The Battle Ground
Part 7 out of 8
bite in an hour." Placid, wide-girthed, dull-faced, innocent as a child, he
sat in the midst of war dangling his line above the silver perch.
THE PEACEFUL SIDE OF WAR
On a sparkling January morning, when Lee's army had gone into winter
quarters beside the Rappahannock, Dan stood in the doorway of his log hut
smoking the pipe of peace, while he watched a messmate putting up a chimney
of notched sticks across the little roadway through the pines.
"You'd better get Pinetop to daub your chinks for you," he suggested. "He
can make a mixture of wet clay and sandstone that you couldn't tell from
"You jest wait till I git through these shoes an' I'll show you," remarked
Pinetop, from the woodpile, where he was making moccasins of untanned beef
hide laced with strips of willow. "I ain't goin' to set my bar' feet on
this frozen groun' agin, if I can help it. 'Tain't so bad in summer, but, I
d'clar it takes all the spirit out of a fight when you have to run
bar-footed over the icy stubble."
"Jack Powell lost his shoes in the battle of Fredericksburg," said Baker,
as he carefully fitted his notched sticks together. "That's why he got
promoted, I reckon. He stepped into a mud puddle, and his feet came out but
his shoes didn't."
"Well, I dare say, it was cheaper for the Government to give him a title
than a pair of shoes," observed Dan, cynically. "Why, you are going in for
luxury! Is that pile of oak shingles for your roof? We made ours of rails
covered with pine tags."
"And the first storm that comes along sweeps them off--yes, I know. By the
way, can anybody tell me if there's a farmer with a haystack in these
"Pinetop got a load about three miles up," replied Dan, emptying his pipe
against the door sill. "I say, who is that cavalry peacock over yonder? By
George, it's Champe!"
"Perhaps it's General Stuart," suggested Baker witheringly, as Champe came
composedly between the rows of huts, pursued by the frantic jeers of the
"Take them earrings off yo' heels--take 'em off! Take 'em off!" yelled the
chorus, as his spurs rang on the stones. "My gal she wants 'em--take 'em
"Take those tatters off your backs--take 'em off!" responded Champe, genial
and undismayed, swinging easily along in his worn gray uniform, his black
plume curling over his soft felt hat.
As Dan watched him, standing in the doorway, he felt, with a sudden
melancholy, that a mental gulf had yawned between them. The last grim
months which had aged him with experiences as with years, had left Champe
apparently unchanged. All the deeper knowledge, which he had bought with
his youth for the price, had passed over his cousin like the clouds,
leaving him merely gay and kind as he had been of old.
"Hello, Beau!" called Champe, stretching out his hand as he drew near. "I
just heard you were over here, so I thought I'd take a look. How goes the
Dan refilled his pipe and borrowed a light from Pinetop.
"To tell the truth," he replied, "I have come to the conclusion that the
fun and frolic of war consist in picket duty and guarding mule teams."
"Well, these excessive dissipations have taken up so much of your time that
I've hardly laid eyes on you since you got routed by malaria. Any news from
"Grandma sent me a Christmas box, which she smuggled through, heaven knows
how. We had a jolly dinner that day, and Pinetop and I put on our first
clean clothes for three months. Big Abel got a linsey suit made at
Chericoke--I hope he'll come along in it."
"Oh, Beau, Beau!" lamented Champe. "How have the mighty fallen? You aren't
so particular now about wearing only white or black ties, I reckon."
"Well, shoestrings are usually black, I believe," returned Dan, with a
laugh, raising his hand to his throat.
Champe seated himself upon the end of an oak log, and taking off his hat,
ran his hand through his curling hair. "I was at home last summer on a
furlough," he remarked, "and I declare, I hardly knew the valley. If we
ever come out of this war it will take an army with ploughshares to bring
the soil up again. As for the woods--well, well, we'll never have them back
in our day."
"Did you see Uplands?" asked Dan eagerly.
"For a moment. It was hardly safe, you know, so I was at home only a day.
Grandpa told me that the place had lain under a shadow ever since
Virginia's death. She was buried in Hollywood--it was impossible to bring
her through the lines they said--and Betty and Mrs. Ambler have taken this
"And the Governor," said Dan, with a tremor in his voice as he thought of
"And Jack Morson," added Champe, "he fell at Brandy Station when I was with
him. At first he was wounded only slightly, and we tried to get him to the
rear, but he laughed and went straight in again. It was a sabre cut that
finished him at the last."
"He was a first-rate chap," commented Dan, "but I never knew exactly why
Virginia fell in love with him."
"The other fellow never does. To be quite candid, it is beyond my
comprehension how a certain lady can prefer the infantry to the
cavalry--yet she does emphatically."
"Was grandpa well?" he inquired lamely.
With a laugh Champe flung one leg over the other, and clasped his knee.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good," he responded. "Grandpa's
thoughts are so much given to the Yankees that he has become actually
angelic to the rest of us. By the way, do you know that Mr. Blake is in the
"What?" cried Dan, aghast.
"Oh, I don't mean that he really carries a rifle--though he swears he would
if he only had twenty years off his shoulders--but he has become our
chaplain in young Chrysty's place, and the boys say there is more gun
powder in his prayers than in our biggest battery."
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Dan.
"You ought to hear him--it's better than fighting on your own account. Last
Sunday he gave us a prayer in which he said: 'O Lord, thou knowest that we
are the greatest army thou hast ever seen; put forth thy hand then but a
very little and we will whip the earth.' By Jove, you look cosey here," he
added, glancing into the hut where Dan and Pinetop slept in bunks of straw.
"I hope the roads won't dry before you've warmed your house." He shook
hands again, and swung off amid the renewed jeers that issued from the open
Dan watched him until he vanished among the distant pines, and then,
turning, went into the little hut where he found Pinetop sitting before a
rude chimney, which he had constructed with much labour. A small book was
open on his knee, over which his yellow head drooped like a child's, and
Dan saw his calm face reddened by the glow of the great log fire.
"Hello! What's that?" he inquired lightly.
The mountaineer started from his abstraction, and the blood swept to his
forehead as he rose from the half of a flour barrel upon which he had been
"'Tain't nothin'," he responded, and as he towered to his great height his
fair curls brushed the ceiling of crossed rails. In his awkwardness the
book fell to the floor, and before he could reach it, Dan had stooped, with
a laugh, and picked it up.
"I say, there are no secrets in this shebang," he said smiling. Then the
smile went out, and his face grew suddenly grave, for, as the book fell
open in his hand, he saw that it was the first primer of a child, and on
the thumbed and tattered page the word "RAT" stared at him in capital
"By George, man!" he exclaimed beneath his breath, as he turned from
Pinetop to the blazing logs.
For the first time in his life he was brought face to face with the tragedy
of hopeless ignorance for an inquiring mind, and the shock stunned him, at
the moment, past the power of speech. Until knowing Pinetop he had, in the
lofty isolation of his class, regarded the plebeian in the light of an
alien to the soil, not as a victim to the kindly society in which he
himself had moved--a society produced by that free labour which had
degraded the white workman to the level of the serf. At the instant the
truth pierced home to him, and he recognized it in all the grimness of its
pathos. Beside that genial plantation life which he had known he saw rising
the wistful figure of the poor man doomed to conditions which he could not
change--born, it may be, like Pinetop, self-poised, yet with an untaught
intellect, grasping, like him, after the primitive knowledge which should
be the birthright of every child. Even the spectre of slavery, which had
shadowed his thoughts, as it had those of many a generous mind around him,
faded abruptly before the very majesty of the problem that faced him now.
In his sympathy for the slave, whose bondage he and his race had striven to
make easy, he had overlooked the white sharer of the negro's wrong. To men
like Pinetop, slavery, stern or mild, could be but an equal menace, and yet
these were the men who, when Virginia called, came from their little cabins
in the mountains, who tied the flint-locks upon their muskets and fought
uncomplainingly until the end. Not the need to protect a decaying
institution, but the instinct in every free man to defend the soil, had
brought Pinetop, as it had brought Dan, into the army of the South.
"Look here, old man, you haven't been quite fair to me," said Dan, after
the long silence. "Why didn't you ask me to help you with this stuff?"
"Wall, I thought you'd joke," replied Pinetop blushing, "and I knew yo'
"Joke? Good Lord!" exclaimed Dan. "Do you think I was born with so short a
memory, you scamp? Where are those nights on the way to Romney when you
covered me with your overcoat to keep me from freezing in the snow? Where,
for that matter, is that march in Maryland when Big Abel and you carried me
three miles in your arms after I had dropped delirious by the roadside? If
you thought I'd joke you about this, Pinetop, all I can say is that you've
turned into a confounded fool."
Pinetop came back to the fire and seated himself upon the flour barrel in
the corner. "'Twas this way, you see," he said, breaking, for the first
time, through his strong mountain reserve. "I al'ays thought I'd like to
read a bit, 'specially on winter evenings at home, when the nights are long
and you don't have to git up so powerful early in the mornings, but when I
was leetle thar warn't nobody to teach me how to begin; maw she didn't know
nothin' an' paw he was dead, though he never got beyond the first reader
when he was 'live."
He looked up and Dan nodded gravely over his pipe.
"Then when I got bigger I had to work mighty hard to keep things goin'--an'
it seemed to me every time I took out that thar leetle book at night I got
so dead sleepy I couldn't tell one letter from another; A looked jest like
"I see," said Dan quietly. "Well, there's time enough here anyhow. It will
be a good way to pass the evenings." He opened the primer and laid it on
his knee, running his fingers carelessly through its dog-eared pages. "Do
you know your letters?" he inquired in a professional tone.
"Lordy, yes," responded Pinetop. "I've got about as fur as this here
place." He crossed to where Dan sat and pointed with a long forefinger to
the printed words, his mild blue eyes beaming with excitement.
"I reckon I kin read that by myself," he added with an embarrassed laugh.
"T-h-e c-a-t c-a-u-g-h-t t-h-e r-a-t. Ain't that right?"
"Perfectly. We'll pass on to the next." And they did so, sitting on the
halves of a divided flour barrel before the blazing chimney.
From this time there were regular lessons in the little hut, Pinetop
drawling over the soiled primer, or crouching, with his long legs twisted
under him and his elbows awkwardly extended, while he filled a sheet of
paper with sprawling letters.
"I'll be able to write to the old woman soon," he chuckled jubilantly, "an'
she'll have to walk all the way down the mounting to git it read."
"You'll be a scholar yet if this keeps up," replied Dan, slapping him upon
the shoulder, as the mountaineer glanced up with a pleased and shining
face. "Why, you mastered that first reader there in no time."
"A powerful heap of larnin' has to pass through yo' head to git a leetle to
stick thar," commented Pinetop, wrinkling his brows. "Air we goin' to have
the big book agin to-night?"
