habits, and when the crash
came he was comparatively a rich man. When affairs settled down somewhat,
Mr. Jones blossomed out as a commission merchant, and he soon established
a large and profitable business. He sold provisions and commercial
fertilizers, he bought cotton, and he was not above any transaction,
however small, that promised to bring him a dime where he had invested
a thrip. He was a very thrifty man indeed. In addition to his other
business he shaved notes and bought mortgages, and in this way the fact
came to be recognized, as early as 1868, that he was what is known as “a
leading citizen.” He did not hesitate to grind a man when he had him in
his clutches, and on this account he made enemies; but as his worldly
possessions grew and assumed tangible proportions, it is not to be denied
that he had more friends than enemies.
For a while Mr. Washington Jones’s most prominent patron was Colonel
Benjamin Flewellen. The colonel, it should be said, was not only a patron
of Jones, but he patronized him. He made his purchases, chiefly on
credit, in a lordly, superior way, as became a gentleman whose hireling
Jones had been. When the colonel had money he was glad to pay cash for
his supplies, but it happened somehow that he rarely had money. Jones,
it must be confessed, was very accommodating. He was anxious to sell to
the colonel on the easiest terms, so far as payment was concerned, and he
often, in a sly way, flattered the colonel into making larger bills than
he otherwise would have made.
There could be but one result, and though that result was inevitable,
everybody about Rockville seemed to be surprised. The colonel had
disposed of his newspaper long before, and one day there appeared, in the
columns which he had once edited with such care, a legal notice to the
effect that he had applied to the ordinary of the county, in proper form,
to set aside a homestead and personalty. This meant that the colonel,
with his old-fashioned ways and methods, had succumbed to the inevitable.
He had a house and lot in town, and this was set apart as his homestead
by the judge of ordinary. Mr. Washington Jones, you may be sure, lost no
time in foreclosing his mortgages, and the fact soon came to be known
that he was now the proprietor of the Flewellen place.
Just at this point the colonel first began to face the real problems of
life, and he found them to be very knotty ones. He must live—but how?
He knew no law, and was acquainted with no business. He was a gentleman
and a scholar; but these accomplishments would not serve him; indeed,
they stood in his way. He had been brought up to no business, and it
was a little late in life—the colonel was fifty or more—to begin to
learn. He might have entered upon a political career, and this would
have been greatly to his taste, but all the local offices were filled
by competent men, and just at that time a Southerner to the manner
born had little chance to gain admission to Congress. The Republican
“reconstructionists,” headed by Thaddeus Stevens, barred the way. The
outlook was gloomy indeed.
Nelly Flewellen, who had grown to be a beautiful woman, and who was as
accomplished as she was beautiful, gave music lessons; but in Rockville
at that time there was not much to be made by teaching music. It is due
to the colonel to say that he was bitterly opposed to this project,
and he was glad when his daughter gave it up in despair. Then she took
in sewing surreptitiously, and did other things that a girl of tact and
common sense would be likely to do when put to the test.
The colonel and his daughter managed to get along somehow, but it was a
miserable existence compared to their former estate of luxury. Just how
they managed, only one person in the wide world knew, and that person
was Ananias. Everybody around Rockville said it was very queer how the
colonel, with no money and little credit, could afford to keep a servant,
and a man-servant at that. But there was nothing queer about it. Ananias
received no wages of any sort; he asked for none; he expected none. A
child of misfortune himself, he was glad to share the misfortunes of
his former master. He washed, he ironed, he cooked, he milked, and he
did more. He found time to do little odd jobs around town, and with the
money thus earned he was able to supply things that would otherwise
have been missing from Colonel Flewellen’s table. He was as ugly and as
mean-looking as ever, and as unpopular. Even the colonel distrusted him,
but he managed to tolerate him. The daughter often had words of praise
for the shabby and forlorn-looking negro, and these, if anything, served
to lighten his tasks.
But in spite of everything that his daughter or Ananias could do, the
colonel continued to grow poorer. To all appearances—and he managed to
keep up appearances to the last—he was richer than many of his neighbors,
for he had a comfortable house, and he still had credit in the town.
Among the shopkeepers there were few that did not respect and admire the
colonel for what he had been. But the colonel, since his experience with
Mr. Washington Jones, looked with suspicion on the credit business. The
result was that he and his daughter and Ananias lived in the midst of the
As for Ananias, he could stand it well enough; so, perhaps, could the
colonel, he being a man, and a pretty stout one; but how about the
young lady? This was the question that Ananias was continually asking
himself, and circumstances finally drove him to answering it in his own
way. There was this much to be said about Ananias; when he made up his
mind, nothing could turn him, humble as he was; and then came a period
in the career of the family to which he had attached himself when he was
compelled to make up his mind or see them starve.
At this late day there is no particular reason for concealing the facts.
Ananias took the responsibility on his shoulders, and thereafter the
colonel’s larder was always comparatively full. At night Ananias would
sit and nod before a fire in the kitchen, and after everybody else
had gone to bed he would sneak out into the darkness, and be gone for
many hours; but whether the hours of his absence were many or few, he
never returned empty-handed. Sometimes he would bring a “turn” of wood,
sometimes a bag of meal or potatoes, sometimes a side of meat or a ham,
and sometimes he would be compelled to stop, while yet some distance
from the house, to choke a chicken that betrayed a tendency to squall
in the small still hours between midnight and morning. The colonel and
his daughter never knew whence their supplies came. They only knew that
Ananias suddenly developed into a wonderfully good cook, for it is a very
good cook indeed that can go on month after month providing excellent
meals without calling for new supplies.
But Ananias had always been peculiar, and if he grew a trifle more
uncommunicative than usual, neither the colonel nor the colonel’s
daughter was expected to take notice of the fact. Ananias was a sullen
negro at best, but his sullenness was not at all important, and nobody
cared whether his demeanor was grave or gay, lively or severe. Indeed,
except that he was an object of distrust and suspicion, nobody cared
anything at all about Ananias. For his part, Ananias seemed to care
nothing for people’s opinions, good, bad, or indifferent. If the citizens
of Rockville thought ill of him, that was their affair altogether.
Ananias went sneaking around, attending to what he conceived to be his
own business, and there is no doubt that, in some way, he managed to keep
Colonel Flewellen’s larder well supplied with provisions.
About this time Mr. Washington Jones, who had hired a clerk for his
store, and who was mainly devoting his time to managing, as proprietor,
the Flewellen place, which he had formerly managed as overseer, began to
discover that he was the victim of a series of mysterious robberies and
burglaries. Nobody suffered but Mr. Jones, and everybody said that it was
not only very unjust, but very provoking also, that this enterprising
citizen should be systematically robbed, while all his neighbors should
escape. These mysterious robberies soon became the talk of the whole
county. Some people sympathized with Jones, while others laughed at him.
Certainly the mystery was a very funny mystery, for when Jones watched
his potato hill, his smoke-house was sure to be entered. If he watched
his smoke-house, his potato hill would suffer. If he divided his time
watching both of these, his storehouse would be robbed. There was no
regularity about this; but it was generally conceded that the more Jones
watched, the more he was robbed, and it finally came to be believed in
the county that Jones, to express it in the vernacular, “hollered too
loud to be hurt much.”
At last one day it was announced that Jones had discovered the thief who
had been robbing him. He had not caught him, but he had seen him plainly
enough to identify him. The next thing that Rockville knew, a warrant had
been issued for Ananias, and he was arrested. He had no commitment trial.
He was lodged in the jail to await trial in the Superior Court. Colonel
Flewellen was sorry for the negro, as well he might be, but he was afraid
to go on his bond. Faithful as Ananias had been, he was a negro, after
all, the colonel argued, and if he was released on bond he would not
hesitate to run away, if such an idea should occur to him.
Fortunately for Ananias, he was not permitted to languish in jail. The
Superior Court met the week after he was arrested, and his case was among
the first called. It seemed to be a case, indeed, that needed very little
trying. But a very curious incident happened in the court-room.
Among the lawyers present was Mr. Terrell, of Macon. Mr. Terrell was by
all odds the greatest lawyer practising in that circuit. He was so great,
indeed, that he was not called “major,” or “colonel,” or “judge.” He
ranked with Stephens and Hill, and like these distinguished men his title
was plain “Mr.” Mr. Terrell practised in all the judicial circuits of
the State, and had important cases in all of them. He was in Rockville
for the purpose of arguing a case to be tried at term, and which he
knew would be carried to the Supreme Court of the State, no matter what
the verdict of the lower court might be. He was arranging and verifying
his authorities anew, and he was very busy when the sheriff came into
the court-house bringing Ananias. The judge on the bench thought he had
never seen a more rascally-looking prisoner; but even rascally-looking
prisoners have their rights, and so, when Ananias’s case was called, the
judge asked him in a friendly way if he had counsel—if he had engaged a
lawyer to defend him.
Ananias did not understand at first, but when the matter was made plain
to him he said he could get a lawyer. Whereupon he walked over to where
Mr. Terrell sat immersed in his big books, and touched him on the
shoulder. The lawyer looked up.
“I’m name’ Ananias, suh,” said the negro.
“I remember you,” said Mr. Terrell. “What are you doing here?”
“Dey got me up fer my trial, suh, en I ’ain’t got nobody fer ter speak
de word fer me, suh, en I ’low’d maybe—”
Ananias paused. He knew not what else to say. He had no sort of claim
on this man. He saw everybody around him laughing. The great lawyer
himself smiled as he twirled his eye-glasses on his fingers. Ananias was
“You want me to speak the word?” said Mr. Terrell.
“Yes, suh, if you please, suh.”
“You need not trouble yourself, Mr. Terrell,” said the judge, affably. “I
was about to appoint counsel.”
“May it please your honor,” said Mr. Terrell, rising. “I will defend this
boy. I know nothing whatever of the case, but I happen to know something
of the negro.”
There was quite a little stir in the court-room at this announcement.
The loafers outside the railings of the bar, who had seen Ananias every
day for a good many years, leaned forward to take another look at him.
The lawyers inside the bar also seemed to be interested in the matter.
Some thought that the great lawyer had taken the negro’s case by way of a
joke, and they promised themselves a good deal of enjoyment, for it is
not every day that a prominent man is seen at play. Others knew not what
to think; so that between those who regarded it as a practical joke and
those who thought that Mr. Terrell might be in a serious mood, the affair
caused quite a sensation.
“May it please the court,” said Mr. Terrell, his firm voice penetrating
to every part of the large room, “I know nothing of this case; therefore
I will ask half an hour’s delay to look over the papers and to consult
with my client.”
“Certainly,” said the judge, pleasantly. “Mr. Sheriff, take the prisoner
to the Grand Jury room, so that he may consult with his counsel.”
The sheriff locked the prisoner and the lawyer in the Grand Jury room,
and left his deputy there to open the door when Mr. Terrell announced
that the conference was over. In the mean time the court proceeded with
other business. Cases were settled, dismissed, or postponed. A couple of
young lawyers fell into a tumultuous wrangle over an immaterial point,
which the judge disposed of with a wave of his hand.
In the Grand Jury room Ananias was telling his volunteer counsel a
“And do you mean to tell me that you really stole these things from
Jones?” said Mr. Terrell, after he had talked a little with his client.
“Well, suh,” replied Ananias, unabashed, “I didn’t zackly steal um, suh,
but I tuck um; I des tuck um, suh.”
“What call had you to steal from Jones? Weren’t you working for Colonel
Flewellen? Didn’t he feed you?” inquired the lawyer. Ananias shifted
about from one foot to the other, and whipped his legs with his shabby
hat, which he held in his hand. Lawyer Terrell, seated in a comfortable
chair, and thoroughly at his ease, regarded the negro curiously. There
appeared to be a pathetic element even in Ananias’s manner.
“Well, suh,” he said, after a while, seeing that he could not escape from
the confession, “ef I hadn’t a-tuck dem things fum Marse Wash Jones,
my Marster en my young mistiss would ’a’ sot dar en bodaciously starve
deyse’f ter deff. I done seed dat, suh. Dey wuz too proud ter tell folks
dey wuz dat bad off, suh, en dey’d ’a sot dar, en des bodaciously starve
deyse’f ter deff, suh. All dey lifetime, suh, dey bin use ter havin’ deir
vittles put right on de table whar dey kin git it, en w’en de farmin’
days done gone, suh, dey wa’n’t nobody but Ananias fer put de vittles
dar; en I des hatter scuffle ’roun’ en git it de bes’ way I kin. I
’spec’, suh,” Ananias went on, his countenance brightening up a little,
“dat ef de wuss had a-come ter de wuss, I’d ’a’ stole de vittles; but I
’ain’t had ter steal it, suh; I des went en tuck it fum Marse Wash Jones,
kaze it come off’n Marster’s lan’, suh.”
“Why, the land belongs to Jones,” said Lawyer Terrell.
“Dat w’at dey say, suh; but eve’y foot er dat lan’ b’longded ter de
Flewellen fambly long ’fo’ Marse Wash Jones’ daddy sot up a hat-shop
in de neighborhoods. I dunner how Marse Wash git dat lan’, suh; I know
it b’longded in de Flewellen fambly sence ’way back, en dey got deir
graveyard dar yit.”
Lawyer Terrell’s unusually stern face softened a little. He saw that
Ananias was in earnest, and his sympathies were aroused. He had some
further conversation with the negro, questioning him in regard to a
great many things that assumed importance in the trial.
When Lawyer Terrell and his client returned to the court-room they
found it filled with spectators. Somehow, it became generally known
that the great advocate was to defend Ananias, and a large crowd of
people had assembled to watch developments. In some way the progress of
Ananias and the deputy-sheriff through the crowd that filled all the
aisles and doorways had been delayed; but when the negro, forlorn and
wretched-looking, made his appearance in the bar for the purpose of
taking a seat by his counsel, there was a general laugh. Instantly Lawyer
Terrell was upon his feet.
“May it please your honor, what _is_ the duty of the sheriff of this
county, if it is not to keep order in this court-room?”
The ponderous staff of the sheriff came down on the floor with a thump;
but it was unnecessary. Silence had fallen on the spectators with the
first words of the lawyer. The crowd knew that he was a game man, and
they admired him for it. His whole attitude, as he gazed at the people
around him, showed that he was full of fight. His heavy blond hair,
swept back from his high forehead, looked like the mane of a lion, and
his steel-gray eyes glittered under his shaggy and frowning brows.
The case of the State _versus_ Ananias Flewellen, _alias_ Ananias
Harper—a name he had taken since freedom—was called in due form. It was
observed that Lawyer Terrell was very particular to strike certain names
from the jury list, but this gave no clue to the line of his defense. The
first witness was Mr. Washington Jones, who detailed, as well as he knew
how, the circumstances of the various robberies of which he had been the
victim. He had suspected Ananias, but had not made his suspicions known
until he was sure,—until he had caught him stealing sweet-potatoes.
The cross-examination of the witness by Ananias’s counsel was severe. The
fact was gradually developed that Mr. Jones caught the negro stealing
potatoes at night; that the night was dark and cloudy; that he did not
actually catch the negro, but saw him; that he did not really see the
negro clearly, but knew “in reason” that it must be Ananias.
The fact was also developed that Mr. Jones was not alone when he saw
Ananias, but was accompanied by Mr. Miles Cottingham, a small farmer in
the neighborhood, who was well known all over the county as a man of
undoubted veracity and of the strictest integrity.
At this point Lawyer Terrell, who had been facing Mr. Jones with severity
painted on his countenance, seemed suddenly to recover his temper. He
turned to the listening crowd, and said, in his blandest tones, “Is Mr.
Miles Cottingham in the room?”
There was a pause, and then a small boy perched in one of the windows,
through which the sun was streaming, cried out, “He’s a-standin’ out
yander by the horse-rack.”
Whereupon a subpœna was promptly made out by the clerk of the court, and
the deputy sheriff, putting his head out of a window, cried:
“Miles G. Cottingham! Miles G. Cottingham! Miles G. Cottingham! Come into
Mr. Cottingham was fat, rosy, and cheerful. He came into court with such
a dubious smile on his face that his friends in the room were disposed to
laugh, but they remembered that Lawyer Terrell was somewhat intolerant
of these manifestations of good-humor. As for Mr. Cottingham himself, he
was greatly puzzled. When the voice of the court crier reached his ears
he was in the act of taking a dram, and, as he said afterward, he “come
mighty nigh drappin’ the tumbeler.” But he was not subjected to any such
mortification. He tossed off his dram in fine style, and went to the
court-house, where, as soon as he had pushed his way to the front, he was
met by Lawyer Terrell, who shook him heartily by the hand, and told him
his testimony was needed in order that justice might be done.
Then Mr. Cottingham was put on the stand as a witness for the defense.
“How old are you, Mr. Cottingham?” said Lawyer Terrell.
“Ef I make no mistakes, I’m a-gwine on sixty-nine,” replied the witness.
“Are your eyes good?”
“Well, sir, they er about ez good ez the common run; not so good ez they
mought be, en yit good enough fer me.”
“Did you ever see that negro before?” The lawyer pointed to Ananias.
“Which nigger? That un over there? Why, that’s thish yer God-forsakin’
Ananias. Ef it had a-bin any yuther nigger but Ananias I wouldn’t ’a’ bin
so certain and shore; bekaze sence the war they er all so mighty nigh
alike I can’t tell one from t’other sca’cely. All eckceppin’ of Ananias;
I’d know Ananias ef I met ’im in kingdom come wi’ his hair all swinjed
The jury betrayed symptoms of enjoying this testimony; seeing which, the
State’s attorney rose to his feet to protest.
“May it please the court”—
“One moment, your honor!” exclaimed Lawyer Terrell. Then, turning to the
witness: “Mr. Cottingham, were you with Mr. Jones when he was watching to
catch a thief who had been stealing from him?”
“Well, sir,” replied Mr. Cottingham, “I sot up wi’ him one night, but I
disremember in pertickler what night it wuz.”
“Did you see the thief?”
“Well, sir,” said Mr. Cottingham, in his deliberate way, looking around
over the court-room with a more judicial air than the judge on the bench,
“ef you push me close I’ll tell you. Ther wuz a consid’able flutterment
in the neighborhoods er whar we sot, an’ me an’ Wash done some mighty sly
slippin’ up en surrounderin’; but ez ter seein’ anybody, we didn’t see
’im. We heerd ’m a-scufflin’ an’ a-runnin’, but we didn’t ketch a glimpse
un ’im, nuther har ner hide.”
“Did Mr. Jones see him?”
“No more’n I did. I wuz right at Wash’s elbow. We heerd the villyun
a-runnin’, but we never seed ’im. Atterwards, when we got back ter the
house, Wash he ’lowed it must’a bin that nigger Ananias thar, an’ I
’lowed it jess mought ez well be Ananias ez any yuther nigger, bekaze you
“That will do, Mr. Cottingham,” said Mr. Lawyer Terrell, blandly. The
State’s attorney undertook to cross-examine Mr. Cottingham; but he was
a blundering man, and the result of his cross-examination was simply a
stronger and more impressive repetition of Mr. Cottingham’s testimony.
After this, the solicitor was willing to submit the case to the jury
without argument, but Mr. Terrell said that if it pleased the court
he had a few words to say to the jury in behalf of his client. The
speech made by the State’s attorney was flat and stale, for he was not
interested in the case; but Lawyer Terrell’s appeal to the jury is still
remembered in Rockville. It was not only powerful, but inimitable; it
was humorous, pathetic, and eloquent. When he concluded, the jury, which
was composed mostly of middle-aged men, was in tears. The feelings of
the spectators were also wrought up to a very high pitch, and when the
jury found a verdict of “not guilty,” without retiring, the people in the
court-room made the old house ring again with applause.
