"My friends," said Pomp, leading them to the entrance, and showing them to each other in the gray glimmer of that cloudy afternoon, "our little accounts are now closed for the present, and my business with you ends. You are at liberty to depart. Deslow, do not hate too bitterly this man for betraying you into my hands. Remember that you set the example of treachery, and that the cause to which you are both sworn is itself founded on treachery. As for you, Mr. Bythewood, I trust that you will pardon the inconvenience I have found it necessary to subject you to. I have restrained you of your liberty for some days. You restrained me of mine for nearly as many years. I have no longer any ill will towards either of you. Go in peace. I emancipate you. I shall not hunt you with hounds, because I have been your master for a little while. I shall not put iron collars on your necks. I shall neither brand nor beat you. You are free! Does the word sound pleasant to your ears? Think then of those to whom it would sound just as sweet. Has the rule of a hard master seemed grievous to you? Remember those to whom it is no less grievous. If might makes right, then you have been as much my property as ever black man was yours. Is there no law, no justice, but the power of the strongest? You have had a few days' experience of that power, and can judge what a life's experience of it might be. Reflect upon it, my friends."
He led them to the opening of the cave. Then he pointed to the clouds. "You cannot see the sun; but the sun is there. You do not see God, through the troubled affairs of this world; but God is over all. He governs, although you have left him quite out of your plans. Your plans are, no doubt, very great and mighty,—but see!"—passing over his knee the cord with which Bythewood had been bound. "This is the chain with which you bind my brothers and sisters. It is strong. You have drawn it very tight about them. But you thought to draw it tighter still, to hold them fast forever; and look, you have broken it!"
So saying, he displayed with a smile the two fragments of the rope that had snapped like a mere string in his hands.
"So tyranny is made to defeat itself!"—trampling the ends under his feet. "I have said it. Remember!"
Uttering these last words, he walked backwards slowly, resumed his rifle and lantern, and disappeared in the dark recesses of the cave. The freed prisoners then, joining Pepperill, took their way slowly down the mountain, sadder if not wiser men.
The reappearance of Bythewood was a signal for sending immediately two full companies to capture the cave. They succeeded; but they captured nothing else. Pomp, escaping through the sink, was already miles away on the trail of the refugees.
* * * * *
Thus ends the story of Cudjo's Cave. Other conclusion, to give it dramatic completeness, it ought, perhaps, to have; but the struggles, of which we have here witnessed the beginning, have not yet ended [Nov., 1863]; and one can scarcely be expected to describe events before they transpire.
We may add, however, that Mr. Villars, Virginia, and Toby, arrived safely at their destination,—a small town on the borders of Ohio,—where they were cordially welcomed by relatives of the family. There, three weeks later, they were visited by two very suspicious looking characters,—one a bronzed and bearded young man, robust, rough, with an eye like an eagle's gleaming from under his old slouched hat, whom nobody, I am sure, would ever have taken for a Quaker schoolmaster; the other a stout, ruddy, blue-eyed, laughing, ragged lad of sixteen, who certainly did not pass for a rebel deserter. Strange to say, these pilgrims of the dusty roads and rocky wildernesses were welcomed (not to speak it profanely) like angels from heaven by the old man, his daughter, and Toby,—their brown hands shaken, their coarse, torn clothes embraced, and their sunburnt faces kissed, with a rapture amazing to strangers of the household. They were travelling (as the younger remarked in an accent which betrayed his Teutonic origin) to "Pennsylwany," the home of the elder; and they had come thus far out of their way to make this angels' visit.
With these two Barber Jim had journeyed as far as Cincinnati, where he found his family comfortably provided for by persons to whose benevolence Mr. Villars had recommended them. The other refugees had also got safely over the mountains, after a march full of toils and dangers; and nearly all were now in the federal camps. A long history, full of deep and painful interest, might be written concerning the subsequent fortunes of these men, and of their families and neighbors left behind,—a history of hardships, of forced separations and ruined homes,—of starvation in woods and caves to which loyal citizens were driven by the rage of persecution,—and of terrible retribution. Stackridge, Grudd, and many of their brother refugees, had the joy of participating in those military movements of last summer, by which East Tennessee was relieved; of beholding the tremendous ruin which the blind pride of their foes had pulled down upon itself; and of witnessing the jubilee of a patriotic people released from a remorseless and unsparing tyranny.
A word of Pomp. Have you read the newspaper stories of a certain negro scout, who, by his intrepidity, intelligence, and wonderful celerity of movement, has rendered such important services to the Army of the Cumberland? He is the man.
Dan Pepperill fell in the battle of Stone River, fighting in a cause he never loved—the type of many such. Bythewood, after losing his influence at home, and trying various fortunes, became attached to the staff of the notorious Roger A. Pryor, in whose disgrace he shared, when that long-haired rebel chief was reduced to the ranks for cowardice.
As for Carl, he is now a stalwart corporal in the —th Pennsylvania regiment. He serves under a dear friend of his, known as the "Fighting Quaker," and distinguished for that rare combination of military and moral qualities which constitutes the true hero.
I regret that I cannot brighten these prosaic last pages with the halo of a wedding. But Penn had said, "Our country first!" and Virginia, heroic as he, had answered bravely, "Go!" Whether they will ever be happily united on earth, who can say? But this we know: the golden halo of the love that maketh one has crowned their united souls, and, with perfect patience and perfect trust, they wait.
The foregoing pages are, as the writer sincerely believes, true to history and life in all important particulars. In order to give form and unity to the narrative, characters and incidents have been brought together within a much narrower compass, both of time and space, than they actually occupied: events have been described as occurring in the summer of 1861, many of which did not take place till some months later; and certain other liberties have been taken with facts. Two separate and distinct caves have been connected, in the story, by expanding both into one, which is for the most part imaginary, but which, I trust, will not be considered as a too improbable fiction in a region where caves and "sinks" abound.
Lastly, is an apology needed for the scenes of violence here depicted?—Neither do I, O gentle reader, delight in them. But the book that would be a mirror of evil times, must show some repulsive features. And this book was written, not to please merely, but for a sterner purpose.
For peaceful days, a peaceful and sunny literature: and may Heaven hasten the time when there shall be no more strife, and no more human bondage; when under the folds of the starry flag, from the lake chain to the gulf, and from sea to sea, freedom, and peace, and righteousness shall reign; when all men shall love each other, and the nations shall know God!