"The big book" was a garbled version of "Les Miserables," which, after
running the blockade with a daring English sailor, had passed from regiment
to regiment in the resting army. At first Dan had begun to read with only
Pinetop for a listener, but gradually, as the tale unfolded, a group of
eager privates filled the little hut and even hung breathlessly about the
doorway in the winter nights. They were mostly gaunt, unwashed volunteers
from the hills or the low countries, to whom literature was only a vast
silence and life a courageous struggle against greater odds. To Dan the
picturesqueness of the scene lent itself with all the force of its strong
lights and shadows, and with the glow of the pine torches on the open page,
his eyes would sometimes wander from the words to rest upon the kindling
faces in the shaggy circle by the fire. Dirty, hollow-eyed, unshaven, it
sat spellbound by the magic of the tale it could not read.
"By Gosh! that's a blamed good bishop," remarked an unkempt smoker one
evening from the threshold, where his beef-hide shoes were covered with
fine snow. "I don't reckon Marse Robert could ha' beat that."
"Marse Robert ain't never tried," put in a companion by the fire.
"Wall, I ain't sayin' he had," corrected the first speaker, through a cloud
of smoke. "Lord, I hope when my time comes I kin slip into heaven on Marse
"If you don't, you won't never git thar!" jeered the second. Then they
settled themselves again, and listened with sombre faces and twitching
It was during this winter that Dan learned how one man's influence may fuse
individual and opposing wills into a single supreme endeavour. The Army of
Northern Virginia, as he saw it then, was moulded, sustained, and made
effective less by the authority of the Commander than by the simple power
of Lee over the hearts of the men who bore his muskets. For a time Dan had
sought to trace the groundspring of this impassioned loyalty, seeking a
reason that could not be found in generals less beloved. Surely it was not
the illuminated figure of the conqueror, for when had the Commander held
closer the affection of his troops than in that ill-starred campaign into
Maryland, which left the moral victory of a superb fight in McClellan's
hands? No, the charm lay deeper still, beyond all the fictitious aids of
fortune--somewhere in that serene and noble presence he had met one evening
as the gray dusk closed, riding alone on an old road between level fields.
After this it was always as a high figure against a low horizon that he had
seen the man who made his army.
As the long winter passed away, he learned, not only much of the spirit of
his own side, but something that became almost a sunny tolerance, of the
great blue army across the Rappahannock. He had exchanged Virginian tobacco
for Northern coffee at the outposts, and when on picket duty along the cold
banks of the river he would sometimes shout questions and replies across
the stream. In these meetings there was only a wide curiosity with little
bitterness; and once a friendly New England picket had delivered a
religious homily from the opposite shore, as he leaned upon his rifle.
"I didn't think much of you Rebs before I came down here," he had concluded
in a precise and energetic shout, "but I guess, after all, you've got souls
in your bodies like the rest of us."
"I reckon we have. Any coffee over your side?"
"Plenty. The war's interfered considerably with the tobacco crop, ain't
"Well, rather; we've enough for ourselves, but none to offer our visitors."
"Look here, are all these things about you in the papers gospel truth?"
"Can't say. What things?"
"Do you always carry bowie knives into battle?"
"No, we use scissors--they're more convenient."
"When you catch a runaway nigger do you chop him up in little pieces and
throw him to the hogs?"
"Not exactly. We boil him down and grease our cartridges."
"After Bull Run did you set up all the live Zouaves you got hold of as
targets for rifle practice?"
"Can't remember about the Zouaves. Rather think we made them into flags."
"Well, you Rebels take the breath out of me," commented the picket across
the river; and then, as the relief came, Dan hurried back to look for the
mail bag and a letter from Betty. For Betty wrote often these days--letters
sometimes practical, sometimes impassioned, always filled with cheer, and
often with bright gossip. Of her own struggle at Uplands and the long days
crowded with work, she wrote no word; all her sympathy, all her large
passion, and all her wise advice in little matters were for Dan from the
beginning to the end. She made him promise to keep warm if it were
possible, to read his Bible when he had the time, and to think of her at
all hours in every season. In a neat little package there came one day a
gray knitted waistcoat which he was to wear when on picket duty beside the
river, "and be very sure to fasten it," she had written. "I have sewed the
buttons on so tight they can't come off. Oh, if I had only papa and
Virginia and you back again I could be happy in a hovel. Dear mamma says
And after much calm advice there would come whole pages that warmed him
from head to foot. "Your kisses are still on my lips," she wrote one day.
"The Major said to me, 'Your mouth is very warm, my dear,' and I almost
answered, 'you feel Dan's kisses, sir.' What would he have said, do you
think? As it was I only smiled and turned away, and longed to run straight
to you to be caught up in your arms and held there forever. O my beloved,
when you need me only stretch out your hands and I will come."
THE SILENT BATTLE
Despite the cheerfulness of Betty's letters, there were times during the
next dark years when it seemed to her that starvation must be the only end.
The negroes had been freed by the Governor's will, but the girl could not
turn them from their homes, and, with the exception of the few field hands
who had followed the Union army, they still lived in their little cabins
and drew their daily rations from the storehouse. Betty herself shared
their rations of cornmeal and bacon, jealously guarding her small supplies
of milk and eggs for Mrs. Ambler and the two old ladies. "It makes no
difference what I eat," she would assure protesting Mammy Riah. "I am so
strong, you see, and besides I really like Aunt Floretta's ashcakes."
Spring and summer passed, with the ripened vegetables which Hosea had
planted in the garden, and the long winter brought with it the old daily
struggle to make the slim barrels of meal last until the next harvesting.
It was in this year that the four women at Uplands followed the Major's
lead and invested their united fortune in Confederate bonds. "We will rise
or fall with the government," Mrs. Ambler had said with her gentle
authority. "Since we have given it our best, let it take all freely."
"Surely money is of no matter," Betty had answered, lavishly disregardful
of worldly goods. "Do you think we might give our jewels, too? I have
grandma's pearls hidden beneath the floor, you know."
"If need be--let us wait, dear," replied her mother, who, grave and pallid
as a ghost, would eat nothing that, by any chance, could be made to reach
"I do not want it, my child, there are so many hungrier than I," she would
say when Betty brought her dainty little trays from the pantry.
"But I am hungry for you, mamma--take it for my sake," the girl would beg,
on the point of tears. "You are starving, that is it--and yet it does not
feed the army."
In these days it seemed to her that all the anguish of her life had centred
in the single fear of losing her mother. At times she almost reproached
herself with loving Dan too much, and for months she would resolutely keep
her thoughts from following him, while she laid her impassioned service at
her mother's feet. Day or night there was hardly a moment when she was not
beside her, trying, by very force of love, to hold her back from the death
to which she went with her slow and stately tread.
For Mrs. Ambler, who had kept her strength for a year after the Governor's
death, seemed at last to be gently withdrawing from a place in which she
found herself a stranger. There was nothing to detain her now; she was too
heartsick to adapt herself to many changes; loss and approaching poverty
might be borne by one for whom the chief thing yet remained, but she had
seen this go, and so she waited, with her pensive smile, for the moment
when she too might follow. If Betty were not looking she would put her
untasted food aside; but the girl soon found this out, and watched her
every mouthful with imploring eyes.
"Oh, mamma, do it to please me," she entreated.
"Well, give it back, my dear," Mrs. Ambler answered, complaisant as always,
and when Betty triumphantly declared, "You feel better now--you know you
do, you dearest," she responded readily:--
"Much better, darling; give me some straw to plait--I have grown to like to
have my hands busy. Your old bonnet is almost gone, so I shall plait you
one of this and trim it with a piece of ribbon Aunt Lydia found yesterday
in the attic."
"I don't mind going bareheaded, if you will only eat."
"I was never a hearty eater. Your father used to say that I ate less than a
robin. It was the custom for ladies to have delicate appetites in my day,
you see; and I remember your grandma's amazement when Miss Pokey
Mickleborough was asked at our table what piece of chicken she preferred,
and answered quite aloud, 'Leg, if you please.' She was considered very
indelicate by your grandma, who had never so much as tasted any part except
She sat, gentle and upright, in her rosewood chair, her worn silk dress
rustling as she crossed her feet, her beautiful hands moving rapidly with
the straw plaiting. "I was brought up very carefully, my dear," she added,
turning her head with its shining bands of hair a little silvered since the
beginning of the war. "'A girl is like a flower,' your grandpa always said.
'If a rough wind blows near her, her bloom is faded.' Things are different
"But this is war," said Betty.
Mrs. Ambler nodded over the slender braid.
"Yes, this is war," she added with her wistful smile, and a moment
afterward looked up again to ask in a dazed way:--
"What was the last battle, dear? I can't remember."
Betty's glance sought the lawn outside where the warm May sunshine fell in
shafts of light upon the purple lilacs.
"They are fighting now in the Wilderness," she answered, her thoughts
rushing to the famished army closed in the death grapple with its enemy.
"Dan got a letter to me and he says it is like fighting in a jungle, the
vines are so thick they can't see the other side. He has to aim by ear
instead of sight."
Mrs. Ambler's fingers moved quickly.
"He has become a very fine man," she said. "Your father always liked
him--and so did I--but at one time we were afraid that he was going to be
too much his father's son--he looked so like him on his wild days,
especially when he had taken wine and his colour went high."
"But he has the Lightfoot eyes. The Major, Champe, even their Great-aunt
Emmeline have those same gray eyes that are always laughing."
"Jane Lightfoot had them, too," added Mrs. Ambler. "She used to say that to
love hard went with them. 'The Lightfoot eyes are never disillusioned,' she
once told me. I wonder if she remembered that afterwards, poor girl."
Betty was silent for a moment.
"It sounds cruel," she confessed, "but you know, I have sometimes thought
that it may have been just a little bit her fault, mamma."
Mrs. Ambler smiled. "Your grandpa used to say 'get a woman to judge a woman
and there comes a hanging.'"
"Oh, I don't mean that," responded Betty, blushing. "Jack Montjoy was a
scoundrel, I suppose--but I think that even if Dan had been a scoundrel,
instead of so big and noble--I could have made his life so much better just
because I loved him; if love is only large enough it seems to me that all
such things as being good and bad are swallowed up."
"I don't know--your father was very good, and I loved him because of it. He
was of the salt of the earth, as Mr. Blake wrote to me last year."
"There has never been anybody like papa," said Betty, her eyes filling.
"Not even Dan--for I can't imagine papa being anything but what he was--and
yet I know even if Dan were as wild as the Major once believed him to be, I
could have gone with him not the least bit afraid. I was so sure of myself
that if he had beaten me he could not have broken my spirit. I should
always have known that some day he would need me and be sorry."
Tender, pensive, bred in the ancient ways, Mrs. Ambler looked up at her and
shook her head.
"You are very strong, my child," she answered, "and I think it makes us all
lean too much upon you."
Taking her hand, Betty kissed each slender finger. "I lean on you for the
best in life, mamma," she answered, and then turned to the window. "It's
my working time," she said, "and there is poor Hosea trying to plough
without horses. I wonder how he'll manage it."