And then something else occurred. Pressing forward through the crowd
came Colonel Benjamin Flewellen. His clothes were a trifle shabby, but
he had the air of a prince of the blood. His long white hair fell on his
shoulders, and his movements were as precise as those of a grenadier. The
spectators made way for him. Those nearest noticed that his eyes were
moist, and that his nether lip was a-tremble, but no one made any remark.
Colonel Flewellen pressed forward until he reached Ananias, who, scarcely
comprehending the situation, was sitting with his hands folded and his
head bent down. The colonel placed his hand on the negro’s shoulder.
“Come, boy,” he said, “let’s go home.”
“Me, Marster?” said the negro, looking up with a dazed expression. It
was the tone, and not the words, that Ananias heard.
“Yes, old fellow, your Miss Nelly will be waiting for us.”
“Name er God!” exclaimed Ananias, and then he arose and followed his old
master out of the court-room. Those who watched him as he went saw that
the tears were streaming down his face, but there was no rude laughter
when he made a futile attempt to wipe them off with his coat-tail. This
display of feeling on the part of the negro was somewhat surprising to
those who witnessed it, but nobody was surprised when Ananias appeared on
the streets a few days after with head erect and happiness in his face.
Now, do you know you young people are mighty queer? Somebody has told
you that he heard old man Isaiah Winchell a-gabbling about old times,
and here you come fishing for what you call a story. Why, bless your
soul, man, it is no story at all, just a happening, as my wife used to
say. If you want me to tell what there is of it, there must be some
understanding about it. You know what ought to be put in print and what
ought to be left out. I would know myself, I reckon, if I stopped to
think it all over; but there’s the trouble. When I get started, I just
rattle along like a runaway horse. I’m all motion and no sense, and
there’s no stopping me until I run over a stump or up against a fence.
And if I tried to write it out, it would be pretty much the same. When I
take a pen in my hand my mind takes all sorts of uncertain flights, like
a pigeon with a hawk after it.
As to the affair you were speaking of, there’s not much to tell, but it
has pestered me at times when I ought to have been in my bed and sound
asleep. I have told it a thousand times, and the rest of the Winchells
have told it, thinking it was a very good thing to have in the family. It
has been exaggerated, too; but if I can carry the facts to your ear just
as they are in my mind, I shall be glad, for I want to get everything
straight from the beginning.
Well, it was in 1826. That seems a long time ago to you, but it is no
longer than yesterday to me. I was eighteen years old, and a right smart
chunk of a boy for my age. While we were ginning and packing cotton our
overseer left us, and my father turned the whole business over to me.
Now, you may think that was a small thing, because this railroad business
has turned your head, but, as a matter of fact, it was a very big
thing. It fell to me to superintend the ginning and the packing of the
cotton, and then I was to go to Augusta in charge of two wagons. I never
worked harder before nor since. You see we had no packing-screws nor
cotton-presses in those days. The planter that was able to afford it had
his gin, and the cotton was packed in round bales by a nigger who used
something like a crowbar to do the packing. He trampled the lint cotton
with his feet, and beat it down with his iron bar until the bagging was
full, and then the bale weighed about three hundred pounds. Naturally you
laugh at this sort of thing, but it was no laughing matter; it was hard
Well, when we got the cotton all prepared, we loaded the wagons and
started for Augusta. We hadn’t got more than two miles from home, before
I found that Crooked-leg Jake, my best driver, was drunk. He was beastly
drunk. Where he got his dram, I couldn’t tell you to save my life, for
it was against the law in those days to sell whiskey to a nigger. But
Crooked-leg Jake had it and he was full of it, and he had to be pulled
off of the mule and sent to roost on top of the cotton-bags. It was not
a very warm roost either, but it was warm enough for a nigger full of
This was not a good thing for me at all, but I had to make the best of
it. Moreover, I had to do what I had never done before—I had to drive
six mules, and there was only one rein to drive them with. This was
the fashion, but it was a very difficult matter for a youngster to get
the hang of it. You jerk, jerk, jerked, if you wanted the lead mule to
turn to the right, and you pull, pull, pulled if you wanted her to go
the left. While we were going on in this way, with a stubborn mule at
the wheel and a drunken nigger on the wagon, suddenly there came out of
the woods a thick-set, dark-featured, black-bearded man with a bag slung
across his shoulder.
“Hello!” says he; “you must be a new hand.”
“It would take a very old hand,” said I, “to train a team of mules to
meet you in the road.”
“Now, there you have me,” said he; and he laughed as if he were enjoying
a very good joke.
“Who hitched up your team?” he asked.
“That drunken nigger,” said I.
“To be sure,” said he; “I might have known it. The lead-mule is on the
“Why, how do you know that?” I asked.
“My two eyes tell me,” he replied; “they are pulling crossways.” And with
that, without asking anybody’s permission, he unhitched the traces,
unbuckled the reins and changed the places of the two front mules. It was
all done in a jiffy, and in such a light-hearted manner that no protest
could be made; and, indeed, no protest was necessary, for the moment
the team started I could see that the stranger was right. There was no
more jerking and whipping to be done. We went on in this way for a mile
or more, when suddenly I thought to ask the stranger, who was trudging
along good-humoredly by the side of the wagon, if he would like to ride.
He laughed and said he wouldn’t mind it if I would let him straddle the
saddle-mule; and for my part I had no objections.
So I crawled up on the cotton and lay there with Crooked-leg Jake. I had
been there only a short time when the nigger awoke and saw me. He looked
“Who dat drivin’ dem mules, Marse Isaiah?” he asked.
“I couldn’t tell you even if you were sober,” said I. “The lead-mule was
hitched on the off-side, and the man that is driving rushed out of the
woods, fixed her right, and since then we have been making good time.”
“Is he a sho’ ’nuff w’ite man, Marse Isaiah?” asked Jake.
“Well, he looks like he is,” said I; “but I’m not certain about that.”
With that Jake crawled to the front of the wagon, and looked over at the
driver. After a while he came crawling back.
“Tell me what you saw,” said I.
“Well, sir,” said he, “I dunner whe’er dat man’s a w’ite man or not, but
he’s a-settin’ sideways on dat saddle-mule, en every time he chirps, dat
lead-mule know what he talkin’ about. Yasser. She do dat. Did you say he
come outen de woods?”
“I don’t know where he came from,” said I. “He’s there, and he’s driving
“Yasser. Dat’s so. He’s dar sho’, kaze I seed ’im wid my own eyes. He
look like he made outen flesh en blood, en yit he mought be a ha’nt; dey
ain’t no tellin’. Dem dar mules is gwine on mos’ too slick fer ter suit
Well, the upshot of it was that the stranger continued to drive. He made
himself useful during the day, and when night came, he made himself
musical; for in the pack slung across his back was a fiddle, and in the
manipulation of this instrument he showed a power and a mastery which
are given to few men to possess. I doubt whether he would have made much
of a show on the stage, but I have heard some of your modern players, and
none of them could approach him, according to my taste. I’ll tell you
why. They all seem to play the music for the music itself, but this man
played it for the sake of what it reminded him of. I remember that when
he took out his fiddle at night, as he invariably did if nobody asked him
to, I used to shut my eyes and dream dreams that I have never dreamed
since, and see visions that are given to few men to see. If I were
younger I could describe it to you, but an old man like me is not apt at
We journeyed on, and, as we journeyed, we were joined by other wagons
hauling cotton, until, at last, there was quite a caravan of them—twenty,
at least, and possibly more. This made matters very lively, as you may
suppose, especially at night, when we went into camp. Then there were
scenes such as have never been described in any of the books that profess
to tell about life in the South before the war. After the teams had been
fed and supper cooked, the niggers would sing, dance and wrestle, and
the white men would gather to egg them on, or sit by their fires and tell
stories or play cards. Sometimes there would be a fight, and that was
exciting; for in those days, the shotgun was mighty handy and the dirk
was usually within reach. In fact, there was every amusement that such a
crowd of people could manage to squeeze out of such an occasion. In our
caravan there were more than a dozen fiddlers, white and black, but not
one of them that attracted as much attention as the stranger who drove
my team. When he was in the humor he could entrance the whole camp; but
it was not often that he would play, and it frequently happened that he
and I would go to bed under our wagon while the rest of the teamsters
were frolicking. I had discovered that he was a good man to have along.
He knew just how to handle the mules, he knew all the roads, he knew just
where to camp, and he knew how to keep Crooked-leg Jake sober. One night
after we had gone to bed he raised himself on his elbow and said:
“To-morrow night, if I make no mistake, we will camp within a few miles
of the Sandhills. There my journey ends, and yet you have never asked me
“Well,” said I, “you are a much older man than I am, and I had a notion
that if you wanted me to know your name you would tell me. I had no more
reason for asking it than you have for hiding it.”
He lay over on his back and laughed.
“You’ll find out better than that when you are older,” he said, and
then he continued laughing—though whether it was what I said or his own
thoughts that tickled him, I had no means of knowing.
“Well,” he went on, after a while, “you are as clever a youngster as ever
I met, and I’ve nothing to hide from you. My name is Willis Featherstone,
and I am simply a vagabond, else you would never have seen me trudging
along the public road with only a fiddle at my back; but I have a rich
daddy hereabouts, and I’m on my way to see how he is getting along. Now,”
he continued, “I’ll give you a riddle. If you can’t unriddle it, it will
unriddle itself. A father had a son. He sent him to school in Augusta,
until he was fifteen. By that time, the father grew to hate the son, and
one day, in a fit of anger, sold him to a nigger speculator.”
“How could that be?” I asked.
“That is a part of the riddle,” said he.
“Are you the son?”
“That is another part of the same riddle.”
“Where was the son’s mother?” I asked.
“In the riddle—in the riddle,” he replied.
I could not unriddle the riddle, but it seemed to hint at some such
villainy as I had read about in the books in my father’s library. Here
was a man who had sold his son; that was enough for me. It gave me matter
to dream on, and as I was a pretty heavy feeder in those days, my dreams
followed hard on each other. But it isn’t worth while to relate them
here, for the things that actually happened were infinitely worse than
any dream could be.
As Featherstone had foretold, we camped the next night not far from the
Sandhills, where the rich people of Augusta went every summer to escape
the heat and malaria of the city. We might have gone on and reached
Augusta during the night, but both men and mules were tired, and of the
entire caravan only one wagon went forward. I shall remember the place
as long as I live. In a little hollow, surrounded by live-oaks—we
call them water-oaks up here—was a very bold spring, and around and
about was plenty of grass for the mules. It was somewhat dry, the time
being November, but it made excellent forage. On a little hill beyond
the spring was a dwelling-house. I came to have a pretty good view of
it afterward, but in the twilight it seemed to be a very substantial
building. It was painted white and had green blinds, and it sat in the
midst of a beautiful grove of magnolias and cedars. I remember, too,—it
is all impressed on my mind so vividly—that the avenue leading to the
house was lined on each side with Lombardy poplars, and their spindling
trunks stood clearly out against the sky.
While I was helping Featherstone unhitch and unharness the mules, he
“That’s the place.”
“What place?” I asked.
“The place the riddle tells about—where the son was sold by his father.”
“Well,” said I, by way of saying something, “what can’t be cured must be
“You are a very clever chap,” he said, after a while. “In fact you are
the best chap I have seen for many a long day, and I like you. I’ve
watched you like a hawk, and I know you have a mother at home.”
“Yes,” said I, “and she’s the dearest old mother you ever saw. I wish you
He came up to me, laid his hand on my shoulder, and looked into my face
with an air I can never forget.
“That is the trouble,” said he; “I don’t know her. If I did I would be a
better man. I never had much of a mother.”
With that he turned away, and soon I heard him singing softly to himself
as he mended a piece of the harness. All this time Crooked-leg Jake was
cooking our supper beneath the live-oak trees. Other teamsters were doing
the same, so that there were two dozen camp-fires burning brightly within
an area of not more than a quarter of a mile. The weather was pleasant,
too, and the whole scene struck me as particularly lively.
Crooked-leg Jake was always free-handed with his cooking. He went at
it with a zest born of his own insatiate appetite, and it was not long
before we were through with it; and while the other campers were fuming
and stewing over their cooking, Jake was sitting by the fire nodding,
and Featherstone was playing his fiddle. He never played it better than
he did that night, and he played it a long time, while I sat listening.
Meanwhile quite a number of the teamsters gathered around, some reclining
in the leaves smoking their pipes, and others standing around in various
positions. Suddenly I discovered that Featherstone had a new and an
unexpected auditor. Just how I discovered this I do not know; it must
have been proned in upon me, as the niggers say. I observed that he
gripped the neck of his fiddle a little tighter, and suddenly he swung
off from “Money-musk” into one of those queer serenades which you have
heard now and again on the plantation. Where the niggers ever picked up
such tunes the Lord only knows, but they are heart-breaking ones.
Following the glance of Featherstone’s eyes, I looked around, and I
saw, standing within the circle of teamsters, a tall mulatto woman. She
was a striking figure as she stood there gazing with all her eyes, and
listening with all her ears. Her hair was black and straight as that of
an Indian, her cheeks were sunken, and there was that in her countenance
that gave her a wolfish aspect. As she stood there rubbing her skinny
hands together and moistening her thin lips with her tongue, she looked
like one distraught. When Featherstone stopped playing, pretending to
be tuning his fiddle, the mulatto woman drew a long breath, and made an
effort to smile. Her thin lips fell apart and her white teeth gleamed
in the firelight like so many fangs. Finally she spoke, and it was an
“Ole Giles Featherstone, up yonder—he’s my marster—he sont me down here
an’ tole me to tell you-all dat, bein’s he got some vittles lef’ over fum
dinner, he’ll be glad ef some un you would come take supper ’long wid
’im. But, gentermens”—here she lowered her voice, giving it a most tragic
tone—“you better not go, kaze he ain’t got nothin’ up dar dat’s fittin’
ter eat—some cole scraps an’ de frame uv a turkey. He scrimps hisse’f,
an’ he scrimps me, an’ he scrimps eve’ybody on de place, an’ he’ll scrimp
you-all ef you go dar. No, gentermens, ef you des got corn-bread an’
bacon you better stay ’way.”
Whatever response the teamsters might have made was drowned by
Featherstone’s fiddle, which plunged suddenly into the wild and plaintive
strains of a plantation melody. The mulatto woman stood like one
entranced; she caught her breath, drew back a few steps, stretched forth
her ebony arms, and cried out:—
“Who de name er God is dat man?”
With that Featherstone stopped his playing, fixed his eyes on the woman,
For a moment the woman stood like one paralyzed. She gasped for breath,
her arms jerked convulsively, and there was a twitching of the muscles of
her face pitiful to behold; then she rushed forward and fell on her knees
at the fiddler’s feet, hugging his legs with her arms.
“Honey, who is you?” she cried in a loud voice. “In de name er de Lord,
who is you! Does you know me? Say, honey, does you?”
Featherstone looked at the writhing woman serenely.
“Come, now,” he said, “I ask you once more, _Where’s Duncan?_”
His tone was most peculiar: it was thrilling, indeed, and it had a
tremendous effect on the woman. She rose to her feet, flung her bony arms
above her head, and ran off into the darkness, screaming:—
“He sold ’im!—he sold Duncan! He sold my onliest boy!”
This she kept on repeating as she ran, and her voice died away like an
echo in the direction of the house on the hill. There was not much joking
among the teamsters over this episode, and somehow there was very little
talk of any kind. None of us accepted the invitation. Featherstone put
his fiddle in his bag, and walked off toward the wagons, and it was not
long before everybody had turned in for the night.
I suppose I had been asleep an hour when I felt some one shaking me by
the shoulder. It was Crooked-leg Jake.
“Marse Isaiah,” said he, “dey er cuttin’ up a mighty rippit up dar at dat
house on de hill. I ’spec’ somebody better go up dar.”
“What are they doing?” I asked him drowsily.
“Dey er cussin’ an’ gwine on scan’lous. Dat ar nigger ’oman, she’s
a-cussin’ out de white man, an’ de white man, he’s a-cussin’ back at
“Where’s Featherstone?” I inquired, still not more than half awake.
“Dat what make me come atter you, suh. Dat white man what bin ’long wid
us, he’s up dar, an’ it look like ter me dat he’s a-aggin’ de fuss on.
Dey gwine ter be trouble up dar, sho ez you er born.”
“Bosh!” said I, “the woman’s master will call her up, give her a
strapping, and that will be the end of it.”
“No, suh! no, suh!” exclaimed Jake; “dat ar nigger ’oman done got dat
white man hacked. Hit’s des like I tell you, mon!”
I drove Jake off to bed, turned over on my pallet, and was about to go to
sleep again, when I heard quite a stir in the camp. The mules and horses
were snorting and tugging at their halters, the chickens on the hill were
cackling, and somewhere near, a flock of geese was screaming. Just then
Crooked-leg Jake came and shook me by the shoulder again. I spoke to him
somewhat sharply, but he didn’t seem to mind it.
“What I tell you, Marse Isaiah?” he cried. “Look up yonder! Ef dat house
ain’t afire on top, den Jake’s a liar!”
I turned on my elbow, and, sure enough, the house on the hill was
outlined in flame. The hungry, yellow tongues of fire reached up the
corners and ran along the roof, lapping the shingles, here and there,
as if blindly searching for food. They found it, too, for by the time
I reached the spot, and you may be sure I was not long getting there,
the whole roof was in a blaze. I had never seen a house on fire before,
and the sight of it made me quake; but in a moment I had forgotten all
about the fire, for there, right before my eyes, was a spectacle that
will haunt me to my dying day. In the dining-room—I suppose it must have
been the dining-room, for there was a sideboard with a row of candles
on it—I saw the mulatto woman (the same that had acted so queerly when
Featherstone had asked her about Duncan) engaged in an encounter with
a gray-haired white man. The candles on the sideboard and the flaring
flames without lit up the affair until it looked like some of the
spectacles I have since seen in theatres, only it was more terrible.
It was plain that the old man was no match for the woman, but he fought
manfully for his life. Whatever noise they made must have been drowned by
the crackling and roaring of the flames outside; but they seemed to be
making none except a snarling sound when they caught their breath, like
two bull-dogs fighting. The woman had a carving-knife in her right hand,
and she was endeavoring to push the white man against the wall. He, on
his side, was trying to catch and hold the hand in which the woman held
the knife, and was also making a frantic effort to keep away from the
wall. But the woman had the advantage; she was younger and stronger, and
desperate as he was, she was more desperate still.
Of course, it is a very easy matter to ask why some of my companions or
myself didn’t rush to the rescue. I think such an attempt was made; but
the roof of the house was ablaze and crackling from one end to the other,
and the heat and smoke were stifling. The smoke and flames, instead of
springing upward, ranged downward, so that before anything could be done,
the building appeared to be a solid sheet of fire; but through it all
could be seen the writhing and wrestling of the nigger woman and the
white man. Once, and only once, did I catch the sound of a voice; it was
the voice of the nigger woman; she had her carving-knife raised in the
air in one hand, and with the other she had the white man by the throat.
“_Where’s Duncan?_” she shrieked.
If the man had been disposed to reply, he had no opportunity, for the
woman had no sooner asked the question than she plunged the carving-knife
into his body, not only once, but twice. It was a sickening sight,
indeed, and I closed my eyes to avoid seeing any more of it; but there
was no need of that, for the writhing and struggling bodies of the two
fell to the floor and so disappeared from sight.
Immediately afterward there was a tremendous crash. The roof had fallen
in, and this was followed by an eruption of sparks and smoke and flame,
accompanied by a violent roaring noise that sounded like the culmination
of a storm. It was so loud that it aroused the pigeons on the place,
and a great flock of them began circling around the burning building.
Occasionally one more frightened than the rest would dart headlong into
the flames, and it was curious to see the way it disappeared. There would
be a fizz and a sputter, and the poor bird would be burnt harder than a
crackling. I observed this and other commonplace things with unusual
interest—an interest sharpened, perhaps, by the fact that there could be
no hope for the two human beings on whom the roof had fallen.
