Upon a winter evening Wat enters the cabin at the usual hour. Polly has laid a bit of clean homespun upon the table; his bowl of coffee, his fried meat, and his hoe-cake stand ready; but, instead of falling to, as his custom is, he sits silent and despondent, with his face buried in his hands, until Polly asks:—
"What de matter; is you po'ly?"
"I dunno as I 'se, to say, po'ly," Wat replies, "but dat boy's been a-pesterin' me dis livelong day, a-callin' 'Daddy, Daddy!' jes' like I talkin' now, till seem like I 'se most beat out along o' him."
"Dat mighty curous," Polly answered, "'cause Ole Keep, he's been a-howlin' dis blessed day. I 'lowed dat Ung Silas were gwine be tuck."
"'T ain't dat," the miller interrupted. "Ung Silas, he done got better; he howlin' arter sompen nother, but 't ain't arter Ung Silas."
Upon that identical winter's day, in a back alley of New York, a small crowd of idlers had gathered to witness the performance of the "Man Monkey." A little creature, dressed in tinsel, leaped and capered, keeping time to the grinding of an organ. When the spectators were silent, he would glance timidly at his ill-favored keeper, but when they cheered, the poor little figure would strive to outdo itself, in spite of laboring breath and trembling limbs. Then a rope was stretched, and "The Man Monkey," seizing an end, swung himself up, and, amid the acclamations of the admiring mob, began a new act of his performance. The day was cold, and at that dizzy height the wind struck bitterly through the starved little overtaxed body; he lost his footing, caught wildly at the rope, missed it, and—fell.
In that brief second did he see the old mill and the little cabin standing in the sunshine? Did he hear his mother's voice? God knows. When a pitying hand gently turned the little heap of quivering humanity, a happy smile lit up the pinched face, and the dying lips murmured, "Daddy."
 Little Jack is now a grave and reverend bishop, but I doubt if he has altogether forgotten the deliciousness of the flabby pie, eaten with such content at the close that day.
THE HOG-FEEDER'S DAY
The cold gray light of early dawn had given place to saffron, and the first drowsy challenge from the henroost had been shrilly answered from far and near, when old man Jerry awoke from his nap in the chimney corner, and, finding himself chilled through all his old, rheumatic bones, bent over the dying embers, pushed together the blackened and half-burned "chunks," and blew them until they glowed. Then, hitching his stool close into the ashes, he spread his horny palms to the blaze, and basked in its genial warmth as it crackled up the wide chimney. Reaching his pipe from its nook, he filled it, dipped it skillfully in the coals so as to ignite without wasting the precious weed, and drew a long whiff by way of a start; then, bending still closer to the blaze, he pulled away, now and then rubbing his shins in slow content, as though to emphasize his comfort.
All things, though, must come to an end. The "chunks" became a heap of white ashes, the pipe was finished, and broad shafts of light stealing down the chimney and under the door told "Ung Jerry" that it was time to be stirring.
He had, according to his usual custom, risen from his bed long before cockcrow, and, having cooked and eaten his "morning bread," had unlatched his door in order to throw a morsel to his old hog-hound, "Drive," who had already crept from under the house, and stood wagging his stump of a tail in eager expectancy. The morsel being thrown, the old man had cast a knowing look towards the heavens, and, judging by the seven stars that it yet lacked an hour to dawn, had returned to the smoky warmth and comfort of his hovel, where, seated in the chimney nook, he had nodded till roused by the crowings from all the neighboring henroosts—for his cabin was one of many.
The pipe being smoked, Ung Jerry rose stiffly, and, shuffling to his bed, fumbled underneath it, and, taking care not to disturb the setting hen, brought out two bits of old blanket, with which he proceeded to wrap his feet before putting on his shoes.
The hog-horn was now slung over the old coat, a bucket of cold victuals was reached from the shelf, and the old hog-feeder, equipped for his day's work, lifted the latch, and, stepping out into the sharp frostiness of the November morning, plodded with heavy steps toward the barnyard, Drive following closely at his heels.
The frosty fields were glittering in the slant rays of the newly risen sun, and sounds of busy life came floating through the crisp air, telling the old man that the day's labor had begun. The sharp crack of the teamster's whip told that the great ox wagons were already afield. The plow-boys whistled as they led out their mules; men and short-skirted, heavily shod women went trooping to the cotton fields; the milkwomen stepped briskly by, with the foaming pails balanced upon their well-poised heads. Then came the cowboys, with noisy whoop, driving before them the crowding, clumsy, sweet-breathed herd, while, fearlessly amid all, pigeons fluttered, greedily picking up the refuse grain, heedless of the hoofs among which they pecked and fluttered.
One small, grizzled mule, of great age and much cunning, had contrived to slip into the feedroom, and was there enjoying a stolen bait of oats when Ung Jerry found her.
"You 'speck I wan't gwine fine you, I reckon, but you 'se wrong dis time," he said, taking her by one of the long ears and leading her off to the barnyard, where the little cart awaited her.
Drive, meanwhile, had crept under the barn, where, nosing about, he had come upon a hen's nest, and was feasting upon the warm, fresh eggs.
The hitching-up was done with great deliberation. Ung Jerry plodded to and from the harness-room many times, bringing out first a chuck collar, then a bit of leather, finally, after a long search, an end of rope. At length, when all seemed to be adjusted, the old man again retired to the harness-room, where he remained so long that Drive was contemplating another raid upon the hens, when he reappeared, bringing with him an old piece of bagging, with which he proceeded with careful adjustment to protect the old mule's back from the friction of the cart-saddle. She, meanwhile, had stood with closed eyes and flopped ears, immovable save for an occasional twitching of her small, rat-like tail; but when the loading began, her manner changed from its quiescent indifference; watchful glances followed each basketful that was dumped in, and an ominous backing of the ears gave warning of what would happen should the load be heavier than she liked.
At length, all being ready for the start, Ung Jerry climbed slowly to his perch on the cart's edge, gave a jerk to the rope bridle, and Rachel moved off, closely followed by Drive, who, conscious of egg-sucking and fearful of its consequences, had prudently ensconced himself beneath the cart, from whence he eyed, suspiciously, all passers-by.
Slowly the little cart crept along the narrow plantation lanes, crept past the level cornfields and into the wide pasture, where sunburnt mares were grazing with their wild-eyed, unkempt colts; crept past the marsh, where the heron, disturbed in her solitary vigil, rose upon silent wing and sought some more secluded haunt amid the dim recesses of the swamp.
Turning at length into the forest, where the gray moss hanging from the trees almost obscured the deep blue autumnal sky, the cart slowly creaked through the rustling leaves until it came upon a cross fence which barred the way. Here, as Rachel came to a full stop, Ung Jerry awoke from his nap, descended from his perch, and, unslinging his horn, blew one long blast.
One was enough. In a moment the deep stillness of the forest was broken by the pattering of many little feet; from the thickets the hogs came; each hurrying with might and main to be foremost, they rushed, grunting, squealing, crowding to the fence, where, standing with upturned faces and small covetous eyes, they awaited the feast of golden grain which the old man hastened to scatter amongst them. Then, leaning upon the fence, he noted each greedy grunter as he wriggled his small tail in keenest enjoyment and cracked the sweet corn.
No need was there to count; to the hog-feeder each animal possessed an individuality so marked that in all the drove the absence of the most insignificant was at once detected. So now, as he leaned upon the fence, he cast anxious glances into the dimness beyond. Evidently some were missing.
Drive, too, divining his master's thoughts, stood with look intent and anxious yelp, impatient for the search to begin.
Then the word came, "Seek, boy!"
Scrambling through the fence, he dashed into every covert or tangle wherein a hog might lurk, but without result; there came no rush of feet, no shaking of the brown leaves, no startled grunt. All was still, save for the quick panting of the old hound.
The old man then turned his eyes again upon the greedy mob, still hoping to discover the missing ones amongst them. 'T was all in vain.
"De listed sow, she done gone, an' de big white hogue, he done gone, an' seben head o' shotes!" he at length murmured, still, however, casting expectant glances toward the thickets, in which Drive was still sniffing with uneasy yelpings.
"Seem like dem creturs is clean gone, sho' nuf," he exclaimed, with an air of unwilling conviction; then adding, "well, ef dey's gone, I 'se got 'em to fine, dat's de trufe."
He called in the dog, and, taking his dinner bucket, climbed the fence and struck off into the woods. Now and again he would pause, put his horn to his lips, and give a long blast, then stand listening with anxious expectancy. Every thicket was searched. It was a weary tramp,—through bogs and sloshes, where the cypress knees stood up like sugar-loaves in the shallow water, or sometimes his steps were bent to some open glade, where the great oaks dropped sweet mast among the brown leaves.
The day was no longer young when a low fence came into view; beyond it stretched a levee, and at its base a glint of water showed itself through the great trees, which stretched their mighty arms as though they would embrace it.
Ung Jerry, after climbing the fence, mounted the levee and stood upon the brink of a wide and muddy river. Taking off his hat, the old man wiped the sweat from his face, then turned an observant eye upon the river, whose muddy waters were already lapping the boughs of the overhanging trees, and with a long-drawn breath exclaimed, "Bank an' bank!"