"Are all the horses gone, dear?"
"All except Prince Rupert and papa's mare. Peter keeps them hidden in the
mountains, and I carried them the last two apples yesterday. Prince Rupert
knew me in the distance and whinnied before Peter saw me. Now I'll send
Aunt Lydia to you, dearest, while I see about the weaving. Mammy Riah has
almost finished my linsey dress." She kissed her again and went out to
where the looms were working in one of the detached wings.
The summer went by slowly. The famished army fell back inch by inch, and at
Uplands the battle grew more desperate with the days. Without horses it was
impossible to plant the crops and on the open turnpike swept by bands of
raiders as by armies, it was no less impossible to keep the little that was
planted. Betty, standing at her window in the early mornings, would glance
despairingly over the wasted fields and the quiet little cabins, where the
negroes were stirring about their work. Those little cabins, forming a
crescent against the green hill, caused her an anxiety before which her own
daily suffering was of less account. When the time came that was fast
approaching, and the secret places were emptied of their last supplies,
where could those faithful people turn in their distress? The question
stabbed her like a sword each morning before she put on her bonnet of
plaited straw and ran out to make her first round of the farm. Behind her
cheerful smile there was always the grim fear growing sharper every hour.
Then on a golden summer afternoon, when the larder had been swept by a band
of raiders, she became suddenly aware that there was nothing in the house
for her mother's supper, and, with the army pistol in her hand, set out
across the fields for Chericoke. As she walked over the sunny meadows, the
shadow that was always lifted in Mrs. Ambler's presence fell heavily upon
her face and she choked back a rising sob. What would the end be? she asked
herself in sudden anguish, or was this the end?
Reaching Chericoke she found Mrs. Lightfoot and Aunt Rhody drying sliced
sweet potatoes on boards along the garden fence, where the sunflowers and
hollyhocks flaunted in the face of want.
"I've just gotten a new recipe for coffee, child," the old lady began in
mild excitement. "Last year I made it entirely of sweet potatoes, but Mrs.
Blake tells me that she mixes rye and a few roasted chestnuts. Mr.
Lightfoot took supper with her a week ago, and he actually congratulated
her upon still keeping her real old Mocha. Be sure to try it."
"Indeed I shall--the very next time Hosea gets any sweet potatoes. Some
raiders have just dug up the last with their sabres and eaten them raw."
"Well, they'll certainly have colic," remarked Mrs. Lightfoot, with
"I hope so," said Betty, "but I've come over to beg something for mamma's
supper--eggs, chickens, anything except bacon. She can't touch that, she'd
Looking anxious, Mrs. Lightfoot appealed to Aunt Rhody, who was busily
spreading little squares of sweet potatoes on the clean boards. "Rhody,
can't you possibly find us some eggs?" she inquired.
Aunt Rhody stopped her work and turned upon them all the dignity of two
hundred pounds of flesh.
"How de hens gwine lay w'en dey's done been eaten up?" she demanded.
"Isn't there a single chicken left?" hopelessly persisted the old lady.
"Who gwine lef' 'em? Ain' dose low-lifeted sodgers dat rid by yestiddy done
stole de las' one un 'um off de nes'?"
Mrs. Lightfoot sternly remonstrated.
"They were our own soldiers, Rhody, and they don't steal--they merely
"I don' see de diffunce," sniffed Aunt Rhody. "All I know is dat dey pulled
de black hen plum off de nes' whar she wuz a-settin'. Den des now de
Yankees come a-prancin' up en de ducks tuck ter de water en de Yankees dey
went a-wadin' atter dem. Yes, Lawd, dey went a-wadin' wid dey shoes on."
The old lady sighed.
"I'm afraid there's nothing, Betty," she said, "though Congo has gone to
town to see if he can find any fowls, and I'll send some over if he brings
them. We had a Sherman pudding for dinner ourselves, and I know the sorghum
in it will give the Major gout for a month. Well, well, this is war, I
reckon, and I must say, for my part, I never expected it to be conducted
like a flirtation behind a fan."
"I nuver seed no use a-fittin' unless you is gwine ter fit in de yuther
pusson's yawd," interpolated Aunt Rhody. "De way ter fit is ter keep
a-sidlin' furder f'om yo' own hen roos' en nigher ter de hen roos' er de
somebody dat's a-fittin' you."
"Hold your tongue, Rhody," retorted Mrs. Lightfoot, and then drew Betty a
little to one side. "I have some port wine, my dear," she whispered, "which
Cupid buried under the old asparagus bed, and I'll tell him to dig up
several bottles and take them to you. The other servants don't know of it,
so I can't get it out till after dark. Poor Julia! how does she stand these
Betty's lips quivered. "I have to force her to eat," she replied, "and it
seems almost cruel--she is so tired of life."
"I know, my dear," responded the old lady, wiping her eyes; "and we have
our troubles, too. Champe is in prison now, and Mr. Lightfoot is very much
upset. He says this General Grant is not like the others, that he knows
him--and he's the kind to hang on as long as he's alive."
"But we must win in the end," said Betty, desperately; "we have sacrificed
so much, how can it all be lost?"
"That's what Mr. Lightfoot says--we'll win in the end, but the end's a long
way off. By the way, did you know that Car'line had run off after the
Yankees? When I think how that girl had been spoiled!"
"Oh, I wish they'd all go," returned Betty. "All except Mammy and Uncle
Shadrach and Hosea--and even they make starvation that much nearer."
"Well, we shan't starve yet awhile, dear; I'm in hopes that Congo will
ransack the town. If you would only stay."
But Betty shook her head and went back across the meadows, walking rapidly
through the lush grass of the deserted pastures. Her mind was so filled
with Mrs. Lightfoot's forebodings, that when, in climbing the low stone
wall, she saw the free negro, Levi, coming toward her, she turned to him
with a gesture that was almost an appeal for sympathy.
"Uncle Levi, these are sad times now," she said. "I am looking for
something for mamma's supper and I can find nothing."
The old negro, shabbier, lonelier, poorer than ever, shambled up to the
wall where she was standing and uncovered a split basket full of eggs.
"I'se got a pa'cel er hens hid in de woods over yonder," he explained, "en
I keep de eggs behin' de j'ists in my cabin. Sis Floretty she tole me dat
de w'ite folks wuz wuss off den de niggers now, so I brung you dese."
"Oh, Uncle Levi!" cried Betty, seizing his gnarled old hands. As she looked
at his stricken figure a compassion as acute as pain brought the quick
tears to her eyes. She remembered the isolation of his life, the scornful
suspicion he had met from white and black, and the injustice that had set
him free and sold Sarindy up the river.
"You wuz moughty good ter me," muttered free Levi, shuffling his bare feet
in the long grass, "en Marse Dan, he wuz moughty good ter me, too, 'fo' he
went away on dat black night. I 'members de time w'en dat ole Rainy-day
Jones up de big road (we all call him Rainy-day caze he looked so sour) had
me right by de collar wid de hick'ry branch a sizzlin' in de a'r, en I des
'lowed de een had mos' come. Yes, Lawd, I did, but I warn' countin' on
Marse Dan. He warn' mo'n wais' high ter ole Rainy-day, but de furs' thing I
know dar wuz ole Rainy-day on de yerth wid Marse Dan a-lashin' 'im wid de
branch er hick'ry."
"We shall never forget you--Dan and I," answered Betty, as she took the
basket, "and when the time comes we will repay you."
The old negro smiled and turned from her, and Betty, quickening her pace,
ran on to Uplands, reaching the house a little breathless from the long
In the chamber upstairs she found Mrs. Ambler sitting before the window
with her open Bible on the sill, where a spray of musk roses entered from
the outside wall.
"All well, mamma?" she asked in a cheerful voice.
Mrs. Ambler started and turned slowly from the window.
"I see a great light on the road," she murmured wonderingly.
Crossing to where she sat, Betty leaned out above the climbing roses and
glanced to the mountains huddled against the sky.
"It is General Sheridan going up the valley," she said.
THE LAST STAND
In the face of a damp April wind a remnant of Lee's army pushed forward
along an old road skirted by thin pine woods. As the column moved on
slowly, it threw out skirmishers on either flank, where the Federal cavalry
hovered in the distance. Once in an open clearing it formed into a hollow
square and marched in battle line to avoid capture. While the regiments
kept in motion the men walked steadily in the ranks, with their hollowed
eyes staring straight ahead from their gaunt, tanned faces; but at the
first halt they fell like logs upon the roadside, sleeping amid the sound
of shots and the stinging cavalry. With the cry of "Forward!" they
struggled to their feet again, and went stumbling on into the vast
uncertainty and the approaching night. Breathless, starving, with their
rags pinned together, and their mouths bleeding from three days' rations of
parched corn, they still kept onward, marching with determined eyes to
whatever and wherever the end might be. Petersburg had fallen, Richmond was
in flames behind them, the Confederacy was, perhaps, buried in the ruins of
its Capitol, but Lee was still somewhere to the front, so his army
"How long have we been marching, boys? I can't remember," asked Dan, when,
after a short rest, they formed again and started forward over the old
road. In the tatters of his gray uniform, with his broken shoes tied on his
feet and his black hair hanging across his eyes, he might have been one of
the beggars who warm themselves in the sun of Southern countries.
"Oh, I reckon we left the Garden of Eden about six thousand years ago,"
responded a wag from somewhere--he was too tired to recognize the voice.
"There! the skirmishers have struck that blamed cavalry again. Plague them!
They're as bad as wasps!"
"Has anybody some parched corn?" inquired Bland, plaintively. "I'll trade a
whole raw ear for it. It makes my gums bleed so, I can't chew it."
Dan plunged his hand into his pocket, and drew out the corn which he had
shelled and parched at the last halt. As he exchanged it for the "whole raw
ear," he fell to wondering vaguely what had become of Big Abel since that
dim point in eternity when they had left the trenches that surrounded
Petersburg. Then time was divided into periods of nights and days, now
night and day alike were made up in breathless marching, in throwing out
skirmishers against those "wasps" of cavalrymen, and in trying to force
aching teeth to grind parched corn. Panting and sick with hunger, he
struggled on like a driven beast that sees the place ahead, where he must
turn and grapple for the end with the relentless hunter on his track.
As the day ended the moist wind gathered strength and sang in his ears as
he crept forward--now sleeping, now waking, for a time filled with warm
memories of his college life, and again fighting over the last hopeless
campaign from the Wilderness to the trenches where Petersburg had fallen.
They had yielded step by step, but the great hunter had pressed on, and now
the thin brigades were gathering for the last stand together.
