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Title: Red Rock - A Chronicle of Reconstruction
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                               RED ROCK

                     A CHRONICLE OF RECONSTRUCTION

[Illustration: SHE GAVE HIM A ROLLING-PIN AND HE SET TO WORK.]



                               RED ROCK

                    _A CHRONICLE OF RECONSTRUCTION_

                                  BY

                          THOMAS NELSON PAGE

                  _ILLUSTRATED BY B. WEST CLINEDINST_


                               NEW YORK

                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                                 1899



                          COPYRIGHT, 1898, BY

                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS


                            TROW DIRECTORY
                   PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY
                               NEW YORK



                                  To

                               F. L. P.

                        _AN OLD-FASHIONED LADY_



_PREFACE_


_The Region where the Grays and Carys lived lies too far from the
centres of modern progress to be laid down on any map that will be
accessible. And, as “he who maps an undiscovered country may place what
boundaries he will,” it need only be said, that it lies in the South,
somewhere in that vague region partly in one of the old Southern States
and partly in the yet vaguer land of Memory. It will be spoken of in
this story, as Dr. Cary, General Legaie, and the other people who used
to live there in old times, spoke of it, in warm affection, as, “the
old County,” or, “the Red Rock section,” or just, “My country, sir.”_

_It was a goodly land in those old times—a rolling country, lying at
the foot of the blue mountain-spurs, with forests and fields; rich
meadows filled with fat cattle; watered by streams, sparkling and
bubbling over rocks, or winding under willows and sycamores, to where
the hills melted away in the low, alluvial lands, where the sea once
washed and still left its memory and its name._

_The people of that section were the product of a system of which it
is the fashion nowadays to have only words of condemnation. Every
ass that passes by kicks at the dead lion. It was an Oligarchy, they
say, which ruled and lorded it over all but those favored ones who
belonged to it. But has one ever known the members of a Democracy to
rule so justly? If they shone in prosperity, much more they shone in
adversity; if they bore themselves haughtily in their day of triumph,
they have borne defeat with splendid fortitude. Their old family seats,
with everything else in the world, were lost to them—their dignity
became grandeur. Their entire system crumbled and fell about them in
ruins—they remained unmoved. They were subjected to the greatest
humiliation of modern times: their slaves were put over them—they
reconquered their section and preserved the civilization of the
Anglo-Saxon._

_No doubt the phrase “Before the war” is at times somewhat abused. It
is just possible that there is a certain Caleb Osbaldistonism in the
speech at times. But for those who knew the old County as it was then,
and can contrast it with what it has become since, no wonder it seems
that even the moonlight was richer and mellower “before the war” than
it is now. For one thing, the moonlight as well as the sunlight shines
brighter in our youth than in maturer age; and gold and gossamer amid
the rose-bowers reflect it better than serge and crêpe amid myrtles
and bays. The great thing is not to despond even though the brilliancy
be dimmed: in the new glitter one need not necessarily forget the old
radiance. Happily, when one of the wise men insists that it shall
be forgotten, and that we shall be wise also, like him, it works
automatically, and we know that he is one of those who, as has been
said, avoiding the land of romance, “have missed the title of fool at
the cost of a celestial crown.”_

_Why should not Miss Thomasia in her faded dress, whom you shall
meet, tell us, if she pleases, of her “dear father,” and of all her
“dear cousins” to the remotest generation; and Dr. Cary and General
Legaie quote their grandfathers as oracles, alongside the sages of
Plutarch, and say “Sir” and “Madam” at the end of their sentences?
Antiquated, you say? Provincial? Do you, young lady, observe Miss
Thomasia the next time she enters a room, or addresses a servant;
and do you, good sir, polished by travel and contact with the most
fashionable—second-class—society of two continents, watch General
Legaie and Dr. Cary when they meet Miss Thomasia, or greet the
apple-woman on the corner, or the wagoner on the road. What an air
suddenly comes in with them of old Courts and polished halls when
all gentlemen bowed low before all ladies, and wore swords to defend
their honor. What an odor, as it were, of those gardens which Watteau
painted, floats in as they enter! Do not you attempt it. You cannot do
it. You are thinking of yourself, they of others and the devoirs they
owe them. You are republican and brought up to consider yourself “as
good as any, and better than most.” Sound doctrine for the citizen, no
doubt; but it spoils the bow. Even you, Miss or Madam, for all your
silks and satins, cannot do it like Miss Thomasia. You are imitating
the duchess you saw once, perhaps, in Hyde Park. The duchess would have
imitated Miss Thomasia. You are at best an imitation; Miss Thomasia is
the reality. Do not laugh at her, or call her provincial. She belongs
to the realm where sincerity dwells and the heart still rules—the
realm of old-time courtesy and high breeding, and you are the real
provincial. It is a wide realm, though; and some day, if Heaven be good
to you, you may reach it. But it must be by the highway of Sincerity
and Truth. No other road leads there._



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

        I. IN WHICH THERE ARE SEVERAL INTRODUCTIONS,                   1

       II. IN WHICH TWO STRANGERS VISIT RED ROCK AND ARE INVITED
           TO COME AGAIN,                                             11

      III. THE VISITORS START SOUTH AGAIN, AND THEIR FORMER HOSTS
           GO TO MEET THEM,                                           33

       IV. IN WHICH A LONG JUMP IS TAKEN,                             49

        V. DR. CARY RETURNS FROM THE WAR, AND TAKES AN INVENTORY
           OF STOCK,                                                  56

       VI. A BROKEN SOLDIER COMES HOME FROM WAR,                      63

      VII. THE CARY CONFERENCE,                                       78

     VIII. MR. HIRAM STILL TELLS HOW TO BRIDLE A SHY HORSE, AND
           CAPTAIN ALLEN LAYS DOWN HIS HOE,                           86

       IX. MR. JONADAB LEECH TURNS UP WITH A CARPET-BAG AND OPENS
           HIS BUREAU,                                                96

        X. THE PROVOST MAKES HIS FIRST MOVE,                         107

       XI. THE PROVOST CATCHES A TARTAR, AND CAPTAIN MIDDLETON
           SEEKS THE CONSOLATIONS OF RELIGION,                       118

      XII. CAPTAIN ALLEN TAKES THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE AND
           JACQUELIN GRAY LOSES HIS BUTTONS AND SOME OLD PAPERS,     139

     XIII. STEVE ALLEN LEARNS MISS THOMASIA’S SECRET AND FORSWEARS
           CARDS,                                                    155

      XIV. LEECH SECURES AN ORDER AND LOSES IT,                      162

       XV. CAPTAIN MIDDLETON HAS A TEST OF PEACE, AND IS ORDERED
           WEST,                                                     175

      XVI. THE NEW TROOP MEETS THE ENEMY,                            186

     XVII. JACQUELIN GRAY GOES ON A LONG VOYAGE AND RED ROCK
           PASSES OUT OF HIS HANDS,                                  195

    XVIII. LEECH AS A STATESMAN AND DR. CARY AS A COLLECTOR OF
           BILLS,                                                    207

      XIX. HIRAM STILL COLLECTS HIS DEBTS,                           216

       XX. LEECH LOOKS HIGHER AND GETS A FALL,                       228

      XXI. DR. CARY MEETS AN OLD COLLEGE MATE AND LEARNS THAT THE
           ATHENIANS ALSO PRACTISE HOSPITALITY,                      241

     XXII. JACQUELIN GRAY COMES HOME AND CLAIMS A GRAVEYARD,         252

    XXIII. TWO NEW RESIDENTS COME TO THE COUNTY,                     264

     XXIV. THE TRAVELLERS ARE ENTERTAINED IN A FARMHOUSE,            280

      XXV. THE TRICK-DOCTOR,                                         289

     XXVI. MAJOR WELCH AND RUTH BECOME RESIDENTS,                    294

    XXVII. HIRAM STILL GETS A LEGAL OPINION AND CAPTAIN ALLEN
           CLIMBS FOR CHERRIES,                                      301

   XXVIII. MRS. WELCH ARRIVES AND GIVES HER FIRST LESSON IN
           ENTERPRISE,                                               320

     XXIX. MRS. WELCH ENTERS THE HARVEST,                            330

      XXX. SOME OF THE GRAIN MRS. WELCH REAPED,                      347

     XXXI. JACQUELIN GRAY LEARNS THAT HE IS A FOOL, AND STEVE
           ASTONISHES MAJOR WELCH,                                   365

    XXXII. A CUT DIRECT AND A REJECTED ADDRESS,                      385

   XXXIII. BLAIR CARY SAVES A RIVAL SCHOOL,                          398

    XXXIV. LEECH AND STILL MAKE A MOVE, AND TWO WOMEN CHECK THEM,    410

     XXXV. CAPTAIN ALLEN FINDS RUPERT AND BREAKS THE LAW,            422

    XXXVI. MR. STILL OFFERS A COMPROMISE, AND A BLUFF,               436

   XXXVII. IN WHICH IT IS SHOWN THAT, IN A TRIAL, COUNSEL MAY ASK
           ONE QUESTION TOO MANY,                                    455

  XXXVIII. IN WHICH MR. LEECH SPRINGS A TRAP WITH MUCH SUCCESS,      472

    XXXIX. CAPTAIN ALLEN CLAIMS THE REWARD LEECH OFFERED,            500

       XL. JACQUELIN GRAY AND ANDY STAMPER PAY AN OLD DEBT,          512

      XLI. DR. CARY WRITES A LETTER TO AN OLD FRIEND,                521

     XLII. CAPTAIN ALLEN SURRENDERS,                                 528

    XLIII. MISS WELCH HEARS A PIECE OF NEWS,                         538

     XLIV. MIDDLETON REVISITS RED ROCK, AND AN OLD SOLDIER LAYS
           DOWN HIS ARMS,                                            544

      XLV. CAPTAIN ALLEN HAS AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR,                  559

     XLVI. THE OLD LAWYER DECLINES TO SURPRISE THE COURT, AND
           SURPRISES LEECH,                                          572

    XLVII. SOME OF THE THREADS ARE TIED,                             579



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  SHE GAVE HIM A ROLLING-PIN AND HE SET TO WORK,          _Frontispiece_

                                                                  FACING
                                                                    PAGE

  AMONG THE COMPANY THAT NIGHT THERE WERE TWO GUESTS WHO
  “HAPPENED IN” QUITE UNEXPECTEDLY,                                   14

  THE GIRLS OF THE PLACE TURNED ASIDE, WHENEVER THEY MET THEM,
  AND PASSED BY WITH THEIR HEADS HELD  HIGH,                          96

  HE CARRIED OFF IN TRIUMPH A PAIR OF OLD HORSE-PISTOLS,             124

  KU KLUX—“AWFUL FORMS WRAPPED LIKE GHOSTS IN WINDING-SHEETS,”       238

  BEFORE HIM STOOD, TALL AND GRAY, THE INDIAN-KILLER,                262

  “I COULDN’T LET YOU BE RUN AWAY WITH AGAIN UNDER MY VERY
  EYES,” HE SAID,                                                    328

  STEVE STRETCHED, AND, PICKING UP HIS BOOK, DIVED ONCE MORE
  INTO THE “IDYLLS OF THE KING,”                                     376

  SHE GAVE A STEP FORWARD AND WITH A QUICK MOVEMENT PULLED THE
  MASK FROM HIS FACE,                                                406

  STILL SPRUNG TO HIS FEET IN UNCONTROLLABLE AGITATION, HIS FACE
  LIVID,                                                             464

  AND THERE, IN THE LITTLE PARLOR, STEVE AND RUTH WERE MARRIED,      570



RED ROCK



CHAPTER I

IN WHICH THERE ARE SEVERAL INTRODUCTIONS


The old Gray plantation, “Red Rock,” lay at the highest part of the
rich rolling country, before it rose too abruptly in the wooded
foothills of the blue mountains away to the westward. As everybody in
the country knew, who knew anything, it took its name from the great
red stain, as big as a blanket, which appeared on the huge bowlder in
the grove, beside the family grave-yard, at the far end of the Red
Rock gardens. And as was equally well known, or equally well believed,
which amounted almost to the same thing, that stain was the blood of
the Indian chief who had slain the wife of the first Jacquelin Gray who
came to this part of the world: the Jacquelin who had built the first
house at Red Rock, around the fireplace of which the present mansion
was erected, and whose portrait, with its piercing eyes and fierce
look, hung in a black frame over the mantel, and used to come down as a
warning when any peril impended above the house.

The bereft husband had exacted swift retribution of the murderer, on
that very rock, and the Indian’s heart blood had left that deep stain
in the darker granite as a perpetual memorial of the swift vengeance of
the Jacquelin Grays.

This, at least, was what was asserted and believed by the old negroes
(and, perhaps, by some of the whites, too, a little). And if the
negroes did not know, who did? So Jacquelin often pondered.

Steve Allen, who was always a reckless talker, however, used to say
that the stain was nothing but a bit of red sandstone which had
outcropped at the point where that huge fragment was broken off, and
rolled along by a glacier thousands of years ago, far to the northward;
but this view was to the other children’s minds clearly untenable; for
there never could have been any glacier there—glaciers, as they knew
from their geographies, being confined to Switzerland, and the world
having been created only six thousand years ago. The children were
well grounded by their mothers and Miss Thomasia in Bible history.
Besides, there was the picture of the “Indian-killer,” in the black
frame nailed in the wall over the fireplace in the great hall, and one
could not go anywhere in the hall without his fierce eyes following you
with a look so intent and piercing that Mammy Celia was wont to use it
half jestingly as a threat effectual with little Jacquelin when he was
refractory—that if he did not mind, the “Indian-killer” would see him
and come after him. How often Mammy Celia employed it with Jacquelin,
and how severe she used to be with tall, reckless Steve, because he
scoffed at the story, and to tease her, threatened, with appropriate
gesture, to knock the picture out of the frame, and see what was in
the secret cabinet behind it! What would have happened had Steve
carried out his threat, Jacquelin, as a boy, quite trembled to think;
for though he admired Steve, his cousin, above all other mortals, as
any small boy admires one several years his senior, who can ride wild
horses and do things he cannot do, this would have been to engage in a
contest with something supernatural and not mortal. Still he used to
urge Steve to do it, with a certain fascinating apprehensiveness that
made the chills creep up and down his back. Besides, it would have
been very interesting to know whether the Indian’s scalp was still in
the hollow space behind the picture, and if so, whether it was still
bleeding, and that red stain on the bottom of the frame was really
blood.

Jacquelin Gray—the one who figures in these pages—was born while
his father, and his father’s cousin, Dr. Cary, of Birdwood, and Mr.
Legaie were in Mexico, winning renown in those battles which helped
to establish the security of the United States. He grew up to be just
what most other boys of his station, stature, and blood, living on a
plantation, under similar conditions, would have been. He was a hale,
hearty boy, who adored his cousin, Steve Allen, because Steve was older
and stronger than he; despised Blair Cary because she was a girl;
disliked Wash Still, the overseer’s son, partly because Steve sneered
at him, and partly because the negro boys disliked him, and envied
every cart-driver and stable-boy on the place. He used to drive with
string “lines” two or four or six of his black boon companions, giving
them the names of his father’s horses in the stable; or sometimes,
even the names of those steeds of which his Aunt Thomasia, a famous
story-teller, told him in the hour before the candles were lighted.
But if he drove the black boys in harness, it was because they let
him do it, and not because he was their master. If he possessed any
privileges or power, he did not know it. If anything, he thought the
advantage rather on their side than on his, as they could play all the
time, while he had to go to school to his Aunt Thomasia, whose bell
he thought worse than any curfew; for that rang only at night, while
Miss Thomasia’s bell was sure to tinkle just at the moment when he was
having the most beautiful time in the world. How gladly would he have
exchanged places to mind the cows and ride the horses to the stable,
and be free all day long; and whenever he could slip off he was with
the boys, emulating them and being adored by them.

Once, indeed, his mastership appeared. Wash Still, the overseer’s son,
who was about Steve’s age, used to bully the smaller boys, and one
day when Jacquelin was playing about the blacksmith’s shop, Wash, who
was waiting for a horse to be shod, twisted the arm of Doan, one of
Jacquelin’s sable team, until the boy whimpered. Jacquelin never knew
just how it happened, but a sudden fulness came over him; he seized
a hatchet lying by, and made an onslaught on Wash, which came near
performing on that youngster the same operation that Wash’s august
namesake performed on the celebrated cherry-tree. Jacquelin received
a tremendous whipping from his father for his vicious attack; but his
defence saved his sable companions from any further imposition than his
own, and Wash was shortly sent off by his father to school.

As to learning, Jacquelin was not very apt. It was only when Blair Cary
came over one winter and went to school to Miss Thomasia—and he was
laughed at by everyone, particularly by Steve, because Blair, a girl
several years younger than he, could read Latin better—that Jacquelin
really tried to study. Though no one knew it, many of the things that
Jacquelin did were done in the hope that Steve might think well of
him; and whether it was riding wild colts, with the certainty of being
thrown and possibly hurt; diving into deep pools with the prospect of
being drowned, or doing anything else that he was afraid to do, it was
almost sure that it was done because of Steve.

With some natures the mere performance of an action is sufficient
reward: that man suffers martyrdom; this one does a great act; another
lives a devoted, saint’s life, impelled solely from within, and with
no other idea than to perform nobly. But these are rare natures: the
Christophers, à Kempises and Theresas of the world. The common herd
must have some more material motive: “wine, or sleep, or praise.”
That charge was led because a dark—or blonde-haired girl was waiting
somewhere; that gate was blown up because an army was standing by,
and a small cross might be worn on the breast for it; that poem was
written for Lalage, or Laura, Stella, or Saccharissa. Even the saint
was crowned, because somewhere, in retired monasteries or in distant
cities, deeds were sure to be known at last. So, now it is a big boy’s
praise, and later on a fair girl’s favor; now the plaudits of the
playground, and a few years hence salvos of artillery and the thanks of
the people. And who shall say they are not worthy motives? We are but
men, and only the highest win even these rewards.

Steve Allen had come to Red Rock before Jacquelin could remember—the
year after Steve’s father was killed in Mexico, leading his company
up the heights of Cerro Gordo, and his mother died of fever far down
South. Mr. Gray had brought the boy home on his mother’s death; so
Steve was part of Red Rock. Everybody spoiled him, particularly Miss
Thomasia, who made him her especial charge and was notoriously partial
to him, and old Peggy, Steve’s “Momma,” as she was called, who had come
from the far South with him, and with her sharp eyes and sharper tongue
was ready to fight the world for him.

Steve was a tall, brown-haired young fellow, as straight as a sapling,
and with broad shoulders; gray eyes that could smile or flash; teeth
as white as snow, and a chin that Dr. Cary used to say he must have
got from his mother. He was as supple as an eel. He could turn
back-somersaults like a circus man, and as he was without fear, so
he was without reverence. He would tease Miss Thomasia, and play
practical jokes on Mr. Gray and Dr. Cary. To show his contempt for the
“Indian-Killer,” he went alone and spent the night on the bloody rock,
and when the other boys crept in a body to see if he were really there,
he was found by the little party of scared searchers to be tranquilly
asleep on the “Indian-Killer’s” very grave. This and similar acts
gained Steve Allen, with some, the credit of being in a sort of compact
with the spirit of darkness, and several of the old negroes on the
plantation began to tell of his wonderful powers, a reputation which
Steve was not slow to improve; and afterward, many a strange, unearthly
sound, that scared the negroes, and ghostly manifestations which went
the rounds of the plantation might possibly have been traced to
Steve’s fertile brain.

The only persons on the place who did not get on well with Steve were
Hiram Still, the manager, and his son, Wash. Between them and Steve
there was declared enmity, if not open war. Steve treated Hiram with
superciliousness, and Wash with open contempt. The old negroes—who
remembered Steve’s father, Captain Allen, Mr. Gray’s cousin, and the
dislike between him and Hiram—said it was “bred in the bone.”

At length Steve went off to school to Dr. Maule, at “The Academy,” as
it was called, no further designation being needed to distinguish it,
as no other academies could for a moment have entered into competition
with it, and there was a temporary suspension of the supernatural
manifestations on the plantation. Jacquelin missed him sorely and tried
to imitate him in many things; but he knew it was a poor imitation,
for often he could not help being afraid, whilst Steve did not know
what fear was. Jacquelin’s knees would shake, and his teeth sometimes
chatter, whilst Steve performed his most dangerous feats with mantling
cheeks and dancing eyes. However, the boy kept on, and began to do
things simply because he was afraid. One day he read how a great
general, named Marshal Turenne, on being laughed at because his knees
were shaking as he mounted his horse to go into battle, replied that
if his knees knew where he was going to take them that day they would
shake still more. This incident helped Jacquelin mightily, and he took
his knees into many dangerous places. In time this had its effect, and
as his knees began to shake less he began to grow more self-confident
and conceited. He began to be very proud of himself, and to take
opportunities to show his superiority over others, which developed with
some rapidity the character existent somewhere in most persons: the
prig.

Blair Cary gave the first, if not the final, shock to this development.

She was the daughter of Dr. Cary, Mr. Gray’s cousin, who lived a few
miles off across the river, at “Birdwood,” perhaps the next most
considerable place to Red Rock in that section. She was a slim little
girl with a rather pale face, large brown eyes, and hair that was
always blowing into them.

She would have given her eyes, no doubt, to have been accepted as
companion by Jacquelin, who was several years her senior; but as that
young man was now aspiring to be comrade to Steve and to Blair’s
brother, Morris, he relegated Blair to the companionship of his small
brother, Rupert, who was as much younger than Blair as she was younger
than himself, and treated her with sovereign disdain. The first shock
he received was when he found how much better Blair could read Latin
than he could, and how much Steve thought of her on that account. After
that, he actually condescended to play with her occasionally, and,
sometimes, even to let her follow him about the plantation to admire
his feats, whilst he tried to revenge himself on her for her superior
scholastic attainments by showing her how much more a boy could do
than a girl. It was all in vain. For, with this taunt for a spur, she
would follow him even to the tops of trees, or the bottoms of ponds:
so he determined to show his superiority by one final and supreme act.
This was to climb to the roof of the “high barn,” as it was called,
and spring off into the top of a tree which spread its branches below.
He had seen Steve do it, but had never ventured to try it himself. He
had often climbed to the roof, and had fancied himself performing this
feat to escape from pursuing Indians, but had never really contemplated
doing it in fact, until Blair’s persistent emulation, daunted by
nothing that he attempted, spurred him to undertake it. So one day,
after some boasting, he climbed to the peak of the roof. His heart
beat so as he gazed down into the green mass far below him and saw the
patches of brown earth through the leaves, that he wished he had not
been so boastful; but there was Blair behind him, astride of the roof,
her eyes fastened on him with a somewhat defiant gaze. He thought how
Steve would jeer if he knew he had turned back. So, with a call of
derision to Blair to see what “a man could do,” he set his teeth, shut
his eyes, and took the jump, and landed safely below, among the boughs,
his outstretched arms gathering them in as he sank amidst them, until
they stopped his descent and he found a limb and climbed down, his
heart bumping with excitement and pride. Blair, he felt sure, was at
last “stumped.” As he sprang to the ground and looked up he saw a sight
which made his heart give a bigger bound than it had ever done in all
his life. There was little Blair on the very peak of the roof, the very
point of the gable, getting ready to follow him. Her face was white,
her lips were compressed, and her eyes were opened so wide that he
could see them even from where he was. She was poised like a bird ready
to fly.

“Blair! Blair!” he cried, waving her back. “Don’t! don’t!” But Blair
took no heed. She only settled herself for a firmer foothold, and the
next second, with outstretched arms, she sprang into space. Whether
it was that his cry distracted her, or whether her hair blew into her
eyes and made her miss her step, or whether she would have misjudged
her distance anyhow, instead of reaching the thickly leaved part where
Jacquelin had landed, she struck where the boughs were much less thick,
and came crashing through: down, down, from bough to bough, until she
landed on the lowest limb, where she stopped for a second, and then
rolled over and fell in a limp little bundle on the ground, where she
lay quite still. Jacquelin never forgot the feeling he had at that
moment. He was sure she was dead, and that he was a murderer. In a
second he was down on his knees, bending over her.

“Blair, Blair,” he cried. “Dear Blair, are you hurt?” But there was
no answer. And he began to whimper in a very unmanly fashion for one
who had been so boastful a moment before, and to pray, too, which
is not so unmanly; but his wits were about him, and it came to him
quite clearly that, if she were not dead, the best thing to do was to
unfasten her neck-band and bathe her face. So off to the nearest water
he put as hard as his legs could take him, and dipped his handkerchief
in the horse-trough, and then, grabbing up a bucket near by, filled
it and ran back with it. Blair was still motionless and white, but he
wiped her little, scratched face and bathed it again and again, and,
presently, to his inexpressible joy, she sighed and half opened her
eyes and sighed again, and then, as he was still asking her how she
felt, said, faintly:

“I’m all right—I did it.”

In his joy Jacquelin actually kissed her. It seemed to him afterward to
mark an epoch.

The next quarter of an hour was passed in getting Blair’s breath back.
Fortunately for her, if not for her dress, her clothes had caught here
and there as she came crashing through the branches, and though the
breath was knocked out of her, and she was shaken and scratched and
stunned, no bones were broken, and she was not seriously hurt after
all. She proposed that they should say nothing about it to anyone: she
could get his Mammy to mend her clothes. But this magnanimous offer
Jacquelin firmly declined. He was afraid that Blair might be hurt some
way that she did not know, and he declared that he should go straight
and tell it at the house.

“But I did it myself,” persisted little Blair; “you were not to blame.
You called to me not to do it.”

“Did you hear me call? Then why did you do it?”

“Because you had done it and said I could not.”

“But didn’t you know you would get hurt?”

She nodded.

“I thought so.”

Jacquelin looked at her long and seriously, and that moment a new idea
seemed to him to enter his mind: that, after all, it might be as brave
to do a dangerous thing which you are afraid to do, as if you are not
at all afraid.

“Blair, you are a brick,” he said; “you are braver than any boy I
know—as brave as Steve. As brave as Marshal Turenne.” Which was sweet
enough to Blair to make amends for all her bruises and scratches.

From that time Jacquelin made up his mind that he would never try to
stump her again, but would guard her, and this sweetened to him the
bitterness of having to confess when he got to the house. He did it
like a man, going to his father, of whom, at heart, he was mightily
afraid, and telling him the whole story alone without the least
reference to Blair’s part in it, taking the entire blame on himself;
and it was only after he had received the punishment which was deemed
due him that Blair’s joint responsibility was known from her own lips.

This escapade, however, proved a little too much for the elders, and
Jacquelin was sent off to school, to the Academy at Brutusville, under
the learned Doctor Maule, where, still emulating Steve, who was the
leader in most of the mischief that went on at that famous institution
of learning, he made more reputation by the way he constructed a trap
to catch one of the masters, Mr. Eliphalet Bush, than in construing the
ancient language which was that gentleman’s particular department.



CHAPTER II

IN WHICH TWO STRANGERS VISIT RED ROCK AND ARE INVITED TO COME AGAIN


Everyone knows what a seething ferment there was for some time before
the great explosion in the beginning of the Sixties—that strange
decade that changed the civilization of the country. Red Rock, like
the rest of the land, was turned from a haunt of peace into a forum.
Politics were rampant; every meeting was a lyceum; boys became orators;
young girls wore partisan badges; children used party-catchwords,
which they did not understand—except one thing: that they represented
“their side.” There existed an irreconcilable difference between the
two sections of the country. It could not be crushed. Hydra-headed, it
appeared after every extirpation.

One side held slavery right under the double title of the Bible and
of the Constitution. The leader of the other side said, “If it was
not wrong, then nothing was wrong”; but declared that he would not
interfere with it.

“Bosh!” said Major Legaie. “That is not a man to condone what he thinks
wrong. If he is elected, it means the end of slavery.” And so said many
others. Most of them, rather than yield, were for War. To them War was
only an episode: a pageant: a threshold to glory. Dr. Cary, who was
a Whig, was opposed to it; he had seen it, and he took the stump in
opposition to Major Legaie.

“We could whip them with pop-guns,” said the fire-eaters. Fordyce
Lambly and Hurlbut Bail were two of them.

“But will they fight with that weapon?” asked Dr. Cary, scornfully. He
never liked Lambly and Bail; he said they had no convictions. “A man
with convictions may be wrong; but you know where to meet him, sir. You
never know where to find these men.”

“Do you know what War is?” he said in a speech, in reply to a
secession-speech by Major Legaie. “War is the most terrible of all
disasters, except Dishonor. I do not speak of the dangers. For every
brave man must face danger as it comes, and should court glory; and
death for one’s Country is glorious. I speak merely of the change
that War inevitably brings. War is the destruction of everything
that exists. You may fail or you may win, but what exists passes,
and something different takes its place. The plough-share becomes a
spear, and the pruning-hook a sword; the poor may become richer, but
the rich must become poorer. You are the wealthiest people in the
world to-day—not in mere riches, but in wealth. You may become the
poorest. No people who enter a war wealthy and content ever come out
of war so. I do not say that this is an unanswerable reason for not
going to war. For war may be right at any cost. But it is not to be
entered on unadvisedly or lightly; but in the fear of God. It should
not be undertaken from mere enthusiasm; but deliberately, with a full
recognition of its cost, and resolution to support its possible and
direst consequences.”

When he had ended, Mr. Hurlbut Bail, a speaker from the city, who had
come to the county to stir up the people, said:

“Oh! Dr. Cary is nothing but a Cassandra.”

“Did Troy fall or not?” asked Dr. Cary, calmly.

This, of course, changed no one. In times of high feeling debate only
fuses opinions into convictions; only fans the flames and makes the
fire a conflagration.

When the war came the old Doctor flung in his lot with his friends, and
his gravity, that had grown on him of late, was lighted up by the old
fire; he took his place and performed his part with kindling eyes and
an erecter mien. Hurlbut Bail became an editor. This, however, was
later on.

The constantly increasing public ferment and the ever-enlarging and
deepening cloud did not prevent the ordinary course of life from
flowing in its accustomed channels: men planned and performed; sowed
and reaped; bought and sold, as in ordinary times. And as in the period
before that other flood, there was marrying and giving in marriage; so
now, with the cloud ever mounting up the sky, men loved and married,
and made their homes as the birds paired and built their nests.

Among those who builded in that period in the Red Rock district were
a young couple, both of them cousins in some degree of nearly every
gentle family in the county, including the Grays and Carys. And after
the blessing by old Mr. Langstaff, at St. Ann’s, amid the roses and
smiles of the whole neighborhood, they spent their honeymoon, as the
custom was then, in being entertained from house to house, through the
neighborhood. In this round of gayety they came in due order to Red
Rock, where the entertainment was perhaps to be the greatest of all.
The amount of preparation was almost unprecedented, and the gentry
of the whole county were invited and expected. As it was a notable
occasion and near the holidays, Jacquelin was permitted to come home
from Dr. Maule’s on the joint application of his mother, his Aunt
Thomasia, and Blair Cary; and Blair was allowed to come over with her
mother and father and spend the night, and was promised to be allowed
to sit up as late as she pleased—a privilege not to be lightly
esteemed.

Steve Allen, with a faint mustache curled above his smiling mouth, was
home from the University, and so were Morris Cary and the other young
fellows; and the office in the yard, blue with tobacco-smoke, was as
full of young men and pipes and dogs, as the upstairs chambers in the
mansion were of young girls and ribbons and muslin.

What a heaven that outer office was to Jacquelin, and what an angel
Steve was to call him “Kid” and let him adore him!

Among the company that night there were two guests who “happened
in” quite unexpectedly, but who were “all the more welcome on that
account,” the host said graciously in greeting them. They were two
gentlemen from quite another part of the country, or, perhaps, those
resident there would have said, of the world; as they came from the
North. They had come South on business connected with a sort of
traditionary claim to mineral lands lying somewhere in the range of
mountains which could be seen from the Red Rock plantation. At least,
Mr. Welch, the elder of the two, came on that errand. The younger,
Mr. Lawrence Middleton, came simply for pleasure, and because Mr.
Welch, his cousin, had invited him. He had just spoiled his career at
college by engaging, with his chum and crony, Aurelius Thurston, in
the awful crime of painting the President’s gray horse a brilliant
red, and being caught at it. He was suspended for this prank, and now
was spending his time, literally rusticating, seeing a little of the
world, while he made up his mind whether he should study Law and accept
his cousin’s offer to go into his office, or whether he should engage
in a manufacturing business which his family owned. His preference
was rather for the latter, which was now being managed by a man named
Bolter, who had made it very successful; but Reely Thurston intended to
be a lawyer, and wanted Lawrence to go in with him; so he was taking
time to consider. This visit South had inclined him to the law.

Mr. Welch and Middleton had concluded their business in the mountains:
finding the lands they were seeking to lie partly in the clouds and
partly in the possession of those whom they had always heard spoken of
as “squatters;” but now found to be a population who had been there
since before the Revolution, and had built villages and towns. They
were now returning home and were making their way back toward the
railroad, half a day’s journey farther on. They had expected to reach
Brutusville, the county seat, that night; but a rain the day before had
washed away the bridges, and compelled them to take a circuitous route
by a ford higher up the river. There, not knowing the ford, they had
almost been swept away, and would certainly have lost their vehicle but
for the timely appearance of a young countryman, who happened to come
along on his way home from a political gathering somewhere.

[Illustration: AMONG THE COMPANY THAT NIGHT THERE WERE TWO GUESTS WHO
“HAPPENED IN” QUITE UNEXPECTEDLY.]

Their deliverer: a certain Mr. Andy Stamper, was so small that at
a distance he looked like a boy, but on nearer view he might have
been anywhere from twenty or twenty-five to thirty, and he proved
extraordinarily active and efficient. He swam in and helped Middleton
get their buggy out of the river, and then amused Mr. Welch very much
and incensed Middleton by his comments. He had just been to a political
meeting at the Court House, he said, where he had heard “the finest
speech that ever was made,” from Major Legaie. “He gave the Yankees
sut,” and he “just wished he could get every Yankee in that river and
drown ’em—every dog-goned one!” This as he was working up to his neck
in water.

Mr. Welch could not help laughing at the look on Middleton’s ruddy face.

“Now, where’d you find a Yankee’d go in that river like me an’ you—or
could do it, for that matter?” the little fellow asked of Middleton,
confidentially.

“We are Yankees,” blurted out Middleton, hotly. “And a plenty of them
would.” His eye flashed as he turned to his rescuer.

The little countryman’s eyes opened wide, and his jaw fell.

“Well, I’m durned!” he said, slowly, staring in open astonishment, and
Middleton began to look gratified at the impression he had made.

“You know, you’re the first I ever seen as wan’t ashamed to own it.
Why, you looks most like we all!”

Middleton flushed; but little Stamper looked so sincerely ingenuous
that he suddenly burst out laughing.

After that they became very friendly, and the travellers learned much
of the glories of the Grays and Carys, and of the charms of a certain
Miss Delia Dove, who, Stamper declared, was as pretty as any young lady
that went to the Brick Church. Stamper offered to guide them, but as
he refused to take any money for what he had done, and as he said he
was going to see Miss Delia Dove and could take a nearer cut through
the woods to his home, Mr. Welch declined to accept his offer, and
contented himself with getting him to draw a map of the roads from that
point to the county seat.

“All you’ve got to do is to follow that map: keep the main plain
road and you can’t get out; but I advise you to turn in at the first
plantation you come to. If you go to Red Rock you’ll have a good time.
They’re givin’ a party thar to-night. Major Legaie, he left the meetin’
to go thar.”

He disappeared at a gallop down a bridle-path through the woods.

Notwithstanding the young countryman’s assurances and map, the two
strangers had gotten “out.” The plantations were large in that section
and the roads leading off to them from the highway, in the dark were
all alike, so that when night fell the two travellers were in a serious
dilemma. They at length came to a gate and were just considering
turning in at it when a carriage drove up in front of them. A horseman
who had been riding behind the vehicle came forward at a trot, calling
out that he would open the gate.

“I thought you fellows would have been there hours ago,” he said
familiarly to the two strangers as he passed, evidently mistaking them
in the dusk for some of his friends. “A laggard in love is a dastard in
war.”

The rest of his speech was lost in the click of the gate-latch and his
apostrophe to his horse. When he found that Mr. Welch was a stranger,
he changed instantly. His tone became graver and more gracious.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I thought from your vehicle that you were
some of these effeminate youngsters who have given up the saddle for
that new four-wheeled contrivance, and are ruining both our strains of
horses and of men.”

Mr. Welch asked if he knew where they could find a night’s lodging.

“Why, at every house in the State, sir, I hope,” said Dr. Cary; for it
was he. “Certainly, at the nearest one. Drive right in. We are going
to our cousins’, and they will be delighted to have you. You are just
in good time; for there is to be quite a company there to-night.” And
refusing to listen for a moment to Mr. Welch’s suggestion that it might
not be convenient to have strangers, Dr. Cary held the gate open for
them to pass through.

“Drive in, sir,” he said, in a tone of gracious command. “I never heard
of its being inconvenient to have a guest,” and in they drove.

“A gentleman by his voice,” the travellers heard him explaining a
little later into the window of the carriage behind them. And then he
added, “My only doubt was his vehicle.”

After a half-mile drive through the woods they entered the open fields,
and from a hill afar off, on top of which shone a house lit till it
gleamed like a cluster of brilliants, a chorus of dogs sent them an
inquiring greeting.

They passed through a wide gate, and ascended a steep hill through a
grove, and Middleton’s heart sank at the idea of facing an invited
company, with a wardrobe that had been under water within the last
two hours. Instantly they were in a group of welcomers, gentlemen,
servants, and dogs; negro boys running; dogs frisking and yelping
and young men laughing about the door of the newly arrived carriage.
While through it all sounded the placid voice of Dr. Cary reassuring
the visitors and inviting them in. He brought the host to them, and
presented them:

“My friends, Mr. Welch and young Mr. Middleton—my cousin and friend,
Mr. Gray.” It was his customary formula in introducing. All men were
his friends. And Mr. Welch shortly observed how his manner changed
whenever he addressed a lady or a stranger: to one he was always a
courtier, to the other always a host.

As they were ushered into the hall, Middleton’s blue eyes glistened and
opened wide at the scene before him. He found himself facing several
score of people clustered about in one of the handsomest halls he ever
saw, some of whom he took in at the first glance to be remarkably
pretty girls in white and pink, and all with their eyes, filled with
curiosity, bent on the new comers. If Middleton’s ruddiness increased
tenfold under these glances, it was only what any other young man’s
would have done under similar circumstances, and it was not until he
had been led off under convoy of a tall and very solemn old servant
in a blue coat with brass buttons, and shown into a large room with
mahogany furniture and a bed so high that it had a set of steps beside
it, that he was able to collect his ideas, and recall some of those to
whom he had been introduced. What a terrible fix it was for a fellow to
be in! He opened his portmanteau and turned to his cousin in despair.

“Isn’t this a mess?”

“What?”

“This! I can never go out there. All those girls! Just look at these
clothes! Everything dripping!—some of them awfully pretty, too. That
one with the dark eyes!” He was down on his knees, raking in his
portmanteau, and dragging the soaking garments out one by one. “Now,
look at that.”

“You need not go out. I’ll make your excuses.”

“What! Of course I’m go——”

Just then there was a knock at the door.

“Come in.” Middleton finished his sentence.

The door opened slowly and the old servant entered, bearing with a
solemnity that amounted almost to reverence, a waiter with decanters
and an array of glasses and bowls. He was followed by the young boy who
had been introduced as their host’s son.

“My father understood that you had a little accident at the river, and
he wishes to know if he cannot lend you something,” said Jacquelin.

Mr. Welch spoke first, his eyes twinkling as he glanced at his cousin,
who stood a picture of indecision and bewilderment.

“Why yes, my cousin, Mr. Middleton here, would be greatly obliged,
I think. He is a little particular about first impressions, and the
presence of so many charming——”

Middleton protested.

“Why, certainly, sir,” Jacquelin began, then turned to
Middleton—“Steve’s would fit you—Steve’s my cousin—he’s at the
University—he’s just six feet. Wait, sir——” And before they could
stop him, he was gone, and a few minutes later tapped on the door, with
his arms full of clothes.

“Uncle Daniel’s as slow as a steer, so I fetched ’em myself,” he
panted, with boyish impatience, as he dropped the clothes partly on a
sofa and partly on the floor. “Aunt Thomasia was afraid you’d catch
cold, so she made me bring these flannels. She always is afraid you’ll
catch cold. Steve told her if you’d take a good swig out of a bottle
’twould be worth all the flannel in the State—Steve’s always teasing
her.” With a boy’s friendliness he had established himself now as the
visitors’ ally.

“I’m glad you came to-night. We’re going to have lots of fun. Were you
at the speaking to-day? They say the Major made the finest speech ever
was heard. Some say he’s better than Calhoun ever was; just gave the
Yankees the mischief! I wish they’d come down here and try us once,
don’t you?”

Mr. Welch glanced amusedly at Middleton, whose face changed; but
fortunately the boy was too much interested in the suit Middleton had
just put on to notice the effect.

“I thought Steve’s would fit you,” he said, with that proud
satisfaction in his judgment being verified which characterizes the age
of thirteen, and some other ages as well.

“Steve’s nineteen, and he’s six feet!—You are six feet too? I thought
you were about that. I hope I’ll be six feet. I like that height, don’t
you? Steve’s at the University, but he don’t study much, I reckon. Are
you at college?—Where? Oh! I know. I had a cousin who went there. He
and two or three other Southern fellows laid outside of the hall for
one of those abolition chaps who was making a speech, to cut his ears
off when he came out, and they’d have done it if he had come out that
way. I reckon it’s a good college, but I’m going to the University
when I’m sixteen. I’m thirteen now—You thought I was older? I wanted
to go to West Point, but my father won’t let me. Maybe, Rupert will go
there. I go to school at the Academy—Doctor Maule’s—everybody knows
about him. I tell you, he knows a lot.—You have left college? Was it
too hot for you? Were you after somebody’s ears too? What! painted
the President’s horse red! Oh! wasn’t that a good one! I wish I’d
been there. I’ll tell Steve and Blair about that. Steve put a cow up
in the Rotunda once. The worst thing I ever did was making Blair jump
off the high barn. I don’t count flinging old Eliphalet Bush in the
creek, because I believe his teeth were false anyhow! But I’ll remember
painting that horse. I reckon he was an abolitionist too?”

So the boy rattled on, his guests drawing him out for the pleasure of
seeing him.

“What State are you from? Maybe, we are cousins?” he said presently,
giving the best evidence of his friendliness.

“What! Mass—a—! I beg your pardon.”

He looked so confused that both Mr. Welch and Middleton took some pains
to sooth him.

“Yes, of course I was not talking about you; but I wouldn’t have said
anything about Massachusetts if I had known you came from there. I
wouldn’t like anybody to say anything about _my_ State. You won’t mind
what I said, will you? I think Massachusetts the best of the Northern
States—anyhow——” And he left them, his cheeks still glowing from
embarrassment.

This apology, sincerely given, with a certain stress on the word
Northern, amused Mr. Welch, and even Middleton, to whom it presented,
however, an entirely new view.

“Aren’t they funny?” asked Middleton of his cousin, after their young
host had left them. “You know I believe they really think it.”

“Larry, you have understated it. They think they know it.”

Jacquelin employed the few moments, in which he preceded the visitors
to the hall, in telling all he had learned, and when Mr. Welch and
Middleton appeared they found themselves in the position of the most
distinguished guests. The fact that they came from the North, and
Jacquelin’s account of his mistake, had increased the desire to show
them honor. “The hospitality of the South knows no latitude,” said
Dr. Cary, in concluding a gracious half apology to Mr. Welch for
Jacquelin’s error; and he proceeded deftly to name over a list of
great men from Massachusetts, and to link their names with those of
the men of the South whom she most delighted to honor. His dearest
friend at college, he said, was from New England, and unless he was
mistaken, Anson Rockfield would one day be heard of. Nothing could
have been more gracious or more delicately done; and when supper was
announced, Mr. Welch was taken to the table by the hostess herself,
and his health was drunk before the groom’s. Middleton meanwhile
found himself no less honored. The artistic feat performed on the
President’s horse had made him a noted personage, and in consequence
of this and of the freemasonry which exists among young college-men,
he was soon surrounded by all the younger portion of the company, and
was exchanging views with Steve Allen and the other young fellows with
that exaggerated man-of-the-world air which characterizes the age and
occupation of collegians.

“Where is Blair?” he asked Jacquelin, presently, who was standing by
Steve, open-eyed, drinking in their wisdom as only a boy of thirteen
can drink in the sapience of men of nineteen or twenty.

“Over there.” Jacquelin nodded toward another part of the hall.
Middleton looked, but all he saw was a little girl sitting behind a
big chair, evidently trying to conceal herself, and shaking her head
violently at Jacquelin, who was beckoning to her. Jacquelin ran over to
her and caught her by the hand, whereupon there was a little scuffle
between them behind the chair, and as Middleton watched it he caught
her eye. The next second she rose, smoothed her little white frock with
quite an air, and came straight across with Jacquelin to where they
stood. “This is Blair, Mr. Middleton,” the boy said to the astonished
guest. And Miss Blair held out her hand to him with an odd mixture of
the child and the lady.

“How do you do, sir?” She evidently considered him one of the ancients.

“She jump off a high barn!” Middleton’s eyes opened wide.

“Blair is the champion jumper of the family,” said Steve, tall and
condescending, catching hold of her half-teasingly, and drawing her up
close to him.

“And she is a brick,” added Master Jacquelin, with mingled
condescension and admiration, which brought the blushes back to the
little girl’s cheeks and made her look very charming. The next moment
she was talking to Middleton about the episode of the painted horse;
exchanging adventures with him, and asking him questions about his
chum, Reely Thurston and his cousin, Ruth Welch, whom he had mentioned,
as if she had known him always.

It was a night that Middleton never forgot. So completely was he
adopted by his hosts that he could scarcely believe that he had not
been one of them all his life. As Mr. Welch said truly: they had the
gift of hospitality. Jacquelin and Blair constituted themselves young
Middleton’s especial hosts, and he made an engagement to visit with
them all the points which they wished to show him, provided his cousin
could accept their invitation to spend several days there.

In the midst of their talk an old mammy in a white apron, with a tall
bandanna turban around her head, suddenly appeared in a doorway, and
dropping a curtsey made her way over to Blair, like a ship bearing down
under full sail. There was a colloquy between the two, inaudible, but
none the less animated and interesting, the old woman urging something
and the little girl arguing against it. Then Blair went across and
appealed to her mother, who, after a little demurring, came over
and spoke to the mammy, and thereon began further argument. She was
evidently taking Blair’s side; but she was not commanding, she was
rather pleading. Middleton, new to the customs, was equally surprised
and amused to hear the tones of the old colored woman’s voice:

“Well, jist a little while.” Then as she turned on her way out, she
said, half audibly:

“You all gwine ruin my chile’ looks, meckin’ her set up so late. How
she gwine have any complexion, settin’ up all times o’ night?” As she
passed out, however, many of the ladies spoke to her, and they must
have said pleasant things; for before she reached the door she was
smiling and curtseying right and left, and carried her head as high
as a princess. As for Blair, her eyes were dancing with joy at her
victory, and when the plump figure of the mammy disappeared she gave a
little frisk of delight.

There were no more speeches that could wound the sensibilities of
the guests; but there was plenty of discussion. All the young men
were ardent politicians, and Middleton, who was nothing himself, was
partly amused and partly horrified at the violence of some of their
sentiments. Personally, he agreed with them in the main about Slavery
or, at least, about Abolitionism. He thought Slavery rather a fine
thing, and recalled that his grandfather or his great-grandfather,
he couldn’t be certain which, had owned a number of slaves. He was
conscious of some pride in this—though his cousin, Patience Welch, who
was an extreme abolitionist, was always bemoaning the fact.

But he was thunderstruck to hear a young orator of sixteen or seventeen
declaim about breaking up the Union, under certain circumstances, as if
it were a worthless old hulk, stuck in the mud. It had never occurred
to Middleton that it was possible, and he had always understood that
it was not. However, he was reassured by the warmth with which others
defended the Union, and the ardor with which toasts were drunk to it.
Jacquelin himself was a stanch Democrat, like his father. He confided
to Middleton that Blair was a Whig, because her father was one; but
that a girl did not know any better, and that she really did not know
the difference between them.

The entertainment consisted of dancing—quadrilles and “the Lancers,”
and after awhile, the old Virginia reel. In the first, all the young
people joined, and in the last, some of the old ones as well. Middleton
heard Steve urging their host’s sister, Miss Gray—“Cousin Thomasia”
as Steve called her—a sweet patrician-faced lady, to come and dance
with him, and when she smilingly refused, teasing her about Major
Legaie. She gave him a little tap with her fan and sent him off with
smiling eyes, which, after following the handsome boy across the hall,
saddened a second later as she lifted the fan close to her face to
arrange the feathers. Steve mischievously whisked Blair off from under
Jacquelin’s nose and took her to the far end of the line of laughing
girls ranged across the hall, responding to Jacquelin’s earnest protest
that he was just going to dance with her himself, with a push—that
unanswerable logic of a bigger boy.

“But you did not ask me!” said Miss Blair to Jacquelin, readily taking
the stronger side against her sworn friend.

“Never mind, I’m not going to dance with you any more,” pouted
Jacquelin as he turned off, his head higher than usual, to which Miss
Blair promptly replied: “I don’t care if you don’t.” And she held
her head higher than his, dancing through her reel apparently with
double enjoyment because of his discomfiture. Then when the reel
had been danced again and again, with double couples and fours, to
ever-quickening music and ever-increasing mirth, until it was a maze
of muslin and radiance and laughter, there was a pause for rest. And
someone near the piano struck up a song, and this drew the crowd. Many
of the girls, and some of the young men, had pleasant voices, which
made up by their natural sweetness and simplicity for want of training,
and the choruses drew all the young people, except a few who seemed to
find it necessary to seek something—fans or glasses of water, in the
most secluded and unlikely corners, and always in couples.

There was one song—a new one which had just been picked up somewhere
by someone and brought there, and they were all trying to recall
it—about “Dixie-land.” It seemed that Blair sang it, and there was a
universal request for her to sing it; but the little girl was shy and
wanted to run away. Finally, however, she was brought back and, under
coaxing from Steve and Jacquelin, was persuaded; and she stood up by
the piano and with her cheeks glowing and her child’s-voice quavering
at first at the prominence given her, sang it through. Middleton had
heard the song once at a minstrel-show not long before, and had thought
it rather a “catchy” thing; but now, when the child sang it, he found
its melody. But when the chorus came, he was astonished at the feeling
it evoked. It ran:

  “Away down south in Dixie, away, away—
  In Dixie land, I’ll take my stand,
  To live and die for Dixie land—
  Away, away, away down south in Dixie.”

It was a burst of genuine feeling, universal, enthusiastic, that made
the old walls resound. Even the young couples came from their secluded
coverts to join in. It was so tremendous that Dr. Cary, who was
standing near Mr. Welch, said to him, gravely:

“A gleam of the current that is dammed up?”

“If the bank ever breaks what will happen?” asked Mr. Welch.

“A flood.”

“Then the right will survive.”

“The strongest,” said Dr. Cary.

The guest saw that there was deep feeling whenever any political
subject was touched on, and he turned to a less dangerous theme. The
walls of the hall and drawing-room were covered with pictures; scenes
from the Mythology; battle-pieces; old portraits: all hung together
in a sort of friendly confusion. The portraits were nearly all in
rich-colored dresses: men in velvets or uniforms, ladies in satins and
crinolines, representing the fashions and faces of many generations of
Jacquelin-Grays. But one, the most striking figure of them all, stood
alone to itself in a space just over the great fireplace. He was a man
still young, clad in a hunter’s garb. A dark rock loomed behind him.
His rifle lay at his feet, apparently broken, and his face wore an
expression of such determination that one knew at once that, whatever
he had been, he had been a master. The other paintings were portraits;
this was the man. To add to its distinction, while the other pictures
were in frames richly gilded and carved, this was in straight black
boards apparently built into the wall, as if it had been meant to stand
him there and cut him off from all the rest of the world. Wherever one
turned in the hall those piercing eyes followed him. Mr. Welch had been
for some time observing the picture.

“An extraordinary picture. It has a singular fascination for me,”
he said, as his host turned to him. “One might almost fancy it
allegorical, and yet, it is intensely human. An indubitable portrait? I
never saw a stronger face.”

His host smiled.

“Yes. It has a somewhat curious history, though whether it is exactly
a portrait or not we do not know. It is, or is supposed to be, the
portrait of an ancestor of mine, the first of my name who came to
this country. He had been unfortunate on the other side—so the story
goes—was a scholar, and had been a soldier under Cromwell and lost
all his property. He fell in love with a young lady whose father was
on the King’s side, and married her against her parents’ wishes and
came over here. He built a house on this very spot when it was the
frontier, and his wife was afterward murdered by the Indians, leaving
him one child. It is said that he killed the Indian with his naked
hands just beside a great rock that stands in the grave-yard beyond the
garden, a short distance from the house. He afterward had that picture
painted and placed there. It is reported to be a Lely. It has always
been recognized as a fine picture, and in all the successive changes it
has been left there. This present house was built around the fireplace
of the old one. In this way a story has grown up about the picture,
that it is connected with the fortunes of the house. You know how
superstitious the negroes are?”

“I am not surprised,” said Mr. Welch, examining the picture more
closely. “I never saw a lonelier man. That black frame shutting it in
seems to have something to do with the effect.”

“The tradition has possibly had a good effect. There used to be a
recess behind it that was used as a cupboard, perhaps a secret cabinet,
because of this very superstition. The picture fell down once a few
years ago and I found a number of old papers in there, and put some
more in myself.

“Here, you can see the paint on the frame, where it fell. It was in
the early summer, and one of the servants was just painting the hearth
red, and a sudden gust of wind slammed a door and jarred the picture
down, and it fell, getting that paint on it. You never saw anyone so
frightened as that boy was. And I think my overseer was also,” he
laughed. “He happened to be present, settling up some matters with
which I had entrusted him in the South, and although he is a remarkably
sensible man—so sensible that I had given him my bonds for a very
considerable amount—one for a very large amount, indeed, in case he
should need them in the matter I refer to, and he had managed the
affair with the greatest shrewdness, bringing my bonds back—he was as
much frightened almost as the boy. You’d have thought that the fall
of the picture portended my immediate death. I took advantage of the
circumstance to put the papers in the cupboard, and, to ease his mind,
made Still nail the picture up, so that it will never come down again,
at least, in my lifetime.”

“I had no idea the whites were so superstitious,” said Major Welch.

“Well, I do not suppose he really believed it. But, do you know, after
that they began to say that stain on it was blood? And here again.”

He pointed to where three or four little foot-tracks, as of a child’s
bare foot, were dimly seen on the hard white floor near the hearth.

“My little boy, Rupert, was playing in the hall at the time I mention,
dabbling his feet in the paint, and the same wind that blew down the
picture scattered my papers, and he ran across the floor and finally
stepped on one. There, you can see just where he caught it: the little
heel is there, and the print of the toes is on the bond behind the
picture. His mother would never allow the prints to be scoured out, and
so they have remained. And now, I understand, they say the tracks are
blood.”

“On such slim evidence, perhaps other and weightier superstitions have
been built,” said Mr. Welch, smiling.

Next morning, as Mr. Welch wished to see a Southern plantation, he
deferred his departure until the afternoon, and rode over the place
with Mr. Gray. Middleton was taken by his young hosts to see all the
things of interest about the plantation: the high barn from which
Blair had jumped into the tree, the bloody rock beside which the
“Indian-Killer” had been buried, and the very spot where Steve had
slept that night; together with many other points, whilst Mr. Welch was
taken to see the servants’ quarters, the hands working and singing in
the fields, and such things as interested him. The plantation surpassed
any he had yet seen. It was a little world in itself—a sort of feudal
domain: the great house on its lofty hill, surrounded by gardens; the
broad fields stretching away in every direction, with waving grain
or green pastures dotted with sheep and cattle, and all shut in and
bounded by the distant woods.

During this tour Mr. Langstaff, the rector, made to Mr. Welch an
observation that he thought there were evidences that the Garden
of Eden was situated not far from that spot, and certainly within
the limits of the State. Major Welch smiled at the old clergyman’s
ingenuousness, but was graver when, as they strolled through the negro
quarters, he began to speak earnestly of the blessings of Slavery. He
pointed out the clean cabins, each surrounded by its little yard and
with its garden; the laughing children and smiling mothers curtseying
from their doors. The guest remained silent, and the old gentleman took
it for assent.

“Why, sir, I have just prepared a paper which my friends think
establishes incontrovertibly that Slavery is based on the Scriptures,
and is, as it were, a divine institution.” Mr. Welch looked up to see
how the other gentlemen took this. They were all grave, except Dr.
Cary, usually the gravest, around whose mouth a slight smile flickered,
and in whose eyes, as they met Major Welch’s, there was a little gleam
of amusement.

“It is written, ‘A servant of servants shall he be.’ You will not deny
that?” asked the old preacher, a little of the smouldering fire of the
controversialist sparkling for a moment in his face.

“Well, no, I don’t think I will.”

“Then that settles it.”

“Well, perhaps not altogether,” said Mr. Welch. “There may be an
economical sin. But I do not wish to engage in a polemical controversy.
I will only say that down here you do not seem to me to appreciate
fully how strong the feeling of the world at present is against
Slavery. It seems to me, that Slavery is doomed as much as the
Stage-coach, and the Sailing vessel.”

“My dear sir,” declared Mr. Gray, “I cannot agree with you. We
interfere with nobody; all we demand is that they shall not interfere
with us.”

“It is precisely that which you cannot enforce,” said Mr. Welch. “I
do not wish to engage in a discussion in which neither of us could
convince the other; but I think I have not defined my position
intelligibly. You interfere with everyone—with every nation—and you
are only tenants at will of your system—only tenants by sufferance of
the world.”

“Oh! my dear sir!” exclaimed his host, his face slightly flushed; and
then the subject was politely changed, and Mr. Welch was conscious
that it was not to be opened again.

The only additional observation made was by a gentleman who had been
introduced to Mr. Welch as the leading lawyer of the county, a portly
man with a round face and keen eyes. “Well, as George IV. remarked, it
will last my time,” he said.

Before the young people had seen half the interesting places of
which Jacquelin had told Middleton, they were recalled to the house.
Jacquelin’s face fell.

“School!” he said in disgust.

As they returned on a road leading up to a farm-house on a hill, they
passed a somewhat rickety buggy containing a plain-looking young girl,
a little older than Blair, driven by a thin-shouldered youngster of
eighteen or nineteen, who returned Jacquelin’s and Blair’s greeting,
with a surly air. Middleton thought he checked the girl for her
pleasant bow. At any rate, he heard his voice in a cross tone, scolding
her after they had passed.

“That’s Washy Still and Virgy, the overseer’s children,” explained
someone.

“And he’s just as mean to her as he can be. She’s afraid of him. I’ll
be bound I wouldn’t be afraid of him!” broke out Blair, her eyes
growing suddenly sparkling at the idea of wrong to one of her sex.
Middleton looked down at her glowing face and thought it unlikely.