Then, as his experienced eye noted the angry swirls near the shore and the debris borne rapidly upon the turbid current, "An' still on de rise. She gwine be out in de low groun's befo' mornin', bless de Lord; I's been 'spectin' she gwine play dis trick eber since de win' set like et did."
Then, looking at the field of standing corn upon the further shore, protected by a low levee, and seeming to be upon a lower level than the red waters of the flood, he soliloquized:—
"I's skeared de fresh gwine 'stroy a sight o' Mars Jones's corn. It raly do 'pear like dat corn mout a been housed befo' now."
The old man's thoughts were interrupted at this point by loud and animated barkings from Drive, and, hurrying to the spot whence they proceeded, he discovered the old hound standing in a broken gap in the fence, in a state of excitement over the numerous footprints which told that the truants had broken through and made for the river, evidently with designs upon "Mars Jones's" cornfield.
"Here's wha' dey tuck de watah," the old man remarked to the dog, as together they followed the footprints to the water's edge. "Dat 'ere listed sow, she got mo' sense un folks! She know 'bout Mars Jones's corn, an' dey ain't no fence gwine stop dat cretur when she take a notion for to go.
"Well, well, well, de listed sow, an' de big white hogue, an' seben head o' shotes done tore down de fence, an' took deyselves 'cross de riber for to steal Mars Jones's corn; I 'clare 't is a disgrace. I reckon Mars Jones gwine cuss a plenty when he fine it out. It certinly is a pity for master's creturs to do sich a low-life trick as dat. But bless de Lord," and a look of crafty triumph came into his face, "dey's got dey bellies full, anyhow."
With this pleasing reflection, and the conviction that nothing more could be done for the present, the old man seated himself upon a log, opened his bucket, took out his jack-knife, and proceeded to eat his dinner, while Drive sat by, in eager readiness to snatch the morsels flung to him, ere they could reach the ground.
When the meal was finished, dog and man each took comfort in his own way. The dog stretched himself in the sunshine. The old man sat with bent head "a-studyin'," then nodded, then fell into a deep sleep, soothed by the silence, which reigned unbroken save for the distant cawing of a crow.
The long gray moss swayed dreamily upon the motionless boughs of the giant trees. Where the sycamore lifted its gaunt, white arms, the great bald eagle sat immovable, watching with fierce, intent gaze for its prey in the waters below.
The shadows were growing long upon wood and river when the light dip of a paddle broke upon the stillness, and old Jerry, rousing from his nap, spied a canoe gliding down stream, guided by two youths who, with their guns lying crosswise upon their knees, were making for the bank.
"Mars Harry an' Mars Phil," he murmured, eying them with lazy curiosity, as they brought their little craft to land, and after making it fast, picked up their guns, crossed the levee, and struck off into the swamp.
"Dey's after turkey, I 'speck; Mars Harry an' me, we's killed many a varmint in dese here woods. Dey want no Mars Phil 'bout here in dem days befo' ole Mars were tuck down."
Thus soliloquizing, the old man continued to gaze wistfully after the retreating figures; for their appearance had seemed to bring a disturbing element into his peaceful dreams, and a look of helpless trouble overspread his face as, taking off his hat and slowly scratching his head, he murmured:—
"Seem like it mos' a pity Mars Phil trouble hisself for to come here, anyhow. Well, well, well! we folks all gwine be 'vided up 'twix Mars Harry an' Mars Phil, 'cause ole Mars, he not long for dis world! Bless de Lord, whinsoever it please Him for to teck ole Mars to hisself, I trus' he gwine 'vide off Jerry to Mars Harry's shere, 'cause I nachally ain't got no use for t'other one—he too outlondesh."
So saying, he rose and reached his bucket from the bough where it hung. Drive, who had for some moments been watching him out of the corner of one red eye, rose also, and the two set out upon their tramp back to the cart.
The old man had climbed the fence, the dog had scrambled through, and both were threading their way across the swamp, when the report of a gun close by caused the dog to beat a retreat from the thicket into which he had thrust his nose, and, with tail tucked in, to creep to his master's side; while the old man, exclaiming, "Good Gor-a-mighty! whot dat?" pushed aside the bushes in order to see what game the boys had brought down.
The sight that met his eyes froze him with horror. Philip's lifeless body lay upon the ground, while Harry, with scared white face, bent over it.
For a brief space the old man stood as if petrified, then muttered: "Jerry ain't gwine know nothin' bout dis here. When ole Mars say, 'Jerry, what you seen in de Vine Ridge Swash?' Jerry, he gwine say, 'Nothin', Marster, fo' de Lord. I seen nothin' 't all!' An' I ain't gwine tell no lie, nuther, 'cause I ain't gwine look!"
Thus thinking, he cautiously drew back, and, with ashen face and limbs that through trembling almost failed to support him, he stealthily crept away until out of earshot; then took to his heels and fled. When, however, he was forced to pause for breath, he considered if he had done well to desert his young master, and turned reluctantly to retrace his steps, when, as he did so, the air was suddenly rent with ear-piercing shrieks for half a second, and Jerry's heart quailed.
"It's boun' to be de debil," he whispered. Then, a light seeming to break upon him, he exclaimed: "Bless God! 't ain't nothin' but de ole Chieftain a-blowin'."
The Chieftain, a small freight steamer, had recently taken the place of the old flat-bottomed scows, and, as the steam whistle was still a novelty, it is not surprising that Ung Jerry, in his terror, should for the moment have mistaken it for some unearthly sound.
After many irresolute pauses, the old man at length reached the scene of the disaster, and with shaking hands thrust aside the bushes. Except for the small birds silently flitting to their roosts, the place was utterly deserted. The level sunbeams glinted through the gray moss, gilded the tree trunks, and glowed crimson upon the brown leaves; the solitary peace of nature seemed unbroken; only the pool of blood at Ung Jerry's feet told him that what he had witnessed had not been a vision.
After a moment's survey he was turning away, when his eyes fell upon the two guns: here, at least, was something tangible, and the old man proceeded to secrete them in the fallen leaves. Squatted upon the ground, he was too busily engaged to note the sound of approaching footsteps, and started violently when a rough voice accosted him. He mustered courage, however, to quaver:—
"Dat you, Mars Jones?"
"Me? of course it's me! Who did you reckon it was?"
"I dunno, Mars Jones."
"Well, you'll know next time, if you don't keep them hogs o' yourn out of my corn. Why, that confounded old sow can destroy more corn in one night than you are worth."
"Yes, Mars Jones, dat de trufe," meekly assented the old man.
Mars Jones, warming to the subject, now waxed more and more eloquent over his grievances, until, having exhausted his pent up wrath, he had leisure to observe old Jerry's ashen face and shaking limbs, and he exclaimed:—
"Why, what's the matter with you? are you sick?"
"Yes, Mars Jones, I's been po'ly dis liblong day, an' I's gittin' sassifrax for to make me a little drap o' tea, I's got sich a mis'ry."
"Sassafras!" here broke in Mars Jones; and, good-natured, despite his roughness, he took from his pocket a tickler, and handing Jerry a dram, said:
"Drink this, you old blockhead. Sassifrax, indeed!—what good you reckon sassifrax goin' do you?"
With a scrape and a bow and a "Thank ye, Marster," the old man gulped down the dram, and Mars Jones, replacing his tickler, was turning away, when his foot slipped in something, and looking down he saw that it was blood.
The dram had put so much heart into the old man that he was able to reply glibly to Mars Jones's questions.
"Its jes' wha' I's been markin' hogs, Marster."
"I don't believe you; I believe you've been killin' one of your master's hogs—that's what you've been at."
But as this did not concern him, he did not wait to inquire further, and so, turning on his heel, he strode off.
The hog-feeder, too, hastening away, took the shortest path back to his cart.
The deserted barnyard lay silent in the white moonlight when the little cart creaked through the gate; but up at the "great house" there were lights and movements where the family watched the coming of the boys.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday passed without tidings, and the hope that they had been caught by the rising water and imprisoned upon some isolated knoll had been abandoned after the swamps had been searched in every direction. To add to the grief of the household, the master, already enfeebled, now lay prostrated in a condition that almost forbade hope.
Upon Sunday the waters began to abate, fences again appeared, and patches of drowned corn showed themselves above the wastes of water, to the no small joy of the flocks of blackbirds which chattered and fluttered amongst them.
Mr. Jones, tired of the loneliness of his water-girt home, made his way to the meeting-house, more for the sake of a gossip with some of the neighbors than for the day's preaching, and it was there that he first heard the startling news of the unaccountable disappearance of Squire Brace's nephews.
In the excitement, each man was eager to advance his own theory. The discussion ended, however, in the general opinion that their canoe had been swamped in the freshet and the boys drowned, until a newcomer asserted that the canoe, with Phil's overcoat still in it, had been found tied up at the Vine Ridge landing, and that their guns had been discovered hidden in the leaves at no great distance in the swamp.