Naturally, you will want to ask me a great many questions. I have asked
them myself a thousand times, and I’ve tried to dream the answers to them
while I sat dozing here in the sun, but when I dream about the affair at
all, the fumes of burning flesh seem to fill my nostrils. Crooked-leg
Jake insisted to the day of his death that the man who had driven our
team sat in a chair in the corner of the dining-room, while the woman and
the man were fighting, and seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. It may be
so. At any rate none of us ever saw him again. As for the rest, you know
just as much about it as I do.
HER FRIENDS AND HER ENEMIES.
The little town of Fairleigh, in South Carolina, was a noted place
before the war, whatever it may be now. It had its atmosphere, as Judge
Waynecroft used to say, and that atmosphere was one of distinction. It
was a very quiet town, but there was something aristocratic, something
exclusive, even in its repose. It was a rough wind that could disturb the
stateliness of the live oaks with which the streets were lined, and it
was indeed an inhospitable winter that could suppress the tendency of the
roses to bloom.
Fairleigh made no public boast that it was not a commercial town, but
there can be no doubt that it prided itself on the fact. Even the
piney-woods crackers found a slow market there for the little “truck”
they had to sell, for it was the custom of the people to get their
supplies of all kinds from “the city.” It was to “the city,” indeed,
that Fairleigh owed its prominence, and its inhabitants were duly mindful
of that fact.
As late as 1854 there was no more insignificant village in South Carolina
than Fairleigh; but in the summer of that year the fever plague flapped
its yellow wings above Charleston, and the wealthier families sought
safety in flight. Some went North and some went West; some went one way
and some another; but the choice few, following the example of Judge
Waynecroft, went no further than Fairleigh, which was far enough in the
interior to be out of reach of the contagion.
They found the situation of the little village so convenient, and its
climate so perfect, that they proceeded—still following the example of
Judge Waynecroft—to build summer homes there; and in time Fairleigh
became noted as a resort for the wealthiest and most refined people of
Of this movement, as has been intimated, Judge Waynecroft was the
pioneer; and for this and other reasons he was highly esteemed by
the natives of Fairleigh. To their minds the Judge was an able and a
public-spirited citizen, whom it was their pleasure to admire. In
addition to this, he had a most charming household, in which simplicity
lent grace to dignity.
There was one feature of Judge Waynecroft’s household, however, which
the natives of Fairleigh did not admire, and that was “Mom Bi.” Perhaps
they were justified in this. Mom Bi was a negro woman, who appeared to be
somewhat past middle age, just how far past no one could guess. She was
tall and gaunt, and her skin was black as jet. She walked rapidly, but
with a sidewise motion, as if she had been overtaken with rheumatism or
partial paralysis. Her left arm was bent and withered, and she carried
it in front of her and across her body, as one would hold an infant. Her
head-handkerchief was queerly tied. The folds of it stood straight up in
the air, giving her the appearance of a black Amazon. This impression was
heightened by the peculiar brightness of her eyes. They were not large
eyes, but they shone like those of a wild animal that is not afraid of
the hunter. Her nose was not flat, nor were her lips thick like those of
the typical negro. Her whole appearance was aggressive. Moreover, her
manner was abrupt, and her tongue sharp, especially when it was leveled
at any of the natives of Fairleigh.
To do Mom Bi justice, her manner was abrupt and her tongue sharp even
in her master’s family, but there these matters were understood.
Practically, she ruled the household, and though she quarreled from
morning till night, and sometimes far into the night, everything she said
was taken in a Pickwickian sense. She was an old family servant who not
only had large privileges, but was defiantly anxious to take advantage of
all of them.
Whatever effect slavery may have had on other negroes, or on negroes in
general, it is certain that Mom Bi’s spirit remained unbroken. Whoever
crossed her in the least, white or black, old or young, got “a piece
of her mind,” and it was usually a very large piece. Naturally enough,
under the circumstances, Mom Bi soon became as well known in Fairleigh
and in all the region round about as any of the “quality people.” To
some, her characteristics were intensely irritating; while to others they
were simply amusing; but to all she was a unique figure, superior in her
methods and ideas to the common run of negroes.
Once, after having a quarrel with her mistress—a quarrel which was a
one-sided affair, however—Mom Bi heard one of the house girls making
an effort to follow her example. The girl was making some impertinent
remarks to her mistress, when Mom Bi seized a dog-whip that was hanging
in the hall, and used it with such effect that the pert young wench
remembered it for many a long day.
This was Mom Bi’s way. She was ready enough to quarrel with each and
every member of her master’s family, but she was ready to defend the
entire household against any and all comers. Altogether she was a queer
combination of tyrant and servant, of virago and “mammy.” Yet her master
and mistress appreciated and respected her, and the children loved her.
Her strong individuality was not misunderstood by those who knew her best.
No one knew just how old she was, and no one knew her real name. Probably
no one cared: but there was a tradition in the Waynecroft family that
her name was Viola, and that it had been corrupted by the children into
Bi—Mom Bi. As to her age, it is sufficient to say that she was the
self-constituted repository of the oral history of three generations of
the family. She was a young woman when her master’s grandfather died in
1799. Good, bad or indifferent, Mom Bi knew all about the family; and
there were passages in the careers of some of its members that she was
fond of retailing to her master and mistress, especially when in a bad
Insignificant as she was, Mom Bi made her influence felt in Fairleigh.
She was respected in her master’s family for her honesty and
faithfulness, but outsiders shrank from her frank and fearless criticism.
The “sandhillers”—the tackies—that marketed their poor little crops in
and around the village, were the special objects of her aversion, and
she lost no opportunity of harassing them. Whether these queer people
regarded Mom Bi as a humorist of the grimmer sort, or whether they were
indifferent to her opinions, it would be difficult to say, but it is
certain that her remarks, no matter how personal or bitter, made little
impression on them. The men would rub their thin beards, nudge each other
and laugh silently, while the women would push their sunbonnets back and
stare at her as if she were some rare curiosity on exhibition. At such
times Mom Bi would laugh loudly and maliciously, and cry out in a shrill
and an irritating tone:—
“De Lord know, I glad I nigger. Ef I ain’t bin born black, dee ain’t no
tellin, what I mought bin born. I mought bin born lak some deze white
folks what eat dirt un set in de chimerly-corner tell dee look lak dee
bin smoke-dried. De Lord know what make Jesse Waynecroft fetch he famerly
’mongst folk lak deze.”
This was mildness itself compared with some of Mom Bi’s harangues later
on, when the “sandhillers,” urged by some of the energetic citizens
of the village, were forming a military company to be offered to the
Governor of Virginia for the defense of that State. This was in the
summer of 1861. There was a great stir in the South. The martial spirit
of the people had been aroused by the fiery eloquence of the political
leaders, and the volunteers were mustering in every town and village.
The “sandhillers” were not particularly enthusiastic—they had but vague
ideas of the issues at stake—but the military business was something
new to them, and therefore alluring. They volunteered readily if not
cheerfully, and it was not long before there was a company of them
mustering under the name of the Rifle Rangers—an attractive title to the
ear if not to the understanding.
Mom Bi was very much interested in the maneuvers of the Rifle Rangers.
She watched them with a scornful and a critical eye. Even in their
uniforms, which were of the holiday pattern, their appearance was the
reverse of soldierly. They were hollow-chested and round-shouldered,
and exceedingly awkward in all their movements. Their maneuvers on the
outskirts of the village, accompanied by the music of fife and drum,
always drew a crowd of idlers, and among these interested spectators Mom
Bi was usually to be found.
“Dee gwine fight,” she would say to the Waynecroft children, in her loud
and rasping voice. “Dee gwine kill folks right un left. Look at um! I
done git skeer’d myse’f, dee look so ’vigrous. Ki! dee gwine eat dem
Yankee up fer true. I sorry fer dem Yankee, un I skeer’d fer myse’f! When
dee smell dem vittle what dem Yankee got, ’tis good-by, Yankee! Look at
um, honey! dee gwine fight fer rich folks’ nigger.”
The drilling and mustering went on, however, and Mom Bi was permitted
to say what she pleased. Some laughed at her, others regarded her with
something like superstitious awe, while a great many thought she was
merely a harmless simpleton. Above all, she was Judge Waynecroft’s family
servant, and this fact was an ample apology in Fairleigh and its environs
for anything that she might say.
The mustering of the “sandhillers” irritated Mom Bi; but when the family
returned to Charleston in the winter, the preparations for war that she
saw going on made a definite and profound impression on her. At night she
would go into her mistress’s room, sit on the hearth in a corner of the
fire-place, and watch the fire in the grate. Nursing her withered arm,
she would sit silent for an hour at a time, and when she did speak it
seemed as if her tongue had lost something of its characteristic asperity.
“I think,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, on one occasion, “that Mom Bi is getting
“Well, she’ll never get it any younger,” the Judge replied.
Mom Bi, sitting in her corner, pretended not to hear, but after a while
she said: “Ef de Lord call me in de chu’ch, I gwine; ef he no call I no
gwine—enty? I no yerry him call dis long time.”
“Well,” remarked the Judge, “something has cooled you off and toned you
down, and I was in hopes you were in the mourners’ seat.”
“Huh!” exclaimed Mom Bi. “How come I gwine go in mourner seat? What I
gwine do in dey?” Then pointing to a portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft
hanging over the mantel, she cried out: “Wey he bin gone at?”
Gabriel was the eldest son, the hope and pride of the family. The Judge
and his wife looked at each other.
“I think you know where he has gone,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, gently. “He
has gone to fight for his country.”
“Huh!” the old woman grunted. Then, after a pause, “Wey dem san’hillers
bin gone at? Wey de country what dee fight fer?”
“Why, what are you talking about?” said Judge Waynecroft, who had been
listening behind his newspaper. “This is their country too, and they have
gone to fight for it.”
“’Longside dat boy?” Mom Bi asked. Her voice rose as she pointed at
“Why, certainly,” said the Judge.
“_Pishou!_” exclaimed Mom Bi, with a hiss that was the very essence of
scorn, contempt and unbelief. “Oona nee’n’ tell me dat ting. I nuttin’
but nigger fer true, but I know better dun dat. I bin nuss dat boy, un
I know um troo un troo. Dat boy, ’e cut ’e t’roat fus’ fo’ ’e fight
’longside dem trash. When ’e be en tell-a you ’e gwine fight ’longside
dem whut de Lord done fersooken dis long time?”
The Judge smiled, but Mrs. Waynecroft looked serious; Mom Bi rocked
backward and forward, as if nursing her withered arm.
“Whut dem po’ white trash gwine fight fer? Nuttin’ ’tall ain’t bin tell
me dat. Dee ain’t bin had no nigger; dee ain’t bin had no money; dee
ain’t bin had no lan’; dee ain’t bin had nuttin’ ’tall. Un den ’pun top
er dat, yer come folks fer tell me dat dat boy gwine fight ’longside dem
Mom Bi laughed loudly, and shook her long finger at the portrait of young
Gabriel Waynecroft. As a work of art the portrait was a failure, having
been painted by an ambitious amateur; but, crude as it was, it showed a
face of wonderful refinement. The features were as delicate as those of
a woman, with the exception of the chin, which was full and firm. The
eyes, large and lustrous, gazed from the canvas with a suggestion of both
tenderness and fearlessness.
During the long and dreary days that followed—days of waiting, days
of suffering and of sorrow—there were many changes in the Waynecroft
household, but Mom Bi held her place. She remained as virile and as
active as ever. If any change was noticeable it was that her temper
was more uncertain and her voice shriller. All her talk was about the
war; and as the contest wore on, with no perceptible advantage to the
Confederates, she assumed the character and functions of a prophetess.
Among the negroes, especially those who had never come in familiar
contact with the whites, she was looked upon as a person to be feared and
respected. Naturally, they argued that any black who talked to the white
people as Mom Bi did must possess at least sufficient occult power to
Sometimes, in the pleasant weather, while walking with her mistress and
the children on the battery at Charleston she would reach forth her hand
“Oona see dem wharfs? Dee gwine be fill wid Yankee ships! Dee gwine sail
right stret up, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um.”
Then, turning to the town, she would say:
“Oona see dem street? Dee gwine fair swarm wid Yankee! Dee gwine march
troo ’um, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um. Oona see dem gang er nigger
down dey? Dee gwine be free, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um. Dee’l be
free, un ole Bi gwine be free. Ah, Lord! when de drum start fer beat, un
de trumpet start fer blow, de white folks gwine los de nigger. Ki! I mos’
yeddy dem now.”
This was repeated, not once, but hundreds of times—in the house and on
the streets, wherever Mom Bi went. At the market, while the venders were
weighing out supplies for the Waynecroft household, Mom Bi would take
advantage of the occasion to preach a sermon about the war and to utter
prophecies about the freedom of the negroes. Her fearlessness was her
best protection. Those who heard her had no doubt that she was a lunatic,
and so she was allowed to come and go in peace, at a time when the
great mass of the negroes were under the strictest surveillance. It made
no difference to Mom Bi, however, whether one or a thousand eyes were
watching her, or whether the whole world thought she was crazy. She was
in earnest, and thus presented a spectacle that is rarer than a great
many people are willing to admit.
The old woman went her way, affording amusement to some and to others
food for thought; and the rest of the world went its way, especially
that part of it that was watching events from rifle-pits and trenches.
To those at home the years seemed to drag, though they went fast enough,
no doubt, for those at the front. They went fast enough to mark some
marvelous changes and developments. Hundreds of thousands of times, it
happened that a gun fired in Virginia sorely wounded the hearts of a
household far away.
On the Shenandoah, one night, a sharpshooter in blue heard the clatter
of a horse’s hoofs on the turnpike, and the jangling of sword, spurs and
bit. As the horseman came into view in the moonlight, the sharpshooter
leveled his rifle. There was a flash, a puff of smoke, and a report that
broke into a hundred crackling echoes on the still night air. The horse
that had been held so well in hand galloped wildly away with an empty
saddle. The comrades of the cavalryman, who had been following him at a
little distance, rushed forward at the report of the gun, and found their
handsome young officer lying in the road, dead. They scoured the country
for some distance around, but they saw nothing and heard nothing, and
finally they lifted the dead soldier to a horse, and carried him back to
The sharpshooter had aimed only at the dashing young cavalryman, but his
shot struck a father and a mother in Charleston, and an old negro woman
who was supposed to be crazy; and the wounds that it made were grievous.
The cavalryman was young Gabriel Waynecroft, and with the ending of his
life the hope and expectations of the family seemed to be blotted out.
He had been the darling of the household, the pride of his father, the
joy of his mother, and the idol of Mom Bi. When the news of his death
came, the grief of the household took the shape of consternation. It was
terrible to behold. The mother was prostrated and the father crushed.
Their sorrow was voiceless. Mom Bi went about wringing her hands and
moaning and talking to herself day after day.
Once, Judge Waynecroft, passing through the hall in slippered feet,
thought he heard voices in the sitting-room. In an aimless way, he
glanced in the room, and the sight made him pause. Mom Bi was sitting in
the middle of the room in a low chair, gazing at the portrait of Gabriel
Waynecroft, and talking to it. She spoke in a soft and tender tone, in
strange contrast to the usual rasping and irritating quality of her voice.
“Look at me, honey,” she was saying; “look at you’ ole nigger mammy! Whut
make dee lef’ you fer go way down, dey wey one folks kill turrer folks?
Tell de ole nigger mammy dat, honey. Whaffer dee no lef’ dem no ’count
san’hillers fer do all de fightin’? Who gwine fer cry wun dee git kilt?
Fightin’ fer nigger! Whaffer you’ daddy no sen’ he niggers fer fight? De
Lord know dee plenty un um. Nummine, honey! ’T ain’t gwine fer be long,
’fo’ dee’ll all know whut de Lord know, un whut ole Bi know. Gi’ um time,
honey! des gi’ um time!”
Judge Waynecroft turned away with a groan. To behold the bewildered grief
of this old negro woman was to add a new pang to his own sorrow. Mom Bi
paused, but did not turn her head. She heard her master pass down the
hall with uncertain step, and then she heard the library door shut.
“’Tis de gospel troot ’e bin yeddy me preachin’,” she exclaimed. Then she
turned again to the portrait and gazed at it steadily and in silence for
a long while, rocking herself and nursing her withered arm.
When the body of Gabriel Waynecroft was brought home, Mom Bi kneeled on
the floor at the foot of the coffin and stayed there, giving utterance to
the wildest lamentations. Some friend or acquaintance of the family made
an attempt to remove her.
“This will never do,” he said kindly, but firmly. “You must get up and go
away. The noise you are making distresses and disturbs the family.”
Trembling with mingled grief and rage, Mom Bi turned upon the officious
“I ain’t, I ain’t, I ain’t!” she almost shrieked. “I gwine fer stay right
wey I is. Take you’ han’ fum off me, man! I bin cry on count dat chile
mos’ ’fo’ he own mammy is. I bin nuss um, I bin worry wid um, I bin stay
’wake wid um wun ev’body wuz sleep, un I bin hol’ um in my lap day un
night, wun ’e sick un wun ’e well. I ain’t gwine out! I ain’t! I ain’t!”
In fine, Mom Bi made a terrible scene, and the officious person who
wanted to drive her out was glad to get out himself, which he was
compelled to do in order to escape the clamor that he had unwittingly
The death and burial of Gabriel Waynecroft was a gloomy episode in Mom
Bi’s experience, and it left its marks upon her. She lost none of her
old-time vigor, but her temper became almost unbearable. She was surly,
irritable and sometimes violent, especially toward the negroes on the
place, who regarded her with a superstitious fear that would be difficult
to explain or describe. Left to herself she did well enough. She loved to
sit in the sun and talk to herself. The other negroes had a theory that
she saw spirits and conversed with them; but they were welcome to their
theories, so far as Mom Bi was concerned, provided they didn’t pester her.
Meanwhile, Sherman’s army was marching through Georgia to Savannah,
and in Virginia Grant was arranging the plans of his last campaign.
Savannah fell, and then came the information that Sherman’s army was
moving on Charleston. The city could be defended in only one direction:
all its bristles pointed seaward; and the Confederate troops prepared to
evacuate. All these movements were well known to the negroes, especially
to Mom Bi, and she made use of her information to renew her prophecies.
She stood in the porch of her master’s house and watched the Confederates
file by, greeting them occasionally with irritating comment.
“Hi! Wey you gwine? Whaffer you no stop fer tell folks good-by? Nummine!
Dem Yankee buckra, dee gwine shaky you by de han’. Dee mek you hot fer
true. Wey you no stop fer see de nigger come free?”
Most of Mom Bi’s prophecies came true. Sherman marched northward, and
then came Appomattox. One day, shortly after the surrender, Mom Bi
appeared before Judge Waynecroft and his wife rigged out in her best
clothes. She was rather more subdued than usual. She entered the room,
and then stood still, looking first at one and then at the other.
“Well, Bi,” said the Judge, kindly, “what can we do for you?”
“Nuttin’ ’t all. I gwine down dey at Sawanny, wey my daughter is bin
“Do you mean Maria?”
“My daughter ’Ria, w’at you bin sell to John Waynecroft. I gwine down dey
wey she live at.”
“Why, you are too old to be gadding about,” said the Judge. “Why not stay
here where you have a comfortable home?”
“I think you are very foolish to even dream of such a thing, Mom Bi.
Maria is not able to take care of you.”
“I gwine down dey wey my daughter bin live at,” persisted Mom Bi. Then
she looked at the portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft. The beautiful boyish
face seemed to arouse her. Turning suddenly, she exclaimed:
“De Lord know I done bin fergive you-all fer sellin’ ’Ria ’way fum me.