On arrival at the house it proved that Jacquelin’s fears were
well-founded. It had been decided that he must go back to school.
Jacquelin appealed to his Aunt Thomasia to intercede for him, and she
did so, as she always interceded for everyone, but it was in vain. It
was an age of law, and the law had to be obeyed.

As Middleton was passing from the room he occupied, to the hall, he
came on Blair. She was seated in a window, almost behind the curtain
and he would have passed by without seeing her but for a movement she
made to screen herself entirely. Curiosity and mischief prompted
the young man to go up and peep at her. She had a book in her hand,
which she held down as if to keep out of sight, and as he looked at
her he thought she had been crying. A glance at the book showed it
was “Virgil,” and Middleton supposed, from some personal experience,
that the tears were connected with the book. So he offered to construe
her lesson for her. She let him do it, and he was just congratulating
himself that he was doing it tolerably well when she corrected him. At
the same moment Jacquelin came in. He too looked unusually downcast,
and Blair turned away her face, and then suddenly sprang up and ran
away.

“What’s the matter?” asked Middleton. “Can’t she read her lesson?”

“No: she can read that well enough. You just ought to hear her read
Latin. I wish I could do it as well as she does, that’s all! I’d make
old Eliphalet open his eyes. She’s crying because I’ve got to go back
to school—I wish I were grown up, I bet I wouldn’t go to school
any more! I hate school, and I hate old Eliphalet, and I hate old
Maule—no, I don’t quite hate him; but I hate school and I’m going to
paint his horse blue, if he licks the life out of me.” After which
explosion the youngster appeared relieved, and went off to prepare for
the inevitable.

When he rode away with Doan behind him, his last call back was to
Middleton, to be sure and remember his promise to come back again, and
to bring Reely Thurston with him.



CHAPTER III

THE VISITORS START SOUTH AGAIN; AND THEIR FORMER HOSTS GO TO MEET THEM


Both Larry Middleton and Mr. Welch were to visit Red Rock again; but
under circumstances little anticipated by anyone at the time the
invitation to return was given.

When Middleton came of age he turned over the manufacturing business
he had inherited, to the family’s agent, Mr. Bolter, and, on leaving
college, accepted the invitation of his cousin, Mr. Welch, to go in
his law-office. He made only one condition: that the same invitation
should be extended to his college chum, Reely Thurston, whom Middleton
described to Mr. Welch as “at once the roundest and squarest fellow”
in his class. This was enough for Mr. Welch, and within a few months
the two young men were at adjoining desks, professing to practise law
and really practising whatever other young gentlemen of their age and
kind are given to doing: a combination of loafing, working, and airing
themselves for the benefit of the rest of mankind, particularly of that
portion that wears bonnets and petticoats.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Welch were glad to have Middleton with them; for
Mrs. Welch was fond of him as a near relation, and one who in personal
appearance and address was a worthy representative of the old stock
from which they had both come. And she had this further reason for
wishing to have Middleton near her: that she had long observed his
tendency to be affected unduly, as she termed it, by his surroundings,
and she meant to counteract this defect of character by her personal
influence.

It was enough for Mrs. Welch to see a defect of any kind to wish to
correct it, and her wish was usually but a step in advance of her
action. One might see this in the broad brow above which the hair was
brushed so very smoothly; in the deep gray eyes; in the firm mouth
with its fine, even teeth; in the strong chin, almost too strong for
a woman; and especially, in the set of her head, and the absolute
straightness of her back. She was at heart a missionary: one of those
intrepid and unbending spirits who have carried their principles
through the world by the sheer energy of their belief. She would no
more have bowed in the house of Rimmon than she would have committed
theft. If she had lived in Rome, she would have died before taking
a pinch of incense for Diana, unless, indeed, she had been on the
other side, when she would have fed the lions with fervor. If she had
been in Spain on Torquemada’s side, she could have sung Te Deums at
an _auto-da-fé_. As someone said of her, she would have burned like
a candle. The only difficulty was that she wanted others to burn
too—which they were not always so ready to do. As a girl, she had been
on the eve of going out as missionary to the Sandwich Islands, when she
heard the splendid oratory of one of the new apostles of abolitionism,
one evening in company with Mr. Welch, then a young engineer, when her
philanthropical direction changed from West to South, and she devoted
herself thenceforth to the cause of the negroes—and of the young
engineer.

She had great hopes of Lawrence Middleton and deplored the influence
on him of the young man whom he had chosen at college as his especial
friend; and she grieved over the effect that his visit South, already
described, had on him. He had come home much impressed by the charm
of the life there. Indeed, he had become actually an apologist for
Slavery. But Mrs. Welch did not despair. She never despaired. It
implied weakness, and so, sin. She was urgent to have Larry Middleton
accept her husband’s proposal to take a place in his office, and though
she would have preferred to separate him from young Thurston, as to
whom she had misgivings, yet when he made this condition she yielded;
for it brought Middleton where she could influence him, and had, at
least, this advantage: that it gave her two persons to work on instead
of one.

When her daughter, Ruth Welch, a young Miss with sparkling eyes, came
home in her vacations, it was natural that she should be thrown a great
deal with her cousin, and the only singular thing was that Mrs. Welch
appeared inclined to minimize the importance of the relationship. This,
however, made little difference to the gay, fun-loving girl, who,
enjoying her emancipation from school, tyrannized over the two young
sprigs of the Law to her heart’s content. She soon reduced Thurston
to a condition of abject slavery which might well have called forth
the intervention of so ardent an emancipator as her mother, and did,
indeed, excite some solicitude in her maternal bosom. Mrs. Welch was
beginning to be very anxious about him when events, suddenly crowding
on each other, gave her something widely different to think of, and
unexpectedly relieved her from this cause of care to give her others
far weightier.

Both the young men had become politicians. Middleton was a Whig, though
he admitted he did not see how Slavery could be interfered with; while
Thurston announced tenets of the opposite party, particularly when Mrs.
Welch was present.

The cloud which had been gathering so long above the Country suddenly
burst.

Middleton and Thurston were sitting in their office one afternoon when
there was a scamper outside; the door was flung open, and a paper
thrown in—an extra still wet from the press. Thurston seized it, his
seat being nearest the door, and gave a long whistle as his eye fell
on the black headlines:

 The Flag Fired on: Open Rebellion. The Union Must Be Saved At Any
 Cost. Etc., etc.

He sank into his seat and read rapidly the whole account, ending with
the call for troops to put down the Rebellion; while Middleton listened
with a set face. When Thurston was through, he flung the paper down and
sat back in his chair, thinking intently. The next moment he hammered
his fist on his desk and sprang to his feet, his face white with
resolve.

“By God! I’ll go.”

With a single inquiring look at Middleton, he turned to the door and
walked out. A moment later Middleton locked his desk and followed
him. The street was already filling with people, crowding to hear the
details, and the buzz of voices was growing louder.

Within a few hours the two young men were both enrolled in a company
of volunteers which was being gotten up—Middleton, in right of his
stature and family connections, as a Sergeant, and little Thurston as a
Corporal, and were at work getting others enrolled.

As they were so engaged, Thurston’s attention was arrested by a man
in the crowd who was especially violent in his denunciations, and was
urging everybody to enlist. His voice had a peculiar, penetrating
whine. As Thurston could not remember the man among those who had
signed the roll, he asked him his name.

“Leech, Jonadab Leech,” he said.

When Thurston looked at the roster, the name was not on it, and the
next time Leech came up in the crowd, the little Corporal called him:

“Here; you have forgotten to put your name down.”

To his surprise, Leech drew back and actually turned pale.

“What’s the matter?” asked Thurston.

“I have a wife.”

The little volunteer gave a sniff.

“All right—send her in your place. I guess she’d do as well.”

“If he has, he’s trying to get rid of her,” said someone standing by,
in an undertone.

“Why—ah!—my eyes are bad; I’m too near-sighted.”

“Your eyes be hanged! You can see well enough to read this paper.”

“I—ah!—I cannot see in the dark at all,” stammered Leech as a number
of the new volunteers crowded around them.

“Neither can I—neither can anybody but a cat,” declared the little
Corporal, and the crowd around cheered him. Leech vanished.

“Who is he?” asked Thurston, as Leech disappeared.

“He is a clerk in old Bolter’s commissary.”

The crowd was patriotic.

There was great excitement in the town all night: bells rang; crowds
marched up and down the streets singing; stopping at the houses of
those who had been opposed to ultra measures, and calling on them to
put up flags to show their loyalty. The name of Jonadab Leech appeared
in the papers next morning as one of the street-orators who made the
most blood-thirsty speech.

Next day was Sunday. Sober second thought had succeeded the excitement
of the previous day, the faces of the people showed it. The churches
were overflowing. The preachers all alluded to the crisis that had
come, and the tears of the congregations testified how deeply they were
moved. After church, by a common impulse, everyone went to the public
square to learn the news. The square was packed. Suddenly on the pole
that stood above the old court-house, someone ran up the flag. At the
instant that it broke forth the breeze caught it, and it fluttered out
full and straight, pointing to the southward. The effect was electric.
A great cheer burst from the crowd below. As it died down, a young
man’s clear voice struck up “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” and the next
moment the whole crowd was singing and weeping.

That flag and that song made more soldiers from the old town than all
the newspapers and all the speeches, and Larry Middleton, for having
struck up the song, found himself suddenly of more note in his own home
than he could have been later if he had stormed a battery.

Loudest among the shouters was the street-orator of the evening before,
Jonadab Leech, the clerk in Bolter’s commissary.

Within a week the two young men were on their way South.

A little later, Mr. Welch, having taken time to settle up his affairs,
and also those of his cousin, Larry Middleton, went off to join the
first corps of engineers from his State, with abundance of tears from
Ruth and a blessing from his wife, whose mouth was never firmer, or her
eye clearer, than when she kissed him, and bade him God-speed.

She replied to the astonished query of Mrs. Bolter, “You did not cry?”
with another question:

“Why should I cry, when I knew it was his duty? If I had wept it would
have been because I could not go myself to strike a blow for the
freedom of the poor African!”

“You are an unusually strong woman,” said Mrs. Bolter, with a shake of
her head, and, indeed, Mrs. Welch looked it; for though Bolter had gone
to Washington, he had not gone to war, but to see about contracts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just at the time that the two young students from Mr. Welch’s office
were in the street of their town enrolling their names as soldiers
to fight for the flag of the Union, the young men, and the elders
as well, whom Middleton had met at Red Rock a thousand miles to the
southward, were engaged in similar work—enlisting to fight against
Invasion, to fight for their State.

There had been much discussion—much dissension in the old county, and
all others like it, during the interim since the night when Middleton
and Mr. Welch had appeared unexpectedly at Red Rock among the wedding
guests. Some were for radical measures, for Secession, for War; others
were conservative. Many were for the Union. Matters more than once had
reached a white heat in that section, and it had looked for a long time
as though an explosion must come. Yet the cooler heads had controlled,
and when the final elections for the body that was to settle the
momentous questions at issue at last came on, the most conservative
men in the country had been selected. In our county, Dr. Cary and Mr.
Bagby, both strong Union men, had been chosen over Major Legaie and Mr.
Gray, both ardent Democrats; and one, the former, a hot Secessionist.

When they arrived at the capital to attend the session of the
Convention they found, perhaps, the most distinguished body that had
sat in the State in fifty years. In this great crisis both sides had
put forward their best men, and in face of the nearing peril the
wildest grew conservative. The body declared for Peace.

Affairs moved rapidly, however; excitement grew; feeling changed. Yet
the more conservative prevailed.

One morning Dr. Cary received a report of a great public meeting held
at the county seat, instructing him to vote for Secession. Many of his
old supporters had signed it. He presented the resolutions at the desk,
and stated their purport fully and strongly, amid cheers from the other
side.

“Now you will vote with us?” said one of the leaders on that side.

“Not if every man in my county instructed me.”

“Then you must resign?”

“Not if every man in my county demanded it.”

“Are you the only wise man in the county?”

The voice trembled. Feeling was rising.

The Doctor was looking his questioner full in the eyes.

“If they signed such a paper, I should think so.” And there were
cheers from his side, and the vote was stayed for that day at least.
Dr. Cary made an appeal for the Union that men remembered all their
lives. However they disagreed with him, they were moved by him. But the
magazine was being stored fuller every moment.

Then the spark fell and the explosion came.

A week after this the call for troops by the President to put down
Rebellion appeared in an extra in the city where the Convention sat.

Invasion!

The whole people rose. From the time of Varrus down they had done so.
The defences that conservatives like Dr. Cary had laboriously built up
were swept away in an instant. The State went out with a rush.

At the announcement the population poured into the streets and public
squares in a great demonstration. It was tremendous—a maelstrom—a
tornado—a conflagration. Men were caught up and tossed on platforms,
that appeared as if by magic from nowhere, to makes speeches; bonfires
were lighted and bells were rung; but the crowd shouted louder than the
ringing of the bells, for it meant War: none could now withstand it.
Suddenly from some public place a gun, which had been found and run
out, boomed through the dusk, and the crowd roared louder than before,
and made a rush in that direction, cheering as if for a great victory.

Dr. Cary, stalking through the throng, silent and white, was recognized
and lifted unresisting to a platform. After a great roar, the tumult
hushed down for a moment; for he was waiting with close-shut mouth and
blazing eye, and he had the reputation of being, when he chose to
exert himself, an orator. Besides, it was not yet known what he would
do, and he was a power in his section.

He broke the silence with a calm voice that went everywhere. Without
appearing to be strong, his voice was one of those strange instruments
that filled every building with its finest tone and reached over
every crowd to its farthest limit. With a gesture that, as men said
afterward, seemed to sweep the horizon, he began:

“The time has passed for talking. Go home and prepare for War. For it
is on us.”

“Oh! there is not going to be any war,” cried someone, and a part of
the crowd cheered. Dr. Cary turned on them.

“No war? We are at war now—with the greatest power on earth: the power
of universal progress. It is not the North that we shall have to fight,
but the world. Go home and make ready. If we have talked like fools, we
shall at least fight like men.”

That night Dr. Cary walked into his lodgings alone and seated himself
in the dusk. His old body-servant, Tarquin, silent and dark, brought
a light and set it conveniently for him. He did not speak a word; but
his ministrations were unusually attentive and every movement expressed
adherence and sympathy. Suddenly his master broke the silence:

“Tarquin, do you want to be free?”

“Lawd Gawd!” exclaimed Tarquin, stopping quite still and gazing in
amazement. “Me! Free?”

“If you do I will set you free, and give you money enough to live in
Philadelphia.”

“No, suh; Marster, you know I don’ wan’ be free,” said Tarquin.

“Pack my trunk. I am going home.”

“When, suh?”

“I do not know exactly; but shortly.”

Within a week Dr. Cary was back at home, working, along with Major
Legaie and the other secessionists, making preparation for equipping
the companies that the county was going to send to the war.

What a revolution that week had made in the old county! In the face
of the menace of invasion, after but ten days one would scarcely have
known it. All division was ended: all parties were one. It was as if
the county had declared war by itself and felt the whole burden of the
struggle on its shoulders. From having been one of the most quiet,
peaceful and conservative corners of the universe, where a fox-hunt or
an evening-party was the chief excitement of the year, and where the
advent of a stranger was enough to convulse the entire community, it
became suddenly a training ground and a camp, filled with bustle and
preparation and the sound of arms. The haze of dust from men galloping
by, hung over the highways all day long, and the cross-roads and
the county seat, where the musters used to meet quarterly and where
the Fourth of July celebrations were held, became scenes of almost
metropolitan activity.

Men appeared to spring from the ground as in the days of Cadmus, ready
for war. Red Rock and Birdwood became recruiting-stations and depots of
supply. From the big estates men came; from the small homesteads amid
their orchards, and from the cabins back among the pines—all eager for
war and with a new light in their eyes. Everyone was in the movement.
Major Legaie was a colonel and Mr. Gray was a captain; Dr. Cary was
surgeon, and even old Mr. Langstaff, under that fire of enthusiasm,
doffed his cassock for a uniform, merged his ecclesiastical title of
rector in the military one of chaplain, and made amends for the pacific
nature of his prescribed prayers in church, by praying before his
company outside, prayers as diverse from the benignity of his nature,
as the curses of Ezekiel or Jeremiah from the benediction of St. John
the Aged.

Miss Thomasia, who was always trying to meet some wants which only
the sensitiveness of her own spirit apprehended, enlarged her little
academy in the office at Red Rock, so as to take in all the children of
the men around who had enlisted; made them between their lessons pick
lint, and opened her exercises daily with the most martial hymns she
could find in the prayer-book, feeling in her simple heart that she
could do God no better service than to inculcate an undying patriotism
along with undying piety. As for Blair, she had long deserted the
anti-war side, horse, foot, and dragoons, and sewed on uniforms and
picked lint; wore badges of palmetto, and single stars on little blue
flags sewed somewhat crookedly in the front of her frocks, and sang
“Dixie,” “Maryland,” and “The Bonny Blue Flag” all the time.

Steve Allen and Morris Cary, on an hour’s notice, had left the
University where all the students were flocking into companies, and
with pistols and sabres strapped about their slender waists galloped
up to the county seat together one afternoon, in a cloud of dust,
having outsped their telegrams, and, amid huzzas and the waving of
handkerchiefs from the carriages lining the roadside, spurred their
sweating horses straight to the end of the line that was drilling
under Colonel Legaie in the field beside the court-house. And so, with
radiant faces and bounding hearts were enlisted for the war. Little
Andy Stamper, the rescuer of the two visitors at the ford, was already
there in line at the far end on one of his father’s two farmhorses;
and Jacquelin, on a blooded colt, was trying to keep as near in line
with him as his excited four-year-old would permit. Even the servants,
for whom some on the other side were pledging their blood, were warmly
interested, and were acting more like clansmen than slaves.

Hiram Still, Mr. Gray’s tall manager, had a sudden return of his old
enemy, rheumatism, and was so drawn up that he had to go on crutches;
but was as enthusiastic as anyone, and lent money to help equip the
companies—lent it not to the county, it is true, but to Mr. Gray and
Dr. Cary on their joint security. He and Andy Stamper were not on good
terms, yet he even offered to lend money to Andy Stamper to buy a horse
with. Jacquelin, however, spared Andy this mortification.

The boy, emancipated from school, partly because his father was going
off so shortly to the war, and partly because Dr. Maule himself had
enlisted and Mr. Eliphalet Bush, his successor, was not considered
altogether sound politically, spent his time breaking his colt to stand
the excitement of cavalry drill. Jacquelin and Andy were sworn friends,
and hearing that Andy had applied to Hiram Still to borrow money to
buy a horse with, Jacquelin asked his father’s consent to give him his
colt, and was rewarded by the pick of the horses on the place, after
the carriage horses, his father’s own riding horse and Steve’s. It was
a proud moment for the boy when he rode the high-mettled bay he chose,
over to the old Stamper place.

Andy, in a new gray jacket, was sitting on the front steps, polishing
his scabbard and accoutrements, old Mrs. Stamper was in her low,
split-bottomed chair behind him, knitting a yarn sock for her soldier,
and Delia Dove, with her plump cheeks glowing under her calico
sun-bonnet, which she had pushed back from her round face, was seated
on the bench in the little porch, toying with the wisteria-vine above
her, and looking down on Andy with her black eyes softer than usual.

Andy rose to greet Jacquelin as the boy galloped up to the gate.

“Come in, Jack. What’s up? Look out or he’ll git you off him. That’s
the way to set him! Ah!” as Jacquelin swung himself down.

“Here’s a present for you,” said Jacquelin.

“What?”

“This horse!”

“What!”

“Yes: he’s mine: papa gave him to me this morning and said I might give
him to you. I took the pick——”

“Well, by—” Andy was too much dazed to swear.

“Jack—” This also ended. “Now let that Hiram Still ask for s’curity.
Delia, I’ll lick a regiment.” He faced his sweetheart, who suddenly
turned and caught Jacquelin and kissed him violently, bringing the red
blood to the boy’s fresh face.

“If you’ll do that to me I’ll give him to you right now. D——d ’f I
don’t!” And the little recruit looked Miss Delia Dove in the eyes and
gave a shake of his head for emphasis. The girl looked for one moment
as if she were going to accept his offer. Then as Andy squared himself
and opened his arms wide she considered, and, with a toss of her head
and a sparkle in her eyes, turned away.

That moment the latch clicked and Hiram Still’s daughter, Virgy, stood
beside them, shy and silent, veiled within her sun-bonnet.

“Mr. Stamper, pappy says if you’ll come over to see him about that
business o’ yourn, maybe he can make out to help you out.”

She delivered the message automatically, and, with a shy glance at
Jacquelin, and another, somewhat different, at Delia Dove, retired once
more within the deep recesses of her sun-bonnet.

“Well, you tell your pappy that I say I’m much obliged to him; but I
ain’t got any business with him that I knows on; ’t somebody else’s
done helped me out.” The voice was kind, though the words were
sarcastic.

“Yes, sir. Good-even’.” And with another shy glance and nod to each one
in turn, the girl turned and went off as noiselessly as a hare.

“That girl always gives me the creeps,” said Delia, when Virgy had
reached a safe distance.

“How about Washy?” asked Andy, at which Delia only sniffed disdainfully.

Jacquelin Gray was not the only one of the youngsters whose patriotic
fervor was rewarded. The ladies of the neighborhood made a banner for
each of the companies that went forth, and Blair Cary was selected
to present the banner to the Red Rock company, which she did from the
court-house balcony, with her laughing eyes sobered by excitement, her
glowing face growing white and pink by turns, and her little tremulous
speech, written by her father and carefully conned by heart for days,
much swallowed and almost inaudible in face of the large crowd filling
all the space around, and of the brave company drawn up in the road
below her. But she got through it—that part about “emulating the
Spartan youth who came back with his shield or on it,” and all; and at
the close she carried everyone away by a natural clasp of her little
brown hands over her heart, as she said, “And don’t you let them take
it away from you, not ever,” outstretching her arms to her father, who
sat with moist eyes at one end of the line a little below her, with
Jacquelin close beside him, his eyes like saucers for interest in, and
admiration of, Blair.

“Blair, that’s the best speech that ever was made,” cried the boy,
enthusiastically, when he saw her; “and Steve says so, too. Don’t you
wish I was old enough to go?” The little girl’s cheeks glowed with
pleasure.

The evening before Jacquelin’s father went off, he called Jacquelin
into his office, and rising, shut the door himself. They were alone,
and Jacquelin was mystified. He had never before been summoned for
an interview with his father unless it were for a lecture, or worse.
He hastily ran over in his mind his recent acts, but he could recall
nothing that merited even censure, and curiosity took the place of
wonderment. Wonder came back, however, when his father, motioning him
to a seat, stood before him and began to address him in an entirely
new and unknown tone. He talked to him as if he were a man. Jacquelin
suddenly felt all his old timidity of his father vanish, and a new
spirit, as it were, rise up in his heart. His father told him that now
that he was going away to the war, he might never come back; but he
left, he said, with the assurance that whatever happened, he would
be worthily succeeded; and he said that he was proud of him, and had
the fullest confidence in him. He had never said anything like this to
Jacquelin before, in all his life, and the boy felt a new sensation.
He had no idea that his father had ever been satisfied with him, much
less been proud of him. It was like opening the skies and giving him a
glimpse beyond them into a new heaven. The boy suddenly rose, and flung
his arms about his father’s neck, and clung there, pouring out his
heart to him. Then he sat down again, feeling like a shriven soul, and
the father and son understood each other like two school-fellows.

Mr. Gray told Jacquelin of his will. He had left his mother everything;
but it would be the same thing as if he had left it to him and Rupert.
He, as the oldest, was to have Red Rock, and Rupert the estate in the
South. “I leave it to her, and I leave her to you,” he said, putting
his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Jacquelin listened, his mind suddenly
sobered and expanded to a man’s measure.

“And, Jacquelin,” he said, “keep the old place. Make any sacrifice to
do that. Landholding is one of the safeguards of a gentry. Our people,
for six generations, have never sold an acre, and I never knew a man
who sold land that throve.”

“I will keep it, father,” said the boy, earnestly.

There were some debts, but not enough to amount to anything, his father
told him; the principal one was to Hiram Still. Still had wanted him
to keep his money, and he had done so. It could be paid any time, if
necessary. Still was a better man than he was given credit for. A
bad manner made those who did not know him well, suspicious of him.
But he was the best business man he had ever known, and he believed
devoted to his interest. His father, old Mr. Still, had been overseer
for Jacquelin’s grandfather when Mr. Gray was a boy, and he could not
forget him, and though Still was at present in poor health, he had
contracted the disease while in their service at the South, and he
would be glad to have him kept in his position as long as he treated
the negroes well, and cared to remain.

“And, Jacquelin, one other thing: be a father to Rupert. See that he
gets an education. It is the one patrimony that no accident—not even
war—can take away.”

Jacquelin promised his father that he would remember his injunctions,
and try faithfully to keep them, every one; and when the two walked
out, it was arm in arm like two brothers, and the old servants, looking
at them, nodded their heads, and talked with pride of Jacquelin’s
growing resemblance to his grandfather.

Next day the companies raised in the county started off to the war,
taking almost every man of serviceable age and strength, and many who
were not.

When they marched away it was like a triumphal procession. The blue
haze of spring lay over the woods, softening the landscape, and filling
it with peace. Tears were on some cheeks, no doubt; and many eyes were
dimmed; but kerchiefs and scarfs were waved by many who could not see,
and fervent prayers went up from many hearts when the lips were too
tremulous to speak.



CHAPTER IV

IN WHICH A LONG JUMP IS TAKEN


It is not proposed to attempt any relation of that part of the lives
of the people in this record which was covered by the four years of
war. That period was too tremendous to be made a mere fragment of any
history. “After that the deluge.”

What pen could properly tell the story of those four years; what
fittingly record the glory of that struggle, hopeless from the
beginning, yet ever appearing to pluck success from the very abyss of
impossibility, and by the sheer power of unconquerable valor to reverse
the laws of nature and create the consummation it desired, in the face
of insuperable force?

It was a great formative force in every life that participated in it.
It stamped itself on every face. The whole country emptied itself into
it. They went into it boys, and came out of it men—striplings, and
came out of it heroes. But the eye once fastened on that flaming fire
would be blinded for any lesser light.

It is what took place after the war rather than what occurred during
the struggle that this chronicle is concerned with.

If the part that the men played in the war must be passed over in
silence as too large for this history, how much more impossible would
it be to describe fitly the part that the women performed. It was a
harder part to fill, yet they filled it to the brim, good measure,
overflowing. It is no disparagement to the men to say that whatever
courage they displayed, it was less than that which the women showed.
Wherever a Southern woman stood during those four years, there in her
small person was a garrison of the South, impregnable.

Year after year the mills of war ground steadily array after array, and
crushed province after province, and still the ranks filled and poured
with intrepid daring into the abyss of destruction, to be ground like
their predecessors to dust; until at the end there was nothing left to
grind. Some day the historian, annalist or novelist, may arise to tell
the mighty story, but meantime this pen must pass it by as too great a
theme, and deal with the times that come after.

One or two incidents, however, must be mentioned to fill the break and
explain what came afterward.

Colonel Gray, who had been early promoted, fell at the head of his
regiment on one of those great days which are the milestones of history.

His body was brought home and buried in the old grave-yard at Red
Rock among generations of Grays, of whom, as old Mr. Langstaff, who
had been bodily haled back to his parish by his congregation, said to
the neighbors and servants about the grave, not one was a better or a
braver man, or a truer gentleman. Colonel Gray’s burial marked one of
the steps of the war in that retired neighborhood.

When it was all over, and the neighbors had gone home, and the servants
had retired to their quarters, hushed to that vague quietude that
follows the last putting away in the earth of those who have been near
to us, Jacquelin came out of the office where he had held that last
interview with his father, and walked into his mother’s room. His
shoulders were square and his figure erect. Mrs. Gray rose from her
knees as he entered, and stood before him in her black dress, her face
deadly white; her eyes, full of fear, fastened on his face.

“Mamma—.” He stopped as if that were all he had to say, and, perhaps,
it was; for Mrs. Gray seated herself calmly.

“Yes, my son.” The fine, sad eyes grew wistful. How like he was to his
father!

—“Because, you know, there ought to be one of us in the old company,
mamma,” he said, quite as though he had spoken the other sentence.

“Yes, my son, I know.” And the mother sighed, her heart breaking in
spite of her resolve to be brave.

“—And I am the only man of the name now—and I am fifteen and a whole
head taller than Andy Stamper.”

“Yes, I know, my son.” She had noticed it that day, and had known this
would come.

“And he is one of the best soldiers in the army—_He_ said so. And
if—if anything happens, you have Rupert.” He went on arguing, as
though his mother had not agreed with him.

“Yes, my son, I know.” And Mrs. Gray rose suddenly and flung herself
into his arms and hugged him and clung to him, and wept on his
shoulder, as though he were his father.

So the change comes: the boy in little trousers suddenly stands before
the mother a man; the little girl who was in her pinafores yesterday,
to-day has stepped into full-blown womanhood; and the children have
gone; the old has passed; and the new is here.

General Legaie offered to make a place on his staff for Jacquelin; but
Jacquelin declined it. He wished to go into the Red Rock troop, of
which Steve Allen was now Captain.

“Because, mamma, all the men are in it, and Steve has refused a
majority to stay with them, and there must be one of the Grays in the
old company,” he said with a rise of his head.

Doan, of course, expected to go with his master; but Mrs. Gray vetoed
this; she was afraid Doan might be killed: young men were so rash. She
remembered that Doan was his mother’s only son. So, by a compromise,
Old Waverley was sent. He had so much judgment, she said.

The year after Jacquelin went away to the army the tide of war rolled
nearer to the old county, and the next year, that which had been deemed
impossible befell: it swept over it.

When the invading army had passed, the county was scarcely recognizable.

Jacquelin’s career in the army was only that of many others—indeed, of
many thousands of others: he went in a boy, but a boy who could ride
any horse, and all day and all night; sleep on stones or in mud; and if
told to go anywhere, would go as firmly and as surely among bayonets or
belching guns as if it were in a garden of roses.

Being the youngest man in his company, he might naturally have been a
favorite in any case; but when he was always ready to stand an extra
tour of guard-duty, or to do anything else for a comrade, it placed
his popularity beyond question. They used to call him “The baby;” but
after a sharp cavalry fight on a hill-top one afternoon they stopped
this. Legaie’s brigade charged, and finding infantry entrenched, were
retiring amid smoke and dust and bullets, when Jacquelin, missing
Morris Cary, who had been near him but a moment before, suddenly turned
and galloped back through the smoke. Two or three men shouted and
stopped, and Steve suddenly dashed back after the boy, followed by Andy
Stamper and the whole company. There was a rally with the whole Red
Rock troop in the lead, Steve Allen, with little Andy Stamper close
behind, shouting and sabering like mad, which changed the fortune of
the day.

Poor Morris was found under his horse, past help; but they brought
his body out of the fray, and Jacquelin sent him home, with a letter
which was harder to write than any charge he had ever made or was to
make—harder even than to tell Dr. Cary, who was at the field hospital
and who received the announcement with only a sudden tightening of the
mouth and whitening of the face. After that, Andy Stamper “allowed that
Jacquelin’s cradle was big enough for him” (Andy), which it certainly
was, by linear measurement, at least.

Blair’s letter to Jacquelin in reply was more to him than General
Legaie’s mention of his name in his report.

Blair was growing up to be almost a woman now. Women, as well as men,
age rapidly amid battles, and nearly every letter Jacquelin received
from home contained something about her. “What a pretty girl Blair
has grown to be. You have no idea how we all lean on her,” his mother
wrote. Or Miss Thomasia would say: “I wish you could have heard Blair
sing in church last Sunday. Her voice has developed unspeakable
sweetness. It reminded me of her grandmother, when I can first remember
her.”

It was not a great while after this that Jacquelin himself went down
one day, and had to be fought over, and though he fared better than
poor Morris Cary, in that the bullet which brought him down only
smashed his leg instead of finding his heart, it resulted in Steve
getting both himself and his horse shot, and Jacquelin being left in
the enemy’s hands, along with Andy Stamper, who had fought over him,
like the game little bantam that he was, until a big Irish Sergeant
knocked him in the head with a carbine-barrel and came near ending the
line of the Stampers then and there. Happily, Andy came to after a
while, and was taken along with Jacquelin and sent to Point Lookout.

Jacquelin and Andy stayed in prison a long time; Andy because he was
a hardy and untamed little warrior, of the kind which was drawn last
for exchange; and Jacquelin partly because he was unable to travel on
account of his wound and partly because he would not accept an exchange
to leave Andy.

One day, however, Andy got a letter which seriously affected him. It
told him that Delia Dove was said to be going to marry Mr. Still.
Within a week little Andy, whose constitution had hitherto appeared of
iron, was in the hospital. The doctor told Jacquelin that he thought
he was seriously ill, and might die.

That night Jacquelin scribbled a line to Andy and persuaded a nurse,
Miss Bush, a small woman with thin hair, a sharp nose and a complaining
voice, but gentle eyes and a kind heart, to get it to him. It ran:
“Hold on for Delia’s sake. We’ll get exchanged before long.”

“Who is Delia?” asked the nurse, looking at the paper doubtfully. It
was against orders to carry notes.

“His sweetheart.”

The nurse took the note.

In a week Andy was ready to be out of the hospital.

The next morning Jacquelin and the doctor had a long talk, and later
on, Jacquelin and the nurse; and when the next draft for exchange came,
the name of Jacquelin Gray was on it. But Andy Stamper’s was not. So
the nurse told Jacquelin. Another note was written and conveyed by Miss
Bush, and that evening, when the line of prisoners for exchange marched
out of the prison yard, Andy Stamper, with his old blanket pulled
up around his face and a crutch under his arm, was in it. Jacquelin
was watching from a corner of the hospital window while the line was
inspected. Andy answered the questions all right—Private in Company A,
—th Cavalry; captured at ——; wounded in leg; and just left hospital.
As the last guard filed out behind the ragged line and the big gate
swung to, Jacquelin hobbled back to his cot and lay with his face to
the wall. The nurse came by presently and stopping, looked down at him.

“Now you’ve gone and ruined your chance for ever,” she said in the
querulous tone habitual with her.

Jacquelin shut his eyes tightly, then opened them and without a word
gazed straight at the wall not a foot before him. Suddenly the woman
bent close down over him and kissed him.

“You are a dear boy.” The next instant she went back to her duty.

An effort was made to get an exchange for Jacquelin, the principal
agents being a nurse in the prison-hospital and a philanthropical
friend of hers, a Mrs. Welch, through whom the nurse had secured her
position; but the answer was conclusive:

“Jacquelin Gray has already been exchanged.”

As for Andy, when he reached home he found the report about Miss Delia
Dove to be at least premature. It was not only Mr. Washington Still,
but Hiram as well, who was unpleasantly attentive to her, and Miss
Delia, after the first burst of genuine delight at Andy’s unexpected
appearance, proceeded to use the prerogative of her sex and wring
her lover’s heart by pretending to be pleased by his new rival’s
attentions. Andy, accordingly, did not stay long at home, but accepting
the renewed proffer of a loan from Hiram Still to buy a horse, was soon
back with the old company, sadly wasted by this time and only kept up
by the new recruits, on whom Andy looked with disdain.

When Wash Still was drafted from the dispensary department of the
hospital service it was some consolation that he was at least banished
from dangerous proximity to Miss Delia, but it was hard to have to
accept him as a comrade, and Andy’s sunburned nose was always turned up
when Wash was around.

“Washy Still in place of Jacquelin Gray,” he sniffed; “a dinged little
’pothecary-shop sweeper for a boy as didn’t mind bullets no mo’ than
flies. I bet he’s got pills in that pistol now! And he to be a-settin’
up to Delia Dove!”

However, a few months later Andy had his reward.

So it happened, that when the end came, Andy was back with the old
company, and Jacquelin was still in prison.



CHAPTER V

DR. CARY RETURNS FROM THE WAR, AND TAKES AN INVENTORY OF STOCK


The home-coming of the men who went to the war was about the same time
of the year that most of them went forth. While the troops of the
victorious army were parading amid the acclaims of multitudes, the
remnants of that other army that had met and defeated them so often
were making their way back to their dismantled homes, with everything
they had fought for lost, save honor. They came home singly or in
squads from northward, eastward and westward, wherever their commands
happened to be when the final collapse came. And but for certain
physical landmarks they would scarcely have known the old neighborhood.
The blue mountains still stretched across the skyline, with the nearer
spurs nestled at their feet; the streams still ran through the little
valleys between the hills, under their willows and sycamores, as they
ran when Steve Allen and Jacquelin and the other boys fished and swam
in them; but the bridges were gone, and the fishing-holes were dammed
with fallen trees, some of them cut down during the battles that had
been fought on their banks. And the roads made by the army-wagons
often turned out through the unfenced fields and the pillaged and
fire-scorched forests.

Dr. Cary, now known as Major Cary, from his title as surgeon in General
Legaie’s brigade, and Captain Allen and Sergeant Stamper came home
together as they had ridden away together through the April haze four
years before. They had started from the place of their surrender with
a considerable company, who had dropped off from time to time as they
had arrived at the roads which took them their several ways, and these
three were the last to separate. When they parted, it was at the forks
where the old brick church had stood when they last passed that way.
The church had gone down in the track of war. Nothing remained of it
now except fragments of the walls, and even these were already half
hidden by the thicket which had grown up around them. It brought the
whole situation very close home to them; for they all had memories
of it: Dr. Cary had buried his father and mother there, and Stamper
and Delia Dove had been married in it a year before. And they did not
have a great many words to speak—perhaps, none at all at the very
last—only a “Well—Well!” with a rising inflection, and something like
a sigh; and then, after a long pause, from the older officer, a sudden:
“Well, good-by, Steve;—good-by, Sergeant. We’ll have to begin over
again.—God bless you—Come over and see me. Good-by.” And from each
of the other two, “Good-by, Major—I will;—Good-by, Tarquin,” to the
Major’s tall, gray-haired body-servant, waiting silently, on his weary
horse; then a couple of hard handgrips and silence; and the horses
went plashing off in the mud, slow and sullen, reluctant to leave each
other. All turned once to look back; caught each other’s glances and
waved their hands; and then rode on through the mud, their heads sunk
on their chests, and the officer’s two body-servants, old Tarquin and
young Jerry, following silently behind their masters.

The meeting at home was in the dusk.

The little group waiting on the hill-top at Dr. Cary’s for the small
cavalcade as they rode up through the waning light had been waiting and
watching for days; but there were no words spoken at the meeting. Only,
Mrs. Cary walked out from the others and met her husband a part of the
way down the hill, and Blair followed her a moment after.

When the doctor reached his door, walking between his wife and
daughter, an arm around each, he turned to his old servant, who was
holding the horses:

“Tarquin, you are free. I present you the horse you rode home. Take the
saddles off, and turn them out.” And he walked into the house, shaking
by the hand the servants clustered about the door.

It was only when he was inside, facing the portrait of a young boy with
handsome, dark eyes, that he gave way.

The very next day Dr. Cary, to use a commercial phrase, began to “take
stock.”

“Taking stock” is always a serious thing to do, and it must come often
into every thoughtful man’s life. He is his own ledger. In all cases he
must look back and measure himself by himself. Perhaps some hour brings
him some question on which all must hinge. It may come unexpectedly,
or he may have seen it advancing with inevitable steps. He may have
brought it on himself, or he may have fought strenuously against it. It
is all the same. It comes straight down upon him, a cyclone threatening
to overwhelm him, and he must meet it either as a brave man or a
craven. It comes, sweeps past or over him and leaves him in its track,
unscathed or wounded or slain. But it comes. And this is Life. The
ancients called it Fate; we call it Providence or Chance, or the result
of natural laws. But by whatever name known, it is inscrutable.

So Dr. Cary felt that soft spring morning as he stood on the front
porch of the roomy and rambling old mansion, where the Carys had had
their seat and had made the Birdwood hospitality celebrated for more
than two hundred years, and looked across the wide lawn, once well
trimmed and filled with shrubbery and flowers, now ragged and torn. His
eye took in the whole scene. The wide fields, once teeming with life,
stretched before him now empty and silent; the fences were broken down
or had disappeared altogether. And yet the grass was fresh and green,
the trees and bushes were just bursting from bud to leaf; the far-off
mountains rose blue and tender across the newly washed sky; the birds
were flitting and singing joyously, and somewhere, around the house,
a young girl’s voice was singing sweeter than any of the birds. The
look on the old soldier’s face was for a moment one of deep gravity,
if not of dejection; but it passed away the next instant, as Blair’s
song reached him and as a step sounded behind him, and a hand was laid
lightly on his shoulder, followed by an even softer touch on his arm,
as his wife’s face rested for a moment against it. At the caressing
touch his expression changed, he looked down in her eyes and, when he
spoke, it was with a new light in his own eyes and a new tone in his
voice.

“Well, Bess, we’ll begin all over again. We have each other, and we
have Blair, and we have—the land. It is as much as our forefathers
began with. At least, I think we have the land—I don’t suppose they’ll
take that away. If they do—why, we have each other and Blair, anyhow.
If we only had the boy!” He turned his face away.

“He died for his country,” said the mother, though her voice belied the
courage of her words.

“He died like a soldier: with all his wounds before.” He looked down
into his wife’s eyes.

“Yes.” And she sighed deeply.

“We have to take care of what’s left. Where is Jim Sherwood? I have not
seen him.”

“He has gone.”

“What!” The Doctor gave a whistle of amazement. “I’d almost as soon
have expected Mammy Krenda and Tarquin to leave.” Jim was one of the
most trusted men about the place, a sort of preacher and leader, and
had married, as his third wife, Mammy Krenda’s daughter, Jane.

“Yes, Jim has gone. He went two weeks ago, and I was rather glad he
went,” said Mrs. Cary. “He had never been quite the same since the
Yankees came through; you know he behaved very badly then. He had
changed more than almost anyone of them who remained. He had been
preaching a good deal lately, and appeared to be stirring the others
up more than I liked. There seemed to have been some influence at work
among them that I could not understand. It was said that Mr. Still,
Helen’s manager—But I don’t know,”—she broke off. “I heard them one
night, at the house, and went out to the church where they were, and
found them in a great state of excitement. They quieted down when I
appeared. That repulsive creature, Mr. Gray’s Moses, was there, and
I ordered him home, and gave them a talk, and the next morning Jim
Sherwood was missing too, and a few days later Jane said that she had
to go also. I told them they were free, but if they remained here they
must observe my regulations. I put Gideon in charge and told him you
would look to him to keep order till you came. And he has done so to
the best of his ability, I believe. I hear that he gave Jim Sherwood
to understand that he would have no more of his preaching here for the
present, and that if he wanted to preach for Hiram Still he could go to
Red Rock and do it, not here. And now you are here, this is the end of
my stewardship, and I surrender it into your hands.”

She made her husband, half-mockingly, a profound curtsey—perhaps to
turn off the serious thoughts which her words called up. But the Doctor
declared that, at least, one of her slaves recognized too well the
blessing of servitude to such a mistress to wish for freedom, and that
he declined to assume control.

“Why, Bess, we men fought a quarter of the war and you women fought
three-quarters. Do you imagine we want to depose you?”

Just then a young girl came around the corner of the house, her dark
eyes full of light; her hair blown back from her forehead by the
morning breeze, and her hands full of jonquils and other early flowers.
Her face was glowing with the exercise she has been taking, and her
whole person was radiant with youth.

“The morn is breaking. Here comes Aurora,” said her father, gazing at
her fondly, at which Miss Blair’s cheeks glowed only the more.

It was proposed by the Doctor that they should invite to dinner such of
their friends as had arrived at home and could be reached.

“Our first reunion,” said Mrs. Cary, smiling, and she began to give
what she called her ménu, in which, corn-bread, dried fruit, black-eyed
pease, and welcome figured as the principal dishes. She laughed at her
husband’s dumb amazement.

“Bess,” said the Doctor, humbly, “I retract what I said a little while
ago about our having fought a fourth of the war—it was the speech of a
braggart.” And having followed her with his eyes, as she went into the
house, he walked around to have a talk with his negroes.

He found a number of them congregated and evidently expecting something
of the kind.

“Gideon, tell the men I wish to speak to them.”

In fifteen minutes they had collected. He called them all up, and
standing on the portico of the office where he had been accustomed to
speak with them, addressed a few calm words to them.

For a moment he went over the past. They had been faithful servants, he
said. And he was glad to be able to say this to them. Now there were to
be new relations between them. He told them they were free—on which
there was an audible murmur of acquiescence—and they could leave, if
they pleased. There was another murmur of satisfaction. But if they
remained they would have to work and be subject to his authority.

Upon this many of the older ones signified their assent, while some of
the others turned and, looking back, called to some one in the rear of
the crowd:

“Come, Brer Sherrod, you done heah de noration; now come and gi’ de
’sponse.”

A low, stout negro, of middle age, whom the Doctor had not before
noticed, came forward somewhat sheepishly, but with a certain swagger
in his gait. It was evidently concerted. The Doctor’s mind acted
quickly. At the speaker’s first word, he cut him short.

“I decline to allow Jim Sherwood to be the spokesman,” he said. “He
does not belong here. I left him in a position of trust, and he has
failed in it. Fall to the rear; I make no terms with outsiders.”

Taken by surprise at the tone of authority, the exhorter fell or was
moved back, in sudden confusion, while the doctor went on:

“Gideon, I appoint you; you have proved trustworthy. This place has
supported two hundred souls in the past, and we can make it do so
again. Tell them that all those who remain here and work under you,
including Sherwood, shall be supported and treated fairly and paid what
is proper if it takes every acre I have to do it; the others can go and
find homes elsewhere.” He turned on his heel and walked into the house.

The next day there was a good force at work in the fields.

Some of those he had addressed had gone off in the night; but most of
them remained, and the Doctor told Mrs. Cary he thought things would
work out all right; he was ready to accept present conditions, and
matters would adjust themselves.

“Time is the adjuster,” he said.



CHAPTER VI

A BROKEN SOLDIER COMES HOME FROM WAR


It was a little over two weeks or, perhaps, three, after the
Confederate armies had laid down their arms and disbanded, and the rest
of the men from the county had turned their faces homeward with, or
without, their paroles in their pockets, that a train which had been
crawling all night over the shaky track, stopped in the morning near
the little station, or what remained of it, on the edge of the county,
where persons bound for nearly all that region got off. A passenger was
helped down by the conductor and brakeman and was laid, with his crutch
and blanket, as gently as might be, on a bank a little way from the
track.

“Are you all right now? Do you think you can get on? You are sure
someone will come for you?” asked the train men.

“Oh! yes; I feel better already.” And the young fellow stretched out
his hands in the gray dawn and felt the moist earth on either side of
him almost tenderly.

As the railroad men climbed back into the car they were conversing
together in low tones.

“Unless his friends come before many hours they won’t find him,” said
one of them. “I don’t know but what we ought to a’ brought him along,
any way.”

But Jacquelin Gray had more staying power than they gave him credit
for, and the very touch of the soil he loved did him good. He dragged
himself a little way up, stretched himself out under a tree on the
grass near where they had laid him, and went to sleep like a baby. The
sun came up over the dewy trees and warmed him, and he only turned
and slept on, dreaming that he had escaped from prison and reached the
old county too weary to go any farther, and so, lay down on a bank and
waited for someone to come for him. How often he had dreamed that, and
had awaked to find himself in his old cot in the hospital, maybe, with
the guard peering down at him with his lantern. Suddenly a shadow fell
across his face, and he woke and looked up. Yes, there was the guard,
three or four of them, gazing down on him in their blue uniform.

“Jacquelin Gray. No.—. Ward ten,” he muttered wearily, as he used
to do in the hospital, and was closing his eyes again when he awaked
fully. Two or three Federal soldiers, one of them an officer, a little
fellow with blue eyes, were leaning over him, and a cavalry company was
yonder at rest, in the road below him. He was free after all, back in
the old county.

The Lieutenant asked him his name and how he came there, and he told
them.

“Where are you going?”

“Home!” with a little flash in his eye.

“Where is that?”

“Above here, across the country, in the Red Rock neighborhood—beyond
Brutusville.”

“Why, we are going that way ourselves—we were going to give you a
decent burial; but maybe we can do you a better turn if you are not
ready for immortality; we’ve an ambulance along, and here’s the best
substitute for the honor we offered you.”

The little Lieutenant was so cheery as he pressed the canteen to
Jacquelin’s lips that the latter could not help feeling better.

The Captain, who had remained with the company, came over, on his
handsome horse, picking his way through the débris lying about.

“So he is alive after all?” he asked as he rode up.

“Alive? Well, if you’d seen the way he took this!” And the Lieutenant
shook his canteen up beside his ear, as if to gauge its remaining
contents; then held it to Jacquelin again.

“Have another pull? No? All right—when you want it. You aren’t the
first reb’s had a swig at it.”

Then he repeated to his superior, a tall, handsome fellow, what
Jacquelin had told him as to his name and destination. In an instant
the Captain had sprung from his horse.

“Jacquelin Gray! Red Rock!—By Jove! It can’t be!” He stared down at
the man on the ground.

“Do you mean to say that you live at a place called ‘Red Rock’—a great
plantation, with a big rock by a burial-ground, and a red stain on it,
said to be an Indian’s blood?”

Jacquelin nodded.

“Well by ——! What’s the matter with you? Where have you been? What
are you dressed this way for?—I mean an old plantation where there
was a wedding—or a wedding-party, about five years ago—?” he broke
out, as if it were impossible to believe it. “And—a little girl, named
Blair Something, sang?”

Jacquelin nodded.

“Yes, that’s the place—Miss Blair Cary. But who are—? What do you
know about——?”

“Well, I’m— Here, Reely, call Sergeant O’Meara; tell him to send the
ambulance here directly,” interrupted the Captain. He turned back to
Jacquelin.

“Don’t you remember me? I’m Middleton—Lawrence Middleton. Don’t you
remember? I happened in that night with Mr. Welch, and you took care of
us? I’ve never forgotten it.”

“I remember it—you painted the horse red,” said Jacquelin.

“Yes—it was really this fellow, Reely Thurston. He is the one that got
me into all that trouble. And he has got me into a lot more since. But
where have you been that you look like this?”

Jacquelin told him.

By this time several of the people from the few houses in the
neighborhood of the station, who had at first kept aloof from the troop
of soldiers and gazed at them from a distance, had come up, seeing that
they had a Confederate with them. They recognized Jacquelin and began
to talk about his appearance, and to make cutting speeches as to the
treatment he had undergone.

“We ain’t forgot your Pa,” some of them said.

“Nor you neither,” said one of the women, who added that she was Andy
Stamper’s cousin.

They wanted Jacquelin to stay with them and let them take care of him
until his mother could send for him. Captain Allen had been down to see
about him, and Andy Stamper had been there several times, and had said
that if he didn’t hear anything from him next time, he was going North
to see about him, if he had to ride his old horse there.

Jacquelin, however, was so anxious to get home that, notwithstanding
the pressing invitations of his friends, he accepted the offer of
the Federal officers, and, after getting a cup of coffee from Andy’s
cousin—who said it was the first she had had in three years—he was
helped up in the ambulance and was driven off.

The company, it seemed, had come up from the city the day before
and had encamped a little below the station, and was marching to
Brutusville, where it was to be posted.

Julius, General Legaie’s old butler, met them near the court-house and
plunged out in the mud and wrung Jacquelin’s hand, thanking God for his
return.

The old butler was on the lookout for his master, who had not come home
yet, and about whom he was beginning to be very uneasy. The General had
gone South somewhere “to keep on fightin’,” Julius told Jacquelin, and
he invited him to come by and spend the night, and offered to go on
himself and let his mother know he had come. The old fellow, in his
best clothes—a high hat and an old blue coat with brass buttons—and
with his best manners, caused much amusement to the soldiers, and
Lieutenant Thurston undertook to tease him.

“You haven’t any master now,” he said.

The old servant looked at him.

“I ain’t? Does you think I’se a free nigger?” he asked, sharply,
“‘Cause I ain’t!”

“Yes, but I mean we’ve taken your master prisoner.”

“You is?” He looked at him again keenly. “Nor, you ain’t. It’ll teck
a bigger man’n you to teck my master prisoner—And he ain’ big as
you nuther,” he said, with a snap of his eyes. “He ain’t de kind dat
s’renders.”

“We’ll have to stand in on this together,” said the little Lieutenant
across to Jacquelin, as the laugh went round; and then to Julius, with
a wave of his hand toward Jacquelin, “Well, what do you say to that
gentleman’s having surrendered?”

The old darky was quick enough, however.

“He was shot, and besides _you_ never got him. I know you never got
nigh enough to him in battle to shoot him.”

“I think you’ll have to go this alone,” said Jacquelin. The Lieutenant
admitted himself routed.

Late that evening Jacquelin’s ambulance was toiling up the hill to Red
Rock, while the troop of cavalry, sent to keep order in that section,
with its tents pitched in the court-house yard under the big trees,
were taking a survey of the place they had come to govern. Little
Thurston, who, as they rode in, had caught sight of a plump young
girl gazing at them from the open door of the old clerk’s office,
with mingled curiosity and defiance, declared that it was not half as
bad as some places he had been in in the South. At that moment, as it
happened, Miss Elizabeth Dockett, the young lady in question, daughter
of Mr. Dockett, the old County Clerk, was describing to her mother the
little Lieutenant as the most ridiculous and odious-looking little
person in the world.

It was night when Jacquelin reached home; but so keen was the watch in
those times, that the ambulance had been heard in the dark, so that
when he arrived there was quite a crowd on the lawn ready to receive
him, and the next moment he was in his mother’s arms.

Sergeant O’Meara, who had been detailed to go on with the ambulance,
took back to the court-house an account of the meeting.

“It was wurruth the drive,” he said, “to see ’um whan we got there.
An’ if I’d been th’ Gineral himself, or the Captain, they couldn’t
’a’ made more fuss over me. Bedad! I thought they moust tak’ me for a
Gineral at least; but no, ut was me native gintilitee. I was that proud
of meself I almost shed tears of j’y. The only thing I lacked was some
wan to say me so gran’ that could appreciate me. An ould gintleman—a
Docther Major Cary—a good Oirish naim, bedad!—was there to say wan of
the leddies, and ivery toime a leddy cooms in, oop he gits, and bows
very gran’, an’ the leddy bows an’ passes by, an’ down he sets, an’ I
watches him out o’ the tail of me eye, an’ ivery toime he gits oup, oup
I gits too. An’ I says:

“‘I always rise for the leddies; me mither was a leddy,’ an’ he says,
with a verra gran’ bow: ‘Yis,’ he says, ‘an’ her son is a gintleman,
too.’ What dy’e think o’ that? An’ I says, ‘Yis, I know he is.’”

Next morning Jacquelin was in a very softened mood. The joy of
being free and at home again was tempered by memory of the past and
realization of the present; but he was filled with a profound feeling
which, perhaps, he himself could not have named. As he hobbled out to
the front portico and gazed around on the wide fields spread out below
him, with that winding ribbon of tender green, where the river ran
between its borders of willows and sycamores, he renewed his resolve
to follow in his father’s footsteps. He would keep the place at all
sacrifices. He was in this pleasant frame of mind when Hiram Still
came around the house. Still had aged during the war, his voice had
become more confidential.

As he came up to Jacquelin, the latter, notwithstanding his
outstretched hand and warm words, had a sudden return of his old
feeling of suspicion and dislike.

“Mr. Jacquelin, I swan, I am glad to see you, suh—an’ to see you
lookin’ so well. I told yo’ Ma you’d come back all right. An’ I told
that Yankee what brought you up last night that ’twas a shame they
treated you as they done, and if you hadn’t come back all right we’d
’a’ come up thar an’ cleaned ’em out. Yes, sir, we would that.

“I sent him off this mornin’—saw him acrost the ford myself he added,
lowering his voice confidentially, “because I don’t like to have ’em
prowling around my place—_our_ place—too much. Stirs up th’ niggers
so you can’t get no work out of ’em. And I didn’t like that fellow’s
looks, particularly. Well, I certainly am glad to see you lookin’ so
well.”

Jacquelin felt doubly rebuked for his unjust suspicions, and, as a
compensation, told Mr. Still of his last conversation with his father,
and of what his father had said of him. Still was moved almost to tears.

“Your father was the best friend I ever had in this world, Mr. Jack,”
he said. “I’ll never—” he had to turn his face away. “You can’t do no
better than your father.”

“No, indeed,” Jacquelin agreed to that. All he wished was to do just
what his father had done—He was not well; and he should leave the
management of the place to Mr. Still, just as his father had done—at
least, till they knew how things stood, he added.

There was a slight return of a look which had been once or twice in
Still’s downcast eyes, and he raised them to take a covert glance at
Jacquelin’s face. Jacquelin, however, did not see it. He was really
suffering greatly from his wound; and the expression he caught on
Still’s face was only one of deep concern. He asked after Still’s
family.

Wash had gone to the city to study medicine, Still said.

“We pore folks as ain’t got a fine plantation like this has got to have
a trade or something.”

Virgy was at home keeping house for him. She was a good big girl
now—“most grown like Miss Blair,” he added.

There was a slight tone in the manager’s voice which somehow grated on
Jacquelin a little, he did not know why. And he changed the subject
rather shortly.

Some time he wished to talk to Mr. Still about that Deep-run plantation
in the South, he said, as he had attended to stocking it and knew more
about it than anyone else; but he did not think he was equal to it just
then. Still agreed that this was right, also that the first thing for
Jacquelin to do now was to take care of himself and get well.

Just then Andy Stamper came round the house, with a bucket in one hand
and a bunch of flowers in the other. At sight of Jacquelin his face lit
up with pleasure. Before Andy could nod to Hiram the latter had gone,
with a queer look on his face, and something not unlike a slink in his
gait.

The bucket Andy had brought was full of eggs, which Delia Dove, Andy
said, had sent Jacquelin, and she had sent the flowers too.

“I never see anyone like her for chickens an’ flowers,” said Andy.
“She’s a good friend o’ yours. I thought when I got home I wa’n’t
goin’ to get her after all. I thought she’d ’a’ sent me back to P’int
Lookout,” he laughed.

His expression changed after a moment.

“I see Hiram’s been to see you—to wish you well? Don’t know what’s the
reason, he kind o’ cuts out whenever I come ’roun’. Looks almost like
he’s got some’n’ ag’inst me; yet he done me a mighty good turn when I
was married; he come and insisted on lendin’ me some money, not only
to buy a horse with fer the ole woman: but a horse to go back in th’
army with—a whole basketful of money, and he’s been lendin’ all aroun’
the neighborhood; an’ don’t seem to be in no hurry to git it back—If
you jest give him a little slip o’ writin’ on yo’ land, that’s all.
Yet, somehow, he always r’minds me of a mink, kind of slippy-like. He
don’t do things all at once. He didn’t tell me he wanted no deed; but
after I was gone, he got one from the old lady—said ’twould be all
right, and I could pay him any time; he jest wanted it in case he died,
and she didn’ know no better than to sign it. I’m goin’ to pay him off,
first money I git. I never would ’a’ borrowed it ’cept I was so anxious
to go back in the army—an’ to git Delia. Hiram thought he was sure to
win.” The little soldier’s face always lighted up when he referred to
his wife.

Jacquelin protested that he thought Still a better fellow than Andy
would admit, and added that his father had always esteemed him highly.