Overhead he heard the soughing of the pines, and around him the steady
tramp of feet too tired to lift themselves from out the heavy mud. Straight
above in the muffled sky a star shone dimly, and for a time he watched it
in his effort to keep awake. Then he began on the raw corn in his pocket,
shelling it from the cob as he walked along; but when the taste of blood
rose to his lips, he put the ear away again, and stooped to rub his eyes
with a handful of damp earth. Then, at last, in sheer desperation, he
loosened the grip upon his thoughts, and stumbled on, between waking and
sleeping, into the darkness that lay ahead.
In the road before him the door at Chericoke opened wide as on the old
Christmas Eves, and he saw the Major and the Governor draining their
glasses under the garlands of mistletoe and holly, while Betty and
Virginia, in dresses of white tarleton, stood against the ruddy glow that
filled the panelled parlour. The cheerful Christmas smell was in the
air--the smell of apple toddy, of roasted turkey, of plum pudding in a
blaze of alcohol. As he entered after his long ride from college, Betty
came up to him and slipped a warm white hand into his cold one, while he
met the hazel beams from beneath her lashes.
"I hope you have brought Jack Morson," she said. "Virginia is waiting. See
how lovely she looks in her white flounces, with the string of coral about
"But the war, Betty?" he asked, with blinking eyes, and as he put out his
hand to touch the pearls upon her bosom, he saw that it was whole again--no
wound was there, only the snowflakes that fell from his sleeve upon her
breast. "What of the war, dear? I must go back to the army."
Betty laughed long and merrily.
"Why, you're dreaming, Dan," she said. "It all comes of those wicked
stories of the Major's. In a moment you will believe that this is really
1812, and you've gone without your rations."
"Thank God!" he cried aloud, and the sound of his own voice woke him, as he
slipped and went down in a mudhole upon the road. The Christmas smell faded
from his nostrils; in its place came the smoke from Pinetop's pipe--a
faithful friend until the last. Overhead the star was still shining, and to
the front he heard a single shot from the hovering cavalry, withdrawing for
"God damn this mud!" called a man behind him, as he lurched sideways from
the ranks. Farther away three hoarse voices, the remnant of a once famous
glee club, were singing in the endeavour to scare off sleep:--
"Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!"
And suddenly he was fighting in the tangles of the Wilderness, crouching
behind a charred oak stump, while he loaded and fired at the little puffs
of smoke that rose from the undergrowth beyond. He saw the low marshland,
the stunted oaks and pines, and the heavy creepers that were pushed aside
and trampled underfoot, and at his feet he saw a company officer with a
bullet hole through his forehead and a covering of pine needles upon his
face. About him the small twigs fell, as if a storm swept the forest, and
as he dodged, like a sharpshooter from tree to tree, he saw a rush of flame
and smoke in the distance where the woods were burning. Above the noise of
the battle, he heard the shrieks of the wounded men in the track of the
fire; and once he met a Union and a Confederate soldier, each shot through
the leg, drawing each other back from the approaching flames. Then, as he
passed on, tearing at the cartridges with his teeth, he came upon a
sergeant in Union clothes, sitting against a pine stump with his cocked
rifle in his hand, and his eyes on the wind-blown smoke. A moment before
the man may have gone down at his shot, he knew--and yet, as he looked, an
instinct stronger than the instinct to kill was alive within him, and he
rushed on, dragging his enemy with him from the terrible woods. "I hope you
are not much hurt," he said, as he placed him on the ground and ran back to
where the line was charging. "One life has been paid for," he thought, as
he rushed on to kill--and fell face downward on the wheel-ruts of the old
"Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,"
sang the three hoarse voices, straining against the wind.
Dan struggled to his feet, and the scene shifted.
He was back in his childhood, and the Major had just brought in a slave he
had purchased from Rainy-day Jones--"the plague spot in the county," as the
angry old gentleman declared.
Dan sat on the pile of kindling wood upon the kitchen hearth and stared at
the poor black creature shivering in the warmth, his face distorted with
the toothache, and a dirty rag about his jaw. He heard Aunt Rhody snorting
indignantly as she basted the turkeys, and he watched his grandmother
bustling back and forth with whiskey and hot plasters.
"Who made slavery, sir?" asked the boy suddenly, his hands in his breeches
pockets and his head bent sideways.
The Major started.
"God, sir," he promptly replied.
"Then I think it very strange of God," said the boy, "and when I grow up, I
shall set them all free, grandpa--I shall set them free even if I have to
fight to do it, sir."
"What! like poor free Levi?" stormed the Major.
"Wake up, confound you!" bawled somebody in his ear. "You've lurched
against my side until my ribs are sore. I say, are you going on forever,
anyhow? We've halted for the night."
"I can't stop!" cried Dan, groping in the darkness, then he fell heavily
upon the damp ground, while a voice down the road began shouting, "Detail
for guard!" Half asleep and cursing, the men responded to their names and
hurried off, and as the silence closed in, the army slept like a child upon
With the first glimmer of dawn they were on the march again, passing all
day through the desolate flat country, where the women ran weeping to the
doorways, and waved empty hands as they went by. Once a girl in a homespun
dress, with a spray of apple blossoms in her black hair, brought out a
wooden bucket filled with buttermilk and passed it along the line.
"Fight to the end, boys," she cried defiantly, "and when the end comes,
keep on fighting. If you go back on Lee there's not a woman in Virginia
will touch your hand."
"That's right, little gal!" shrieked a husky private. "Three cheers for
Marse Robert! an' we'll whip the earth in our bar' feet befo' breakfast."
"All the same I wish old Stonewall was along," muttered Pinetop. "If I
could jest see old Stonewall or his ghost ahead, I'd know thar was an open
road somewhere that Sheridan ain't got his eye on."
As the sun rose high, refugees from Richmond flocked after them to shout
that the town had been fired by the citizens, who had moved, with their
families, to the Capitol Square as the flames spread from the great tobacco
warehouses. Men who had wives and children in the city groaned as they
marched farther from the ashes of their homes, and more than one staggered
back into the ranks and went onward under a heavier burden.
"Wall, I reckon things are fur the best--or they ain't." remarked Pinetop,
in a cheerful tone. "Thar's no goin' agin that, you bet. What's the row
back thar, I wonder?"
The hovering enemy, grown bolder, had fallen upon the flank, and the
stragglers and the rear guard were beating off the cavalry, when a regiment
was sent back to relieve the pressure. Returning, Pinetop, who was of the
attacking party, fell gravely to moralizing upon the scarcity of food.
"I've tasted every plagued thing that grows in this country except dirt,"
he observed, "an' I'm goin' to kneel down presently and take a good square
mouthful of that."
"That's one thing we shan't run short of," replied Dan, stepping round a
mud hole. "By George, we've got to march in a square again across this
open. I believe when I set out for heaven, I'll find some of those
confounded Yankee troopers watching the road."
Forming in battle line they advanced cautiously across the clearing, while
the skirmishing grew brisker at the front. That night they halted but once
upon the way, standing to meet attack against a strip of pines, watching
with drawn breath while the enemy crept closer. They heard him in the
woods, felt him in the air, saw him in the darkness--like a gigantic coil
he approached inch by inch for the last struggle. Now and then a shot rang
out, and the little band thrilled to a soldier, and waited breathlessly for
the last charge that might end it all.
"There's only one thing worse than starvation, and it's defeat!" cried Dan
aloud; then the column swung on and the cry of "Close up, there! close up!"
mingled in his ears with the steady tramp upon the road.
In the early morning the shots grew faster, and as the column stopped in
the cover of a wood, the bullets came singing among the tree-tops, from the
left flank where the skirmishers had struck the enemy. During the short
rest Dan slept leaning against a twisted aspen, and when Pinetop shook him,
he awoke with a dizziness in his head that sent the flat earth slamming
against the sky.
"I believe I'm starving, Pinetop," he said, and his voice rang like a bell
in his ears. "I can't see where to put my feet, the ground slips about so."
For answer Pinetop felt in his pocket and brought out a slice of fat bacon,
which he gave to him uncooked.
"Wait till I git a light," he commanded. "A woman up the road gave me a
hunk, and I've had my share."
"You've had your share," repeated Dan, greedily, his eyes on the meat,
though he knew that Pinetop was lying.
The mountaineer struck a match and lighted a bit of pine, holding the bacon
to the flame until it scorched.
"You'd better git it all in yo' mouth quick," he advised, "for if the smell
once starts on the breeze the whole brigade will be on the scent in a
Dan ate it to the last morsel and licked the warm juice from his fingers.
"You lied, Pinetop," he said, "but, by God, you saved my life. What place
is this, I wonder. Isn't there any hope of our cutting through Grant's
Pinetop glanced about him.
"Somebody said we were comin' on to Sailor's Creek," he answered, "and it's
about as God-forsaken country as I care to see. Hello! what's that?"
In the road there was an abandoned battery, cut down and left to rot into
the earth, and as they swept past it at "double quick," they heard the
sound of rapid firing across the little stream.
"It's a fight, thank God!" yelled Pinetop, and at the words a tumultuous
joy urged Dan through the water and over the sharp stones. After all the
hunger and the intolerable waiting, a chance was come for him to use his
musket once again.
As they passed through an open meadow, a rabbit, starting suddenly from a
clump of sumach, went bounding through the long grass before the thin gray
line. With ears erect and short white tail bobbing among the broom-sedge,
the little quivering creature darted straight toward the low brow of a
hill, where a squadron of cavalry made a blue patch on the green.
"Geriminy! thar goes a good dinner," Pinetop gasped, smacking his lips.
"An' I've got to save this here load for a Yankee I can't eat."
With a long flying leap the rabbit led the charge straight into the enemy's
ranks, and as the squirrel rifles rang out behind it, a blue horseman was
swept from every saddle upon the hill.
"By God, I'm glad I didn't eat that rabbit!" yelled Pinetop, as he reloaded
and raised his musket to his shoulder.
Back and forth before the line, the general of the brigade was riding
bareheaded and frantic with delight. As he passed he made sweeping gestures
with his left hand, and his long gray hair floated like a banner upon the
"They're coming, men!" he cried. "Get behind that fence and have your
muskets ready to pick your man. When you see the whites of his eyes fire,
and give the bayonet. They're coming! Here they are!"
The old "worm" fence went down, and as Dan piled up some loose rails before
him, a creeping brier tore his fingers until the blood spurted upon his
sleeve. Then, kneeling on the ground, he raised his musket and fired at one
of the skirmishers advancing briskly through the broom-sedge. In an instant
the meadow and the hill beyond were blue with swarming infantry, and the
little gray band fell back, step by step, loading and firing as it went
across the field. As the road behind it closed, Dan turned to battle on his
own account, and entering a thinned growth of pines, he dodged from tree to
tree and aimed above the brushwood. Near him the colour bearer of the
regiment was fighting with his flagstaff for a weapon, and out in the
meadow a member of the glee club, crouching behind a clump of sassafras as
he loaded, was singing in a cracked voice:--
"Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!"
Then a bullet went with a soft thud into the singer's breast, and the
cracked voice was choked out beneath the bushes.