Upon hearing this, Mr. Jones could but call to mind his meeting with the hog-feeder, his strange behavior, and the blood upon the ground, and he at once jumped to the conclusion that old Jerry had been at least a party to some foul deed. His suspicions, once made known, became certainties, and the whole party, hastily mounting their horses, rode off to the nearest justice, their convictions gaining ground so rapidly that, ere the house of the justice was reached, poor, simple old Jerry, the most harmless of God's creatures, had become in their estimation a villain of the deepest dye.
Upon this identical Sunday morning the old hog-feeder betook himself to the little plantation church, whose bell, with cracked clamor, gave warning that preaching was about to begin.
The frosty brightness of the past week had given place to a soft mist, through whose dimness the pale sunbeams looked sadly upon the autumnal world; and as the old man, dressed in his Sunday clothes, plodded along the path, the tiny crickets from beneath the grass sent up their sad, perpetual dirge.
Men and women, all shining with Sabbath cleanness, came straggling toward the church, silently and soberly, without the usual light-hearted laughter, for the trouble at the "great house" was felt by all the little band. Yet their feelings were not without a mixture of pleasurable excitement, for all were anticipating with gloomy satisfaction the lengthy prayers, the groanings, and the head-shakings upon this mournful day.
The congregation had taken their seats, old Jethro had taken his place in the pulpit, the long-drawn cadence of the funeral hymn had floated sadly up to the "great house," when a noise at the door startled the congregation, who, turning, beheld standing in the door a group of white men. Among them was the overseer, who, coming forward, announced that hog-feeder Jerry was to be arrested upon a charge of murder. "Not that I believe it, men," he said, "but the law must take its course."
In the meantime two others had approached the old man, who had already stumbled to his feet, and, while bowing in a dazed kind of way, kept murmuring, "Sarvent, Marsters."
Handcuffs were put upon him, and amid a profound silence he was led forth and lifted into a cart. The two sheriffs took their places upon each side of him, and the cortege moved off.
The people, having sufficiently recovered from their shock to jostle one another out of the building, stood huddled together like a flock of frightened sheep; but when the cavalcade had driven off, a subdued clamor of voices arose, all unanimous in contempt for "dese here po' white, who'd ha' knowed better 'n to come meddlin' long o' Marster's folks ef Marster wan't down on de bed an' mos' like to die!"
That the dull and simple brain of the old man should have been capable of any formulated plan is not to be imagined, and when upon the following day he was taken before the justice for examination, he merely acted from an instinct of affection in shielding his young master, even at the risk of his own life. When questioned, he preserved an obstinate silence; then, when forced to speak, denied having seen either of the boys upon the day of their disappearance, but, when cross-questioned, admitted that he had seen Mars Phil in the Vine Ridge woods; and finally, when taxed with the blood upon the ground and with having hidden the guns, he reluctantly admitted that "ef Mars Phil had been hurted" he had done it.
"What did you do with the body?" questioned the justice; "throw it in the river?"
A murmur from the prisoner, which passed for assent, concluded the examination, and the justice, sorely puzzled, committed him to jail to await his trial.
With the early morning, the country people had begun to gather around the courthouse, and when told that the old miscreant had actually confessed to the murder, their innate love of justice gave place to fierce anger; and when the prisoner, gray with terror, bent and tottering, was led forth, he was surrounded by a silent but determined crowd, who, thrusting the sheriffs aside, seized and drove him before them, and had already slipped the noose about his neck, when an inarticulate shout caused the crowd to sway,—a horseman dashed into their midst and proclaimed that both boys were alive. Their disappearance had been explained on that morning by a letter forwarded by hand, which ran as follows:—
On Board the Chieftain.
Dear Uncle,—This afternoon, while hunting in the Vine Ridge woods, Phil's gun went off and wounded him in the side. I was at my wit's end what to do, when I heard the Chieftain blow up the river; so I tore off to the levee, where I was lucky enough to succeed in attracting Captain Smith's attention, who sent off a boat, and we managed to get Phil on board. I wanted Smith to put back to our landing, but he thought the current too strong; and on the whole, I believe it is better for Phil to keep on to Hilton, as it would be impossible to get a doctor at home in this high water. Phil's hurt is not very serious, I hope.
Your dutiful nephew,
* * * * *
On the day succeeding Harry's homecoming, he entered the room designated the "study," in which the Squire was usually to be found when indoors.
The room probably owed the name of "study" to a set of Farmer's Magazines which, in all the dignity of expensive bindings, divided the shelf with a rather damaged edition of "The Turf Register," a "Farrier's Manual," a brace of antiquated medical works, and a stack of newspapers. Fishing tackle, a cupping apparatus, a set of engineering instruments, half a dozen ears of extra fine seed corn, medicine scales, and a huge cotton stock filled the rest of the bookcase.
The Squire, seated before a blazing fire, in the lazy comforts of convalescence, with pipe and tobacco at his elbow, presented a not unenviable picture when contrasted with the wintry grayness outside.
Harry, who had been greatly touched by the old hog-feeder's affectionate fidelity, now sought his uncle in order to beg that as a recompense he might be given his freedom.
"Freedom!" exclaimed the Squire; "why, confound it, my dear boy, what would he do with freedom, if he had it?"
"I think he would like it," Harry murmured, a little sheepishly.
"Why, he's as free as air now; a deuced sight freer than I am."
Nevertheless Harry gained his point, and though the Squire growled, "You young jackanapes, you've robbed me of the best hog-feeder on the river," still he was evidently pleased, and in the evening old Jerry was sent for.
When, in answer to the summons, Jerry presented himself at the study door, his master said to him, with a stateliness fitted to the occasion:—
"Jerry, I have sent for you to tell you that your young master here, as a reward for your fidelity, desires to give you your freedom."
Here the Squire paused, and Jerry, not knowing what else to say, said, "Yes, Marster."
Harry, standing by, was feeling rather wrought up, while the Squire, also somewhat excited, continued:—
"I will give you a house in the free settlement, out in the slashes, and your young master will always take care of you."
Another rather disconcerting pause was broken by a second "Yes, Marster;" and the old man, picking up his hat, shuffled out.
The Squire glanced at Harry with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, but the boy's face expressed such blank disappointment that he took pity upon him, and, picking up a newspaper, dismissed the matter.
Upon the following evening a low knock was heard at the study door, then a fumbling at the latch, and old Jerry once more stood upon the threshold.
"Well, old man, what is it now?" his master asked kindly. "Come, out with it!" he repeated, as the old man, with a feeble grin, stood helplessly fingering his hat. "What's the matter?"
And old Jerry, slowly scratching his head, made answer:—
"Thank, Marster; I's come to ax Marster what I done to 'splease Mars?"
"Displease me! Why, what has put that notion into your head?"
"I dunno, Mars, what I's done, but I's skeared Mars mout be set agin me, 'cause he say he gwine sen' me offen de plantation."
Then Harry explained that he was to be set free, and eagerly enlarged upon the delights of liberty. The hog-feeder listened, but was unmoved: he obstinately declined to accept his freedom, his plea being that "the varments" would "'stroy up his creeturs" if he were not there to look after them.
"De black sow, she got a fine litter o' pigs now, an' de foxes is a'ter 'em de blessed time."
After this no more could be urged, and Jerry, scraping his foot, went out with a mind full of content.
 As this is a true tale of an old-time plantation negro, I think it but fair to state that he had a "chist" full of good clothes; but, with a parsimony not uncommon among his race, he preferred to protect his feet with old bits of blanket, instead of using the excellent home-knit woollen socks which lay snugly hidden away in his "chist;" and it was the same feeling which caused him to wrap himself now into an old garment made up of patches, although three good ones lay snugly folded away in the same chest.
THE JUNIOR RESERVE
It was in the early summer of 1864 that the family at Swan Manor was thrown off its balance by the calling out of "The Junior Reserves." That unfledged boys, and among them their own little smooth-cheeked Billy, should be called upon to fill up the thinned and broken ranks of the Southern army filled their hearts with dismay. The old Squire, with bushy brows beetling over his eyes, sat in grief too deep for words, a prey to the darkest forebodings. Miss Jemima had wept until her eyes were mere nothings, while her nose, coming gallantly to the front, had assumed an undue prominence. Kate, with her pretty lips drawn to keep down the rising sobs, tried all in vain to bestow upon her twin brother bright looks and smiles, ever before so ready and spontaneous. In the early secession days it had seemed such fun to ride to dress parade and toss bouquets to the laughing "boys in gray," while all the world played Dixie!
"Away down South in Dixie."
How she and Billy had whispered and plotted, and how great the triumph when together they climbed the gate-post and, after much toil, successfully planted their little red and white flag! But now, alas! all was changed,—they were fast getting to be grown-up people, and now her own dear Billy must go to help drive the Yankees out of Dixie.
As for Billy himself, a suppressed but exultant grin shone upon his face, a trifle deprecating when in the presence of his grandfather or his tearful Aunt Jemima, but very jubilant despite these drawbacks. In truth this junior reserve was only too pleased to exchange the Latin grammar for the musket, and little cared he for prospective hardships, provided school were not among them.