“Yes, I know that; but the Colonel didn’t know him, Mr. Jack, and he
wasn’t lookin’ out for him. I don’t like a man I can’t understand. If
you know he’s a liar, you needn’t b’lieve him; but if you aint found
him out yet, he gets aroun’ you. Hiram is that sort. I know he us’t to
be a liar, an’ I don’t b’lieve folks recovers from that disease. So I’m
goin’ to pay him off. An’ you do the same. I tell you, he’s a schemer,
an’ he’s lookin’ up.”

Just then there was a light step behind them, a shadow fell on the
veranda, which, to one of them, at least, was followed by an apparition
of light—as, with a smothered cry of, “Jacquelin!” a young girl, her
hair blowing about her brow, ran forward, and as the wounded soldier
rose, threw her arms around his neck. Blair Cary looked like a rose as
she drew back in a pretty confusion, her blushes growing deeper every
moment.

“Why, Blair, how pretty you’ve grown!” exclaimed Jacquelin, thinking
only of her beauty.

“Well, you talk as if you were very much surprised,” and Miss Blair
bridled with pretended indignation.

“Oh! No—Of course, not. I only——”

“Oh! yes, you do,” and she tossed her pretty head with well-feigned
disdain. “You are as bold with your compliments as you were with your
sword.”

She turned from him to Sergeant Stamper, who was regarding her with
open-mouthed admiration.

“How do you do, Sergeant Stamper? How’s Delia? And how are her new
chickens? Tell her she isn’t to keep on sending them all to me. I am
going to learn to raise them for myself now.”

“I daren’t tell her that,” said the little fellow. “You know I can’t do
nothin’ with Delia Dove. You’re the only one can do that. If I tell her
that, she’d discharge me, an’ sen’ me ’way from the place.”

“I’m glad to see she’s breaking you in so well,” laughed Blair.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a short time all the soldiers from the old county who were left were
back at home, together with some who were not originally from that
county, but who, having nowhere better to go, and no means to go with,
even if they had had, and finding themselves stranded by the receding
tide, pitched their tents permanently where they had only intended
to bivouac, and thus, by the simple process of staying there, became
permanent residents.

The day after that on which Jacquelin arrived, General Legaie, to the
delight of old Julius and of such other servants as yet remained on his
place, turned up, dusty, and worn, but still serene and undispirited.
He marched into his dismantled mansion with as proud a step as when he
left it, and took possession of it as though it had been a castle. With
him was an officer to whom the General offered the hospitalities of the
house as though it had been a palace, and to whom he paid as courtly
attention as if he had been a prince.

“This is Julius, Captain, of whom I have spoken to you,” he said,
after he had shaken hands with the old butler, and with the score of
other negroes who had rushed out and gathered around him on hearing
of his arrival. “Julius will attend to you, and unless he has lost
some of his art you will confess that I have not exaggerated his
abilities.” He faced his guest and made him a low bow. “I hope,
Captain, you will consider this your home as long as you wish. Julius,
the Captain will stay with us for the present, and I suspect he’d like
a julep.” And with a wave of the hand the little General transferred
the responsibility of his guest to the old butler, who stood bowing,
dividing his glances between those of affection for his master and of
shrewd inspection of the visitor.

The latter was a tall, spare man, rather sallow than dark, but with
a piercing, black eye, and a closely shut mouth under a long, black,
drooping mustache. He acknowledged the General’s speech with a civil
word, and Julius’s bow with a nod and a look, short but keen and
inquiring, and then, flinging himself into the best seat, leant his
head back and half closed his eyes, while the General went out and
received the negroes, who, with smiling faces, were still gathering on
the news of his arrival.

During this absence the guest did not rise from his chair; but turned
his head slowly from time to time, until his eyes had rested on every
article in the field of his vision. He might have been making an
appraisement.

The General, in fact, did not know any more of his guest than Julius
knew. He had come on him only that afternoon at a fork in the road,
resting, stretched out on a couple of fence-rails, while his horse
nibbled and picked at the grass and leaves near by. The gray uniform,
somewhat fresher than those the General was accustomed to, attracted
the General’s attention, and when Captain McRaffle, as the stranger
called himself, asked him the nearest way to Brutusville, or to some
gentleman’s house, the General at once invited him to his home. He had
heard, he stated, that a company of Yankees had already been sent to
Brutusville; but he could show him the way to a house where gentlemen
had lived in the past, and where, if he thought _he_ would pass muster,
one was about to live again. And with this invitation Captain McRaffle
became an inmate of Thornleigh, as the General’s place was called, and
might have stayed there indefinitely had not unforeseen contingencies
caused him to remove his quarters.

Just as the General returned from his reception on the veranda, the old
butler entered with a waiter and two juleps sparkling in their glasses.
At sight of them the General beamed, and even the guest’s cold eyes lit
up.

“On my soul! he is the most remarkable fellow in the world,” declared
the General to his visitor. “Where did you get this?”

“Well, you see, suh,” said Julius, “de Yankees over yander was givin’
out rations, and I thought I’d git a few, so’s to be ready for you
’ginst you come.”

The General smiled delightedly, and between the sips of his julep
proceeded to extract from Julius all the news of the county since his
last visit, a year or more before, and to give a running commentary
of his own for the enlightenment of his guest, who, it must be said,
appeared not quite as much interested in it all as he might have been.

All the people on the place, Julius said, had been over to the
court-house already to see the soldiers, but most of them had come
back. He had been there himself one day, but had returned the same
evening, as he would not leave the place unguarded at night.

“The most faithful fellow that ever was on earth; he would die for me!”
asserted the General, in a delighted aside to his guest, who received
the encomium somewhat coldly, and on the first opportunity that he
could do so unobserved, gave the old butler another of those looks that
appeared like a flash of cold steel.

Dr. Cary had been down the day before to inquire after the
General.—“An old and valued friend of mine, the greatest surgeon
in the State—ought to have been made Surgeon-General of the army,”
interpolated the General to his guest.

The Doctor had said the ladies were well, and were mighty anxious about
the General—“Yes, sir, Miss Thomasia was very well, indeed.”

“Miss Gray—a very old—I mean—ah—_dear_ friend of mine—sister of
Colonel Gray,” the General explained to his guest. “On my word, I
believe her intuitions are infallible. I never knew her at fault in her
estimate of a man in my life.”

The Doctor had left word asking if he would not come up to dinner next
day, Julius continued:

“Bless my soul! Of course I will—and I’ll take you too, Captain; they
will be delighted to see you—Most charming people in the world!”

So the General annotated old Julius’s bulletin, gilding everyone and
everything with the gold of his own ingenuous heart.

“The—ah—soldiers had left an order for him as soon as he came, to
come to the court-house to swear to something”, said Julius, doubtfully.

“I’ll see the soldiers d—— condemned first!” bristled the General.
“I shall go to pay my respects to the ladies at Red Rock and Birdwood
to-morrow—the two most beautiful places in all the country, sir.”
This to Captain McRaffle, who received even this stirring information
without undue warmth; but when their backs were turned, inspected again
both the General and old Julius.

Next morning the General invited his guest to accompany him, but
Captain McRaffle was not feeling well, he said, and he thought if the
General would leave him, he would remain quiet. Or, perhaps, if he felt
better, he might ride over to the county seat and reconnoitre a little.
He always liked to know the strength of the force before him.

“A most excellent rule,” the General declared, with admiration.

So the General, having given the Captain one of the two very limp
shirts which “the thoughtfulness of a dear friend, Mrs. Cary, of
Birdwood,” had provided for him, arrayed himself in the other and set
out to pay his respects to his friends in the upper end of the county,
leaving his guest stretched out on a lounge.

He had not been gone long when the Captain ordered his horse and rode
off in the direction of the court-house.

On arriving at the county seat the new-comer rode straight to the
tavern, and dismounting, gave his horse to a servant and walked in.
As he entered he gave one of those swift, keen glances, and then
asked for Mrs. Witcher, the landlady. When she arrived, a languid,
delicate-looking woman, the Captain was all graciousness, and, in a few
moments, Mrs. Witcher was equally complacent. In fact, the new-comer
had decided on the first glance that this was good enough for him, at
least, till he could do better. The Captain told Mrs. Witcher that he
had not had a really square meal in two months, and had not slept in a
bed in six months.

“A floor, madam, or a table, so it is long enough, is all I desire.
Upon my word and honor I don’t think I could sleep in a bed.”

But Mrs. Witcher insisted that he should try, and so the Captain
condescended to make the experiment, after giving her a somewhat
detailed account of his extensive family connection, and of an even
larger circle of friends, which included the commanding Generals of all
the armies and everybody else of note in the country besides.

“Well, this suits me,” he said as he walked into the room assigned him.
“Jim, who occupied this room last?” he asked the darky—whose name
happened to be Paul.

“Well, I forgits the gent’man’s name, he died in dis room.”

“Did he? How?”

“Jes’ so, suh. He died right in dat bed, ’caus I help’ to lay him out.”

“Well, maybe I’ll die in it myself. See that the sheets are clean,”
said Captain McRaffle, composedly. “What are you standing there gaping
at? Do you suppose I mind a man’s dying? I’ve killed a hundred men.”

“Suh!”

“Yes, two hundred—and slept in a coffin myself to boot.” And the
Captain turned on the negro so dark and saturnine a face that “Jim”
withdrew in a hurry, and ten minutes later was informing the other
negroes that there was a man in the house that had been dead and “done
riz agin.”

And this was the equipment with which Captain McRaffle began life as a
resident of Brutusville.



CHAPTER VII

THE CARY CONFERENCE


The meeting at Birdwood was a notable occasion. It was, in a way, the
outward and visible sign of the return of peace. Someone said it looked
like the old St. Ann congregation risen from the dead, to which Miss
Thomasia added, that the gentlemen, at least, were now all immortal,
and the General, with his hand on his heart, gallantly responded that
the ladies had always been so. The speech, however, left some faces
grave, for there were a number of vacant places that could not be
forgotten.

Jacquelin, under the excitement of his arrival, felt himself
sufficiently restored and stimulated to join his mother and Aunt
Thomasia, and be driven over to Birdwood, and though he suffered a good
deal from the condition of the roads, yet when Blair ran forward and
offered her shoulder for “his other crutch,” he felt as though a bad
wound might after all have some compensations.

Steve Allen was the life of the company. He had ridden over on his
black horse, “Hot-Spur,” that, like himself, had been wounded several
times in the last campaigns, though never seriously. He spent his time
teasing Blair. He declared that Jacquelin was holding on to his crutch
only to excite sympathy, and that his own greatest cause for hatred of
the Yankees now was either that they had not shot him instead of Jack,
or had not killed Jack, and he offered to go out and let anyone shoot
him immediately for one single pitying glance like those he said Blair
was lavishing on Jack.

Jacquelin, with a vivid memory of the morning before, had meant to
kiss Blair on his arrival, yet when they met he was seized with a
sudden panic, and could hardly look into her eyes. She appeared to
have grown taller and older since yesterday, as well as prettier, and
when Steve, on arriving, insolently caught and kissed her before them
all, on the plea of cousinship, Jacquelin was conscious of a pang of
consuming jealousy, and for the first time in his life would gladly
have thrashed Steve.

There was one thing that marred the occasion somewhat, or might have
done so under other circumstances. The entire negro population, who
could travel, moved by some idea that the arrival of the Federal
soldiers concerned them, were flocking to the county seat, leaving the
fields deserted and the cabins empty.

The visitors had found the roads lined with them as they came along.
They were all civil, but what could it mean? Some of the young men,
like Steve and Jacquelin, were much stirred up about it, and talked
of organizing quietly so as to be ready if the need should arise. Dr.
Cary, however, and the older ones, opposed anything of the kind. Any
organization whatever would be viewed with great suspicion by the
authorities, and might be regarded as a breach of their parole, and
was not needed. They were already organized simply by being what they
were. And, indeed, though gaunt and weather-beaten, in their old worn
uniforms they were a martial-looking set. There was not a man there who
had not looked Death in the eyes many a time, and the stare had left
something notable in every face.

It was a lovely day, and the early flowers were peeping out as if to be
sure before they came too far that winter had gone for good. The soft
haze of Spring was over the landscape.

The one person who was wanting, to make the company complete, was the
little General. They were just discussing him, and were wondering if
he had gone to Mexico; and Steve, seated at Miss Thomasia’s side, was
teasing her about him, declaring that, in his opinion, it was a pretty
widow, whose husband had been in the General’s brigade and had been
shot, that the General had gone South after; when a horseman was seen
riding rapidly across the open field far below, taking the ditches as
he came to them. When he drew nearer he was recognized to be none other
than the gallant little General himself. As he came trotting across
the lawn, among the great trees, he presented a martial figure, and
handkerchiefs were waved to him, and many cheers were given, so that he
was quite overcome when he dismounted in the midst of a number of his
old soldiers, and found himself literally taken in the arms of both the
men and the ladies.

The General beamed, as he gazed around with a look that showed that
he thought life might still be worth living if only he could meet
occasionally such a reception as had just been given him. Others smiled
too; for it was known that the General had been an almost life-long
lover and suitor of Miss Thomasia Gray, whose twenty years’ failure
to smile on him had in no way damped his ardor or dimmed his hope.
In fact, the old soldier, in his faded gray, with his bronzed, worn,
high-bred face, was nearer achieving the object of his life at that
moment than he had ever been in the whole twenty years of his pursuit.
Had the occasion come fifteen or even ten years earlier, he might have
done so; but Miss Thomasia had reached the point when to marry appeared
to her ridiculous, and the only successful rival of the shaft of Cupid
is the shaft of Ridicule.

At such a meeting as this there were necessarily many serious things
to be considered. One was the question of bread; another of existence.
None could look around on the wide, deserted fields and fail to take
in this. Everything like civil government had disappeared. There was
not a civil officer left in the State. From Governor to justices of
the peace, every office had been vacated. The Birdwood meeting was the
first in the county at which was had any discussion of a plan for the
preservation of order. Even this was informal and unpremeditated;
but when it reached the ears of Colonel Krafton, the new commander of
that district, who had just arrived, it had taken on quite another
complexion, and the “Cary Conference,” as it came to be called, was
productive of some very far-reaching consequences to certain of those
who participated in it, and to the county itself.

As to some matters broached at Birdwood that day, there was wide
diversity of opinion among those present.

Dr. Cary was in favor of accepting the issues as settled by the war; of
making friends with the high authorities—as had already been done by
some in other parts of the State, and of other States.

“Never! never!” declared General Legaie, with whom were most of the
others. “They have done their worst; they have invaded us, and taken
our negroes from us. Let them bear the responsibilities they have
assumed.”

It was easy to see, from the enthusiasm which greeted the General, on
which side the sympathy lay.

“The worst! General Legaie?” exclaimed Dr. Cary. “The worst will be
coming for years. ’After the sword comes the cankerworm.’ Mark my
words: the first terms offered are always the best. I should not be
surprised if you were to live to see negroes invested with the elective
franchise.”

“Impossible! Preposterous! Incredible!” declared general Legaie, his
words being echoed by most of those present.

“It seems almost impossible and quite incredible, yet to an old man
many things appear possible that are incredible,” said Dr. Cary.

“We will die before such an infamy should be perpetrated!” protested
General Legaie, with spirit.

“The only trouble is, that dying would do no good; only those who know
how to live can now save the Country,” said the Doctor, gravely.

The old Whig looked so earnest—so imposing, as he stood, tall and
white, his eyes flashing under their beetling brows, that though,
perhaps, few agreed with him, all were impressed, and by a common and
tacit consent their position was not pressed, at least for the present.
The little General even agreed to accompany Dr. Cary at some near
date, to give his views, along with Dr. Cary’s, to the new Commander
of the district, Colonel Krafton, in order, the General stated, that
the Commander might understand precisely the attitude of all persons in
their county.

Steve Allen, and the other young soldiers who were there, found
themselves sufficiently entertained, fighting over their battles,
as though they had been the commanding generals, and laying off new
campaigns in a fresh and different field; meantime, getting their hands
in, adoring and teasing their young hostess, who was related to, or
connected with, most of them. They had left Blair Cary, a dimple-faced,
tangle-haired romp of thirteen or fourteen, with saucy eyes, which
even then, as they danced behind their dark lashes, promised the best
substitute for beauty. They now found her sprung up to a slender young
lady of “quite seventeen,” whose demureness and new-born dignity were
the more bewitching, because they were belied by her laughing glances.
Mars has ever been the captive of Venus as well as her conqueror, and
more than Steve Allen and Jacquelin Gray fell victims at the first fire
from those “deadly batteries,” as Steve afterward characterized Blair
Cary’s eyes, in his first poem to Belinda—published in the Brutusville
_Guardian_. But they all declared they saw at once that they stood no
chance with Jack Gray, whose face wore “that sickly look,” as Steve
called it, which, he said, “every woman thought interesting and none
could resist.” Over all of which nonsense, Miss Blair’s dark eyes
twinkled with the pleasure of a girl who is too young to comprehend it
quite fully, but yet finds it wonderfully delightful. As for Jacquelin,
to him she was no longer mortal: he had robed her in radiance and
lifted her among the stars.

The older people found not less pleasure in the reunion than their
juniors, and appeared to have grown young again. And while the
youngsters were out on the grass at Miss Blair’s feet, in more senses
than one, the General and Dr. Cary and the other seniors were on the
vine-covered portico, discussing grave questions of state-craft,
showing precisely how and when the Confederacy might have been saved
and made the greatest power on earth—together with other serious
matters. The General teased himself as of old about Miss Thomasia,
and the Doctor teased them both. The General had been noted formerly
as a great precisionist in matters of dress, as well as in all other
matters, and now, when he stalked about the veranda, with his old
uniform-coat buttoned to the chin as jauntily as ever, and with a limp
bit of white showing above the collar and at the wrists, in which he
evidently took much pride, the Doctor, who knew where the shirt came
from, and that, like the one which he himself had on, it was made
from an under-garment of one of the ladies, could not help rallying
him a little. The Doctor wisely took advantage of Mrs. Cary’s absence
from the room to do this, but had got no farther than to congratulate
the General on the luxury of fresh linen and to receive from him the
gallant assurance that he had felt on putting it on that morning, as
a knight of old might have felt when he donned his armor prepared
by virgin hands, when Mrs. Cary entered and, recognizing instantly
from her husband’s look of suspicious innocence and Miss Thomasia’s
expression, that some mischief was going on, pounced on him promptly
and bore him off. When he returned from the “judgment chamber,” as he
called it, he was under a solemn pledge not to open the subject again
to the General, which he observed to the best of his ability, though he
kept Miss Thomasia on thorns, by coming as near to it as he dared with
a due regard to himself in view of his wife’s watchfulness.

In fact, these men were thoroughly enjoying home life after the
long interval of hardship and deprivation, and neither the sorrow of
the past nor the gloom of the present could wholly depress them. The
future, fortunately, they could not know. Then, among young people
there must be joy, if there be not death; and fun is as natural as
grass or flowers in spring or any other outbudding of a new and
bounding life.

So, even amid the ruins, the flowers bloomed and there were fun and
gayety. Hope was easily worth all the other spirits in Pandora’s box
put together.

Before the company separated they began to talk even of a party, and,
to meet the objections of old Mr. Langstaff and some others, it was
agreed that it should be a contribution-entertainment and that the
proceeds should go to the wounded soldiers and soldiers’ widows, of
the county. This Steve declared was a deep-laid scheme on the part of
Jacquelin Gray. It was already decided on when the Doctor returned
to the sitting-room, after Mrs. Cary had summoned him thence, and
the question under advisement was whether the Yankee officers at the
court-house should be invited. Steve Allen had started it. The ladies
were a unit.

“No, indeed; not one of them should set his foot inside the door; not
a girl would dance with one of them.” On this point Miss Blair was
very emphatic, and her laughing eyes lost their gleam of sunlight and
flashed forth a sudden spark which showed deeper depths behind those
dark lashes than had appeared at any time before.

“I’ll bet you do,” said Steve. He stretched out his long legs, settled
himself, and looked at Blair with that patronizing air which always
exasperated her.

“I’ll bet I don’t!”—with her head up, and her color deepening a little
at the bravado of using such a word.

“I’ll bet my horse you’ll break a set with Jack for the Yankee
captain,” declared Steve.

“Don’t want your old horse, he’s too full of lead,” said Blair.

“Then I’ll bet you his horse.”

“It’s a good one,” said Jacquelin from his place on the lounge.
“Blood-bay, with three white feet and a blaze on his nose.”

“He’s mine,” asserted Steve with a nod of his head.

“How will you get it?” asked Blair.

“Steve knows several ways of getting horses,” laughed one of the other
young men.

“Shut up, you fool,” telegraphed Steve with his lips, glancing quickly
at Miss Thomasia, who was beaming on him with kindly eyes.

It is surprising what little things have influence. That sudden flash,
with the firmer lines which came for a second in the young girl’s face,
did more to bind the young men to her footstool than all the fun and
gayety she had shown.

The men were not so unanimous on the point touching the exclusion of
the officers. Most of them agreed with the ladies, but one or two were
inclined to the other side.

“Men like to fancy themselves broader and more judicial than women,”
said Miss Thomasia, placidly.

Jacquelin mentioned casually that Middleton was not only quite a
gentlemanly fellow, but a strikingly handsome one.

“A Yankee soldier good-looking! I’ll not believe that!” declared Miss
Blair, promptly.

This debate created a diversion in their favor, and it was suggested
and agreed to, as a compromise, that they should “wait until after a
St. Ann Sunday, and see what the officers looked like. No doubt some
of them would come to church, and then they could determine what they
would do.”

This idea was feminine, and, to offset it, it was re-declared that at
present they were “unanimously opposed to regarding them in any other
light than that of bitter enemies.”



CHAPTER VIII

MR. HIRAM STILL TELLS HOW TO BRIDLE A SHY HORSE, AND CAPTAIN ALLEN LAYS
DOWN HIS HOE


So Peace spread her white wings, extending her serenity and shedding
her sweetness even in those regions where war had passed along.

Without wasting time or repining about the past, Dr. Cary and General
Legaie and the other men began to pick up such of the tangled and
broken threads of the old life as could be found, and to form with them
the new. They mended the worn vehicles, patched up the old harness
and gear, broke their war-horses to drive, and set in to live bravely
and cheerfully, in as nearly the old manner as they could. They had,
they believed, made the greatest fight on record. They had not only
maintained, but had increased, the renown of their race for military
achievement—the reputation which they most highly valued. They had
been overwhelmed, not whipped; cast down, but not destroyed. They still
had the old spirit, the unconquerable spirit of their race, and, above
all, they had the South.

Dr. Cary determined to use every effort to restore at once the old
state of affairs, and, to this end, to offer homes and employment to
all his old servants.

Accordingly, he rode down to the county seat one day to have an
interview with the officers there. He went alone, because he did not
know precisely how he would be received, and, besides, there was by no
means general approval of his course among his friends.

He found that the ranking officer, Captain Middleton, had been summoned
that morning to the city by Colonel Krafton, the provost in command
there. The next in command, however, Lieutenant Thurston, was very
civil and obliging to the Doctor, and, on learning of his plans, took
steps to further them.

The officer summoned all the negroes who were hanging around the
village, to assemble on the court-green, told them of the Doctor’s
offer, and, after a short talk to them, ordered all the Doctor’s old
servants who were present, and had not secured employment elsewhere, to
return home and go to work on the wages he had agreed the Doctor should
pay. For, as he said to Middleton when he returned:

“By Gad! Larry, I was not sure whether I was talking to Don Quixote
or old Dr. Filgrave—I know he is cousin to them both, for he told me
so—he is a cousin to everybody in the United States. And, besides, I
was so bored with those niggers hanging around, looking pitiful, and
that tall, whispering fellow, Still, who tells about the way he had to
act during the war to keep the people from knowing he was on our side,
that I would have ordered every nigger in the country to go with the
old gentleman if he had wanted them. By the way, he is the father of
the girl they say is so devilishly pretty, and he asked after you most
particularly. Ah! Larry, I am a diplomat. I have missed my calling.”
And, as he looked at his tall, good-looking superior, the little
Lieutenant’s eyes twinkled above the bowl of his pipe, which was much
the shape of himself.

The engagement to furnish his negroes rations Dr. Cary was enabled to
make, because on his arrival at the county seat he had fallen in with
Hiram Still, who had offered to lend him a sum of money, which he said
he happened to have by him. Hiram had been down to take the oath of
allegiance, he told the Doctor.

“I been wonderin’ to myself what I was to do with that money—and what
I turned all them Confed notes into gold and greenbacks for,” he said.
“Fact is, I thought myself a plum fool for doin’ it; but I says,
‘Well, gold’s gold, whichever way it goes.’ So I either bought land or
gold. But’t does look’s if Providence had somethin’ to do with it, sure
’nough. I ain’t got a bit o’ use for it—you can take it and pay me
just when it’s convenient.”

Still had never been a favorite with Dr. Cary, though the latter
confessed that he could cite on positive ground for his dislike. When
he thought of his antipathy at all, he always traced it back to two
things—one that Legaie always disliked Still, the other that when
Still had his attack of inflammatory rheumatism at the outbreak of
the war, the symptoms were such as to baffle the Doctor’s science.
“That’s a pretty ground for a reasonable man to found an antipathy on,”
reflected the Doctor.

As the Doctor and Hiram rode back together toward home, Still was so
bitter in his denunciation of the Federals and of their action touching
the negroes, that the Doctor actually felt it his duty to lecture
him. They were all one country now, he said, and they should accept
the result as determined. But Still said, “Never!” He had only taken
the oath of allegiance, he declared, because he had heard he would be
arrested unless he did. But he had taken it with a mental reservation.
This shocked the Doctor so much that he rebuked him with sternness, on
which Still explained that he did not mean exactly that, but that he
had heard that if a man took an oath under threats he was absolved from
it.

“There was some such legal quibble,” the Doctor admitted, with a sniff,
but he was “very sure that no brave man would ever take an oath for
such a reason, and no honest one would ever break one.” He rode off
with his head very high.

When Still reached home that evening he was in uncommonly good spirits.
He was pleasanter than usual to his daughter, who appeared the plainer
because of the contrast that her shabby clothes presented to the
showy suit which her brother wore. It was to his son, however, that
Mr. Still showed his particular good-humor. Wash had just come home
for a little visit from the city, where he had been ever since his
return from the army, and where he was now studying medicine. He was a
tall, slim fellow, very much like his father in appearance, though in
place of the rather good-tempered expression which usually sat on the
latter’s face, Wash’s look was usually sour and discontented.

“Ah, Wash, my son, I did a good stroke of business for you to-day,”
said the father that evening at supper.

“What was it? Did you buy another farm? You’ll break, buying so much
land,” replied his son, pleasantly.

Still put aside the ungraciousness of the reply. He was accustomed to
his son’s slurs.

“Yes and no.” He winked at Virgy, to whom he had already confided
something of his stroke of business. He glanced at the door to see that
no one was listening, and dropped his voice to his confidential pitch.
“I lent the Doctor a leetle money.” He nodded with satisfaction.

Wash became interested; but the next instant attempted to appear
indifferent.

“How much? What security did he give?”

“More than he’ll be able to pay for some time, and the security’s all
right. Aha! I thought that would wake you up. I’ll lend him some more
one of these days and then we’ll get the pay—with interest.” He winked
at his son knowingly. “When you’re tryin’ to ketch a shy horse, don’t
show him the bridle; When you’ve got him, then—!” He made a gesture
of slipping on a halter. This piece of philosophy appeared to satisfy
the young man and to atone for the apparent unwisdom of his father’s
action. He got into such a good-humor that he began to talk pleasantly
with his sister and to ask her about the young men in the neighborhood.

It was striking to see how she changed at the notice her brother took
of her. The listless look disappeared, and her eyes brightened and made
her face appear really interesting.

Presently the young man said:

“How’s Lord Jacquelin?” At the unexpected question the blood mounted
to the girl’s face, and after an appealing look she dropped her eyes
quickly.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the end of the month came, Dr. Cary summoned his hands and paid
them their wages one by one, according to his contract with Thurston,
checking each name, as he paid them, on a pay-roll he had prepared.
Their reception of the payment varied with the spirit of the men; some
being gay and facetious; others taking it with exaggerated gravity. It
was the first time they had ever received stipulated wages for their
services, and it was an event.

The Doctor was well satisfied with the result, and went in to make the
same settlement with the house-servants. The first he met was Mammy
Krenda, and he handed her the amount he had agreed on with Thurston
as a woman’s wages. The old woman took it quietly. This was a relief.
Mrs. Cary had been opposed to his paying her anything; she had felt
sure that the mammy would feel offended. “Why, she is a member of the
family,” she said. “We can’t pay her wages.” The Doctor, however,
deemed himself bound by his engagement with Thurston. He had said he
would pay all wages, and he would do so. So when the mammy took the
money with her usual curtsey, in one way the Doctor’s spirits rose,
though he was conscious of a little tug at his heart, as if the old
ties had somehow been loosened. He rallied, however, at the reflection
that he could satisfy his wife, at last, that he knew human nature more
profoundly than she did—a doctrine he had secretly cherished, but had
never been entirely successful in establishing.

In this satisfactory state of mind, not wishing to sever entirely the
tie with the mammy, as the old woman still stood waiting, he, after a
moment, said kindly and with great dignity:

“Those are your wages, mammy.”

“My what, sir?” The Doctor was conscious of a certain chilling of the
atmosphere. He looked out of the window to avoid her gaze.

“Your wages—I—ah—have determined—I—think it better from this time
to—ah—.” He had no idea it was so difficult. Why had he not got Mrs.
Cary to attend to this—why had he, indeed, not taken her advice?
Pshaw!— He had to face the facts; so he would do it. He summoned
courage and turned and looked at the old woman. She was in the act of
putting the money carefully on the corner of the table by her, and if
the Doctor had difficulty in meeting her gaze, she had none in looking
at him. Her eyes were fastened on him like two little shining beads.
They stuck him like pins. The Doctor felt as he used to feel when a
young man he went to pay his addresses to his wife—he was conscious
that whenever he met Krenda she was inspecting him, searching his
inmost soul—looking through and through him. He had to assert himself.

“You see, I promised the Federal officer at the court-house to pay
everyone wages,” he began with an effort, looking at the old woman.

“How much does you pay _Miss Bessie_?”

“How much what?”

“_Wages._” He had no idea one word could convey so much contempt.

“Why, nothing—of course—”

Old Krenda lifted her head.

“I’m gwine ’way.”

“What!”

“I’m feared you’ll charge me _bode_!” She had expanded. “I ken git
a little house somewheres, I reckon—or I ken go to th’ city and
nuss—chillun.”

“Mammy—you don’t understand—” The Doctor was never in such a dilemma.
If his wife would only come in! What a fool he was, not to have known
that his wife knew more about it than he did.

“Won’t you accept the money as a gift from me?” he said at last,
desperately.

“Nor—I ain’ gwine _tetch_ it!” The gesture was even more final than
the tone. With a sniff, she turned and walked out, leaving the Doctor
feeling like a school-boy.

He rose after a few minutes and went to his wife’s room to get her to
make his peace. The door was shut, but he opened it. The scene within
was one that remained with him through life. His wife was weeping, and
the mammy and Blair were in each other’s arms. The only words he heard
were from the mammy.

“Ef jest my _ole marster_ could come back. He’d know I didn’ do it for
no wages.”

“Oh! mammy, _he_ knows it too!”

The Doctor was never conscious of being so much alone in his life, and
it took some time to make his peace.

In the same way that the old planters and landowners set in to restore
the old places, the younger men also went to work. Necessity is a good
spur and pride is another.

Stamper, with Delia Dove “for overseer,” as he said, was already
beginning to make an impression on his little place. As he had “kept
her from having an overseer,” he said, the best thing he could do was
to “let her be one.”

“Talk about th’ slaves bein’ free, Mr. Jack! they won’t all be free
long’s Delia Dove’s got me on her place.” The little Sergeant’s chuckle
showed how truly he enjoyed that servitude. “She owns me, but she
treats me well,” he laughed.

The Stamper place, amid its locusts and apple-trees, with its hipped
roof and dormer-windows, small as it was, was as old as Red Rock—at
least as the new mansion, with its imposing porticoes and extended
wings, built around the big fireplace of the old house—and little
Andy, though being somewhat taciturn he never said anything about
it, was as proud of this fact as he was of being himself rather than
Hiram Still. He had got an old army wagon from somewhere and was now
beginning his farming operations in earnest. It had had “U. S.” on it,
but though Andy insisted that the letters stood for “_US_,” not for the
United States, Delia Dove had declined to ride in the vehicle as long
as it had such characters stamped on it. As Mrs. Stamper was obdurate,
Andy finally was forced to save her sensibilities, which he did by
substituting “D” for “U.” This, he said, would stand either for “Delia
Stamper,” or “D—d States.”

Jacquelin Gray was almost the only one of the men who was not able to
go to work. His wound showed a tendency to break out afresh.

Steve Allen intended to practise law as soon as matters settled
themselves. As yet, however, he could not engage in any profession. He
had not yet determined to take the oath of allegiance. Meantime, to
the great happiness of his cousins, especially of Miss Thomasia, he
deferred going to the county seat and, moved by the grassy appearance
of the once beautifully cultivated fields of Red Rock, began farming.
Perhaps, it was sheer pride and dislike of meeting Middleton at the
court-house under circumstances so different from those under which
they had met last; perhaps it was the pleasure of being near Birdwood
that kept him. It was very pleasant when his day’s work was done, to
don his old gray jacket, play gentleman once more, and ride across
the river of an evening; lounge on the grass under the big trees at
Birdwood, and tease Blair Cary about Jacquelin, until her eyes flashed,
and she let out at him, as he used to say, “like a newly bridled
filly.” So he hitched his war-horses, Hotspur and Kate, to ploughs and
ploughed day by day, while he made his boy, Jerry, plough furrow for
furrow near him, under promise of half of his share of their crop if
he kept up, and of the worst “lambing” he had ever had in his life if
he did not. Jerry was a long, slim, young negro, as black as tar. He
was the grandson of old Peggy, Steve’s mammy, and had come from the far
South. Where Steve had got him during the war no one knew except Steve
and Jerry themselves. Steve said he found him hanging to a tree and
cut him down because he wanted the rope; but that if he had known Jerry
as well then as he did afterward, he would have left him hanging. At
this explanation, Jerry always grinned, exhibiting two rows of white
teeth which looked like corn from a full ear. Jerry was a drunkard,
a liar, and a thief. But one thing was certain: he adored Steve, who
in return for that virtue bore delinquencies which no one else in the
world would have tolerated. Jerry had one other trait which recommended
him to his master: he was as brave as a lion; he would not have been
afraid of the devil himself unless he had taken on the shape of Mr.
Stevenson Allen, of whom alone Jerry stood in wholesome awe.

Steve’s bucolic operations came somewhat suddenly to an end. One
evening, after a hard day’s work, he met Wash Still dressed up and
driving a new buggy, turning in at Dr. Cary’s gate. He was “going to
consult Dr. Cary about a case,” he said. Next day, as Steve was working
in the field, he saw Wash driving down the hill from the manager’s
house with the same well-appointed rig. Steve stopped in the row and
looked at him as he drove past. Just then Jerry came up. His eye
followed his master’s, and his face took on an expression of scorn.

“Umph! things is tunned sort o’ upside down,” he grunted. “Overseer’s
son drivin’ buggy, and gent’mens in de fiel’.” Steve smiled at Jerry’s
use of the plural. The next moment Hiram Still rode down the hill, and
turning his horse in Steve’s direction came across the field.

“He sutney don’ like you, Cun’l,” said Jerry, “an’ he don’ like the
Cap’n neider;” by which last, he designated Jacquelin. Jerry always
gave military titles to those he liked—the highest to Steve, of
course. “He say it do him good to see you wuckin’ in the fiel’ like a
nigger, and some day he hope to set in de gret-house and see you doin’
it.”

Still passed quite close to Captain Allen, and as he did so, reined in
his horse, and sat looking down at Steve, as he came to the end of his
row.

“We all have to come to it, at last, Captain,” he said.

Whether it was his words, and the look on his face, or whether Steve
had intended anyhow to do what he did, he straightened up, and shot a
glance at the Manager.

“You think so? Well, you are mistaken.” He raised his hoe and stuck it
in the ground up to the eye.

“There,” he said to Still, in a tone of command, “take that home.
That’s the last time I’ll ever touch a hoe as long as I live. I’ve
brains enough to make my living by them, and if I haven’t, I mean to
starve!” He walked past the overseer with his head so straight, that
Still began to explain that he had meant no offence. But Steve took no
further notice of him.

“Jerry, you can keep on; I’ll see that you get your part of the crop.”

“Nor—I ain’t gwine to hit anur lick, nurr—I’ll starve wid yer.” And
Jerry lifted his hoe and drove it into the ground; looked at Still
superciliously, and followed his master with as near an imitation of
his manner and gait as he could achieve.

It was only when Steve was out of hearing, that Still’s look changed.
He clenched his fist, and shook it after the young man.

“I’ll bring you to it yet,” he growled.

That evening Steve announced his intention of beginning immediately the
practice of his profession.



CHAPTER IX

MR. JONADAB LEECH TURNS UP WITH A CARPET-BAG AND OPENS HIS BUREAU


The young officers at the court-house meantime had fared very well. It
is true that most of the residents treated them coldly, if civilly, and
that the girls of the place, of whom there were quite a number, turned
aside whenever they met them, and passed by with their heads held high,
and their eyes straight to the front, flashing daggers. But this the
young men were from experience more or less used to.

Reely Thurston told Middleton that if he would leave matters to him,
he would engineer him through the campaign, and before it was over
would be warbling ditties with all the pretty girls in a way to make
his cousin, Miss Ruth Welch, green with envy. The lieutenant began by
parading up and down on his very fine horse; but the only result he
attained was to hear a plump young girl ask another in a clear voice,
evidently meant for him to hear, “What poor Southerner,” she supposed,
“that little Yankee stole that horse from!” He recognized the speaker
as the young lady he had seen looking at them from the door of the
clerk’s office the morning of their arrival.

Brutusville, the county seat where they were posted, was a pretty
little straggling country village of old-fashioned houses amid groves
of fine old trees, lying along the main road of the county, where it
wound among shady slopes, with the blue mountain range in the distance.
Most of the houses were hip-roofed and gray with age. The river—the
same stream that divided Red Rock from Birdwood—passed near the
village, broadening as it reached the more level country and received
the waters of one or two other streams. Before the war there had been
talk of establishing deep-water connections with the lower country, as
the last rapids of any extent were not far below Brutusville. Dr. Cary,
however, had humorously suggested that they would find it easier to
macadamize the river than to make it navigable.

[Illustration: THE GIRLS OF THE PLACE TURNED ASIDE, WHENEVER THEY MET
THEM AND PASSED BY WITH THEIR HEADS HELD HIGH.]

The county seat had suffered, like the rest of the county, during the
war; but as it happened, the main body of the enemy had been kept out
of the place by high water, and the fine old trees did much to conceal
the scars that had been made.

The old, brick court-house in the middle of the green, peeping out
from among the trees, with its great, classical portico, was esteemed
by the residents of the village to be, perhaps, the most imposing
structure in the world. Mr. Dockett, the clerk—who had filled this
position for nearly forty years, with the exception of the brief period
when, fired by martial enthusiasm, he had gone off with Captain Gray’s
company—told Lieutenant Thurston a day or two after the latter’s
arrival, that while he had never been to Greece or, indeed, out of
the State, he had been informed by those who had been there that the
court-house was, perhaps, in some respects, more perfect than any
building in Athens. Lieutenant Thurston said he had never been to
Greece either, but he was quite sure it was. He also added that he
considered Mr. Dockett’s own house a very beautiful one, and thought
that it showed evidences, in its embellishments, of that same classical
taste that Mr. Dockett admired so much. Mr. Dockett, while accepting
the compliment with due modesty, answered that if the lieutenant wished
to see a beautiful house he should see Red Rock. And thereupon began
new matter, the young officer gently leading the old gentleman to talk
of all the people and affairs of the neighborhood, including the charms
of the girls.

From this, it will be seen that the little Lieutenant was already
laying his mines, and preparing to make good his promise to Middleton
to engineer him through the campaign.

The compliment to the Dockett mansion was not without its effect on
the genius who presided in that classic and comfortable abode, and,
at length, Mrs. Dockett, a plump and energetic woman, had, with some
prevision, though in a manner to make her beneficiaries sensible of
her condescension, acceded to the young men’s request to take them as
boarders, and allow them to occupy a wing-room in her house.

Thus Middleton and Thurston were able to write Ruth Welch a glowing
account of their “head-quarters in an old colonial mansion,” and of the
“beautiful maiden” who sang them “songs of the South.”

The songs, however, that Miss Dockett sang, though as Thurston said
truly, they were in one sense sung for them, were not sung in the
sense Lieutenant Thurston implied. They were hardly just the sort
that Miss Ruth Welch would have approved of, and were certainly not
what Mrs. Welch would have tolerated. For they were all of the most
ultra-Southern spirit and tendency, and breathed the deadliest defiance
to everyone and everything Northern. Miss Dockett was not pretty,
except as youth and wholesomeness give beauty; but she was a cheery
maiden, with blue eyes, white teeth, rosy cheeks, and a profusion of
hair, and though she had no training, she possessed a pleasant voice
and sang naturally and agreeably—at least to one who, like Thurston,
had not too much ear for music. Thurston once had the temerity to ask
for a song—for which he received a merited rebuff. Of course she would
not sing for a Yankee, said the young lady, with a toss of her head and
an increased elevation of her little nose, and immediately she left the
room. When, however, the young officers were in their rooms, she sang
all the Southern songs she knew. One, in particular, she rendered with
great spirit. It had just been written. It began:

  “Oh! I’m a good old rebel,
  Now, that’s just what I am;
  For this ’Fair land of freedom,’
  I do not care a-t all.”

Another verse ran:

  “Three hundred thousand Yankees
  Lays dead in Southern dus’,
  We got three hundred thousand
  Before they conquered us;
  They died of Southern fever,
  Of Southern steel and shot;
  I wish they were three million,
  Instead of what we got.”

The continued iteration of this sanguinary melody floating in at the
open window finally induced the little Lieutenant, in his own room one
afternoon, to raise, in opposition, his own voice, which was none of
the most melodious, in the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But
he had got no further than the second invocation to “the land of the
free and the home of the brave,” when there was a rush of footsteps
outside, followed by a pounding on his door, and on his opening the
door Mrs. Dockett bore down on him with so much fire in her eye that
Reely was quite overwhelmed. And when she gave him notice that she
would have no Yankee songs sung in her house, and that he must either
“quit the house or quit howling,” little Thurston, partly amused and
partly daunted, and with the wide difference between Mrs. Dockett’s
fried chicken and beat-biscuit and the mess-table “truck” before his
eyes, promised to adopt the latter course—“generally.”

Fortunately the young officers were too much accustomed to such
defiances to feel very serious about them, and they went on
ingratiating themselves with Miss Dockett—Thurston by his fun and
good-humor, and Middleton by his gentlemanly bearing and his firm
management of the negroes who hung around the camp.

The peace and comfort of the young men, however, were suddenly
much threatened by the arrival of a new official, not under their
jurisdiction, though under Colonel Krafton, who had sent him up,
specially charged with all matters relating to the negroes.

He arrived one afternoon with only a carpet-bag; took a room in the
hotel, and, as if already familiar with the ground, immediately
dispatched a note to Mrs. Dockett asking quarters in her house. Even
had the new-comer preferred his application as a request it might have
been rejected; but he demanded it quite as a right; the line which
he sent up by a negro servant being rather in the nature of an order
than a petition to Mrs. Dockett to prepare the best room in her house
for his head-quarters. It was signed “Jonadab Leech, Provost-Marshal,
commanding,” etc., etc. But the new official did not know Mrs. Dockett.
The order raised a breeze which came near blowing the two officers,
whom she had accepted and domiciled in her house, out of the quarters
she had vouchsafed them. She sailed down upon them with the letter in
her hand; and, as Thurston said, with colors flying and guns ready for
action. But, fortunately, little Thurston was equal to the emergency.
He glanced at the paper the enraged lady showed him and requested to be
allowed possession of it for a moment. When he had apparently studied
it attentively, he looked up.

“I do not know that I quite comprehend. Do I understand you to insist
on taking this man in?” He was never so innocent-looking. Mrs. Dockett
gasped:

“What!! Ta—ke in the man that wrote _that_!” She visibly expanded.

“—Because if you do, Captain Middleton and I shall have to move
our quarters. I happen to know this man personally—slightly—that
is, I once had a transaction with him as an officer which resulted
unpleasantly. His functions are entirely different from ours; he being
charged with matters relating to the freedmen, their care and support;
while ours are military and relate to the government of the county and
the maintenance of peace. (He glanced at Mrs. Dockett, who was sniffing
ominously.) While we shall uphold him in all proper exercise of his
power, and recognize his authority as an officer within the scope of
his own jurisdiction, I must say that for personal reasons his presence
would be distasteful to me, and I think I can speak for Captain
Middleton (here he looked over at his friend inquiringly), and if you
contemplate taking him in, I should prefer to remove my own quarters
back to camp.”

The little Lieutenant had gathered dignity as he proceeded, and he
delivered the close of his oration with quite the manner of an orator.
He had spoken so rapidly that Mrs. Dockett had not had a moment to get
in a word. He closed with a most impressive bow, while Middleton gazed
at him with mingled amusement and admiration.

Mrs. Dockett discovered the wind taken completely out of her sails, and
found herself actually forced into the position of making a tack and
having rather to offer an apology to the ruffled little officer.

She had never dreamed of preferring this new-comer to them, she
declared. She could not but say that they had always acted in a most
gentlemanly way, so far as she was concerned. She had, indeed, been
most agreeably surprised. She had never, for a moment, dreamed of
permitting this impudent upstart, whoever he was, to come into her
house. Let him go to some of his colored friends. Of course, if they
wished to leave her house—they must do so. Her head was rising again.
Thurston hastened to interpose.

Not at all—they were most charmed, etc. Only he didn’t know but she
might not care to have them remain—and they could not do so if this
man came.

“He’s not coming. Let him try it.” And the irate lady sailed out to
deliver her broadside to the new enemy that had borne down on her.

She had no sooner disappeared than the Lieutenant’s face fell.

“Gad! Larry, we are undone. It’s that Leech who used to live with old
Bolter, and about whom they told the story of his trying to persuade
his wife to let him get a divorce, and who shirked all through the war.
Unless we can get rid of him it’s all up. We’re ruined.”

“Freeze him out,” Middleton said, briefly. “You’ve begun well.”

“Freeze——? Freeze a snow-bank! That’s his climate. He’d freeze in
——!” The little Lieutenant named a very hot place.

Thurston had not been too soon in placing the line of discrimination
clearly between themselves and the Provost Marshal, for the arrival of
the latter in the county at once caused a change of conditions.

On receipt of Mrs. Dockett’s decisive and stinging reply Leech
immediately made application to Captain Middleton to enforce his
requisition, but, to his indignation, he was informed that they were
the only boarders, and that Mrs. Dockett managed her own domestic
affairs: which, indeed, was no more than the truth. To revenge himself,
the Provost took possession of Mr. Dockett’s office, and opened his
bureau in it, crowding the old official into a back room of the
building. Here, too, however, he was doomed to disappointment and
mortification; for, on the old clerk’s representation of the danger to
his records, and of their value, enforced by Mrs. Dockett’s persuasive
arguments, Leech was required by Middleton to surrender possession and
take up his quarters in an unoccupied building on the other side of the
road. Here he opened his office under a flaring sign bearing the words,
“FREEDMEN’S BUREAU.”

So the Provost, being baffled here, had to content himself, as he
might, at the court-house tavern, where he soon laid off a new
campaign. His principal trouble there, lay in the presence of the dark,
sallow Captain McRaffle, whose saturnine face scowled at him from the
upper end of the table, and kept him in a state of constant irritation.
The only speech the Captain ever addressed to him was to ask if he
played cards, and on his saying he “never played games,” he appeared to
take no further interest in him. The Provost, however, kept his eye on
him.

The effect of the Provost’s appearance was felt immediately. The news
of his arrival seemed to have spread in a night, and the next day the
roads were filled with negroes.

“De wud had come for ’em,” they said. They “had to go to de Cap’n to
git de papers out o’ de buro.” Only the old house-servants were left,
and even they were somewhat excited.

This time those who left their homes did not return so quickly.
Immediately after the news of the surrender came, a good many of the
negroes had gone off and established settlements to themselves. The
chief settlement in the Red Rock neighborhood was known as “The Bend,”
from the fact that it was in a section half surrounded by a curve of
the river. It was accessible from both sides of the river, and in the
past had been much associated with runaway negroes.

It had always been an unsavory spot in the county, and now, the negroes
congregating there, it had come into greater ill repute than ever. It
was dubbed with some derision, “Africa.” Here Jim Sherwood and Moses
had built cabins, and shortly many others gathered about them. This,
however, might not have amounted to much had not another matter come to
light.

The Provost was summoning the negroes and enrolling them by hundreds,
exciting them with stories of what the Government proposed to do for
them, and telling them the most pernicious lies: that they need not
work, and that the Government was going to feed them and give them all
“forty acres and a mule apiece.”

Even the older negroes were somewhat excited by these tales, and,
finally, Mammy Krenda asked Dr. Cary if it was true that the Government
was going to give them all land.

“Of course not. Who says so?” asked the Doctor.

“I heah so,” said the old woman. Even she was beginning to be afraid to
tell what she had heard.

Contemporaneously with this, an unprecedented amount of lawlessness
suddenly appeared: chicken-houses were robbed; sheep and pigs and
even cattle were stolen, without there being any authority to take
cognizance of the thefts or any power to punish.

Andy Stamper and several others of the neighbors came over to see Dr.
Cary about the matter. They had been to the court-house the day before
“to see about things,” Andy said, and “had found every nigger in the
county piled up in front of that Leech’s door.”

“They’re talkin’ about every one of ’em gittin’ forty acres and a mule,
Doctor,” said little Andy, with a twinkle in his eye; but a grim look
about his mouth.

“The biggest men down thar are that Jim Sherwood of yours; that
trick-doctor nigger of Miss’ Gray’s, Moses Swift, and a tall, black
nigger of General Legaie’s, named Nicholas Ash. They’re doin’ most of
the talkin’. Well, I ain’t got but eighty acres—jest about enough for
two of ’em,” added Andy, the grim lines deepening about his mouth;
“but I’m mighty sorry for them two as tries to git ’em—I told Hiram
so.” The twinkle had disappeared from his blue eyes, like the flash on
a ripple, and the eyes were as quiet and gray as the water after the
ripple had passed.

“Hiram, he’s the chief adviser and friend of the new man. I thought he
was hatchin’ something. He was down there inside of the office—looked
like a shot cat when I come in—said he was tryin’ to git some hands.
You watch him. He’s a goin’ over. He was at the nigger meetin’-house
th’ other night. I heard some white man was there; but I couldn’t git
at who ’twas till old Weev’ly let it out.”

Dr. Cary told of his conversation with Still a few days before; but the
little Sergeant was not convinced.

“Whenever he talks, that’s the time you know he ain’t goin’ to do it,”
he said.

Still’s attentions to Miss Delia Dove had not only quickened Andy’s
jealousy, but had sharpened his suspicion generally, and he had
followed his movements closely.

Still had quickly become assured that the two young soldiers in command
at the county seat were not the kind for him to impress. And when the
new officer came he had at once proceeded to inspect him.

Leech was expecting him; for though they had never met, Still had
already secretly placed himself in communication with Krafton, the
Provost-Marshal in the city.

The new Provost was not pleasing to look on. He was a man spare in
figure and with a slight stoop in his shoulders—consequent perhaps
on a habit he had of keeping his gaze on the ground. He had mild blue
eyes, and a long, sallow face, with a thin nose, bad teeth, and a
chin that ended almost in a point. He rarely showed temper. He posed
rather as a good-natured, easy-going fellow, cracking jokes with anyone
who would listen to him, and indulging in laughter which made up in
loudness what it lacked in merriment. When he walked, it was with a
peculiar, sinuous motion. The lines in his face gave him so sour an
expression that Steve Allen, just after he moved to the court-house to
practise law, said that Leech, from his look, must be as great a stench
in his own nostrils as in those of other people. This speech brought
Steve Leech’s undying hatred, though he veiled it well enough at the
moment and simply bided his time.

The Provost-Marshal was not a prepossessing person even to Still; but
Mrs. Gray’s manager had large schemes in his mind, and the new-comer
appeared a likely person to aid him in carrying them out. They soon
became advisers for each other.

“You can’t do nothin’ with them two young men,” the overseer told the
Provost. “I’ve done gauged ’em. I know ’em as soon as I see ’em, and I
tell you they don’t think no more of folks like you and me than of the
dirt under their feet. They’re for the aristocrats.”

He shortly gauged the Provost.

“When I know what a man wants, I know how to git at him,” he said
to his son Wash, afterward. “He wants to get up—but first he wants
money—and we must let him see it. I lent him a leetle too—just to
grease the skillet. When you’ve lent a man money you’ve got a halter on
him.”

“You’re a mighty big fool to lend your money to a man you don’t know
anything about. You’ll never get it back,” observed Wash, surlily.

“Ah! Won’t I? Trust me; I never lend money that I don’t get it back in
one shape or another—with interest too. I don’t expect to get that
back.” He dropped his voice. “That’s what I call a purchase—not a
loan. Don’t try to fry your chicken till you’ve greased the pan, my
son.”

“Something in that,” admitted the young medical student. They were
sitting on the little front porch of the overseer’s house, and Hiram
Still’s eye took in the scene about him—the wide fields, the rich,
low-grounds, the chimneys of the mansion-house peeping from the grove
of great trees on its high hill a half mile away. His face lit up.

“Ah! Wash, if you trust your old pappy, you’ll see some mighty changes
in this here county. What’d you say if you was to see yourself some day
settin’ up in that big hall yonder, with, say, a pretty young lady from
acrost the river, and that Steve and Mr. Jacquelin ploughin’ in the
furrer?”

“By G—d! I’d love it,” declared Wash, decisively, his good-humor
thoroughly restored.



CHAPTER X

THE PROVOST MAKES HIS FIRST MOVE


Leech shortly determined to give the neighborhood an illustration of
his power, and, striking, he struck high.

A few days after the Provost’s arrival Dr. Cary received a summons to
appear before him at the court-house next day. It was issued on the
complaint of “the Rev. James Sherwood,” and was signed, “Jonadab Leech,
Provost commanding,” etc.

General Legaie, who was at Birdwood when the soldier who served the
summons arrived, was urgent that Dr. Cary should refuse to obey it;
but the Doctor said he would go. He would obey the law. He would not,
however report to Leech, but to Captain Middleton, the ranking officer.
The General said if the Doctor would persist in going, he would go with
him to represent him. So next morning the two old officers rode down to
the Court-house together, the General very martial, and Dr. Cary very
calm.

When they reached the county seat they found “the street,” or road in
front of “the green,” which was occupied by the camp of the soldiers,
filled with negroes, men and women. They had made booths of boughs in
the fence-corners, where they were living like children at play, and
were all in the gayest spirits, laughing and shouting and “larking”
among themselves, presenting in this regard a very different state of
mind from that of the two gentlemen. They were, however, respectful
enough to them, and when the riders inquired where the commanding
officer was, there were plenty of offers to show them, and more than
enough to hold their horses. Some of them indicated that the commander
was in the old store on the roadside, which appeared from the throng
about it to be the centre of interest to the crowd.

“Dat ain’t nuttin but the buro, sir; the ones you wants to see is up
yonder at Miss’ Dockett’s; I knows de ones you wants to see,” said Tom,
one of the Doctor’s old servants, with great pride.

To settle the question, the Doctor dismounted and walked in, giving his
horse to the old man to hold.

The front of the store was full of negroes, packed together as thick
as they could stand, and simply waiting. They made way for the Doctor
and he passed through to the rear, where there was a little partition
walling off a back room. The door was ajar, and inside were seated two
men, one a stranger in uniform, the other, a man who sat with his back
to the door, and who, at the moment that the Doctor approached, was
leaning forward, talking to the Provost in a low, earnest half-whisper.
As the visitor knocked the official glanced up and the other man turned
quickly and looked over his shoulder. Seeing Dr. Cary he sprang to his
feet. It was Hiram Still.

“I wish to see the officer in command,” announced the Doctor.
“Good-morning Mr. Still.” His tone expressed surprise.

“I am the officer in command,” said the official, shortly.

“Ah! you are not Captain Middleton? I believe he is in command.”

“No, I guess not. I’m Captain _Leech_, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau.”
His voice was thin but assertive, and he spoke as if he had been
contradicted.

“Ah! It is the regular officer I wish to see.”

“I’m regular enough, I guess, and if it’s anything about the freedmen
you’ll find, I guess, I’m the one to see.” He turned from the Doctor
with studied indifference and motioned to his companion to resume his
seat. The latter, however, came forward. He had apparently recovered
somewhat from his confusion.

“This is Dr. Cary, one of the finest gentlemen in our county,” he said
to the officer, as if he were making a speech, and then turned to the
Doctor: “Captain Leech is the gentleman to see about getting our hands
back. Fact is, I am just down here about that now.”

Leech had been looking at the Doctor with new interest. “So you’re
Dr. Cary?” he said. “Well, I’m the one for you to see. I summoned you
to appear before me to know why you turned the Rev. Mr. Sherwood out
of his home.” His manner was growing more and more insolent, and the
Doctor stiffened. The only notice he took was to look over Leech’s head.

“Ah! I believe I will go and see Captain Middleton,” he said, with
dignity. “Good-morning,” and he walked out, his head held somewhat
higher than when he went in, leaving Leech fuming in impotent rage, and
Still to give the Head of the Bureau behind his back a very different
estimate of him from that which he had just declared so loudly in his
presence.

“He’s one of that same sort with your young men,” said the manager,
“only more so. What did I tell you? See, he won’t _talk to you_!
He wants to talk to Captain Middleton. You trust me, I’ll keep you
informed. I know ’em all. Not that he ain’t better than most, because
he’s naturally kind-hearted and would do well enough if let alone, but
he can’t help it. It’s bred in the bone. But I’m too smart for ’em.
I was too smart for ’em durin’ the war, and I am still.” He gave the
Provost a confidential wink.

“Well, he’ll find out who I am before he gets through,” said Leech.
“I guess he’ll find I’m about as big a man as Captain Middleton.” He
squared back his thin shoulders and puffed out his chest. “I’ll show
him.” He turned to the door.

“That’s it—that’s it,” smiled Still, delightedly.

Meantime Dr. Cary had joined General Legaie, and with the single remark
that it was “the commanding officer, not the commissary,” that they
wanted to see, they rode up the hill.

When the two gentlemen arrived at Mrs. Dockett’s they found that
energetic lady, trowel in hand, among her flowers, and were received
by her with so much distinction that it produced immediately a great
impression on her two lodgers, who, unseen, were observing them from
their window.

“Gad! Larry, there’s Don Quixote, and he’s brought his cousin, Dr.
Filgrave, along with him. He must be a lieutenant-general at least.
See the way the old lady is smiling! I must learn his secret.” And the
little Lieutenant sprang to the mirror and rattled on as Middleton got
ready for the interview which he anticipated, and the two gentlemen
came slowly up the walk, bareheaded, with Mrs. Dockett, talking
energetically, between them.