Gripped by a sudden pity for the helpless flag he had loved and followed
for four years, Dan made an impetuous dash from out the pines, and tearing
the colours from the pole, tossed them over his arm as he retreated rapidly
to cover. At the instant he held his life as nothing beside the faded strip
of silk that wrapped about his body. The cause for which he had fought, the
great captain he had followed, the devotion to a single end which had kept
him struggling in the ranks, the daily sacrifice, the very poverty and cold
and hunger, all these were bound up and made one with the tattered flag
upon his arm. Through the belt of pines, down the muddy road, across the
creek and up the long hill, he fell back breathlessly, loading and firing
as he went, with his face turned toward the enemy. At the end he became
like a fox before the hunters, dashing madly over the rough ground, with
the colours blown out behind him, and the quick shots ringing in his ears.
Then, as if by a single stroke, Lee's army vanished from the trampled
broom-sedge and the strip of pines. The blue brigades closed upon the
landscape and when they opened there were only a group of sullen prisoners
and the sound of stray shots from the scattered soldiers who had fought
their way beyond the stream.
IN THE HOUR OF DEFEAT
As the dusk fell Dan found himself on the road with a little company of
stragglers, flying from the pursuing cavalry that drew off slowly as the
darkness gathered. He had lost his regiment, and, as he went on, he began
calling out familiar names, listening with strained ears for an answer that
would tell of a friend's escape. At last he caught the outlines of a
gigantic figure relieved on a hillock against the pale green west, and,
with a shout, he hurried through the swarm of fugitives, and overtook
Pinetop, who had stooped to tie his shoe on with a leather strap.
"Thank God, old man!" he cried. "Where are the others?"
Pinetop, panting yet imperturbable, held out a steady hand.
"The Lord knows," he replied. "Some of 'em air here an' some ain't. I was
goin' back agin to git the flag, when I saw you chased like a fox across
the creek with it hangin' on yo' back. Then I kinder thought it wouldn't do
for none of the regiment to answer when Marse Robert called, so I came
along right fast and kep' hopin' you would follow."
"Here I am," responded Dan, "and here are the colours." He twined the silk
more closely about his arm, gloating over his treasure in the twilight.
Pinetop stretched out his great rough hand and touched the flag as gently
as if it were a woman.
"I've fought under this here thing goin' on four years now," he said, "and
I reckon when they take it prisoner, they take me along with it."
"And me," added Dan; "poor Granger went down, you know, just as I took it
from him. He fell fighting with the pole."
"Wall, it's a better way than most," Pinetop replied, "an' when the angel
begins to foot up my account on Jedgment Day, I shouldn't mind his cappin'
the whole list with 'he lost his life, but he didn't lose his flag.' To
make a blamed good fight is what the Lord wants of us, I reckon, or he
wouldn't have made our hands itch so when they touch a musket."
Then they trudged on silently, weak from hunger, sickened by defeat. When,
at last, the disorganized column halted, and the men fell to the ground
upon their rifles, Dan kindled a fire and parched his corn above the coals.
After it was eaten they lay down side by side and slept peacefully on the
edge of an old field.
For three days they marched steadily onward, securing meagre rations in a
little town where they rested for a while, and pausing from time to time,
to beat off a feigned attack. Pinetop, cheerful, strong, undaunted by any
hardship, set his face unflinchingly toward the battle that must clear a
road for them through Grant's lines. Had he met alone a squadron of cavalry
in the field, he would, probably, have taken his stand against a pine, and
aimed his musket as coolly as if a squirrel were the mark. With his sunny
temper, and his gloomy gospel of predestination, his heart could swell with
hope even while he fought single-handed in the face of big battalions. What
concerned him, after all, was not so much the chance of an ultimate victory
for the cause, as the determination in his own mind to fight it out as long
as he had a cartridge remaining in his box. As his fathers had kept the
frontier, so he meant, on his own account, to keep Virginia.
On the afternoon of the third day, as the little company drew near to
Appomattox Court House, it found the road blocked with abandoned guns, and
lined by exhausted stragglers, who had gone down at the last halting place.
As it filed into an open field beyond a wooded level, where a few campfires
glimmered, a group of Federal horsemen clattered across the front, and, as
if by instinct, the column formed into battle line, and the hand of every
man was on the trigger of his musket.
"Don't fire, you fools!" called an officer behind them, in a voice sharp
with irritation. "The army has surrendered!"
"What! Grant surrendered?" thundered the line, with muskets at a trail as
it rushed into the open.
"No, you blasted fools--we've surrendered," shouted the voice, rising
hoarsely in a gasping indignation.
"Surrendered, the deuce!" scoffed the men, as they fell back into ranks.
"I'd like to know what General Lee will think of your surrender?"
A little Colonel, with his hand at his sword hilt, strutted up and down
before a tangle of dead thistles.
"I don't know what he thinks of it, he did it," he shrieked, without
pausing in his walk.
"It's a damn lie!" cried Dan, in a white heat. Then he threw his musket on
the ground, and fell to sobbing the dry tearless sobs of a man who feels
his heart crushed by a sudden blow.
There were tears on all the faces round him, and Pinetop was digging his
great fists into his eyes, as a child does who has been punished before his
playmates. Beside him a man with an untrimmed shaggy beard hid his
distorted features in shaking hands.
"I ain't blubberin' fur myself," he said defiantly, "but--O Lord, boys--I'm
cryin' fur Marse Robert."
Over the field the beaten soldiers, in ragged gray uniforms, were lying
beneath little bushes of sassafras and sumach, and to the right a few
campfires were burning in a shady thicket. The struggle was over, and each
man had fallen where he stood, hopeless for the first time in four long
years. Up and down the road groups of Federal horsemen trotted with
cheerful unconcern, and now and then a private paused to make a remark in
friendly tones; but the men beneath the bushes only stared with hollow eyes
in answer--the blank stare of the defeated who have put their whole
strength into the fight.
Taking out his jack-knife, Dan unfastened the flag from the hickory pole on
which he had placed it, and began cutting it into little pieces, which he
passed to each man who had fought beneath its folds. The last bit he put
into his own pocket, and trembling like one gone suddenly palsied, passed
from the midst of his silent comrades to a pine stump on the border of the
woods. Here he sat down and looked hopelessly upon the scene before
him--upon the littered roads and the great blue lines encircling the
So this was the end, he told himself, with a bitterness that choked him
like a grip upon the throat, this the end of his boyish ardour, his dream
of fame upon the battle-field, his four years of daily sacrifice and
suffering. This was the end of the flag for which he was ready to give his
life three days ago. With his youth, his strength, his very bread thrown
into the scale, he sat now with wrecked body and blighted mind, and saw his
future turn to decay before his manhood was well begun. Where was the old
buoyant spirit he had brought with him into the fight? Gone forever, and in
its place he found his maimed and trembling hands, and limbs weakened by
starvation as by long fever. His virile youth was wasted in the slow
struggle, his energy was sapped drop by drop; and at the last he saw
himself burned out like the battle-fields, where the armies had closed and
opened, leaving an impoverished and ruined soil. He had given himself for
four years, and yet when the end came he had not earned so much as an empty
title to take home for his reward. The consciousness of a hard-fought fight
was but the common portion of them all, from the greatest to the humblest
on either side. As for him he had but done his duty like his comrades in
the ranks, and by what right of merit should he have raised himself above
their heads? Yes, this was the end, and he meant to face it standing with
his back against the wall.
Down the road a line of Federal privates came driving an ox before them,
and he eyed them gravely, wondering in a dazed way if the taste of victory
had gone to their heads. Then he turned slowly, for a voice was speaking at
his side, and a tall man in a long blue coat was building a little fire
"Your stomach's pretty empty, ain't it, Johnny?" he inquired, as he laid
the sticks crosswise with precise movements, as if he had measured the
length of each separate piece of wood. He was lean and rawboned, with a
shaggy red moustache and a wart on his left cheek. When he spoke he showed
an even row of strong white teeth.
Dan looked at him with a kind of exhausted indignation.
"Well, it's been emptier," he returned shortly.
The man in blue struck a match and held it carefully to a dried pine
branch, watching, with a serious face, as the flame licked the rosin from
the crossed sticks. Then he placed a quart pot full of water on the coals,
and turned to meet Dan's eyes, which had grown ravenous as he caught the
scent of beef.
"You see we somehow thought you Johnnies would be hard up," he said in an
offhand manner, "so we made up our minds we'd ask you to dinner and cut our
rations square. Some of us are driving over an ox from camp, but as I was
hanging round and saw you all by yourself on this old stump, I had a
feeling that you were in need of a cup of coffee. You haven't tasted real
coffee for some time, I guess."
The water was bubbling over and he measured out the coffee and poured it
slowly into the quart cup. As the aroma filled the air, he opened his
haversack and drew out a generous supply of raw beef which he broiled on
little sticks, and laid on a spread of army biscuits. The larger share he
offered to Dan with the steaming pot of coffee.
"I declare it'll do me downright good to see you eat," he said, with a
Dan sat down beside the bread and beef, and, for the next ten minutes, ate
like a famished wolf, while the man in blue placidly regarded him. When he
had finished he took out a little bag of Virginian tobacco and they smoked
together beside the waning fire. A natural light returned gradually to
Dan's eyes, and while the clouds of smoke rose high above the bushes, they
talked of the last great battles as quietly as of the Punic Wars. It was
all dead now, as dead as history, and the men who fought had left the
bitterness to the camp followers or to the ones who stayed at home.
"You have fine tobacco down this way," observed the Union soldier, as he
refilled his pipe, and lighted it with an ember. Then his gaze followed
Dan's, which was resting on the long blue lines that stretched across the
"You're feeling right bad about us now," he pursued, as he crossed his legs
and leaned back against a pine, "and I guess it's natural, but the time
will come when you'll know that we weren't the worst you had to face."
Dan held out his hand with something of a smile.
"It was a fair fight and I can shake hands," he responded.
"Well, I don't mean that," said the other thoughtfully. "What I mean is
just this, you mark my words--after the battle comes the vultures. After
the army of fighters comes the army of those who haven't smelled the
powder. And in time you'll learn that it isn't the man with the rifle that
does the most of the mischief. The damned coffee boilers will get their
hands in now--I know 'em."
"Well, there's nothing left, I suppose, but to swallow it down without any
fuss," said Dan wearily, looking over the field where the slaughtered ox
was roasting on a hundred bayonets at a hundred fires.
"You're right, that's the only thing," agreed the man in blue; then his
keen gray eyes were on Dan's face.
"Have you got a wife?" he asked bluntly.
Dan shook his head as he stared gravely at the embers.
"A sweetheart, I guess? I never met a Johnnie who didn't have a
"Yes, I've a sweetheart--God bless her!"
"Well, you take my advice and go home and tell her to cure you, now she's
got the chance. I like your face, young man, but if I ever saw a
half-starved and sickly one, it is yours. Why, I shouldn't have thought you
had the strength to raise your rifle."