In the few busy days before the departure, Kate followed Billy's footsteps, trying in vain to share his elation. "Good gracious, Kate," he would exclaim, when he discovered her furtively wiping her eyes with her little damp ball of a pocket handkerchief, "don't be such a little goose; why, what would you have a fellow do? I had no idea that you were that sort of a girl." Then, as between laughing and crying her face contorted itself into a sort of spasmodic grin, he would say: "Now that's right, that's the way to do, if you'll just cheer up, I'll be all right; the Yankees'll not bother me much, you bet."
At the request of Serena (Billy's former nurse) her boy Cy was chosen to accompany his young master as body servant, one of his chief recommendations being that, naturally "skeary," he would be a safe companion; also, as his mother proudly averred, he was the fastest runner upon the plantation.
It was upon a golden evening in June that little Billy bade farewell to his home, Miss Jemima and Kate going with him to the little wayside station. Cy, gotten up in great style, followed, while the rear was brought up by a motley procession,—all eager for the honor of carrying some of the belongings. The Squire, with Don the old Irish setter, stood in the doorway until Billy passed out of sight; then the two together, the old man and the old dog, went back into the silent house.
The path to the station wound its way through a field of ripening wheat, from whence the clear whistle of a partridge smote sharply though the fervid air. Billy paused, and, pointing to a tangle of blackberry, exclaimed: "There's a nest there as sure as shooting, and I'll go there to-mor—" A quick catching of the breath cut short the unfinished words, and the boy, with lips slightly drawn, quickened his pace. Kate, choking down her sobs, held his hand in her tight clasp, as she kept pace with his hurried step. Miss Jemima, steadying her voice, remarked with a sprightly air that there would be fine shooting when he should come back in the autumn. Then the little station came into view, looking very empty and deserted; two men loading a flat car were the only living objects to be seen. They paused in their work to greet Billy, and ask where he was off to. It seemed so strange a thing to Kate that all the world did not know.
The train was not on time, and the waiting became so painful that it was almost with gladness that they heard the warning whistle far down the track. A small crowd had gradually collected, and some one remarked: "She's blowin' for the bridge. It'll be ten minutes before she's here." To the tumultuously throbbing hearts of the little party it was a positive relief when a puff of smoke was seen and the engine came rushing around the bend. Then there were hurried kisses; the bell clanged, a voice called out, "All aboard," and the train was off. "Gone, gone, gone," Kate repeated over and over to herself, as she gazed with tearless eyes into the dim distance of the now silent track.
As the party retraced their steps homeward the partridge was still calling his cheerful "Bob White" from amid the wheat, while from the shadowy depth of a laurel thicket came the sweet gurgle of the wood-thrush.
In the late summer, news—glorious news—came that the foe had been driven back, and their boy was unhurt.
Later, a man from the front at home on furlough was heard to say that "Billy Swan was a regular trump, and had borne himself like a veteran." Kate walked elate, saying the words over and over, with a proud smile, "A hero, a regular trump,"—he, her own dear Billy. The old Squire, too, with ill-concealed pride in his boy, was once more like his former self.
Happy days—brief, hopeful days! Alas, alas! Many Junes have come and gone since little Billy was laid to rest in the old burying-ground, close to the wheat-field where the partridge calls, calls, the long day through. June roses scatter their leaves above him, and when the sun drops low, with long golden shafts upon the green mound which covers him, from far down in the laurel thicket comes the liquid gurgle of the wood-thrush. Kate looks into faces, once frank and bright, and full of youth and hope, now grown old and seamed with care, and she tells herself that "whom the gods love, die young."
Two little snub noses were flattening themselves against the nursery window pane, while the four eager eyes watched the soft flakes whirling through the air and silently descending upon the whitening earth.
"Sposen we was to steal out," whispered the boy, "an' hide, so Mammy couldn't never find us no more."
An excited chuckle interrupted the further development of this deliciously lawless scheme; but, though the little sister caught the infection, she prudently turned from the tempting prospect, saying, "No, Sed, I's 'fraid you might git the croups an' die."
The other occupants of the room were a little roly-poly cherub of a girl, seated in a tiny chair, holding in her arms a rag baby, which she rocked and dangled in servile imitation of her mammy, who, with bumpings peculiar to the nursery chair, was rocking to sleep a still younger babe. A fair little maiden, curled up comfortably upon a cushion, the firelight glistening upon her yellow locks, bent over a book, from which she read, in high-pitched, childish voice, to her mammy, the story of "Ellen Lynn." Mammy was very proud that her nursling could read, and would cast admiring looks upon the child as she bent over her book, with finger pointing to each word. Both were absorbed in the story, and every picture was examined with scrupulous care.
Another occupant of the nursery was "Chany," the under nursemaid. Gawky, sleek, and black, she sat flat upon the floor, her large, well-shod feet turned to the fire, a picture of lazy, vacant content.
"Ch-Ch-Chany," stuttered Mammy, "look in de top drawer an' git a hankcher and blow dat chile's nose. Go on wid yo book, honey; Mammy ain't goin' 'sturb you no mo."
"Mr. Lynn left the sleigh, and turning from the island"—piped little Caroline. Then there came another prolonged snuffle from Sedley.
"You Ch-Ch-Chany, why'n't you git dat hankcher?" caused that languid maiden to bestir herself. Having fumbled in the drawer for the handkerchief, she approached the window, but no sooner did the little boy become aware of her intention than, with a rebellious shake of his curly head, he buried his nose in his little chapped fists, and, regardless of Sibyl's advice, that he had better be good, he firmly stood his ground, determined to resist Chany to the death.
"He ain't gwine let me tetch him," said Chany, feebly dabbing at him with the handkerchief.
"Do, pray, gal, don't be so no-'count," Mammy answered. Then Chany, stung by the imputation, made another helpless dive; a scuffle ensued, in which she was utterly routed, and the victorious Sedley threw himself upon Mammy's lap.
"Gi' me de hankcher," said Mammy, with an air of withering contempt. "There, now, you done woke up your little brother," she said, when, the nose being blown, she again returned to trying to jolt baby Joe to sleep. "He jest had drapped off into a doze."
"Oh, chilluns, le's pop some corn!" Chany now exclaimed. "Here's a whole sight of it," she went on, as she searched a basket, which she had unearthed from the closet.
"Oh! pop corn!" shouted Sedley and Sibyl, running, and each seizing an ear.
"Oh! pop torn!" echoed the cherub, throwing down her rag baby. So the shovel was run into the ashes, and Chany and the three little ones set to work to shell the corn.
Quiet was again restored, and Caroline, who, all through the hubbub, had kept her finger faithfully upon "island," continued her reading.
Mammy now substituted a sideways movement of the knees for the more vigorous bumping of the chair, and baby Joe—lying luxuriously upon her wide lap—gazed dreamily into the glowing coals upon the hearth, until gradually the white lids drooped over the blue eyes, and he slept. The nursery was very quiet now. The corn-poppers were intent upon their work, and Mammy, soothed by the unwonted stillness, listened drowsily to the little reader until fresh interest was excited by the following words.
"The men were now still more alarmed," read Caroline. "Farmer Lynn said that he would go with them and see what had become of Mr. Lynn and Annie. The whole party accordingly went back to the river. After searching about for some time, one of the men espied something black on the surface of the snow, at a great distance down the river. They all proceeded to the spot, and were dreadfully shocked on arriving there to find that the black spot was a part of Mr. Lynn's arm and that his body was beneath, frozen, and buried up in the snow."
When Mammy heard these words, she threw up her arms, and exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy 'pon my soul! What! Mr. Lynn hisself?"
To her imagination Mr. Lynn was a most real person. The book was now brought to her and she, with little Caroline, looked with deep and mournful interest at the picture of the empty sleigh.
"It certainly is a awful country to live in; seem like it ain't fitten for a dog, much less white folks. To think o' Mr. Lynn hisself bein' froze to death. Well! well! well! It certainly was onexpected."
The children's story books furnished Mammy with many thoughts. Among them was a set of German nursery tales, full of quaint colored pictures, in which she took especial pleasure. Seated by the nursery fire, the baby asleep in his crib and the others out at play, she would turn the leaves feeling that each picture was a living portrait. Slovenly Peter, Rocking Phillip, and Greedy Jacob were her favorites. Once when shown a pretzel, she exclaimed, "Ef it ain't the very thing what Jacob had in his hand when he busted," and, taking the pretzel in her hand, she contemplated it with a thoughtful and sentimental air.
The nursery door was now burst open, and in rushed Harry, bringing with him a blast of fresh cold air; black Ned came too, and both brought upon their feet enough snow to cover the carpet with moist tracks.
"You Ne-Ne-Ned, ain't you got no mo' manners than to be a-tracking up de house dis way? Go 'long out and clean your feet;" but the hubbub was too great for Mammy's words to be heeded; pig-tails were being brandished aloft, and the children all clustered round Harry and Ned, asking questions and clamoring for pig-tails.
"Look!" said Harry. "Here's somefin better'n pig-tails," and he drew from his pocket the mangled remains of a dozen or more snow-birds.
A scramble now ensued, and Sibyl—having secured as many as she wanted—retired to a corner, and silently fell to plucking them, while Sedley, who was as vainglorious as a Comanche, capered about on his short legs, and boasted of imaginary exploits with trap and dead-fall.
Caroline looked on, half pleased and half disgusted, keeping herself clear of contact.