The next moment there was a tramp outside the door, and with that
rap, which Thurston said was a model for the last trump, Mrs. Dockett
herself flung open the door and announced, with a wave of her hand:

“General Legaie and Major Cary.”

The two visitors were received with great respect. Middleton was at
his best, and in the face of a somewhat depressing gravity on the two
old officers’ part, tried to give the interview a friendly turn by
recalling pleasantly his visit to Red Rock before the war, and his
recollection of Dr. Cary and his daughter. He ventured even to inquire
after her. He supposed she was a good big girl now?

“Yes, she was almost quite grown and was enjoying very good health,”
said the Doctor, bowing civilly, and he proceeded forthwith to state
the cause of their visit, while Thurston introduced to the General,
somewhat irrelevantly, the subject of fishing.

Captain Middleton listened respectfully to all the two gentlemen had to
say. He agreed with them as to the necessity of establishing some form
of civil government in the counties, and believed that steps would be
taken to do so as soon as possible. Meantime he should preserve order.
Matters relating to the negroes, except in the line of preserving
order, were, however, rather beyond his province, and properly under
the control of an entirely distinct branch, which was just being
organized, with head-quarters for the State, in the city. He said he
would go with Dr. Cary before the Provost and see that he was not
annoyed by any frivolous charge. So he accompanied the two gentlemen
back to Leech’s office and attended the trial. It was galling enough
to the two gentlemen as it was; and but for the presence of Middleton
might have been much more so. Leech’s blue eyes snapped with pleasure
at the reappearance of the old officers, but were filled with a vague
disquiet at the presence of their companion. However, he immediately
proceeded with much importance to take up the case. The “trial” was
held in the court-house, and the Provost sat in the judge’s seat. The
negroes around took in quickly that something unusual was happening,
and the court-room was thronged with them, all filled with curiosity,
and many of the older ones wearing on their faces a preternatural
solemnity. Sherwood was present, in a black coat, his countenance
expressive of comical self-importance. Dr. Cary and General Legaie sat
behind the bar, the Doctor, somewhat paler than usual, his head up, his
mouth compressed, and his thin nostrils dilating; the General’s eyes
glowing with the fire that smouldered beneath. Middleton sat off to one
side, a little in front of the bar, a silent but observant spectator.

The case was stated by Leech, and without the useless formality of
examining the complainant who had already given his story, Dr. Cary was
asked by the Provost, why he had driven Sherwood off.

The Doctor rose and made his statement. When he first stood up the
compression of his lips showed the feeling under which he labored; but
the next second he had mastered himself, and when he spoke it was with
as much respect as if he were addressing the Chief Justice. The land
was his, and he claimed that he would have had the right to drive the
man off had he wished to do so; but, as a matter of fact, he had not
done so—he had not done so on account of Sherwood’s wife, who was the
daughter of the old mammy in his family, and a valued servant. He had
only deposed him from being the manager.

The Provost was manifestly a little disconcerted by this announcement.
He glanced about him. The Doctor had evidently made an impression.

“Can you prove this?” he asked, sharply. The General wriggled in his
chair, his hands clutching the sides, and the Doctor for a second
looked a trifle more grim. He drew in a long breath.

“Well, my word has usually been taken as proof of a fact I stated,” he
said, slowly. “But if you desire further proof, there are several of
my old servants present who will corroborate what I state. Perhaps you
might be willing to accept their testimony?” He looked the Provost in
the eyes, and then glanced around half humorously. “Tom!” he called to
the old man who had held his horse, and who was now standing in the
front row. “Will you state what occurred, to this—ah—officer?”

“Yas, suh—I’ll groberate ev’y wud you say—‘cus’ I wuz dyah,” asserted
Tom, with manifest pride.

“Dat’s so,” called out one or two others, not to be outdone by Tom, and
the tide set in for the Doctor.

The Provost, in this state of the case, declared that the charge was
not sustained, and he felt it his duty to dismiss the complaint. He,
however, would take this occasion to state his views on the duties of
the former owners to their slaves; and he delivered a long and somewhat
rambling discourse on the subject, manifestly designed for the sable
part of his audience. When he concluded, and just as he started to
rise, the General sprang to his feet. The Doctor looked at him with
some curiosity, perhaps not unmingled with anxiety, for the General’s
eyes were blazing. With an effort, however, the General controlled
himself.

“Permit me to say, Mr. Provost, that your views, like those of a good
many people of your class, are more valuable to yourself than to
others.” He bowed low.

“Dat’s so, too!” called out Tom, who was still in a corroborative mood,
on which there was a guffaw from the negroes. And with this shot,
the General, after looking the Provost steadily in the eyes, turned
on his heel and stalked out of the court-house, leaving Leech trying
ineffectually to look as if he, as well as others, appreciated the
humor of Tom’s speech.

As they came out, Middleton took occasion to reopen their former
conversation as to the necessity of establishing some form of civil
government in the counties. He believed, he said, that the two
gentlemen might find it better to apply to the head of the bureau in
this section—Colonel Krafton—rather than to attempt to secure any
cooperation from Leech, who, he said, was only a subordinate, and
really had little authority.

Middleton and Thurston quickly felt the beneficial effect of their
civility to the old officers, in the increasing cordiality shown them
by their landlady. Mrs. Dockett gave them a full account of both
visitors, their pedigrees and position, not omitting a glowing picture
of the beauty and charms of the daughter of Dr. Cary, and a hint that
she was bound to marry either Jacquelin Gray, the owner of Red Rock,
or her cousin, Captain Stevenson Allen, who, Mrs. Dockett declared,
was the finest young man in the world, and had applied to her for
table-board that very day.

This was interesting, at least to Thurston, who declared that now
that he was succeeding so well with Miss Dockett, it was necessary
to utilize Middleton’s figure. Events, however, were moving without
Thurston’s agency.

An order came to Middleton from head-quarters a day or two later to go
to the upper end of the county and investigate certain “mysterious
meetings” which, it was reported, were being held in that section.

The list given of those who participated in such meetings made
Middleton whistle. It contained the names of Dr. Cary, General Legaie,
Captain Allen, and nearly every man of prominence in the county.

The name given him, as that of the person who could furnish him
with information, was Hiram Still; and the order contained explicit
directions where to meet him. He would find him at a certain hour at
the house of a colored man, named Nicholas Ash.

So the Captain rode up to a small cabin situated in a little valley
near the Red Rock place, and had an interview with Still, who appeared
to Middleton far more mysterious than anything else he discovered
on his trip. The meetings referred to, seemed to be only those
social gatherings which Dr. Cary had already spoken of to the young
officer. When Middleton prepared to leave, Mr. Still offered to show
him a nearer way back by the ford below the old bridge that had
been destroyed during the war, and as it was late in the afternoon,
Middleton accepted his offer.

They were almost at the ford when an old carriage came out of the road
which led down from the Red Rock plantation, and turned into the main
road just before them. Still pulled up his horse, and, excusing himself
from going any farther, on the ground that if Middleton followed the
carriage he would be all right, turned back. All anyone had to do, he
said, was to keep down the river a little, so as not to hit the sunken
timbers; but not to go too far down or he would get over a ledge of
rock and into deep water.

As the road was narrow and Middleton supposed that the driver knew
the ford, he kept behind the carriage, and let it cross before him.
One of the horses appeared to be afraid of the water, and the driver
had to whip him to force him in. So when he entered the stream he was
plunging, and, continuing to plunge, he got among the sunken timbers
and fell.

Middleton was so close behind the carriage that he could hear the
voices of two ladies inside, one of whom was apparently much alarmed,
whilst the other was soothing her, and encouraging the driver. He heard
her say:

“There’s no danger, Cousin Thomasia. Gideon can manage them.” But
there was some danger, and “Cousin Thomasia” appeared to know it. The
danger was that the frightened horses might turn and pull the vehicle
around, upsetting it in the deep water below, and as the fallen horse
struggled, Middleton dashed in on the lower side, and catching the near
horse, steadied him whilst the other got up. Then, springing from his
own horse, he caught the other just as he got to his feet, and held to
him until they reached the farther bank, where he assisted the driver
in bringing them to a stand-still, and enabled the ladies to get out
and see what damage had been done.

He had taken in, even as he passed the carriage in the water, that the
two occupants were an elderly lady and a young lady, the latter of whom
appeared to be holding the former; but it was after he reached the bank
that he observed that the younger of the two ladies was one of the
prettiest girls he had ever seen. And the next second he recognized her
as Miss Cary. She evidently recognized him too. As she turned to thank
him, after she had helped her companion from the carriage, the color
rose to her face, appearing the deeper and more charming because of the
white which had just preceded it, and which it so rapidly followed; and
there was a look in her eyes which was part shy embarrassment and part
merriment. He saw that she knew him, but she did not admit it.

He began to examine busily the harness, which was old, and had been
broken in several places. He had some straps on his saddle, he said,
which he would get. The girl thanked him, with quiet dignity, but
declined firmly.

They would not trouble him. Gideon could mend it, and she could hold
the horses. She bowed to him, with grave eyes, and made a movement
toward the horse, holding out her ungloved hand to catch the bridle,
and saying, “Whoa, boy,” in a voice which Middleton thought might have
tamed Bucephalus. Miss Thomasia, however, mildly but firmly interposed.

“No, indeed, my dear, I’ll never get into that carriage again behind
those dreadful horses, unless this—this—gentleman (the word was a
little difficult) stays right by their heads. I am the greatest coward
in the world,” she said to Middleton in the most confiding and friendly
manner; “I am afraid of everything.” (Then to her companion again, in
a lower tone:) “It is very hard to be beholden to a Yankee; but it is
much better than having your neck broken. And we are very much obliged
to you, sir, I assure you. Blair, my dear, let the—” She paused and
took breath.

“_Yankee_,” said Middleton, in a clear voice, much amused, as he worked
diligently at a strap.

“—_Gentleman_ help us. Don’t be too obstinate. Nothing distinguishes a
lady more than her manner of giving in.”

So, as Middleton was already at work, the girl could do nothing but
yield. He got his straps, and soon had the breaks repaired, and,
having, at Miss Thomasia’s request, held the horses while the ladies
re-entered the vehicle, and then having started them off, he stood
aside and saluted as they passed, catching, accidentally, Miss Cary’s
eyes, which were once more grave. The only remark she had volunteered
to him outside of the subject of the broken harness was in praise of
his horse, which was, indeed, a magnificent animal.

A few minutes later, the young Captain galloped by the carriage, but he
did not glance in, he simply saluted as he passed, with eyes straight
to the front.

When he reached home that night Larry Middleton was graver than usual;
but little Thurston, after hearing of the adventure, was in better
spirits than he had shown for some time. He glanced at Middleton’s
half-discontented face, and burst out:

“‘Oh! cast that shadow from thy brow.’ It was clearly Providence. Why,
Larry, after that they are obliged to invite us to dinner.”

“Why, she didn’t even speak to me,” growled Middleton, puffing away at
his pipe. “And I know she recognized me, just as clearly as I did her.”

“Of course, she recognized you—recognized you as one of the enemies of
her country—a hated oppressor—a despicable Yankee. Did you expect her
to fall on your neck and weep? On my soul! she’s a girl of spirit! Like
my own adorable Elizabeth! All the same, we’re as good for invitations
to whatever they give as a dollar is for a doughnut.”

And when a day or two later a note from Dr. Cary, in a formal
handwriting and equally formal words, was brought to Captain Middleton,
thanking him for his “opportune and courteous aid” to his daughter
and cousin, Lieutenant Thurston declared that it was an invitation to
Middleton’s wedding.



CHAPTER XI

THE PROVOST CATCHES A TARTAR, AND CAPTAIN MIDDLETON SEEKS THE
CONSOLATIONS OF RELIGION


Steve Allen on his removal to the county seat after his sudden
abandonment of farming, had taken up his quarters in an old building,
fronting on the court-green near the Clerk’s office, and with its rear
opening on a little lane which led to two of the principal roads in
the county. From the evening of his arrival Steve took possession of
the entire village. He wore his old cavalry uniform, the only suit he
possessed, and, with his slouched hat set on one side of his handsome
head, carried himself so independently that he was regarded with some
disfavor by the two young officers, whom he on his side treated with
just that manner which appeared to him most exasperating to each of
them. He was immediately the most popular man in the place. He played
cards with the men, and marbles with the boys; made love to the girls,
and teased the old women; joked with the soldiers, especially with the
big Irish Sergeant, Dennis O’Meara, and fought the war over with the
officers. He boldly asserted that the Confederates had been victorious
in every battle they had ever fought, and had, as someone said, simply
“worn themselves out whipping the Yankees,” a line of tactics which
exasperated even little Thurston, until he one day surprised a gleam of
such amused satisfaction in Steve’s gray eyes that he afterward avoided
the ambuscade and enjoyed the diversion of seeing Leech, and even
Middleton, caught.

Leech had been warned in advance by Mr. Still of Steve Allen’s
intention to settle at the county seat, and immediately on Steve’s
arrival had notified him to appear before him as Provost and exhibit
his parole. From that time Steve had taken Leech as his prey. Knowing
that the Provost was not the proper officer, he did not obey the order,
and repaid Leech’s insolence with burning contempt, never failing, on
occasion, to fire some shafts at him which penetrated and stung.

General Legaie and Dr. Cary, after their experience with Leech,
determined to lose no more time than was necessary in adopting the
suggestion of Captain Middleton and going to see the Commandant of the
Freedmen’s Bureau in the city. The General, however, stipulated that he
should not be expected to do more than state his views to the officer
in command. This he was willing to do, as he was going with Dr. Cary
to the city, where the Doctor was to see Mr. Ledger and conclude the
negotiation for a loan to re-stock his plantation.

It happened, however, that when General Legaie and Dr. Cary called on
Colonel Krafton, two other visitors from their county had been to see
that officer: Hiram Still and Leech.

The two gentlemen were kept waiting for some time after their names had
been taken in by the sentinel before they were admitted to the Chief
Provost’s presence, and every minute of that period the General grew
hotter and hotter, and walked up and down the little ante-room with
more and more dignity.

“Dr. Johnson before Lord Chesterfield,” said the Doctor, laughing at
his friend’s impatience and indignation.

“Dr. Johnson before a dog!” was the little General’s retort. “Why, sir,
I never treated a negro in my life as he has treated us.”

At last, however, they were admitted.

The officer, a stout man with closely cropped iron-gray hair, a
lowering brow and a heavy jaw, was seated at his desk writing. He did
not look up when they entered, but said, “Sit down,” and wrote on.
When he was through, he called out, and a sentinel entered.

“Send that off at once—or—wait where you are. I may have another to
send.” He turned to the two visitors who were still standing.

“Well?”

“I am Major Cary,” that gentleman said, advancing, “And this is General
Legaie.” He bowed gravely.

“Oh! I know you,” said the officer. He turned to his desk and searched
for something.

“Oh!—I was not aware that I had had the pleasure of meeting you
before,” said the Doctor, brightening. “Where was it, sir? I regret
that my memory has not served me better.” He seated himself.

“I did not say I had met you—I said I knew you, and I do. I know you
both.”

“Oh! I thought I should not have forgotten,” said the Doctor.

“No, nor you won’t. I have a report of you, and know why you’ve come.”
He shook his head as he turned to them. “I’m Colonel Krafton, Provost
of this district, and I mean to be the Provost, and you might as well
understand it now as hereafter.”

“Oh!” said the Doctor, rising slowly from the seat he had taken.

“I know about your conferences, and your meetings, and the terms you
propose to dictate to me; but I will show you that I am in authority
here and I don’t propose to be dictated to, either; do you understand?
I don’t want any of your advice. When I want you I’ll send for you; do
you understand? “

The Doctor, who had waited in a sort of maze for the Provost to pause,
turned to his friend, whose face was perfectly white and whose usually
pleasant eyes had a red rim around the irises.

“I beg your pardon, General Legaie, I thought we should find a
gentleman, but——”

“I never did, Major,” said the little General. “But I had no idea we
should find such a dog as this.” He turned to the Provost, and, with a
bow, fixed his eyes on him. But that officer looked at the sentry and
said:

“Open the door.”

The General looked out of it, expecting a file of soldiers to arrest
them, and straightened himself for the ordeal. There was none there,
however. The General’s countenance fell.

“I said ‘dog,’ but I apologize to that animal, and say—_worm_!” He
turned his eyes once more on the Provost.

“I shall be at the Brandon tavern until the evening. Do you understand
that?” he said, addressing the Provost. He stalked out, his nose high
in the air, his heels ringing on the floor.

As soon as they were outside, the Doctor began to apologize to the
General again; but the latter, having blown off his steam, and fully
appreciating his friend’s mortification, was very handsome about it.
He had at heart a sly hope that the Provost officer might consult some
friend who would insist on his taking up the insult, and so give him a
satisfaction which he was at that moment very eager for. None came that
evening, however, and as the next day none had come, the General was
forced to return home unsatisfied.

The effect of Dr. Cary’s and General Legaie’s interview with Colonel
Krafton was shortly felt in the county.

A few days later an order came for an inquisition to be made from house
to house for arms. The labor this required was so great that it was
divided up. In the part of the county where General Legaie lived, the
investigation was made by Middleton, who conducted himself throughout
with due propriety, even declaring it, as General Legaie reported,
“an unpleasant duty,” and “taking in every case a gentleman’s word,”
never touching a thing except, perhaps, where there would be an army
musket or pistol. General Legaie’s old duelling-pistols, which his
butler, Julius, had hidden and taken care of all during the war, were
left unmolested, and the young officer went so far as to express, the
General stated, a “somewhat critical admiration for them,” observing
that they were the first genuine duelling-pistols he had ever seen.
On this the General—though, as he declared, it required all his
politeness to do so—could not but make the offer that in case Captain
Middleton should ever have occasion to use a pair they were entirely at
his service.

In the Red Rock and Birdwood neighborhood, the people were not so
fortunate. There the inquisition was conducted by Leech—partly,
perhaps, because the two young officers did not wish to pay their
first visit to Dr. Cary’s on such an errand, and partly because Leech
requested to be allowed to assist in the work.

Though the other officers knew nothing of it, Leech had two reasons
for wishing to conduct the search for arms at Dr. Cary’s. He had not
forgotten Dr. Cary’s action and look the day of the trial. The other
reason was hatred of Steve Allen. “I’ll show him what I can smell,” he
said to Still, who smiled contentedly.

“It won’t do to fool with him too much, personally,” Still warned him.
“He’s a dangerous man. They’re all of ’em dangerous, you hear me.”

“I’ll show ’em who I am, before I’m through with ’em,” said Leech.

Thus the inquisition for arms was peculiarly grateful to Leech.

Leech had a squad of men under his command, which made him feel as if
he were really an officer, and he gave them orders as though he were
leading them to a battle. He intimated that they might be met with
force, and asserted that, if so, he should act promptly. On riding up
to the Doctor’s a Sabbatic stillness reigned over everything.

The Doctor was not at home that day, having gone to the city to see the
General in command there about the appointment of magistrates and other
civil officers for the county, and, as Mrs. Cary had a sick headache,
the blinds were closed, and Blair and old Mammy Krenda were keeping
every sound hushed. It was a soft, balmy afternoon, when all nature
seemed to doze. The sunlight lay on the fields and grass, and the trees
and shrubbery rustled softly in the summer breeze.

Flinging himself from his horse, the Provost banged on the door loudly
and, without waiting for anyone to answer his summons, stalked noisily
into the house with his men behind him. Both Blair and Mammy Krenda
protested against his invading one particular apartment. Blair planted
herself in front of the door. She was dressed in a simple white dress,
and her face was almost as white as the dress.

“What’s in there?” asked Leech.

“Nothing. My mother is in there with a sick headache.”

“Ah-h-h!” said Leech, derisively. He caught Blair by the arm roughly.
Blair drew back, the color flaming in her cheeks, and the old negro
woman stepped up in her place, bristling with anger.

The flash in the young girl’s eyes as she drew herself up abashed the
Provost. But he recovered himself and, pushing old Krenda roughly
aside, opened the door. There he flung open the blinds and rummaged in
the drawers, turning everything out on the floor, and carried off in
triumph a pair of old, horseman’s pistols which had belonged to the
Doctor’s grandfather in the Revolutionary War, and had been changed
from flintlock to percussion at the outbreak of the recent hostilities.

Leech had just come out of this room when Jacquelin Gray drove up. He
stopped outside for a moment to ask what the presence of the soldiers
meant, and then came hobbling on his crutches into the house.

As he entered, Blair turned to him with a gesture, partly of relief and
partly of apprehension.

“Oh, Jacquelin!” The rest was only a sob. The blood flushed Jacquelin’s
pale face, and he passed by her.

“By what authority do you commit this outrage?” he asked Leech.

“By authority enough for you. By what authority do you dare to
interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duty, you limping,
rebel dog? If you know what is good for you, you’ll take yourself off
pretty quick.” Leech took in his squad with a wave of his hand, and
encountering Jacquelin’s blazing eyes and a certain motion of his
crutch, moved a little nearer to his men, laying his hand on his pistol
as he did so.

Blair made a gesture to stop Jacquelin; but he took no heed of it. He
moved on his crutches nearer to the Provost.

“I demand to know your authority, dog,” he said, ignoring both Leech’s
threat and Blair’s imploring look.

“I’ll show you. Seize him and search him,” said Leech, falling behind
his squad and adding an epithet not necessary to be repeated.

“I am not armed; if I were—” said Jacquelin. At Blair’s gesture he
stopped.

“Well, what would you do?” Leech asked after waiting a moment for
Jacquelin to proceed.” You hear what he says, Sergeant?” He addressed
the bluff, red-haired Irishman who wore a sergeant’s chevrons.

“Sames to me he says nothin’ at all,” said the Sergeant, who was the
same man that had had charge of the ambulance in which Jacquelin had
been brought home the day he arrived, and who had been a little grumpy
ever since he had been put under Leech’s command.

“Arrest him and if he offers any resistance, tie him securely to a tree
outside,” ordered Leech.

“Does Captain Middleton know of this?” Jacquelin asked the Sergeant.

“Well, you see, it’s arders from headquarrters, an’ I guess the Cap’n
thaught bayin’ a ferrut was a little more in _his_ line.” The Sergeant
nodded his head in the direction of Leech, who had called the other men
and gone on ostentatiously with his search.

[Illustration: HE CARRIED OFF IN TRIUMPH A PAIR OF OLD HORSE-PISTOLS.]

Just then, however, the Provost encountered a fresh enemy. If Mrs.
Cary and Miss Blair deemed it more dignified and ladylike to preserve
absolute silence during this invasion, Mammy Krenda had no such
inconvenient views. The old woman had nursed both Mrs. Cary and her
daughter. She was, indeed, what her title implied, and had all her
life held the position of a member of the family. In her master’s
absence she considered herself responsible, and she had followed Leech
from room to room, dogging his every step, and now, emboldened by
Jacquelin’s presence, she burst forth, pouring out on the Provost the
vials of her wrath which, instead of being exhausted by use, gathered
volume and virulence with every minute.

“Yaas, I know jest what sort you is,” she said, mockingly: “you is the
sort o’ houn’-dog that ain’t got sperit enough to fight even a ole
hyah, let alone a coon; but comes sneakin’ into folks’ kitchen, tryin’
to steal a scrap from chillerns’ mouths when folks’ backs air turned! I
ain’t talkin’ to you all,” she explained, with ready tact, to the squad
of privates who showed in their countenances some appreciation of her
homely, but apt illustration; “I know you all’s got to do it if you’
marsters tell’s you to. Nor, I’m talkin’ to him. I declare I’m right
glad my marster ain’t at home; I’m feared he’d sile his shoe kickin’
yer dutty body out de do’.” She stood with her arms akimbo, and her
eyes half-closed in derision.

This touch, with an ill-suppressed snicker from one of the men behind,
proved too much for the leader’s self-control, and he turned in a rage:

“Shut up, you black hag,” he snarled, angrily, “or I’ll—I’ll—” He
paused, hunting for a threat which would appall her. “I’ll tie you to a
tree outside and wear out a hickory on you.”

If he thought to quell the old woman by this, however, he was mistaken.
He only infuriated her the more.

“You will, will you!” she hissed, straightening herself up and walking
up close to him. “Do you know what would happen if you did? My marster
would cut your heart out o’ you; but I wouldn’t lef’ you for him to do
it! You ain’t fitten for him to tetch. De ain’ nobody uver tetched me
since my mammy whipped me last; and she died when I was twelve years
ole’; an’ ef you lay your hand ’pon me I’ll wear you out tell you ain’t
got a piece o’ skin on you as big as dat!—see?” She walked up close to
him and indicating the long, pink nail on her clawlike little-finger,
poked a black and sinewy little fist close up under the Provost’s very
nose.

“Now—” she panted: “Heah me; tetch me!”

But Leech had recovered himself. He quailed before the two blazing
coals of fire that appeared ready to dart at him, and recognizing the
fact that even his men were against him and, like Jacquelin, were
secretly enjoying his discomfiture, he angrily ordered them out of the
house and concealed as best he could his consuming inward rage.

Incensed by Jacquelin’s look of satisfaction at the old mammy’s attack,
Leech took him along with him, threatening him with dire punishment
for interfering with a Union officer in the discharge of his duty;
but learning from the Sergeant that Jacquelin was “a friend of the
Captain’s,” he released him, assuring him of the fortunate escape he
had, and promising him very different treatment “next time.” Jacquelin
returned no answer whatever until at the end, when he said, looking him
deep in the eyes, “It may not be next time, you dog; but some time will
be my time.”

When Dr. Cary reached home that evening, both Mrs. Cary and Blair
congratulated themselves afresh that he had been absent during the
Provost’s visit. The first mention of the man’s conduct had such an
effect on him that Mrs. Cary, who had already interviewed both her
daughter and the mammy on the propriety of giving a somewhat modified
account of the visitation, felt it necessary to make even yet lighter
of it than she had intended. The Doctor grew very quiet, and his
usually pleasant mouth shut close, bringing his chin out strongly and
giving him an uncommonly stern appearance. Mrs. Cary whipped around
suddenly and gave the matter a humorous turn. But the Doctor was not
to be diverted; the insolence of Leech’s action to Blair, and of
penetrating into his wife’s chamber, had sunk in deeply, and a little
later, having left his wife’s sick-room, he called up the mammy. If
Mrs. Cary possessed instincts and powers of self-control which enabled
her to efface her sense of injury in presence of a greater danger, the
old servant had no such cultivated faculty. At the first mention of
the matter by the Doctor, her sense of injury rose again, her outraged
pride came to the surface once more, and in the presence of him to whom
she had always looked for protection her self-control gave out.

She started to tell the story lightly, as she knew her mistress wished
done, but, at the first word, broke down and suddenly began to whimper
and rock.

When it had all come out between sobs of rage and mortification, her
master sent her away soothed with a sense of his sympathy and of the
coming retribution which he would exact.

When the Doctor saw Mrs. Cary again, he was as placid as a May-morning,
perhaps more placid than usual. He thought himself very clever indeed.
But no man is clever enough to deceive his wife if she suspects him,
and Mrs. Cary read him as though he had been an open book. As a result,
before he left her room she had exacted a promise from him not under
any circumstances to seek a personal interview with Leech, or even to
go to the court-house for some time.

The story of the old negro woman’s terrible tongue-lashing of the
Provost got abroad. He had attempted to use both command and persuasion
to prevent his men from telling it, but even the bribery of a free
treat at a store on the roadside, which was a liberality he had never
been known to display before, failed to secure the desired secrecy, and
the story reached the court-house almost as quickly as he. Sergeant
O’Meara related it to the camp with great gusto.

“Bedad!” said he, “the ould woman looked like wan of theyse little
black game-burruds whan a dog comes around her chicks, with her fithers
all oop on her back and her wings spraid, and the Liftenant—if he
is a Liftenant, which I don’t say he is, moind—he looked as red
as a turkey-cock and didn’t show much moor courege. She was a very
discriminatin’ person, bedad! She picked me out for a gintleman and
the sutler for a dog, and bedad! she wasn’t far wrong in ayether. Only
you’re not to say I towld you, for whan a gintleman drinks a man’s
whiskey it doesn’t become him to tell tales on him.”

Perhaps it was well for Mr. Jonadab Leech that the matter got abroad,
for it gave the incident a lighter turn than it otherwise would have
had. As it was, there was a storm of indignation in the county, and
next day there were more of the old Confederate soldiers in the village
than had been there since the war closed. In their gray uniforms,
faded as they were, they looked imposing. Leech spent the day in the
precincts of the camp. A deputation, with Steve Allen at their head,
waited on Middleton and had a short interview with him, in which they
told him that they proposed to obey the laws, but they did not propose
to permit ladies to be insulted.

“For I tell you now, Captain Middleton,” said Steve, “before we will
allow our women to be insulted, we will kill every man of you. We are
not afraid to do it.” He spoke as quietly as though he were saying the
most ordinary thing in the world. Middleton faced him calmly. The two
men looked in each other’s eyes, and recognized each other’s courage.

“Your threat has no effect on me,” said Middleton; “but I wish to say
that before I will allow any woman to be insulted, I will kill every
man in my command. Lieutenant Leech is not in my command, though in a
measure subject to my authority; but the matter shall be investigated
immediately.”

What occurred in the interview which took place between Middleton and
Leech was not known at the time, but that night Leech sent for Still to
advise him. Even the negroes were looking on him more coldly.

“I knows if he lays his han’ ’pon me, I’m gwine to cut his heart out
’n him,” said a tall, black young negro in the crowd as Leech passed,
on his way to his office. It was evidently intended for Leech to hear.
Leech had not then learned to distinguish black countenances and he did
not yet know Jerry.

Still was equal to the emergency. “These quality-niggers ain’t used to
bein’ talked to so,” he explained to Leech; “and they won’t stand it
from nobody but quality. They’re just as stuck up as their masters, and
you can’t talk to ’em that way. You got to humor ’em. The way to manage
’em is through their preachers. Git Sherrod and give him a place in
the commissary. He’s that old hag’s son-in-law, and he’s a preacher. I
always manage ’em through their preachers.”

The result of taking Still’s advice, in one way, so far surpassed
Leech’s highest expectation, that he could not but admit that Still
was a genius. One other appointment Still suggested, and that was of
a negro who had belonged to the Grays and who was believed to have as
much influence with the devil as Sherwood had in the other direction.
“And,” as Still said, “with Jim Sherrod to attend to Heaven and Doctor
Moses to manage t’other place, I think me and you can sorter manage to
git along on earth.

“You’ve got to do with them,” he added, sinking his voice almost to
a whisper. “For, as I told you, you’ve got to work your triggers up
that a-way.” He waved his hand toward the North. “If you can git the
money you say you can, I can make it over and over fer you faster
than nigger-tradin’. You jest git Krafton to stand by you and that old
feller Bolter to stake us, and we’re all right.

“You’ve got to git rid of this young Captain. One of you’s got to go
some time, and the one as holds out longest will win. ’Twon’t do to let
him git too strong a hold down here.—Now this party they’re gittin’
up? If they invite your young men—you might work that string. But
you can’t quarrel with him now. You say he’s in with your Mrs. Welch.
Better work the nigger racket. That’s the strong card now. Git some
more boxes from Mrs. Welch and let me put ’em where they’ll do most
good. Niggers loves clo’es mo’ than money. Don’t fall out with your
young man yet—keep in with a man till you have got under-holt, then
you can fling him.”

Meantime, while this conference was going on, Middleton was in a far
less complacent frame of mind. He had just left the camp that afternoon
and was on his way to his quarters, when, at a turn in the street, he
came on a group of young gentlemen surrounding a young lady who was
dressed in a riding-habit, and was giving an animated account of some
occurrence. As soon as he turned the corner, he was too close on them
to turn back; so he had to pass. He instantly recognized Miss Cary,
though her back was toward him: the trim figure, abundant hair, and
musical voice were not to be forgotten.

“I don’t think you need any guard, so long as you have Mammy Krenda,”
laughed one of the young men.

“No, with her for the rank and file, I am just waiting for Captain M—
I mean to meet him some day, and—”

“Hush-here he is now.”

“I don’t care.” She tossed her head.

Middleton could not help hearing what she said, or seeing the gesture
that stopped her.

He passed on, touching his cap to one or two of the young men, who
returned the salute. But Miss Cary took no more notice of him than if
he had been a dog.

Thurston had reached their room a little before Middleton arrived. He
was in unusually good spirits, having just relieved his mind by cursing
Leech heartily to Miss Dockett, and thus re-establishing himself with
that young lady, who had been turning her back on him ever since she
had heard of the incident at Birdwood. In reward for this act of
reparation, the young lady had condescended to tell Lieutenant Thurston
of the entertainment which the young people proposed to get up; and the
little officer had made up his mind that, if possible, he and Middleton
should be invited. He had just lit his pipe and was, as he said, laying
out his campaign, when Middleton entered and, tossing his sword in a
corner, without a word, lit a cigar, flung himself in an arm-chair
and gazed moodily out of the window. The Lieutenant watched his
friend in silence, with a more serious look on his face than usually
found lodgement on that cheerful countenance. The cloud remained on
Middleton’s brow, but the Lieutenant’s face cleared up, and presently,
between the puffs of his pipe, he said:

“Larry, you need the consolations of religion.” Middleton, without
taking his eyes from the distance, turned his cigar in his mouth and
remained silent.

“And I’m going to make you sit under the ministrations of the pious Mr.
Langstuff—”

“Foolstuff!” growled Middleton, turning his eye on him.

“—For your soul’s good and your eyes’ comfort,” continued the
Lieutenant placidly. “For they do say, Larry, that he preaches to the
prettiest lot of unrepentant, stony-hearted, fair rebels that ever
combined the love of Heaven with the hatred of their fellow-mortals.
You are running to waste, Larry, and I must utilize you.”

“Jackass!” muttered Middleton, but he looked at Thurston, who smoked
solemnly.

“For they say, Larry, there’s going to be a dancing-party, and we must
be there, you know.”

Middleton’s face, which had begun to clear up, clouded again.

“What’s the good of it? Not one of ’em would speak to us. I met one
just now—and she looked at me—they all look at me, or _by_ me—as if
I were a snake!”

“As you are, Larry—a snake in the grass,” interjected the little
Lieutenant. “Pretty?”

“As a peach—Can’t you be serious a minute?”—for Thurston’s eyes were
twinkling. “Every one looks as if she hated me.”

“As they ought to, Larry; for you’re their enemy.” Thurston settled
back with his pipe between his lips, and chuckled to himself. “You
ought to see the way they look at me, Larry. I know you, Alexander.
You’re not satisfied with your success with Miss Ruth, and Miss
Rockfield, and every other girl in the North, but you must conquer
other worlds; and you sigh because they don’t capitulate as soon as
they see your advance-guard.”

“Don’t be an ass, Thurs!” Middleton interrupted. “You know as well as
I, that I never said a word to Ruth Welch in my life—or thought of
doing so. When her father was wounded so badly, it happened that I had
a scratch too, and I saw something more of her than I otherwise should
have done, and that is all there is about it. Besides, we are cousins,
and you know how that is. Her mother would have seen me in perdition
before she would have consented to anything between us; and as to Edith
Rockfield——”

But the little Lieutenant did not care about Miss Rockfield. It was
Miss Welch he was interested in. So he cut in, breaking into a snatch
of a song:

  “Sure, Kate Riley she’s me cousin.
  Harry, I have cousins too;
  If ye like such close relations,
  I have cousins close as you.”

He slipped down farther in his chair, his heels up on the table, and
his hands clasped above his curly head.

“If you don’t stop that howling, old Mrs. Dockett will come and turn
you out again,” growled Middleton.

“Not me, Larry, my dear. I can warble all I like now. I’m promoted.”

“Promoted! How?”

“Don’t you see I sit next to the butter, now?”

“Fool!—But I’m used to being treated with a reasonable degree of
civility;” Middleton went on, as if he had not been interrupted, “and
I’ve put myself out more to be polite here than I ever did in my life,
and yet, by Jove! these little vixens turn up their noses at me as
if—as if—Why, they look as if they felt about me precisely as I feel
about Leech!”

He looked out of the window gloomily, and his friend watched him for a
moment with an amused expression in his blue eyes.

“Larry, they don’t know what great men we are, do they? You know that’s
one of the things that has always struck me? I wonder how girls can
have such a good time when they don’t know me. I suppose it’s the
ignorance of the poor young things! But they shall know me and you,
too. We’ll give the girls a treat next Sunday; we’ll go to church, and
later to the ball.”

“Church! You go to church!”

The Captain turned his head and looked at his friend with such blank
amazement that the Lieutenant actually colored.

“Yes,” he nodded. “You d——d Pharisee!—you think you are the only one
that knows anything about church, because that little gir— cousin of
yours—converted you; you’re nothing but a Dissenter anyhow. But I’m a
churchman, I am. I’ve got a prayer-book—somewhere—and I’ve found out
all about the church here. There’s an old preacher in the county, named
Longstuff or Langstuff or something, and he preaches once a month at
the old church eight or ten miles above here, where they say all the
pretty girls in the country congregate to pray for the salvation of
Jeff Davis and the d—— nation of the Yankees—poor misguided, lovely
creatures that they are!—as if we weren’t certain enough of it anyhow,
without their making it a subject of their special petition. I’m going
to have a look at ’em. We’ll have our trappings rubbed up, and I’ll
coach your dissenting, condemned soul on the proper church tactics, and
we’ll have the handsomest pair of horses in the county and show ’em as
fine a pair of true-riding, pious young Yanks as ever charged into a
pretty girl’s heart. We’ll dodge Leech and go in as churchmen. That’s
one place he’s not likely to follow us. What do you say? Oh, I’ve got a
great head on me! I’ll be a general some day!”

“If you don’t get it knocked off for your impudence,” suggested
Middleton.

So the equipments were burnished up; the horses were carefully groomed;
the uniforms were brushed and pressed afresh, and when Sunday morning
came, the two young officers, having dodged Leech, who had been trying
all the week to find out what was on foot, rode off, in full and
dazzling panoply, like conquering young heroes, to impress, at least,
the fairer portion of their “subjects,” as Thurston called them. They
were, in fact, a showy pair as they rode along, for both men were
capital horsemen, little Thurston looking at least a foot higher on
his tall bay than when lifted only by his own short, plump legs; and
on their arrival at church, which they purposely timed to occur after
the services should have begun, they felt that they could not have been
more effective.

The contrast between them and the rest of the assemblage was striking.
The grove about the church was well filled with animals and vehicles;
but all having a worn and shabby appearance: thin horses and mules, and
rickety wagons, with here and there an old carriage standing out among
them, like old gentlemen at a county gathering. A group of men under
one of the trees turned and gazed curiously at the pair as they rode
up and tied their showy horses to “swinging limbs,” and then strode
silently toward the church, where the sound of a chant, not badly
rendered, told that the services were already begun.

The entrance of the blue-coats created quite as much of a sensation
as they could have expected, even if the signs of it were, perhaps,
not quite as apparent as they had anticipated, and they marched to a
vacant seat, feeling very hot and by no means as effective as they had
proposed to do. Little Thurston dropped down on his knees and bowed his
head, and Middleton, with a new feeling of Thurston’s superior genius,
followed his “tactics.”

This was good generalship, for no one could know that the two young
reprobates were mopping their perspiring faces and setting every button
straight, instead of being bowed in reverential devotion. No one
entered their pew, and they were left alone. Several who came in the
church after them, and might have turned to their pew, on seeing the
blue uniforms, passed by with what looked very like a toss of the head.
But what Thurston called his “straight flush” was when he drew out his
prayer-book—which he had found “somewhere”—and began to follow the
service, in a distinctly reverential voice.

As many eyes were bent on them at this as had been directed to them
when they first appeared, and Miss Thomasia, adjusting her spectacles
to satisfy herself beyond doubt if her eyes were not deceiving her,
dropped them on the floor and cracked one of the glasses. For the idea
of a Yankee soldier using a prayer-book had never occurred to any
female member of that congregation any more than it had that a certain
distinguished being used it, popularly supposed to be also clad in blue
uniform, of sulphurous flame. The favorable impression made by this
move was apparent to the young men, and Middleton stepped on Thurston’s
toe, so heavily as almost to make him swear with pain, trying at once
to convey his admiration and to call Thurston’s attention to a very
pretty young girl in the choir, whose eyes happened to fall that way,
and whom he indicated as Miss Cary. Steve Allen was with her now,
singing out of the same book with her, as if he had never thrown a card
or taken a drink in his life.

The self-gratulation of the two officers was, however, of brief
duration. The next moment there was a heavy tread and a sabre-clatter
behind them, and turning with the rest of the congregation to look,
there was Leech stalking up the aisle. He made directly toward the
officers, and had Middleton been at the entrance of the pew he might,
perhaps, in the frame of mind into which the sight threw him, have
openly refused the new-comer admittance. Thurston, however, was nearer
the entrance, and nothing of the kind occurred. He simply moved down
to the door of the pew, and was so deeply immersed in his devotions
at that particular instant, that even the actual pressure of Leech’s
hand on his arm failed to arouse him, and the Provost, after standing a
moment waiting for him to move, stepped into a pew behind, and sat down
in the corner by himself.

The change in sentiment created by the Provost’s appearance was strong
enough actually to be felt by the young men, and Middleton looked in
Thurston’s eyes with such helpless rage in his own that the little
Lieutenant almost burst out laughing, and had to drop his prayer-book
and stoop for it to compose himself.

Still the congregation was mystified. It was pretty generally supposed
that it was not mere piety which brought the young officers there. Some
thought it was to insult them; some to show off their fine horses—some
suggested that it was to watch and report on their old rector, the Rev.
Mr. Langstaff, one of the best and Godliest of men, whose ardor as a
Confederate was only equalled by his zeal as a Christian. But Steve
Allen—speaking with the oracular wisdom of a seer, who, in addition
to his prophetic power, has also been behind the scenes—declared that
they had come to look at the pretty girls, and further avowed that
he didn’t blame them, because there were the prettiest girls in the
world, right in that church, and, as for him, he was ready to walk
right up, on the spot, with any one of them, from Miss Thomasia to
Miss Blair, and Mr. Langstaff could settle the whole matter for them,
in five minutes. Though, of course, he added, if General Legaie had
any preference, he himself would waive his privilege (as having spoken
first) and let the General lead the way, as he had often done before
on occasion. To which proposal, made in the aisle after church, when
the weekly levee was held, the General responded that he was “quite
ready to lead so gallant a subaltern, if Miss—” his eye sought Miss
Thomasia’s placid face—“ah! if—any lady could be found,” etc.

Steve was right—he very often was, though frequently he concealed his
wisdom in an envelope of nonsense.

It was conceded after the young officers had ridden away, that they
had “acted decently enough, but for those odious blue uniforms,” and
had showed no sign beyond nudging each other when Mr. Langstaff prayed
for the President of the Confederate States, with an unction only
equalled by the fervor with which the entire congregation had responded
“Amen”—at least, that the first two of them had showed no sign. The
third, however, had proved what they were. To be sure, he had come
after the others, and they had evidently tried to make it appear as
if they wished to avoid recognizing him, and had gone away alone. But
what did that prove? Were they not all alike? And even if the Provost
_had_ sat in a pew by himself, and did not have a uniform exactly like
the others, he had never even bowed during the prayers, but had sat
bolt upright throughout the whole service, staring around. And when the
President was prayed for, had he not scowled and endeavored to touch
his companions? What if they had appeared to ignore him? Might not
this be all a part of their scheme? And, as someone said, “when the
hounds were all in a huddle, you could not tell a good dog from a bad
one.” This simile was considered good by most of the male members of
the congregation; but there were dissenters. Mrs. Gray remembered that
those two young men sent Jacquelin home the day he arrived; and the
General remembered the civility of one of them in the performance of
a most disagreeable duty; Miss Thomasia recalled the closely followed
prayer-book, and some of the other ladies objected to hunting similes
at church.

However, when, after service, the two young officers left the church
and marched straight to their horses, even without the presence of
Leech to offend them—for they had clearly told him they did not wish
his company—they were far less composed than their martial mien and
jingling spurs might have appeared to indicate.



CHAPTER XII

 CAPTAIN ALLEN TAKES THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE AND JACQUELIN GRAY LOSES
 HIS BUTTONS AND SOME OLD PAPERS


The absence of all civil government and the disorganization of the
plantations were producing great inconvenience. Much thieving was
going on everywhere, and there was beginning to be an unwonted amount
of lawlessness: sheep and hogs were being stolen, and even horses and
cattle. Dr. Cary and Mr. Bagby united with some others of the more
conciliatory men in the State, to request the establishment of some
form of government, and a sort of provisional civil government was
shortly established in the country. Mr. Dockett was appointed Clerk of
the county, Dr. Cary was commissioned a magistrate in his district,
and, at his solicitation, Andy Stamper was appointed constable.

Meanwhile, Steve Allen had become the most prominent citizen of
the county seat. He had taken an old building in one corner of the
court-green, and his office soon became the most popular place of
resort in the village, for the young men. It was rumored that something
other than law was practised in Steve’s office, and the lights often
burned till daybreak, and shouts of laughter came through the open
windows. Stories got abroad of poker-parties held there in the late
hours of the summer nights. Neither Middleton nor Thurston had ever
been invited there, for Steve still held himself stiffly with the
two officers, but an incident occurred which suddenly broke down the
barrier.

Steve had never taken the oath of allegiance. This was not known at
the time of his arrival at the court-house, and he had started in
to practise law, and had gone on without any question as to it ever
being raised, until Still notified Leech. “If you could git up a row
between him and your young man, Middleton,” said he, “you might get rid
of one enemy, maybe two; for, I tell you, he won’t stand no foolin’.
Make Middleton make him take the oath. I don’t believe he’ll do it—I
b’lieve he’ll go away first.” Leech summoned Steve to exhibit his
parole; and on his failing to obey, laid the matter before Middleton.

When Leech disclosed the object of his visit, Thurston was lounging in
an arm-chair, with his pipe. He started up. Was it possible that such
a flagrant violation of the law had been going on? He gazed at the
Provost blandly.

“It was and is,” said Leech, sententiously. “This man never misses
an opportunity to treat the Government and its representatives with
contempt.”

“I have heard so,” said Thurston, adopting Leech’s tone. “I have
heard that he has even said that some of the representatives of the
Government were a stench in their own nostrils.”

Leech winced and glanced at Thurston; but he was as innocent as a dove.

“It is time to make an example of him,” proceeded the Lieutenant, still
apparently arguing with his superior. “And I think it would be well to
have him brought up at once and the most rigid oath administered to
him. Why should not Lieutenant Leech administer it? I should like to
see him do it, and he might take occasion to read Captain Allen a sound
homily on his duties as a citizen of this great Republic and his cause
for gratitude. It might lead him to mend the error of his ways.”

Nothing could have been more pleasing to Leech. He jumped at the
proposal, and said he would give this young rebel a lecture that he
would not soon forget, and if he refused to take the oath would clap
him in jail. Middleton assented and that evening was set for the
ceremony, and Middleton and Thurston said they would go down and see
the oath administered.

That evening Steve was surprised to find his office-door suddenly
darkened by a squad of soldiers who had come to arrest him and take him
before the Provost.

“What is it for?” Arrests by the Provost were not uncommon.

“To take the oath.”

There was a laugh at Steve’s expense; for it was known by his friends
that he prided himself on not having yet sworn allegiance to the
Government.

“Go and take your medicine, and pay me that little fiver you bet you
would not take it this month,” said McRaffle, with a half sneer.

“I’ll credit it on one of your I O U’s,” said Steve, dryly.

He was marched across to the Provost’s office, his friends following
to see the issue. Just as they arrived, Middleton and Thurston came
in, looking a little sheepish when they found, as the result of their
conspiracy, Steve guarded by a file of men. Leech took out a box of
good cigars and offered them to the officers. He did not offer them to
anyone else, but laid them on the table, and with a rap for silence,
began his homily. He made it strong and long. He dwelt with particular
emphasis on the beneficence of a Government that, after a wicked
rebellion, permitted rebels to return to their allegiance and receive
again all the benefits of the Union—becoming, indeed, one with her
other citizens. This concluded, he tendered Steve the oath. Everyone
present, perhaps, expected Steve to refuse to take it. Instead of
which, he took it without a word. There was a moment of breathless
silence.

“I understand then that we are, so to speak, now one?” said Steve,
drawlingly.

“Ah! yes,” said Leech, turning away to try to hide his surprise from
Thurston.

“Then, gentlemen, have some of _our_ cigars?” Steve took up the box,
lit a cigar himself and coolly handed them around.

As he offered them to Thurston the little Lieutenant said:

“Captain, the honors are yours.”

The next moment Steve tossed his cigar contemptuously out of the door.

“Come over to my office, gentlemen; I have a box that a _gentleman_
has sent me. I think they will have a better flavor than these.
Good-evening, Lieutenant Leech. Will you join us, gentlemen?” This was
to Middleton and Thurston, and the invitation was accepted.

They adjourned to Steve’s “law-office,” where they proceeded to while
away the hours in a manner which has sweetened, if not made, many an
armistice. Fortune from the start perched herself on Steve’s side as if
to try and compensate him for other and greater reverses; and at last
little Thurston, having lost the best part of a month’s pay, said that
if Leech’s cigars were not as good as Steve’s, they were, at least,
less expensive.

“You fellows don’t know any more about poker than you do about joking,”
said Steve, imperturbably, as he raked in a pot. “If I’d known about
this before, I wouldn’t have taken that oath. I’d have done like
McRaffle there. This is too easy.”

“You play just as much as I do,” said McRaffle, quickly.

“Yes; but in more select company.” Steve said quietly. “Not with boys.”

McRaffle’s cold face flushed slightly, and he started to reply, but
glanced quickly round the table and reconsidered. Steve was placidly
shuffling the cards.

No man likes to have his poker-game assailed, and Middleton and
Thurston were no exceptions.

“You’re outclassed, Captain,” said Steve. “I’d be riding that whitefoot
bay of yours in a week, if you played with me.”

“Make a jackpot and I’ll give you a chance,” said Middleton, firing up.

Steve, as the winner, was not in a position to stop. The others had
warmed up.

“Yes—make it a jackpot, and let that decide which is the biggest
blower,” laughed someone.

Steve dealt and Middleton looked pleased, as he well might. None of
the others had more than a pair, and they passed out. Steve had three
hearts and a pair. He was about to throw the cards down when he caught
Middleton’s look of content, and hesitated.

“Come in,” laughed Middleton.

Steve’s fingers tightened on his cards, and Middleton discarded two,
showing that he held three of a kind.

“I’ve got you beat,” he said.

“Beat? I tell you, you don’t know the game,” said Steve, airily. He
coolly discarded his pair.

“I don’t? I’ll bet you a hundred dollars, I’ve got you beat.”

Steve picked up two cards. “I’ll see you and raise you,” said he. “I
bet you five hundred against your whitefoot horse you haven’t.”

“Done,” said Middleton.

“Keep your horse, boy,” said Steve. “I was the best poker player in my
brigade.” He leaned over to put his cards down. But Middleton was game
and was ahead of him.

“It’s a bet,” he said, laying his hand on the table. There was a sigh
from the others: he had three aces.

Steve laid his beside them, and there was a shout. He had drawn a flush.

“Now I’ll buy the horse back from you, if you wish it?” said Middleton.

“Thank you. I’ve promised him to a lady,” said Steve.

Next day Steve rode his new horse to Birdwood and, with a twinkle in
his eyes, offered him to Blair.

“How did you get him?” asked the girl.

“Captured him,” laughed Steve. “Tell your friend not to play poker with
me—or McRaffle,” he added.

Blair’s eyes flashed and she attacked Steve vigorously. She would not
have him offering to present her a part of his gaming-winnings. He was
becoming a scandal to the neighborhood; leading the young men off.

“Young Larry, for instance?” smiled Steve. “Or Captain McRaffle?”

“No. You know very well whom I mean,” declared Blair. “Rupert thinks
it fine to imitate you.” The smile was still on Steve’s face, and
Blair paused to take breath; then half closing her eyes as if she were
sighting carefully—“And couples your name with Captain McRaffle’s,”
she added.

A light of satisfaction came into her eyes as she saw the shaft go
home. A deeper hue reddened Steve’s sunbrowned face.

“Who was the young lady who bet me not long ago, against that very
horse, that she would not dance with a certain Yankee Captain? Where’s
her pious example?”

Blair’s face flushed. “I did wrong. But I did not expect you, Captain
Allen who prides himself on his chivalry, to shelter himself behind a
girl.” She bowed low, and turned away in apparent disdain, enjoying the
success of her shot.

Just at that moment Miss Thomasia joined them.

“What are you two quarrelling about?” The next moment she glanced at
Steve and a troubled look came into her eyes.

“Nothing. We aren’t quarrelling, are we Blair?” Steve held out his hand
in sign of peace.

“Yes. Steve has just charged——”

Steve began to make signs to Blair.

“—Steve has just charged,” proceeded Miss Blair, ignoring his efforts
to stop her, “that all his shortcomings are due to the example set him
by a woman.”

“They all do it, my dear, from Adam down,” said Miss Thomasia, placidly.

Her sex was to be defended even against her idol.

“There,” said Blair, triumphantly to Steve.

“It’s a stock phrase,” said Steve. “And what I’d like to know is, did
not Adam tell the truth?”

“Yes, the coward! he did. And I’ve no doubt he tried to keep poor Eve
between him and the angel’s sword. Now you, at least be as brave as he,
and tell Cousin Thomasia the truth and see what she says.”

Once more Steve began to signal Blair. But Miss Thomasia herself came
to his rescue. Perhaps, she wanted to save him. She began to ask about
Rupert. She was evidently anxious about the boy.

Whether it was because of what Blair said about Rupert, or because of
the look of distress that came in Miss Thomasia’s eyes at the mention
of the story of Steve’s playing, Steve had an interview with Captain
Middleton shortly afterward, and, as a result, when he told him the
dilemma in which he found himself, the horse went back into Middleton’s
possession, until Middleton left the county, when he became Steve’s by
purchase.

As time went on, a shadow began to fall between Jacquelin and the sun.
Steve was in love with Blair. Steve was always with her; his name was
always on her lips, and hers frequently on his. She rode his horse: and
he often came to Red Rock with her. And as Jacquelin watched, he knew
he had no chance. It cut deeper than anyone ever knew; but Jacquelin
fought it out and won. He would not let it come between him and Steve.
Steve had always been like a brother. He would still love Blair. This
was not forbidden him. Not every knight always won his great love.
It was the loyalty, not the success, that was knightly. If she loved
Steve, he could make her happier than Jacquelin himself ever could have
done. And Jacquelin, if God gave him power, would rejoice with them in
time.

The preparations for the contemplated entertainment for the benefit
of the poor wounded Confederate soldiers in the county were already
begun. It was to be given at Red Rock, and the managers waited only
for Jacquelin to recover somewhat from a set-back he had had after his
meeting with Leech at Dr. Cary’s. Blair Cary had offers from at least
a dozen escorts; but Steve was the fortunate contestant. Miss Dockett
was so much interested in her preparations that the two lodgers caught
the fever, and found themselves in the position of admirers and part
advisers as to a costume for an entertainment to which they were not
considered good enough to be invited. Little Thurston had to purchase a
part of it in the city, where he went on a visit, and, truth to tell,
finding that the small amount entrusted to him—which was all that
could be got together even by Mrs. Dockett’s diligence, stimulated by
her natural pride in her daughter’s first ball—was not sufficient
to purchase material as fine as he thought suited to adorn the plump
person of a young lady who had condescended to warble with him, he
added to it a small sum from his own by no means over-plethoric pocket,
and then lied about it afterward like a trooper and a gentleman.

“Well, I always heard a Yankee was a good hand at a bargain,” declared
Mrs. Dockett; “but you are the best I ever knew.” And this was
Thurston’s reward.

The officers had given up hope of being invited to the assembly, when
one evening two formal notes, requesting their company, were brought by
Steve’s boy Jerry. They were signed simply, “The Committee.”

“And now,” said Middleton, “we’re in a bigger hole than before; for
it’s for the benefit of the rebels; and if that gets out—. But,
perhaps it will not?”

“Gets out? Of course it will get out. Everything one doesn’t want to
get out, gets out; but yet we must go. Does not our high sense of duty
require us to sacrifice our personal prejudices so far as to keep an
eye on this first large assemblage of rebels?”

“Reely, you’re a genius,” said Middleton, in open admiration.

“Of course I am,” was the Lieutenant’s modest reply.

Formal notes of acceptance were sent, and the two young officers were
soon as busy as anyone making their preparations for their “summer
campaign,” as Thurston called it. Both ordered new boots, and Thurston
a whole suit, for the occasion. Thurston, in the seclusion of their
room, drilled Middleton sedulously in the Old Virginia reel, so as to
astonish the native and, as he profanely termed it, “make sure of the
capture of the fish Middleton had found in the ford.”

An evening or two later, the mail was brought in, and in it were two
official letters for Middleton. As he read them, his face fell, and
he flung them across to Thurston, who, as he glanced at them, gave an
ejaculation hardly consistent with the high-church principles he so
proudly vaunted.

One was an order forbidding, for the present, all public gatherings
at night, under any guise whatever, except in churches; the other
forbade the wearing of any Confederate uniform or garment forming
part of a uniform, or, at least (as persons might not have any other
clothes whatever), brass buttons, braid, chevrons, etc., which were the
insignia of a uniform. These were to be cut off or covered. These were
general orders, and the officers in command stationed throughout the
country were directed to see them enforced.

“This comes of having a d—d tailor for President,” said the little
Lieutenant. “I always did hate ’em; and to think I’ve ordered a new
uniform for it too! Your wedding, Larry, will not come off as soon as
I anticipated. Well, there’s one consolation; one tailor will have to
wait some time.”

This view appeared to please the Lieutenant so much that, as he glanced
over the orders again, he began to whistle, while the Captain looked
on despondently. The whistling grew louder as Thurston read on, and he
suddenly bounced up.

“I’ve got it, Larry. Are you a Mason?”

“No. Why?”

“Oh! Nothing—I was just thinking of that old Masonic lodge where the
chaplain preached and Leech led in prayer. You issue your orders—and
leave me +to manage it: this tailoring part is what’s going to play the
deuce. I can settle the other—I’m a churchman—I ought to have been a
bishop.”

As Thurston foresaw, it was the order touching the uniforms which gave
the greatest offence, and in the indignation which this aroused, the
other was almost lost sight of. It was intended to show the negroes,
the old residents said, that the Southerners were completely in
subjection to the Federal authorities. Which view gained some ground
from the fact that the orders were issued by Leech, who appeared to be
charged with their enforcement.

The next day there was a storm in the county.