"Oh, it doesn't take much strength for that; and besides the coffee did me
good, I was only hungry."
"Hungry, hump!" grunted the Union soldier. "It takes more than hunger to
give a man that blue look about the lips; it takes downright starvation."
He dived into his haversack and drew out a quinine pill and a little bottle
"If you'll just chuck this down it won't do you any harm," he went on, "and
if I were you, I'd find a shelter before I went to sleep to-night; you
can't trust April weather. Get into that cow shed over there or under a
Dan swallowed the quinine and the whiskey, and as the strong spirit fired
his veins, the utter hopelessness of his outlook muffled him into silence.
Dropping his head into his open palms, he sat dully staring at the
After a moment the man in blue rose to his feet and fastened his haversack.
"I live up by Bethlehem, New Hampshire," he remarked, "and if you ever come
that way, I hope you'll look me up; my name's Moriarty."
"Your name's Moriarty, I shall remember," repeated Dan, trying, with a
terrible effort, to steady his quivering limbs.
"Jim Moriarty, don't you forget it. Anybody at Bethlehem can tell you about
me; I keep the biggest store around there." He went off a few steps and
then came back to hold out an awkward hand in which there was a little heap
"You'd just better take this to start you on your way," he said, "it ain't
but ninety-five cents--I couldn't make out the dollar--and when you get it
in again you can send it to Jim Moriarty at Bethlehem, New Hampshire.
Good-by, and good luck to you this time."
He strode off across the field, and Dan, with the silver held close in his
palm, flung himself back upon the ground and slept until Pinetop woke him
with a grasp upon his shoulder.
"Marse Robert's passin' along the road," he said. "You'd better hurry."
Struggling to his feet Dan rushed from the woods across the deserted field,
to the lines of conquered soldiers standing in battle ranks upon the
roadside. Between them the Commander had passed slowly on his dapple gray
horse, and when Dan joined the ranks it was only in time to see him ride
onward at a walk, with the bearded soldiers clinging like children to his
stirrups. A group of Federal cavalrymen, drawn up beneath a persimmon tree,
uncovered as he went by, and he returned the salute with a simple gesture.
Lonely, patient, confirmed in courtesy, he passed on his way, and his
little army returned to camp in the strip of pines.
"'I've done my best for you,' that's what he said," sobbed Pinetop. "'I've
done my best for you,'--and I kissed old Traveller's mane."
Without replying, Dan went back into the woods and flung himself down on
the spread of tags. Now that the fight was over all the exhaustion of the
last four years, the weakness after many battles, the weariness after the
long marches, had gathered with accumulated strength for the final
For three days he remained in camp in the pine woods, and on the third,
after waiting six hours in a hard rain outside his General's tent, he
secured the little printed slip which signified to all whom it might
concern that he had become a prisoner upon his parole. Then, after a
sympathetic word to the rest of the division, shivering beneath the
sassafras bushes before the tent, he shook hands with his comrades under
arms, and started with Pinetop down the muddy road. The war was over, and
footsore, in rags and with aching limbs, he was returning to the little
valley where he had hoped to trail his glory.
Down the long road the gray rain fell straight as a curtain, and on either
side tramped the lines of beaten soldiers who were marching, on their word
of honour, to their distant homes. The abandoned guns sunk deep in the mud,
the shivering men lying in rags beneath the bushes, and the charred remains
of campfires among the trees were the last memories Dan carried from the
four years' war.
Some miles farther on, when the pickets had been passed, a man on a black
horse rode suddenly from a little thicket and stopped across their path.
"You fellows haven't been such darn fools as to give your parole, have
you?" he asked in an angry voice, his hand on his horse's neck. "The fight
isn't over yet and we want your muskets on our side. I belong to the
partisan rangers, and we'll cut through to Johnston's army before daylight.
If not, we'll take to the mountains and keep up the war forever. The
country is ours, what's to hinder us?"
He spoke passionately, and at each sharp exclamation the black horse rose
on his haunches and pawed the air.
Dan shook his head.
"I'm out on parole," he replied, "but as soon as I'm exchanged, I'll fight
if Virginia wants me. How about you, Pinetop?"
The mountaineer shuffled his feet in the mud and stood solemnly surveying
"Wall, I don't understand much about this here parole business," he
replied. "It seems to me that a slip of paper with printed words on it that
I have to spell out as I go, is a mighty poor way to keep a man from
fightin' if he can find a musket. I ain't steddyin' about this parole, but
Marse Robert told me to go home to plant my crop, and I am goin' home to
"It is all over, I think," said Dan with a quivering lip, as he stared at
the ruined meadows. The smart was still fresh, and it was too soon for him
to add, with the knowledge that would come to him from years,--"it is
better so." Despite the grim struggle and the wasted strength, despite the
impoverished land and the nameless graves that filled it, despite even his
own wrecked youth and the hard-fought fields where he had laid it
down--despite all these a shadow was lifted from his people and it was
worth the price.
They passed on, while the black horse pawed the dust, and the rider hurled
oaths at their retreating figures. At a little house a few yards down the
road they stopped to ask for food, and found a woman weeping at the kitchen
table, with three small children clinging to her skirts. Her husband had
fallen at Five Forks, she said, the safe was empty, and the children were
crying for bread. Then Dan slipped into her hand the silver he had borrowed
from the Union soldier, and the two returned penniless to the road.
"At least we are men," he said almost apologetically to Pinetop, and the
next instant turned squarely in the mud, for a voice from the other side
had called out shrilly:--
"Hi, Marse Dan, whar you gwine now?"
"Bless my soul, it's Big Abel," he exclaimed.
Black as a spade and beaming with delight, the negro emerged from the swarm
upon the roadside and grasped Dan's outstretched hands.
"Whar you gwine dis away, Marse Dan?" he inquired again.
"I'm going home, Big Abel," responded Dan, as they walked on in a row of
three. "No, don't shout, you scamp; I'd rather lie down and die upon the
roadside than go home like this."
"Well, you ain' much to look at, dat's sho'," replied Big Abel, his face
shining like polished ebony, "en I ain' much to look at needer, but dey'll
have ter recollect de way we all wuz befo' we runned away; dey'll have ter
recollect you in yo' fine shuts en fancy waistcoats, en dey'll have ter
recollect me in yo' ole uns. Sakes alive! I kin see dat one er yourn wid de
little bit er flow'rs all over hit des es plain es ef 'twuz yestiddy."
"The waistcoats are all gone now," said Dan gravely, "and so are the
shirts. The war is over and you are your own master, Big Abel. You don't
belong to me from this time on."
Big Abel shook his head grinning.
"I reckon hit's all de same," he remarked cheerfully, "en I reckon we'd es
well be gwine on home, Marse Dan."
"I reckon we would," said Dan, and they pushed on in silence.
ON THE MARCH AGAIN
That night they slept on the blood-stained floor of an old field hospital,
and the next morning Pinetop parted from them and joined an engineer who
had promised him a "lift" toward his mountains.
As Dan stood in the sunny road holding his friend's rough hand, it seemed
to him that such a parting was the sharpest wrench the end had brought.
"Whenever you need me, old fellow, remember that I am always ready," he
said in a husky voice.
Pinetop looked past him to the distant woods, and his calm blue eyes were
"I reckon you'll go yo' way an' I'll go mine," he replied, "for thar's one
thing sartain an' that is our ways don't run together. It'll never be the
same agin--that's natur--but if you ever want a good stout hand for any
uphill ploughing or shoot yo' man an' the police git on yo' track, jest
remember that I'm up thar in my little cabin. Why, if every officer in the
county was at yo' heels, I'd stand guard with my old squirrel gun and maw
would with her kettle."
Then he shook hands with Big Abel and strode on across a field to a little
railway station, while Dan went slowly down the road with the negro at his
In the afternoon when they had trudged all the morning through the heavy
mud, they reached a small frame house set back from the road, with some
straggling ailanthus shoots at the front and a pile of newly cut hickory
logs near the kitchen steps. A woman, with a bucket of soapsuds at her
feet, was wringing out a homespun shirt in the yard, and as they entered
the little gate, she looked at them with a defiance which was evidently the
result of a late domestic wrangle.
"I've got one man on my hands," she began in a shrill voice, "an' he's as
much as I can 'tend to, an' a long sight mo' than I care to 'tend to. He
never had the spunk to fight anythin' except his wife, but I reckon he's
better off now than them that had; it's the coward that gets the best of
things in these days."
"Shut up thar, you hussy!" growled a voice from the kitchen, and a fat man
with bleared eyes slouched to the doorway. "I reckon if you want a supper
you can work for it," he remarked, taking a wad of tobacco from his mouth
and aiming it deliberately at one of the ailanthus shoots. "You split up
that thar pile of logs back thar an' Sally'll cook yo' supper. Thar ain't
another house inside of a good ten miles, so you'd better take your chance,
"That's jest like you, Tom Bates," retorted the woman passionately. "Befo'
you'd do a lick of honest work you'd let the roof topple plum down upon our
For an instant Dan's glance cut the man like a whip, then crossing to the
woodpile, he lifted the axe and sent it with a clean stroke into a hickory
"We can't starve, Big Abel," he said coolly, "but we are not beggars yet by
a long way."
"Go 'way, Marse Dan," protested the negro in disgust. "Gimme dat ar axe en
set right down and wait twel supper. You're des es white es a sheet dis
"I've got to begin some day," returned Dan, as the axe swung back across
his shoulder. "I'll pay for my supper and you'll pay for yours, that's
fair, isn't it?--for you're a free man now."
Then he went feverishly to work, while Big Abel sat grumbling on the
doorstep, and the farmer, leaning against the lintel behind him, watched
the lessening pile with sluggish eyes.
"You be real careful of this wood, Sally, an' it ought to last twel
summer," he observed, as he glanced to where his wife stood wringing out
the clothes. "If you warn't so wasteful that last pile would ha' held out
twice as long."
Dan chopped steadily for an hour, and then giving the axe to Big Abel, went
into the little kitchen to eat his supper. The woman served him sullenly,
placing some sobby biscuits and a piece of cold bacon on his plate, and
pouring out a glass of buttermilk with a vicious thrust of the pitcher.
When he asked if there was a shelter close at hand where he might sleep,
she replied sourly that she reckoned the barn was good enough if he chose
to spend the night there. Then as Big Abel finished his job and took his
supper in his hand, they left the house and went across the darkening
cattle pen, to a rotting structure which they took to be the barn. Inside
the straw was warm and dry, and as Dan flung himself down upon it, he
gasped out something like a prayer of thanks. His first day's labour with
his hands had left him trembling like a nervous woman. An hour longer, he
told himself, and he should have gone down upon the roadside.