"Miss Calline she too proud to tetch pig-tails," grinned Chany.
"'F cose she is," Mammy answered, bridling. She was very vain of Miss Caroline's daintiness.
The baby was now laid in his crib. Chany was dispatched for salt and pepper; the shovel was again run into the ashes, pig-tails were placed delicately upon the coals, and the nursery, pervaded with the various odors of wet shoes, burnt corn, fried grease, etc., was given up to disorder and cooking, into which Mammy threw herself with as much zest as did the children. The pig-tails were broiled to a turn, and the small birds were frizzling away upon the shovel, when Sedley, taking advantage of his opportunity, made a rush for the door, opened it, and was outside, with mouth and hands full of snow. Before Mammy's vigilant eye had noted his escape, he was flying back in triumph, with a big ball in his fist, when she met him and, with dexterous grasp, wrenched it from him.
"Di-di-did anybody ever see your match!" she exclaimed as she hurled the ball into the fire. "I clar I's got a good mind to take you right straight to your ma."
But Sedley knew the value of such threats and soon wiggled himself out of her grasp.
"Da now, go 'long an' 'have yourself," she said, with admiring fondness, as he laughed and capered away from her.
"Honey, what is you a-doin'?" she now inquired of Sibyl, who, with hot cheeks, was bending over a pile of coals. "Cookin' a bird? Let me do it,—you's a-burnin' your little face clean to a cracklin'."
"No, Mammy, I'm cookin' my bird for grandma," the child answered, rejecting all help, "an' I'm goin' to do it all by myself."
"Wh', baby honey, your gran'ma ain't comin' before Christmas eve, an' dat's a week off. Your bird ain't goin' keep all dat time, but ne' mine, I'll make Ned ketch you another one."
* * * * *
Upon Christmas Eve, the children might have been seen at the big gate, straining their eyes down the road, each hoping to be the first to see their grandmother's carriage. Visions of waxen dolls, sugar-plums, and other vague delights imparted a double zest to her arrival,—to say nothing of Uncle Robin (the driver) who, in the estimation of the little boys, was of far greater importance than was their grandmother. To them he was an oracle of wisdom, and their delight was to follow him about the stable lot or to sit in the sunshine and hang upon his words; for his imagination was fertile, and the boys would listen with wonder to the tales of his prowess and skill with horses. Something was now observed to be moving far down the road, which soon proved to be the carriage. Yes, there were "Phoenix" and "Peacock," which no one but Uncle Robin could handle, and there sat Uncle Robin upon the box, and there was grandma inside, smiling and waving her handkerchief, and there, too, sat Aunt Polly, grandma's maid.
The carriage stopped, and Uncle Robin, bowing and smiling, descended and opened the door, and they all scrambled in and were hugged and kissed, and Polly admired their beauty and exclaimed at their growth. Then the door was clapped to again, but not before Harry had managed to slip out and clamber to the box beside Uncle Robin, who, having driven through the gate, handed him the reins, with a caution to keep his eye upon Peacock. In the estimation of the boy, this sleek and overfed Peacock seemed little less than a raging lion whom only Uncle Robin could quell.
"He'll run in a minute, if he gits a chance," said the guileful Uncle Robin. So Harry clutched the reins and drove proudly past the lot, in full view of some of the men, turned in at the yard gate, and drew up before the door.
Grandma could not wait for the hanging of the Christmas stockings, but insisted upon opening her trunk at once, and displaying her gifts to the children's delighted eyes. The wax babies exceeded their wildest hopes. The house was made horrible with horns and drums. Mammy laughed and showed her dimples and courtesied over her own gorgeous present, and all felt that Christmas had really come.
For several days, indeed, throughout the holidays, Harry felt that he had left childhood far behind him, and, as he strutted about the stable yard, he now and then expectorated, in imitation of Uncle Robin, as though he had a quid in his mouth.
Aunt Polly, though far inferior to Uncle Robin in the children's estimation, was yet a person of distinction, and no naughtiness was ever displayed when she was by to witness it.
Mammy usually enjoyed a gossip with Aunt Polly over the nursery fire. But, sometimes feelings of coolness would arise. Polly belonged to the family of the mother of the children, while Mammy came from that of the father, and between the two a slight rivalry had always existed as to the superiority of her own white children.
"'T is a pity Miss Calline's back's so round," said Polly one night as the children were being undressed.
Now, if there was a feature in which Mammy took a pride, it was in the straightness of the children's limbs and the flatness of their backs, above all the limbs and backs in the other branches of the family; so, firing up at once, she replied that she would like to see a flatter back than "this here one," laying her hand upon Caroline's.
"Miss Emmaline's is a sight flatter," Polly stoutly maintained. "She's got as pretty shape as ever I see,—all our people's got good shapes from old Missis down. I reckon this chile's got her back from her pa's fambly." When Polly said this, Mammy felt that the gauntlet had been flung down, and, at once, with an eloquence all her own, so defended the "shapes" of her "fambly" that Polly was fairly beaten in the war of words, and was forced to admit, with many apologies, that Miss Caroline's back was as flat as Miss Emmaline's.
Mammy accepted the apology with some hauteur, and it was several days before entire cordiality was reestablished; in fact, in all her after life, Mammy would, when in certain moods, hark back to "dat time when dat long-mouthed Polly had de imperdence to say dat our folks' backs weren't as straight as hern."
Full of peaceful content were the lives of both whites and blacks. Merrily the Christmas went by, to be followed by others as merry, and the winters and summers came and went, turning childhood into maturity and maturity into old age. Mammy's glory reached its zenith when, at "Miss Calline's" grand wedding, she herself rustled about in all the grandeur of a new black silk and Polly was forever squelched. The whole world seemed full of prosperity, abundance, and careless happiness, when suddenly, like a thunderbolt, the war came.
The plantation home was abandoned very carelessly, and with light hearts the family drove away, expecting nothing but to return with the frosts of winter. They refugeed to a farmhouse upon the outskirts of a little up-country village.
Sedley, though still a beardless youth, shouldered his musket, and took his place in the ranks. Sibyl and her mother, in the little rude farmhouse, thought not of their lost splendor, but cheerfully looked for the good days sure to come when, the war over, the dear ones would come back, and the old times. Every Southern woman knows how it was when the great battles were fought and a trembling, white-lipped group of women and aged men would stand huddled together to hear what the midnight dispatches might have in store for them.
In the little upland village the refugees were closely knit together by hopes and fears in common. When sorrow fell upon one household the little community all mourned. But if the wires brought glad words that all at the front were unharmed, there would come a period of happy reaction; the little society would be wildly gay, especially if one or more young heroes from the front had come home with a slight wound,—just enough to make a demigod of him.
Such was Sedley's happy fate one never-to-be-forgotten summer, when every girl in the village fell madly in love with his blue eyes and his gray coat and his mustache and his lovely voice, as he strummed the guitar in the moonlight,—and most of all with his merry laugh. Did time permit, I might tell of such odd costumes, such make-ups of homespun and lace, fine old silks and calicoes, in which the Dixie girls danced so merrily.
It was just upon the heels of one of these happy seasons that a rumor was whispered that the army was about to fall back and that the offices and stores would be removed in consequence. At first the rumor was rejected,—no good Confederate would listen to such treason; but finally the croakers were proved to be right. The government stores were hastily removed. The office-holders took a sad farewell of those whom they left behind them, and the little town was abandoned to its fate, outside the Confederate lines.
Sibyl and her mother were among the tearful group who watched the little band of departing friends, as it passed out of the town, waved a last adieu, and strained their dimmed eyes for a last sight of the Confederate gray, ere they went sadly back to their homes.
When Sibyl and her mother reached home, they found Mammy already at work. She had ripped open a feather bed, and amid its downy depths she was burying whatever she could lay her hands upon. Clothing, jewelry, even a china ornament or two,—all went in. It was a day or two after that Rita complained of a great knot in her bed, which had bruised her back and prevented her sleeping. Mammy heard her, but, waiting until they were alone, said in a half whisper, "Honey, I knows what dat knot is, 't ain't nothin' but your brother's cavalry boots that I hid in the bed. I reckon the feathers has got shuck down. Don't say nothin', an' I'll turn your bed over, and then you won't feel 'em. An', honey, do pray be kereful how you talks before Jim. I ain't got no 'pinion o' Jim, an' it'll never do in de world to let him speck where the things is hid."
No one knew how soon the Yankees might come, and all were busily engaged in concealing whatever they had of value. People may smile now at some of the recollections of that day, but they were earnest enough then, and as much importance was attached to the concealment of a ham or a pound of black sugar as to that of a casket of diamonds. Clothing and provisions were hidden in various strange and out-of-the-way places, and, when night came, Mammy and her mistress were glad to rest their tired bodies, although too much excited to sleep. At last, however, a deep sleep fell upon them, from which they were awakened by the distant roar of cannon. The village, though no longer a depot for Confederate stores, was not to be given up without a struggle. It now became a sort of debatable ground, and cannonading, more or less distant, told the anxious listeners of almost daily skirmishes.