The little General made old Julius burnish up his buttons until they
shone like gold, and then rode into the village to interview the
officer in command. He was stopped on the street by Leech, and was
ordered to cut them off immediately if he did not wish him to do it for
him, on which the gallant old Confederate stated to that functionary
as placidly as he might have returned an answer to Miss Thomasia on
the subject of roses, that if Leech so much as attempted to lay his
hand on him, he would kill him immediately; and the look in his eyes
was so resolute and so piercing that Leech, who supposed from this
that he was fully armed, slunk away to secure a squad of soldiers to
enforce his order. The General rode serenely on to find Middleton. No
one was present at the interview. But it became known afterward that
the General had begun by an intimation that he was ready to renew his
polite offer of the pair of duelling pistols to Captain Middleton, if
the Captain wished to give a gentleman who found himself temporarily in
a somewhat embarrassing position, a gentleman’s satisfaction; and that
he had come away, not, indeed, with this satisfaction, but, at least,
with renewed esteem for the young men, whom he continued to speak of as
“most gentlemanly young fellows”; and he covered his buttons with cloth.

Steve Allen let Miss Thomasia cover his with crêpe, and having led
Leech into questioning him as to the reason for this, said that it was
mourning because a certain cowardly hound had only barked at Mammy
Krenda one day, instead of attempting to touch her, and giving her the
opportunity to cut the skin from him. Dr. Cary found his buttons cut
off by Mrs. Cary and Miss Blair—“to prevent,” Blair said, “their being
defiled by sacrilegious hands.”

Jacquelin Gray was at this time confined to his lounge, by his wound;
but it had this drop of consolation for his mother and Aunt Thomasia,
that so long as he stayed there he could not be subjected to what
others underwent. They reckoned, however, without their host.

One afternoon Leech rode into the Red Rock yard with a squad of
soldiers at his back, and riding across the grass to the very door,
dismounted and stamped up the steps, and, without waiting for an
answer to his loud rap, stalked into the hall, with his men behind
him. Where he had come from no one knew; for he had ridden in the back
way. It transpired afterwards that he had stopped for a minute at the
overseer’s house.

At the moment Leech appeared in the hall, Jacquelin was lying on his
lounge, with Blair Cary and Rupert sitting beside him, and the first
he knew of the Provost’s presence was when Blair, with an exclamation,
sprang to her feet. He turned and faced Leech as he entered the hall.
The Provost appeared dazed by the scene before him; for scores of eyes
were fastened on him from the walls, and he stood for a moment rooted
to the spot, with his gaze fixed on the face of the “Indian-killer”
over the big fireplace. That strange embodiment of fierce resolve
seemed almost to appal him. The next instant, with a gesture, he came
forward to where Jacquelin lay. At the same moment Blair retired to
seek Mrs. Gray and Miss Thomasia. Leech’s eyes followed her as she went
out.

“Well, sir, what do you want?” Jacquelin asked, haughtily.

“Take off your coat.”

It was the form of order given to negroes when they were to be
thrashed. Jacquelin’s face flushed.

“What for?”

“Because if you don’t, I’ll take it off for you. I mean to cut these
buttons off.”

“You can cut them off.” Jacquelin had grown quiet, and his face was
white. Rupert drew nearer to him, his cheeks flushed and his breath
coming quickly.

“I guess I can,” sneered the Provost. He came up to the lounge, pushing
Rupert aside, who interposed between them. He leaned over and cut the
buttons from the jacket, one by one.

“I’ll send these to my girl,” he said, tauntingly—“Unless you want
them for yours,” he added, with a meaning laugh. Jacquelin controlled
himself to speak quietly.

“Tell your master that some day I will call him to account for this
outrage.”

“Young puppies bark, but don’t bite,” sneered the Provost.

In an instant Rupert was on him, and, boy as he was, he struck the
Provost a blow which, taking him unawares, staggered him. Leech
recovered himself, however, and seizing the boy, slapped him furiously
several times. Jacquelin was on his feet in a moment. He sprang toward
the Provost, but the men interposed, and he sank back on his lounge,
breathless and white.

“Hound, for that I will some day make a negro whip you within an inch
of your life,” he said, beside himself.

Leech grinned in triumph and, walking up, leant over him officiously,
as though to see if there were still any buttons left.

As he did so, Jacquelin raised himself and slapped him across the face.
Leech with an oath sprang back and jerked out a pistol; and possibly
but for an accident which gave time for the intervention of his men,
Jacquelin Gray’s career would have ended then.

He looked so cool, however, and withal so handsome and intrepid as
he lay back and gazed into Leech’s eyes, denouncing him fiercely and
daring him to shoot, that Leech hesitated and turned toward his men
for encouragement. As he did so, the door opened hastily and a curious
thing happened. The great full-length portrait over the big fireplace,
loosened, perhaps, by the scuffle with Rupert, or by the jar of the
door as Mrs. Gray and Miss Thomasia, entered, slipped in its frame and
at the moment that Leech turned, fell forward, sending the Provost
staggering back among his startled men. When Leech recovered, his
men interfered. They were not ready to see a man murdered before his
mother. Baffled in this, the Provost determined on another revenge. He
swore he would have Jacquelin hanged, and made his men take him out
and put him on a horse. Jacquelin was unable to sit in the saddle,
and fell off in a faint. At this moment Hiram Still, whom Mrs. Gray
had summoned, came up and interposed. At first, the Provost was not
amenable even to Still’s expostulations; but at length he pressed
a wagon and had Jacquelin put in it, and hauled him off to the
court-house, to jail, still swearing he would have him hanged. Mrs.
Gray, having sent off by Blair in hot haste for Dr. Cary to follow
her, directed Still to replace the picture, ordered her carriage, and,
without waiting, set out for the court-house, accompanied by Miss
Thomasia and Rupert.

They had hardly left when Still went into the house to set the
picture back in its place. It was surrounded by a group of curious,
half-frightened servants who, with awe, alternately gazed on it and
on the yawning hole in the wall, making comments, full of foreboding.
Still sent them all off except Doan, whom he kept to help him set the
picture back in place. It was necessary to get up on a chair and lean
half way in the hole and examine the sides where the nails were to be
driven, and this Still did himself, making an examination of the entire
recess, even moving a number of bundles of old papers.

“Ah!” he said, with a deep inspiration, as he ran his eye over one
bundle, which he laid off to one side. He sent Doan out to get him some
long nails, for, as he explained, he meant now to nail the picture up
to stand till judgment day. The negro went with a mutter, half timid,
half jest, that he wouldn’t stay in that hole by himself not for the
whole Red Rock plantation and every mule on it. While he was absent
Still was not idle. Doan had no sooner disappeared than the manager
seized the bundle of papers he had laid to one side, and, hastily
cutting the string which bound it, extracted several papers.

“I thought I remembered which one it was in,” he murmured. “I didn’t
know when it was put in here as I’d ever git hold of it again.” He held
the papers up so as to get the light over his shoulder on them.

“Yes, that’s the big bond with the paint on it, payable to me. I
thought ’twa’n’t cancelled.”

He was so busy with the papers that he did not see the faces, outside
the window, pressed against the pane, or hear Doan enter, and did
not know he had returned until his shadow fell across the hearth. He
slipped the papers in his pocket so hastily that one of them fell out
and would have fluttered down on the floor had he not caught it. He
turned on the negro:

“How did you come in, fool?” he asked, with a start, as he rammed the
paper back in his pocket.

“I come in by de do’,” said Doan, sullenly.

The portrait was soon nailed back, this time Still driving the nails in
to make sure they wouldn’t come out again.

Meanwhile the ladies were making their way to the court-house. It was
quite dusk when they reached the county seat and, to their surprise,
the wagon had not yet arrived. Miss Thomasia was in great distress over
it, and was sure that Leech had executed his threat against Jacquelin.
But Mrs. Cary, though much disturbed, thought that more probably they
had taken another road and had travelled more slowly. This, indeed,
proved to be the case, and some hours later, Leech and his prisoner
turned up.

Mrs. Gray had not been idle. On reaching the court-house she sent at
once for General Legaie, and drove to Mrs. Dockett’s, where she knew
the commanding officer had his quarters. There she found the family
at supper, and it may be safely asserted that no meal was ever more
unceremoniously interrupted. Mrs. Dockett no sooner heard Mrs. Gray’s
name, than she left the table and went to receive her, and having in
the first two minutes learned the cause of her visit, she swept back
into the dining-room and swooped down on the two young officers, with
a volubility which, at least, terminated the meal, and looked for a
little while as if it would also terminate the relation of hostess and
guest. She announced that Leech had broken into Mrs. Gray’s house,
assaulted her son, and finally dragged him from his dying bed and, no
doubt, had murdered him in the woods. And she summoned the two officers
to assert immediately their authority and execute summary justice on
the Provost, if they ever wished to eat another meal under her roof.
Not that Mrs. Dockett really took the view that Miss Thomasia took,
for outside, she had already reassured Mrs. Gray, giving her calmly
most excellent reasons to show that Leech would never dare to injure
her son. But she felt that she had a warrant for this lurid picture in
Miss Thomasia’s forebodings, and she could not resist the pleasure of
presenting it in all its blackness. Fortunately, Middleton, with his
quiet manner, could, when he chose, be impressive enough. He listened
to Mrs. Gray’s statement calmly; was very grave, but very polite to
her, and though he did not promise to release her son, or indicate
what would be done in the matter, he assured her that Jacquelin should
have proper treatment on his arrival, and promised that she should have
access to him.

Suddenly Rupert, who had been crying on the way down whenever he could
do so unobserved, stepped forward from behind his mother, where he had
been standing.

“I struck him first, and I am the one to hang, not my brother.” His
face which had been red when he began, paled suddenly, and his lip
quivered a little; but his head was held straight and his eyes were
steady and were filled with light.

Mrs. Gray started to speak; but her voice trembled and failed her, and
she could only hold out her hand to the boy. Middleton’s eyes softened.

“No one will be hanged,” he said. Then added, gravely: “But you
shouldn’t have struck him.”

“He called my brother a puppy,” said the boy, defiantly, his eyes
flashing, “and I’ll let no one do that—not you, nor anyone.”

That night Thurston said to Middleton:

“Gad, Larry, I said I ought to be a bishop, but you ought to be
one—the way you preached to that boy, and I’d give a thousand dollars
for him.”

“I wish you were Captain,” growled Middleton.

“He looked like a little game-cock, didn’t he?”

When the prisoner arrived, about midnight, under his guard, everything
was found ready for his reception, and his mother was detailed to nurse
him, to which, probably, was due the failure of Leech’s and one other’s
plan.



CHAPTER XIII

STEVE ALLEN LEARNS MISS THOMASIA’S SECRET AND FORSWEARS CARDS


The roughness of the treatment Jacquelin had received at Leech’s hands
caused his wound to break out afresh, and for a time he was seriously
ill. But he had some compensations. Every girl in the neighborhood
deemed him her especial favorite and charge. And from time to time, in
the door walked, floated, or entered somehow, a goddess; and with her
came heaven. Her entrance was always a miracle; she lit up the room,
radiance took the place of gloom; the racked nerves found a sudden
anodyne, and in the mere joy of her presence, Jacquelin forgot that
he was crippled. She read to him, sat by him, soothed him, talked
with him, sympathized with him, turned darkness into light, and pain,
at least, into fortitude. How divinely tender her eyes could grow as
some sudden paroxysm wrung his nerves, and brought a flush to his wan
cheek! How solicitous was her voice! How soft her touch! And how much
she knew! As much as Aunt Thomasia! How could a young girl have read so
much! It stimulated Jacquelin, and he began to emulate her, as in old
days, until reading became a habit.

Under these influences Jacquelin actually began to get well.

Middleton passed by one evening and saw the young girl sitting on
the rose-bowered veranda, by Jacquelin’s lounge, reading to him. The
soft cadences of a charming voice were borne to him murmurously. A
strange pang of loneliness shot through him. That far-away visit
in the past seemed to rise up before him, and the long years were
suddenly obliterated. He was back, a visitor at a beautiful old
country-place, where joy and hospitality reigned. Jacquelin was a
handsome, bright-faced boy again, and Blair was a little girl, with
those wonderful eyes and confiding ways. Middleton wondered if he
should suddenly turn and walk in on them, with a reminder of that old
time, how they would receive him. He was half-minded to do it, and
actually paused. He would go in and say, “Here, the war is over—let’s
be friends.” But suddenly a man passed him and glanced up in his face
and saluted. It was Leech, and Middleton saw him look across to where
the invalid and his fair young nurse sat on the shaded veranda, and
knew what his thoughts were. The spell was broken. Middleton stepped
down from romance to the hard ground of reality, and passed on to give
his orders for the evening.

Jacquelin’s arrest and illness had come near breaking up the
entertainment (a name which had been substituted for ball, to meet
the scruples of Miss Thomasia and some other pious ladies). But this
Jacquelin would on no account hear of. Besides, after the order
forbidding public gatherings at night, it would look like truckling.
As, however, in the family’s absence, the assembly could not be held at
Red Rock, it was decided to have it at the court-house, where Jacquelin
now was. This concession was made; the largest and best building
there for such an entertainment was one used as a Masonic hall, and
occasionally as a place for religious services. This hall was selected.
Who was responsible for its selection was not actually known. Thurston
told Middleton that when he said he ought to have been a bishop, he
placed his abilities far too low—that really he ought to have been a
pope. But he did not appear in the matter at all except to meet the
objections raised by Leech, and to silence that official by an allusion
to his recent pious ministrations in that building. Steve Allen was
the chief advocate of the hall, and took the lead in its selection and
also in its defence; for some objection was made by others than Leech
to having a party in this building, and on very different grounds.
Miss Thomasia and some others who were not entirely satisfied anyhow
about dancing, thought that it was certainly more likely to be wrong
in a room which had been sometimes used, however rarely, for religious
services, and it took some skill to overrule their objections. Thurston
said to Mrs. Dockett that it had never been consecrated. “So far from
it,” said Mrs. Dockett, “it has been desecrated.” (The last service
held in it had been held by a Union chaplain, who had come up from town
and preached in it to the soldiers, with Leech on the front bench.)

Miss Thomasia, being for once in accord with both Thurston and Steve,
gave in, and actually lent her aid and counsel, at least so far as
related to the embellishment of the hall, and of some who were to
attend there. She ventured her advice to Steve in only one matter
relating to the outside. Having found him at work one evening, making a
short rustic bench to be placed under one of the trees in the yard, she
said she hoped he did not intend that for two people, and that young
man scandalously replied that he was making it short on purpose for her
and the General; and, in the face of her offended dignity, impudently
added that the General had engaged him to do it, and had given him the
measurements.

“Steve Allen, I am too old for you to talk to me so,” said Miss
Thomasia.

“‘Taint me, Cousin Thomasia; ’tis the General,” persisted Steve, and
then, as the little faded lady still remained grave and dignified, he
straightened up and glanced at her. Stepping to her side, he slipped
his arm round her, like a big stalwart son, and, looking down in her
face with kindly eyes, said, tenderly:

“Cousin Thomasia, there aren’t any of ’em like you nowadays. They don’t
make ’em so any more. The mould’s broken.” He seated the little lady
gently on the bench, pleased and mollified, and flung himself on the
grass at her feet, and the two had a long, confidential talk, from
which both derived much comfort, and Steve much profit (he said). At
least, he learned something new, and when as the dew began to fall
Miss Thomasia rose, it was with a better insight into the nature of
the reckless young fellow; and Steve, on his part, had a new feeling
for Miss Thomasia, and led her in with a new tenderness. For Miss
Thomasia had told the young man, what she had never admitted to a soul
in all her life—that the reason the General, or anyone else, had never
won her was that long ago her heart had been given to another—“the
handsomest, most brilliant man I ever saw,” she said—who had loved
her, she believed, with all his soul, but had not been strong enough to
resist, even for her sake, the temptation of two besetting sins—drink
and gambling—and she had obeyed her father, and given him up.

Steve was lying full length on his back at her feet, his face turned to
her, and his clasped hands under his head.

“Cousin Thomasia, who was he, and what became of him?” he asked, gently.

“He was your father, Steve, and you might have been—” The voice was so
low that the young man did not catch the last word. He unclasped his
hands, and placed one forearm quickly across his face, and lay quite
still for a minute or two. Then he moved it. Miss Thomasia was sitting
quite motionless, her eyes in her lap, and with the fading light of the
evening sky slanting under the trees and resting on her face and soft,
silvered hair. She sighed so softly it might have been only breathing.

“I never knew it,” said Steve, gently; “but I might have known.”

He rose slowly, and leaning over her, kissed her tenderly, and she laid
her head on his shoulder.

“Yes, Steve, now you know.”

And Steve said, yes, and kissed her again like a son.

“Cousin Thomasia,” he said, presently, “I will not say I will never
drink again; but I will promise you not to gamble again, and I will not
drink to excess any more.”

“Oh! Steve, if you knew how I have prayed for you!” said the little
lady, softly.

“Well, maybe, Cousin Thomasia, this is in answer to it,” said Steve,
half seriously.

There was as much preparation for the entertainment as there had ever
been in the old times for the greatest ball given at Red Rock or
Birdwood. Some of the guests from distant neighborhoods came several
days before-hand to be in time, or to help superintend, and stayed at
the houses of their friends near the county seat. Even the General’s
bachelor establishment was transformed for the occasion into a nest of
doves, who, it was said, put up more little knick-knacks than he had
ever seen, and made the old fellow more comfortable than he had ever
been before in all his life.

Thus the little village, which for some time had been hardly more than
a camp, over-run with negro camp-followers, suddenly took on a new air
and freshened up, with young girls in cool dresses and big hats on the
streets, or making pleasant groups under the trees in the yards on the
slopes outside the hamlet, from which laughter and singing to the music
of guitars floated down to the village below. The negroes themselves
joined in, and readily fell into old habits, putting themselves in
the way of the visitors, whom they overwhelmed with compliments, and
claims, and offers of service.

Amid this, Middleton and Thurston went in and out quietly, attending
to their duties, drilling and inspecting and keeping their eyes open,
less for treason than for the pretty girls who had come suddenly upon
them like flowers after a spring rain. They met a few of them casually,
either through Steve Allen or Mrs. Dockett, whose house was filled with
them; but the new-comers treated them with such undeniable coolness
that there was little encouragement to prosecute the acquaintance.
Even plump Miss Dockett stiffened perceptibly, and treated Lieutenant
Thurston with more severity than she had ever exhibited since he had
made those wonderful bargains.

Only one man in the whole village appeared absolutely out of humor
over the stir and preparations, and that was Leech. The plan which he
and Still had laid down to prevent the assembly having failed, Leech
determined to break it up, at all hazards. Still was in constant, if
secret, conference with him. They had told Sherwood and Moses that they
could prevent it. If it were held in spite of them, it would prove that
they were less powerful than they pretended to be.

Leech would go to town and obtain a peremptory order forbidding this
very meeting.

“Have it made out so you can give it, yourself,” counselled Still.
“Wait till the last minute and then spring it on ’em. We’ll show ’em
we’re not to be treated as they please. They don’t know me yet, but
they soon will. I’ve got that as will make some of ’em wince. I’ll show
’em who Hiram Still is.” He tapped his pocket significantly.

So it was decided, and Leech went off to the city to use his influence
with Colonel Krafton, while Still was to prepare a foundation for his
interference, through the negro leaders, Sherwood, Moses, and Nicholas
Ash.

That evening there was a little more stir among the negroes about
the court-house than had been observed before. Sherwood and Moses
were there, sent down by Still, and that night they held a meeting—a
religious meeting it was called—at which there was some singing and
praying, and much speaking or preaching—the two preachers being
Sherwood and Moses. They could be heard all over the village, and at
length their shouting and excitement reached such a pitch and attracted
so much attention that some of the residents walked down to the place
where they were congregated, to look into the matter. Moses was
speaking at the moment, mounted on an impromptu platform, swaying his
body back and forth, and pouring forth a doctrine as voluble in words
as it was violent in sound and gesture, whilst his audience surged
around him, swaying and shouting, and exciting themselves into a sort
of wild frenzy. The white men who had gathered, listened silently and
sullenly to the sounds rising in unison with the speaker’s voice. Some
were of the opinion that he ought to be stopped at once and the meeting
broken up, and there were plenty of offers to do it. A more prudent
head, however, had adopted another course. Dr. Cary, who happened to
be in the village that night, hearing what was going on, and knowing
what might occur at any moment, called on the officer in command, and
stated to him the danger of a collision. Captain Middleton walked
down to the meeting with him to make his own observation. Only a few
moments sufficed. The violence of the speaker, who was now dancing
back and forth; the excitement of the dusky crowd pressing about him;
the gathering of white men on the edge of the throng, speaking in low,
earnest tones, their eyes turned to the speaker, suggested prompt
measures.

“Don’t de Book say, as we shall inherit the nth?” cried the speaker,
and his audience moaned and swayed and shouted in assent.

“An’ ain’t de harvest white fur de laborer?”

“Yas-yas,” shouted the audience. “White fur de laborer!”

“Unless you stop them, Captain, we shall; for we know that it is
necessary and that it will be a kindness to them,” said the Doctor,
quietly; and the officer recognizing the necessity, though he little
understood the Doctor’s full meaning, assented promptly. He pushed
his way through the throng, followed by the Doctor. He stopped the
speaker and mounted the platform, and in a few words forbade any
further speaking and ordered the crowd to disperse, which it did almost
immediately, dissolving like magic before the officer’s order. Then
he turned to the speaker, and with a sharp reprimand for his action
commanded him to leave the village. The trick-doctor cringed, and with
a whine of acquiescence bowed himself off.



CHAPTER XIV

LEECH SECURES AN ORDER AND LOSES IT


When Leech returned from the city, next day, he was in such good
spirits that Steve and Thurston both arrived at a similar conclusion,
and decided that there was some mischief brewing. Steve called Jerry
and had a talk with him.

About sunset Leech mounted his horse at his stable and rode out of
the village through a back lane. He was to meet Still that night at
Nicholas Ash’s. Still and his son met him according to appointment, and
the details of their plan were arranged.

Leech found that he had an ally stronger than he had dreamed of. Still
showed him that he was a much richer man than he had ever admitted. He
not only held the bonds of Dr. Cary, given for the money he had lent
the Doctor, and a bond of his late employer, Mr. Gray, of which Leech
already knew; but he held another bond of Mr. Gray for an amount large
enough to swallow up his entire estate. Leech could scarcely believe
his eyes. Mrs. Gray did not know of its existence; but the bond was
undoubtedly genuine. Mrs. Gray herself, Still said, would admit that.
He had a satisfactory explanation for her ignorance, as well as for the
fact that he had never before mentioned to Leech that he held so large
a claim against the Gray estate. He had made the money by negro-trading
quietly, before the war, and had lent it to Mr. Gray to stock a
plantation, which he, as Mr. Gray’s agent, had bought for him in the
far South. And he had not mentioned it to Mrs. Gray or anyone else for
a very simple reason. He had promised Mr. Gray that he would never
trouble Mrs. Gray about the bonds during her life.

Leech did not believe this; but there were the bonds—one a small one,
and one a very big one, and Still had of late hinted several times at
something that he was storing up for the proper moment.

“I told you I didn’t care if you killed that young Jacquelin that
night,” he laughed. “Why didn’t you do it? I must say I never allowed
that he’d git thar alive.”

“Neither did I,” suggested Leech. “And I believe it did him good.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Still, enigmatically; “but I wouldn’t
’a’ shed no tears over him. But if you do as I tell you, we’ll git even
and have a leetle somethin’ to spare. You just work Krafton and get
your friends to back you, and you and me’ll own this county. I’ll see
that Moses is there on time, if he don’t have an inch of skin left on
him.”

A rumor had meantime got abroad at the county seat that an order
had been secured by Leech forbidding the assembly, and that though
Middleton knew nothing of it as yet, Leech would spring it at the
proper time and try to prevent the assembly. There was much excitement
over it. A number of young men dropped in at Steve Allen’s office to
ascertain the truth of the report, and there was a rather general
expression of opinion that the ball would take place whether Leech had
such an order or not.

“Go and ask Middleton, directly,” advised Jacquelin, and Steve did so.
Middleton said he had no knowledge on the subject, and knew of no one
to whom such an order should be addressed except himself.

Jerry, who was lounging sleepily not far from Leech’s office, was
called in by Steve and interrogated again with sundry forcible
intimations of what would happen in case he should be deceiving him.
But Jerry was firm. He reiterated again and again his fervent wish for
a speedy dissolution and a perpetual condemnation of the most lurid
character, if every word he had spoken were not more than true. Leech,
he declared, had the paper in his pocket, and had read it to Sherwood
and Moses and Nicholas in his back office, and was going to deliver it
to Captain Middleton next day, the day set for the entertainment.

“I lies to urrers; but the Cun’l knows I wouldn’ lie to him,” protested
Jerry, in final asseveration.

“That’s so—he knows better,” said Steve; and Jerry, with a grin, went
back to his post in sight of Leech’s back door.

Steve, with a new light in his face, went up to Mrs. Dockett’s and had
a little talk with Miss Dockett and one or two of the young ladies
there, and in ten minutes, with locked doors, they were busy sewing for
life. It must have been something very amusing they were engaged in, to
judge from the laughter that floated down from their windows.

That night Hiram Still, with his son, was on his way back to Red
Rock from his meeting with Leech, while Leech was riding back to the
court-house.

It was about ten o’clock and the moon was covered by clouds; Leech was
riding along, thinking of the plans he had formed and the manner of
publishing his order, and of the effect it would have in establishing
his position in the county. He had got within a mile or two of the
village when, in a little “bottom” in a lonely piece of woods, just
before reaching a fork in the road, there was an owl-hoot behind
him, and another, as if in response, a little ahead of him. The next
moment his horse started violently, as a dark object which Leech had
noticed when still at a distance from it, but thought merely a bush,
moved out into the road immediately before him. His heart jumped into
his throat, for it was not like anything earthly. In the darkness, it
looked as much like a small elephant with a howdah on it, as anything
else; but he did not have time to think much about it, for the next
instant it was close on him right across the road, a huge muffled
figure on a high, shapeless beast. Leech’s horse snorted and wheeled.
Another figure was behind him, closing in on him. Leech pulled in his
frightened horse; for somewhere about the middle of the dark figure
lowering above him there was a momentary flash of steel. Leech thought
of his own pistol, but the great figure moved closer to him, very close
to him, and stopped. Not a word was said. The figure simply sat in
front of him, silent and motionless, while the other moved up on the
other side and did the same. Leech’s tongue was sticking to his mouth.
The stillness and silence were more awful than any words could have
been. He tried to speak, but his lips could scarcely frame the words.
Presently he managed to falter:

“What do you want?”

There was no answer, and again the silence became worse than ever. The
voices of the katydids sounded far and near.

“Who are you?”

There was not a word. Only the figures pressed closer to him.

“What—what do you want?”

Silence and the katydids in the woods.

“Let me go by. I have no money.”

There was no answer, and for a moment no motion, only the gleam of
steel again. Then the two figures, pressing close against the Provost,
silently turned his horse around and moved slowly off into the woods,
without a word, with him between them.

He tried to pull up his reins; they were held on either side, and an
arm was thrown around him.

“Where are you going?” faltered Leech.

They moved on without a word.

“Wait—I will—I will give——”

A bag or something was suddenly thrown over his head and pressed down
to his elbows, which at the same moment were pinioned to his side, and
his pistol was taken. He was afraid to cry out, and perhaps could not
have done so even had he tried.

The next instant a hand was put into his breast pocket and his
pocket-book and all his papers were taken out; he was conscious of a
match being struck and a light made, and that his papers were being
looked over. He thought he heard one of his captors say, “Ah!” and the
next moment the papers and pocket-book were put back in his pocket,
and the light was extinguished; the bag was drawn from over his head,
and his captors rode off through the woods. When he tried to move he
discovered that his horse was tied to a bush and he had to dismount to
untie him. His pistol was lying at the foot of the sapling. Long before
he had finished loosing his horse, the sound of his two waylayers had
died out.

As the Provost entered the village the sour expression on his face
deepened. The clouds had disappeared and the summer night was perfect;
the village lay before him, a picture of peace; the glint of white
beneath the court-house trees being just enough to suggest that the
tents there were hidden. The streets were filled with a careless
throng, and all the sounds were those of merriment: laughter and
shouting, and the twang of banjos. There was never an unlikelier field
for such a plan as the Provost had in mind.

He rode through like a shadow, silencing the negroes and scowling
at the whites, and as soon as he had put up his horse, he called on
Captain Middleton. It was not a long interview, but it was a stormy
one, and when the Provost came out of the Captain’s office he had
thrown down the gauntlet and there was an open breach between them. He
had complained to Middleton of being beset by highwaymen and robbed of
his order, and Middleton had told him plainly he did not believe a word
he said.

“How did you get such an order? If there was such an order, why was it
not addressed to me?” he asked.

Leech said that he declined to be interrogated, but he would soon show
him that he had authority.

“Then you will have to bring some better evidence than your own word,”
said Middleton, coldly.

Leech fired up and attempted a bolder tone than he had ever dared use
before with Middleton, and actually forbade the meeting the following
night. The young Captain, however, gave him to understand that he
himself was the commandant there and that for another word, order or no
order, he would place him under arrest, which step at that moment would
have so interfered with Leech’s plans that he had not ventured to push
the matter further.

Next night the long-talked-of entertainment came off duly, and Miss
Blair Cary and Miss Elizabeth Dockett and the other girls who had
waited so long, showed their little plain, sweet, white and pink
dresses which they had made themselves, and their prettier white
throats and pink faces, and lovely flashing eyes which God had made;
and danced with their gray-jacketed escorts, their little feet slipped
in their little slippers, many of which were high-heeled and faded
with age, having belonged to their mothers, and grandmothers—even
great-grandmothers—and enjoyed it all as much as ever the former
wearers of the slippers did in their full glory of satin and lace. For
of such is the Kingdom of Youth.

The Yankee officers attended, very dignified, and were treated
politely, but not warmly, of course, only just so civilly as to show
that Southerners knew what was due to guests even when they were
enemies; but not so warmly as to let them forget that they were foes.

This, however, made little difference to the young men, for the
civility which it was felt was “their due as guests” was sufficient to
make a marked contrast with a past in which not a soul in petticoats
had noticed them, and the girls were pretty enough to satisfy them at
first, even if there was no other privilege conferred than merely that
primal right of the cat in the proverb. Everyone, however, meant to be
civil, and for the time, at least, at peace.

But there was more than this; the night was perfect; the breath of
flowers and shrubbery came in through the open windows; the moon was
almost at her full, and her soft light was lying on the grass, mantling
the trees, and filling the night with that amber mellowness which
sometimes comes in summer, and seems to bring a special peacefulness.

The camp lay hidden in the distance, and the throng in the streets hung
on the fences, listening to the music, or laughed and danced in full
sympathy with the occasion.

Steve Allen constituted himself the especial host of the two officers.
It was by him that Middleton and Thurston were introduced to most of
the girls, and to the older ladies, who sat at the end of the room
farthest from the music, their eyes, filled with light, following
their daughters or others whose success was near to their hearts, or,
like Miss Thomasia, beaming a benediction on the whole throng of happy
dancers.

Still, an hour after the dancing began, the one person whom Middleton
particularly wished to meet had not appeared, and Middleton, who had
been planning for a week what he should say to Miss Cary, found himself
with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. Little Thurston was capering
around as if to the manner born; perspiring at every pore; paying
attention to half the girls in the room, and casting glances at Miss
Dockett languishing enough, as Middleton said, to lay the foundation
for a breach of promise suit. But Middleton could not get into the
spirit of the occasion. He asked a number of girls to dance, but they
were all “engaged,” and politely showed their cards. So Middleton
fell back. General Legaie, and the other older gentlemen courteously
drew him into their conversation, and the General rallied him, with
an old bachelor’s license, on not dancing, declaring that the sight
of such girls was the true fountain of youth; but the young Captain
was not in the mood for fun. A vague feeling of unrest was on him.
The order that Leech had mentioned; the Provost’s positive manner;
the warning that he had given; the covert threat he had dared to
employ, all began to recur to Middleton and worry him. He felt that
he would be responsible if any trouble should occur. He went out and
walked through the village. A light was shining under the door of
Leech’s office; but all was as it had been: good-humor everywhere. The
moonlight soothed him and the pleasant greetings as he passed served to
restore his good-humor, and he returned to the ball. As he did so an
old high-backed carriage, which he thought he recognized, made its way
slowly past him. The driver was explaining to someone who walked beside
him the cause of his delay.

“Dat fool hoss—you can’t git him in de water to save your life. He’ll
breck ev’ything to pieces fust. But my young Mistis, she’s dyah now,
an’ she’s de queen on ’em all, I tell you. You go dyah an’ look at her
th’oo de winder,” he wound up with a proud laugh.

As Middleton re-entered the ball-room there was quite a group near the
door surrounding someone who was the centre of attraction, and whom
Captain Allen was teasing.

“Oh! You’ll dance with him. He left because you had not come, but I
have sent for him. He’s saved a set expressly for you.”

“I won’t. He has done no such thing, and I won’t dance with you either,
unless you go away and let me alone.” The voice was a charming one.

“I’ll bet you do. I understand why you made old Gideon drive you up the
stream that evening; but you can’t expect him to be mooning on the bank
of every creek in the county, you know——”

“That settles it for you, Steve,” said the voice over behind the heads.
“Jack, I have the seventh dance with you as well as the first and
fourth,” she called to Jacquelin who was seated against the wall, his
crutches beside him.

“Jack never was any hand at arithmetic, and besides he can’t dance,”
declared Allen, as his friend professed his gratitude.

Just then Allen caught sight of Middleton, over the heads of the others.

“Ah! here—Captain Middleton, I want to present you to my cousin, Miss
Blair Cary, who wishes to know how you happened not to be—” He caught
his cousin’s eye, and changed his speech “—who has a question to ask
you. Captain Middleton—Miss Cary.” The others made way for Middleton,
and he stepped forward and bowed low.

She was all in white, and was blazing with brass buttons. They were
her only ornaments, except a single old jewel consisting of a ruby
surrounded by diamonds. She wore bracelets of the buttons on her arms,
and a necklace of larger ones on a band around her white throat. A
broad belt of them girdled her little waist.

As Middleton bowed, he caught her eye and the same look of mingled
defiance and amusement which he remembered so well at the ford. He
hardly knew whether to laugh or be grave, and was conscious that he
was growing red, as her look changed into one of triumph. He remained
grave, however, and rallied enough to ask her for a dance. She bowed.
They were all engaged.

“I have the seventh—to sit out, I believe?” said Jacquelin Gray
maliciously, from his seat, for Steve’s benefit. Miss Blair looked at
her card;—then to Jacquelin:

“You only _believe_? As you have forgotten so far as to have a doubt
about it, the seventh is _not_ engaged,” said the young coquette, with
a curtsey. She turned. “I will give it to you, Captain Middleton.” She
looked at Jacquelin and with a little—only the least little toss of
the head, took the arm of a young man who had just claimed his set, and
bowing to Middleton moved off, leaving both Steve and Jacquelin looking
a trifle blank.

“That girl’s the most unaccountable creature that ever was on earth,”
growled Jacquelin. “I’ll be hanged if I’ll be treated so!” He looked
across the room after her floating form.

“Go slow, old man, go slow,” said Steve. “You’ll be treated that way
and come again for more. And you know you will.”

Jacquelin growled. He knew in his heart it was true.

Middleton thought that the seventh set would never come, but, like
everything else in life, it came at last, and though there were three
claimants for it, the one who was the final judge decided for Middleton
and walked off with him, calmly leaving both the other aspirants fuming
and scowling.

“You can’t fight him Jack,” said Steve with a laugh to his cousin, who
was muttering to himself, “because I’d first have to fight you, you
know.”

Having thus punished both her admirers, Miss Cary declined to
dance—whether to keep her word; to avoid pleasing too much the young
Federal Captain, or to soothe the ruffled spirits of his unsuccessful
competitors, who may tell? For no one can thread the mazes of a girl’s
caprice.

But this made little difference to Middleton. They strolled outside
and found a seat. The moonlight appeared to Middleton more charming
than he ever remembered it, and he discovered something which he had
never known before. He wanted to please this girl as he never recalled
having wanted to please any other, and he was conscious that it was a
difficult, if not an impossible task. It was as though he lay in face
of a foe, one who appeared at the outset stronger than he. Yet she did
not appear to be attempting anything. She was simply in opposition
to him, that was all. She appeared so unaffected and simple that,
remembering what he had just seen of her coquetry, he wondered if she
could be as natural as she seemed to be. Her gaze was so direct, her
voice so placid, her manner so self-possessed, that he felt she had the
advantage of him. And all the time he wanted to please her.

In the course of their conversation she spoke of her brother.

Middleton had not remembered that she had a brother.

“Where is he?” he asked.

“He was killed.” She spoke very quietly.

“Oh!” he said, softly. “I beg your pardon.”

“He was killed at Jacquelin Gray’s side, and Jacquelin brought his
body out under fire—just as Steve afterward tried to bring Jack.” She
sighed deeply, and her eyes seemed to say, “You can understand now?”

Middleton had a strange sensation. He had never before looked in the
eyes of a woman whose brother had been killed, possibly by his command.
He hated Jacquelin, but in a way he was grateful to him too; for it was
the first time Miss Cary had softened at all.

“I believe that all your men went in the army,” he said, feeling about
for a new subject.

“Of course.”

“And some of your ladies?” he smiled.

“All of them.” Up went her head again.

“I wonder that you were ever conquered?”

“Conquered! We were not conquered.” She looked it, as she stood there
in the moonlight. Middleton had a sudden thrill that it would be worth
his life to win such a girl, and she had never given him even one
friendly glance. He could not help thinking,

“What would Thurston say?”

A partner came and claimed his set, and Middleton was left outside. He
sat for a moment thinking how lonely her departure had made the place.
He had never felt this way about any other girl. Just then a strange
sound, like distant shouting, came through the stillness. Middleton
rose and strolled down to the gate. There were fewer people in the
street. A man came hurrying along and spoke to another. His voice was
so excited that it arrested Middleton’s attention, and he caught the
last of his sentence.

“It ought to be broke up at once. Go in there and call Captain Allen
and McRaffle out.”

“What’s that?” asked Middleton, walking out of the gate, and up to him.

“A nigger-meetin’ down yonder,” answered the man, sullenly. “If it
ain’t broken up there’ll be trouble. Leech started it by reading a
paper he had, tellin’ ’em the Gov’ment wants the party broke up, and
then he put Sherrod up, and now that yaller nigger, Dr. Moses, is up.
Leech’s been givin’ ’em liquor, and unless it’s stopped there’ll be the
devil to pay.”

“I’ll see about it,” said Middleton. He walked rapidly down in the
direction the man had indicated. He was sensible, as he passed along,
of some change, and, presently, the distant sound of a man speaking
at the top of his voice came to him, followed shortly by a roar of
applause. He hurried on and passed a group of half a dozen white men,
some of whom were advocating sending for “reinforcements,” as they
said, while others were insisting that they should go right in on them
at once. All were united as to one thing: that the meeting ought to be
stopped.

“If we don’t,” said one, “there’ll be trouble, and we might’s well do
it at once. I can do it by myself.”

Some one said something about “the Yankee officers.”

“Yankees be blanked!” said the other. “Wasn’t it that scoundrel Leech
as started it all? He’s been workin’ it up all day. I got wind of it up
at home;—that’s the reason I come down. We’ve got to do it ourselves.”
It was Andy Stamper.

Just then they saw Middleton and followed him, offering their advice
and services. All they wanted was authority.

When Middleton arrived, he agreed with them that the speaking ought
to be stopped at once. He had never seen such a sight. The entire
negro population of the place appeared to be packed there, moaning
and singing, hugging each other and shouting, whilst Moses, the negro
he had ordered to leave town, was on the platform, tossing his arms
in a sort of frenzy and calling on them to rise and prove they were
the chosen people. “God had brought their enemies all together in one
place,” he cried, “and all that was needed was for Samson to arise and
prove his strength. Their deliverer was at hand.” Ain’t you heah dat de
wud done come from de New Jerusalem, an’ ain’t my name Moses—Moses?
Moses is my name!” he shouted, intoning the words in a sort of wild
frenzy. The shout that greeted him proved the danger of his course.

“D—n him, I’ll stop his mouth,” said one of the young men, pushing his
way through the throng, but Middleton was before him. He forced his
way, followed by the others, through the crowd which gave way before
him at his command, and, when still some yards away from the platform,
he ordered the speaker to cease. But Moses was either too drunk or too
excited to heed, and went on shouting his singsong.

“I’ll lead you to de burnin’ bush,” he cried. “I’ll give you de promise
lan’.” As it happened, a man standing in the crowd had a carriage-whip
in his hand. The Captain snatched it from him and sprang on the
platform, and the next instant was raining on the would-be prophet and
leader such a thrashing as he had never had in his life. The effect
was miraculous. The first lash of the heavy whip took the preacher by
surprise and dazed him; the second recalled him to himself and stripped
his prophetic character from him, leaving him nothing but a whining,
miserable creature, who was trying to deceive and mislead others as
miserable and more ignorant than himself.

As the Captain laid the blows on fast and thick, Moses cringed and
finally broke and fled from the platform, followed by the jeers and
shouts of the crowd who had just been ready to follow him in any
violence, if, indeed, he would have had the courage to lead them. And
when the irate officer appeared ready to turn his whip on them, and did
accompany his peremptory order that they should disperse at once, with
a few contemptuous lashes at those nearest him, they broke and ran with
as much good-humor as they had shown an hour previously, when they were
dancing and shuffling in the street, before Leech and his agents got
hold of them.



CHAPTER XV

CAPTAIN MIDDLETON HAS A TEST OF PEACE, AND IS ORDERED WEST


The next day there was much stir in the county, at least about the
court-house, and it was known that Middleton had summoned Leech before
him and had had an interview with him, which rumor said was stormy, and
that it had ended by the Provost being sent to his room, it was said,
under arrest.

So much was certain, Middleton after this took charge of matters which
up to this time Leech had been attending to, and Leech remained out
of sight until he left the place, which he did two days later. One of
the first steps Middleton took was to summon the negroes before him
and give them a talk. And he closed his speech by a warning that they
should keep order wherever they were, declaring, that if there were any
repetition of Moses’s performance of the previous night the offender
would not escape so easily.

The effect of his act was admirable. By nightfall nearly every negro
who was not employed about the county seat had left, and within two
days many of them were at work, back at their old homes.

Middleton found himself suddenly as popular as he had formerly been
unpopular, receiving visits and invitations from half the gentlemen in
the place, so that Thurston said it was just the old story: he set the
triggers and worked everything, and Middleton just walked in and took
the game.

“Here I have been working like a nigger,” he said to Middleton,
“watching around and following that fellow Leech in all his rascality;
displaying the most consummate qualities of leadership, and singing my
head off, and you happen to come along, pick up a driver’s whip and
let into a drunken rascal, talk a lot of rot next morning, and in five
minutes do what I with all my genius haven’t been able to do in as many
months. It’s the old story, Larry, it’s fate! What did I tell you? Long
legs are worth more to a man than a long head. But, Larry, look out
for Leech. He’s a blood-sucker. Tra-la; I have an engagement. Might
as well get some of the good of your glory, old man, while it lasts,
you know. Beauty fadeth as a flower.” And leaving Middleton over his
report, the cheery little Lieutenant went off to have a ride with Miss
Dockett, who, in view of certain professions of his and proceedings of
his Captain’s the night before, had honored him so far as to vouchsafe
him that privilege.

Reely Thurston’s half humorous warning to his friend was not without
foundation, as both he and Middleton knew, and within a week the
Captain was up to his ears in reports and correspondence relative to
his conduct in the county.

The quietness of everything around him was a fact to which he pointed
with pride; the restoration of order throughout the county was a proof
of the wisdom of his course. Crime had diminished; order had been
restored; good feeling had grown up; the negroes had returned to work,
and were getting regular wages. They were already beginning to save a
little and some were buying land. The whites had accepted the status of
affairs in good faith and were, he believed, turning all their energies
to meet the exigencies of the time in the best way they could. In a
word, peace was fully restored in the territory under his command. He
congratulated himself that he was able to state a condition of affairs
so entirely in accord with the observation of the commander-in-chief of
the armies, who about that time visited the State and made a similar
report on it. Even Reely Thurston commended Middleton’s report, and
confided to Miss Dockett, who was beginning to receive such confidences
more graciously of late, that “Larry had somewhere, in that high head
of his, a deuced lot of brains,” a compliment which the young Captain
would have taken more gratefully from him than from any other soul on
earth.

Another cause of content was just then beginning to have its effect on
Middleton. Miss Cary was beginning to treat him with some degree of
Christian charity, and actually condescended to take a ride with him on
horseback, and when he proved himself sufficiently appreciative of this
honor, took another.

So things went, and before the summer evenings were over, the young
Captain had ridden to the point where he had given Blair Cary all the
confidences which a young man in his twenties is likely to give the
prettiest girl in his circle of acquaintance, especially when she
is the only one whose eyes soften a little at the recital, and who
responds a bit by giving just a little of her own. Not that Miss Cary
for a moment allowed Middleton to forget that on the one great subject
always present, the world stretched between them. They were enemies.
Between them there was never more than a truce. She would be his friend
while it lasted; but never more. That was all! Her skirmish-line, so to
speak, exchanged courtesies with his; but, on the first suggestion of a
signal, sprang to her rifle-pits.

She always wore, when she rode, a gray cap, which Middleton, without
asking any questions, knew had been her brother’s. It was a badge,
and the young man recognized it as such. She still wore her brass
buttons, and would never give him one of them. One afternoon, as they
were returning from a ride in which he had told her all about Ruth
Welch, dwelling somewhat on their cousinship, they stopped at the ford
where he had gone to Blair’s rescue the day her horse fell, and he
asked her casually if she would give him one of the buttons to save
his life. She quietly said “No,” and he believed her. Yet this made
little difference to the young man. He was not in love with her, he
was sure. He only enjoyed her. And the summer evenings which he spent
at Birdwood, or riding with her through the arching woods, were the
pleasantest he had ever known. As they watered their horses at the ford
that afternoon no less than four other couples came riding up on their
way home, and there was quite a little levee held in the limpid stream,
Middleton finding himself taken into the talk and raillery quite as a
member of the circle. The far-off call of ploughmen to their teams in
the low-grounds of Red Rock and the distant lowing of cattle in the
pastures came muffled on the soft air, while a woodlark in the woods
along the waterside sang its brilliant song to its tardy mate with a
triumph born only of security and peace. As Captain Middleton looked
at the faded gray coats and his blue one, the numbers doubled by the
reflection in the placid stream, and listened to the laughter about
him, he could not but think what a picture and proof of peace it was.
And Miss Cary was the prettiest girl in the party.

Suddenly one of the horses became restive, and slashed away at the
nearest horse to him. Blair, in pulling her horse out of the way, got
under an overhanging bough and her cap was knocked from her head into
the water. She gave a little cry of dismay as it floated down the
stream, and at her call more than one of the young men turned his horse
to recover the cap; but Middleton was nearest, and he spurred straight
into the deep water below the ledge and swam for the cap, reaching
it just before the others got it. He was pleased at the applause he
received when he returned.

Miss Cary only said “thank you,” as she might have said it if he had
picked the cap from the floor.

Not all the county people, however, acquiesced so entirely in receiving
Middleton on so friendly a basis; some did not see why a Yankee officer
should be taken up as a friend.

There was one young man who did not appreciate at least Middleton’s
mode of exhibiting his friendliness. Steve and Middleton had become
very good friends; but Jacquelin Gray, as jealous as Othello, grew more
and more reserved toward the young officer, and began to give himself
many airs about his attentions to Blair Cary. If anything, this only
incited Blair to show Middleton greater favor, and at last the young
lady gave Jacquelin to understand that she intended to do just as she
pleased and did not propose to be held accountable by him for anything
whatever.

The evening of the ride on which Blair lost her cap and Middleton
recovered it for her, Jacquelin had driven over “to see the doctor,”
he said, and found her gone off with Middleton. As Dr. Cary was away,
visiting his patients, which Jacquelin might have known, and Mrs. Cary
was confined to her room that day, Jacquelin was left to himself and
had plenty of time as he sat on the porch all alone, to chew the cud of
bitter fancy, and reflect on the caprices of a part of the human race.
He was not much consoled when Mammy Krenda came out and, with kindly
sympathy, said:

“You too late—you better make haste an’ git off dem crutches, honey,
and git ’pon horseback. Crutches can’t keep up with horses.” She
disappeared within and Jacquelin was left in a flame of jealousy. By
the time Blair arrived he was in just the state of mind to make a fool
of himself. When Jacquelin began the interview, he, perhaps, had no
idea of going as far as his heat carried him; but unhappily he lost his
head—or as much of a head as a man can have who is deeply in love and,
having gone to see his sweetheart, finds her off riding with a rival.

It was quite dusk when the riders rode slowly up the avenue. They
stopped at the gate, and Jacquelin could hear Blair’s cordial
invitation to her companion to come in and take supper with them.
Middleton declined.

“But I’m afraid you will catch cold, riding so far in wet clothes,” she
urged. He, however, had to return immediately, he declared, and after
a few more words he galloped off, while Blair came on to the house.

“Why, Jacquelin! You here all by yourself!” she exclaimed. She bent
over him quickly to prevent his rising for her. Had Jacquelin been cool
enough to note her voice it might have saved him; but he was not even
looking at her. His manner hauled her up short, and the next instant
hers had changed. She seated herself and tried for a few moments to be
light and divert him. She told of the episode at the ford. Jacquelin,
however, was not to be diverted, and, taking the silence which
presently fell on her for a confession, he began to assume a bolder
tone, and proceeded to take her to task for her conduct.

“It was an outrage—an outrage on—Steve. It was shameful,” he said,
“that with such a man as Steve offering his heart to her, she should be
boldly encouraging a Yankee officer, so that everybody in the county
was talking about it.” It was when he said it was an outrage on Steve
that the explosion came. Blair was on her feet in a second.

“Jacquelin!” she exclaimed, with a gasp. The next second she had found
her voice. He had never seen her as she became. It was a new Blair
standing above him, tall and straight in the dusk, her frame trembling,
her voice vibrating. She positively flamed with indignation, not
because of the charge, but against him for making it.

“Whose business is it?” she asked him, with glowing cheeks and flashing
eyes. If her father and mother did not object, had he a right to
interfere? If Steve were not satisfied, could not he take care of
himself? Who had given him such a right? And before Jacquelin could
recover from his surprise, she had burst into tears and rushed into the
house.

Jacquelin drove home in black despair. He had been put wholly in the
wrong, and yet he felt that he had had right originally on his side.
His whole past appeared suddenly rooted up; his whole future destroyed
by this new-comer, this hostile interloper. How he would love to have
some cause of personal quarrel with him! How gladly he would put it all
to the test of one meeting. Yet what had Middleton done but win fairly!
and he had been a gentleman always. Jacquelin was forced to admit
this. But oh! if he only had a just cause of quarrel! Let him look
out hereafter. But—if he were to meet him and he should fall, what
would be the consequence? He would only have ruined Blair’s happiness
and have destroyed his only hope. He almost ground his teeth at his
helplessness as he drove home through the dusk. He did not know that
at that moment Blair Cary, with locked door, was sobbing in her little
white-curtained room, her anger no longer turned against him, but
against herself.

When Jacquelin awoke the next morning it was with a sinking at the
heart. Blair was lost to him forever. Daylight, however, is a great
restorer of courage, and, little by little, his spirits revived, until
by evening he began to consider himself a most ill-used person, and
to fancy Blair suing for pardon. He even found himself nursing an
idea that she would write a note; but instead of that, he heard that
Middleton had been up to see her again, and once more his heart sank
and his anger rose. He would show her that he was not to be trampled on
and insulted as she had done.

When Middleton arrived at the court-house the afternoon of his ride, he
found an order transferring his company to a frontier post in the far
Northwest. They were to leave immediately.

The same train by which the old company was to go was to bring its
successor.

The afternoon before his company left, Middleton rode up to Birdwood.
He had given no one any notice, and he arrived unexpectedly. No one was
in sight. The lawn appeared as deserted as if it were in the heart of a
wilderness. The trees were as quiet as if Nature herself were asleep,
and the sound of a dove cooing far down in the grove only intensified
the quietude. Tying his horse, Middleton walked up through the grove.
As he passed along he happened to cast his eyes in the direction of
the little double building, which was off to one side at some distance
back of the dwelling, and seeing the old mammy enter one of the doors
he turned that way, thinking that she might come out, and he would ask
if the family were at home. He stopped in front of the nearest door and
looked in. It was the kitchen, and he was facing, not the mammy—who as
a matter of fact, had entered another door—but Miss Cary herself. She
was dressed in a white dress, and her skirt was turned back and pinned
about her slender waist; her sleeves were rolled up, showing her round,
white arms. She was busy with a bread-tray. Middleton would have drawn
back, but Blair looked up and their eyes met. There was a moment of
half embarrassment, and Middleton was about to draw back and apologize
for his intrusion, but before he could do so she came forward, smiling.

“Won’t you come in?” she said, “or will you walk into the house?” The
color had mounted to her cheeks, and the half mocking smile had still a
little embarrassment in it; but Middleton thought she had never looked
so charming. His heart gave a bound.

“Can you doubt what I will do?” He stepped over the high threshold.
“Even if I be but scullion——”

“You must have been taking lessons from the General. Here—no one was
ever allowed in here who would not work.” She gave him a rolling-pin,
and he set to work with it industriously.

“This comes of your doing,” she said, still smiling. “I am the only
cook left. Why don’t you detail me one? If you were worth a button you
would.”

“How would I do?” hazarded Middleton. “I’m a pretty good cook.”

“Aunt Betty wouldn’t have let you come into the kitchen if you handled
your rolling-pin that way. Let me show you.”

“Which is the best argument yet for the change of cooks,” said
Middleton, guilefully holding the rolling-pin more and more awkwardly,
for the very pleasure of being set right by her. “Now, don’t you think
I am worth a button?”

“No, but you may learn.”

“Unfortunately, I am going away.”

“Are you?—When are you coming back?”—A polite little tone coming into
her voice.

“Never.” He tried to say it as indifferently as he had said it in
practising when he rode up, which he liked better than the tragic
“NEVER!” which he had first proposed to himself; and all the time he
was watching her out of the tail of his eye. She said nothing, and he
felt a little disappointed.

“We are ordered away—” he began. She was busying herself about
something. But he was sure she had heard. “—to the Northwest to keep
the Indians down,” he proceeded.

“Oh!” She turned quickly toward him, and their eyes met.

“Well, I hope you’ll be as successful and find your task as pleasant
there as you have here.” Her head had gone up, as it did on the veranda
the night of the ball.

“I do not appear to have been particularly successful here,” Middleton
began, banteringly, then walked over to her side. “Miss Cary, do you
think I have really enjoyed my task here?”

“Why—yes,” she began; then she glanced up and found him grave. “I
don’t know—I thought——”

“No,” said Middleton, “you did not.”

Just at that moment a shadow fell across the light, and Mammy Krenda
stood in the door.

“Well—I declare!” she exclaimed, with well-feigned astonishment. “What
in the worl’ air you doin’ in this kitchen?”

They both thought she was addressing Middleton, and he began to
stammer a reply; but it was her young mistress whose presence there
appeared to scandalize the old woman.

“Don’t you know you ain’ got no business in heah? I can’t turn my back
to git nothin’, but what you come interferin’ wid my things. Go right
in de house dis minute and put yo’ nice clo’es on. I air really ashamed
o’ you to let a gent—a—anybody see you dat way.” She was pushing
Blair out gently. “I don’ know what she air doin’ in heah,” she said to
Middleton, addressing him for the first time, and with some disdain in
her manner, as if she wished him to understand that he had no business
there either.

As Blair passed him on her way out she said to him in a whisper, with a
low laugh:

“That’s a yarn. I do nearly all the cooking since our cook went off,
but she thinks it’s beneath my dignity to be caught at it.”

They did not go into the house, but walked over through the grove and
sat down on the grass on the farther slope overlooking the rolling
lands, with the blue spurs in the distance. There Middleton threw
himself at Blair’s feet. He had made up his mind to stake all before he
left. As the old mammy passed from the kitchen to the house she made a
little detour and cast a glance through the grove. The glint of a white
dress through the trees caught her eye, and she gave a little sniff as
she went on.

An hour later, Middleton, his face as grave as it had ever been in
battle, mounted his horse and rode away without returning to the house,
and Blair Cary walked back through the grove alone. She turned across
to the smaller house which the old mammy occupied. It was empty, and
she entered and flung herself on the snowy counterpaned bed.

The old woman came in a moment later. She gave the girl a swift glance,
and, turning to the window, dropped the white curtain to shut out the
slanting afternoon sun.

“‘Taint no use to ’sturb yo’self, honey; he ain’ gone.” she said,
sympathizingly. “He comin’ back jest so sho’ as I live.”

“He _has_ gone,” said Blair, suddenly, with some vehemence. “I have
sent him away. I wish he had never come.” But was she thinking of
Middleton?

The old woman had turned and was looking down at her from where she
stood.

“An’ I glad you is,” she said. “I ain’t like Yankees, no way. Dat deah
Leech man——”

“Mammy,” said Blair, rising, “I do not wish you to speak so of a
gentleman—who—who has been our guest.”

“Yes, honey, dat’s so,” said the old woman, simply, without the least
surprise. “Mammy, won’t say no more about him. What I got to do wid
abusin’ a gent’man, nohow!”

“Oh! Mammy!” said the girl, throwing her arms about her, and the old
woman only said:

“Yes, honey—yes—yes. But don’t you pester yoreself. ’T’ll all come
right.”

Next evening the news that Middleton and his company were ordered away
was known. Jacquelin was conscious of his heart giving a bound of joy.
He would be only cool and chilling to Blair and show her by his manner
how disapprovingly he regarded her conduct. After a little, this mood
changed and he began to think it would be more manly to be only very
dignified and yet show her that he was above harboring little feelings.
He would be generous and forgive her. When, however, he met Blair, she
was so far from showing any contrition, that she was actually savage
to him; so that instead of having an opportunity to display his lofty
feelings, Jacquelin found himself thrown into a situation of the
strongest hostility to her, and after a lifetime of friendship they
scarcely spoke. Their friends tried to patch up the quarrel, but in
vain. Jacquelin felt himself now really aggrieved, and Blair declined
to allow even the mention of him. Her severity toward him was almost
incomprehensible.



CHAPTER XVI

THE NEW TROOP MEETS THE ENEMY


The difference between the old company and the new one which came in
its place, was marked in many ways besides color, and the latter had
not been in the county an hour before the people knew that the struggle
was on, and set themselves to prepare for it.

The evening of the arrival of the new company, Jerry entered Captain
Allen’s office somewhat hastily, and busied himself with suspicious
industry. Presently Steve looked at him amusedly.

“Well, what do you want now?—grandmother dead again? If you get drunk
I’ll thrash you within an inch of your life.”

Jerry giggled.

“Done sent a company o’ niggers heah,” he announced, with something
very like a grin as he cut his eyes at his master.

“Negroes—hey?” Steve’s expression did not change a particle, and Jerry
looked disappointed. If anything, there was a little more light in
Steve’s eyes, but they were gazing out of the window, and Jerry could
not see them.

“Leech back?” asked Mr. Allen, indifferently.

“Don’ know, suh—I’ll fine out.” The look on Jerry’s face once more
became pleasant.

Just then the sound of a distant bugle came in at the window, and
Steve rose and walked to the door of his office. The doors of several
other offices were filled about the same moment. Steve walked down
to the fence in front of the court green, and stood leaning against
it listlessly, watching as the company came up the road, with bugle
blowing, dust rising, and a crowd of young negroes running beside them.