De Lord know I is! Wun I bin see you set down un let dat chile go off
fer git kill’”—Mom Bi pointed her long and quivering finger at Gabriel’s
portrait—“wun I see dis, I say ‘hush up, nigger! don’t bodder ’bout
’Ria.’ De Lord know I done bin fergive you!”
With this Mom Bi turned to the door and passed out.
“Won’t you tell us good-by?” the Judge asked.
“I done bin fergive you,” said Mom Bi.
“I think you might tell us good-by,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, with tears in
her eyes and voice.
“I done bin fergive you,” was the answer.
This was in June. One morning months afterward Judge Waynecroft was
informed by a policeman that a crazy old negro woman had been arrested in
“She is continually talking about Gabriel Waynecroft,” said the officer,
“and the Captain thought you might know something about her. She’s got
the temper of Old Harry,” he continued, “and old and crippled as she is,
she’s as strong as a bull yearling.”
It was Mom Bi, and she was carried to her old master’s home. Little
by little she told the story of her visit to Savannah. She found her
daughter and her family in a most deplorable condition. The children had
the small-pox, and finally Maria was seized with the disease. For lack of
food and proper attention they all died, and Mom Bi found herself alone
and friendless in a strange city. How she managed to make her way back
home it is impossible to say, but she returned.
The Mom Bi who returned, however, was not the same Mom Bi that went away.
Old age had overtaken her in Savannah. Her eyes were hollow, her face was
pinched and shrunken, the flesh on her bones had shriveled, and her limbs
shook as with the palsy. When she was helped into the house that had so
long been her home she looked around at the furniture and the walls.
Finally her eyes rested on the portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft. She smiled
a little and then said feebly:
“I done bin come back. I bin come back fer stay; but I free, dough!”
In a little while she was freer still. She had passed beyond the reach of
mortal care or pain; and, as in the old days, she went without bidding
her friends good-by.
THE OLD BASCOM PLACE.
One Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1876, as Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom
was on his way to Hillsborough for the purpose of hearing the news
and having an evening’s chat with his town acquaintances,—as was his
invariable custom at the close of the week,—he saw, as he passed the old
Bascom Place, an old gentleman and a young lady walking slowly along the
road. The old gentleman was tall and thin, and had silvery white hair.
He wore a high-crowned, wide-brimmed felt hat, and his clothes, though
neat, were too glossy to be new. The young lady was just developing into
womanhood. She had a striking face and figure. Her eyes were large and
brilliantly black; her hair, escaping from under her straw hat with its
scarlet ribbons, fell in dusky masses to her waist.
The two walked slowly, and occasionally they paused while the old
gentleman pointed in various directions with his cane, as though
impressing on the mind of his companion the whereabouts of certain
interesting landmarks. They were followed at a little distance by a
negro, who carried across his arm a light wrap which seemed to be a part
of the outfit of the young lady.
As Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom passed the two, he bowed and tipped his hat by
way of salutation. The old gentleman raised his hat and bowed with great
courtliness, and the young lady nodded her head and smiled pleasantly at
him. Farmer Joe-Bob was old enough to be grizzly, but the smile stirred
him. It seemed to be a direct challenge to his memory. Where had he
seen the young lady before? Where had he met the old gentleman? He was
puzzled to such an extent that he paid no attention to the negro man, who
touched his hat and bowed politely as the farmer passed—a fact that made
the negro wonder a little; for day in and out he had known Mr. Joe-Bob
Grissom nearly forty years, and never before had that worthy citizen
failed to respond with a cordial “Howdy” when the negro took off his hat.
Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom walked on towards town, which was not far, and
the old gentleman and the young lady walked slowly along the hedge of
Cherokee roses that ran around the old Bascom Place, while the negro
followed at a respectful distance. Once they paused, and the old
gentleman rubbed his eyes with a hand that trembled a little.
“Why, darling!” he exclaimed in a tone of mingled grief and astonishment,
“they have cut it down.”
“Cut what down, father?”
“Why, the weeping-willow. Don’t you remember it, daughter? It stood in
the middle of the field yonder. It was a noble tree. Well, well, well!
What next, I wonder?”
“I do not remember it, father; I have so much to”—
“Yes, yes,” the old gentleman interrupted. “Of course you couldn’t
remember. The place has been so changed that I seem to have forgotten it
myself. It has been turned topsy-turvy; it has been ruined—ruined!”
He leaned on his cane, and with quivering lips and moist eyes looked
through the green perspective of the park, and over the fertile fields
“Ruined!” exclaimed the young lady. “How can you say so, father? I never
saw a more beautiful place. It would make a lovely picture.”
“And they have ruined the house, too. The whole roof has been changed.”
The old man pulled his hat down over his eyes, his hand trembling more
than ever. “Let us turn back, Mildred,” he said after a while. “The sight
of all this frets and worries me more than I thought it would.”
“They say,” said the daughter, “that the gentleman who owns the place has
made a good deal of money.”
“Yes,” replied the father, “I suppose so—I suppose so. Yes, so I have
heard. A great many people are making money now who never made it
before—a great many.”
“I wish they would tell us the secret,” said the young lady, laughing a
“There is no secret about it,” said the old gentleman; “none whatever.
To make money you must be mean and niggardly yourself, and then employ
others to be mean and niggardly for you.”
“Oh, it is not always so, father,” the young girl exclaimed.
“It _was_ not always so, my daughter. There _was_ a time when one could
make money and remain a gentleman; but that was many years ago.”
The young lady was apparently not anxious to continue the argument, for
she lightly turned the conversation into a more agreeable channel; and so
the two, still followed by the negro, made their way through the shaded
streets of the town.
That evening, when Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, after making some little
purchases about town, went to the hotel, which he persisted in calling a
tavern, he found Major Jimmy Bass engaged in a hot political discussion
with a crowd which included a number of the townspeople, as well as a
sprinkling of commercial travelers. Major Jimmy was one of the ancient
and venerable landmarks of that region. He had once been an active
politician, and had been engaged in political discussion for forty years
or more. Old and fat as he was, he knew how to talk, and nothing pleased
him more than to get hold of a stranger when a crowd of sympathetic
fellow-citizens, young and old, was present to applaud the points he made.
Whenever Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom appeared in the veranda of the hotel he
made it a point to shake hands with every person present, friend and
stranger alike. His politeness was a trifle elaborate, but it was genuine.
“Why, howdy, Joe-Bob, howdy!” exclaimed Major Bass with effusion. “You
seem to turn up at the right time, like the spangled man in the circus.
I’m glad you’ve come, an’ ef I’d ’a’ had my way you’d ’a’ come sooner,
bekaze you’re jest a little too late fer to see me slap the argyments
onto some of these here travelin’ drummers. They are gone now,” the major
continued, with a sweeping gesture of his right arm. “They are gone, but
I wisht mightily you’d ’a’ been here. New things is mortal nice, I know;
but when these new-issue chaps set up to out-talk men that’s old enough
to be their grand-daddy, it does me a sight of good fer to see ’em took
down a peg er two.”
As soon as he could get in a word edgewise, farmer Joe-Bob Grissom
attempted to turn the conversation in a direction calculated to satisfy
“Major,” he said in his deliberate way, “what’s this I see out yonder at
the old Bascom Place?”
“The Lord only knows, Joe-Bob. What might be the complexion, er yet the
character, of it?”
“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, “as I was makin’ to’rds town a little while
ago, I seen some folks that don’t look like they b’long ’roun’ here. One
of ’em was a old man, an’ t’ other one was a young gal, an’ a nigger man
was a-follerin’ of ’em up—an’, ef I make no mistakes, the nigger man was
your old Jess. I didn’t look close at the nigger, but arter I’d passed
him it come to me that it wa’n’t nobody on the topside of the roun’ worl’
“Why, bless your life an’ soul!” exclaimed Major Bass, giving farmer
Joe-Bob a neighborly nudge, “don’t you know who them folks was? Well,
well! Where’s your mind? Why, that was old Briscoe Bascom an’ his
“I say it!” exclaimed farmer Joe-Bob, hitching his chair closer to the
“Yes, sir,” said the major, “that’s who it was. Why, where on earth have
you been? The old Judge drapped in on the town some weeks ago, an’ he’s
been here ever sence. He’s been here long enough for the gal to make up a
school. Lord, Lord! What a big swing the world’s in! High on one side,
high on t’ other, an’ the old cat a-dyin, in the middle! Why, bless your
heart, Joe-Bob! I’ve seed the time when ef old Judge Briscoe Bascom jest
so much as bowed to me I’d feel proud fer a week. An’ now look at ’im! Ef
I knowed I’d be took off wi’ the dropsy the nex’ minute, I wouldn’t swap
places wi’ the poor old creetur.”
“But what is old Jess a-doin’ doggin’ ’long arter ’em that a-way?”
inquired Mr. Grissom, knitting his shaggy eyebrows.
“That’s what pesters me,” exclaimed the major. “Ef niggers was
ree-sponsible fer what they done, it would be wuss than what it is. Now
you take Jesse: you needn’t tell me that nigger ain’t got sense; yit what
does he do? You seen ’im wi’ your own eyes. Why, sir,” continued the
major, growing more emphatic, “I bought that nigger from Judge Bascom’s
cousin when he wa’n’t nothin’ but a youngster, an’ I took him home an’
raised him up right in the house,—yes, sir, right in the house,—an’ he’s
been a-hangin’ ’roun’ me off an’ on, gittin’ his vittles, his clozes, an’
his lodgin’. Yit, look at him now! I wisht I may die dead ef that nigger
didn’t hitch onto old Judge Bascom the minute he landed in town. Yes,
sir! I’m a-tellin’ you no lie. It’s a clean, naked fact. That nigger quit
me an’ went an’ took up wi’ the old judge.”
“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, stroking his unshorn face, “you know what the
sayin’ is: Niggers ’ll be niggers even ef you whitewash ’em twice a week.”
“Yes,” remarked the major thoughtfully; “I hope to goodness they’ve got
souls, but I misdoubt it. Lord, yes, I misdoubt it mightily.”
As Major Jimmy Bass used to say, the years cut many queer capers as they
go by. The major in his own proper person had not only witnessed, but had
been the victim, of these queer capers. Hillsborough was a very small
place indeed, and, for that very reason perhaps, it was more sensitive
to changes in the way of progress and decay than many larger and more
However this may have been, it is certain that the town, assisted
by the major, had noted the queer capers the years had cut in the
neighborhood of the old Bascom Place. This attitude on the part of
Hillsborough—including, of course, Major Jimmy Bass—may be accounted for
partly by the fact that the old place had once been the pride and delight
of the town, and partly by the fact that the provincial eye and mind are
nervously alert to whatever happens within range of their observation.
Before and during the war the Bascom Place was part and parcel of a
magnificent estate. The domain was so extensive and so well managed that
it was noted far and wide. Its boundary lines inclosed more than four
thousand acres of forests and cultivated fields. This immense body of
land was known as the old Bascom Place.
Bolling Bascom, its first owner, went to Georgia not long after the close
of the Revolution, with a large number of Virginians who proposed to
establish a colony in what was then the far South. The colony settled in
Wilkes County; but Bolling Bascom, more adventurous than the rest, pushed
on into middle Georgia, crossed the Oconee, and built him a home, and
such was his taste, his energy, and his thrift, that the results thereof
may be seen and admired in Hillsborough to this day.
But the man, like so many of his fellow-citizens then and thereafter,
was land-hungry. He bought and bought until he had acquired the immense
domain, which, by some special interposition of fate or circumstance,
is still intact. Meantime he had built him a house which was in keeping
with the extent and richness of his landed possessions. It was planned in
the old colonial style, but its massive proportions were relieved by the
tall red chimneys and the long and gracefully fashioned colonnade that
gave both strength and beauty to the spacious piazza which ran, and still
runs, the whole length of the house.
When Bolling Bascom died, in 1830, aged seventy years, as the faded
inscription on the storm-beaten tablet in the churchyard shows, he left
his son, Briscoe Bascom, to own and manage the vast estate. This son was
thirty years old, and it was said of him that he inherited the gentle
qualities of his mother rather than the fiery energy and ambition of his
Bolling Bascom was neither vicious nor reckless, but he was a thorough
man of the world. He was, in short, a typical Virginian gentleman, who
for his own purposes had settled in Georgia.
Whatever the cause of his emigration, it is certain that Georgia gained
a good citizen. It was said of him that he was a little too fond of a
fiddle, but with all his faults—with all his love for horse-racing and
fox-hunting—he found time to be kind to his neighbors, generous to his
friends, and the active leader of every movement calculated to benefit
the State or the people; and it may be remarked in passing, that he also
found time to look after his own affairs.
Naturally, he was prominent in politics. He represented his county in the
legislature, was at one time a candidate for governor, and was altogether
a man who had the love and the confidence of his neighbors. He gave his
son the benefit of the best education the country afforded, and made the
tour of Europe with him, going over the ground that he himself had gone
over in his young days.
But his European trip, undertaken when he was an old man, was too much
for him. He was seized with an illness on his return voyage, and,
although he lived long enough to reach home, he never recovered. In
a few years his wife died; and his son, with little or no experience
in such matters,—since his time had been taken up by the schools and
colleges,—was left to manage the estate as best he could.
It was the desire of Bolling Bascom that his son should study law and
make that profession a stepping-stone to a political career. He had been
ambitious himself, and he hoped his son would also be ambitious. Besides,
was not politics the most respectable of all the professions? This was
certainly the view in Bolling Bascom’s day and time, and much might be
said to support it. Of all the professions, politics opened up the one
career best calculated to tickle the fancy of the rich young men.
To govern, to control, to make laws, to look after the welfare of the
people, to make great speeches, to become statesmen—these were the ideas
that filled the minds of ambitious men in Bolling Bascom’s time, and for
years thereafter. And why not? There were the examples of Jefferson,
Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Hamilton, Webster, Calhoun, and the Adamses
of Massachusetts. What better could a young man do than to follow in the
footsteps of these illustrious citizens?
It may be supposed, therefore, that Bolling Bascom had mapped out a
tremendous career for his son and heir. No doubt, as he sat dozing on
his piazza in the long summer afternoons near the close of his life, he
fancied he could hear the voice of his boy in the halls of legislation,
or hear the wild shouts of the multitudes that greeted his efforts on
the stump in the heat and fury of a campaign. But it was not to be. The
stormy politics of that period had no charms for Briscoe Bascom. He was a
student, and he preferred his book to the companionship of the crowd.
He possessed both courage and sociability in the highest degree, but he
was naturally indolent, and he was proud—too indolent to find pleasure
in the whirling confusion of active politics, and too proud to go about
his county or his State in the attitude of soliciting the suffrages of
his fellow-citizens. That he would have made his mark in politics is
certain, for he made it at the bar, where success is much more dearly
bought. He finally became judge of the superior court, at a time when the
judges of the circuit courts met annually and formed a court of appeals.
His decisions in this appellate court attracted attention all over the
country, and are still referred to in the legal literature of to-day as
models of their kind.
And yet all that Briscoe Bascom accomplished at the bar and on the bench
was the result of intuition rather than of industry. Indolence sat
enthroned in his nature, patient but vigilant. When he retired from the
bench, he gave up the law altogether. He might have reclaimed his large
practice, but he preferred the ease and quiet of his home.
He was an old man before he married—old enough, that is to say, to marry
a woman many years his junior. His wife had been reared in an atmosphere
of extravagance; and although she was a young woman of gentle breeding
and of the best intentions, it is certain that she did not go to the
Bascom Place as its mistress for the purpose of stinting or economizing.
She simply gave no thought to the future. But she was so bright and
beautiful, so gentle and unaffected in speech and manner, so gracious and
so winsome in all directions, that it seemed nothing more than natural
and right that her every whim and wish should be gratified.
Judge Bascom was indulgent and more than indulgent. He applauded his
wife’s extravagance and followed her example. Before many years he began
to reap some of the fruits thereof, and they were exceeding bitter to the
taste. The longest purse that ever was made has a bottom to it, unless,
indeed, it be lined with Franklin’s maxims.
The Judge was forty-eight years old when he married, and even before the
beginning of the war he found his financial affairs in an uncomfortable
condition. The Bascom Place was intact, but the pocket-book of its master
was in a state bordering on collapse.
The slow but sure approach to the inevitable need not be described here.
It is familiar to all people in all lands and times. In the case of Judge
Bascom, however, the war was in the nature of a breathing-spell. It
brought with it an era of extravagance that overshadowed everything that
had been dreamed of theretofore. During the first two years there was
money enough for everybody and to spare. It was manufactured in Richmond
in great stacks. General Robert Toombs, who was an interested observer,
has aptly described the facility with which the Confederacy supplied
itself with money. “A dozen negroes,” said he, “printed money on the
hand-presses all day to supply the government, and then they worked until
nine o’clock at night printing money enough to pay themselves off.”
Under these circumstances, Judge Bascom and his charming wife could be
as extravagant or as economical as they pleased without attracting the
attention of their neighbors or their creditors. Nobody had time to think
or care about such small matters. The war-fever was at its height, and
nothing else occupied the attention of the people. The situation was
so favorable, indeed, that Judge Bascom began to redeem his fortune—in
Confederate money. He had land enough and negroes a plenty, and so he
saved his money by storing it away; and he was so successful in this
business that it is said that when the war closed he had a wagon-load of
Confederate notes and shin-plaster packed in trunks and chests.
The crash came when General Sherman went marching through Hillsborough.
The Bascom Place, being the largest and the richest plantation in that
neighborhood, suffered the worst. Every horse, every mule, every living
thing with hide and hoof, was driven off by the Federals; and a majority
of the negroes went along with the army. It was often said of Judge
Bascom that “he had so many negroes he didn’t know them when he met them
in the big road;” and this was probably true. His negroes knew him, and
knew that he was a kind master in many respects, but they had no personal
affection for him. They were such strangers to the Judge that they never
felt justified in complaining to him even when the overseers ill-treated
them. Consequently, when Sherman went marching along, the great majority
of them bundled up their little effects and followed after the army. They
had nothing to bind them to the old place. The house-servants, and a few
negroes in whom the Judge took a personal interest, remained, but all the
rest went away.
Then, in a few months, came the news of the surrender, bringing with it
a species of paralysis or stupefaction from which the people were long
in recovering—so long, indeed, that some of them died in despair, while
others lingered on the stage, watching, with dim eyes and trembling
limbs, half-hopefully and half-fretfully, the representatives of a new
generation trying to build up the waste places. There was nothing left
for Judge Bascom to do but to take his place among the spectators. He
would have returned to his law-practice, but the people had well-nigh
forgotten that he had ever been a lawyer; moreover, the sheriffs were
busier in those days than the lawyers. He had the incentive,—for the
poverty of those days was pinching,—but he lacked the energy and the
strength necessary to begin life anew. He and hundreds like him were
practically helpless. Ordinarily experience is easily learned when
necessity is the teacher, but it was too late for necessity to teach
Judge Bascom anything. During all his life he had never known what want
was. He had never had occasion to acquire tact, business judgment, or
economy. Inheriting a vast estate, he had no need to practice thrift or
become familiar with the shifty methods whereby business men fight their
way through the world. Of all such matters he was entirely ignorant.
To add to his anxiety, a girl had been born to him late in life, his
first and only child. In his confusion and perplexity he was prepared to
regard the little stranger as merely a new and dreadful responsibility,
but it was not long before his daughter was a source of great comfort to
him. Yet, as the negroes said, she was not a “luck-child;” and bad as the
Judge’s financial condition was, it grew steadily worse.
Briefly, the world had drifted past him and his contemporaries and left
them stranded. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? It is true
he had a magnificent plantation, but this merely added to his poverty.