For a time he slept profoundly, and then awaking in the night, he lay until
dawn listening to Big Abel's snores, and staring straight above where a
solitary star shone through a crack in the shingled roof. From the other
side of a thin partition came the soft breathing and the fresh smell of
cows, and, now and then, he heard the low bleating of a new-born calf.
He had been dreaming of a battle, and the impression was so vivid that, as
he opened his eyes, he half imagined he still heard the sound of shots. In
his sleep he had saved the flag and won promotion after victory, and for a
moment the trampled straw seemed to him to be the battle-field, and the
thin boards against which he beat the enemy's resisting line. As he came
slowly to himself a sudden yearning for the army awoke within him. He
wanted the red campfires and his comrades smoking against the dim pines;
the peaceful bivouac where the long shadows crept among the trees and two
men lay wrapped together beneath every blanket; above all, he wanted to see
the Southern Cross wave in the sunlight, and to hear the charging yell as
the brigade dashed into the open. He was homesick for it all to-night, and
yet it was dead forever--dead as his own youth which he had given to the
Sharp pains racked him from head to foot, and his pulses burned as if from
fever. It was like the weariness of old age, he thought, this utter
hopelessness, these strained and quivering muscles. As a boy he had been
hardy as an Indian and as fearless of fatigue. Now the long midnight
gallops on Prince Rupert over frozen roads returned to him like the dim
memories from some old romance. They belonged to the place of
half-forgotten stories, with the gay waistcoats and the Christmas
gatherings in the hall at Chericoke. For a country that was not he had
given himself as surely as the men who were buried where they fought, and
his future would be but one long struggle to adjust himself to conditions
in which he had no part. His proper nature was compacted of the old life
which was gone forever--of its ease, of its gayety, of its lavish
pleasures. For the sake of this life he had fought for four years in the
ranks, and now that it was swept away, he found himself like a man who
stumbles on over the graves of his familiar friends. He remembered the
words of the soldier in the long blue coat, and spoke them half aloud in
the darkness: "There'll come a time when you'll find out that the army
wasn't the worst you had to face." The army was not the worst, he knew this
now--the grapple with a courageous foe had served to quicken his pulses and
nerve his hand--the worst was what came afterward, this sense of utter
failure and the attempt to shape one's self to brutal necessity. In the
future that opened before him he saw only a terrible patience which would
perhaps grow into a second nature as the years went on. In place of the old
generous existence, he must from this day forth wring the daily bread of
those he loved, with maimed hands, from a wasted soil.
The thought of Betty came to him, but it brought no consolation. For
himself he could meet the shipwreck standing, but Betty must be saved from
it if there was salvation to be found. She had loved him in the days of his
youth--in his strong days, as the Governor said--now that he was worn out,
suffering, gray before his time, there was mere madness in his thought of
her buoyant strength. "You may take ten--you may take twenty years to
rebuild yourself," a surgeon had said to him at parting; and he asked
himself bitterly, by what right of love dared he make her strong youth a
prop for his feeble life? She loved him he knew--in his blackest hour he
never doubted this--but because she loved him, did it follow that she must
Then gradually the dark mood passed, and with his eyes on the star, his
mouth settled into the lines of smiling patience which suffering brings to
the brave. He had never been a coward and he was not one now. The years had
taught him nothing if they had not taught him the wisdom most needed by his
impulsive youth--that so long as there comes good to the meanest creature
from fate's hardest blow, it is the part of a man to stand up and take it
between the eyes. In the midst of his own despair, of the haunting memories
of that bland period which was over for his race, there arose suddenly the
figure of the slave the Major had rescued, in Dan's boyhood, from the power
of old Rainy-day Jones. He saw again the poor black wretch shivering in the
warmth, with the dirty rag about his jaw, and with the sight he drew a
breath that was almost of relief. That one memory had troubled his own
jovial ease; now in his approaching poverty he might put it away from him
In the first light of a misty April sunrise they went out on the road
again, and when they had walked a mile or so, Big Abel found some young
pokeberry shoots, which he boiled in his old quart cup with a slice of
bacon he had saved from supper. At noon they came upon a little farm and
ploughed a strip of land in payment for a dinner that was lavishly pressed
upon them. The people were plain, poor, and kindly, and the farmer followed
Dan into the field with entreaties that he should leave the furrows and
come in to meet his family. "Let yo' darky do a bit of work if he wants
to," he urged, "but it makes me downright sick to see one of General Lee's
soldiers driving my plough. The gals are afraid it'll bring bad luck."
With a laugh, Dan tossed the ropes to Big Abel, who had been breaking clods
of earth, and returned to the house, where he was placed in the seat of
honour and waited on by a troop of enthusiastic red-cheeked maidens, each
of whom cut one of the remaining buttons from his coat. Here he was asked
to stay the night, but with the memory of the blue valley before his eyes,
he shook his head and pushed on again in the early afternoon. The vision of
Chericoke hung like a star above his road, and he struggled a little nearer
day by day.
Sometimes ploughing, sometimes chopping a pile of logs, and again lying for
hours in the warm grass by the way, they travelled slowly toward the valley
that held Dan's desire. The chill April dawns broke over them, and the
genial April sunshine warmed them through after a drenching in a pearly
shower. They watched the buds swell and the leaves open in the wood, the
wild violets bloom in sheltered places, and the dandelions troop in ranks
among the grasses by the road. Dan, halting to rest in the mild weather,
would fall often into a revery long and patient, like those of extreme old
age. With the sun shining upon his relaxed body and his eyes on the bright
dust that floated in the slanting beams, he would lie for hours speechless,
absorbed, filled with visions. One day he found a mountain laurel flowering
in the woods, and gathering a spray he sat with it in his hands and dreamed
of Betty. When Big Abel touched him on the arm he turned with a laugh and
struggled to his feet. "I was resting," he explained, as they walked on.
"It is good to rest like that in mind and body; to keep out thoughts and
let the dreams come as they will."
"De bes' place ter res' is on yo' own do' step," Big Abel responded, and
quickening their pace, they went more rapidly over the rough clay roads.
It was at the end of this day that they came, in the purple twilight, to a
big brick house and found there a woman who lived alone with the memories
of a son she had lost at Gettysburg. At their knock she came herself, with
a few old servants, prompt, tearful, and very sad; and when she saw Dan's
coat by the light of the lamp behind her, she put out her hands with a cry
of welcome and drew him in, weeping softly as her white head touched his
"My mother is dead, thank God," he murmured, and at his words she looked up
at him a little startled.
"Others have come," she said, "but they were not like you; they did not
have your voice. Have you been always poor like this?"
He met her eyes smiling.
"I have not always been a soldier," was his answer.
For a moment she looked at him as if bewildered; then taking a lamp from an
old servant, she led the way upstairs to her son's room, and laid out the
dead man's clothes upon his bed.
"We keep house for the soldiers now," she said, and went out to make things
As he plunged into the warm water and dried himself upon the fresh linen
she had left, he heard the sound of passing feet in the broad hall, and
from the outside kitchen there floated a savoury smell that reminded him of
Chericoke at the supper hour. With the bath and the clean clothes his old
instincts revived within him, and as he looked into the glass he caught
something of the likeness of his college days. Beau Montjoy was not starved
out after all, he thought with a laugh, he was only plastered over with
malaria and dirt.
For three days he remained in the big brick house lying at ease upon a sofa
in the library, or listening to the tragic voice of the mother who talked
of her only son. When she questioned him about Pickett's charge, he raised
himself on his pillows and talked excitedly, his face flushing as if from
"Your son was with Armistead," he said, "and they all went down like
heroes. I can see old Armistead now with his hat on his sword's point as he
waved to us through the smoke. 'Who will follow me, boys?' he cried, and
the next instant dashed straight on the defences. When he got to the second
line there were only six men with him, beside Colonel Martin, and your son
was one of them. My God! it was worth living to die like that."
"And it is worth living to have a son die like that," she added, and wept
softly in the stillness.
The next morning he went on again despite her prayers. The rest was all too
pleasant, but the memory of his valley was before him, and he thirsted for
the pure winds that blew down the long white turnpike.
"There is no peace for me until I see it again," he said at parting, and
with a lighter step went out upon the April roads once more.
The way was easier now for his limbs were stronger, and he wore the dead
man's shoes upon his feet. For a time it almost seemed that the strength of
that other soldier, who lay in a strange soil, had entered into his veins
and made him hardier to endure. And so through the clear days they
travelled with few pauses, munching as they walked from the food Big Abel
carried in a basket on his arm.
"We've been coming for three weeks, and we are getting nearer," said Dan
one evening, as he climbed the spur of a mountain range at the hour of
sunset. Then his glance swept the wide horizon, and the stick in his hand
fell suddenly to the ground; for faint and blue and bathed in the sunset
light he saw his own hills crowding against the sky. As he looked his heart
swelled with tears, and turning away he covered his quivering face.
As they passed from the shadow of the tavern road, the afternoon sunlight
was slanting across the turnpike from the friendly hills, which alone of
all the landscape remained unchanged. Loyal, smiling, guarding the ruined
valley like peaceful sentinels, they had suffered not so much as an added
wrinkle upon their brows. As Dan had left them five long years ago, so he
found them now, and his heart leaped as he stood at last face to face. He
was like a man who, having hungered for many days, finds himself suddenly
Amid a blur of young foliage they saw first the smoking chimneys of
Uplands, and then the Doric columns beyond a lane of flowering lilacs. The
stone wall had crumbled in places, and strange weeds were springing up
among the high blue-grass; but here and there beneath the maples he caught
a glimpse of small darkies uprooting the intruders, and beyond the garden,
in the distant meadows, ploughmen were plodding back and forth in the
purple furrows. Peace had descended here at least, and, with a smile, he
detected Betty's abounding energy in the moving spirit of the place. He saw
her in the freshly swept walks, in the small negroes weeding the blue-grass
lawn, in the distant ploughs that made blots upon the meadows. For a moment
he hesitated, and laid his hand upon the iron gate; then, stifling the
temptation, he turned back into the white sand of the road. Before he met
Betty's eyes, he meant that his peace should be made with the old man at
Big Abel, tramping at his side, opened his mouth from time to time to let
out a rapturous exclamation.
"Dar 'tis! des look at it!" he chuckled, when Uplands had been left far
behind them. "Dat's de ve'y same clump er cedars, en dat's de wil' cher'y
lyin' right flat on hit's back--dey's done cut it down ter git de
"And the locust! Look, the big locust tree is still there, and in full
"Lawd, de 'simmons! Dar's de 'simmon tree way down yonder in the meadow,
whar we all use ter set ouah ole hyar traps. You ain' furgot dose ole hyar
traps, Marse Dan?"
"Forgotten them! good Lord!" said Dan; "why I remember we caught five one
Christmas morning, and Betty fed them and set them free again."
"Dat she did, suh, dat she did! Hit's de gospel trufe!"
"We never could hide our traps from Betty," pursued Dan, in delight. "She
was a regular fox for scenting them out--I never saw such a nose for traps
as hers, and she always set the things loose and smashed the doors."