“Halt!” The Captain, a stout, red-faced man, turned his horse, and
waved his sword to the negroes in the road. “Pull that fence down.”
He indicated the panel where Steve stood, adding a string of oaths to
stir the negroes from their dulness. A dozen men jumped toward the
fence. Steve never budged an inch. With his arms resting on the rail,
he looked the Captain in the eye calmly, then looked at the negroes
before him, and kept his place. Except for a slight dilatation of the
nostrils he might not have known that there was a soldier within a
hundred miles. The men hesitated a second, then, just as the Captain
began to swear again, ran to the next panel and tore it down even with
the ground, dragging the posts out of their holes, and making a wide
breach through which the company passed into the court-yard to the old
camp which Middleton’s company had occupied.

As Steve turned away he said to a man near him:

“Seventy-nine negroes, and three white men. We can manage them. Jerry,
saddle my horse, and find out when Leech is coming back—and where
Captain McRaffle is.”

“Yes, suh,” and Jerry, with a shrewd look, disappeared.

When Jerry returned, his master was writing, and as he did not look
up, Jerry went into the inner room, and shortly brought out a pair of
saddle-bags, and a pair of pistols.

Steve had just finished his letters, and was sealing them. Jerry gave
his report.

“Nor, suh, he ain’ come yet; but dee’s ’spectin’ of him, de Cap’n says.
Cap’n McRaffle, he’s away, too.”

“I thought as much. Take this letter over to the General. These two are
for Mr. Hurley and Mr. Garden. If I’m not here, come up to Dr. Cary’s
to-morrow morning.”

“Yes, suh—yo’ horse is in de stable. I’ll take de saddle bags over
dyah.”

Steve buckled one pistol on under his coat, put the other in his
saddle-bags, and went out. He sauntered across to where the company was
pitching camp. The throng of negroes was already increasing. A tall,
black sergeant, with great pompousness, was superintending the placing
of the lines, cursing and damning his men, with much importance, for
the benefit of the crowd around. Sweeping the crowd aside, Steve walked
right up to him.

“Boy, where’s your Captain?” The Sergeant turned and faced him.
Perhaps, had Steve been ten feet off the soldier might have been
insolent; but Captain Allen was close up to him, and there was that
about him, and the tone of command in which he spoke, which demanded
obedience. The Sergeant instinctively pointed to the other side of the
camp.

“Go and tell him that Captain Allen wishes to speak to him. Go on.”
Impelled by the tone of authority, the imperative gesture, and the
evident impression made on the crowd, the Sergeant moved off, with
Steve at his heels.

“Dat’s one o’ my young marsters—he wuz a gret soldier,” said one of
the old negroes just outside the camp to a squad near him.

Steve and the Sergeant found the Captain sitting against a tree
smoking. He was a heavy-looking man, with a red face. Steve took in the
familiarity with which the Sergeant addressed him, and governed himself
accordingly.

“Here, boy—” Steve gave the negro a five-dollar note, not the less
coolly because it was his last; thanked him as he would have done any
other servant, only, perhaps, with a little more condescension, and
addressed himself to the officer.

“Captain, I am Captain Allen, and I have come to have an understanding
with you at the outset.”

Perhaps, his very assurance stood him in stead. Had he been a victor
dictating terms he could not have done it more coolly.

“You have seventy-nine men and three officers—I have ten times as
many.”

“Major Leech—told me—” began the Captain.

“Your Major Leech is a liar, and a coward, and you will find it so. We
propose to obey the laws, but we do not mean to be governed by negroes,
and if you attempt it you will commit a great mistake.” He walked back
through the camp inspecting the horses, leaving the other to wonder who
and what he could be.

Ten minutes later the officer had called a guard, but Steve was already
riding out the back lane toward the upper part of the county.

Leech arrived on the next train after that which brought the new
troops. He opened a law office in a part of the building occupied by
his commissary, and announced himself as a practitioner of the law, as
well as the Provost of the county.

He had evidently strengthened his hands during his absence. Krafton,
who appeared now to be the chief authority in the State, was in
constant communication with him.

Leech boasted openly that he had had Middleton’s company removed, and
he began to exercise new functions. The new company seemed to be under
his authority.

Within a few weeks Dr. Cary and the other civil officers in the county
received notices from Leech vacating their commissions on the ground,
among others, that they had exceeded their powers. Still was appointed
Justice of the Peace in place of Dr. Cary, and Nicholas Ash was made
Constable. Their services were not in immediate requisition, however,
as, for the time being, Leech appeared to prefer to exercise his
military, rather than his civil, powers. He began, forthwith, to send
out the soldiers in squads on tours throughout the county, partly to
distribute rations, and partly to patrol the country.

They had not been at this business long when they began bullying and
tyrannizing over the people and terrorizing them as far as possible. At
first, they devoted their energies principally to the whites, and the
negroes were both impressed and affected by their power and insolence
But after more than one of the marauders were shot, they began to go
in large parties, and soon turned their energies against the negroes
as well as against the former masters, and were quickly almost as
obnoxious to the blacks as to the whites. Their action caused intense
excitement in the county.

Steve Allen had almost abandoned his law practice, or at least his
office, and spent his time visiting about in the adjoining counties.
Leech took it as a sign of timidity and breathed the freer that the
insolent young lawyer was away.

“I mean to drive him and that Jacquelin Gray out of the county,” he
boasted to Still. “I’ll make it too hot for him.”

“Wish you could,” answered Still, devoutly. “But don’t you go too fast.
They ain’t the sort to drive easy. They was taken up late. And if you
push ’em too hard there’ll be trouble.”

Leech sneered. He wished Allen would do something so he might get his
hand on him.

“You don’t mean nothin’ to _you_? ’Cause if he got his hand on you
first——”

“No—I ain’t afraid of him. He ain’t such a fool as to do anything to
me. I am the Government of the United States!” The Provost puffed out
his bosom, and with a look of satisfaction glanced at himself in a
mirror.

“He ain’t afeared of the Gov’ment or nothin’ else. I wish he was,”
declared Still, sincerely.

“Well, he’d better be,” asserted Leech. “As soon as I get things
straight, I mean to make him give an account of himself.”

Someone soon gave an account of himself. A considerable party of the
men of the negro troop, under command of a sergeant, was “raiding,” one
afternoon, in the upper end of the county, when an incident occurred
which had a signal effect on both the company and the county. They
had already “raided” several places on their tour and were on their
way home, their saddle-bows ornamented with the trophies of their
rapacity: from sheep to ladies’ bonnets, when toward sunset they
stopped near the edge of the Red Rock plantation, at a roadside store,
of which Mr. Andy Stamper had recently become the owner. Mr. Stamper
was absent, and the store was in charge of his agent, an old soldier
named Michael.

The men demanded liquor. They took all they wanted, and called in a
number of negroes and made them drunk also. Old Waverley, who had come
to the store to make some little purchases, was sitting on a block,
smoking. Him they tried to induce to drink too, and when he declined,
they hustled him a good deal and finally kicked him out into the road.
He was a “worthless old fool who didn’t deserve to be free,” they
said. Then in their drunken folly they began to talk of going to Red
Rock and ordering supper before returning to camp. It would be a fine
thing to take possession of that big house and have supper, and they
would raid Stamper’s also on the way. They knew all about both places,
and declared that they ought both to be burnt down. Meantime, they
demanded more liquor, which the store-keeper seemed suddenly ready
to furnish. He made a sign to old Waverley, and the latter slipped
off and took a path through the woods. The nearest place was a little
homestead on the roadside, belonging to a man named Deals; but there
was no one there but a woman; her husband had gone up to Mr. Stamper’s,
she told Waverley. So warning her as to the squad of negroes, the old
man set out as hard as he could for home. Before he was through the
woods, however, he met Rupert, riding down to the store on his colt,
a handsome gray, and to him he gave notice, telling him that the
store-keeper was doing what he could to hold the men there. Rupert
wheeled his horse, and was off like a shot, and when Waverley emerged
from the woods, he saw the boy a half mile away, dashing up—not to
Red Rock; but to the Stamper place, which stood out, off to one side,
clear on its little hill, a straight column of smoke going up in the
still evening air. It seemed to the old man that there were a number
of horses standing about in the yard, and it occurred to him to wonder
if the soldiers could possibly have gotten there already. If so, his
young master would be in danger of being hurt. But if the horsemen
were soldiers they did not remain long; for in a few minutes Waverley
saw a number of men mount and the whole party ride rapidly away down
the hill, with Rupert on his gray colt among them. Waverley caught one
more glimpse of the riders as they disappeared at a gallop in the wood,
going in the direction of the store, and then he hurried on to Red
Rock, where he found everything quiet.

Jacquelin was ill in bed that day, and Steve Allen had left the house
about noon. Rupert had gone to the store for the mail. Waverley did
not tell anything about having seen Rupert go off with the men from
Stamper’s; but he turned and hurried back to the store, thinking now
only of Rupert. He had not gone far when he heard a shot or two fired,
and then on a sudden a dozen or more. The old fellow broke into a run.
When he reached the edge of the woods from which he could see the
Deals’s homestead he stopped appalled.

A half dozen negroes lay on the ground dead or dying, and a half dozen
young white men, among them Captain McRaffle, were engaged either
reloading their pistols or talking. Rupert was sitting on his horse at
a little distance.

The little company of men Waverley had seen were a few who had
gathered together on hearing of the raid that was taking place in the
neighborhood that day. They too had heard of the contemplated visit to
Red Rock and the Stamper place; for Jerry had got from someone that
morning a hint that a descent was to be made on these places.

Shortly after Waverley had left the store the squad of soldiers had
started for Red Rock; but, thinking to make a clean sweep as they
went, they had stopped at the little house on the way, where Waverley
had warned the woman and where there was a well, to take another drink.
They were engaged in the pleasant amusement of looting this place,
shooting chickens, etc., when the company that Waverley had seen ride
off from Stamper’s came upon them. It was well for Mrs. Deals that
the young men arrived when they did, for the troopers were tired of
merely destroying property, and just as the white men rode up they
had seized her. Her scream hastened the rescuing party. No one knew
for a long time who composed the party; for in five minutes every
one of the raiders was stretched on the ground, and the two or three
neighborhood-negroes who were with them were sworn to secrecy under
threats which they feared too much to wish to break their oaths.

There was excitement enough in the county that night, and when the
news reached the court-house, which, owing to the picketing of the
roads, it did not do till next morning, the citizens were prepared for
the consequences. The comrades of the dead men swore they would burn
the village and carry fire and sword through the county; but it was
too grave a matter to be carried through too heedlessly. The officers
suddenly awoke to the gravity of the situation, which was well for
them. They were, no doubt, aided in doing so by the appearance of two
or three hundred grave-looking men who were riding into town by every
road that led to it, silent and dusty and grim. They were of every age
and condition, and they lacked just order enough not to appear marching
troops; but showed enough to seem one body. They were all serious
and silent, and with that something in their deliberate movements
which, whether it be mere resolution or desperation, impresses all who
behold it. The negroes about the village who had been in a flurry of
excitement since the news came and had been crowding about the camp
shouting and yelling, suddenly settled down and melted out of sight,
and even the soldiers quieted at the appearance of that steadily
increasing force of resolute and orderly men gathered along the fences,
facing the camp. General Legaie and Dr. Cary were their spokesmen,
and they held an interview with the Captain, in which they gave him
to understand certain things: They would obey his orders, they said,
if he sent them by a single messenger; but if armed bodies of negroes
continued to ravage the country they would not be responsible for the
consequences.

Leech was not to be found that afternoon. He had “gone to the city.”
Jerry learned afterward and told Captain Allen that he did not go until
that night, and that when the crowd was there he was hidden at Hiram
Still’s.

An investigation of the outbreak was held, and as a consequence Captain
McRaffle and several young men left the county, among them Rupert Gray,
who was sent off to school to an academy which was not known to the
neighbors generally. Another result was that the old county got a bad
name with those who were controlling the destiny of the State, which
clung to it for many years. Andy Stamper was arrested for the affair,
and was taken, handcuffed, by Leech and thrown in jail. Fortunately
for him, however, it was shown that he was absent from the county that
day, and he was discharged. All of these things, however, at the time
were little cared for by the residents there, for the negro troop was
removed and two white companies were sent in its place. The disorder
breaking out wherever negro troops were stationed had attracted
attention and caused the substitution of white soldiers.



CHAPTER XVII

JACQUELIN GRAY GOES ON A LONG VOYAGE AND RED ROCK PASSES OUT OF HIS
HANDS


Jacquelin had never recovered from the rough handling which he had
received that night from Leech. His wound had broken out afresh and he
was now confined to his bed all the time. There was one cause which,
perhaps, more than all the rest, weighed him down, and that, certainly,
Dr. Cary did not know, though, no doubt, Mrs. Cary and Mrs. Gray knew.
It was a secret wound, deeper than that which Dr. Cary was treating. He
had never been the same since the evening of his misunderstanding with
Blair Cary. The affair in which the negro soldiers were killed, and
Rupert’s and Steve’s part in it, with the necessity of sending Rupert
away, and the consequences which followed, seemed to be the finishing
stroke, and it appeared to be only a question of a few months with
Jacquelin.

One other reason for his anxiety Dr. Cary had. Reports of threats made
by Leech came to the Doctor.

“Another arrest, and he will go,” said Dr. Cary. “We must get him away.
Send him first to a city where he can have better surgical treatment
than he is able to receive in the country. Then, when he is fit for
it, put him on a sailing vessel and send him around the world.” How
cleverly he had managed it, thought the Doctor!

Mrs. Gray also had her own reasons for wishing to get Jacquelin away,
though they were not mainly what Dr. Cary thought. With a keener
insight than the good Doctor had, she had seen Blair Cary’s change
and its effect on Jacquelin. And she eagerly sought to carry out the
Doctor’s suggestions. The chief difficulty in the way was want of
funds. The demands of the plantation, according to Mr. Still’s account,
had been enough of late to consume everything that was made on it. The
negroes had to be supported whether they worked or not, and the estate
was running behind.

The Doctor felt certain he could manage the matter of means. Hiram
Still had just offered to lend him a further sum. Indeed, Still had
himself brought up the matter of Jacquelin’s health, and had even
asked the Doctor if he did not think a long visit somewhere might do
Jacquelin good.

“He is a strange mixture, that man Still. He is undoubtedly a very
kind-hearted man,” asserted the Doctor.

Mrs. Gray did not altogether agree with her cousin in his estimate of
Still; she had her own opinion of him; but she was somewhat mollified
by hearing of his interest in Jacquelin’s welfare. She could not,
however, allow her cousin to borrow money in his own name on her
account, but, in the face of Jacquelin’s steady decline, she finally
yielded and bowed her pride so far as to permit the Doctor to borrow
it for her, only stipulating that the plate and pictures in the house
should be pledged to secure it. This would relieve her partly from
personal obligations to Still. One other stipulation she made: that
Jacquelin was not to know of the loan.

When the Doctor applied to Still he obtained the loan without
difficulty, and Still, having taken an assignment of the plate and
pictures, agreed without hesitation to his condition of silence, even
expressing the deepest interest in Jacquelin’s welfare, and reiterating
his protestations of friendship for him and Mrs. Gray.

“It is the most curious thing,” said the Doctor to Mrs. Cary,
afterward: “I never apply to that man without his doing what I ask.
I always expect to be refused. I am always surprised—and yet my
suspicion is not relieved—I do not know why it is. I think I must be a
very suspicious man.”

Mrs. Cary’s mouth shut closely. But she would not add to her husband’s
worries by a suggestion, the very idea of which she thought was an
indignity.

“I wish you had not applied to him,” she said. “I do not want to be
under any obligations to him whatever. I do not think Helen should have
asked it of you.”

“Oh! my dear!” said the Doctor. “She didn’t ask it of me, I offered it
to her.”

“I cannot bear him,” declared Mrs. Cary, with the tone of one who
delivers a convincing argument. “And the son is more intolerable than
the father. It requires all my politeness to prevent my asking him out
of the house whenever he comes. He comes here entirely too often.”

“My dear, he is a young doctor who is trying to practise his
profession, and needs advice,” expostulated the old doctor, but Mrs.
Cary was not to be convinced.

“A young doctor, indeed! a young—” The rest of the sentence was lost
as she went out with her head in the air.

When the matter of removing Jacquelin was broached to him, a new and
unexpected difficulty arose. He refused to go. The idea of his getting
better treatment than Dr. Cary was able to give was, he said, all
nonsense, and they could not stand the expense of such a plan as was
proposed. In this emergency his mother was forced to bow her pride.
She summoned Blair Cary as an ally. Blair yielded so far as to add
an expression of her views to the mother’s, because she did not know
how to refuse; but, with a woman’s finesse, she kept herself within
limitations, which Jacquelin, at least, would understand. She came over
on a visit, and went in to see him, and took occasion to say that she
thought he ought to go to the city. It was a very prim and stiff little
speech that she made. Jacquelin’s face showed the first tinge of color
that had been on it for months, as he turned his eyes to her almost
eagerly. So impassive, though, was she, that the tinge faded out.

“Do you ask me to go?”

“No—I have nothing to do with it. I only think you ought to do what
your mother wishes.” The mouth was closer than usual. There was a
little deeper color in her face now.

“Oh! it was only a moral idea you wished to inculcate?”

“If you choose to call it so.” The mouth drew closer.

“Well—will you ask me?”

“I don’t mind doing it—for your mother.” It was no accident that a
woman was chosen to be the oracle at Delphi. Jacquelin could make no
more of the face before him than if he had never seen it before, and he
had studied it for years.

Jacquelin agreed to go to the hospital. So he was sent off to the city,
where an operation was performed to remove some of the splintered bone
and relieve him. And as soon as he was well enough he was sent off
on a sailing vessel trading to China. He thus escaped the increasing
afflictions that were coming on the county, and his mother, who would
have torn out her heart for him, for fear he would come home if he knew
the state of affairs, kept everything from him, and bore her burdens
alone.

The burdens were heavy.

The next few years which passed brought more changes to the old county
than any years of the war. The war had destroyed the Institution
of slavery; the years of the carpet-bagger’s domination well-nigh
destroyed the South. As Miss Thomasia said, sighing, it was the
fulfilment of the old prophecy: “After the sword shall come the
cankerworm.” And the Doctor’s speech was recalled by some: “You ask for
war, but you do not know what it is. A fool can start a conflagration,
but the Sanhedrim cannot stop it. War is never done. It leaves its
baleful seed for generations.”

Dr. Cary, when he uttered this statement, had little idea how true it
was.

Events had proved that although the people were impoverished, their
spirit was not broken. Unhappily, the power was in the hands of those
who did not understand them, and Leech and his fellows had their ear.
It was deemed proper to put them in absolute control. Leech wrote
the authorities that he and his party must have power to preserve the
Union; he wrote to Mrs. Welch that they must have it to preserve the
poor freedmen. The authorities promised it, and kept the promise. It
was insanity.

One provision gave the ballot to the former slave, just as it was taken
from the former master. An act was so shrewdly framed that, while it
appeared simply to be intended to secure loyalty to the Union, it was
aimed to strike from the rolls of citizenship almost the entire white
population of the South; that is, all who would not swear they had
never given aid or comfort to the Confederacy. It was so all-embracing
that it came to be known as the “ironclad” oath.

“It is the greatest Revolution since the time of Poland,” said Dr.
Cary, his nostrils dilating with ire. “They have thrown down the man
of intelligence, character, and property, and have set up the slave
and the miscreant. ‘Syria is confederate with Ephraim.’ More is yet to
come.”

“It is the salvation of the Union,” wrote Leech to Mrs. Welch, who was
the head of an organization that sent boxes of clothes to the negroes
through Leech. Leech was beginning to think himself the Union.

While General Legaie and Steve Allen were discussing constitutional
rights and privileges, and declaring that they would never yield assent
to any measures of the kind proposed, a more arbitrary act than these
was committed: the State itself was suddenly swept out of existence,
and a military government was substituted in its place; the very
name of the State on which those gentlemen and their ancestors had
prided themselves for generations was extinguished and lost in that of
“Military District, Number ——.” The old State, with all others like
it, ceased to be.

Colonel Krafton was the chief authority in that part of the State,
and Major Leech, as he was now called, was his representative in the
county. And between them they had the enforcement of all the measures
that were adopted.

When their hands were deemed strong enough, it was determined to give
them the form of popular government.

It was an easy process; for the whites had been disfranchised, and only
the negroes and those who had taken the ironclad oath could vote.

At the first election that was held under the new system, the spectacle
was a curious one. Krafton was the candidate for governor. Most of
the disfranchised whites stayed away, haughtily or sullenly, from the
polls, where ballots were cast under a guard of soldiers. But others
went to see the strange sight, and to vent their derision on the
detested officials who were in charge. Dr. Cary and General Legaie,
with most men of their age and stamp, remained at home in haughty, and
impotent indignation.

“Why should I go to see my former wagon-driver standing for the seat
my grandfather resigned from the United States Senate to take?” asked
General Legaie, proudly.

Steve Allen and Andy Stamper, however, and many of the young men were
on hand.

Leech and Nicholas Ash were the candidates for the Legislature, and
Steve went to the poll where he thought it likely Leech would be.
Steve had become a leader among the whites. Both men knew that it was
now a fight to the finish between them, and both always acted in full
consciousness of the fact. Leech counted on his power, and the force he
could always summon to his aid, to hold Steve in check until he should
have committed some rashness which would enable him to destroy him.
Steve was conscious that Leech was personally afraid of him, and he
relied on this fact—taking every occasion to assert himself—as the
master of a treacherous animal keeps ever facing him, holding him with
the spell of an unflinching eye.

The negroes were led in lines to cast their votes.

It was a notable thing that in all the county there was not an angry
word that day between a white man and a negro. Leech, in a letter
to Mrs. Welch describing the occasion, declared that the quietness
with which the election passed off was due wholly to the presence of
the soldiery, and he was very eloquent in his denunciation of the
desperadoes who surrounded him, and who were held at bay only by fear
of the bayonets about them. But this was not true. The situation was
too novel not to be interesting, and there was feeling, but it was
suppressed. It was a strange sight, the polls guarded by soldiers; the
men who had controlled the country standing by, disfranchised, and the
lines of blacks who had just been slaves, and not one in one hundred of
whom could read their ballots, voting on questions which were to decide
the fate of the State. There were many gibes flung at the new voters by
the disfranchised spectators, but they were mainly good-natured.

“Whom are you voting for, Uncle Gideon?” asked Steve of one of the old
Red Rock negroes.

“Marse Steve, you know who I votin’ for better’n I does myself.”

To another:

“Whom are you voting for?”

“Gi’ me a little tobacker, Marse Steve, an’ I’ll tell you.” And when it
was given, he turned to the crowd: “Who is I votin’ for? I done forgit.
Oh! yes—old Mr. Linkum—ain’ dat he name?”

“Well, he’s a good one to vote for—he’s dead,” said Steve.

“Hi! is he? When did he die?” protested the old man in unfeigned
astonishment.

“You ain’ votin’ for him—you’se votin’ for Mist’ Grant,” explained
another younger negro, indignant at the old man’s ignorance.

“Is I? Who’s he? He’s one I ain’ never heard on. Marse Steve, I don’
know who I votin’ for—I jis know I votin’, dat’s all.”

This raised a laugh at Steve’s expense which was led by Leech, and to
atone for it the old servant added:

“I done forgit de gent’man’s name.”

“The gentlemen you are voting for are Leech and Nicholas Ash,” said
Steve.

“Marse Steve, you know dey ain’ no gent’mens,” said the old fellow,
undisturbed by the fact that Leech was present.

“Uncle Tom, you know something, anyhow,” said Steve, enjoying the
Provost’s discomfiture.

The only white man of any note in the upper end of the county who took
the new “ironclad” oath was Hiram Still. Andy Stamper met him after
Hiram had voted. Still tried to dodge him.

“Don’t run, Hiram,” said the little Sergeant, contemptuously, “I ain’t
a going to hurt ye. The war’s over. If I had known at the time you was
givin’ the Yanks information, I might ’a’ done it once—and I would
advise you, Hiram, never to give ’em too much information about _me_
now. You’ve already giv’ ’em too much once about me. See there?” He
stretched out his arm and showed a purple mark on his wrist. It was
the scar that had been left by the handcuff when he was arrested for
the riot at Deal’s. “It won’t come out. You understand?” The little
fellow’s eyes shot at the renegade so piercing a glance that Still
cowered and muttered that he had nothing to do with him one way or
another.

“Maybe, if you didn’t give no aid and comfort to the rebels you’d like
to give me back that little piece of paper you took from my old mother
to secure the price of that horse you let me have to go back in the
army?” drawled Stamper, while one or two onlookers laughed.

The renegade made his escape as quickly as possible.

Still’s reply to the contempt that was visited on him was to bring suit
on the bonds he held. Leech was his counsel. One of the first suits was
against Andy Stamper. Andy was promptly sold out under the deed which
had been given during the war; the place was bought by Still, and Andy
and Delia rented another little house. This was only the beginning,
however.

When Still flung away his mask, he went as far as he dared. It was now
open war, and he had thrown in his fortune with the other side.

Dr. Cary received a note one morning from Mrs. Gray asking him to come
and see her immediately. He found her in a state of agitation very
unusual with her. She had the night before received a letter from
Still, stating that he was a creditor of her husband’s estate and held
his bonds for over fifty thousand dollars. Mrs. Gray had known that
there were some outstanding debts of her husband due him, though she
had supposed they were nearly paid off—but fifty thousand dollars! It
would take the whole estate!

“Why, it is incredible,” declared the Doctor. “Quite incredible! The
man is crazy. You need give yourself no uneasiness whatever about it. I
will see him and clear up the whole matter.”

Yet, even as the Doctor spoke, he recalled certain hints of Still’s,
dropped from time to time, recently, as to balances due by his former
employer on old accounts connected with his Southern estate, and Mr.
Gray was a very easy man, thought the Doctor, who believed himself one
of the keenest and most methodical of men.

Women love to have encouragement from men, even though they may feel
the reverse of what they are told to believe. So Mrs. Gray and Miss
Thomasia were more comforted than they could have found ground for.

When Dr. Cary did look into the matter, to his amazement he found that
the bonds were in existence. Still gave the account of them which he
had already given to Leech, and produced some corroborative evidence in
the shape of letters relating to the transaction of buying and stocking
the sugar plantation. There was hope for awhile that the writers of
the letters might be able to throw some light on the matter, but, on
investigation, it turned out that they were without exception dead,
and Mrs. Gray herself, on seeing the big bond, pronounced it genuine,
and declared that she remembered her husband once spoke of it, though
she thought he had told her it was all settled. She hunted all through
his papers, but though she found other bonds of his which he had taken
in she could find no record of this big one. Jacquelin was written to,
but in his reply he said that no matter what the cost, he wanted his
father’s debts paid. So no defence was made to the suit which Still
had instituted by Leech as his counsel, and judgment was obtained by
default. And soon afterward the Red Rock place, with everything on it,
was sold under this judgment and was bought in by Still for less than
the amount of his claim.

Jacquelin was still abroad and Mrs. Gray purposely kept him in
ignorance of what was going on; for her chief anxiety at this time was
to prevent Jacquelin from returning home until all this matter was
ended. He had written that his health was steadily improving.

Mrs. Gray did not remain at Red Rock twenty-four hours after Still
became its owner. She and Miss Thomasia moved next day to Dr. Cary’s,
where they were offered a home. She congratulated herself anew that
morning that Jacquelin was yet absent.

Mrs. Gray and Miss Thomasia walked out with their heads up, bidding
good-by to their old servants, who had assembled outside of the house,
their faces full of concern and sorrow.

There was hardly a negro on the place who was not there. However they
might follow Still in politics, they had not yet learned to forget
the old ties that bound them in other matters to their old masters,
and they were profoundly affected by this step, which they could all
appreciate.

“I drives you away, my mistis,” said the driver, old Waverley. “I prays
Gord I may live to drive you back.”

“Not me, Waverley; but, maybe, this boy,” said Mrs. Gray, laying her
hand on Rupert’s shoulder.

“Yes’m, we heah him say he comin’ back,” said the old driver, with
pride. “Gord knows we hopes so.”

Just then Hiram Still, accompanied by Leech, rode up into the yard.
He had evidently kept himself informed as to Mrs. Gray’s movements.
He rode across the grass and gave orders to the negroes to clear
away. Mrs. Gray took not the least notice of him, but, outraged by
his insolence, Rupert suddenly sprang forward and denounced him
passionately. His mother checked him: “Rupert, my son.” But the boy was
wild with anger. “We are coming back some day,” he cried to Still. “You
have robbed us; but wait till my brother returns.”

Both Still and Leech laughed, and Still ostentatiously ordered the
negroes off. Still moved in that afternoon.

Before Still had been installed in his new mansion twenty-four hours he
repented of his indiscretion, if not of his insolence. He was absent a
part of the evening, and on his return he heard that Captain Allen had
been to see him. The face of the servant who gave the message told more
than the words he delivered.

“What did he want?” Still asked, sharply.

“He say he want to see you, and he want to see you pussonally.” The
negro looked significant.

“Well, he knows where to find me.”

“Yes, he say he _gwine_ fine you—dat’s huccome he come, an’ he gwine
_keep on_ till he do fine you.” Still’s heart sank.

“I don’t know what he wants with me,” he growled, as he turned away
and went into the house. The great hall filled with pictures had never
looked so big or so dark. The eyes fastened on him from the walls
seemed to search him. Those of the “Indian-Killer” pierced him wherever
he went.

“Curse them; they are all alike,” he growled. “I wish I had let them
have the d——d rubbish. I would, but for having to take that one down.”

Poor Virgy, who had been given the room that had formerly been
Jacquelin’s, came toward him. She was scared and lonely in her new
surroundings, and had been crying.

This increased her father’s ill-humor. He inquired if she had seen
Captain Allen. She had, but he had only bowed to her; all he had said
was to the servant.

“Did he seem excited?” Still asked.

“No, he only looked quiet. He looked like one of those pictures up
there.” It was an unlucky illustration. Her father broke out on her so
severely that she ran to her own room weeping. It was only of late that
he had begun to be so harsh.

Still, left alone, sat down and without delay wrote a letter to Captain
Allen, expressing regret that he had been away when he called. He also
wrote a letter to Dr. Cary, which he sent out that night, apologizing
to Mrs. Gray and calling heaven to witness that he had not meant to
offend her, and did not even know she was on the place when he rode up.
He did not wait for replies. The next morning before daylight he left
for the city.

“I would not mind one of them,” he complained to his counsel, Leech.
“I’m as good a man as any one of ’em; but you don’t know ’em. They
stick together like Indians, and if one of ’em got hurt, the whole
tribe would come down on me like hornets.”

“Wait till we get ready for ’em,” counselled Leech. “We’ll bring their
pride down. We’ll be more than a match for the whole tribe. Wait till
I get in the Legislature; I’ll pass some laws that will settle ’em.”
His blue eyes were glistening and he was opening his hands and shutting
them tightly in a way he had, as if he were crushing something in his
palms.

“That’s it—that’s it,” said Still, eagerly.



CHAPTER XVIII

LEECH AS A STATESMAN AND DR. CARY AS A COLLECTOR OF BILLS


When Leech arrived at the capital in the capacity of statesman he
found the field even better than he had anticipated. It was a strange
assembly that was gathered together to reconstruct and make laws for
a great State after years of revolution. The large majority were
negroes who, a few years before, had been barbers, porters in hotels,
cart-drivers, or body-servants, with a few new-comers to the State,
like Leech himself: nomadic adventurers, who, on account of the
smallness of their personal belongings, were termed “carpet-baggers.”
Besides these, a few whites who, in hope of gain, had allied themselves
with the new-comers; and a small sprinkling of the old residents, who
had either been Union men or had had their disabilities removed, and
represented constituencies where there were few negroes. They were as
distinguishable as statues in the midst of a mob. But the multitude of
negroes who crowded the Assembly halls gave the majority an appearance
of being overwhelming. They filled the porticos and vestibules, and
thronged the corridors and galleries in a dense mass, revelling in
their newly acquired privileges. The air was heavy with the smoke of
bad cigars, which, however, was not wholly without use, as the scent of
the tobacco served at least one good purpose; the floors were slippery
with tobacco-juice. The crowd was loud, pompous, and good-natured.
Leech looked with curiosity on the curious spectacle. He had had no
idea what a useful band of coadjutors he would have. He took a survey
of the field and made his calculations quickly and with shrewdness. He
would be a leader.

“Looks like a corn-shuckin’,” said Still, who had accompanied his
friend to the capital to see him take his seat. “A good head-man could
get a heap of corn shucked.”

“Does look a little like a checker-board,” assented Leech, “and I mean
to be one of the kings. It’s keep ahead or get run over in this crowd,
and I’m smart as any of ’em. There’s a good cow to milk, and the one
as milks her first will get the cream.” His metaphors were becoming
bucolic, as befitted a man who was beginning to set up as a planter.

“The cream’s in the drippin’s,” corrected Still.

“Not of this cow,” said Leech.

Leech soon came to be regarded as quite a financier. He talked
learnedly of bonds and debentures, of per cents, and guarantees, and
dividends, of which more than half the body did not even know the
meaning. Once, when he was speaking of the thousands of “bonds” he
would put on a railway to the mile, one of his confrères asked what he
would put in so many barns.

“Ain’t you heah him say he’s gwine have a million o’ stock?” asked
another colored statesman, contemptuously. The answer was satisfactory.

The amount of spoil which in time was found to be divided was something
of which not even Leech himself, at first, had any idea. The railways,
the public printing, insurance, and all internal improvements, were
fertile fields for the exercise of his genius. He was shortly an
undisputed power. He followed his simple rule: he led. “When someone
offered a resolution to put down new matting in the Assembly hall,
Leech amended to substitute Brussels carpet. To prove his liberality
he added mahogany furniture, and handsome pier-glasses. The bills went
up into the scores of thousands; but that was nothing. As Leech said,
_they_ did not pay them. If rumors were true, not only did Leech not
pay the bills, he partly received their proceeds. His aspirations
were growing every day. He had no trouble in carrying his measures
through. He turned his committee-room—or one of his rooms, for he had
several—into a saloon, where he kept whiskey, champagne, and cigars
always free for those who were on his side. “Leech’s bar” became a
State institution. It was open night and day for the whole eight years
of his service. He said he found it cheaper than direct payment, and
then he lumped all the costs in one item and had them paid by one
appropriation bill, as “sundries.” Why should he pay, he asked, for
expenditures which were for the public benefit? And, indeed, why? As
for himself, he boasted with great pride when the matter came up at a
later time, that he never touched a drop.

He had “found the very field for his genius.” He boasted to Still: “I
always knew I had sense. Old Krafton thinks he’s running the party. But
I’m a doin’ it. Some day he’ll wake up and find I’m not only a doin’
that, but a runnin’ the State too. I mean to be governor.” His blue
eyes twinkled pleasantly.

“Don’t wake him up too soon,” counselled Still.

One of the statesman’s acts was to obtain a charter for a railway to
run from the capital up through his county to the mountains. Among the
incorporators were himself, Hiram Still, Still’s son, and Mr. Bolter.

“How will you build this road?” asked Mr. Haskelton, an old gentleman
who had been a Union man always—one of the few old residents of the
State in the body.

“Oh! we’ll manage that,” declared Leech, lightly. “We are going to
teach you old moss-backs a few things.” And they did. He had an act
passed making the State guarantee the bonds. The old resident raised a
question as to the danger to the credit of the State if it should go
into the business of endorsing private enterprises.

“The credit of the State!” Leech exclaimed. “What is the credit of the
State to us? As long as the bonds sell she has credit, hasn’t she?”

This argument was unanswerable.

“But how will you pay these bonds?” urged Mr. Haskelton.

“I will tell you how we will pay them; we will pay them by taxes,”
replied Leech.

“Ay-yi! Dat’s it!” shouted the dusky throng about him.

“Someone has to pay those taxes.”

“Yes, but who?” Leech turned to his associates who were hanging on his
words. “Do you pay them?”

“Nor, dat we don’t,” shouted Nicholas Ash.

“No, the white people pay them—and we mean to make them pay them,”
declared Leech.

This declaration was received with an outburst of applause, not
unmingled with laughter, for his audience had some appreciation of
humor.

“Lands will only stand so much tax,” insisted his interlocutor; “if you
raise taxes beyond this point you will defeat your own purpose, for the
lands will be forfeited. We cannot pay them. We are already flat of our
backs.”

“That’s where we want you,” retorted Leech, and there was a roar of
approval.

The old gentleman remained calm.

“Then what will you do?” he persisted.

“Then we will take them ourselves,” asserted Leech, boldly. He looked
around on the dusky throng behind him, and up at the gallery, black
with faces. “We will make the State give them as homes to the people
who are really entitled to them. They know how to work them.” A
great shout of applause went up from floor and gallery. Only the old
gentleman, gray and pallid, with burning eyes stood unmoved amid the
tumult.

“You cannot do this. It will be robbery.”

The crowd, somewhat disturbed by his earnestness, looked at Leech to
hear how he would meet this fact. He was equal to the emergency.

“Robbery, is it?” he shouted, waving his arms, and advancing down the
aisle. “Then it is only paying robbery for robbery. You have been the
robbers! You robbed the Indians of these lands, to start with. You went
to Africa and stole these free colored people from their happy homes
and made them slaves. You robbed them of their freedom, and you have
robbed them ever since of their wages. Now you say we cannot pay them a
little of what you owe them? We will do it, and do it by law. We have
the majority and by —! we will make the laws. If you white gentlemen
cannot pay the taxes on your homes, we’ll put some colored ones there
to get the benefit.” He shook his hand violently in the vehemence of
his speech. And again the crowd roared.

“Don’t shake your finger in my face,” said the old man so quietly that
only Leech heard it. He backed off.

He became an undisputed leader. “By —! I had no idea I was such an
orator,” he said to Still, smiling.

“I haven’t made such a speech as that since just before the war. I made
that old coon admit he was flat on his back.”

“A coon fights better on his back ’n’ any other way,” warned Still.

“I’ll put some hunters on this coon that will keep him quiet enough,”
said Leech. “I’ll arm a hundred thousand niggers.”

Leech made good his promises. The expenditures went up beyond belief.
But to meet the expenses taxes were laid until they rose to double,
quadruple, and, in some parts of the State, ten times what they had
been. Meantime he had been in communication with Mr. Bolter, who had
come down and paid him and Still a flying visit, and a part of the
bonds of his railroad were “placed.”

The taxes, as was predicted, went far beyond the ability of the
landowners to pay them, and vast numbers of plantations throughout
the State were forfeited. To meet this exigency, Leech was as good
as his word. A measure was introduced and a Land Commission was
appointed to take charge of such forfeited lands and sell them to
his followers on long terms, of fifteen to twenty years. Leech was
a member of the general Commission and Still was appointed agent
of the Board in his section of the State. Still was a very active
commissioner—“efficient,” the Commission called him.

Several places were sold which shortly were resold to Leech and Still.
Leech added to a place he bought on the edge of Brutusville, adjoining
General Legaie’s, the plantations of two old gentlemen near him.
Sherwood had bought one and Moses the other. Leech gave them “a fair
advance.” He said it was “all square.” He was now waiting for General
Legaie’s place.

Leech built himself a large house, and furnished it with furniture
richer than that in any other house in the county. It was rumored that
he was preparing his house for Virgy Still.

Nicholas Ash bought a plantation and a buggy and began to drive fast
horses. Many of their fellow-lawmakers bloomed out in the same way.
They were the only ones who now rode in carriages. Their proceedings
did not affect themselves only. They reached Dr. Cary and General
Legaie and the old proprietors on their plantations, quite as directly,
though in the opposite way. The spoils that Leech, Still, Governor
Krafton and their followers received, someone else paid. And just
when they were needed most, the negroes abandoned the fields. No one
could expect statesmen to work. Cattle, jewels, and plate were sold
as long as they lasted, to meet the piled-up taxes; but in time there
was nothing left to sell, and the plantations began to go. In the Red
Rock neighborhood, rumors were abroad as to the destiny of the various
places. A deeper gravity settled on Dr. Cary’s serious face, and
General Legaie’s lively countenance was taking on an expression not far
from grim. It was less the financial ruin that was overwhelming them
than the dishonor to the State. It was a stab in their bosoms.

Mr. Ledger was making inquiries as to the possibility of their reducing
shortly their indebtedness to him, and the Doctor was forced to write
him a frank statement of affairs. He had never worked so hard in his
life, he wrote; he had never had so much practice; but he could collect
nothing, and it was all he could do to meet his taxes.

“Why don’t you collect your bills?” naturally inquired Mr. Ledger.

“Collect my bills?” replied the Doctor. “How can I press my neighbors
who are as poor, and poorer, than I am?”

However, inspired by Mr. Ledger’s application, the Doctor did try to
collect some of the money due him. He did not send out his bills.
He had never done that in his life. Instead, he rode around on a
collecting-tour. He was successful in getting some money; for he
applied first to such of his debtors as were thriftiest. Andy Stamper,
who had just returned from town where he had been selling sumac,
chickens, and other produce, paid him with thanks the whole of his
bill, and only expressed surprise that it was so small. “Why I thought,
Doctor, ’twould be three or four times that?” said Andy. “I’ve kept a
sort of account of the times you’ve been to my house, and seems to me’t
ought to be?”

“No, sir, that’s all I have against you,” said the Doctor, placidly;
replying earnestly to Andy’s voluble thanks. “I am very much obliged to
you.” He did not tell Andy that he had divided his accounts by three
and had had hard work to bring himself to apply for anything.

This and one or two other instances in the beginning of his tour
quite relieved the Doctor; for they showed that, at least, some of
his neighbors had some money. So he rode on. He soon found, however,
that he had gleaned the richest places first. On his way home he
applied to others of his patients with far different results. Not only
was the account he received very sorrowful; but the tale of poverty
that several of them told was so moving that the Doctor, instead of
receiving anything from them, distributed amongst them what he had
already collected, saying they were poorer than himself. So when he
reached home that evening he had no more than when he rode away.

“Well, Bess,” he said, “it is the first time I ever dunned a debtor,
and it is the last.” Mrs. Cary looked at him with the expression in her
eyes with which a mother looks at a child.

“I think it is just as well,” she said, smiling.

“You must go and see old Mrs. Bellows,” he said. “She is in great
trouble for fear they’ll sell her place.”

Blair Cary, like her mother, watched with constant anxiety the change
in her father. His hair was becoming white, and his face was growing
more worn.

At length, a plan which she had been forming for some time took
definite shape. She announced her intention of applying for one of the
common schools which had been opened in the neighborhood. When she
first proposed the plan, it was received as if she were crazy—but her
father and mother soon found that they no longer had a child to deal
with, but a woman of sense and force of character. The reasons she
gave were so clear and unanswerable that at length she overcame all
objections and obtained the consent of all the members of the family
except Mammy Krenda. The only point on which her father stood out for
was that she should not apply for one of the schools under the new
county-managers. A compromise was effected and she became the teacher
of the school that had been built by the old residents. The Mammy still
stood out. The idea of “her child” teaching a common school outraged
the old woman’s sense of propriety, and threw her into a state of
violent agitation. She finally yielded, but only on condition that she
might accompany her mistress to the school every day.

This she did, and when Miss Blair secured the little school at the fork
in the road not far from their big gate, the old mammy was to be seen
every day, sitting in a corner grim and a little supercilious, knitting
busily, while her eyes ever and anon wandered over the classes before
her, transfixing the individual who was receiving her mistress’s
attention, with so sharp a glance that the luckless wight was often
disconcerted thereby.

As old Mr. Haskelton had said, the old residents were flat on their
backs. Leech was of this opinion when he passed his measures. But
remembering Still’s warning, to make sure, as the troops had been
withdrawn from the county, he put through a bill to organize a State
militia, under which large numbers of the negroes in the old county and
throughout the State were formed in companies.

He had other plans hatching which he thought they would subserve.



CHAPTER XIX

HIRAM STILL COLLECTS HIS DEBTS


The old Doctor had become the general adviser of his neighbors. There
was that in his calm face and quiet manner which somehow soothed and
sent them away with a feeling of being sympathized with, even when no
practical aid was rendered. “I believe more people consults the old
Doctor than does Mr. Bagby and General Legaie together,” said Andy
Stamper; “and he don’t know any more about the way to do business these
days than my baby. To be sure, they all seem to be helped somehow by
goin’.”

It was soon a problem whether the Doctor could keep his own place from
falling into the hands of the Commission. He had often wondered why it
had not been listed, for he had not been able to keep the taxes down.
Though he did not know, however, Hiram Still did.

All this while Blair had some secret on her mind. She was always
working. She would be up before sunrise, looking after her chickens;
and in the afternoons, when she came from school, and all day in the
summer, she would be busy about the kitchen or in some shaded spot,
back among the fruit trees, where kettles were hung over fires, and
Mrs. Cary at times gave advice, and Mammy Krenda moved about with her
arms full of dry wood, in a mist of blue smoke. Sometimes Steve Allen
lounged in the shade, at the edge of the cloud, giving Blair what he
termed his legal advice, and teasing Mammy Krenda into threats of
setting him on fire “before his time.” “Making preserves and pickles,”
was all the answer the Doctor got to his inquiries. Yet for all Miss
Blair’s work there did not seem to be any increase in the preserves
that came to the table, and when her father inquired once if all her
preserves and pickles were spoilt, though she went with a laugh and
a blush and brought him some, he saw no increase in them afterward.
She appeared suddenly to have a great many dealings with Mr. and Mrs.
Stamper, and several times Andy Stamper’s wagon came in the Doctor’s
absence and took away loads of jars which were transported to the
railroad, and when the Doctor accidentally met Andy and inquired of
him as to his load and its destination, Andy gave a very shuffling and
cloudy reply about some preserves his wife and some of her friends were
sending to town. Indeed, when the Doctor reached home on that occasion,
he spoke of it, declaring that Mrs. Stamper was a very remarkable young
woman; she actually sent off wagon-loads of preserves. He asked Blair
teasingly how it was that Mrs. Stamper could do this while they could
hardly get enough for the table. Blair only laughed and made a warning
sign to Mammy Krenda, who was sniffing ominously and had to leave the
room.

At length the secret came out. One day the Doctor came home worn out.
The taxes were due again. Blair left the room, and returning, placed
a roll of money in his hands. It was her salary which she had saved,
together with the proceeds of the kettle in the orchard.

“That will help you, papa,” she said, as she threw her arms round his
neck. “These are my preserves.”

The old gentleman was too moved to speak before she had run out of the
room. After a little he went to find his wife. That was the sanctuary
he always sought, in joy and sorrow.

“I reckon now he know de Stampers ain’ de on’ies’ ones kin meek
preserves,” said Mammy Krenda, with a sniff.

That very evening old Mrs. Bellows came to see the Doctor. Mrs. Bellows
was the aunt of Delia Dove. Her husband had been a blacksmith, and had
died the year after the war. They owned a little place near the fork
in the road, just on the edge of the Birdwood plantation, where her
husband had in old times made a good living. The house was a little
cottage set back amid apple and peach trees some hundreds of yards from
the shop. Since her husband’s death, Andy Stamper and Delia Dove had
helped her; but now, since Andy had been turned out of his old home and
was paying for another, the times had grown so hard that it was not a
great deal they could do. Andy thought they’d better let this place
go and that she should come and live with them, but the old woman had
refused, and now her place among many others had been forfeited and was
on the list of those advertised for sale. And Mrs. Bellows came to Dr.
Cary. Still had his eye on her home, and intended to buy it for the
Commission. Andy had heard that Nicholas Ash wanted it, and that Still
had promised it to him—“just out of spite to Andy and Delia,” the old
woman said. She was in a great state of excitement.

“I been tellin’ Andy ’twant no use to be fightin’ Still,” she wailed;
“he’s too smart for him. If he could git hold o’ Red Rock, Andy might
’a’ known he could beat _him_.”

Dr. Cary sat in deep reflection for a moment. He had a pang as he
thought of the money he had made Andy pay. The sum saved by Blair was
only a small part of the taxes due on Birdwood, but was enough to pay
all the back taxes and redemption fees on Mrs. Bellows’s place. It
looked like Providence. The Doctor sent her away comforted. Still’s
plans with regard to the Bellows place soon became an assured fact. He
boasted of what he would do. He would show Andy Stamper who he was.
The fact that it would be Delia Dove’s was enough for him, and it
became known throughout the county that the Commission would take it.
When the day of sale came, little Andy was on hand at the county seat.
Still was there too, and so was Nicholas Ash. Still tried to find out
why Andy came. He knew he did not have the money to redeem the place.
He thought it was to pick a quarrel with him; but Andy’s face was
inscrutable.

Under the formality of the law, a party interested could redeem the
land at any time before it was sold, paying the amount due to the
clerk, with interest and fees. Still examined the list just before the
crying began. The Bellows place was still on it. So the auction began.
Andy was closeted with old Mr. Dockett, whose duty it was, as clerk, to
receive the redemption money; but when the sale started, he came out
and sauntered up into the crowd. Several places belonging to persons
whose names began with A, were put up and knocked down to “Hiram Still,
Commissioner,” and as each one went to him there were groans and hoots,
and counterbalancing cheers from the negroes. At length the Bellows
place was reached. The amount of taxes for the several years for which
it was delinquent was stated, and the sheriff, a creature of Leech’s,
offered the place. There was a dead silence throughout the crowd, for
it was known that it was between Still and Stamper. Still was the only
bidder. The crowd looked at Stamper, but he never stirred. He looked
the most indifferent man on the ground. Still, on the other side of
the crowd, whispered with Ash and made a sign to the sheriff, and the
latter, having made his preliminary notice, announced:

“And there being no other bid than that of the Commissioner, I knock
this place also down to——”

There was a movement, and a voice interrupted him.

“No, you don’t. That place has been redeemed.” Andy spoke quietly, but
with a sudden blaze in his eyes. He held up the certificate of payment,
gripped in his hand, and looked across at Hiram Still.

There was a moment’s pause, and then cheer after cheer broke out from
the crowd of whites; and the long, pent-up feeling against Still burst
forth so vehemently that he turned and pushed deep into the middle of
the throng of blacks about him, and soon left the ground.

The excitement and anxiety, however, proved too much for old Mrs.
Bellows, and she died suddenly a few nights later.

“One more notch on the score against Hiram and Major Leech,” said Andy
Stamper, grimly, as he turned the key in the door of the empty house,
and, taking it out, put it in his pocket.

Andy’s wife, as the old woman’s heir, was the owner of the place; but a
few days after Mrs. Bellows’s death Andy rode up to Dr. Cary’s door.

Delia had sent him over, he said (he always laid the credit of such
things on Delia, he was simply clay in the potter’s hands).—Delia had
sent him to say that the place belonged to Miss Blair. “She had found
out where the money came from which bought it back, and she wan’t goin’
to take it. She couldn’t take care of the place anyhow—’twas all she
could do to keep the place they had now; and she would not have this
one if she was to pay taxes on it. All she wanted, was to beat Hiram.
So if Miss Blair wouldn’t take it, she s’posed Nicholas Ash would git
it next year, after all.”

Andy pulled out a deed, made in due form to Miss Blair Cary, and
delivered it to the Doctor, meeting every objection which the Doctor
raised, with a reason so cogent that it really looked as if he were
simply trying to shield Delia Dove from some overwhelming calamity. So
the Doctor finally agreed to hold the place for his daughter, though
only as security for the sum advanced, and with the stipulation that
Andy should at any time have the privilege of redeeming it. It was well
for Dr. Cary that he had placed his money as he did.

A few days after this sale at the county seat, Dr. Cary received a
letter from Mr. Ledger, telling him that the condition of affairs had
become so gloomy that his correspondents in the North were notifying
him that they could not continue their advances to him at present,
and as the notes given him by Dr. Cary and General Legaie, which had
already been renewed several times, were about to fall due again, he
found himself under the disagreeable necessity of asking that they
would arrange to pay them at their next maturity. General Legaie, who
had received a similar letter, rode up to see Dr. Cary next morning,
and the following day they went to the city together. They rode on
horseback, as they had no money to pay even the small sum necessary for
the railway fares.

When the Doctor and General Legaie called on Mr. Ledger he was at the
moment talking to a youngish, vigorous-looking man, whose new clothes
and alert speech gave him almost a foreign air beside the stately
manner of the two old gentlemen. Mr. Clough, the stranger, rose to go,
but both Dr. Cary and General Legaie begged him to remain, declaring
that they had “no secrets to discuss,” and that they should themselves
leave if he did so, as he had been there first.

They had exhausted every resource in their power to raise the means
to pay Mr. Ledger, they said. And now they had come to him with a
proposition. They looked at each other for support. It manifestly cost
an effort to make it. They proposed that he should take, at a proper
valuation, so much of their lands as would meet his debt. A sigh
followed the proposal. It was evidently a relief to have got it out.

“It is good land, and not an acre has ever been sold from the original
grant,” said Dr. Cary. It manifestly added to the value of the terms
offered.

“My dear sirs, what would I do with your lands?” said Mr. Ledger. “I
already have the security of the lands in addition to your personal
obligation. My advice to you is to try and sell them—or, at least,
so much of them as will enable you to discharge your debts. There are
one or two men up in your section who have plenty of money.—This man
Leech—and that man Still—they are land-buyers. Why don’t you sell to
them?”

“What!” exclaimed both Dr. Cary and General Legaie, in one breath.
“Sell our old family places to that man Leech?”

“My dear sirs, it will come to this, I fear—or worse. My
correspondents are all calling in their loans. I know that Mr. Still
would not be averse to buying a part of your place or, indeed, all of
it, Doctor; and I think Leech would like to have yours, General.”

The two old gentlemen stiffened.

“Why, that man Leech is a thief!” said the little General, with the air
of one making a revelation. “He could not pay me a dollar that had not
been stolen, and that fellow Still, he’s a harpy, sir.”

“Yes, I know, but I tell you frankly, gentlemen, it is your only
chance. They mean to tax your land until you will find it impossible to
hold on to it.”

“In that case we should not wish to put it off even on those men,” said
the Doctor with dignity, rising. “I shall see if I cannot raise the
money elsewhere to relieve you. Meantime I shall hold on to the old
place as long as I can. I must make one more effort.” And the two old
gentlemen bowed themselves out!

“A very striking-looking pair,” said the stranger, “but they don’t seem
to have much business in them.”

“No,” said Mr. Ledger, “they haven’t. They are about as able to cope
with the present as two babies.” He sat in deep abstraction for a
minute and then broke out suddenly: “But I’ll tell you what: if you up
yonder would just hold off they could clean up that pen on the hill in
fifteen minutes. And I believe it would be the best thing for you to
have them do it.” His eyes blazed with a light that gave his visitor a
new idea of him.

In consequence of this talk, Mr. Clough, when he had concluded his
business, went for amusement to observe the proceedings of the State
Legislature which was in session. It was undoubtedly strange to see
laws being enacted by a body composed of blacks who but a few years
before had been slaves, and he went away with a curious sense of the
incongruity of the thing. But it was only amusing to him. They appeared
good-natured and rather like big children playing at something which
grown people do. His only trouble was the two old gentlemen.

“Of course it is all nonsense, those slaves being legislators,”
he admitted to Major Welch, on his arrival at home, and to his
father-in-law, Senator Rockfield. “But they are led by white men who
know their business. The fact is, they appear to know it so well that I
advise calling in all the debts at once.”

What simply amused this casual visitor, however, was a stab in the
heart of the two old gentlemen he had met.

Dr. Cary and General Legaie returned home without being able to raise
anywhere the money that was due.

In reply to the letter announcing this, Dr. Cary received a letter
from Mr. Ledger, informing him that he had just had an offer from
someone to take up the Doctor’s notes, and he had felt it his duty to
notify him before he assigned them. The person who had made the offer
had insisted that his name should not be known at present, but he had
intimated that it was with friendly intentions toward Dr. Cary, though
Mr. Ledger stated, he would not like the Doctor to rely too much on
this intimation. He would much prefer that Dr. Cary should take up the
notes himself, and he would not for a moment urge him if it were not
that he himself was absolutely obliged to have the money to meet his
obligations.

To this letter the Doctor replied promptly. Mr. Ledger must accept
the offer from his unnamed correspondent if it were a mere business
transaction, and the Doctor only asked that he would do so without in
any way laying him under any obligation to the person referred to, for
a pretended kindness.

“The old Doctor evidently knows his man,” was Mr. Ledger’s reflection.

The next day Hiram Still held Dr. Cary’s notes secured by deed of trust
on the whole Birdwood estate.

Still was sitting in the big hall at Red Rock on his return home, and
he took out the notes and laid them on the table before his son.

“Ah! Dr. Wash,” he said, with a gleam in his eyes; “things is comin’
roun’. Now you’ve got it all your own way. With them cards in your
hand if you can’t win the game, you ain’t as good a player as yer
pappy. I don’t want nothin’ for myself, I just want ’em to know who I
am—that’s all. And with you over yonder at the old Doctor’s, and Virgy
in Congress or maybe even in the Governor’s house down yonder, I reckon
they’ll begin to find out who Hiram Still is.”

The son was evidently pleased at the prospect spread out before him,
and his countenance relaxed.

“‘Twon’t do to let Leech get too far ahead—I’m always telling you so.”
Young Still was beginning to show some jealousy of Leech of late.

“Ahead? He ain’t ahead. He just thinks he is.” The speaker’s voice
changed. “What’s the matter with Virgy these days? I’ve done set her up
in the biggest house in the county, and brought the man who’s goin’ to
be one of the biggest men in the State to want her to marry him, and
she won’t have nothin’ to do with him. It clean beats my time. I don’t
know what’s got into her. She ain’t never been the same since I brought
her here. Looks like these pictures round here sort o’ freezes her up.”

As he glanced around Hiram Still looked as if he were freezing up a
little himself.

“She’s a fool,” said the brother, amiably.

“I thought maybe she’s been kind o’ ailin’ an’ I’d git the old Doctor
to come and see her. Say what you please, he have a kind o’ way with
him women folks seems to like. But she won’t hear of it.”

“She’s just a fool. Let her alone for awhile, anyhow.”

His father looked at him keenly.

“Well, you go ahead—and as soon as you’ve got your filly safe, we’ll
take up t’other horse—time enough. Thar’s the bridle.” He touched the
notes on the table and winked at his son.

Dr. Still, armed with the assurance which the possession of Dr.
Cary’s notes gave, drove over to Birdwood the very next evening in a
double buggy. He was met by Dr. Cary, who treated him with his usual
graciousness, and who so promptly assumed that the visit was merely
a professional one that the caller never found the opportunity to
undeceive him.

When Washington Still arrived at home that night his father was
watching for him with eagerness. He met him as the buggy drove up into
the yard; but Wash’s face was sphinx-like. It was not until nearly
bedtime, when the father had reinforced his courage with several drinks
of whiskey, that he got courage to open the subject directly.

“Well, what news?” he asked, with an attempt at joviality.

“None,” said Wash, shortly.

“How’d you come out?”

“Same way I went in.” This was not encouraging, but another glass added
to Mr. Still’s spirit.

“How was she lookin’?”

“Didn’t see her.—Didn’t see anybody but the old Doctor; never do see
anybody but him—and the old nigger that opens the door. He thought I’d
come over to consult him about that sick nigger down at the mill, so I
let him think so. I wish the d—d nigger would die!”