Negro labor was demoralized, and the overseer class had practically
disappeared. He would have sold a part of his landed estate; indeed, so
pressing were his needs that he would have sold everything except the
house which his father had built, and where he himself was born,—that he
would not have parted with for all the riches in the world,—but there was
nobody to buy. The Judge’s neighbors and his friends, with the exception
of those who had accustomed themselves to seizing all contingencies
by the throat and wresting tribute from them, were in as severe a
strait as he was; and to make matters worse, the political affairs of
the State were in the most appalling condition. It was the period of
reconstruction—a scheme that paralyzed all whom it failed to corrupt.
Finally the Judge’s wife took matters into her own hand. She had
relatives in Atlanta, and she prevailed on him to go to that lively
and picturesque town. He closed his house, being unable to rent it,
and became a citizen of the thrifty city. He found himself in a new
atmosphere. The north Georgia crackers, the east Tennesseeans,—having
dropped their “you-uns” and “we-uns,”—and the Yankees had joined hands in
building up and pushing Atlanta forward. Business was more important than
politics; and the rush and whirl of men and things were enough to make
a mere spectator dizzy. Judge Bascom found himself more helpless than
ever; but through the influence of his wife’s brother he was appointed to
a small clerkship in one of the State departments, and—“Humiliation of
humiliations!” his friends exclaimed—he promptly accepted it, and became
a part of what was known as the “carpet-bag” government. The appointment
was in the nature of a godsend, but the Judge found himself ostracized.
His friends and acquaintances refused to return his salutation as he met
them on the street. To a proud and sensitive man this was the bitterness
of death, but Judge Bascom stuck to his desk and made no complaint.
By some means or other, no doubt through the influence of Mrs. Bascom,
the Judge’s brother-in-law, a thrifty and not over-scrupulous man,
obtained a power of attorney, and sold the Bascom Place, house and all,
to a gentleman from western New York who was anxious to settle in middle
Georgia. Just how much of the purchase-money went into the Judge’s hands
it is impossible to say, but it is known that he fell into a terrible
rage when he was told that the house had been sold along with the place.
He denounced the sale as a swindle, and declared that as he had been born
in the house he would die there, and not all the powers of earth could
But the money that he received was a substantial thing as far as it went.
Gradually he found himself surrounded by various comforts that he had
sadly missed, and in time he became somewhat reconciled to the sale,
though he never gave up the idea that he would buy the old place back and
live there again. The idea haunted him day and night.
After the downfall of the carpet-bag administration a better feeling
took possession of the people and politicians, and it was not long before
Judge Bascom found congenial work in codifying the laws of the State,
which had been in a somewhat confused and tangled condition since the
war. Meanwhile his daughter Mildred was growing up, developing remarkable
beauty as well as strength of mind. At a very early age she began to
“take the responsibility,” as the Judge put it, of managing the household
affairs, and she continued to manage them even while going to school.
At school she won the hearts of teachers and pupils, not less by her
aptitude in her books than by her beauty and engaging manners.
But in spite of the young girl’s management—in spite of the example
she set by her economy—the Judge and his wife continued to grow poorer
and poorer. Neither of them knew the value of a dollar, and the
money that had been received from the sale of the Bascom Place was
finally exhausted. About this time Mrs. Bascom died, and the Judge
was so prostrated by his bereavement that it was months before he
recovered. When he did recover he had lost all interest in his work of
codification, but it was so nearly completed and was so admirably done
that the legislature voted him extra pay. This modest sum the daughter
took charge of, and when her father was well enough she proposed that
they return to Hillsborough, where they could take a small house, and
where she could give music lessons and teach a primary school. It need
not be said that the Judge gave an eager assent to the proposition.
As Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom passed the Bascom Place on his way home, after
gathering from Major Jimmy Bass all the news and gossip of the town, he
heard Mr. Francis Underwood, the owner of the Place, walking up and down
the piazza, singing. Mr. Underwood appeared to be in a cheerful mood,
and he had a right to be. He was young,—not more than thirty,—full of
life, and the world was going on very well with him. Mr. Grissom paused
a moment and listened; then he made up his mind to go in and have a chat
with the young man. He opened the gate and went up the avenue under the
cedars and Lombardy poplars. A little distance from the house he was
stopped by a large mastiff. The great dog made no attempt to attack him,
but majestically barred the way.
“Squire,” yelled Joe-Bob, “ef you’ll call off your dog, I’ll turn right
’roun’ an’ go home an’ never bother you no more.”
“Is that you, Joe-Bob?” exclaimed Mr. Underwood. “Well, come right on.
The dog won’t trouble you.”
The dog thereupon turned around and went up the avenue to the house and
into the porch, where he stretched himself out at full length, Joe-Bob
following along at a discreet distance.
“Come in,” said Underwood heartily; “I’m glad to see you. Take this large
rocking-chair; you will find it more comfortable than the smaller one.”
Mr. Grissom sat down and looked cautiously around to see where the dog
“I did come, Squire,” he said, “to see you on some kinder business, but
that dratted dog has done skeered it clean out ’n me.”
“Prince is a faithful watcher,” said Underwood, “but he never troubles
any one who is coming straight to the house. Do you, old fellow?” The dog
rapped an answer on the floor with his tail.
“Well,” said Joe-Bob, “I’d as lief be tore up into giblets, mighty nigh,
as to have my sev’m senses skeered out’n me. What I’m afeared of now,” he
went on, “is that that dog will jump over the fence some day an’ ketch
old Judge Bascome whilst he’s a-pirootin’ ’roun’ here a-lookin’ at the
old Place. An’ ef he don’t ketch the Judge, it’s more’n likely he’ll
ketch the Judge’s gal. I seen both of ’em this very evenin’ whilst I was
a-goin’ down town.”
“Was that the Judge?” exclaimed young Mr. Underwood, with some show of
interest; “and was the lady his daughter? I heard they had returned.”
“That was jest percisely who it was,” said Joe-Bob with emphasis. “It
wa’n’t nobody else under the shinin’ sun.”
“Well,” said Mr. Underwood, “I have seen them walking by several times.
It is natural they should be interested in the Place. The old gentleman
was born here?”
“Yes,” said Joe-Bob, “an’ the gal too. They tell me,” he went on, “that
the old Judge an’ his gal have seed a many ups an’ downs. I reckon they
er boun’ fer to feel lonesome when they come by an’ look at the prop’ty
that use’ to be theirn. I hear tell that the old Judge is gwine to try
an’ see ef he can’t git it back.”
Francis Underwood said nothing, but sat gazing out into the moonlight as
if in deep thought.
“I thinks, says I,” continued Joe-Bob, “that the old Judge’ll have to be
lots pearter ’n he looks to be ef he gits ahead of Squire Underwood.”
The “Squire” continued to gaze reflectively down the dim perspective of
cedars and Lombardy poplars. Finally he said:—
“Have a cigar, old man. These are good ones.”
Joe-Bob took the cigar and lighted it, handling it very gingerly.
“I ain’t a denyin’ but what they are good, Squire, but somehow er nuther
me an’ these here fine seegyars don’t gee,” said Joe-Bob, as he puffed
away. “They’re purty toler’ble nice, but jest about the time I git in
the notion of smokin’ they’re done burnted up, an’ then ef you ain’t got
sev’m or eight more, it makes you feel mighty lonesome. Now I’ll smoke
this’n’, an’ it’ll sorter put my teeth on edge fer my pipe, an’ when I
git home I’ll set up an’ have a right nice time.”
“And so you think,” said Underwood, speaking as if he had not heard
Joe-Bob’s remarks about the cigar—“and so you think Judge Bascom has come
to buy the old Place.”
“No, no!” said Joe-Bob, with a quick deprecatory gesture. “Oh, no,
Squire! not by no means! No, no! I never said them words. What I did say
was that it’s been talked up an’ down that the old Judge is a-gwine to
try to git his prop’ty back. That’s what old Major Jimmy Bass said he
heard, an’ I thinks, says I, he’ll have to be monst’us peart ef he gits
ahead of Squire Underwood. That’s what I said to myself, an’ then I ast
old Major Jimmy, says I, what the Judge would do wi’ the prop’ty arter
he got it, an’ Major Jimmy, he ups an’ says, says he, that the old Judge
would sell it back to Frank Underwood, says he.”
The young man threw back his head and laughed heartily, not less at the
comical earnestness of Joe-Bob Grissom than at the gossip of Major Jimmy
“It seems, then, that we are going to have lively times around here,”
said Underwood, by way of comment.
“Yes, siree,” exclaimed Joe-Bob; “that’s what Major Jimmy Bass allowed.
Do you reckon, Squire,” he continued, lowering his voice as though the
matter was one to be approached cautiously, “do you reckon, Squire, they
could slip in on you an’ trip you up wi’ one of ’em writs of arousement
or one of ’em bills of injectment?”
“Not unless they catch me asleep,” replied Underwood, still laughing. “We
get up very early in the morning on this Place.”
“Well,” said Joe-Bob Grissom, “I ain’t much of a lawyer myself, an’ so I
thought I’d jest drap in an’ tell you the kind of talk what they’ve been
a-rumorin’ ’roun’. But I’ll tell you what you kin do, Squire. Ef the wust
comes to the wust, you kin make the old Judge an’ the gal take you along
wi’ the Place. Now them would be my politics.”
With that Joe-Bob gave young Underwood a nudge in the short ribs, and
chuckled to such an extent that he nearly strangled himself with cigar
“I think I would have the best of the bargain,” said the young man.
“Now you would! you reely would!” exclaimed Joe-Bob in all seriousness.
“I can’t tell you the time when I ever seed a likelier gal than that one
wi’ the Judge this evenin’. As we say down here in Georgia, she’s the top
of the pot an’ the pot a-b’ilin’. I tell you that right pine-blank.”
After a little, Mr. Grissom rose to go. When Mr. Underwood urged him to
sit longer, he pointed to the sword and belt of Orion hanging low in the
“The ell an’ yard are a-makin’ the’r disappearance,” he said; “an’ ef I
stay out much longer, my old ’oman’ll think I’ve been a-settin’ up by a
jug somewheres. Now ef you’ll jest hold your dog, Squire, I’ll go out as
peaceful as a lamb.”
“Why, I was just going to propose to send him down to the big gate with
you,” said young Underwood. “He’ll see you safely out.”
“No, no, Squire!” exclaimed Joe-Bob, holding up both hands. “Now don’t do
the like of that. I don’t like too much perliteness in folks, an’ I know
right well I couldn’t abide it in a dog. No, Squire; jest hold on to the
creetur’ wi’ both hands, an’ I’ll find my way out. Jest ketch him by the
forefoot. I’ve heard tell before now that ef you’ll hold a dog by his
forefoot he can’t git loose, an’ nuther kin he bite you.”
Long after Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom had gone home young Francis Underwood
sat in his piazza smoking and thinking. He had a good deal to think
about, too, for he was perhaps the busiest and the thriftiest person
that Hillsborough had ever seen. He had a dairy farm stocked with the
choicest strains of Jersey cattle, and he shipped hundreds of pounds
of golden butter all over the country every week in the year; he bred
Percheron horses for farm-work and trotting-horses for the road; he had a
flourishing farm on which he raised, in addition to his own supplies, a
hundred or more bales of cotton every year; he had a steam saw-mill and
cotton-gin; he was a contractor and builder; and he was also an active
partner in the largest store in Hillsborough. Moreover he took a lively
interest in the affairs of the town. His energy and his progressive ideas
seemed to be contagious, for in a few years the sleepy old town had made
tremendous strides, and everything appeared to move forward with an air
of business—such is the force of a genial and robust example.
There is no doubt that young Underwood was somewhat coolly received when
he first made his appearance in Hillsborough. He was a New Yorker and
therefore a Yankee; and some of the older people, who were still grieving
over the dire results of the war, as old people have a right to do, made
no concealment of their prejudices. Their grief was too bitter to be
lightly disposed of. Perhaps the young man appreciated this fact, for
his sympathies were wonderfully quick and true. At any rate, he carried
himself as buoyantly and as genially in the face of prejudice as he did
afterwards in the face of friendship.
The truth is, prejudice could not stand before him. He had that magnetic
personality which is a more precious possession than fame or fortune.
There was something attractive even in his restless energy; he had
that heartiness of manner and graciousness of disposition that are so
rare among men; and, withal, a spirit of independence that charmed the
sturdy-minded people with whom he cast his lot. It was not long before
the younger generation began to seek Mr. Underwood out, and after this
the social ice, so to speak, thawed quickly.
In short, young Underwood, by reason of a strong and an attractive
individuality, became a very prominent citizen of Hillsborough. He
found time, in the midst of his own business enterprises, to look after
the interests of the town and the county. One of his first movements
was to organize an agricultural society which held its meeting four
times a year in different parts of the county. It was purely a local
and native suggestion, however, that made it incumbent on the people
of the neighborhood where the Society met to grace the occasion with a
feast in the shape of a barbecue. The first result of the agricultural
society—which still exists, and which has had a wonderful influence on
the farmers of middle Georgia—was a county fair, of which Mr. Underwood
was the leading spirit. It may be said, indeed, that his energy and his
money made the fair possible. And it was a success. Young Underwood
had not only canvassed the county, but he had “worked it up in the
newspapers,” as the phrase goes, and it tickled the older citizens
immensely to see the dailies in the big cities of Atlanta, Macon, and
Savannah going into rhetorical raptures over their fair.
As a matter of fact, Francis Underwood, charged with the fiery energy of
a modern American, found it a much easier matter to establish himself
in the good graces of the people of Hillsborough and the surrounding
country than did Judge Bascom when he returned to his old home with his
lovely daughter. Politically speaking, he had committed the unpardonable
sin when he accepted office under what was known as the carpet-bag
government. It was an easy matter—thus the argument ran—to forgive and
respect an enemy, but it was hardly possible to forgive a man who had
proved false to his people and all their traditions—who had, in fact,
“sold his birthright for a mess of pottage,” to quote the luminous
language employed by Colonel Bolivar Blasingame in discussing the return
of Judge Bascom. It is due to Colonel Blasingame to say that he did not
allude to the sale of the Bascom Place, but to the fact that Judge Bascom
had drawn a salary from the State treasury while the Republicans were in
power in Georgia.
This was pretty much the temper of the older people of Hillsborough even
in 1876. They had no bitter prejudices against the old Judge; they were
even tolerant and kindly; but they made it plain to him that he was
regarded in a new light, and from a new standpoint. He was made to feel
that his old place among them must remain vacant; that the old intimacies
were not to be renewed. But this was the price that Judge Bascom was
willing to pay for the privilege of spending his last days within sight
of the old homestead. He made no complaints, nor did he signify by word
or sign, even to his daughter, that everything was not as it used to be.
As for the daughter, she was in blissful ignorance of the situation. She
was a stranger among strangers, and so was not affected by the lack of
sociability on the part of the townspeople—if, indeed, there was any lack
so far as she was concerned. The privations she endured in common with
her father were not only sufficient to correct all notions of vanity or
self-conceit, but they had given her a large experience of life; they
had broadened her views and enlarged her sympathies, so that with no
sacrifice of the qualities of womanly modesty and gentleness she had
grown to be self-reliant. She attracted all who came within range of her
sweet influence, and it was not long before she had broken down all the
barriers that prejudice against her father might have placed in her way.
She established a primary school, and what with her duties there and with
her music-class she soon had as much as she could do, and her income
from these sources was sufficient to support herself and her father in a
modest way; but it was not sufficient to carry out her father’s plans,
and this fact distressed her no little.
Sometimes Judge Bascom, sitting in the narrow veranda of the little house
they occupied, would suddenly arouse himself, as if from a doze, and
“We must save money, daughter; we must save money and buy the old Place
back. It is ours. We must have it; we must save money.” And sometimes, in
the middle of the night, he would go to his daughter’s bedside, stroke
her hair, and say in a whisper:—
“We are not saving enough money, daughter; we must save more. We must buy
the old Place back. We must save it from ruin.”
There was one individual in Hillsborough who did not give the cold
shoulder to Judge Bascom on his return, and that was the negro Jesse,
who had been bought by Major Jimmy Bass some years before the war
from Merriwether Bascom, a cousin of the Judge. Jesse made no outward
demonstration of welcome; he was more practical than that. He merely went
to his old master with whom he had been living since he became free, and
told him that he was going to find employment elsewhere.
“Why, what in the nation!” exclaimed Major Bass. “Why, what’s the matter,
The very idea was preposterous. In the Bass household the negro was
almost indispensable. He was in the nature of a piece of furniture that
holds its own against all fashions and fills a place that nothing else
“Dey ain’t nothin’ ’t all de matter, Marse Maje. I des took it in my
min’, like, dat I’d go off some’r’s roun’ town en set up fer myse’f,”
said Jesse, scratching his head in a dubious way. He felt very
“Has anybody hurt your feelin’s, Jess?”
“No, suh! Lord, no, suh, dat dey ain’t!” exclaimed Jesse, with the
emphasis of astonishment. “Nobody ain’t pester me.”
“Ain’t your Miss Sarah been rushin’ you roun’ too lively fer to suit your
“Ain’t she been a-quarrelin’ after you about your work?”
“No, Marse Maje; she ain’t say a word.”
“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of common sense are you gwine off
fer?” The major wanted to argue the matter.
“I got it in my min’, Marse Maje, but I dunno ez I kin git it out
straight.” Jesse leaned his cane against the house, and placed his hat on
the steps, as if preparing for a lengthy and elaborate explanation. “Now
den, hit look dis way ter me, des like I’m gwine ter tell you. I ain’t
nothin’ but a nigger, I know dat mighty well, en nobody don’t hafter
tell me. I’m a nigger, en you a white man. You’re a-settin’ up dar in de
peazzer, en I’m a-stan’in’ down yer on de groun’. I been wid you a long
time; you treat me well, you gimme plenty vittles, en you pay me up when
you got de money, en I hustle roun’ en do de bes’ I kin in de house en
in de gyarden. Dat de way it been gwine on; bofe un us feel like it all
sati’factual. Bimeby it come over me dat maybe I kin do mo’ work dan what
I been a-doin’ en git mo’ money. Hit work roun’ in my min’ dat I better
be layin’ up somepin’ n’er fer de ole ’oman en de chillun.”
“Well!” exclaimed Major Bass with a snort. It was all he could say.
“En den ag’in,” Jesse went on, “one er de ole fambly done come back
’long wid his daughter. Marse Briscoe Bascom en Miss Mildred dey done
come back, en dey ain’t got nobody fer ter he’p um out no way; en my ole
’oman she say dat ef I got any fambly feelin’ I better go dar whar Marse
For some time Major Jimmy Bass sat silent. He was shocked and stunned.
Finally Jesse picked up his hat and cane and started to go. As he brushed
his hat with his coat-sleeve his old master saw that he was rigged out in
his Sunday clothes. As he moved away the major called him:—
“I allers knowed you was a durned fool, Jess, but I never did know before
that you was the durndest fool in the universal world.”
Jesse made no reply, and the major went into the house. When he told his
wife about Jesse’s departure, that active-minded and sharp-tongued lady
was very angry.
“Indeed, and I’m glad of it,” she exclaimed as she poured out the major’s
coffee; “I’m truly glad of it. For twenty-five years that nigger has been
laying around here doing nothing, and we a-paying him. But for pity’s
sake I’d ’a’ drove him off the lot long ago. You mayn’t believe it, but
that nigger is ready and willing to eat his own weight in vittles every
week the Lord sends. I ain’t sorry he’s gone, but I’m sorry I didn’t have
a chance to give him a piece of my mind. Now, don’t you go to blabbing it
around, like you do everything else, that Jesse has gone and left us to
go with old Briscoe Bascom.”
Major Bass said he wouldn’t, and he didn’t, and that is the reason he
expressed surprise when Joe-Bob Grissom informed him that Jesse was
waiting on the old Judge and his daughter. Major Jimmy was talkative and
fond of gossip, but he had too much respect for his wife’s judgment and
discretion to refuse to toe the mark, even when it was an imaginary one.