Awakened by the cannon's roar, Sibyl opened the window and listened. A pale glory to the eastward, a low rustle of leaves, a drowsy chirp from tiny nests, all merging into one inarticulate murmur of awakening nature, told that night was over. Sibyl and her mother hastily dressed themselves, called Rita from her fearless young sleep, roused up the baby, as they still called little Joe; then asked themselves why they did it. There was nothing to do but to sit on the porch or to wander aimlessly, listening with beating hearts to the faint and more faint boom of the artillery. And the roses glowed in the May sunshine, and the honeysuckle wafted its perfume in at the open windows, and the bees droned among the flowers, and all was so peaceful, but for the incessant dull roar of the battle.
The Confederates were finally driven back, the Federals entered the town, and then the bummers came streaming through the country, leaving desolation behind them. Cattle, poultry, everything eatable was driven off or carried away in the great army wagons that came crashing along, regardless of all obstacles in their cruel course. Cut off from all news from the army, Sibyl and her mother dragged wearily through the long, sad summer, and the two children grew gaunt for want of nourishing food.
It was a morning in the early autumn that Sibyl, sitting at work by an open window, became suddenly conscious of an unusual presence near her, and, looking up, beheld a man gazing fixedly upon her. A party of Federals had that very morning visited the house upon a pretended search for concealed weapons, and the girl, with nerves still vibrating with terror, uttered a little shriek, and, starting up, was about to close the window, when the figure leaped over the low sill, a pair of strong arms encircled her, kisses fell upon her lips, and, ere the shriek of terror could find voice, she recognized, under the rough countryman's hat, the laughing eyes of her brother Sedley.
Such meetings can be better imagined than described; seconds had become minutes ere Sibyl or her mother could begin to realize their joy, which, in its first intensity, was almost pain. Then came the breathless questionings as to the well-being of the other dear ones, then the deep sigh of thankfulness from the long-burdened hearts.
At the sound of a strange voice. Mammy, peeping in at the open door, had fallen prostrate with joy, and, while hugging her boy to her faithful bosom, had called upon her Maker to testify that upon this very morning the scissors had stuck up twice.
"An' I knowed when dey done dat, dat somebody was a-comin'."
Then Dinah, the cook, came in, courtesying and laughing and loyal as though no emancipating army had set foot in Dixie.
When the joyful tidings had reached the children, Rita's thin legs might have been seen flying through the high grass. The more practical Joe toiled behind, bending under the burden of (their treasure trove) a big pumpkin, a basket of persimmons, and a few stalks of sorghum, for, like the Scriptural colts of the wild ass, they passed their time in searching after every green thing.
In the magnetism of the bright presence of the young soldier, all the sad forebodings seemed to vanish into thin air. While listening to his brave words of hope, they forgot that the sunny hours of this most happy day were hastening by. Already the shadows lay long upon the grass, and there remained yet so much to be said and so little time wherein to say it! By set of sun Sedley must be on his way to rejoin his command. His brief and daring visit had been achieved by his assuming a disguise before venturing inside the enemy's lines.
"How did you ever manage it?" asked the mother. "I tremble when I think of it."
"Oh," he answered, "it was easy enough. I came in with a fellow who was driving cattle into town."
"Oh, Sed!" his sister whispered; "you ran an awful risk; how will you manage to get back without being discovered?"
"There'll be no trouble about that," he answered. "Don't you and mother go and worry yourselves about me. I'll be all right, so cheer up and don't look so doleful."
Urged on by fear, they now almost hurried him away, and Mammy, while filling his haversack with provisions, entreated him to be careful.
"De ain't no tellin' what dem Yankees would do ef dey once clapt hands on you."
Sedley might guess shrewdly enough what his fate would be in such case, but he replied, with his old boyish laugh, that it was his trade to outrun the Yankees.
"Never fear, Mammy," he said at parting. "Trust me to beat 'em at that game."
Then the sad good-byes were said, and manfully he strode down the little path, turning only once to wave a last good-by to the sorrowful group on the broad front porch, who watched till he passed out of sight.
The night was spent in anxious watching, but confidence returned with the morning, and all again settled back to their employments and amusements. Sybil wandered into the parlor, and, sitting down to the piano, sang in a low, sweet voice some of the pathetic war melodies. The "colts of the wild ass seeking after every green thing" had sought the sorghum patch, and Mammy had taken a basket into the garden for a final gathering of sage leaves. The day was dreamy, as only an October day of the South can be. The tempered sunlight, streaming softly through the filmy autumnal mist, threw a veil of loveliness over the homeliest objects; the old gray fences, the russet fields, the lonely pastures, where from beneath the grass roots the tiny crickets chanted their low, sweet dirge the long day through, the cawing of the crows from a distant tree-top, all told in notes of most harmonious pathos that "the fashion of this world passeth away."
As Mammy, with back stiffened from stooping, raised herself for a moment's rest, she saw Jim lounge into the backyard and speak to Dinah. Mammy had but little use for Jim in general, but now she felt anxious to know what had been going on in the village, and for that reason she left her basket among the sage and went near to hear what he was saying. As she drew near, Dinah suddenly threw up her hands, and, starting from the hencoop on which she had been leaning, came towards her, stuttering and stammering in a manner so excited as to be unintelligible.
"What's dat you say? For Gods sake, ooman, say what yere got to say, an' be done wid it!" said Mammy, too frightened to be patient. Jim then drew near to her and, glancing cautiously towards the not very distant piazza, upon which his mistress happened at the moment to be standing, he whispered, "Dey's done ketched him."
"K-k-ketched who?" stammered Mammy fiercely.
"Mas' Sedley, dat's who," Jim answered doggedly.
"How you know? I don't b'lieve a word on it."
"Anyhow, dey's done done it."
"Ho' come you know so much 'bout it?"
"'Cause I seen 'em when dey done it."
"Y-y-you have de face to stan' da an' tell me dat you seen 'em a-troublin' dat chile an' you not lif' a han' to help him?"
"How I gwine help him? G'long, you don't know what you talkin' 'bout."
"Whar'bouts did dey come across him?" Mammy inquired.
"Right down yonder at de mill," Jim answered, nodding his head in the direction.
"Good Lord," exclaimed Mammy, "dey must 'a' ketched him directly after he went away!"
This conversation was carried on in such low murmurings that even a listener at a short distance could not have distinguished what was said; the three were very intent, but did not omit occasional cautious glances in the direction of the house.
"Dat's so," Jim replied; "an' den dey shet him up in de mill house, and den I never seed no mo', 'cause I was skeered an' runned away."
Then, after an uneasy pause, he added, "I come 'long dat-a-way soon dis mornin'," and here he murmured so low into Mammy's ear that Dinah, though she stretched her neck, could not catch the word, which turned Mammy's brown face to ashen gray. She stood for a minute like one turned to stone, then staggered to her own doorstep. Sitting down, she buried her head in her apron, and so sat motionless for half an hour, while Jim and Dinah continued their guarded murmurings by the hencoop. At the end of half an hour she rose, took a bunch of keys from her pocket, went into her house and, closing the door behind her, unlocked her chest. Drawing from it a little workbox, which had, in years gone by, been one of Caroline's cherished Christmas gifts, she opened it. From beneath her Sunday pocket handkerchief, and a few other articles of special value, she produced another and smaller box which she opened, and, taking from it a gold coin, looked at it tenderly.
"Po' little fellow! God bless him! he give me this that fus' time he come home from school. I never 'spected to part with it, but ef it's de Lord's will, it may help him now."
With these thoughts, Mammy quickly replaced the things in her chest, put the coin into her pocket, and, taking up the man's hat, which upon week days she always wore, she strode off towards the mill.
As she passed by the piazza, she paused one moment irresolute, but murmuring to herself, "'T ain't no use upsettin' Mistis, po' cretur, and I can do it better by myself anyhow," she walked briskly forward, revolving in her mind her plan.
The mill house consisted of two rooms, and in the one in which Jim had reported Sedley to be confined there was a small trap-door. It had been used for regulating the working of the machinery, and led from beneath the house directly to the creek, which ran close to the walls of the house. This trap Mammy had once happened to see opened, and in that way knew of its existence, otherwise she would never have suspected it, as, from its infrequent use, it was usually covered with dust and dirt and could not be distinguished from the rest of the floor. Her plan was to endeavor to get speech with Sedley, tell him of the trap-door, and leave the rest to him. Her great fear had been that she might be refused admittance to him, and hence it was that she had thought of her gold piece, as she hoped by its potent influence to be given a few minutes alone with the prisoner.
There would be no great difficulty for Sedley to lift the trap without noise and, when it was lifted, to swing himself through to the ground, to creep until he came to the thick tangle upon the creek banks, then to swim across and escape into the shelter of the woods beyond. That would be simple enough, and Mammy, full of hopeful thoughts, was walking briskly forward, when suddenly a turn in the path brought into view a small body of Federals, all mounted, and evidently coming from the direction of the mill. They seemed in haste, and she could hear the rattle of their sabres as they cantered by.
Standing amid the broom-sedge, Mammy watched them, casting eager, anxious looks upon them, fearing, dreading to see her boy in their midst, a poor, defenseless captive. Finally, as the last horseman disappeared, she heaved a sigh of infinite relief. "Bless de good Lord, dey ain't took de po' chile wid 'em," and so went on her way.