“And you didn’t even ask for her?”

The young man shifted in his chair.

“What’s the use! That old fool’s got a way with him. You know how it
is. If he wa’n’t so d—d polite!”

“Ah! Washy, you’re skeered,” said the father, fondly. “You can’t bridle
a filly if you’re afeard to go in, boy. If you don’t git up the grit
I’ll go over thar myself, first thing you know. Why don’t you write her
a letter?”

“What’s the good! I know’m. She wouldn’t look at me. She’s for _Lord_
Jacquelin or Captain Steve Allen.”

“She wouldn’t!” Still rose from his chair in the intensity of his
feeling. “By——she shall! I’ll make her.”

“Make her! You think she’s Virgy? She ain’t.”

A day or two later a letter from Dr. Still was brought to Birdwood
by a messenger. Dr. Cary received it. It was on tinted paper and was
for Blair. That afternoon another messenger bore back the same letter
unopened, together with one from Dr. Cary, to the effect that his
daughter was not accustomed to receive letters from young men, and that
such a correspondence would not be agreeable to him.

Dr. Still was waiting with impatience for a reply to his missive. He
was not especially sanguine. Even his father’s hope could not reassure
him. When he looked at the letter his countenance fell. He had not
expected this. It was a complete overthrow. It not only was a total
destruction of his hopes respecting Miss Cary, but it appeared to
expose a great gulf fixed between him and all his social hopes. He had
not known till then how much he had built on them. In an instant his
feeling changed. He was enraged with Blair, enraged with Dr. Cary,
enraged with Jacquelin Gray and Captain Allen, and enraged with his
father who had counselled him to take the step. He took the letter to
his father, and threw it on the table before him.

“Read that.”

Hiram Still took up the letter and, putting on his glasses, read it
laboriously. His face turned as red as his son’s had turned white. He
slammed the letter on the table and hammered his clenched fist down on
it.

“You ain’t good enough for ’em! Well, I’ll show ’em. I’ll turn ’em out
in the road and make their place a nigger settlement. I’ll show ’em who
they’re turnin’ their noses up at. I’ll show ’em who Hiram Still is.
I’ll make Leech Governor, and turn him loose on ’em, if it takes every
cent I’ve got in the world.” He filled his glass. “We’ll show ’em yet
who we are. When I’m settin’ up here and you’re settin’ up thar they’ll
begin to think maybe after all they’ve made a little mistake.”

Still was as good as his word. Within a day or two, Dr. Cary received
a letter from him asking the payment of his obligations which he held.
He assigned the necessity he was under to raise a large sum of money
himself.

The Doctor wrote in reply that it was quite impossible for him to raise
the money to pay the debts, and begged that Still would without delay
take the necessary steps to close the matter up, assuring him that he
should not only not throw any obstacle in his way, but would further
his object as far as lay in his power.

Steve urged the Doctor to make a fight, declaring that he could defer
the sale for at least two years, maybe more, and times might change;
but Dr. Cary declined.

“What can I do? I owe a debt and I cannot pay it. I might as well save
the man the mortification of telling a multitude of unnecessary lies.”

So in a little while Still, through Leech, his counsel, had subjected
the Doctor’s property to his debts and was in possession of Birdwood as
well as Red Rock.

Mrs. Cary and Blair left their roses and jonquils and with the Doctor
moved to the old Bellows place, where they were as happy as they had
ever been in the days of their greatest prosperity. Old Tarquin, who
accompanied them, observed his master closely and followed his example,
carrying his head as high as if he still walked the big halls and
polished floors of Birdwood. Mammy Krenda alone was unhappy. She could
not reconcile herself to the change. The idea of “dat nigger-trader an’
overseer ownin’ her old marster’s place, an’ o’ her young mistis havin’
to live in de blacksmiff’ house,” was more than the old woman could
bear.



CHAPTER XX

LEECH LOOKS HIGHER AND GETS A FALL


Major Leech was now one of the leading men in the State. No one had
been so successful in his measures. He boasted openly that he owned his
own county. Carried it in his breeches pocket, he said.

Hiram Still had become the largest property-holder in the county. “I
don’t know so much about these here paper stocks,” he said to his son.
“But I know good land, and when you’ve got land you’ve got it, and
everybody knows you’ve got it.”

It was understood now that Leech was courting Still’s daughter, and it
began to be rumored that reinforced by this alliance, after the next
election he would probably be the leader in the State. He was spoken of
as a possible candidate for the Governorship, the election for which
was to come off the following year.

The people were now as flat on their backs as even Leech could wish.

Fortunately there is a law by which conditions through their very
excess are sometimes rectified. Absolute success often bears in it
the seeds of its own destruction. With the power to make such laws as
they wanted, and to gild all their acts with the tinsel of apparent
authority, Leech and his associates had been so successful that they
had lost all reckoning of opposition, and in their security had begun
to quarrel among themselves.

The present Governor, Krafton, was a candidate for re-election, and his
city organ declared that Leech was pledged to him. He had “made Leech,”
it said. “Leech was bound to him by every tie of gratitude and honor.”
Leech in private sneered at the idea. “Does he think I’m bound to him
for life? Ain’t he rich enough? Does he want to keep all the pie for
himself? Why don’t he pay that rent to the State for the railroad him
and his crowd leased? He talk about beatin’ me! I’ll show him. You wait
until after next session and all h—l can’t beat me,” he said to Hiram
Still. He did not say this to the Governor. But perhaps even counting
this Leech did not count all the forces against him. Emboldened by
the quietude which had existed so long, Leech moved more openly. He
believed he was strong enough now for anything. Success was at length
turning even Still’s head.

“You got to keep yourself before the people, and do it all the time.
If you don’t they’ll forgit you, and somebody else will reap your
harvest,” Still explained to his ally.

“Anybody as reaps for me is welcome to all he gets,” said Leech.

The campaign opened, and soon Leech was as prominent as he could have
wished. However prostrate the people were, they were not ready to have
Leech for the Governor of the State, and they so declared. At a public
meeting that was held, Steve Allen in a speech declared that “Krafton
is a robber; but Leech is a thief.”

Both Leech and Still were sensible of the stir; but they did not heed
it. Leech was daily strengthening himself.

When the rumor started that the whites were rousing up and were
beginning to think of organizing in opposition, Leech only laughed.

“Kick, will they?” said he. “I want ’em to kick. I’m fixed for ’em now.
I’ve got the power I want behind me now, and the more they kick the
more they’ll git the rowels. I guess you’re beginning to find out I’m
pretty well seated?” he added triumphantly to Still. Still could not
but admit that it was so.

“Fact is, things’re goin’ almost too smooth,” he said.

“You’re hard to please,” growled Leech.

“No; but you know, sometimes I’m most afeered I’ll wake up and find it
a dream. Here I am settin’ up, a gentleman here in this big house that
I used to stand over yonder on the hill in the blazin’ sun and just
look at, and wonder if I ever would have one even as good as the one I
was then in as my own; and yonder are you, one of the big men in the
State, and maybe will be Governor some day, who knows?” Leech accepted
the compliment with becoming condescension.

“That was a great stroke of yours to git the State to endorse the bonds
and then git your man Bolter down here to put up that money. If this
thing keeps up we soon won’t have to ask nobody any odds,” pursued
Still.

“I don’t ask any of ’em any odds now. When I get my militia fully
organized, I’m going to make a move that will make things crack. And
old Krafton will come down too. He thinks he’s driving, and he’s just
holding the end of the reins.”

“I don’t count so much on your militia as I do on your friends. I know
these people, and I tell you, you can’t keep ’em down with niggers.
If you try that you’ll have a bust up ’t will blow you—somewhere you
won’t want to be,” cautioned Still. “I never was so much in favor of
that militia business as you was. Comes to a fight, the whites will
beat every time—and it costs too much. My taxes this year’ll be——”

Leech frowned.

“Your taxes! If it hadn’t been for high taxes I’d like to know where
you’d been. You’re always talkin’ about knowin’ these people. You’re
afraid of ’em. I’m not. I suppose it’s natural; we’ve whipped you.”

There was a sudden lower in Still’s eye at the sneer.

“You’re always talkin’ about havin’ whipped us. _You_ ain’t whipped
us so much,” he growled. “If you ain’t afraid of ’em, whyn’t you take
up what Steve Allen said to you t’other day when he told you he’d be
Governor before you was, and called you—ur worse than Krafton? He’s
given you chances enough.”

“You wait, and you’ll see how I’ll take it up. I’ll take him up. I’ve
got the government behind me, and when I’m Governor and get a judge
such as I want, you’ll see things working even enough.”

“Well, ’twon’t do for us to quarrel, Major. We’re like two steers
yoked together,” Still said, conciliatorily. “Only don’t go too fast
at first—or you may break your team down before you git anywhere near
where you want to go.” When Still was alone with his son after this
interview he told him that Leech was in danger of ruining everything.

“He’s gittin’ sp’iled. We must keep the brakes on him or he’ll bust
the wagon all to pieces. If he gits up too fast he won’t remember me
and you,” observed Mr. Still. “Where would I be now if I hadn’t gone a
little keerful?”

“Careful,” corrected his son, superciliously.

“Well, _careful_, then; I can’t keep up with your book learnin’. But I
know a few things, and he’s about to make a fool of himself. He wants
to break with old Krafton before it’s time, and I ain’t sure he’s
strong enough yet to do it. We may have to call on Krafton yet, and
’twon’t do to let him go till we get Leech settled. He’s goin’ too fast
with his niggers. We’ve got to keep the brakes on him.”

Leech soon perfected the organization of his negroes. The League
furnished the nucleus. He had quite an army enrolled. At first they
drilled without arms, or with only the old muskets which had come down
from the war; but in a little time a consignment of new rifles came
from somewhere, and at their next drill the bands appeared armed and
equipped with new army muskets and ammunition. Nicholas Ash was captain
of one company, and another was under command of Sherwood. Leech was
Colonel and commanding officer in the county. Under the law, Krafton,
as Governor, had the power to accept or refuse any company that
organized and offered itself. The effect of the new organization on the
negroes was immediately felt. They became insolent and swaggering. The
fields were absolutely abandoned. Should they handle hoes when they
could carry guns! Should they plough when they were the State guard!

When Leech’s new companies drilled, the roadsides were lined with their
admirers. They filled the streets and took possession of the sidewalks,
yelling, and hustling out of their way any who might be on them. Ladies
walking on the street were met and shoved off into the mud. In a little
while, whenever the militia were out, the whites disappeared almost
wholly from the streets. But the men were to be found gathered together
at some central place, quiet, and apparently without any object, but
grim and earnest. Steve Allen was likely to be among them.

Steve organized a company and offered its services to the Governor,
asking to be commissioned and armed. Only negro companies were being
commissioned. The Governor referred him to Leech, who was, he said, the
Commandant in that section. The next time Steve met Leech he said:

“Major Leech, your man Krafton says if you’ll recommend it he’ll
commission a company I have.” Leech hemmed and stammered a little.

“No need to be in a hurry about it, Major,” said Steve, enjoying his
embarrassment. “When you want ’em let me know. I’ll have’em ready,” and
he passed on with cheery insolence, leaving the carpet-bagger with an
ugly look in his pale blue eyes.

Leech conferred with Still, who counselled that they should move with
deliberation. Leech had grown impatient. He thought himself strong
enough now to overawe the whites. Night meetings were being held
everywhere, at which Leech addressed his followers. Their response was
almost an outbreak.

A number of acts were committed that incensed the people greatly. Andy
Stamper, with his wagon full of chickens and eggs, was coming along
the road when he met one of the companies, followed by the crowd of
negroes that usually attended the drills. In a few minutes the wagon
was thrown down a bank and upset, the eggs were all smashed, and little
Andy, fighting desperately with his whip, was knocked senseless and
left on the roadside, unconscious. He said afterward it served him
right for being such a fool as to go without his pistol, and that if he
had had it he would have whipped the whole company. Mrs. Cary and Blair
and Miss Thomasia came near having a similar experience. They were
stopped on the road in their old carriage, and nothing but Mrs. Cary’s
spirit and old Gideon’s presence of mind saved them perhaps from worse
usage. Mrs. Cary, however, stepped out and stood beside her horses
commanding that they should not be touched, while the old driver,
standing up in the boot of the carriage, talked so defiantly and looked
so belligerent that he preserved his mistresses from anything worse
than being turned out rudely into the woods and very much frightened.

These things caused much excitement.

The first movement in the campaign was a great meeting that was held at
the county seat. The negroes were summoned from several counties round,
and there was to be a great muster of Leech’s “new militia.” It was a
grave time in the county. All such assemblages were serious now, more
for what might happen than for anything that had ever happened yet. But
this one was especially serious. It was rumored that Leech would launch
himself as a candidate for Governor, and would outline his policy. The
presence of his militia was held to be a part of his plan to overawe
any opposition that might arise. So strong was the tension that many
of the women and children were sent out of the village, and those that
remained kept their houses.

When the day for the meeting at the county seat came, nearly the entire
male population of the county, white and colored, were present, and
the negro companies were out in force, marching and parading up and
down in the same field in which the white troops had paraded just
before going off to the war. Many remarked on it that day. It served
to emphasize the change that a few years had brought. When the parade
was over, the companies took possession of the court green, and were
allowed to break ranks preparatory to being called under arms again,
when they were to be addressed on the issues of the campaign. The
negroes, with a few white men among them—so few as not to make the
slightest impression in the great dusky throng—were assembled on the
court green. The whites were outside.

There was gravity, but good-humor.

Steve Allen, particularly, appeared to be in high spirits. To see the
way the crowd was divided it might have looked as if they were hostile
troops. Only, the whites apparently had no arms. But they had almost
the formation of soldiery waiting at rest. Steve sauntered up into the
crowd of negroes and made his way to where Leech stood well surrounded,
talking to some of the leaders.

“Well, Colonel, how goes it? You seem to have a good many troops
to-day. We heard you were going to have a muster, and we came down to
see the drill.”

The speech was received good-temperedly by the negroes, many of whom
Steve spoke to by name good-humoredly.

Leech did not appreciate the jest, and moved off with a scowl. The
young man, however, was not to be shaken off so. He followed the other
to the edge of the crowd, and there his manner changed.

“Mr. Leech,” he said, slowly, with sudden seriousness and with that
deep intonation which always called up to Leech that night in the woods
when he had been waylaid and kidnapped. “Mr. Leech, you are on trial
to-day. Don’t make a false step. You are the controlling spirit of
these negroes. They await but your word. So do we. If a hand is lifted
you will never be Governor. We have stood all we propose to stand. You
are standing on a powder magazine. I give you warning.”

He turned off and walked back to his own crowd.

It was the boldest speech that had been made to Leech in a long time.
His whole battalion of guards were on the grounds, and a sign from him
would have lodged Steve in the jail, which frowned behind the old brick
clerk’s office. He had a mind to order his arrest; but as he glanced at
him there was a gleam in Steve’s gray eyes which restrained him. They
were fixed on him steadily, and the men behind him suddenly seemed to
have taken on something like order. Until that moment Leech had no idea
what a force it was. There were men of all classes in the ranks. He
seemed suddenly the focus of all eyes. They were fastened on him with
a cold hostility that made him shiver. He had a sudden catching at the
heart. He sent for Still and had a conference with him. Still advised
a pacific course. “Too many of ’em,” he said. “And they are ready for
you.”

Leech adopted Still’s advice. In the face of Steve’s menace and that
crowd of grim-looking men he quailed. His name was put forward, and
many promises were made for him, revolutionary enough, but it was not
by himself. Nicholas Ash, after a long conference with Leech and Still,
was the chief speaker of the occasion, and Leech kept himself in the
background all day.

The policy laid down by Nicholas Ash, even after his caution from Leech
and Still, was bad enough. “They say the taxes are too high,” declared
the negro statesman. “I tell you, and Colonel Leech tells you, they
ain’t high enough, and when he’s Governor they’ll be higher yet. We are
goin’ to raise ’em—yes, we are goin’ to raise ’em till we bankrupt ’em
every one, and then the land will go to the ones as ought to have it,
and if anybody interferes with you, you’ve got guns and you know how
to use ’em.” Tumultuous applause greeted this exposition of Leech’s
principles. Only the earnest counsel of Dr. Cary and some of the older
and cooler heads kept the younger men quiet. But the day passed off
quietly. The only exception was an altercation between Captain McRaffle
and a negro. Leech’s name had been suggested for the Governorship, and
had taken well. So he was satisfied. That night the negroes paraded in
companies through the village, keeping step to a sort of chant about
raising taxes and getting the lands and driving out the whites.

As Dr. Cary rode home that evening on his old horse, Still and Leech
passed him in a new buggy drawn by a pair of fine horses which young
Dr. Still had just got. Both men spoke to Dr. Cary, but the Doctor had
turned his head away so as not to see them. It was the nearest his
heart would let him come to cutting a man direct.

Next night after dark there was a meeting, at which were present nearly
all the men whose names have appeared in this chronicle, except Dr.
Cary and one or two of the older gentlemen, and a number more besides.

The place selected for the meeting was the old hospital, a rambling,
stone house with wings, and extensive cellars under it. It was in a
cleft between two hills, surrounded by a dense grove, which made it at
all times somewhat gloomy. It had been used as a field-hospital in a
battle fought near by, and on this account had always borne a bad name
among the negroes, who told grewsome tales of the legs and arms hacked
off there and flung out of the windows, and of the ghostly scenes
enacted there now after nightfall, and gave it a wide berth.

After the war, a cyclone had blown down or twisted off many of the
trees around the mansion, and had taken the roof off a part of the
building and blown in one of the wings, killing several of the persons
who then occupied it, which casualty the superstition of the negroes
readily set down to avenging wrath. The rest of the house had stood
the storm; but since that time the building had never been repaired
and had sunk into a state of mournful dilapidation, and few negroes
in the county could have been induced to go there even in daylight.
The fields had sprung up in dense pines, and the roads leading out to
the highways had grown up and were now hardly distinguishable. It had
escaped even the rapacious clutch of Land Commissioner Still.

The night after the speaking at the court-house there was a meeting of
ghostly riders at this old place, which had any of the negroes around
seen, they would have had some grounds for thinking the tales told of
the dead coming back from their graves true.

Pickets, with men and horses heavily shrouded, were posted at every
outlet from the plantation, and the riders rode for some distance in
the beds of streams, so that when the hoof-tracks reached certain
points, they seemed suddenly to disappear from the earth.

Rumors had already come from other sections of a new force that had
arisen, a force composed of ghostly night-riders. It was known as the
“Invisible Empire,” and the negroes had already been in a tremor of
subdued excitement; but up to this time this county had been so quiet,
and Leech had been so supreme, that they had not taken in that the Ku
Klux might reach there.

After the muster of Leech’s militia at the county seat the companies
had been dismissed and the members had straggled to their homes, taking
with them their arms and accoutrements, with all the pride and pomp of
newly decorated children. But their triumph was short-lived.

In the dead of night, when the cabins and settlements were wrapped
in slumber, came a visitation, passing through the county from
settlement to settlement and from cabin to cabin, in silence, but with
a thoroughness that showed the most perfect organization. When morning
dawned every gun and every round of ammunition which had been issued
throughout the county, except those at the county seat, and some few
score that had been conveyed to other places than the homes of the men
who had them, had been taken away.

In most cases the seizure was accomplished quietly, the surprise being
so complete as to prevent wholly any resistance. All that the dejected
warriors could tell next day was that there had been a noise outside,
the door had been opened; the yard had been found full of awful forms
wrapped like ghosts in winding-sheets, some of whom had entered the
houses, picked up the guns and ammunition, and without a word walked
out and disappeared.

In other instances, the seizure had not been so easily effected, and in
some few places there had been force exerted and violence used. But in
every case the guns had been taken either peaceably or by force, and
the man who had resisted had only called down on his head severity. One
man only had been seriously hurt. It was the man with whom McRaffle had
had the difficulty.

The whites had not been wholly exempt.

Leech had spent the night at Hiram Still’s. They had talked over the
events of the meeting and the whole situation. Ash’s speech proposing
Leech for Governor had taken well with the negroes, and for the whites
they did not care. The whites had evidently been overawed. This was
Leech’s interpretation of their quietude. Leech was triumphant. It was
the justification of his plan in arming his followers. He laid off his
future plans when he should have fuller powers. His only regret was
that he had not had Steve Allen arrested for threatening him. But that
would come before long.

“D—n him! I wish he was dead,” he growled.

“Go slow, Colonel; if wishes could kill, he’d ’a’ been dead long
ago—and maybe so would you,” laughed Still.

“What a——unpleasant laugh you have,” frowned Leech. He did not often
allow himself the luxury of a frown; but he found it effective with
Still.

Next morning Leech was aroused by his host calling to him hastily to
get up. Still was as white as death.

“What is it?” demanded Leech.

“Get up and come out quick. Hell’s broke loose.”

[Illustration: KU KLUX—“AWFUL FORMS WRAPPED LIKE GHOSTS IN
WINDING-SHEETS.”]

When Leech came out, Still pointed him to a picture drawn with red
chalk on the floor of the portico, a fairly good representation of the
“Indian-killer.” There were also three crosses cut in the bark of one
of the trees in front of the door.

“What does that mean?”

“Means some rascals are trying to scare you: we’ll scare them.”

But Still was not reassured. Anything relating to the “Indian-killer”
always discomposed him. He had to take several drinks to bring back
his courage—and when about breakfast-time the news began to come to
them of the visitation that had been made through the county during the
night, Leech, too, began to look pale.

By mid-day they knew the full extent and completeness of the stroke. A
new and unknown force had suddenly arisen. The negroes were paralyzed
with terror. Many of them believed that the riders were really
supernatural, and they told, with ashy faces, of the marvellous things
they had done. Some of them had said that they had just come from hell
to warn them, and they had drunk bucketfuls of water, which the negroes
could hear “sizzling” as it ran down their throats.

By dusk both Leech and Still had disappeared. They saw that the
organization of the negroes was wholly destroyed, and unless something
were done, and done immediately, they would be stampeded beyond hope.
They hurried off to the city to lay their grievances before the
Governor, and claim the aid of the full power of the Executive.

They found the Governor much exercised, indeed, about the attack on his
militia; but to their consternation he was even more enraged against
themselves by the announcement of Leech’s prospective candidacy in
opposition to him. He declared that he had aided Leech in all his
schemes, with the express understanding that the latter should give him
his unqualified support for re-election, and he flatly charged him
with treachery in announcing himself a candidate in opposition to him,
and declined to interfere unless Leech at once retired.

In this dilemma Leech promptly denied that he had ever announced
himself as a candidate.

Well, he allowed Nicholas Ash to do it, which amounted to the same
thing, the Governor asserted.

Leech repudiated any responsibility for Ash’s action, and denied
absolutely that he had any idea whatever of running against the
Governor, for whom he asseverated the greatest friendship.

Thus the matter was ostensibly patched up, and Leech and Still received
some assurance that action would be taken. When, however, they left
the presence of the Governor, it was to take a room and hold a private
conference at which it was decided that their only hope lay in securing
immediately the backing of those powers on whose support the Governor
himself relied to be sustained.

“I know him,” whispered Still. “You didn’t fool him. He ain’t never
goin’ to help you. May look like he’s standin’ by you; but he ain’t.
We’ve got to go up yonder. Bolter’s obliged to stand by us. He’s too
deep in.” He chucked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction in
which his noon-shadow was pointing. Leech agreed with him, and instead
of returning home, the two paid a somewhat extended visit to the seat
of government, where they posed as patriots and advocates of law and
order, and were admitted to conferences with the most potent men in the
councils of the nation, before whom they laid their case.



CHAPTER XXI

DR. CARY MEETS AN OLD COLLEGE MATE AND LEARNS THAT THE ATHENIANS ALSO
PRACTISE HOSPITALITY


The Ku Klux raid, as it was called, created a great commotion, not only
in our county but in other quarters as well. There had been in other
sections growlings and threatenings, altercations, collisions, and
outbreaks of more or less magnitude, but no outbreak so systematic, so
extensive, and so threatening as this had hitherto occurred, and it
caused a sensation. It was talked about as “a new rebellion,” calling
for the suspension of the writs of privilege and the exercise of the
strongest powers of the Government.

When therefore Leech and Still appeared at the national capital, as
suitors appealing for aid to maintain the laws and even to secure their
lives, they found open ears and ready sympathizers. They were met by
Mr. Bolter, who mainly had taken the bonds of their new railway, which
was not yet built, and who was known as a wealthy capitalist. Thus they
appeared as men of substance and standing, well introduced, and as they
spoke with doubtful endorsement of the Governor they were even regarded
as more than commonly conservative, and their tale was given unbounded
credit.

When they returned home it was with the conviction that their mission
had been completely successful; they had not only secured the immediate
object of their visit, and obtained the promise of the strongest
backing that could be given against their enemies, but they had gained
even a more important victory. They had instilled doubts as to both
the sincerity and the wisdom of the Governor; had, as Still said,
“loosed a lynch-pin for him,” and had established themselves as the
true and proper persons to be consulted and supported. Thus they had
secured, as they hoped, the future control of the State. They were in
an ecstasy, and when a little later the new judge was appointed, and
proved to be Hurlbut Bail, the man Bolter had recommended against one
the Governor had backed, they felt themselves to be masters of the
situation.

When the mission of Leech and Still became known in the old county it
created grave concern. A meeting was held and Dr. Cary and General
Legaie, with one or two others of the highest standing, were appointed
a committee to go on and lay their side of the case before the
authorities and see what they could do to counteract the effect of the
work of Leech and his associates.

It was the first time Dr. Cary and General Legaie had been to the
national capital or, indeed, out of the State, since the war, and they
were astonished to see what progress had been made in that brief period.

They found themselves, on merely crossing a river, suddenly landed in
a city as wholly different from anything they had seen since the war
as if it had been a foreign capital. The handsome streets and busy
thoroughfares filled with well-dressed throngs; gay with flashing
equipages, and all the insignia of wealth, appeared all the more
brilliant from the sudden contrast. As the party walked through the
city they appeared to themselves to be almost the poorest persons they
saw, at least among the whites. The city was full of negroes at this
time. These seemed to represent mainly the two extremes of prosperity
and poverty. The gentlemen could not walk on the street without being
applied to by some old man or woman who was in want, and who, as long
as the visitors had anything to give, needed only to ask to be assisted.

“We are like lost souls on the banks of the Styx,” said Dr. Cary. “I
feel as much a stranger as if I were on another planet. And to think
that our grandfathers helped to make this nation!”

“To think that we ever surrendered!” exclaimed General Legaie, with a
flash in his eye.

They took lodgings at a little boarding-house, and called next day in
a body on the Head of the Nation, but were unable to see him; then
they waited on one after another of several high officers of the
Government whom they believed to be dominant in the national councils.
Some they failed to get access to; others heard them civilly, but with
undisguised coldness. At one place they were treated rudely by a negro
door-keeper, whose manner was so insolent that the General turned on
him sharply with a word and a gesture that sent him bouncing inside
the door. After this interview, as Dr. Cary was making his way back
to his boarding-house, he met one of his old servants. The negro was
undisguisedly glad to see him. He wrung his hand again and again.

“You’s de fust frien’, master, I’s seen since I been heah!” he said.

“You are the first friend, John, I have seen,” said the Doctor,
smiling. He put his hand in his pocket and gave the old man a bank-note.

As the Doctor was engaged in this colloquy he was observed with kindly
interest or amusement by many passers-by—among them, by an elderly and
handsomely dressed couple, accompanied by a very pretty girl, who were
strolling along, and loitered for a moment within earshot to observe
the two strangers.

“What a picturesque figure!” said the lady as they passed on.

“Which one?”

“Well, both. I almost thought of them as one. I wish, Alice, you could
have got a sketch of them as they stood.”

“He is a Southerner—from his voice,” said her husband, who was Judge
Rockfield, one of the ablest and most noted men at that time in public
life; one of the wisest in council, and who, though his conservatism
in that period of fierce passion kept him from being as prominent as
some who were more violent and more radical, yet was esteemed one of
the ablest and soundest men in the country. He was a Senator from his
State, and the owner of one of the leading and most powerful journals
in the country.

Dr. Cary, having given the old negro his address, took a street-car to
try to overhaul his friends. It was quite full, and the Doctor secured
the last vacant seat. A few blocks farther on, several persons boarded
the car, among them the elderly gentleman and his wife and daughter,
already mentioned, and another lady. The Doctor rose instantly.

“Will you take my seat, madam?” he said to the nearest lady, with a
bow. The other ladies were still left standing, though there were many
men seated; but the next second a young fellow farther down the car
rose, and gave up his seat. As he took his stand the Doctor caught his
eye.

“‘The Athenians praise hospitality, the Lacedemonians practise it,’” he
said in a distinct voice that went through the car, and with a bow to
the young fellow which brought a blush of pride to his pleasant face.

The next moment the gentleman who had entered with his wife touched the
Doctor on his arm.

“I beg your pardon: is your name Cary?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can this be John Cary of Birdwood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t you remember Anson Rockfield?”

“Why, Rockfield, my old college-mate!” exclaimed the Doctor. The two
men grasped each other’s hands with a warmth which drew to them the
attention and interest of the whole car. “Rockfield, you see I am still
quoting Plutarch,” said the Doctor.

“And still practising his principles,” said the Senator, smiling, as he
presented him to his wife.

“My dear, this is the man to whom you are indebted for whatever is good
in me. But for him I should have gone to the d—l years before you knew
me.”

“He gives me far too much credit, madam, and himself far too little,”
said the Doctor. “I am sure that ever to have been able to win the
prizes he has won he must have been always worthy, as worthy as a man
can be of a woman.” He bowed low to Mrs. Rockfield.

Senator Rockfield urged the Doctor to come at once to his house and
be his guest while in the city, an invitation which his wife promptly
seconded with much graciousness.

“Let us show you that some of the Athenians practise as well as praise
hospitality,” she said, smiling.

Thanking them, the Doctor excused himself from accepting the
invitation, but said that with Mrs. Rockfield’s permission he would
call and pay his respects, and he did so that evening.

As a result of this meeting an audience was arranged for him and
his friends next day with the President, who heard them with great
civility, though he gave them no assurance that he would accept their
views, and furnished no clew to lead them to think they had made any
impression at all. They came away, therefore, somewhat downcast.

Before the Southerners left for home, Senator Rockfield called on
Dr. Cary and, taking him aside, had a long talk with him, explaining
somewhat the situation and the part he had felt himself compelled to
take. He wound up, however, with an appeal that Dr. Cary would not
permit political differences to divide them and would allow him to
render him personally any assistance that his situation might call for.

“I am rich now, Cary,” he said; “while you have suffered reverses and
may have found your means impaired and yourself at times even cramped.
(The Doctor thought how little he knew of the real facts.) “It is the
fortune of war, and I want you to allow me to help you. I suppose you
must have lost a good deal?” he said, interrogatively.

A change passed over the old Doctor’s face. Reminiscence, pain,
resolution were all at work, and the pleasant light which had been
there did not return, but in its place was rather the shade of deepened
fortitude.

“No,” he said, quietly. “‘War cannot plunder Virtue.’ I have learned
that a quiet mind is richer than a crown.”

“Still, I know that the war must have injured you some,” urged the
Senator. “We were chums in old times and I want it to be so now. I have
never forgotten what you were to me, and what I told my wife of your
influence on me was less than the fact. Why, Cary, I even learnt my
politics from you,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

Dr. Cary thanked him, but was firm. He could think of nothing he could
do for him.

“Except this: think of us as men. Come down and see for yourself.”

“Still practising Plutarch,” said the Senator. “Well, the time may
come, even if it has not come yet, and I want you to promise me that
when it does, you will call on me—either for yourself or any friend
of yours. It will be a favor to me, Cary,” he added, with a new tone
in his voice, seeing the look on the Doctor’s face. “Somehow, you have
turned back the dial, and taken me back to the time when we were young
and fresh, and full of high hopes and—yes—aspirations, and I had not
found out how d—d mean and sordid the world is. It will be a favor to
me.”

“All right, I will,” said the Doctor, “if my friends need it.” And the
two friends shook hands.

So the Commission from the old county returned home.

Captain Allen of late spent more and more of his time at Dr. Cary’s.
His attitude toward Blair was one of gallantry mingled with protection
and homage; but that was his attitude toward every girl; so Blair was
under no delusion about it, and between them was always waged a warfare
that was half pleasantry. To Mammy Krenda, however, the young man’s
relation to her mistress meant much more. No one ever looked at Blair
that the old mammy did not instantly interpret it as a confession
and a declaration, and having done this she instantly formed her
judgment, and took her stand. She had divined the ambition of Dr.
Still long before that aspiring young man dispatched to Miss Blair
that tinted note which was the real if not the immediate cause of the
Carys’ removal from Birdwood to the Bellows cottage. And during those
preliminary visits which the young physician had made to the old one,
the old woman had with her sharp eyes penetrated his assumed disguise
and made him shiver. Dr. Still knew that though Dr. Cary was taking him
at his word and believed he really came so often to talk of medicine
and seek advice, yet the old mammy discerned his real object, and
despised him.

In Captain Allen’s case it was different. Though the old woman and
he were ostensibly always at war and never were together without his
teasing her and her firing a shot in return at him, yet, at heart, she
adored him. His distinguished appearance and his leading position,
taken with his cordial and real friendliness toward herself, made him
a favorite with her—and the speech he had made to Middleton on her
account and his hostility to Leech made her his slave.

Her manner to him was always capricious and fault-finding, as became
the jealous guardian of Miss Blair; but “old Argos,” as Captain
Allen called her, was his warm ally and he knew it. She took too
many occasions to promote his and Blair’s wishes, as she understood
them, for him to doubt it, and, possibly, it was as much due to her
misapprehension as to anything else, that Steve was drawn on to do
what, but for Blair’s good sense, might have imperilled both his
happiness and hers.

Since the stir created by the Ku Klux raid, Captain Allen had exercised
more precaution than he was accustomed to do. All sorts of rumors
were afloat as to what the Government had promised on the instigation
of Leech and Still. Captain Allen’s name was mentioned in all of
them. Steve, in consequence, had of late been at the court-house less
continuously than usual. And from equally natural causes, he had been
much more at Dr. Cary’s. To Mammy Krenda’s innuendoes, he laughingly
replied that it was healthier near the mountains—to which the old
woman retorted that she knew what mountains he was trying to climb.

One afternoon he rode up to Dr. Cary’s a little earlier than usual,
and, finding the family absent, turned his horse out in the yard and
lounged on the porch, awaiting their arrival. He had not been there
long when Mammy Krenda appeared. Steve watched her for a moment with
amusement. He knew she had come out to talk to him.

“What are you prowling about here for, you old Ku Klux witch, you?” he
asked, with a twinkle in his eye.

Mammy Krenda gave a sniff.

“Ku Klux! Ku Klux!! If prowlin’ mecks Ku Klux, I wonder what you wuz
doin’ last night? An’ what you doin’ now?”

“Jerry’s been around, the drunken rascal!” thought Steve to himself. He
knew Jerry was courting a granddaughter of old Krenda’s.

“How’s Jerry coming on with his courting?” he asked, irrelevantly.

“N’em mind about Jerry,” said the old mammy. “Jerry know mo’ ’bout
co’tin’ than some other folks.”

This was interesting, and Steve, seeing that she had something on
her mind, gave her a lead. He learned that the old woman thought her
“chile” was not well—that she was “pesterin’ herself mightily” about
something, and, what was more astonishing, that Mammy Krenda held that
he himself was in a measure responsible for it.

A little deft handling and a delicate cross-examination soon satisfied
Steve that Jacquelin stood no chance. He hinted as to Middleton. Mammy
Krenda threw up her head. “She ain’ gwine marry no Yankee come pokin’
in folks’ kitchen.”

That disposed of it so far as Middleton was concerned.

“How about McRaffle? He’s always hanging around?” laughed Steve.

Krenda gave a sniff and started on.

“Dat man what been in a coffin! Jes’ soon marry a lizard! You know she
ain’ go’ marry dat man! She wouldn’ look at him!”

“Well, who is it?” demanded Steve.

The old woman turned and faced him; gave him a penetrating glance, and,
with a toss of her turbaned-head, walked into the house.

Steve sat on the porch for some time in deep reflection, and then
rising, walked across the grass, saddled his horse and rode quietly
away. All the past came before him and all the present too. Could it
be possible that he had been the cause of Middleton’s repulse and
of Jacquelin’s failure? It had never occurred to him. Yet, this was
undoubtedly the old mammy’s theory. She had as good as told him that
he was the cause of Blair’s disquietude, and in the light of her
revelation it all seemed reasonable enough. This was the secret of her
attitude toward Jacquelin. If she cared for him, it was his duty to
marry her. And where could he ever find her superior? Who was so good
and fine? Such were his reflections.

So one evening when he was with Blair, he suddenly began to speak to
her as he had never done before. Blair was not looking at him, and she
answered lightly. But Steve did not respond so. He had grown serious.
Blair looked at him quickly; her smile died out, and the color flushed
her face. Could Steve be in earnest? She gazed at him curiously; but
unhesitatingly; only a look almost of sorrow came into her eyes. Steve
went on and said all he had planned. When he had finished, Blair
suddenly sat down by him and put her hand over his. She was perfectly
composed and her eyes looked frankly into his.

“No, Steve—you are mistaken,” she said, quietly. “You have
misunderstood your feelings. You do not love me—at least, you are not
in love with me. You love me I believe, devotedly, and I thank God for
it every day of my life; as I love you as a sister—but you are not
in love with me. You would help me, relieve me, spare me trouble and
anxiety, save me from Captain—M—Middleton—and you see no reason why
we should not marry. But there is one reason. You are not in love with
me and I am not in love with you.” She was speaking so gravely and her
eyes were looking into his so frankly and with such true friendliness
that Steve, though feeling somewhat flat at his repulse, could not deny
what she said.

“I know the difference,” she went on, quietly. She paused and reflected
and, to Steve’s surprise, suddenly changed and choked up. “I have had
men in love with me—and—” Her voice faltered. She looked down, put
her hand to her eyes and with a cry of, “Oh! Steve!” buried her face
against his shoulder; “I seem to curse everyone that loves me.”

In an instant Steve’s strong arm was around her and he was comforting
her like an older brother. His sympathy opened the girl’s heart,
and drew out the secret of her unhappiness as nothing else could
have done. Blair had revealed her feelings to him as she had hardly
before revealed them even to herself. It was the old story of
misunderstanding, and high spirit; stung pride, hot words, and vain
regret—regret not for herself; but only for others. Her unhappiness
was that she had brought sorrow to others. It was because of her that
Jacquelin had left home, and that his mother was dying of a broken
heart. Steve tried to comfort her. She was all wrong, he assured
her—she took a wholly erroneous view of the matter. But it was not
a success. Jacquelin, she knew, had incurred Leech’s personal hatred
on her account, and that was the primary cause of his exile. All the
other trouble had flowed from it; his mother’s decline was owing to
her repining for Jacquelin and her anxiety about Rupert, who, cut off
from his mother’s care and influence, was beginning to show symptoms of
wildness. All these Blair traced back to her folly.

Steve, having failed in his effort to comfort her by argument, took
another method and boldly assailed her whole idea as unreasonable and
morbid. He threatened to write to Jacquelin and fetch him home, and he
would have Rupert back at once, and keep him straight too, and if Leech
molested him, he would have him to settle with.

The effect of this was just what Steve had anticipated. Blair suddenly
took the opposite tack; but in the battle that ensued she showed that
she had recovered at least a part of her spirit.

Steve that evening sent Jacquelin a letter intended to meet him on the
arrival of his vessel, telling him of his mother’s declining health
and urging him to hasten home. He also wrote to the head of the school
where Rupert was.



CHAPTER XXII

JACQUELIN GRAY COMES HOME AND CLAIMS A GRAVEYARD


When Jacquelin Gray returned home, his arrival was wholly unexpected.
His ship had reached port only a few days before and he had planned to
take his friends by surprise, and, without giving any notice, had at
once started for home. He would hardly have been known for the same
man: in place of the pallid and almost bed-ridden invalid who had been
borne away on a stretcher a year or two back, appeared a vigorous,
weather-browned man, almost as stalwart as Steve himself. The first to
recognize him was Waverley, who had been sent to the railroad by Mrs.
Gray to try and get news of him.

“Well b’fo’ de Lord!” exclaimed the old man, “ef dat ain’t!—” He
paused and took another scrutinizing look, and, with a bound forward,
broke out again. “Marse Jack, you done riz f’um de dead. Ef I didn’
think ’twas my ole marster—er de Injun-Killer. Bless de Lord!—you’s
jest in time. My mistis sen’ me down fur a letter—she say she ’bleeged
to have a letter to-day. But dis de bes’ letter could ’a’ come in dis
wull fur her. Yas, suh, she’ll git well now.” He took in the whole
crowd confidentially. He was wringing Jacquelin’s hand in an ecstasy of
joy, and the welcome of the others was not less warm, if less voluble.
Under it all, however, was something that struck Jacquelin and went to
his heart—something plaintive—different from what he had expected.
The negroes too had changed. The hearty laughter had given place to
something that had the sound of bravado in it. The shining teeth were
not seen as of old. Old Waverley’s words sent a chill through him. What
could they mean?

How was his mother? And aunt—and all the others?—at Birdwood and
everywhere? he asked.

His mistress had been “mighty po’ly, mighty po’ly indeed,” the old
servant said. “Been jes’ pinin’ fur you to git back. What meck you stay
so long, Marse Jack? Hit must be a long ways ’roun de wull? But she’ll
be all right now. De Doctor say you de bes’ physic she could git. All
de others is well.”

“And all at Birdwood?” asked Jacquelin.

“‘Tain’t Budwood you’s axin’ ’bout. Washy Still, he’s at Budwood. Dem
you want know ’bout is at Mis’ Bellers! Washy Still thought he wuz
gwine git one o’ dem whar wuz at Budwood; but he ain’t do it. Rich or
no rich, dee tun up dey nose at him—and all he git wuz de nest arter
de bud done fly. Dee look higher’n him I knows. But I mighty glad you
come. Marse Steve, he’s dyah. He’s a big man now. You’s done stay away
too long. He’s one o’ de leaders.”

What could this mean?

As Jacquelin drove homeward with the old man he discovered what it
meant; for Waverley was not one to take the edge from a blow. He had a
sympathetic heart and he made the most of it.

“Marse Jack, de debble is done broke loose, sho!” he wound up. “De
overseer is in de gret house, and de gent’man’s in de blacksmiff shop.
I wonders sometimes dat old Injun-Killer don’ come down out de picture
sho ’nough—like so many o’ dem dead folks what comin’ out dey graves.”

“What’s that?” asked Jacquelin.

“Dat’s what dee tells me,” protested Waverley. “De woods and roads is
full on ’em at night. An’ you can’t git a nigger to stir out by hisself
arter dark. I b’lieves it, and so does plenty o’ urrs.” He gave a
little nervous laugh.

“What nonsense is this?” demanded Jacquelin.

“‘Tain’ no nonsense, Marse Jack. ’Tis de fatal truf—Since sich doin’s
been goin’ on, de graves won’ hole ’em. De’s some knows ’tain’ no
nonsense. Dee done been to de house o’ several o’ dese sarsy niggers
whar done got dee heads turned and gin ’em warnin’ an’ a leetle tetch
o’ what’s comin’ to ’em. Dee went to Moses’ house turr night an’ gin
him warnin’. Moses wa’nt dyah; but dee done lef him de wud—cut three
cross marks in de tree right side he do’; an’ he wife say dee leetle
mo’ drink de well dry. One on ’em say he shot in de battle nigh heah
and was cut up in de ole horspittle, and dat he jes come from torment
to gi’ Moses an’ Sherrod an’ Nicholas Ash warnin’. Dee say he drink six
water-bucketfuls and hit run down he guzzle sizzlin’ jes like po’in’ ’t
on hot stove. Moses say he don’ mine ’em; but I tell you he better!” A
sudden gleam of shrewdness crossed the old fellow’s face.

“Things had done got pretty bad, Marse Jack,” the old man went on,
confidentially. “Hiram Still and Cun’l Leech, dee owned ev’y thing,
and ef you didn’t do what dee say you couldn’ turn roun’. Hiram, he
turn’ me out my shop jes soon as he got our place; an’ soon as he fine
he couldn’t git my young mistis, he turn’ de Doctor out. Look like
he and dat urr man, Leech, sutney is got a grudge ’ginst all o’ we
all. Dee done put dee cross marks ’ginst Hiram too. Some say ’twas de
Injun-Killer. Leech say he don’ mine ’em—he’s gwine to be gov’ner an’
he say he’ll know how to settle ’em; but Hiram, sence he fine dat mark
on de porch and on de tree, he walks right smart lighter’n he did.”

As they neared the county seat they met a body of negroes marching. The
officers yelled at them to get out of the way, and old Waverley pulled
out to one side. “What are they?” asked Jacquelin.

“Dem’s Cun’l Leech’s soldiers,” said Waverley—“dem’s de mellish. When
you meets dem you got to git out ’n de way, I tell you.”

The change in the aspect of the county in the few years of his absence
impressed Jacquelin. It seemed to him greater even than that which had
taken place during the war. The fields were more grown up; the houses
more dilapidated. But as much as these warned him, Jacquelin was not
prepared for the change which on his arrival at Dr. Cary’s he found had
taken place.

His mother’s appearance struck a chill to his heart. His mother had
become an old woman. She had kept everything from him that could
disturb him. He was shocked at the change which illness had made in
her, and all he could do was to try and conceal his anguish.

He sought Dr. Cary and had a long talk with him; but the Doctor could
not hold out any hope. It was simply a general breakdown, he told him:
the effect of years of anxiety. “You cannot transplant old trees,” he
said, sadly. Jacquelin ground his teeth in speechless self-reproach.

“Ah! my dear Jacquelin, there are some things that even you could not
have changed,” said the Doctor, with a deep sigh.

As Jacquelin looked at him the expression on the old physician’s face
went to his heart.

“Yes, I know,” he said, softly. “Ah! well, we’ll pull through.”

“You young men, perhaps; not we old ones. We are too broken to weather
the storm. Your father was the fortunate one.”

As the young man went out from this interview he met Blair. She had
just come in from her school; her cheeks were all aglow and she gave
him a warm handclasp—and her eyes, after the first glance into his,
fell. He was sure from what he had heard that she was engaged to Steve,
and he had rehearsed a hundred times how he should meet her. Now like a
puff of wind went all his strong resolutions. It was as though he had
opened a door toward the sunrise. A fresh sense of her charm came over
him as though he had just discovered her. Her presence appeared to him
to fill all the place. She had grown in beauty since he went away. She
was blushing and laughing and running away from Steve, who had met her
outside and told her of Jacquelin’s arrival, and was calling to her
through the door to come back; but after shaking hands with Jacquelin
she sped on upstairs, with a little side glance at him as she ran up.
She had never appeared so beautiful to Jacquelin, and his heart leaped
up in him at her charm. It was the vision that had gone with him all
around the globe. He followed her with his eyes. As she turned at the
top of the stairs his heart sank; for, leaning down over the banisters,
she gave Steve a glance so full of meaning that Jacquelin took it all
in in an instant.

“I’m going to tell him,” called Steve, teasingly.

“No, you promised me you would not, Steve,” and she was gone.

Jacquelin turned to the door.

Steve called him:

“Jack, Jack, come here.”

But Jacquelin could not stand seeing him at that moment. He wanted to
be alone, and he went out to meet the full realization of it all by
himself.

Jacquelin made up his mind at once. Although Doctor and Mrs. Cary
pressed him to stay with them, he felt that he could not live in the
house with Blair. How could he sit by and see her and Steve day by
day! Steve was as a brother to him, and Blair, from her manner, meant
to be a sister; but he could not endure it. He declared his intention
of starting at once to practise law. Steve offered him a partnership,
meeting Jacquelin’s objection that it would not be fair, with the
statement that he would make Jacquelin do all the work, as he proposed
to be a statesman.

So, as the Doctor had said that a change and occupation in household
duties might possibly do Mrs. Gray good, Jacquelin rented a small
farm between the Carys’ and the old hospital-place on the river, and
they moved there. His mother and Miss Thomasia furnished it with the
assistance of Mrs. Cary, and Blair, and other neighbors; the old pieces
of furniture and other odds and ends giving, as Miss Thomasia said, “a
distinction which even the meanness of the structure itself could not
impair. For, my dear,” she said to Blair, who was visiting them the
evening after they had made their exodus from Dr. Cary’s to their new
home, “I have often heard my grandfather say that nothing characterized
gentle-people more than dignity under misfortune.” And she smoothed
down her faded dress and resumed her knitting with an air which Blair
in vain tried to reproduce to her father on her return.

Jacquelin was vaguely conscious that a change had come, not only over
the old county since he left it, but over his friends also. Not merely
had the places gone down, but the people themselves were somewhat
changed. They looked downcast; their tone, formerly jovial and cheery,
had a tinge of bitterness. In those few years a difference between
him and them had grown up. He did not analyze it, but it was enough
to disquiet him. Had his point of view changed? He saw defects which
he thought he could remedy. Those he was with, apparently saw none.
They simply plodded on, as though oblivious of the facts. It made him
unhappy. He determined to use his enlarged view, as he deemed it, to
instruct and aid those who lacked his advantages. It seemed to him
that, in his travels, his horizon had widened. On the high seas or in
a foreign land, it had been the flag of the nation that he wanted to
see. He had begun to realize the idea of a great nation that should be
known and respected wherever a ship could sail or a traveller could
penetrate; of a re-united country in which the people of both sides,
retaining all the best of both sides, should vie with each other in
building up the nation, and should equally receive all its benefits. He
had pondered much on this, and he thought he had discovered the way to
accomplish it, in a complete acceptance of the new situation.

It was a great blow to Jacquelin to find on his return what
extraordinary changes had taken place in the county: Still, occupying
not only his old home, but Dr. Cary’s; Leech the supreme power in all
public matters in the county; Nicholas Ash driving a carriage, with
money that must have been stolen; and almost the entire gentry of the
State either turned out of their homes or just holding on, while those
whom he had left half-amused children playing at the game of freedmen,
were parading around the country in all the bravery and insolence of an
armed mob. All this was a shock to him. He spoke of his views to Dr.
Cary. The Doctor was the person who had first suggested the idea to his
mind, and was the one who, he felt, was the soundest and safest guide
to follow. In the little that he had seen of him since his return he
had found him, as he knew he would be, precisely the same he had always
been, absolutely calm and unruffled. To his astonishment the Doctor
shook his head.

“It is Utopian. I thought so myself formerly and, as you may remember,
incurred much animadversion and some obloquy. I did not care a button
about that. But I am not sure that General Legaie and those who agreed
with him, whose action I at that time thought the height of folly, were
not nearer right than I was. I am sure my principle was correct, and,
perhaps, had they yielded and gone in with us at the beginning it might
have been different; but I am not certain as to it now.” He bowed his
head in deep and painful reflection.

“It is now _vae victis_, and the only hope is in resistance,” he
proceeded, sadly. “Yielding is esteemed simply a confession of
cowardice. The miscreants who rule us know no restraint except fear.
You will be astonished when I tell you that the last few years have
almost overthrown the views I have held for a lifetime. I am nearer
agreeing with Legaie than I ever was in my whole life.” The old fellow
shook his head in deep despondency over this fatal declension.

Jacquelin did not agree with him. He had all a young man’s confidence.
He determined that he would effect his ends by law. He shortly had an
illustration of what the Doctor meant.

Mrs. Gray was failing steadily. The strain she had undergone had been
too much for her. She had lived only until Jacquelin’s return.

To the end, all her heart was on her old home. In those last days she
went back constantly to the time when she had come as a bride to her
home adorned with all that love and forethought could devise. The war
and the long years of struggle seemed to have been blotted out and her
memory appeared only to retain and to dwell on every scene of the old
life. One of her constant thoughts was: If she could only have lain at
the old home, at her husband’s side! So, she passed quietly away. In
the watches of the last night, when no one was with her but Jacquelin,
after she had talked to him of Rupert and confided him to his care, she
asked Jacquelin if he thought she might ever be taken home. His father
and she had picked out the spot under one of the great trees.

“Mother,” said Jacquelin, kneeling beside her and holding one of her
thin, transparent hands in his, “if I live and God is good to me, you
shall lie there.”

He had consulted General Legaie and Steve on the subject, and they
both had thought that the burying-ground had not been conveyed in the
deed to Still, though Leech, to whom, as counsel for Still, they had
broached the matter, asserted that it had been included.

The day Mrs. Gray died, Dr. Cary wrote a note to Still on Jacquelin’s
behalf, though without his knowledge, indicating his cousin’s wish to
bury his mother beside his father, and saying that it would not be held
to affect any question of ownership at issue between them.

To this Still replied that while he should be “very glad to do anything
that Dr. Cary or _any member of his family_ asked for _themselves_,” he
would not permit any _outsider_ to be buried on his place, especially
one who had insulted him; that he did not acknowledge that any question
existed as to his title; and that he was prepared to show that, if
so, it was unfounded. He added that he was “going to remove the
tomb-stones, cut down the trees, clear up the place, and get rid of the
old grave-yard altogether.”

A part of the letter was evidently written by a lawyer.

Dr. Cary felt that he could not withhold this notification from
Jacquelin. Before doing so, however, he consulted General Legaie. The
little General’s eyes snapped as he read the letter. “Ah! if he were
only a gentleman!” he sighed. The next moment he broke out. “I’ll lay
my riding-whip across the dog’s shoulders! That’s what I’ll do.” The
Doctor tried to soothe him. He would show the letter to Jacquelin, he
said. The General protested. “My dear sir, if you do, there will be
trouble. Young men are so rash. They have not the calm deliberation
that we have.” The Doctor, recalling his conversation with Jacquelin,
said he thought he could rely on his wisdom. “If he sees that letter
there will be trouble,” asserted the General, “or he is not the nephew
of his—ahem! not the son of his father.” However, the Doctor was firm.
So he broke the matter to Jacquelin. To their surprise, Jacquelin took
it very quietly; he did not say anything nor appear to mind it a great
deal. The General’s countenance fell. “Young men have changed since my
day,” he said, sadly.

So Mrs. Gray was buried in what had been a part of the church-yard
of the old brick-church, and Jacquelin, walking with his arm around
Rupert, was as quiet as Miss Thomasia.

That afternoon he excused himself from the further attendance of his
friends, left his aunt and Rupert and walked out alone. He went first
to the house of his neighbor, Stamper. Him Jacquelin told of his
purpose. Stamper wished to accompany him; but he would not permit that.
“Have you got a pistol?” asked Stamper. No, he was not armed, he said;
he only wanted his friend to know, “in case anything should happen.”
Then he walked away in the direction of Red Rock, leaving little
Stamper leaning on the bars looking after him rather wistfully until he
had disappeared.

He had not been gone long when Stamper started after him. “If he gets
hold of him, I’m afeared he’ll kill him,” he muttered as he hurried
along.

It was after sunset, and Hiram Still was sitting alone in the hall at
Red Rock, by a table in the drawers of which he kept his papers. He
never liked to sit in the dark, and had just called for a light. He was
waiting for it. He was not in a good humor, for he had had something of
a quarrel with Leech, and his son Wash had taken the latter’s side. The
young doctor was always taking sides against him these days. They had
made him write Dr. Cary that he was going to clear up the grave-yard,
and he was not at all sure that it was a good thing to do; he had
always heard that it was bad luck to break up a grave-yard, and now
they had left him alone in the house. Even the drink of whiskey he had
taken had not restored his good spirits.

Why did not the light come? He roared an oath toward the open door.
“D——n the lazy niggers!”

Suddenly there was a step, or something like a step, near him—he was
not sure about it, for he must have been dozing—and he looked up. His
heart jumped into his throat. Before him in the hall stood, tall and
gray, the “Indian-killer,” his eyes blazing like coals of fire.

“Good God!” he gasped.

No, it was speaking—it was a man. But it was almost as bad. Still had
not seen Jacquelin before in two years. And he had never noticed how
like the “Indian-killer” he was. What did he want?

“I have come to see you about the grave-yard,” said Jacquelin. The
voice was his father’s. It smote Still like a voice from the dead.

Still wanted to apologize to him; but he could not speak, his throat
was dry. There was a pistol in the drawer before him and he pulled the
drawer open and put his hand on it. The cold steel recalled him to
himself and he drew it toward him, his courage reviving. Jacquelin must
have heard the sound; he was right over him.

“If you attempt to draw that pistol on me,” he said, quietly, “I will
kill you right where you sit.”

Whether it was the man’s unstrung condition, or whether it was
Jacquelin’s resemblance to the fierce Indian-killer, as he stood there
in the dusk with his eyes burning, his strong hands twitching, or
whether it was his unexpected stalwartness and fierceness as he towered
above the overseer, the latter sank back with a whine.

A negro entered at a side door with a light, but stood still, amazed at
the scene, muttering to himself: “Good Lordy!”

Jacquelin went on speaking. He told Still that if he cut down so
much as a bush in that grave-yard until he had a decision of court
authorizing him to do so, he would kill him, even if he had the whole
Government of the United States around him.

“Now, I have come here to tell you this,” he said, in the same quiet,
strange voice, “and I have come to tell you one thing more, that you
will not be in this place always. We are coming back here, the living
and the dead.”

Still turned even more livid than before. “What do you mean?” he gasped.

“What I say, we are coming back.” He swept his eye around the hall,
turned on his heel, and walked toward the picture over the fireplace.
Just then a gust of wind blew out the lamp the negro held, leaving the
hall in gloom. When the servant came back with a light, according to
the story that he told, Still was raving like a mad-man, and he drank
whiskey and raved all night.

[Illustration: BEFORE HIM STOOD, TALL AND GRAY, THE INDIAN-KILLER.]

Neither Still nor Jacquelin ever spoke of the interview; but a story
got abroad in the neighborhood that the old Indian-killer had appeared
to Still the night of Mrs. Gray’s burial and threatened him with death
if he should ever touch the grave-yard. Still said he had never meant
to touch it anyhow, and that Leech had made him put it in the letter
for a joke. It was, however, a dear joke.

For a time there was quite a coolness between the friends; but they had
too much in common to be able to afford to quarrel, so it was made up.



CHAPTER XXIII

TWO NEW RESIDENTS COME TO THE COUNTY


Other changes than those already recorded had taken place in the years
that had passed since the day when Middleton and Thurston, on their way
to take command of a part of the conquered land, had found Jacquelin
Gray outstretched under a tree at the little country station in the Red
Rock County. In this period Middleton had won promotion in the West,
and a wound which had necessitated a long leave of absence and a tour
abroad; and finally, his retirement from the service. Reely Thurston,
who was now a Captain himself, declared that Middleton’s wound was
received in the South and not in the West, and that if such wounds
were to be recognized, he himself ought to have been sent abroad. The
jolly little officer, however, if he wished to boast of wounds of this
nature, might have cited a later one; for he had for some time been a
devoted admirer of Miss Ruth Welch, who had grown from a romping girl
to a lively and very handsome young lady, and had, as Reely said of
her, the warmest heart toward all mankind, except a man in love with
her, and the coldest toward him, of any girl in the world. However this
might be, she had turned a very stony heart toward Thurston in common
with a number of others, and after a season or two at fashionable
summer-resorts was finding, or thinking she was finding, all men
insipid and life very commonplace and hollow. She declared that she
liked Thurston better than any other man except her father and a half
dozen or more others, all of whom labored under the sole disadvantage
of being married, and she finally, as the price of the continuance of
this somewhat measurable state of feeling, bound the Captain by the
most solemn pledges never to so much as hint at any desire on his part
for a higher degree of affection.