The Bascom family had no claim whatever on Jesse, but he had often heard
his mother and other negroes boasting over that they had once belonged
to the Bascoms, and fondness for the family was the result of both
tradition and instinct. He had that undefined and undefinable respect
for people of quality that is one of the virtues, or possibly one of the
failings, of human nature. The nearest approach to people of quality, so
far as his experience went, was to be found in the Bascom family, and he
had never forgotten that he had belonged to an important branch of it.
He held it as a sort of distinction. Feeling thus, it is no wonder that
he was ready to leave a comfortable home at Major Jimmy Bass’s for the
privilege of attaching himself and his fortunes to those of the Judge and
his daughter. Jesse made up his mind to take this step as soon as the
Bascoms returned to Hillsborough, and he made no delay in carrying out
Early one morning, not long after Judge Bascom and his daughter had
settled themselves in the modest little house which they had selected
because the rent was low, Mildred heard some one cutting wood in the
yard. Opening her window blinds a little, she saw that the axe was
wielded by a stalwart negro a little past middle age. Her father was
walking up and down the sidewalk on the outside with his hands behind
him, and seemed to be talking to himself.
A little while afterwards Mildred went into the kitchen. She found a fire
burning in the stove, and everything in noticeably good order, but the
girl she had employed to help her about the house was nowhere to be seen.
Whereupon the young lady called her—
At this the negro dropped his axe and went into the kitchen.
“Have you seen Elvira?” Mildred asked.
“Yes’m, she wuz hangin’ roun’ yer when I come roun’ dis mornin’. I went
in dar, ma’m, en I see how de kitchen wuz all messed up, en den I sont
her off. She de mos’ no ’countest nigger gal what I ever laid my two eyes
on. I’m name’ Jesse, ma’m, en I use’ ter b’long ter de Bascom fambly when
I wuz a boy. Is you ready fer breakfus, Mistiss?”
“Has my father—has Judge Bascom employed you?” Mildred asked. Jesse
laughed as though enjoying a good joke.
“No ’m, dat he ain’t! I des come my own se’f, kaze I know’d in reason you
wuz gwine ter be in needance er somebody. Lord, no ’m, none er de Bascoms
don’t hafter hire me, ma’m.”
“And who told you to send Elvira away?” Mildred inquired, half vexed and
“Nobody ain’t tell me, ma’m,” Jesse replied. “When I come she wuz des
settin’ in dar by de stove noddin’, en de whole kitchen look like it been
tored up by a harrycane. I des shuck her up, I did, en tell her dat if
dat de way she gwine do, she better go ’long back en stay wid her mammy.”
“Well, you are very meddlesome,” said Mildred. “I don’t understand you at
all. Who is going to cook breakfast?”
“Mistiss, I done tell you dat breakfus is all ready en a-waitin’,”
exclaimed Jesse in an injured tone. “I made dat gal set de table, en dey
ain’t nothin’ ter do but put de vittles on it.”
It turned out to be a very good breakfast, too, such as it was. Jesse
thought while he was preparing it that it was a very small allowance for
two hearty persons. But the secret of its scantiness cropped out while
the Judge and his daughter were eating.
“These biscuits are very well cooked. But there are too many of them. My
daughter, we must pinch and save; it will only be for a little while. We
must have the old Place back; we must rake and scrape, and save money
and buy it back. And this coffee is very good, too,” he went on; “it has
quite the old flavor. I thought the girl was too young, but she’s a good
cook—a very good cook indeed.”
Jesse, who had taken his stand behind the Judge’s chair, arrayed in a
snow-white apron, moved his body uneasily from one foot to the other.
Mildred, glad to change the conversation, told her father about Jesse.
“Ah, yes,” said Judge Bascom, in his kindly, patronizing way; “I saw
him in the yard. And he used to belong to the Bascoms? Well, well,
it must have been a long time ago. This is Jesse behind me? Stand
out there, Jesse, and let me look at you. Ah, yes, a likely negro; a
very likely negro indeed. And what Bascom did you belong to, Jesse?
Merriwether Bascom! Why, to be sure; why, certainly!” the Judge
continued with as much animation as his feebleness would admit of. “Why,
of course, Merriwether Bascom. Well, well, I remember him distinctly. A
rough-and-tumble sort of man he was, fighting, gambling, horse-racing,
always on the wing. A good man at bottom, but wild. And so you belonged
to Merriwether Bascom? Well, boy, once a Bascom always a Bascom. We’ll
have the old Place back, Jesse, we’ll have it back: but we must pinch
ourselves; we must save.”
Thus the old Judge rambled on in his talk. But no matter what the
subject, no matter how far his memory and his experiences carried him
away from the present, he was sure to return to the old Place at last. He
must have it back. Every thought, every idea, was subordinate to this. He
brooded over it and talked of it waking, and he dreamed of it sleeping.
It was the one thought that dominated every other. Money must be saved,
the old Place must be bought, and to that end everything must tend. The
more his daughter economized the more he urged her to economize. His
earnestness and enthusiasm impressed and influenced the young girl in
a larger measure than she would have been willing to acknowledge, and
unconsciously she found herself looking forward to the day when her
father and herself would be able to call the Bascom Place their own. In
the Judge the thought was the delusion of old age, in the maiden it was
the dream of youth; and pardonable, perhaps, in both.
Their hopes and desires running thus in one channel, they loved to
wander of an evening in the neighborhood of the old Place—it was just
in the outskirts of the town—and long for the time when they should
take possession of their home. On these occasions Mildred, by way of
interesting her father, would suggest changes to be made.
“The barn is painted red,” she would say. “I think olive green would be
“No,” the Judge would reply; “we will have the barn removed. It was not
there in my time. It is an innovation. We will have it removed a mile
away from the house. We will make many changes. There are hundreds of
acres in the meadow yonder that ought to be in cotton. In my time we
tried to kill grass, but this man is doing his best to propagate it. Look
at that field of Bermuda there. Two years of hard work will be required
to get the grass out.”
Once while the Judge and his daughter were passing by the old Place they
met Prince, the mastiff, in the road. The great dog looked at the young
lady with kindly eyes, and expressed his approval by wagging his tail.
Then he approached and allowed her to fondle his lionlike head, and
walked by her side, responding to her talk in a dumb but eloquent way.
Prince evidently thought that the young lady and her father were going in
the avenue gate and to the house, for when they got nearly opposite, the
dog trotted on ahead, looking back occasionally, as if by that means to
extend them an invitation and to assure them that they were welcome. At
the gate he stopped and turned around, and seeing that the fair lady and
the old gentleman were going by, he dropped his bulky body on the ground
in a disconsolate way and watched them as they passed down the street.
The next afternoon Prince made it a point to watch for the young lady;
and when she and her father appeared in sight he ran to meet them and cut
up such unusual capers, barking and running around, that his master went
down the avenue to see what the trouble was. Mr. Underwood took off his
hat as Judge Bascom and his daughter drew near.
“This is Judge Bascom, I presume,” he said. “My name is Underwood. I am
glad to meet you.”
“This is my daughter, Mr. Underwood,” said the Judge, bowing with great
“My dog has paid you a great compliment, Miss Bascom,” said Francis
Underwood. “He makes few friends, and I have never before seen him
sacrifice his dignity to his enthusiasm.”
“I feel highly flattered by his attentions,” said Mildred, laughing. “I
have read somewhere, or heard it said, that the instincts of a little
child and a dog are unerring.”
“I imagine,” said the Judge, in his dignified way, “that instinct has
little to do with the matter. I prefer to believe”—He paused a moment,
looked at Underwood, and laid his hand on the young man’s stalwart
shoulder. “Did you know, sir,” he went on, “that this place, all these
lands, once belonged to me?” His dignity had vanished, his whole attitude
changed. The pathos in his voice, which was suggested rather than
expressed, swept away whatever astonishment Francis Underwood might have
felt. The young man looked at the Judge’s daughter and their eyes met.
In that one glance, transitory though it was, he found his cue; in her
lustrous eyes, proud yet appealing, he read a history of trouble and
“Yes,” Underwood replied, in a matter-of-fact way. “I knew the place once
belonged to you, and I have been somewhat proud of the fact. We still
call it the Bascom Place, you know.”
“I should think so!” exclaimed the Judge, bridling up a little; “I should
think so! Pray what else could it be called?”
“Well, it might have been called Grasslands, you know, or The Poplars,
but somehow the old name seemed to suit it best. I like to think of it as
the Bascom Place.”
“You are right, sir,” said the Judge with emphasis; “you are right, sir.
It is the Bascom Place. All the powers of earth cannot strip us of our
Again Underwood looked at the young girl, and again he read in her
shining but apprehensive eyes the answer he should make.
“I have been compelled to add some conveniences—I will not call them
improvements—and I have made some repairs, but I have tried to preserve
the main and familiar features of the Place.”
“But the barn there; that is not where it should be. It should be a mile
away—on the creek.”
“That would improve appearances, no doubt; but if you were to get out at
four or five o’clock in the morning and see to the milking of twelve or
fifteen cows, I dare say you would wish the barn even nearer than it is.”
“Yes, yes, I suppose so,” responded the Judge; “yes, no doubt. But it was
not there in my time—not in my time.”
“I have some very fine cows,” Underwood went on. “Won’t you go in and
look at them? I think they would interest Miss Bascom, and my sister
would be glad to meet her. Won’t you go in, sir, and look at the old
The Judge turned his pale and wrinkled face towards his old home.
“No,” he said, “not now. I thank you very much. I—somehow—no, sir, I
cannot go now.”
His hand shook as he raised it to his face, and his lips trembled as he
“Let us go home, daughter,” he said after a while. “We have walked far
enough.” He bowed to young Underwood, and Mildred bade him good-bye with
a troubled smile.
Prince went with them a little way down the street. He walked by the side
of the lady, and her pretty hand rested lightly on the dog’s massive
head. It was a beautiful picture, Underwood thought, as he stood watching
them pass out of sight.
“You are a lucky dog,” he said to Prince when the latter came back, “but
you don’t appreciate your privileges. If you did you would have gone home
with that lovely woman.” Prince wagged his tail, but it is doubtful if he
fully understood the remark.
One Sunday morning, as Major Jimmy Bass was shaving himself, he heard
a knock at the back door. The major had his coat and waistcoat off and
his suspenders were hanging around his hips. He was applying the lather
for the last time, and the knocking was so sudden and unexpected that
he rubbed the shaving-brush in one of his eyes. He began to make some
remarks which, however appropriate they may have been to the occasion,
could not be reported here with propriety. But in the midst of his
indignant monologue he remembered that the knocking might have proceeded
from some of Mrs. Bass’s lady friends, who frequently made a descent on
the premises in that direction for the purpose of borrowing a cupful of
sugar or coffee in a social way. These considerations acted as powerful
brakes on the conversation that Major Bass was carrying on with some
imaginary foe. Holding a towel to his smarting eye, he peeped from his
room door and looked down the hall. The back door was open, but he could
see no one.
“Who was that knocking?” he cried. “I’ll go one eye on you anyways.”
“’T ain’t nobody but me, Marse Maje,” came the response from the door.
“Is that you, Jess?” exclaimed the major. “Well, pleg-take your hide to
the pleg-taked nation! A little more an’ you’d ’a’ made me cut my th’oat
from year to year; an’ as it is, I’ve jest about got enough soap in my
eye fer to do a day’s washin’.”
“Is you shavin’ yourse’f, Marse Maje?” asked Jesse, diplomatically.
“That I am,” replied the major with emphasis. “I allers was independent
of white folks, an’ sence you pulled up your stakes an’ took up wi’ the
quality I’m about independent of the niggers. An’ it’s mighty quare to
me,” the major went on, “that you’d leave your high an’ mighty people
long enough fer to come a-bangin’ an’ makin’ me put out my eyes. Why, ef
I’d ’a’ had my razor out, I’ll be boun’ you’d made me cut my th’oat, an’
much good may it ’a’ done you.”
“Name er goodness, Marse Maje,” protested Jesse, “what make you go on dat
a-way? Ef I’d ’a’ knowed you wuz busy in dar I’d ’a’ set out in de sun en
waited twel you got thoo.”
“Yes,” said the major in a sarcastic but somewhat mollified tone, “you’d
’a’ sot out there an’ got to noddin’, an’ then bimeby your Miss Sarah
would ’a’ come along an’ ketched you there, an’ I’ll be boun’ she’d ’a’
lammed you wi’ a chunk of wood; bekaze she don’t ’low no loafin’ in the
back yard sence you been gone. I don’t know what you come fer,” the major
continued, still wiping the lather out of his eye, “an’ nuther do I
keer; but sence you are here you kin come in an’ finish shavin’ me, fer
to pay fer the damage you’ve done.”
Jesse was apparently overjoyed to find that he could be of some service.
He bustled around in the liveliest manner, and was soon mowing the
major’s fat face with the light but firm touch for which he was noted. As
he shaved he talked.
“Marse Maje,” he said, “does you know what I come fer dis mornin’?”
“I’ve been tryin’ to think,” replied the major; “but I couldn’t tell you
ef I was a-gwine to be hung fer it. You are up to some devilment, I know
mighty well, but I wish’t I may die ef I’ve got any idee what it is.”
“Now, Marse Maje, what make you talk dat’a’way?”
“Oh, I know you, Jess, an’ I’ve been a-knowin’ you a mighty long time.
Your Miss Sarah mayn’t know you, Jess, but I know you from the groun’ all
the way up.”
Jesse laughed. He was well aware that the major’s wife was the knowing
one of that family. He had waited until that excellent lady had issued
from the house on her way to church, and it was not until she was out
of sight that he thought it safe to call on the major. Even now, after
he had found the major alone, the negro was somewhat doubtful as to the
propriety of explaining the nature of his business; but the old man was
“Oh, yes, Jess!” the major went on, after pausing long enough to have the
corner of his mouth shaved—“oh, yes! I know you, an’ I know you’ve got
somethin’ on your min’ right now. Spit it out.”
“Well, I’ll tell you de trufe, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, after hesitating
for some time; “I tell you de Lord’s trufe, I come yer atter somepin’ ter
Major Bass caught the negro by the arm, pushed the razor carefully out of
the way, and sat bolt upright in the chair.
“Do you mean to stan’ up there, you triflin’ rascal,” the major
exclaimed, “an’ tell me, right before my face an’ eyes, that you’ve come
a-sneaking back here atter vittles? Whyn’t you stay where the vittles
was?” Major Bass was really indignant.
“Wait, Marse Maje; des gimme time,” said Jesse, nervously strapping the
razor on the palm of his hand. “Des gimme time, Marse Maje. You fly up
so, suh, dat you git me all mixed up wid myse’f. I come atter vittles,
dat’s de Lord’s trufe; but I ain’t come atter ’em fer myse’f. Nigger like
me don’t stay hongry long roun’ whar folks know um like dey does me.”
“Well, who in the name of reason sent you, then?” asked the major.
“Nobody ain’t sont me, suh,” said Jesse.
“Well, who do you want em’ fer?” insisted the major.
“Marse Judge Bascom en Miss Mildred,” replied Jesse solemnly.
Major Jimmy Bass fell back in his chair in a state of collapse, overcome
by his astonishment.
“_Well!_” he exclaimed, as soon as he could catch his breath. “Ef this
don’t beat the Jews an’ the Gentiles, the Scribes an’ the Pharisees,
then I ain’t a-settin’ here. Did they tell you to come to this house fer
“No, suh; _dat_ dey ain’t—_dat_ dey ain’t! Ef Miss Mildred wuz ter know I
went anywhar on dis kin’ er errun’ she’d mighty nigh have a fit.”
“Well, _well_, WELL!” snorted the major.
“I des come my own se’f,” Jesse went on. He would have begun shaving
again, but the major waved him away. “Look like I ’bleege’ ter come.
You’d ’a’ come yo’se’f, Marse Maje, druther dan see dem folks pe’sh
deyse’f ter deff. Dey got money, but Marse Judge Bascom got de idee dat
dey hafter save it all fer ter buy back de ole Place. Dey pinch deyse’f
day in en day out, en yistiddy when Miss Mildred say she gwine buy
somepin’ fer Sunday, Marse Judge Bascom he say no; he ’low dat dey mus’
save en pinch en buy back de ole home. I done year him say dat twel it
make me plum sick. An’ dar dey is naturally starvin’ deyse’f.
“Miss Mildred,” continued Jesse, “got idee dat her pa know what he
talkin’ ’bout; but twix’ you en me, Marse Maje, dat ole man done about
lose his min’. He ain’t so mighty much older dan what you is, but he
mighty feeble in his limbs, en he mighty flighty in his head. He talk
funny, now, en he don’t talk ’bout nothin’ skacely but buyin’ back the
“Jess,” said Major Bass in the smooth, insinuating tone that the negro
knew so well, and that he had learned to fear, “ain’t I allers treated
you right? Ain’t I allers done the clean thing by you?”
“Yes, Marse Maje, you is,” said the negro with emphasis.
“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of Moses do you want to come roun’ me
wi’ such a tale as this? Don’t you know I know you clean through? Whyn’t
you come right out an’ say you want the vittles fer yourself? What is the
use whippin’ the devil ’roun’ the stump?”
“Marse Maje,” said Jesse, solemnly, “I’m a-tellin’ you de Lord’s trufe.”
By this time he had begun to shave the major again.
“Well,” said Major Bass, after a pause, during which he seemed to be
thinking, “suppos’n’ I was to let myself be took in by your tale, an’
suppos’n’ I was to give you some vittles, what have you got to put ’em
“I got a basket out dar, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, cheerfully. “I brung it
“Why, tooby shore, tooby shore!” exclaimed the major, sarcastically. “Ef
you was as forehanded as you is fore-thoughted you wouldn’t be a-runnin’
roun’ beggin’ vittles from han’ to mouth. But sence you are here you’d
better make haste; bekaze ef your Miss Sarah comes back from church and
ketches you here, she’ll kick up a purty rippit.”
The major was correct. As he and Jesse went into the pantry Mrs. Bass
entered the front door. Flinging her bonnet and mantilla on a bed, she
went to the back porch for a drink of water. The major heard her coming
through the hallway, and, by a swift gesture of his hand, cautioned Jesse
to be quiet.
“I’ll vow if the place ain’t left to take care of itself,” Mrs. Bass was
saying. “Doors all open, chickens in the dining-room, cat licking the
churn-dasher, and I’ll bet my existence that not a drop of fresh water
has been put in the house-bucket since I left this morning. Everything
gone to rack and ruin. I can’t say my prayers in peace at home, and if
I go to church one Sunday in a month there ain’t no satisfaction in the
sermon, because I know everything’s at loose ends on this whole blessed
place. And if you’d go up the street right now, you’d find Mr. Bass
a-setting up there at the tavern with the other loafers, a-giggling and
a-snickering and a-dribbling at the mouth like one possessed.”
The major, in the pantry, winced visibly at this picture drawn true to
life, and as he attempted to change his position he knocked a tin vessel
from one of the shelves. He caught at it, and it fell to the floor with a
“The Lord have mercy!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “Is Satan and all his imps
in the pantry, a-tearing down and a-smashing up things?” Not being a
timid woman, she hastened to investigate. The sight she saw in the
pantry struck her speechless. In one corner stood the major, holding up
one foot, as if he was afraid of breaking something, and vainly trying
to smile. In another corner stood Jesse, so badly frightened that very
little could be seen of his face except the whites of his eyes. The
tableau was a comical one. Mrs. Bass did not long remain speechless.