"We hid 'em one time way way in de thicket by de ice pond," returned Big
Abel, "but she spied 'em out. Yes, Lawd, she spied 'em out fo' ouah backs
He talked on rapidly while Dan listened with a faint smile about his mouth.
Since they had left the tavern road, Big Abel's onward march had been
accompanied by ceaseless ejaculations. His joy was childlike, unrestrained,
full of whimsical surprises--the flight of a bluebird or the recognition of
a shrub beside the way sent him with shining eyes and quickened steps along
From free Levi's cabin, which was still standing, though a battle had raged
in the fallen woods beyond it, and men had fought and been buried within a
stone's throw of the doorstep, they heard the steady falling of a hammer
and caught the red glow from the rude forge at which the old negro worked.
With the half-forgotten sound, Dan returned as if in a vision to his last
night at Chericoke, when he had run off in his boyish folly, with free
Levi's hammer beating in his ears. Then he had dreamed of coming back
again, but not like this. He had meant to ride proudly up the turnpike,
with his easily won honours on his head, and in his hands his magnanimous
forgiveness for all who had done him wrong. On that day he had pictured the
Governor hurrying to the turnpike as he passed, and he had seen his
grandfather, shy of apologies, eager to make amends.
That was his dream, and to-day he came back footsore, penniless, and in a
dead man's clothes--a beggar as he had been at his first home-coming, when
he had stood panting on the threshold and clutched his little bundle in his
Yet his pulses stirred, and he turned cheerfully to the negro at his side.
"Do you see it, Big Abel? Tell me when you see it."
"Dar's de cattle pastur'," cried Big Abel, "en dey's been a-fittin'
"It must have been a skirmish," replied Dan, glancing down the slope. "The
wall is all down, and see here," his foot struck on something hard and he
stooped and picked up a horse's skull. "I dare say a squad of cavalry met
Mosby's rangers," he added. "It looks as if they'd had a little frolic."
He threw the skull into the pasture, and followed Big Abel, who was
hurrying along the road.
"We're moughty near dar," cried the negro, breaking into a run. "Des wait
twel we pass de aspens, Marse Dan, des wait twel we pass de aspens, den
we'll be right dar, suh."
Then, as Dan reached him, the aspens were passed, and where Chericoke had
stood they found a heap of ashes.
At their feet lay the relics of a hot skirmish, and the old elms were
perforated with rifle balls, but for these things Dan had neither eyes nor
thoughts. He was standing before the place that he called home, and where
the hospitable doors had opened he found only a cold mound of charred and
For an instant the scene went black before his eyes, and as he staggered
forward, Big Abel caught his arm.
"I'se hyer, Marse Dan, I'se hyer," groaned the negro in his ear.
"But the others? Where are the others?" asked Dan, coming to himself. "Hold
me, Big Abel, I'm an utter fool. O Congo! Is that Congo?"
A negro, coming with his hoe from the corn field, ran over the desolated
lawn, and began shouting hoarsely to the hands behind him:--
"Hi! Hit's Marse Dan, hit's Marse Dan come back agin!" he yelled, and at
the cry there flocked round him a little troop of faithful servants,
weeping, shouting, holding out eager arms.
"Hi! hit's Marse Dan!" they shrieked in chorus. "Hit's Marse Dan en Brer
Abel! Brer Abel en Marse Dan is done come agin!"
Dan wept with them--tears of weakness, of anguish, of faint hope amid the
dark. As their hands closed over his, he grasped them as if his eyes had
gone suddenly blind.
"Where are the others? Congo, for God's sake, tell me where are the
"We all's hyer, Marse Dan. We all's hyer," they protested, sobbing. "En Ole
Marster en Ole Miss dey's in de house er de overseer--dey's right over dar
behine de orchard whar you use ter projick wid de ploughs, en Brer Cupid
and Sis Rhody dey's a-gittin' dem dey supper."
"Then let me go," cried Dan. "Let me go!" and he started at a run past the
gray ruins and the standing kitchen, past the flower garden and the big
woodpile, to the orchard and the small frame house of Harris the overseer.
Big Abel kept at his heels, panting, grunting, calling upon his master to
halt and upon Congo to hurry after.
"You'll skeer dem ter deaf--you'll skeer Ole Miss ter deaf," cried Congo
from the rear, and drawing a trembling breath, Dan slackened his pace and
went on at a walk. At last, when he reached the small frame house and put
his foot upon the step, he hesitated so long that Congo slipped ahead of
him and softly opened the door. Then his young master followed and stood
looking with blurred eyes into the room.
Before a light blaze which burned on the hearth, the Major was sitting in
an arm chair of oak splits, his eyes on the blossoming apple trees outside,
and above his head, the radiant image of Aunt Emmeline, painted as Venus in
a gown of amber brocade. All else was plain and clean--the well-swept
floor, the burnished andirons, the cupboard filled with rows of blue and
white china--but that one glowing figure lent a festive air to the poorly
furnished room, and enriched with a certain pomp the tired old man, dozing,
with bowed white head, in the rude arm chair. It was the one thing saved
from the ashes--the one vestige of a former greatness that still remained.
As Dan stood there, a clock on the mantel struck the hour, and the Major
turned slowly toward him.
"Bring the lamps, Cupid," he said, though the daylight was still shining.
"I don't like the long shadows--bring the lamps."
Choking back a sob, Dan crossed the floor and knelt down by the chair.
"We have come back, grandpa," he said. "We beg your pardon, and we have
come back--Big Abel and I."
For a moment the Major stared at him in silence; then he reached out and
felt him with shaking hands as if he mistrusted the vision of his eyes.
"So you're back, Champe, my boy," he muttered. "My eyes are bad--I thought
at first that it was Dan--that it was Dan."
"It is I, grandpa," said Dan, slowly. "It is I--and Big Abel, too. We are
sorry for it all--for everything, and we have come back poorer than we went
A light broke over the old man's face, and he stretched out his arms with a
great cry that filled the room as his head fell forward on his grandson's
breast. Then, when Mrs. Lightfoot appeared in the doorway, he controlled
himself with a gasp and struggled to his feet.
"Welcome home, my son," he said ceremoniously, as he put out his quivering
hands, "and welcome home, Big Abel."
The old lady went into Dan's arms as he turned, and looking over her head,
he saw Betty coming toward him with a lamp shining in her hand.
"My child, here is one of our soldiers," cried the Major, in joyful tones,
and as the girl placed the lamp upon the table, she turned and met Dan's
"It is the second time I've come home like this, Betty," he said, "only I'm
a worse beggar now than I was at first."
Betty shook his hand warmly and smiled into his serious face.
"I dare say you're hungrier," she responded cheerfully, "but we'll soon
mend that, Mrs. Lightfoot and I. We are of one mind with Uncle Bill, who,
when Mr. Blake asked him the other day what we ought to do for our returned
soldiers, replied as quick as that, 'Feed 'em, sir.'"
The Major laughed with misty eyes.
"You can't get Betty to look on the dark side, my boy," he declared, though
Dan, watching the girl, saw that her face in repose had grown very sad.
Only the old beaming smile brought the brightness now.
"Well, I hope she will turn up the cheerful part of this outlook," he said,
surrendering himself to the noisy welcome of Cupid and Aunt Rhody.
"We may trust her--we may trust her," replied the old man as he settled
himself back into his chair. "If there isn't any sunshine, Betty will make
it for us herself."
Dan met the girl's glance for an instant, and then looked at the old
negroes hanging upon his hands.
"Yes, the prodigal is back," he admitted, laughing, "and I hope the fatted
calf is on the crane."
"Dar's a roas' pig fur ter-morrow, sho's you bo'n," returned Aunt Rhody.
"En I'se gwine to stuff 'im full." Then she hurried away to her fire, and
Dan threw himself down upon the rug at the Major's feet.
"Yes, we may trust Betty for the sunshine," repeated the Major, as if
striving to recall his wandering thoughts. "She's my overseer now, you
know, and she actually looks after both places in less time than poor
Harris took to worry along with one. Why, there's not a better farmer in
"Oh, Major, don't," begged the girl, laughing and blushing beneath Dan's
eyes. "You mustn't believe him, Dan, he wears rose-coloured glasses when he
looks at me."
"Well, my sight is dim enough for everything else, my dear," confessed the
old man sadly. "That's why I have the lamps lighted before the sun goes
Mrs. Lightfoot unwrapped her knitting and the ivory kneedles clicked in the
"I like to keep the shadows away myself," she responded. "The twilight used
to be my favourite hour, but I dread it now, and so does Mr. Lightfoot."
"Well, the war's given us that in common," chuckled the Major, stretching
out his feet. "If I remember rightly you once complained that our tastes
were never alike, Molly." Then he glanced round with hospitable eyes. "Draw
up, my boy, draw up to the fire and tell your story," he added invitingly.
"By the time Champe comes home we'll have rich treats in store for the
Betty was looking at him as he bent over the thin flames, and Dan saw her
warm gaze cloud suddenly with tears. He put out his hand and touched hers
as it lay on the Major's chair, and when she turned to him she was smiling
"Here's Cupid with our supper," she said, going to the table, "and dear
Aunt Rhody has actually gotten out her brandied peaches that she kept
behind her 'jists.' If you ever doubted your welcome, Dan, this must banish
it forever." Then as they gathered about the fruits of Aunt Rhody's
labours, she talked on rapidly in her cheerful voice. "The silver has just
been drawn up from the bottom of the well," she laughed, "so you mustn't
wonder if it looks a little tarnished. There wasn't a piece missing, which
is something to be thankful for already, and the port--how many bottles of
port did you dig up from the asparagus bed, Uncle Cupid?"
"I'se done hoed up 'mos' a dozen," answered Cupid, as he plied Dan with
waffles, "en dey ain' all un um up yit."
"Well, well, we'll have a bottle after supper," remarked the Major,
"If there's anything that's been improved by this war it should be that
port, I reckon," said Mrs. Lightfoot, her muslin cap nodding over the high
"And Dan's appetite," finished Betty, merrily.
When they rose from the table, the girl tied on her bonnet of plaited straw
and kissed Mrs. Lightfoot and the Major.
"It is almost mamma's supper time," she said, "and I must hurry back. Why,
I've been away from her at least two hours." Then she looked at Dan and
shook her head. "Don't come," she added, "it is too far for you, and Congo
will see me safely home."
"Well, I'm sorry for Congo, but his day is over," Dan returned, as he took
up his hat and followed her out into the orchard. With a last wave to the
Major, who watched them from the window, they passed under the blossoming
fruit trees and went slowly down the little path, while Betty talked
pleasantly of trivial things, cheerful, friendly, and composed. When she
had exhausted the spring ploughing, the crops still to be planted and the
bright May weather, Dan stopped beside the ashes of Chericoke, and looked
at her with sombre eyes.
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