At length the gray gables of the little mill house came into view, and Mammy, feeling in her pocket to assure herself that the gold piece was safe at hand, went boldly forward, telling herself that, if she spoke politely, the Yankee guard would not shoot her. So she went on until the little mill came into full view, but with no guard or any other object to inspire fear. All seemed quiet, and the place quite deserted. There were footprints about the door, and broken bushes showed the trampling of both men and horses, but now all was very quiet. The old mill house looked very peaceful, with the yellow autumnal sun shining upon its moss-grown roof, with no sound to break the deep silence, save the low, continuous warbling of a solitary mockingbird which, perched upon an overhanging bough, seemed to review its past joys in low, sweet notes of retrospection.
Upon seeing that the place was quite deserted, Mammy paused, and, after looking around to satisfy herself that this was really the case, ascended the steps and, lifting the latch of the door, looked into the outer room.
"Thank God!" she murmured, upon finding it empty. "Thank God! dey's all took deyselves off to town an' lef' him here, locked up by hisself. It raly is 'stonishin' to think how foolish dem creturs is; dey mout ha' knowed as someon' would ha' come an' let him loose."
While thus thinking, she had crossed the room, and was now endeavoring to open the door, which gave admittance to the inner and larger apartment. Finding, as she had anticipated, that this door was fastened, she first called to the prisoner within, and, when no answer was returned, she shook the door until at length the crazy old lock gave way and the door creaked slowly back upon its rusty hinges.
"Honey, whar'bouts is you?" Mammy questioned, as, pausing upon the threshold, she peered into the obscurity beyond. The windowless room was dark, and Mammy, after again calling, groped her way in, straining her eyes into the gloom, but unable to discern any object. Then, suddenly, the deep silence and the gloom smote upon her senses, and a great horror came over her. She turned to rush from the room, when her eyes, grown more accustomed to the darkness, fell upon an object which froze the lifeblood in her veins. It lay almost at her feet. She stooped and bent over it, with thick, laboring breath. Very still it lay, with set white face and wide-open, unseeing eyes.
I remember when Wheeler's cavalry passed through town that the men, when halted, just dropped in the streets and slept, so that passers-by were forced to step over them, but in spite of starvation and weariness the old indomitable spirit would assert itself. One of the poor fellows, while the column was passing by Christ Church, looked up at the weathercock and remarked to a comrade that it was the first and only instance of Wheeler's boys seeing a chicken which they could not get at.
We were singularly fortunate in the neighborhood of Raleigh in having no lack of wholesome food, and in being able to send boxes of provisions to the army around Petersburg. We, in particular, were plentifully supplied from the plantation, a four-horse wagon being constantly engaged in hauling supplies.
One of the greatest taxes upon our resources, and the event that brought the war very closely home to us, was the advent of the cavalcade and ambulances referred to in my notes concerning My Own Early Home.
Most of the horsemen who had come with the ambulances returned to the front the next morning, leaving behind them six or more sick and wounded, with their surgeon and friends to look after them. Fortunately, the office in the yard (a house with two comfortable rooms) was easily made ready and the wounded men were installed in the quarters which they kept for a month. The wound which afterwards deprived one of the wounded, a young man by the name of Nat Butler, of his arm, was by far the most serious. The attempt to save the arm came very near costing him his life. Instead of healing, the wound constantly sloughed, with great loss of blood. As the wound was between the elbow and the shoulder, the danger attending amputation increased with each sloughing, but the poor boy was deaf to all that his doctor could urge, positively refusing to have the arm amputated, and he grew weaker and weaker with every hemorrhage. Meantime several of the sick and wounded were so far cured as to be able to return to duty. Captain Butler (an older brother of Nat Butler), Dr. Thompson, Mr. Taylor, and several others whose names I have forgotten, and the bugler, named Glanton, still remained. One morning, while I was in the mealroom getting out dinner, I heard Captain Butler's voice calling loudly that young Butler was bleeding to death. I just took time to call out to my daughters, Annie and Kate, who were just starting to town, to drive as quickly as they could to Dr. Johnson's and to ask him to come. Then I ran down to the office, where I found the poor old captain frantic with terror and quite unable to do anything for the patient, who lay senseless and bleeding upon the bed. I can never forget his ghastly appearance; I never saw so bloodless a face. The mouth, partly open, showed a tongue bluish like new flannel. I went to the bedside and pressed the arm above the wound, as hard as I could, and I held it so until the arrival of Dr. Johnson. I had thus succeeded in partially arresting the hemorrhage, and possibly may have saved young Butler's life. I started to leave as soon as the doctor came, and when I arose from my knees, I realized for the first time that I was covered with blood. The amputation could no longer be deferred, and the operation took place as soon as the patient's strength permitted, which was, I think, two days after the hemorrhage. There was then barely a chance that he could survive in his weak condition. I shall never forget how the girls and I sat upon the front steps and watched the silent men standing before the office,—it seemed as though the suspense would never end. After the amputation, Butler lay for twenty-four hours like one dead. Finally, when he did rally sufficiently to be given something, I sent our excellent nurse, Caroline, to take care of him, for I could not trust him to the ignorant though kindly meant attentions of his friends. At this time General Galbraith Butler was our guest, and, as the Norrises had now left for Richmond, I gave him a room in the house. He was quite ill there for several days, during which time the house was thronged with messengers from the front. It gives me pleasure to say that they conducted themselves like polished gentlemen, who appreciated the comforts which they received.
Under Caroline's devoted nursing Nat Butler slowly returned to life and to a degree of strength. When it became evident that Raleigh would soon be in possession of the enemy, Nat Butler declared that he preferred the risk of dying by exposure to that of being captured. It was with the saddest forebodings that we prepared for his departure. The ambulance was made comfortable with pillows, blankets, etc., and nothing was omitted that could contribute to the well-being of the poor sufferer. It was a painful parting, as we all knew that we were on the eve of horrors that we dared not contemplate. The moon shone upon the sorrowful little cortege, as it passed beneath the trees, and we were too sad for tears, as we watched it go slowly out of sight. Nat Butler lived, and visited us a year later, but his life was a brief one.
We were up late that night, bidding adieu to many friends. Indeed, the past few days had been days of varied and intense excitement. People who under ordinary circumstances would have scarcely recognized each other as acquaintances now met and parted as old and dear friends. Mounted officers would come cantering up just for a handshake and a God-keep-you. We were admonished to take off rings or any little bits of jewelry which we might wear. A gentleman sitting by me had concealed my watch in my ball of knitting cotton. People everywhere were wildly seeking places wherein to conceal their valuables. We had no reason to imagine that our house was safer than others, but we could not refuse to receive the trunks and boxes brought to us in desperation, by refugees chiefly, who were leaving town in a panic, and going they knew not whither. All that we could promise was that they should be as well cared for as were our own; and so the garret was packed with all sorts of trunks and boxes, many of which were not claimed until the next autumn.
I cannot pretend to give you an idea of the excitement and turmoil of that last week of the Confederacy. Every minute of your grandfather's time was taken up with his duties as a state officer, until he, in company with Governor Graham and Dr. Warren, were despatched by Governor Vance to meet Sherman with a flag of truce and to surrender the town. He was absent upon this mission upon a night that I happened to go into the dining-room and found several rough-looking men, whom I took to be Confederates, seated at supper. Robert was waiting upon them, and Adelaide talking, while one of my little children was seated cosily upon the knee of a particularly dirty-looking man. This did not please me, for there was a freedom of manner about them which I had never seen in one of our men before. Still, I had no suspicion that they were not what they seemed, and, being called off, I left them, although a certain uncomfortable feeling caused me to do so unwillingly. Just as I left, a clatter of horses' feet was heard outside, and Adelaide (always loquacious), exclaimed, "Here comes the General and his staff!" The words were scarcely uttered before the men jumped from their seats and dashed from the room. We were afterwards convinced that they were some of the scum of Sherman's army, and while we (myself and daughters) were sitting quite unsuspectingly, they were lurking near us.
I omitted to mention that, at our urgent invitation, our dear friends the Burgwyns had come to us, and, in the midst of other distractions, I was occupied in disposing of their numerous boxes, barrels, and pictures. There was a universal feeling that there would be a degree of safety in numbers, and we could not possibly have enjoyed more congenial companionship than that of our cousins, the Burgwyns. Upon that day we prepared twenty lunches, which were most thankfully received. I recollect that towards evening some hot tea was made for our old friend, Mr. John Robinson. He had been at work all day, shipping freight and provisions, and transferring engines to Greensboro, to which place he was now going. He had had nothing to eat, and was, as you may imagine, very tired, and so hungry that his lunch of cold ham, bread, and butter, with many cups of tea, was so much enjoyed that in after life he often spoke of it with real gratitude. When he said good-by, he gave into my keeping a little box of trinkets, requesting me to keep them for him, as he had no idea what his destination might be. I, of course, said that I would try to keep them safely; and I did, returning them just as I had received them, some months later.