“Mr. Bass!” she exclaimed, “what under the shining sun are you doing
colloguing with niggers in my pantry? If you want to collogue with
niggers, why, in the name of common sense, don’t you take ’em out to the
barn? What are you doing in there, anyhow? For mercy’s sake! have you
gone stark-natural crazy? And if you ain’t, what brand-new caper are you
trying to cut up?”
“Don’t talk so loud, Sarah,” said the major, wiping the cold perspiration
from his face. “All the neighbors’ll hear you.”
“And why shouldn’t they hear me?” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “What could be
worse than for me to come home from church in broad daylight and find you
penned up in my pantry, arm-in-arm with a nigger? What business have you
got with niggers that you have to take ’em into my pantry to collogue
with ’em? I’d a heap rather you’d ’a’ taken ’em in the parlor—a heap
Then Mrs. Bass’s eyes fell on the basket Jesse had in his hand, and this
added to her indignation.
“I believe in my soul,” she went on, “that you are stealing the meat and
bread out of your own mouth to feed that nigger. If you ain’t, what is
the basket for?”
“Tut, tut, Sarah, don’t you go on so; you’ll make yourself the
laughin’-stock of the town,” said the major in a conciliatory tone.
“And what’ll you be?” continued Mrs. Bass, relentlessly; “what’ll you
be—a honeyin’ up with buck niggers in my pantry in the broad open
daytime? Maybe you’ll have the manners to introduce me to your pardner.
Who is he, anyhow?” Then Mrs. Bass turned her attention to the negro.
“Come out of my pantry, you nasty, trifling rascal! Who are you?”
“’T ain’t nobody but me, Miss Sa’ah,” said Jesse as he issued forth.
“You!” she exclaimed. “You are the nigger that was too biggity to stay
with ’em that raised you up and took care of you, and now you come back
and try to steal their bread and meat! Well! I know the end of the world
ain’t so mighty far off.”
Mrs. Bass sank into a chair, exhausted by her indignation. Then the major
took the floor, so to say, and showed that if he could be frightened by
his wife, he could also, at the proper time, show that he had a will of
his own. He explained the situation at some length, and with an emphasis
that carried conviction with it. He made no mention of Jesse in his
highly colored narrative, but left his wife to infer that while she was
at church praying for peace of mind and not having her prayers answered
to any great extent, he was at home engaged in works of practical
charity. Nothing could have been finer than the major’s air of injured
innocence, unless it was Jesse’s attitude of helpless and abandoned
humiliation. The result of it was that Mrs. Bass filled the basket with
the best she had in the house, and Jesse went home happy.
As for the Bascoms, they seemed to be getting along comfortably in spite
of the harrowing story that Jesse had told to Major Jimmy Bass and to
others. As a matter of fact, the shrewd negro had purposely exaggerated
the condition of affairs in the Bascom household. He had an idea that the
fare they lived on was too common and cheap for the representatives of
such a grand family, forgetting, or not knowing, the privations they had
passed through. The Judge insisted on the most rigid economy, and Mildred
was at one with him in this. She was familiar with the necessity for it,
but she could see that her father was anxious to push it to unmeasurable
lengths. It never occurred to her, however, that her father’s morbid
anxiety to repossess the Bascom Place was rapidly taking the shape
of mania. This desire on the part of Judge Bascom was a part of his
daughter’s life. She had heard it expressed in various ways ever since
she could remember, and it was a part, not merely of her experience, but
of her growth and development. She had heard the matter discussed so many
times that it seemed to her nothing but natural that her father should
one day realize the dream of his later years and reoccupy the old Place
Judge Bascom had no other thought than this. As he grew older and
feebler, the desire became more ardent and overpowering. While his
daughter was teaching her school, with which she had made quite a
success, the Judge would be planning improvements to be added to his
old home when he should own it again. Not a day passed—unless, indeed,
the weather was stormy—that he did not walk in the neighborhood of the
old Place. Sometimes he would go with his daughter, sometimes he would
go alone, but it was observed by those who came to be interested in his
comings and goings that he invariably refused to accept the invitation
of Mr. Underwood to enter the house or to inspect the improvements that
had been made. He persisted in remaining on the outside of the domain,
content to wait for the day when he could enter as proprietor. He was
willing to accept the position of spectator, but he was not willing to be
The culmination came one fine day in the fall, and it was so sudden
and so peculiar that it took Hillsborough completely by surprise, and
gave the people food for gossip for a long time afterwards. The season
was hesitating as to whether summer should return or winter should be
introduced. There was a hint of winter in the crisp morning breezes, but
the world seemed to float summerwards in the glimmering haze that wrapped
the hills in the afternoons. On one of these fine mornings Judge Bascom
rose and dressed himself. His daughter heard him humming a tune as he
walked about the room, and she observed also, with inward satisfaction,
that his movements were brisker than usual. Listening a little
attentively, she heard him talking to himself, and presently she heard
him laugh. This was such an unusual occurrence that she was moved to
knock at his door. He responded with a cheery “Come in!” Mildred found
him shaved and dressed, and she saw that there was a great change in his
appearance. His cheeks, usually so wan and white, were flushed a little
and his eyes were bright. He smiled as Mildred entered, and exclaimed in
a tone that she had not heard for years:—
“Good-morning, my daughter! And how do you find yourself this morning?”
It was the old manner she used to admire so when she was a slip of a
girl—a manner that was a charming combination of dignity and affection.
“Why, father!” she exclaimed, “you must be feeling better. You have
positively grown younger in a night.”
The Judge laughed until his eyes sparkled. “Yes, my dear, I am feeling
very well indeed. I never felt better. I am happy, quite happy.
Everything has been made clear to me. I am going to-day to transact some
business that has been troubling me a long time. I shall arrange it all
The change that had come over her father was such a relief to Mildred
that she asked him no questions. Now, as always, she trusted to his
judgment and his experience. Jesse, however, was more critical. He
watched the Judge furtively and shook his head.
“Mistiss,” he said to Mildred when he found an opportunity, “did you
“Why, what a ridiculous question!” she exclaimed. “How could I shave him?
It makes me shiver merely to touch the razors.”
“Well, Mistiss,” Jesse insisted, “ef I ain’t shave him, en you ain’t
shave him, den who de name er goodness is done gone en done it?”
“He shaved himself, of course,” Mildred said. “He is very much better
this morning. I noticed it the moment I saw him. I should think you could
see it yourself.”
“I seed somepin’ nuther wuz de matter,” said Jesse. “Somepin’ ’bleege’
ter be de matter when I put him ter bed las’ night des like he wuz a
baby, ma’m, en now yer he is gwine roun’ des ez spry ez de nex’ one.
Yessum, somepin’ ’bleege’ ter be de matter. Yistiddy his han’s wuz
shakin’ same like he got de polzy, ma’m, en now yer he is shavin’
hisse’f; dat what rack my min’.”
“Well, I hope you are glad he is so well, Jesse,” said Mildred in an
“Oh, yessum,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “Lor’, yessum. Dey ain’t
nobody no gladder dan what I is; but it come on me so sudden, ma’m, dat
it sorter skeer me.”
“Well, it doesn’t frighten me,” said Mildred. “It makes me very happy.”
“Yessum,” replied Jesse deferentially. He made no further comment; but
after Mildred had gone to attend to her school duties he made it his
business to keep an eye on the Judge, and the closer the negro watched,
the more forcibly was he struck by the great change that a night had made
in the old man.
“I hear talk ’bout folks bein’ conjured inter sickness,” Jesse said to
himself, “but I ain’t never hear talk ’bout dey bein’ conjured so dey git
Certainly a great change had come over Judge Bascom. He stood firmly on
his feet once more. He held his head erect, as in the old days, and when
he talked to Jesse his tone was patronizing and commanding, instead of
querulous and complaining. He seemed to be very fastidious about his
appearance. After Mildred had gone to her school, Jesse was called in to
brush the Judge’s hat and coat and to polish his shoes. The Judge watched
this process with great interest, and talked to the negro in his blandest
manner. This was not so surprising to Jesse as the fact that the Judge
persisted in calling him Wesley; Wesley was the Judge’s old body-servant
who had been dead for twenty years. It was Wesley this and Wesley that so
long as Jesse was in the room, and once the Judge asked how long before
the carriage would be ready. The negro parried this question, but he
remembered it. He was sorely puzzled an hour afterwards, however, when
Judge Bascom called him and said:—
“Wesley, tell Jordan he need not bring the carriage around for me. I will
walk. Jordan can bring your mistress when she is ready.”
“Well,” exclaimed Jesse, when the Judge disappeared in the house, “dis
bangs me! What de name er goodness put de ole man Jerd’n in his min’,
which he died endurance er de war? It’s all away beyant me. Miss Mildred
oughter be yer wid her pa right now, yit, ef I go atter her, dey ain’t no
tellin’ what he gwine do.”
Jess cut an armful of wood, and then made a pretense of washing dishes,
going from the kitchen to the dining-room several times. More than once
he stopped to listen, but he could hear nothing. After a while he made
bold to peep into the sitting-room. There was nobody there. He went into
the Judge’s bedroom; it was empty. Then he called—“Marster! oh, Marster!”
but there was no reply. Jess was in a quandary. He was not alarmed, but
he was uneasy.
“Ef I run en tell Miss Mildred dat Marster done gone som’ers,” he said
to himself, “she’ll des laugh en say I ain’t got no sense; en I don’t
speck I is, but it make my flesh crawl fer ter hear folks callin’ on dead
niggers ter do dis en do dat.”
Meanwhile the Judge had sallied forth from the house, and was proceeding
in the direction of the Bascom Place. His step was firm and elastic, his
bearing dignified. The acquaintances whom he met on his way stopped and
looked after him when they had returned his Chesterfieldian salutation.
He walked rapidly, and there was an air of decision in his movements that
had long been lacking. At the great gate opening into the avenue of the
Bascom Place the Judge was met by Prince the mastiff, who gave him a
hospitable welcome, and gravely preceded him to the house. Miss Sophie,
Mr. Underwood’s maiden sister, who was sitting in the piazza, engaged on
some kind of feminine embroidery, saw the Judge coming, too late to beat
a retreat, so she merely whipped behind one of the large pillars, gave
her dress a little shake at the sides and behind, ran her hands over her
hair, and appeared before the caller cool, calm, and collected.
“Good-morning, madam,” said the Judge in his grand way, taking off his
“Good-morning, sir,” said Miss Sophie. “Have this chair?”
“No, no,” said the Judge, smiling blandly, and waving his hand. “I prefer
my own chair—the large rocker with the cushion, you know. It is more
Somewhat puzzled, Miss Sophie fetched a rocker. It had no cushion, but
the Judge seemed not to miss it.
“Why, where are the servants?” he asked, his brows contracting a little.
“I could have brought the chair.”
“Mercy!” exclaimed Miss Sophie, “if I were to sit down and expect the
negroes to wait on me, I’d have a good many disappointments during the
“Yes,” said the Judge, “that is very true; very true. Where is Wesley?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Miss Sophie replied. “Is he a white man or a
“Wesley?” exclaimed the Judge. “Why, he’s a nigger; he’s my body-servant.”
“Isn’t this Judge Bascom?” Miss Sophie inquired, regarding him curiously.
“Yes, certainly, madam,” responded the Judge.
“Well, I’ve seen a negro named Jesse following you and your daughter
about,” said Miss Sophie. “Perhaps you are speaking of Jesse.”
“No, no,” said the Judge. “I mean Wesley—or maybe you are only a visitor
here. Your face is familiar, but I have forgotten your name.”
“I am Francis Underwood’s sister,” said Miss Sophie, with some degree of
“Ah, yes!” the Judge sighed—“Francis Underwood. He is the gentleman who
has had charge of the place these several years. A very clever man, I
have no doubt. He has done very well, very well indeed; better than most
men would have done. Do you know where he will go next year?”
“Now, I couldn’t tell you, really,” Miss Sophie replied, looking at the
Judge through her gold-rimmed eye-glasses. “He did intend to go North
this fall, but he’s always too busy to carry out his intentions.”
“Yes,” said Judge Bascom; “I have no doubt he is a very busy man. He has
managed everything very cleverly here, and I wish him well wherever he
Miss Sophie was very glad when she heard her brother’s step in the hall;
not that she was nervous or easily frightened, but there was something
in Judge Bascom’s actions, something in the tone of his voice, some
suggestion in his words, that gave her uneasiness, and she breathed a
sigh of relief when her stalwart brother made his appearance.
Francis Underwood greeted his guest cordially—more cordially, Miss Sophie
thought, than circumstances warranted; but the beautiful face of Mildred
Bascom was not stamped on Miss Sophie’s mind as it was on her brother’s.
“I am sorry to put you to any inconvenience,” said the Judge, after
they had talked for some time on commonplace topics—“very sorry. I have
put the matter off until at last I felt it to be a solemn duty I owed
my family to come here. Believe me, sir,” he continued, turning to the
young man with some emotion—“believe me, sir, it grieves me to trouble
you in the matter, but I could no longer postpone coming here. I think I
understand and appreciate your attachment”—
“Why, my dear sir,” cried Francis Underwood in his heartiest manner, “it
is no trouble at all. No one could be more welcome here. I have often
wondered why you have never called before. Don’t talk about trouble and
“I think I understand and appreciate your attachment for the Place,” the
Judge went on as though he had not been interrupted, “and it embarrasses
me, I assure you, to be compelled to trouble you now.”
“Well,” said Francis Underwood, with a hospitable laugh, “if it is no
trouble to you, it certainly is none to me. As my neighbors around here
say, when I call on them, ‘just make yourself at home.’”
Judge Bascom rose from his chair trembling. He seemed suddenly to be
laboring under the most intense excitement.
“My home?” he almost shrieked—“make myself at home! In God’s name,
man, what can you mean? It _is_ my home! It has always been my home!
Everything here is mine—every foot of land, every tree, every brick and
stone and piece of timber in this house. It is _all_ mine, and I will
have it! I have come here to assert my rights!”
He panted with passion and excitement as he looked from Francis Underwood
to Miss Sophie. He paused, as if daring them to dispute his claims.
Miss Sophie, who had a temper of her own, would have given the Judge a
piece of her mind, but she saw her brother regarding the old man with a
puzzled, pitying expression. Then the truth flashed on her, and for an
instant she felt like crying. Francis Underwood approached the Judge and
led him gently back to his chair.
“Now that you are at home, Judge Bascom,” he said, “you need not worry
“I tell you it is _mine_!” the Judge went on, beating the arm of his
chair with his clenched fist; “it is mine. It has always been mine, and
it will always be mine.”
Francis Underwood stood before the old man, active, alert, smiling.
His sister said afterwards that she was surprised at the prompt
gentleness with which her brother disposed of what promised to be a very
“Judge Bascom,” said the young man, swinging himself around on his
boot-heels, “as your guest here, allow me to suggest that you ought to
show me over the place. I have been told you have some very fine cows
Immediately Judge Bascom was himself again. His old air of dignity
returned, and he became in a moment the affable host.
“As my guests here,” he said, smiling with pleasure, “you and the lady
are very welcome. We keep open house at the Bascom Place, and we are glad
to have our friends with us. What we have is yours. I suppose,” he went
on, still smiling, “some of our neighbors have been joking about our
cows. We have a good many of them, but they don’t amount to much. They
have been driven to the pasture by this time, and that is on the creek
a mile and a half from here. I wonder where Wesley is! I think he is
growing more worthless every year. He ought to be here with my daughter.
The carriage was sent for her some time ago.”
“I will see if he is in the yard,” said Underwood, and his sister
followed him through the hall.
“Mercy!” Miss Sophie exclaimed when they were out of hearing; “does the
old Judge purpose to swarm and settle down on us?” She had an economical
turn of mind. “What in the world is the matter with him?”
“I pity him from the bottom of my heart,” said Francis Underwood, “but I
am sorrier for his daughter. Everything seems to be blotted out of his
mind except the notion that he is the owner of this Place. We must humor
him, sister, and we must be tender with the daughter. You know how to do
that much better than I do.”
Miss Sophie frowned a little. The situation was a new and trying one,
but she had been confronted with emergencies before, and her experience
and her strong common sense stood her in good stead now. With a woman’s
promptness she decided on a line of action at once sympathetic and
effectual. The buggy was ordered out and young Underwood went for a
Then, when he had returned, Miss Sophie said he must go for the daughter,
and she cautioned him, with some severity of manner, as to what he
should say and how he should deport himself. But at this Francis
Underwood rebelled. Ordinarily he was a very agreeable and accommodating
young fellow, but when his sister informed him that he must fetch Mildred
Bascom to her father, he pulled off his hat and scratched his blond head
“What could I say, sister?” he protested. “How could I explain the
situation? No; it is a woman’s work, and you must go. It would be a
pretty come-off for me to go after this poor girl and in a fit of
awkwardness frighten her to death. It is bad enough as it is. There is no
hurry. You shall have the carriage. It would never do for me to go; no
one but a woman knows how to be sympathetic in a matter of this kind.”
“I never knew before that you were so bashful,” said Miss Sophie,
regarding him keenly. “It is a recent development.”
“It is not bashfulness, sister,” said Underwood, coloring a little. “It
is consideration. How could I explain matters to this poor girl? How
could I prevail on her to come here without giving her an inkling of the
situation, and thus frighten her, perhaps unnecessarily?”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Miss Sophie, who, as an experienced
spinster, was not always ready to make concessions of this kind. “At
any rate I’ll go for Miss Bascom, and I think I can manage it without
alarming her; but the matter troubles me. I hope the poor old Judge will
not be a dangerous guest.”
“There is not the slightest fear of that,” said Francis Underwood. “He is
too feeble for that. When I placed my hand on his shoulder just now he
was all of a tremble. He is no stronger than a little child, and no more
dangerous. Besides, the doctor is with him.”
“Well,” said Miss Sophie with a sigh, “I’ll go. Women are compelled to
do most of the odd jobs that men are afraid to take up; but I shiver to
think of it. I shall surely break down when I see that poor child.”
“No,” said her brother, “you will not. I know you too well for that. We
must humor this old man, and that will be for me to do; his daughter must
be left to you.”
All this was no less the result of Francis Underwood’s desire than of
the doctor’s commands. The old practitioner was noted for his skill
throughout the region, and after he had talked with Judge Bascom he gave
it as his opinion that the only physic necessary in the case was perfect
rest and quiet, and that these could be secured only by allowing the old
man to remain undisturbed in the belief that he was once more the owner
of the Bascom Place.
“He’ll not trouble you for long,” said Dr. Bynum, wiping his spectacles,
“and I’ve no doubt that whatever expense may be incurred will be settled
by his old friends. Oh, Bascom still has friends here,” exclaimed the
doctor, misunderstanding Underwood’s gesture of protest. “He went wrong,
badly wrong; but he is a Southerner, sir, to the very core, and in the
South we are in the habit of looking after our own. We may differ, sir,
but when the pinch comes you’ll find us together.”
The doctor’s lofty air was wholly lost on his companion.
“My dear sir,” said Underwood, laying his hand somewhat heavily on the
doctor’s shoulder, “what do you take me for? Do you suppose that I intend
to set up a hospital here?”
“Oh, by no means, by no means,” said Dr. Bynum, soothingly. “Not at all;
in fact, quite the contrary. As I say, you shall be reimbursed for all”—
“Dr. Bynum,” said Underwood, with some degree of emphasis, “permit me to
remind you that Judge Bascom is my guest. There is no question of money
except so far as your bill is concerned, and that”—
“Now, now, my _dear_ boy,” exclaimed the old doctor, holding up both
hands in a gesture of expostulation, “don’t, _don’t_ fly up! What is the
use? I was only explaining matters; I was only trying to let you know how
we Southerners feel. You must have noticed that the poor old Judge hasn’t
been treated very well since his return here. His best friends have
avoided him. I was only trying to tell you that they hold him in high
esteem, and that they are willing to do all they can for him.”
“As a Southerner?” inquired Underwood, “or as a man?”
“Tut, tut!” exclaimed Dr. Bynum. “Don’t come running at me with your head
down and your horns up. We’ve no time to fall into a dispute. You look
after the Judge as a Northerner, and I’ll look after him as a Southerner.
His daughter must come here. He is very feeble. He has but one irrational
idea, and that is that he owns the old Place. In every other particular
his mind is sound, and he will give you no trouble. His idea must be
humored, and even then the collapse will come too soon for that poor
girl, his daughter—as lovely a creature, sir, as you ever saw.”
This statement was neither information nor news so far as Underwood
was concerned. “If I see her,” the old doctor went on, with a somewhat
patronizing air, “I’ll try to explain matters; but it is a very delicate
undertaking, sir—very delicate.”
“No,” said Underwood; “there will be no need for explanations. My sister
will go for Miss Bascom, and whatever explanations may be necessary she
will make at the proper time.”
“An admirable arrangement,” said Dr. Bynum with a grunt of
satisfaction—“an admirable arrangement indeed. Well, my boy, you must
do the best you can, and I know that will be all that is necessary. I am
sorry for Bascom, very sorry, and I’m sorrier for his daughter. I’ll call
As Dr. Bynum drove down the avenue, Underwood was much gratified to see
Jesse coming through the gate. The negro appeared to be much perplexed.
He took off his hat as he approached Underwood, and made a display of
politeness somewhat unusual, although he was always polite.
“Is you seed Marse Judge Bascom?” he inquired.
“Yes,” said Underwood. “He is in the house yonder, resting himself. You
seem frightened; what is the trouble?”
“Well, suh, I ain’t had no such worriment sence de Sherman army come
’long. I dunner what got inter Marse Judge Bascom. He been gwine on des
like yuther folks, settin’ ’roun’ en talkin’ ’long wid hisse’f, en den
all of er sudden he break out en shave en dress hisse’f, en go visitin’
whar he ain’t never been visitin’ befo’. I done year ’im say p’intedly
dat he ain’t never gwine come yer les’n de Place b’long ter ’im. Do he
look downhearted, suh?”
“No,” said Underwood, “I can’t say that he does. He seems to be very
well satisfied. He has called several times for Wesley. I have heard
you called Jesse, but perhaps the Judge knows you as Wesley. There are
several negroes around here who answer to different names.”
“No, suh,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “I ain’t never been call
Wesley sence I been bornded inter de worl’. Dey was er nigger name Wesley
what use ter go ’long wid Marse Judge Bascom en wait on ’im when I wuz
er little boy, but Wesley done been dead too long ago ter talk about.
I dunner what make folks’s min’ drop back dat ’a’way. Look like dey er
sorter fumblin’ ’roun’ tryin’ fer ter ketch holt er sump’n ne’r what done
been pulled up out’n reach.”
“Well,” said Underwood, “the Judge is in the house. See if he wants
anything; and if he asks about his daughter, tell him she will be here
When Jesse went into the house he found the Judge lying on a lounge in
the hall. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be dozing; but Jesse’s
movements aroused him.
“Ah! is that you, Wesley? Where is your Miss Mildred?”
“She comin’, suh; she comin’ right now.”
“Very well, very well. You must make yourself at home here,” he said to
Francis Underwood, who had followed Jesse. “I am somewhat dilapidated
myself, but my daughter will entertain you. Wesley, I believe I will go
to my room. Lend me your arm.”
“Allow me to assist you,” said Underwood; and so between the two the old
man was carried to the room that had been his own when the house was
his. It happened to be Underwood’s room, but that made no difference. It
belonged once more to the Judge in his disordered fancy, and thither he
After a while Miss Sophie came, bringing Mildred. Just how she had
explained matters to the poor girl no one ever knew, but it must have
been in some specially sympathetic way, for when Francis Underwood
assisted the ladies from the carriage Miss Bascom appeared to be the less
agitated of the two.
“The Judge is as comfortable as possible,” Underwood said cheerily.
“Jesse is with him, and I think he is asleep. His nervousness has passed
“Oh, do you think he is seriously ill?” exclaimed Mildred, clasping her
“Certainly not, just now,” said Francis Underwood. “The doctor has been
here, and he has gone away apparently satisfied. Sister, do you take
charge of Miss Bascom, and show her how to be at home here.”
And so Judge Bascom and his beautiful daughter were installed at the
old Place. Mildred, under the circumstances, would rather have been
elsewhere, but she was practically under orders. It was necessary to the
well-being of her father, so the doctor said, that he should remain where
he was; it was necessary that he should be humored in the belief that he
was the owner of the old Place. It is only fair to say that Miss Sophie
Underwood and her brother were more willing and anxious to enter into
this scheme than Mildred appeared to be. She failed to comprehend the
situation until after she had talked with her father, and then she was in
despair. Judge Bascom was the representative of everything substantial
and enduring in his daughter’s experience, and when she realized that his
mind had been seized by a vagary she received a tremendous shock. But
the rough edges of the situation, so to speak, were smoothed and turned
by Miss Sophie, who assumed motherly charge of the young girl. Miss
Sophie’s methods were so sympathetic and so womanly, and she gave to the
situation such a matter-of-fact interpretation, that the grief and dismay
of the young girl were not as overwhelming as they otherwise would have
Naturally all the facts that have just been set down here were soon known
to the inhabitants of Hillsborough. Naturally, too, something more than
the facts was also known and talked about. There was the good old doctor
ready to shake his head and look mysterious, and there were the negroes
ready to give out an exaggerated version of the occurrences that followed
Judge Bascom’s visit to his old home.
“Well,” said Major Jimmy Bass to his wife, with something like a snort,
“ef the old Judge is gone there an’ took holt of things, like they say,
it’s bekaze he’s out’n his mind. I wonder what in the round world could
’a’ possessed him?”
“I ’spec’ he’s done drapt back into his doltage,” said Farmer Joe-Bob
Grissom, who had gone to the major’s for the purpose of discussing the
matter. “An’ yit, they do say that he’s got a clean title to every bit
of the prop’ty, ef you take into account all that talk about his wife’s
brother, an’ sech like.”
“Well,” remarked the major grimly, “Sarah there ain’t got no brother, an’
I reckon I’m sorter pretected from them kind of gwines-on.”
“Why, tooby shore you are,” said his wife, who was the Sarah referred to;
“but I ain’t so mighty certain that I wouldn’t be better off if I had
a brother to follow you around where the wimmen folks can’t go. You’ve
flung away many a bright dollar that he might have picked up.”
“Who, Sarah?” inquired the major, wincing a little.
“My brother,” returned Mrs. Bass.
“Why, you haven’t got a brother, Sarah,” said Major Bass.
“More’s the pity,” exclaimed the major’s wife. “I ought to have had one,
a great big double-j’inted chap. But you needn’t tell me about the old
Judge,” she went on. “He tried to out-Yankee the Yankees up yonder in
Atlanty, an’ now he’s a-trying to out-Yankee them down here. Lord! You
needn’t tell me a thing about old Judge Bascom. Show me a man that’s been
wrapped up with the Radicals, and I’ll show you a man that ain’t got
no better sense than to try to chousel somebody. I’d just as lief see
Underwood have the Bascom Place as the old Judge, every bit and grain.”
“Well, I hadn’t,” said the major emphatically.
“No, ner me nuther,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom. “Hit may be right, but hit
don’t look right. Pap used to say he’d never be happy ontel the Bascoms
come back inter the’r prop’ty.”
“Well, he’s dead, ain’t he?” inquired Mrs. Bass in a tone that showed she
had the best of the argument.
“Yessum,” said Mr. Grissom, shifting about in his chair and crossing his
legs, as if anxious to dispose of an unpleasant subject, “yessum, pap’s
done dead.” To this statement, after a somewhat embarrassing silence, he
added: “Pap took an’ died a long time ago.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass in a gentler tone, “and I’ll warrant you that when
he died he wasn’t pestered ’bout whether the Bascoms owned the Place or
not. Did he make any complaints?”
“No’m,” replied Mr. Grissom in a reminiscent way, “I can’t say that he
did. He jest didn’t bother about ’em. Hit looked like they jest natchally
slipped outer his mind.”
“Why, certainly,” said Mrs. Bass, with a little shake of her head; “they
slipped outer your pa’s mind, and now they say the old Judge has slipped
out of his own mind.”
“Well, we needn’t boast of it, Sarah,” remarked the major, with a feeble
attempt at severity. “Nobody knows the day when some of us may be twisted
around. We’ve no room to brag.”
“No, we ain’t,” said his wife, bridling up. “I’ve trembled for you a many
a day when you thought I was thinking about something else,—a many a day.”
“Now you know mighty well, Sarah, that no good-natured man like me
ain’t a-gwine to up an’ lose their mind, jest dry so,” said the major
earnestly. “They’ve got to have some mighty big trouble.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass, grimly, “and they have to have mind too, I reckon.
Nobody that never had a horse ever lost one.”
The major nodded his head at Joe-Bob Grissom, as much as to say that it
was only a very able man who could afford to have such a sprightly wife.
The mute suggestion, however, was lost on Grissom, who was accustomed to
taking life seriously.
“I hear a mighty heap of talk,” he said, “but I ain’t never been so
mighty certain an’ shore that the old Judge is lost his mind. There’d be
lots of fun ef it should happen to be that he had the papers all made out
in his pocket, an’ I’ve hearn some hints that-a-way.”
“Well,” said the more practical Mrs. Bass, “he ain’t got no papers.
The minute I laid eyes on him after he came back here, I says to Mr.
Bass there, ‘Mr. Bass,’ says I, ‘the old Judge has gone wrong in his
upper story.’ Ah, you can’t fool me. I know a thing when I see it, more
especially if I look at it close. I’ve seen folks that had to rub the
silver off a thrip to tell whether it was passable or not. I might be
fooled about the silver in a thrip, but you can’t fool me about a grown
“Nobody ain’t tryin’ to fool you, Sarah,” said the major, with some show
“Well, I reckon not,” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, somewhat contemptuously. “I’d
like to see anybody try to fool me right here in my own house and right
before my face.”
“There ain’t no tellin’,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, in his matter-of-fact
way, ignoring everything that had been said,—“there ain’t no tellin’
whether the old Judge is got the papers or not. ’T would be hard on Frank
Underwood an’ his sister, an’ they ain’t no better folks than them. They
don’t make no fuss about it, an’ they don’t hang out no signs, but when
you come to a narrer place in the road where you can’t go forrerd nor
back’ards, an’ nuther can you turn ’roun’, you may jest count on them
Underwoods. They’ll git you out ef you can be got out, an’ before you
can say thanky-do, they’ll be away off yonder helpin’ some yuther poor
“Well,” said Major Bass, with an air of independence, “I’m at the fust of
it. It may be jest as you say, Joe-Bob; but ef so, I’ve never knowed it.”
“Hit’s jest like I tell you,” said Joe-Bob, emphatically.
“Well, the Lord love us!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, “I hope it’s so, I do from
the bottom of my heart. It would be a mighty queer world if it didn’t
have some tender spots in it, but you needn’t be afraid that they’ll ever
get as thick as the measles. I reckon you must be renting land on the old
Bascom Place,” she went on, eyeing Mr. Grissom somewhat sharply.
“Yessum,” said Joe-Bob, moving about uneasily in his chair. “Yessum, I
Whereupon Mrs. Bass smiled, and her smile was more significant than
anything she could have said. It was disconcerting indeed, and it was
not long before Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom made some excuse for depriving Major
Jimmy and Mrs. Sarah Bass of his company.
As he was passing the Bascom Place on his way home he saw lights in the
house and heard voices on the piazza.
“Ef it warn’t for that blamed dog,” he thought, “I’d go up there an’ see
what they er talkin’ about so mighty peart.”
But Mr. Grissom’s curiosity would not have been satisfied. Judge Bascom
was sitting in a large rocking-chair, enjoying the pleasant evening air,
and the others were sitting near, talking on the most ordinary topics.
This situation was one of the doctor’s prescriptions, as Miss Sophie
said. Those around were to wear a cheerful air, and the Judge was to be
humored in the belief that he was once more the proprietor of the Bascom
Place. He seemed to respond to this treatment in the most natural way.
The old instinct of hospitality rose in him and had its way. He grew
garrulous indeed, and sat on the piazza, or walked up and down and talked
by the hour. He was full of plans and projects, and some of them were
so suggestive that Francis Underwood made a note of them for further
consideration. The Judge was the genial host, and while his daughter was
full of grief and humiliation at the position in which she was placed, he
appeared to draw new life and inspiration from his surroundings. He took
a great fancy to Miss Sophie: her observations, which were practical in
the extreme, and often unflattering, were highly relished by him. The
Judge himself was a good talker, and he gave Miss Sophie an opportunity
to vent some of her pet opinions, the most of which were very pronounced.
As for Mildred, in spite of her grief and anxiety, she found her
surroundings vastly more pleasant than she had at first imagined they
could be. Some instinct or prepossession made her feel at home in the old
house, and as she grew more cheerful and more contented she grew more
beautiful and more engaging. At least, this was the opinion of Francis
“Brother,” said Miss Sophie one day when they were together, “you are in
“I don’t know whether to say yes or no,” he replied. “What is it to be in
“How should I know?” exclaimed Miss Sophie, reddening a little. “I see
you mooning around, and moping. Something has come over you, and if it
isn’t love, what is it?”
He held up his hands, white and muscular, and looked at them. Then he
took off his hat and tousled his hair in an effort to smooth it with his
“It is something,” he said after a while “but I don’t know what. Is love
such an everyday affair that it can be called by name as soon as it
“Don’t be absurd, brother,” said Miss Sophie, with a gesture of protest.
“You talk as if you were trying to take a census of the affair.”
“No,” said he; “I am trying to get a special report. I saw Dr. Bynum
looking at you over his spectacles yesterday.”
Miss Sophie tried to show that this suggestion was an irritating one, but
she failed, and then fell to laughing.
“I never knew I was so full of humor before,” said Francis Underwood, by
way of comment.
“And I never knew you could be so foolish—to me,” said Miss Sophie, still
laughing. “What is Dr. Bynum to me?”
“Not having his spectacles to look over, how do I know?”
“But,” persisted Miss Sophie, “you need no spectacles to look at Mildred.
I have seen you looking at her through your fingers.”
“And what was she doing?” inquired Underwood, coloring in the most
“Oh,” said Miss Sophie, “she was pretending not to notice it; but I can
sit with my back to you both and tell by the tone of her voice when this
and that thing is going on.”
“This, then, is courtship,” said Underwood.
“Why, brother, how provoking you are!” exclaimed Miss Sophie. “It is
nothing of the sort. It is child’s play; it is the way the youngsters
do at school. I feel as if I never knew you before; you are full of
“I surprise myself,” he said, with something like a sigh, “and that is
the trouble; I don’t want to be too surprising.”
“But in war,” said his sister, “the successful general cannot be too full
“In war!” he cried. “Why, I was in hopes the war was over.”
“I was thinking about the old saying,” she explained—“the old saying that
all is fair in love and war.”
“Well,” said Francis Underwood, “it would be hard to say whether you
and Dr. Bynum are engaged in war or not. You are both very sly, but I
have seen a good deal of skirmishing going on. Will it end in a serious
engagement, with casualties on both sides? The doctor is something of a
surgeon, and he can attend to his own wounds, but who is going to look
“How can you go on so!” cried Miss Sophie, laughing. “Are we to have an
epidemic of delusions?”
“Yes, and illusions too,” said her brother. “The atmosphere seems to be
full of them. Everything is in a tangle.”
And yet it was not long after this conversation that Miss Sophie observed
her brother and Mildred Bascom sauntering together under the great
cedars, and she concluded that he was trying to untangle the tangle.
There were many such walks, and the old Judge, sitting on the piazza
in bright weather, would watch the handsome pair, apparently with a
contented air. There was something about this busy and practical young
man that filled Mildred’s imagination. His individuality was prominent
enough to be tantalizing. It was of the dominant variety. In him the
instinct of control and command, so pleasing to the feminine mind, was
thoroughly developed, and he disposed of his affairs with a promptness
and decisiveness that left nothing to be desired. Everything seemed to
be arranged in his mind beforehand.
Everything, that is to say, except his relations with Mildred Bascom.
There was not the slightest detail of his various enterprises, from
the simplest to the most complicated, with which he was not thoroughly
familiar, but this young girl, simple and unaffected as she was, puzzled
him sorely. She presented to Francis Underwood’s mind the old problem
that is always new, and that has as many phases as there are stars in
the sky. Here, before his eyes, was a combination for which there was no
warrant in his experience—the wit and tenderness of Rosalind, blended
with the self-sacrificing devotion of Cordelia. Here was a combination—a
complication—of a nature to attract the young man’s attention. Problem,
puzzle, what you will, it was a very attractive one for him, and he lost
no favorable opportunity of studying it.
So the pleasant days came and went. If there were any love-passages
between the young people, only the stately cedars or the restless poplars
were in the secret, and these told it only to the vagrant west winds that
crept over the hills when the silence of night fell over all things.
Those were pleasant days and nights at the old Bascom Place, in spite of
the malady with which the Judge was afflicted. They were particularly
pleasant when he seemed to be brighter and stronger. But one day, when he
seemed to be at his best, the beginning of the end came. He was sitting
on the piazza, talking with his daughter and with Francis Underwood. Some
reference was made to the Place, when the old Judge suddenly rose from
his chair, and, shaking his thin white hand at the young man, cried out:
“I tell you it is mine! The Place always has been mine and it always will
He tottered forward and would have fallen, but Underwood caught him and
placed him in his chair. The old man’s nerves had lost their tension,
his eyes their brightness. He could only murmur indistinctly, “Mine,
mine, mine.” He seemed suddenly to have shrunk and shriveled away. His
head fell to one side, his face was deadly pale, his lips were blue, and
his thin hands clutched convulsively at his clothes and at the chair.
Mildred was at his side instantly, but he seemed to be beyond the reach
of her voice and beyond the limits of her grief, which was distressful to
behold. He tried indeed to stroke the beautiful hair that fell loosely
over him as his daughter seized him in her despairing arms, but it was in
a vague and wandering way.
Judge Bascom’s condition was so alarming that Francis Underwood lifted
him in his arms and placed him on the nearest bed, where he lay gazing at
the ceiling, sometimes smiling and at other times frowning and crying,
“Mine, mine, mine!”
He sank slowly but surely. At the last he smiled and whispered “Home,”
and so passed away.
He was indeed at home. He had come to the end of his long and tiresome
journey. He smiled as he lay sleeping, and his rest was pleasant; for
there was that in his dead face, white and pinched as it was, that bore
witness to the infinite gentleness and mercy of Christ, who is the Lord.
It was an event that touched the hearts of his old neighbors and their
children, and they spoke to one another freely and feelingly about
the virtues of the old Judge, the beautiful life he had lived, the
distinction he had won, and the mark he had made on his generation.
Some, who were old enough to remember, told of his charities in the days
when prosperity sat at his board; and in discussing these things the
people gradually came to realize the fact that Judge Bascom, in spite of
his misfortunes, had shed lustre on his State and on the village in which
he was born, and that his renown was based on a character so perfect, and
on results so just and beneficent, that all could share in it.
His old neighbors, watching by him as he lay smiling in his dreamless
sleep, shortened the long hours of the night with pleasant reminiscences
of the dead. Those who sat near the door could see, in an adjoining room,
Mildred Bascom sitting at Miss Sophie Underwood’s feet, her arms around
the older woman’s waist. It was a brief and fleeting panorama, as indeed
life itself is, but the two, brought together by grief and sympathy,
often sat thus in the years that followed. For Mildred Bascom became the
mistress of the Bascom Place; and although she has changed her name, the
old name still clings to Underwood’s domain.