Upon that day, our dinner was but a meagre one, consisting chiefly of soup, and, as the very last of the silver had been hidden out of sight, we were compelled to take it from teacups. Upon that night, after the stir and bustle of the day had subsided, after the last good-by had been uttered, and the last horseman had galloped away, a most intense stillness followed, which, if possible, increased our melancholy, and magnified our fearful apprehensions of what was to come.
On the following morning, I saw three odd, rough-looking men come galloping up from the barn. They were mounted upon mules, were seated far forward upon the withers, and had their knees drawn up after a most ungainly fashion. I saw at a glance that they were not our countrymen. They rode furiously into the yard, where they halted abruptly. The servants stood gaping at them in stupid bewilderment. I went forward and asked them the meaning of this intrusion. Their reply was an insolent demand for my keys. Then I knew that they were bummers. During the whole of this period your grandfather had had more than his hands full at his office, taking care of and sending off government stores, and doing a thousand other things, so that all the domestic offices rested with me. I told the bummers, with a great show of courage, that I had no idea of giving them my keys, and as I walked off, feeling quite triumphant, I had the mortification of seeing them dismount and swagger to the doors of the mealroom, smokehouse, and storeroom, slip their miserable, dastardly swords into the locks, and open the doors, with the most perfect ease. Conscious now of my own weakness, I would not condescend to parley with them, and watched them at their insolent and thievish game, until their mules were almost hidden beneath the load of hams, sausages, and other plunder. Then they remounted, and dashed off at the same furious pace as they had come. In a little time after others came and played the same game, only adding to their abominable thievishness by driving off our mules and all our cattle. Our horses, I am glad to say, had been sent away.
It was towards noon upon that fatal day that we espied a long blue line crawling serpent-like around a distant hill. Silently we watched, as it uncoiled itself, ever drawing nearer and still nearer, until the one great reptile developed into many reptiles and took the form of men. Men in blue tramping everywhere, horsemen careering about us with no apparent object, wagons crashing through fences as though they had been made of paper. The negroes stood like dumb things, in stupid dismay. It was at a later period that their time of joy came (in many instances it never came); then the only feeling was one of awe.
In an incredibly short time tents were pitched, the flag run up, and the Yankees were here. The crowd grew more dense. A large column was passing through the grove at almost a run, when, to my horror, I saw Adelaide and Lizzie, each with one of my little girls in her arms, rushing along in their midst in a state of such wild excitement that they had almost lost their reason. Almost in despair, I rushed after them, sometimes seeing them, only to lose them again in the moving mass. As I passed a soldier I signed to him for help; I do not think I could have spoken. He saw the danger that threatened my children, and, overtaking the two nurses, took the children and brought them to me. The women had meant no harm, and did not realize the risk.
As I before remarked, every one during this period of panic entertained an idea that he must commit his valuables to the keeping of some one else; for instance, my sister gave her set of pearls to her maid Sally for safe keeping, and Sally, in her turn, brought them to Caroline (her mother). Caroline, not knowing a safe place of concealment, lifted a stone from her hearth, placed the casket in the cavity, and replaced the stone; this, however, caused the stone to fit loosely in the hole from which it had been displaced, and Caroline, in her fear lest this should lead to the discovery of the pearls, sat all night with her feet resting upon it. She came to me in the morning, looking perfectly haggard, and told me that she had never before passed through such a night of horror, for her house had been crowded with Federals, prying into every corner and taking whatever they fancied. With my sister's casket, she handed me a red cotton handkerchief tied up and full of silver coins, belonging to herself and her husband. She had no place in which to keep it, and asked me to take care of it. I, of course, took charge of it and kept it for her until the last bluecoat had left the place, which was not until August; for, after the departure of the army, a regiment was left in our grove.
One day General Logan came to the door and said that he had reason to believe that a Confederate officer was concealed in the house, and, if I kept his presence a secret, he threatened me with the consequences. The Federals, while searching for buried treasure, had discovered the amputated arm of poor young Butler, and had jumped to the conclusion that he was concealed in the house. At all events, it served as a plea for them to claim that he was there. When I assured him that this rumor was quite false, his manner was so utterly incredulous that I requested him to satisfy himself of the truth of my assertion by making a search of the entire house and outbuildings. I entreated him to do this, for his threats had so alarmed me that I felt that in that alone lay our preservation. His reply, with an insolent, jeering laugh, was: "I will not take that trouble, for my boys will settle that question."
The safeguards stationed both at the back and front protected the house. For, whatever might have been their feelings, they dared not relax in their vigilance. The discipline in that army was perfect.
Not long after the above-mentioned interview with Logan, we were told (by a servant, I think), that the whole division was going to leave that night. This was true. It was before the articles of the surrender had been signed, and Logan was in pursuit of General Johnston. It was a night of such commotion that not one of the family retired to rest. It was discovered, when too late for redress, that Logan had withdrawn our safeguards, taken every commanding officer with him, and had left us to the mercy of his wagon train of bummers and of negroes. That night of terror terminated in a violent storm, in the midst of which your grandfather set out for the headquarters in town for the purpose of demanding a safeguard. With daylight came a greater feeling of safety, so we separated, the girls going to their rooms, and I to mine, in order to refresh ourselves and make a fresh toilet. While so engaged, I kept hearing the bells ringing and tinkling incessantly, and, while I was hurrying to put on my dress in order to inquire the meaning of this, Caroline and Adelaide rushed in, exclaiming that men were climbing the walls of the house, and the tinkling of the bells was caused by their twisting them off the wires. These women, whose natural color was bright mulatto, now looked ashy. I do not think that I spoke a word, but just flew into the nursery, took the children, and ran up the stairs. As I passed by the sitting, room, I met Kate, all disheveled, running out and saying that men were climbing into her window. I just took time to lock the door between her room and the sitting-room, and then we all ran upstairs, where the Burgwyns and my other girls were quietly dressing, in entire ignorance of what was taking place. It seems strange that I should recollect every trifle so vividly; I remember, even now, that, as I ran up the stair, my throat and mouth became so dry that I could not speak. From the window at the head of the stair nothing was visible but a sea of upturned faces; not just by the house, but away down the slope, as far as the eye could reach, were men's upturned faces. I can never forget the look upon Mrs. Burgwyn's face as she whispered, "We can throw ourselves from the window." My poor, craven heart might have failed me, but I am convinced that she could have done it. While we thus stood, a poor, cowering, terror-stricken group, steps were heard approaching, and a tall figure slowly ascended the stairs, and a grim, saturnine-faced man stood before us, and said, "I don't know that I can save you, but for the sake of my mother and sisters I will do all that I can do." I do not remember whether any one made a reply or not, I only recollect that he went as deliberately as he had come. When your grandfather returned, having with difficulty succeeded in procuring the permit for a safeguard, the mob had begun to disperse. Our deliverer was a man named Fort. He was division quartermaster, and had been left in charge of the wagon trains. He was from one of the Western States, Iowa, I believe. He was a good man, and was God's instrument to save us from destruction. He remained near the house all through the day, and at first said that he would sleep that night inside the dwelling, but afterwards told your grandfather that, upon further consideration, he thought it best that he should stay outside, so his tent was pitched close to the house, and there he remained until his command left. He was forbidding in manner, and would accept no thanks. I think that he hated us as Southerners, but acted from humanity.
Mr. Burgwyn was suffering from an apoplectic stroke, and was lying insensible. My son had not returned from Appomattox. Had any man been with us, he would have been utterly helpless, and would probably have been murdered.
One day, either immediately preceding or following the incident just related, our ever-faithful man, Frank, stealthily entered the house. He was evidently afraid of being observed, for he slipped in, and, closing the door after him, asked to speak a word to his master. When your grandfather came, Frank almost whispered his communication, as though afraid of being overheard. "Master," he said, "I come to ask you, please, sir, don't go out of the house to-day;" he would not say why he gave this warning, and it was not until afterwards that we found that the Federals had intended to hang your grandfather up until he told them where our silver was hidden. I rejoice to say that they did not get one piece of it, although a part of it was buried in the branch that runs at the foot of the grove, and, in digging out a place for watering their horses, they had actually thrown the sand upon the box, thus burying it deeper.
I could relate many other incidents of this period, some of them rather amusing; but it is time to bring my reminiscences to a close. But before doing so, I must say a word about our last safeguard, Monhagan. He was Irish, and possessed all of the best attributes of the Irish character. After the departure of Logan's division, with the rest of Sherman's army, this man was deputed to guard the place, as a regiment was still quartered in the grove. He stayed until August, and, besides faithfully discharging his duties, he exerted himself in other and various ways to ameliorate the inconveniences to which we were subjected. Our servants, lounging in idleness, contented themselves with professions as idle. Frank, acting upon his master's advice, had taken his family to the plantation. Adelaide was ill the greater part of the summer with brain fever. Monhagan worked the garden, gathered fruit and vegetables, and performed many other services. I felt a little amused when he one day brought me all his money and asked me to take care of it for him. At first I positively refused to take upon myself this responsibility, but yielded at last, and made him count it, and kept it as long as he remained. Every Saturday afternoon he would come and ask me to let him have one dollar and allow him to go to town for a little while. He left with the regiment in August, and he wrote once to your uncle Tom from New York, but omitted to give his address, which we regretted, as we would have liked to have him as a gardener.