The little soldier would have sworn by all the gods, higher and lower,
to anything that Ruth Welch proposed, for the privilege of being her
slave; but he could no more have stopped bringing up the forbidden
subject when in her presence, than he could have sealed up the breath
in his plump and manly bosom. He was always like a cat that in sight of
cream, though knowing he is on his good behavior, yet, with invincible
longing, licks his chops.

No doubt the game had additional zest for Captain Thurston from the
disapproval with which Mrs. Welch always regarded him. He never
approached Miss Ruth without that lady fluttering around with the
semi-comical distress of an anxious hen that cannot see even the
house-dog approach her chick, without ruffling her feathers and showing
fight.

This had thrown Thurston into a state of rather chronic opposition to
the good lady, and he revenged himself for the loss of the daughter, by
a habit of apparently espousing whatever the mother disapproved of, who
on her part, lived in a constant effort to prove him in the wrong.

He had even ventured to express open skepticism as to the wisdom of
the steps Mrs. Welch and her Aid Society had been taking in their
philanthropic efforts on behalf of the freedmen; giving expression to
the heretical doctrine that in the main the negroes had been humanely
treated before the war, and that the question should be dealt with
now from an economical rather than from a sentimental standpoint. He
gave it as his opinion that the people down there knew more about the
Negro, and the questions arising out of the new conditions, than those
who were undertaking to settle those questions, from a distance, and
that, if let alone, the questions would settle themselves. While as to
Leech, the correspondent of Mrs. Welch’s society, he declared that he
would not believe anything he said.

Nothing could have scandalized Mrs. Welch more than such an utterance.
And it is probable that this attitude on Thurston’s part did as much as
her real philanthropy to establish her in the extreme views she held.

For some time past there had been appearing in the _Censor_, the chief
paper in the city where the Welches lived, a series of letters giving
a dreadful, and, what Mrs. Welch considered, a powerful account of the
outrages that were taking place in the South. According to the writer,
the entire native white population were engaged in nothing but the
systematic murder and mutilation of unoffending negroes and Northern
settlers, who on their side were wholly without blame and received this
persecution with the most Christian and uncomplaining humility.

The author’s name was not given, because, it was stated in the
letters, if it were known, he would at once be murdered. Indeed, it
was declared that the letters were not written for publication at all,
but were sent to a philanthropic organization composed of the best and
most benevolent ladies in the country, who would vouch for the high
standing of the noble Christian gentleman from whose pen the accounts
emanated. As the letters were from the very section—indeed, from the
very neighborhood which Thurston always cited as an evidence of the
beneficent effect of his theory of moderation—Mrs. Welch, who was the
head of the organization to which Leech had written them, saved them
for the purpose of confounding and, once for all, disposing of Captain
Thurston’s arguments, together with himself.

So one morning when Thurston was calling on Ruth Mrs. Welch brought
in the whole batch of papers and plumped them down before him with a
triumphant air.

“Now, you read every word before you express an opinion,” she said,
decisively.

While Thurston read, Mrs. Welch, who was enjoying her triumph,
annotated each letter with running comments. These impressed Ruth
greatly, but Thurston wilily kept his face from giving the slightest
clew to his thoughts. When he was through reading, Mrs. Welch drew a
long breath of exultation.

“Well, what do you say to that?”

“I don’t believe it!” said Thurston, calmly.

“What!” Mrs. Welch was lifted out of her chair by astonishment.

“The writer of that is Jonadab Leech, one of the most unmitigated——”

“Captain Thurston! You do not know what you are talking about!”
exclaimed Mrs. Welch.

“Do you mean to say Leech is not the writer of those letters?”

“No, I did not say that,” said Mrs. Welch, who would have cut out her
tongue before she would have uttered a falsehood.

“I would not believe Leech on oath,” said the Captain, blandly.

“Oh, well, if that’s the stand you take, there’s no use reasoning with
you.” And with a gesture expressive both of pity and sorrow that she
must wash her hands of him completely and forever, Mrs. Welch gathered
up her papers and indignantly swept from the room.

When Thurston went away that day he had entrusted Ruth with an apology
for Mrs. Welch capable of being expanded, as circumstances might
require, to an unlimited degree; for Ruth had explained to him how dear
to her mother’s heart her charities were. But he had also given Ruth
such sound reasons for his views regarding the people in the region
where he had been stationed that, however her principles remained
steadfast, the sympathies of the girl had gone out to those whom he
described as in such incredible difficulties.

“Ask Larry about Miss Blair Cary,” he said. “Ask him which is the
better man, Dr. Cary or Jonadab Leech, and which he’d believe first,
that Steve Allen, who is spoken of as such a ruffian, or Hiram Still,
the martyr.”

“And how about Miss Dockett?” Ruth’s eyes twinkled.

“Miss Dockett?—Who is Miss Dockett?” The little Captain’s face wore so
comical an expression of counterfeit innocence and sheepish guilt that
the girl burst out laughing.

“Have you been in love with so many Miss Docketts that you can’t
remember which one lived down there?”

“No—oh, the girl I am in love with? Miss Ruth—ah, Dockett wasn’t the
name. It began with Wel—.” He looked at Ruth with so languishing an
expression that she held up a warning finger.

“Remember.”

He pretended to misunderstand her.

“Certainly I remember—Ruth Welch.”

Ruth gathered up her things to leave.

“Please don’t go.—Now that just slipped out. I swear I’ll not say
another word on the subject as long as I live, if you’ll just sit down.”

“I can’t trust you.”

“Yes, you can, I swear it; and I’ll tell you all about Miss Dockett
and—Steve Allen.”

This was too much for Ruth, and she reseated herself with impressive
condescension.

Miss Welch was greatly interested for other reasons. Her father’s
health had not been very good of late, and he had been thinking of
getting a winter home in the South, where he could be most of the
time out of doors, as an old wound in his chest still troubled him
sometimes, and the doctors said he must not for the present spend
another winter in the North. He had been in correspondence with this
very Mr. Still, who was spoken of so highly in those letters, about a
place just where this trouble was.

Besides, a short time before this conversation of Ruth’s with
Thurston, Major Welch had received a letter from Middleton, who was
still abroad, asking him to look into his affairs. He had always
enjoyed a large income, but of late it had, he stated, fallen off,
owing, as Mr. Bolter, his agent, explained, to temporary complications
growing out of extensive investments Bolter had made for him on joint
account with himself in Southern enterprises. These investments, Mr.
Bolter assured him, were perfectly safe and would yield in a short
time immense profits, being guaranteed by the State, and managed by
the strongest and most successful men down there, who were themselves
deeply interested in the schemes. It had happened, that the very names
Bolter had given as a guarantee of the security of his investment, had
aroused Middleton’s anxiety, and though he had no reason, he said,
to doubt Bolter, he did doubt Leech and Still, the men Bolter had
mentioned.

Major Welch had made an investigation. And it had shown him that the
investments referred to were so extensive as to involve a considerable
part of his cousin’s estate.

Bolter gave Major Welch what struck the latter quite as an “audience,”
though, when he learned the Major’s business, he suddenly unbent and
became much more confidential, explaining everything with promptness
and clearness. Bolter was a strong-looking, stout man, with a round
head and a strong face. His brow was rather low, but his eyes were
keen and his mouth firm. As he sat in his inner business office, with
his clerks in outer pens, he looked the picture of a successful,
self-contained man.

“Why, they fight a railroad coming into their country as if it were a
public enemy,” he said to Major Welch.

“Then they must be pretty formidable antagonists.”

“And I have gotten letters warning me and denouncing the men who have
planned and worked up the matter—and who would carry it through if
they were allowed to do so—as though they were thieves.”

He rang a bell and sent for the letters. Among them was one from Dr.
Cary and another from General Legaie. Though strangers, they said
they wrote to him as one reported to be interested, and protested
against the scheme of Still and Leech, who were destroying the State
and pillaging the people. They contrasted the condition of the State
before the war and at the present time. Dr. Cary’s letter stated that
“for purposes of identification” he would say that both his father and
grandfather had been Governors of the State. General Legaie’s letter
was signed “Late General, C. S. A.”

“What are you going to do with such people!” exclaimed Mr. Bolter.
“They abuse those men as if they were pickpockets, and they are the
richest and most influential men in that county, and Leech will,
without doubt, be the next Governor.” He handed Major Welch a newspaper
containing a glowing account of Leech’s services to the Commonwealth,
and a positive assertion that he would be the next Governor of the
State.

“What did you write them in reply?” asked Major Welch, who was taking
another glance at the letters.

“Why, I wrote them that I believed I was capable of conducting my
own affairs,” said the capitalist, with satisfaction, running his
hands deep in his pockets; “and if they would stop thinking about
their grandfathers and the times before the war, and think a little
more about their children and the present, it would be money in their
pockets.”

“And what did they reply to that?”

“Ah—why, I don’t believe I ever got any reply to that. I suppose the
moss had covered them by that time,” he laughed. Major Welch looked
thoughtful, and the capitalist changed his tone.

“In fact I had already made the investments, and I had to see them
through. Major Leech is very friendly to me. It was through him we were
induced to go into the enterprise—through him—and because of the
opportunities it offered, at the same time that it was made perfectly
safe by the guarantee of both the counties and the States. He used to
be in my—in our—employ, and he is a very shrewd fellow, Leech is.
That was the way we came to go in, and it doesn’t do to swap horses in
the stream.”

“Mrs. Welch thinks very highly of him,” said Major Welch, meditatively.
“She has had some correspondence with him on behalf of her charitable
society for the freedmen, and she has been much impressed by him.”

“My only question was whether he was not a little too philanthropic,”
said Bolter, significantly. “But since I have come to find out, I guess
he has used his philanthropy pretty discreetly. He’s a very shrewd
fellow.” His smile and manner grated on the Major somewhat.

“Perhaps he is too shrewd?” he suggested, dryly.

“Oh, no, not for me. I have made it a rule in life to treat every man
as a rascal——”

“Oh!” A shadow crossed the Major’s brow, which Bolter was quick to
catch.

“Until I found out differently.”

“I should think the other would have been rather inconvenient.” Major
Welch changed the subject. “But Captain Middleton had some sort of
trouble with this man, and has always had a dislike for him. And I
think I shall go South and look into matters there.”

“Oh, well, that’s nothing,” broke in Bolter, hotly. “What does
Middleton know about business? That’s his trouble. These military
officers don’t understand the word. They are always stickling for their
d—d dignity, and think if a man ain’t willing to wipe up the floor for
’em he’s bound to be a rascal.”

It was as much the sudden insolence in the capitalist’s tone, as his
words that offended Major Welch. He rose to his feet.

“I am not aware, that being officers, and having risked their lives to
save their country, necessarily makes men either more narrow or greater
fools than those who stayed at home,” he said, coldly.

The other, after a sharp glance at him, was on his feet in an instant,
his whole manner changed.

“My dear sir. You have misunderstood me. I assure you you have.” And he
proceeded to smooth the Major down with equal shrewdness and success;
delivering a most warm and eloquent eulogy on patriotism in general,
and on that of Captain Lawrence Middleton in particular. Truth to tell,
it was not hard to do, as the Major was one of the most placable of
men, except where a principle was involved; then he was rock.

Bolter wound up by making Major Welch an offer, which the latter could
not but consider handsome, to go South and represent his interests as
well as Middleton’s.

“If he is going there he better be on my side than against me, and his
hands would be tied then anyway,” reflected Bolter.

“You will find our interests identical,” he said, seeing the Major’s
hesitation. “We are both in the same boat. And you will find that I
have done by Mr. Middleton just what I have done for myself. And I
have taken every precaution, of that you may be sure. And we are bound
to win. We have the most successful men in the State with us, bound
up by interest, and also as tight as paper can bind them. We have the
law with us, the men who make, and the men who construe the law, and
against us, only a few old moss-backs and soreheads. If they can beat
that combination I should like to see them do it.”

The only doubt in Major Welch’s mind as to the propriety of a move to
the South was on account of his daughter.

The condition of affairs there made no difference to Major Welch
himself—for he felt that he had the Union behind him—and he knew it
made none to Mrs. Welch. She had been working her hands off for two
years to send things to the negroes through these men, Still and Leech.
But with Ruth, who was the apple of her father’s eye, it might be
another matter.

But when the subject was broached to Ruth, and she chimed in and
sketched, with real enthusiasm, the delights of living in the South, in
the country—the real country—amid palm and orange groves, the Major’s
mind was set at rest. He only cautioned her against building her
air-castles too high, as he knew there were no orange-groves where they
were going, and though there might be palms, he doubted if they were of
the material sort, or very easy to obtain.

Ruth’s ardor, however, was not to be damped just then.

“Why, the South is the land of Romance, Papa.”

“It will be if you are there,” smiled her father.

It is said that curiosity is a potent motive with what used to
be called the gentler, and, occasionally, even the weaker sex, a
distinction that for some time has been passing, if it has not
altogether passed, away. But far be it from the writer even to appear
to give adherence to such a doctrine by anything that he may set down
in this veracious chronicle. He does not recollect ever to have heard
this remark made by any of the thousands of women whom he has known,
personally, or through books with which the press teems, and he feels
sure that had it been true it would not have escaped their acute
observation. In recording, therefore, the move of the Welches to the
South he is simply reporting facts.

On the occasion of the discussion between Mrs. Welch and Captain
Thurston, Mrs. Welch was left by that gentleman in what, in a weaker
woman, might have been deemed a state of exasperation. After all the
trouble she had taken to secure the evidence to confound and annihilate
that young man, he had with a breath undermined her foundation, or,
rather, had shown that her imposing fabric had no foundation whatever.
He knew Leech, and she did not. She would now go and satisfy herself
by personal knowledge that she was right and he wrong—as she well
knew to be the case, anyhow. So, many people start out on a quest for
information, not to test, but to prove, their opinions. Thus, when
Major Welch came with the statement of the offer he had received, Mrs.
Welch truthfully declared that she in some sort saw in it the hand of
Providence. This was strengthened by a conversation with Miss Ruth, who
quoted Thurston’s opinion of Leech.

“Captain Thurston, my dear!” said Mrs. Welch. “So light and frivolous
a person as Captain Thurston is really incapable of forming a just
opinion of such a man as Mr. Leech, whose letters breathe a spirit of
the truest Christian humility, as well as the most exalted courage
under circumstances which might well make even a strong man quail. I
hope you will not quote Captain Thurston to me again. You know what
my opinion of him has always been. I never could understand what your
father’s and Lawrence Middleton’s infatuation for him was. Besides,
you know that Captain Thurston was in love with some girl down in that
country, and when a man is in love he is absolutely irresponsible. Love
makes a man a fool about everything.”

Thus Mrs. Welch, so to speak, shot at, even if she did not kill, two
birds with one stone. If she did not kill this second bird it was not
her fault, as the glance which she gave Ruth showed. Ruth’s face did
not wholly satisfy her, for she added:

“Besides that, Mr. Bolter has been down there and he tells me that he
thinks very highly of Major Leech.”

“Oh, Mr. Bolter! I don’t like Mr. Bolter, and neither do you,” began
Miss Ruth.

“My dear, that is very unreasonable; what possible cause can you have
to dislike Mr. Bolter, for you do not know him at all?”

“I have met him. He did not go into the army; but stayed at home and
made money. Papa does not like him either.”

“Don’t you see how illogical that is. We cannot dislike everyone who
did not go into the army.”

“No, I know that.” Ruth pondered a moment and then broke out, laughing:
“Why, mamma, I have given two reasons for not liking Mr. Bolter, and
you did not give any for disliking Captain Thurston.”

“That is different,” replied Mrs. Welch, gravely, though she did not
explain precisely how, and perhaps Ruth did not see it.

“Mamma,” burst out Ruth, warmly, her face glowing, “I believe in a
man’s fighting for what he believes right. If I had been a man when the
war broke out I should have gone into it, and if I had lived at the
South I should have fought for the South.”

“Ruth!” exclaimed her mother, deeply shocked.

“I would, mamma, I know I would, and you would too; for I know how much
trouble you took to get an exchange for that young boy, Mr. Jacquelin
or something, that Miss Bush, the nurse, was interested in.”

“Ruth, I hope I shall never hear you say that again,” protested Mrs.
Welch, warmly. “You do not understand.”

“I think I do—I won’t say it again—but I have wanted to say it for a
long time, and I feel so much better for having said it, mamma.”

So the conversation ended.

It was decided that Major Welch and Ruth should go ahead and select a
place which they could rent until they should find one that exactly
suited them, and then Mrs. Welch, as soon as she could finish packing
the furniture and other things which they would want, should follow
them.

A week later, Ruth and her father found themselves in the old county
and almost at their journey’s end, in a region which though as far as
possible from Ruth’s conception of palm and orange groves, was to the
girl, shut up as she had been all her life in a city, not a whit less
romantic and strange.

It was far wilder than she had supposed it would be. The land lay
fallow, or was cultivated only in patches; the woods were forests and
seemed to stretch interminably; the fields were growing up in bushes
and briars. And yet the birds flitted and sang in every thicket, and
over everything rested an air of peace that sank into Ruth’s soul, as
she jolted along in a little rickety wagon which they had hired at the
station, and filled her with a sense of novelty and content. She was
already beginning to feel something of the charm of which her cousin,
Larry Middleton, and Captain Thurston were always talking. Some time,
perhaps, she would see Blair Cary, about whom Reely Thurston was always
hinting in connection with Larry Middleton; and she tried to picture to
herself what she would be like—small and dark and very vivacious, or
else no doubt, haughty. She was sure she should not like her.

On her father, however, the same surroundings that pleased Miss Ruth
had a very different effect. Major Welch had always carried in his
mind the picture of this section as he remembered it the first time he
rode through it, when it was filled with fine plantations and pleasant
homesteads, and where, even during the war, the battle in which he
had been wounded had been fought amid orchards and rolling fields and
pastures.

At length, at the top of the hill they came to a fork, but though there
was an open field between the roads, such as Major Welch remembered,
there was no church there; in the open field was only a great thicket,
an acre or more in extent, and the field behind it was nothing but a
wilderness.

“We’ve missed the road, just as I supposed,” said Major Welch. “We
ought to have kept nearer to the river, and I will take this road
and strike the other somewhere down this way. I thought this country
looked very different—and yet—?” He gazed all around him, at the open
fields filled with bushes and briars, the rolling hills beyond, and the
rampart of blue spurs across the background.

“No, we must have crossed Twist Creek lower down that day.” He turned
into the road leading off from that they had been travelling, and
drove on. This way, however, the country appeared even wilder, and they
had driven two or three miles before they saw anyone. Finally they came
on a man walking along, just where a footpath left the road and turned
across the old field. He was a small, sallow fellow, very shabbily
dressed, the only noticeable thing about him being his eyes, which were
both keen and good-humored. Major Welch stopped him and inquired as to
their way.

“Where do you want to go?” asked the man, politely.

“I want to go to Mr. Hiram Still’s,” said the Major.

The countryman gave him a quick glance.

“Well, you can’t git there this way,” he said, his tone changed a
little; “the bridge is down, on this road and nobody don’t travel
it much now—you’ll have to go back to Old Brick Church and take
the other road. There’s a new bridge on that road, but it’s sort o’
rickety since these freshes, and you have to take to the old ford
again. One of Hiram’s and Jonadab’s jobs,” he explained, with a note of
hostility in his voice. Then, in a more friendly tone, he added: “The
water’s up still from last night’s rain, and the ford ain’t the best
no time, so you better not try it unless you have somebody as knows
it to set you right. I would go myself, but—” He hesitated, a little
embarrassed—and the Major at once protested.

“No, indeed! Just tell me where is Old Brick Church.”

“That fork back yonder where you turned is what’s called Old Brick
Church,” said the man; “that’s where it used to stand.”

“What has become of the church?”

“Pulled down during the war.”

“Why don’t they rebuild it?” asked the Major, a little testily over the
man’s manner.

“Well, I s’pose they think it’s cheaper to leave it down,” said the
man, dryly.

“Is there any place where we could spend the night?” the Major asked,
with a glance up at the sunset sky.

“Oh, Hiram Still, he’s got a big house. He’ll take you in, if he gits a
chance,” he said, half grimly.

“But I mean, if we get overtaken by night this side the river? You tell
me the bridge is shaky and the ford filled up now. I have my daughter
along and don’t want to take any chances.”

“Oh, papa, the idea! As if I couldn’t go anywhere you went,” put in
Ruth, suddenly.

At the Major’s mention of his daughter, the man’s manner changed.

“There’s Doct’r Cary’s,” he said, with a return of his first friendly
tone. “They take everyone in. You just turn and go back by Old Brick
Church, and keep the main, plain road till you pass two forks on your
left and three on your right, then turn in at the third you come to
on your left, and go down a hill and up another, and you’re right
there.” The Major and Ruth were both laughing; their director, however,
remained grave.

“Ain’t no fences nor gates to stop you. Just keep the main, plain road,
like I tell you, and you can’t git out.”

“I can’t? Well, I’ll see,” said the Major, and after an inquiring look
at the man, he turned and drove back.

“What bright eyes he has,” said Ruth, but her father was pondering.

“It’s a most curious thing; but that man’s face and voice were both
familiar to me,” said he, presently. “Quite as if I had seen them
before in a dream. Did you observe how his whole manner changed as soon
as I mentioned Still’s name? They are a most intractable people.”

“But I’m sure he was very civil,” defended Ruth.

“Civility costs nothing and often means nothing. Ah, well, we shall
see.” And the Major drove on.

As they passed by the fork again, both travellers looked curiously
across at the great clump of trees rising out of the bushes and briars.
The notes of a dove cooing in the soft light came from somewhere in the
brake. They made out a gleam of white among the bushes, but neither
of them spoke. Major Welch was recalling a night he had spent in that
church-yard amid the dead and the dying.

Ruth was thinking of the description Middleton had given of the
handsome mansion and grounds of Dr. Cary, and was wondering if this Dr.
Cary could be the same.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE TRAVELLERS ARE ENTERTAINED IN A FARM-HOUSE


The sun had already set some little time and the dusk was falling when
they came to a track turning off from the “main, plain road,” which
they agreed must be that described to them as leading to Dr. Cary’s.
They turned in, and after passing through a skirt of woods came out
into a field, beyond which, at a little distance, they saw a light.
They drove on; but as they mounted the hill from which the light had
shone Ruth’s heart sank, for, as well as they could tell through the
gathering dusk, there was no house there at all, or if there was, it
was hidden by the trees around it. On reaching the crest, however, they
saw the light again, which came from a small cottage at the far side of
the orchard, that looked like a little farm-house.

“Well, we’ve missed Dr. Cary’s after all,” said Major Welch.

It was too late now, however, to retrace their steps; so Major Welch,
with renewed objurgations at the stupidity of people who could not
give a straight direction, determined to let Dr. Cary’s go, and ask
accommodation there. Accordingly, they picked their way through the
orchard and drove up to the open door from which the light was shining.

At the Major’s halloo a tall form descended the low steps and came to
them. Major Welch stated their case as belated travellers.

Ruth’s heart was instantly warmed by the cordial response:

“Get right out, sir—glad to have you.”

“Ah, my dear—here are a lady and gentleman who want to spend the
night.” This to a slender figure who had come out of the house and
joined them. “My daughter, madam; my daughter, sir.”

“Good-evening,” said the girl, and Ruth, who had been wondering at
the softness of these farmer-voices, recollected herself just in time
to take the hand which she found held out to her in the darkness in
instinctive friendliness.

“I am Major Welch,” said that gentleman, not to be behind his host in
politeness. “And this is my daughter.”

“We are glad to see you,” repeated the young girl simply to Ruth in her
charming voice, as if the introduction required a little more formal
greeting.

“Ah! Major, glad to see you,” said the host, heartily. “Are you any
relation to my old friend, General Welch of Columbia, who was with
Johnson?”

“I don’t think so,” said Major Welch.

“Ah! I knew a Major Welch in the Artillery, and another in the Sixth
Georgia, I think,” hazarded the host. “Are you either of those?”

“No,” said the Major, with a laugh, “I was not. I was on the other
side—I was in the Engineer Corps under Grant.”

“Oh!” said the host, in such undisguised surprise that Ruth could feel
herself grow hot, and was sensible, even in the darkness, of a change
in her father’s attitude.

“Perhaps it may not be agree——I mean, convenient, for you to take us
in to-night?” said Major Welch, rather stiffly.

“Oh, my dear sir,” protested the other, “the war is over, isn’t it? Of
course it’s convenient. My wife is away just now, but, of course, it
is always convenient to take in wayfarers.” And he led the horse off,
while his daughter, whose quiet “Won’t you walk in?” soothed Ruth’s
ruffled spirit, conducted them into the house.

When Ruth entered she had not the slightest idea as to either the
name or appearance of their hosts. They had evidently assumed that the
travellers knew who they were when they applied to spend the night,
and it had been too dark outside for Ruth to see their faces. She only
knew that they had rich voices and cordial, simple manners, such as
even the plainest farmers appeared to have in this strange land, and
she had a mystified feeling. As she entered the door her mystification
only increased. The room into which she was conducted from the little
veranda was a sitting or living room, lower in pitch than almost any
room Ruth had ever been in, while its appointments appeared curiously
incongruous to her eyes, dazzled as they were from coming in suddenly
from the darkness. Ruth took in this rather than observed it as she
became accustomed to the light, for the first glance of the two girls
was at each other. Ruth found herself astonished at the appearance of
her hostess. Her face was so refined and her figure so slim that it
occurred to Ruth that she might be an invalid. Her dress was simple to
plainness, plainer than Ruth had ever seen the youngest girl wear, and
her breast-pin was nothing but a brass button, such as soldiers wear on
their coats; yet her manners were as composed and gracious as if she
had been a lady and in society for years.

“Why, she looks like a lady,” thought the girl, with a new feeling
of shyness coming over her, and she stole a glance around her for
something which would enable her to decide her hosts’ real position.
The appointments of the room, however, only mystified her the more. A
plain, white board bookcase filled with old books stood on one side,
with a gun resting in the corner, against it; two or three portraits
of bewigged personages in dingy frames, and as many profile portraits
in pastel hung on the walls, with a stained print or two, and a number
of photographs of soldiers in uniform among them. A mahogany table
with carved legs stood in the centre of the room, piled with books,
and the chairs were a mixture of home-made split-bottomed ones and
old-fashioned, straight-backed armchairs.

“How curious these farmers are,” thought Ruth; but she did not have a
great deal of time for reflection, for the next instant her hostess,
who had been talking to her father, was asking if she would not “take
her things off” in so pleasant a voice, that before hat and coat were
removed all constraint was gone and Ruth found herself completely at
home. Then her hostess excused herself and went out for a moment. Ruth
took advantage of her absence to whisper to her father, with genuine
enthusiasm, “Isn’t she pretty, father? What are they?”

“I don’t know, but I suspect—” Just what it was that he suspected
Ruth did not learn, for at that moment their host stepped in at the
door, and laying his old worn hat on a table, made them another little
speech, as if being under his roof required a new welcome. Major Welch
began to apologize for running in on them so unceremoniously, but the
farmer assured him that an apology was quite unnecessary, and that they
were always glad to welcome travellers who came.

“We are told to entertain strangers, you know; for thereby, they say,
some have entertained angels unawares, and though we cannot exactly say
that we have ever done this yet,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye,
“we may be beginning it now—who knows?” He made Ruth a bow with an
old-fashioned graciousness which set her to blushing.

“What a beautiful nose he has, finer even than my father’s,” she
thought.

Just then the young hostess returned, and the next moment an old negro
woman in a white kerchief stood in the door dropping courtesies as
though she were in a play. Ruth was shown up a narrow little flight of
stairs to a room so close under the sloping roof that it was only in
the middle of it that she could stand upright. Everything, however, was
spotlessly clean, and the white hangings, plain and simple as they
were, and the little knick-knacks arranged about, made it dainty. The
girl picked up one of the books idly. It was an old copy of “The Vicar
of Wakefield.” As she replaced the book, she observed that where it lay
it covered a patch.

At supper they were waited on by the old negro woman she had seen
before, whom both their host and hostess called “Mammy,” and treated
not so much as a servant, as if she were one of the family; and though
the china was old and cracked, and mostly of odd pieces, the young
hostess presided with an ease which filled Ruth with astonishment.
“Why, she could not do it better if she had lived in a city all her
life, and she is not a bit embarrassed by us,” she thought to herself.
She observed that the only two pretty and sound cups were given to her
and her father. The one she had was so dainty and unusual that she
could not help looking at it closely, and was a little taken aback, on
glancing up, to find her hostess’s eyes resting on her. The smile that
came into them, however, reassured Ruth, and she ventured to say, half
apologetically, that she was admiring the cup.

“Yes, it is pretty, isn’t it?” assented the other girl. “It has quite a
history; you must get my father to tell it to you. There used to be a
set of them.”

“It was a set which was presented to one of my ancestors by Charles
the Second,” said the father thus appealed to, much as if he had said,
“It is a set that was given me yesterday by a neighbor.” Ruth looked
at him with wide-open eyes and a little uncomfortable feeling that he
should tell her such a falsehood. His face, however, wore the same calm
look. “If you inspect closely, you can still make out the C. R. on it,
though it is almost obliterated. My ancestor was with his father at
Carisbrooke,” he added, casually, and Ruth, glancing at her father, saw
that it was true, and at the same moment took in also the fact that
they had reached the place they had been looking for; and that this
farmer, as she had supposed him to be, was none other than Dr. Cary,
and the young girl whom she had been patronizing, was Larry Middleton’s
Blair Cary, a lady like herself. How could she have made the mistake!
As she looked at her host again, the thoughtful, self-contained face,
the high-bred air, the slightly aquiline nose, the deep eyes, and the
calm mouth and the pointed beard made a perfect Vandyke portrait.
Even the unstarched, loose collar and turned-back cuffs added to the
impression. Ruth seemed to have been suddenly carried back over two
hundred years to find herself in presence of an old patrician. She
blushed with confusion over her stupidity, and devoutly hoped within
herself that no one had noticed her mistake.

After supper, Major Welch and Dr. Cary, who had renewed their old
acquaintance, fell to talking of the war, and Ruth was astonished to
find how differently their host looked at things from the way in which
all the people she had ever known regarded them. It was strange to the
girl to hear her people referred to as “the Yankees” or “the enemy”;
and the other side, which she had always heard spoken of as “rebels,”
mentioned with pride as “the Confederates” or “our men.” After a
little, she heard her father ask about the man he had come South to
see—Mr. Hiram Still. “Do you know him?” he asked their host.

“Oh, yes, sir, I know him. We all know him. He was overseer for one of
my friends and connections, who was, perhaps, the wealthiest man in
this section before the war, Mr. Gray, of Red Rock, the place where you
spent the night you spoke of. Colonel Gray was killed at Shiloh, and
his property all went to pay his debts afterward. He had some heavy
endorsements, and it turned out that he owed a great deal of money to
Still for negroes he had bought to stock a large plantation he had in
one of the other States—at least, the overseer gave this explanation,
and produced the bonds, which proved to be genuine, though at first it
was thought they must be forged. I suppose it was all right, though
some people thought not, and it seems hard to have that fellow living
in Gray’s house.”

“But he bought it, did he not?” asked Major Welch.

“Oh, yes, sir, he bought it—bought it at a forced sale,” said Dr.
Cary, slowly. “But I don’t know—to see that fellow living up there
looks very strange. There are some things so opposed to the customary
course of events that the mind refuses to accept them.”

“Still lives somewhat lower down, I believe?” said Major Welch.

“No, sir, he is not very far off,” said Dr. Cary. “He is just across
the river a few miles. Do you know him?”

“No, I do not. Not personally, that is. What sort of a man is he?”

“Well, sir, he does not stand very well,” answered Dr. Cary,
deliberately.

“Ah! Why, if I may ask?” Major Welch was stiffening a little.

“Well, he went off to the radicals,” said Dr. Cary, slowly, and Ruth
was amused at the look on her father’s face.

“But surely a man may be a republican and not be utterly bad?” said
Major Welch.

“Yes, I suppose so, elsewhere,” admitted the other, doubtfully. “In
fact, I have known one or two gentlemen who were—who thought it best
to accept everything, and begin anew—I did myself at first. But I
soon found it impossible. It does not prove efficacious down here. You
see—But, perhaps, you are one yourself, sir?” very politely.

“I am,” said Major Welch, and Ruth could see him stiffen.

“Ah!” Their host leaned a little back. “Well, I beg your pardon.
Perhaps, we will not discuss politics,” he said, with great courtesy.
“We should only disagree and—you are my guest.”

“But surely we can talk politics without becoming—ah—We have been
discussing the war?” said Major Welch.

“Ah, my dear sir, that is very different,” said Dr. Cary. “May I ask,
have you any official—ah—? Do you expect to stay among us?”

“Do you mean, am I a carpet-bagger?” asked Major Welch, with a smile.
But the other was serious.

“I would not insult you under my roof by asking you that question,”
he said, gravely. “I mean are you thinking of settling among us as a
gentleman?”

“Well, I can hardly say yet—but, perhaps, I am—thinking of it,” said
Major Welch. “At least, that is one reason why I asked you about that
man, Still.”

“Oh, well, of course, if you ask as my guest, I will take pleasure in
giving you any information you may wish.”

“Is he a gentleman?” interrupted Major Welch.

“Oh, no—certainly not that, sir. He is hand in glove with the
carpet-baggers, and the leader of the negroes about here. He and a
carpet-bagger named Leech, and a negro preacher or exhorter named
Sherwood, who, by the way, was one of my own negroes, and a negro
named Ash, who belonged to my friend General Legaie, and a sort of
trick-doctor named Moses, whom I once saved from hanging, are the worst
men in this section.”

Major Welch had listened in silence, and now he changed the subject;
for from the reference to Leech he began to think more and more that it
was only prejudice which made these men objects of such narrow dislike.

When Ruth went up to bed she was in a sort of maze. The old negro woman
whom she had seen downstairs came up to wait on her, and Miss Welch was
soon enlightened as to several things. One was, that Dr. Cary’s family
was one of the greatest in the State—perhaps, in the old woman’s
estimation, the greatest—except, of course, Mrs. Cary’s, to which
Mammy Krenda gave rather the pre-eminence as she herself had always
belonged to that family and had nursed Mrs. Cary and Miss Blair,
her daughter. According to her they had been very rich, but had lost
everything, first by the war, and then, by the wickedness of someone,
against whom the old woman was especially bitter. “He ain’ nuttin’ but
a low-down nigger-trader, nohow,” she declared, savagely. “He done
cheat ev’ybody out der home, he and dat Leech together, an’ now dey
think dey got ev’ything der own way, but dey’ll see. Dey’s dem as knows
how to deal wid ’em. An’ ef dee ever lay dee han’s pon me, dee’ll fine
out. We ain’ gwine live in blacksmiff shop always. Dem’s stirrin’ what
dee ain’ know ’bout, an’ some day dee’ll heah ’em comin for ’em to
judgment.”

“Ken I help you do anything?” she asked, presently.

“No, I thank you,” said Ruth, stiffly. “Good-night.”

“Good-night,” and she went.

“Why, she don’t like us as much as she does them!” said the girl to
herself, filled with amazement at this revolution of all her ideas.
“Well, Larry’s right. Miss Cary is charming,” she reflected.

As she dropped off to sleep she could hear the hum of voices below,
where Dr. Cary and her father were keeping up their discussion of the
war. And as she was still trying to make out what they were saying, the
sun came streaming into her room through a broken shutter and woke her
up.



CHAPTER XXV

THE TRICK-DOCTOR


Ruth Welch on awaking, still, perhaps, had some little feeling about
what she understood to be her hosts’ attitude on the question of
Northerners, but when on coming downstairs she was greeted on the
veranda by her young hostess, who presented her with a handful of dewy
roses, and looked as sweet as any one of them, or all of them put
together, her resentment vanished, and, as she expressed it to her
mother afterward, she “went over to the enemy bag and baggage.” As she
looked out through the orchard and across over the fields, glowing
after the last night’s rain, there came to Ruth for the first time that
tender feeling which comes to dwellers in the country, almost like a
sweet odor, and compensates them for so much besides, and which has
made so many a poet, whether he has written or not. Her hostess took
her around the yard to show her her rose-bushes, particularly one which
she said had come from one which had always been her mother’s favorite
at their old home.

“We have not always lived here?” Her voice had a little interrogation
in it as she looked at Ruth, much as if she had said, “You know?” And
just as if she had said it, Ruth answered, softly, “Yes, I know.”

“It was almost entirely destroyed once during the war when a regiment
of cavalry camped in the yard,” continued the young hostess, “and we
thought it gone; but to our delight a little sprig put up next spring,
and some day I hope this may be almost as good as the old one.” She
sighed, and her eyes rested on the horizon far away.

Ruth saw that the roses she had given her had come from that bush, and
she would have liked to stretch out her arms and take her into a bond
of hearty friendship.

Just then Major Welch appeared, and a moment later, breakfast was
announced. When they went into the little plain dining-room there were
other roses in an old blue bowl on the table, and Ruth saw that they
not only made the table sweet, but were arranged deftly to hide the
cracks and chipped places in the bowl. She was wondering where Dr. Cary
could be, when his daughter apologized for his absence, explaining
that he had been called up in the night to go and see a sick woman,
and then, in his name, invited them to remain as their guests as long
as might be convenient to them. They “might find it pleasanter than
to stay at Mr. Still’s?” This hospitality the travellers could not
accept, but Ruth appreciated it now, and she would have appreciated it
yet more could she have known that her young hostess, sitting before
her so dainty and fresh, had cooked their breakfast that morning. When
they left after breakfast, Miss Cary came out to their vehicle, giving
them full directions as to their road. Had her father been at home, she
said, he would have taken pleasure in conducting them himself as far as
the river. Uncle Tarquin would tell them about the ford.

The horse was held by an old colored man, of a dark mahogany hue,
with bushy gray hair, and short gray whiskers. On the approach of the
visitors he took off his hat and greeted them with an air as dignified
as Dr. Cary’s could have been. As he took leave of them, he might have
been a host bidding his guests good-by, and he seconded his mistress’s
invitation to them to come again.

When they drove off, Ruth somehow felt as if she were parting from
an old friend. Her little hostess’s patched table-cover and darned
dress, and cracked china hidden by the roses, all seemed to come before
her, and Ruth glanced at her father with something very like tears in
her eyes. They had been in her heart all the morning. Major Welch,
however, did not observe it. The fresh, balmy air filled his lungs
like a draught of new life, and he felt an interest in the country
about him, and a right to criticise it. It had been rich enough before
the war, he said, and might be made so now if the people would but give
up their prejudices and go to work. He added many other criticisms,
abstractly wise and sensible enough. Ruth listened in silence.

As the travellers drove along they passed a small house, just off
the road, hardly more than a double cabin, but it was set back amid
fruit-trees, sheltered by one great oak, and there was an air of
quietude and peace about it which went to Ruth’s soul. A lady in
black, with a white cap on her gray hair, and a white kerchief on her
shoulders, was sitting out on the little veranda, knitting, and Ruth
was sure that as they drove by she bowed to them.

The sense of peace was still on the girl when they came on a country
store, at a fork in the road a mile below. There was a well, off to
one side, and a small group of negroes stood around it, two or three
of them with muskets in their hands, and one with a hare hung at his
waist. Another, who stood with his back to the road and had a twisted
stick in his hand, and an old army haversack over his shoulder, was,
at the moment the wagon drew up, talking loudly and with vehement
gesticulation; and, as Major Welch stopped to ask a question, Ruth
caught the end of what this man was saying:

“I’m jest as good as any white man, and I’m goin’ to show ’em so. I’m
goin’ to marry a white ’ooman and meck white folks wait on me. When I
puts my mark agin a man he’s gone, whether he’s a man or a ’ooman, and
I’se done set it now in a gum-tree.”

His hearers were manifestly much impressed by him. An exclamation of
approval went round among them.

The little wagon stopping attracted attention, and the speaker turned,
and then, quickly, as if to make amends for his loud speech, pulled off
his hat and came toward the vehicle with a curious, cringing motion.

“My master; my mistis,” he said, bowing lower with each step until his
knee almost touched the ground. He was a somewhat strongly built, dark
mulatto, perhaps a little past middle age and of medium height, and, as
he came up to the vehicle, Ruth thought she had never seen so grotesque
a figure, and she took in by an instinct that this was the trick-doctor
of whom Dr. Cary had spoken. His chin stuck so far forward that the
lower teeth were much outside of the upper, or, at least, the lower jaw
was; for the teeth looked as though they had been ground down, and his
gums, as he grinned, showed as blue on the edges as if he had painted
them. His nose was so short and the upper part of his face receded so
much that the nostrils were unusually wide, and gave an appearance of
a black circle in his yellow countenance. His forehead was so low that
he had evidently shaved a band across it, and the band ran around over
the top of his flat head, leaving a tuft of coarse hair right in the
middle, and on either side of it were certain lines which looked as if
they had been tattooed. Immediately under these were a pair of little
furtive eyes which looked in quite different directions, and yet moved
so quickly at times that it almost seemed as if they were both focussed
on the same object. Large brass earrings were in his ears, and about
his throat was a necklace of blue and white beads.

Major Welch, having asked his question, drove on, the mulatto bowing
low at each step as he backed away with that curious motion toward
his companions by the well; and Ruth, who had been sitting very close
to her father, fascinated by the negro’s gaze and strange appearance,
could hardly wait to get out of hearing before she whispered: “Oh,
father, did you ever see such a repulsive-looking creature in all your
life?”

The Major admitted that he was an ugly fellow, and then, as a loud
guffaw came to them from the rear, added, with that reasonable sense
of justice which men possess and are pleased to call wisdom, that he
seemed to be very civil and was, no doubt, a harmless good-natured
creature.

“I don’t know,” said Ruth, doubtfully. “I only hope I shall never set
eyes on him again. I should die if I were to meet him alone.”

“Oh, nonsense!” said her father, reassuringly. “They are the most
good-natured, civil poor creatures in the world. I used to see them
during the war.”

The Major was still contesting Dr. Cary’s prejudices.



CHAPTER XXVI

MAJOR WELCH AND RUTH BECOME RESIDENTS


It was yet early in the day, when the travellers drove up to Red Rock,
and though there were certain things which showed that the place was
not kept up as it had formerly been, it was far handsomer, and appeared
to be more extensively cultivated, than any plantation they had yet
seen. A long line of barns and stables lay at some little distance
behind the mansion, half screened by the hill, and off to one side
stretched a large garden with shrubbery, apparently somewhat neglected,
at the far end of which was a grove or great thicket of evergreens and
other trees.

A tall man with a slight stoop in his shoulders came down the broad
steps, and advanced to meet them as they drove up.

“Is this Colonel Welch?” he asked.

“Well, not exactly, but Major Welch,” said that gentleman, pleasantly,
wondering how he could know him, “and you are—Mr. Still?”

“Yes, sir, I’m the gentleman: I’m Mr. Still—Colonel Still, some of ’em
calls me; but I’m like yourself, Colonel, I don’t care for titles. The
madam, I suppose, sir?” he smiled, as he handed Ruth down.

“No, my daughter, Miss Welch,” said the Major, a little stiffly, to
Ruth’s amusement.

“Ah! I thought she was a leetle young for you, Colonel; but sometimes
we old fellows get a chance at a fresh covey and we most always try
to pick a young bird. We’re real glad to see you, ma’am, and to have
the honor of entertainin’ so fine a young lady in our humble home. My
son Wash, the Doctor, ain’t at home this mornin’, but he’ll be back
to-night, and he’ll know how to make you have a good time. He’s had
advantages his daddy never had,” he explained.

There was something almost pathetic, Major Welch thought, in this
allusion to his son, and his recognition of his own failure to measure
up to his standard. It made Major Welch overlook his vulgarity and his
attempt to be familiar. And the Major decided anew that Hiram Still was
not half as black as he had been painted, and that the opposition to
him which he had discovered was nothing but prejudice.

As they entered the house, both Major Welch and Ruth stopped on the
threshold, with an exclamation. Before them stretched one of the most
striking halls Ruth had ever seen. At the other end was an open door
with a glimpse of green fields and blue hills in the distance; but it
was the hall itself that took Ruth’s eye. And it was the picture of
the man in the space just over the great fireplace that caught Major
Welch. The “Indian-killer” again stood before him. Clad in his hunter’s
garb, with the dark rock behind him, his broken rifle at his feet, his
cap on the back of his head, and his yellow hair pushed from under
it, his eyes fastened on Major Welch with so calm and yet so intense
a look that Major Welch was almost startled. That figure had suddenly
obliterated the years. It brought back to him vividly the whole of his
former visit.

Ruth, impressed by the expression of her father’s face, and intensely
struck by the picture, pressed forward to her father’s side, almost
holding her breath.

“I see you’re like most folks, ma’am; you’re taken first thing with
that picture,” said Still; then added, with a half laugh, “and it’s
the only picture in the batch I don’t really like. But I jist mortally
dislikes that, and I’d give it to anybody who’d take it down from thar,
and save me harmless.”

He went off into a half reverie. The Major was examining the frame
curiously. He put his finger on a dim, red smear on the bottom of
the frame. Memory was bringing back a long train of recollections.
Hardly more than ten years before, he had stood on that same spot and
done the same thing. This hall was thronged with a gay and happy and
high bred company. He himself was an honored guest. His gracious host
was standing beside him, telling him the story. He remembered it all.
Now—they were all gone. It was as if a flood had swept over them.
These inanimate things alone had survived. He ran his hand along the
frame.

The voice of his host broke in on his reflections.

“That thar red paint I see you lookin’ at, got on the frame one day
the picture fell down before the war. A nigger was paintin’ the hairth
right below it; it wa’n’t nailed then—and a gust of wind come up
sudden and banged a door and the picture dropped right down in the
paint. Mr. Gray, who used to own this place, was a settin’ right by
the winder where his secretary used to stand, and I had jest come back
from the South the day befo’ and was talkin’ to Mr. Gray about it in
the hall here that minute. ‘Well,’ says I to him, ‘if I was you, I’d
be sort o’ skeered to see that happen’;—because thar’s a story about
it, that whenever it comes down the old fellow in the grave-yard gits
up, and something’s goin to happen to the man as lives here. ‘No,’ he
says, ‘Hiram (he always called me Hiram), I’m not superstitious; but if
anything should happen, I have confidence in you to know you’d still be
faithful—a faithful friend to my wife and boys,’ he says, in them very
words. And I says to him, ‘Mr. Gray, I promise you I will, faithful.
And that’s what I’ve done, Major, I’ve kept my word and yet, see how
they treat me! So after I got the place I nailed the picture in the
wall—or rather just before that,” he said in his former natural voice,
“and it ain’t been down since, an’ it ain’t comin’ down neither.”

“But does that keep him from coming on his horse as they say? Has he
ever been seen since you nailed the frame to the wall?” Ruth asked.

“Well, ma’am, I can only tell you that I ain’t never seen him,” said
their host, with a faint, little smile. “Some says he’s still ridin’,
and every time they hears a horse nicker at night around here they say
that’s him; but I can’t say as I believes it.”

“Of course you cannot,” said the Major, a little abruptly, “for you
know it isn’t he; you have too much sense. A good head and a good
conscience never see apparitions.” The Major was still thinking of the
past.

“How like he is to a picture I saw at Dr. Cary’s, that they said was of
a young Mr. Gray who still lives about here,” said Ruth, recurring to
the picture. She turned and was surprised to see what a change had come
over her host’s face. He suddenly changed the subject.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve come down, Colonel. Only I’m sorry I didn’t know
just when you were coming. I’d have sent my carriage for you. I’ve been
lookin’ out for you, and I’ve got the prettiest place in the country
for you,” he said. He nodded over in the direction of the garden. “I
want to take you to see it. It will just suit you. The house ain’t big,
but the land’s as rich as low grounds.

“And you’re the very sort of a man we want here, Major. Your name
will be worth a heap to us. Between ourselves, you can conjure with a
Gover’ment title like a trick-doctor. Now, this fall, if you just go in
with us—How would you like to go to the Legislature?” he asked, his
voice lowered the least bit, and interrupting himself in a way he had.

“Not at all,” said Major Welch. “No politics for me. Why, I’m not
eligible—even if I settle here. I suppose there are some requirements
in the way of residence and so forth?”

“Oh! requirements ain’t nothin’. We’ve got the Legislature, you see,
and we—There’s some several been elected ain’t been here as long as
you’ll been when the election comes off.” He glanced at Major Welch
and interrupted himself again. “The fact is, Major,” he explained, in
a somewhat lower key, “we’ve had to do some things a leetle out of
the regular run—to git the best men we could. But if we could get a
gentleman like yourself——”

“No, I’m not in politics,” said Major Welch, decisively. “I’ve neither
experience nor liking for it, and I’ve come for business purposes——”

“Of course, you are quite right, Major, you’re just like me; but I
didn’t know what your opinion was. Well, you’ve come to the right place
for business, Major,” he said, in so changed a voice that he seemed
to be two persons speaking. “It’s the garden spot of the world—the
money’s jest layin’ round to waste on the ground, if the folks jist had
the sense to see it. All it wants is a little more capital. Colonel
Leech and them’s been talkin’ about runnin’ a railroad through this
region. You know after all’s said and done, Colonel, I ain’t nothin’
but a plain farmer. I talks about railroads, but, fact is, I’d ruther
see cotton and corn grow ’n the finest railroad’s ever run. My son
Wash, the Doctor, he’s got education, and he’s got city ways and wants
a railroad, and I says to him, that’s all right, Wash, you have yer
railroad and enjoy it, but jist let yer old pappy set on his porch and
see the crops grow. I’ve made ten thousand dollars a year clear money
on this place, and that’s good enough for me, I says. That may sound
like foolishness to you, Major, but that’s my raisin’, and a man can’t
git over his raisin’.”

This was a philosophic fact which the Major had often been struck with,
and it appeared to him now that he had a most excellent example of it
before him.

As Major Welch was desirous to get settled as soon as possible, he and
Ruth rode over that afternoon to take a look at the place Still had
spoken of. A detour of a mile or so brought them around to a small
farm-house with peaked roof and dormer windows, amid big locust-trees,
on top of a hill. Behind it, at a little distance, rose the line of
timbered spurs that were visible through the hall-door at Red Rock, and
in front a sudden bend brought the river in view, with an old mill on
its nearer bank, and the comb of water flashing over the dam. Ruth gave
an exclamation of delight. She sketched rapidly just what they could
do with the place. Still observed her silently, and when Major Welch
inquired what price was asked for the place, told him that he could
not exactly say that it was for sale. The Major looked so surprised at
this, however, that he explained himself.

“It is this way,” he said, “it is for sale and it ain’t.”

“Well, that’s a way I do not understand. Whose is it?” said Major
Welch, so stiffly that the other changed his tone.

“Well, the fact is, Colonel, to be honest about it,” he said, “this
here place belongs to me; but I was born on this here place, not
exactly in this house, but on the place, an’ I always thought’t if
anything was to happen—if my son Wash, the Doctor, was to git married
or anything, and take a notion to set up at Red Rock, I might come back
here and live—you see?”

The Major was mollified. He had not given the man credit for so much
sentiment.

“Of course, if you really wants it—?” began Still, but the Major said,
no, he would not insist on one’s making such a sacrifice; that such a
feeling did him credit.

So the matter ended in Still’s proposing to lease the place to the
Major, which was accepted, Major Welch agreeing to the first price
he named, only saying he supposed it was the customary figure, which
Still assured him was the case. He pointed out to him that the land was
unusually rich.

“What’s the name of the place?” asked Ruth.

“Well, ’tain’t got any special name. We call it Stamper’s,” Still said.

“Stamper—Stamper?” repeated the Major. “Where have I heard that name?”

“You might ’a heard of him in connection with the riot’t took place
near here a few years ago, when a dozen or so soldiers was murdered.
’Twas up here they hatched the plot and from here they started. They
moved away from here, and I bought it.”

It was not in this connection that the Major recalled the name.

“What was ever done about it?” he asked.

“Nothin’. What could you do?” demanded Still, tragically.

“Why arrest them and hang them, or send them to prison.”

Still gave an ejaculation.

“You don’t know ’em, Major! But we are gittin’ ’em straight now,” he
added.

On their return to Red Rock they found that Still’s son, the Doctor,
had arrived. He was a tall, dark, and, at a distance, a rather handsome
young man; but on nearer view this impression vanished. His eyes were
small and too close together, like his father’s, but instead of the
good-humored expression which these sometimes had, his had a suspicious
and ill-contented look. He dressed showily and evidently took great
pride in his personal appearance. He had some education and was fond of
making quotations, especially in his father’s presence, toward whom his
attitude was one of censoriousness and ill-humor.

His manner to the Major was always polite, and to Ruth it was
especially so; but to the servants it was arrogant, and to his father
it was little short of contemptuous. The Major heard him that evening
berating someone in so angry a tone that he thought it was a dog he was
scolding, until he heard Hiram Still’s voice in mild expostulation;
and again at the table that evening Dr. Still spoke to his father so
sharply for some little breach of table etiquette that the Major’s
blood boiled. The meekness with which the father took his son’s rebuke
did more to secure for him the Major’s friendship than anything else
that occurred during their stay with him.



CHAPTER XXVII

HIRAM STILL GETS A LEGAL OPINION AND CAPTAIN ALLEN CLIMBS FOR CHERRIES


As Major Welch was anxious to be independent, he declined Still’s
invitation to stay with him, and within a week he and Ruth were
“camping out” at the Stamper place, which he had rented, preparing it
for the arrival of Mrs. Welch and their furniture.

As it happened, no one had called on the Welches while they remained
at Still’s; but they were no sooner in their own house than all the
neighbors round began to come to see them.

Ruth found herself treated as if she were an old friend, and feeling as
if she had known these visitors all her life. One came in an old wagon
and brought two or three chairs, which were left until Ruth’s should
come; another sent over a mahogany table; a third came with a quarter
of lamb; all accompanied by some message of apology or friendliness
which made the kindness appear rather done to the senders than by them.

In the contribution which the Carys brought, Ruth found the two old
cups she had admired. She packed them up and returned them to Blair
with the sweetest note she knew how to write.

As soon as he was settled, Major Welch went to the Court-house
to examine the records. He had intended to go alone and had made
arrangements, the afternoon before, with a negro near by to furnish
him a horse next day; that evening, however, Still, who appeared to
know everything that was going on, rode over and asked if he could not
take him down in his buggy. He had to go there on some business, he
explained, and Colonel Leech would be there and had told him he wanted
to see the Major and talk over some matters, and wanted him to be there
too.

The Major would have preferred to go first without Still. However,
there was nothing else to do but to accept the offer he made of his
company; and the next morning Still drove over, and they set out
together, Ruth saying that she had plenty to occupy her until her
father’s return.

They had not been gone very long and Ruth was busying herself, out in
the yard, trimming the old rose-bushes into some sort of shape, when
she heard a step, and looking up saw coming across the grass, the small
man they had met in the road, who had told them the way to Dr. Cary’s.

He wasn’t “so very busy just then,” he said, and had come to see if
they “mightn’t like to have a little hauling done when their furniture
came.”

Ruth thought that her father had arranged with Mr. Still to have it
done.

“I ain’t particularly busy jest now, and I’d take feed along—I jest
thought I’d like to be neighborly,” repeated the man. “Hiram, I s’pect,
he’s chargin’ you some’n?”

Ruth supposed so.

“Well, if he ain’t directly, he will some way. The best way to pay
Hiram is to pay him right down.”

He asked Ruth if she would mind his going in and looking at the house,
and, when she assented, he walked around silently, looking at the two
rooms which she showed him: their sitting-room and her father’s room;
then asked if he could not look into the other room also. This was
Ruth’s chamber, and for a second she hesitated to gratify curiosity
carried so far; but reflecting that he was a plain countryman, and
might possibly misunderstand her refusal and be wounded, she nodded her
assent, and stepped forward to open the door. He opened it himself,
however, and walked in, stepping on tip-toe. He stopped in the middle
of the room and looked about him, his gaze resting presently on a nail
driven into a strip in the Avail just beside the bed.

“I was born in this here room,” he said, as much to himself as to her;
then, after a pause: “right in that thar cornder—and my father was
born in it before me and his father befo’ him, and to think that Hiram
owns it! Hiram Still! Well—well—things do turn out strange—don’t
they? Thar’s the very nail my father used to hang his big silver watch
on. I b’lieve I’d give Hiram a hoss for that nail, ef I knowed where I
could get another one to plough my crop.” He walked up and put his hand
on the nail, feeling it softly. Then walked out.

“Thankee, miss. Will you tell yo’ pa, Sergeant Stamper’d be glad to do
what he could for him, and ef he wants him jist to let him know?” He
had gone but a few steps, when he turned back: “And will you tell him I
say he’s got to watch out for Hiram?”

The next moment he was gone, leaving Ruth with a sinking feeling about
her heart. What could he mean?

She had not long to think of it, however, for just then she heard the
sound of wheels grinding along outside, and she looked out of the door
just as a rickety little wagon drew up to the door. She recognized the
driver as Miss Cary and walked out to meet her. Beside Blair in the
wagon sat, wrapped up in shawls, though the day was warm, an elderly
lady with a faded face, but with very pleasant eyes, looking down at
Ruth from under a brown veil. Ruth at first supposed that she was
Blair’s mother, but Blair introduced her as “Cousin Thomasia.” As they
helped the lady out of the vehicle, Ruth was amused at the preparation
she made. Every step she took she gave some explanation or exclamation,
talking to herself, it appeared, rather than to either of the girls.

“My dear Blair, for heaven’s sake don’t let his head go. Take care, my
dear, don’t let this drop.” (This to Ruth, about a package wrapped in
paper.)

When at length she was down on the ground, she asked Blair if her
bonnet was on straight: “Because, my dear”—and Ruth could not for her
life tell to whom she was speaking—“nothing characterizes a woman more
than her bonnet.”

Then having been assured that this mark of character was all right, she
turned to Ruth, and said, with the greatest graciousness:

“How do you do, my dear? You must allow me to kiss you. I am Cousin
Thomasia.”

Ruth’s surprised look as she greeted her, perhaps, made her add, “I am
everybody’s Cousin Thomasia.”

It was indeed as she said, she was everybody’s Cousin Thomasia, and
before she had been in the house ten minutes, Ruth felt as if she
were, at least, hers. She accepted the arm-chair offered her, with the
graciousness of a queen, and spread out her faded skirts with an air
which Ruth noted and forthwith determined to copy. Then she produced
her knitting, and began to knit so quietly that it was almost as if
the yarn and needles had appeared at her bidding. The next instant she
began a search for something—began it casually, so casually that she
knit between-times, but the search quickened and the knitting ceased.

“Blair?——!”

“You brought them with you, Cousin Thomasia.”

“No, my dear, I left them, I’m sure I left them——” (searching all the
time) “right on—Where can they be?”

“I saw you have them in the wagon.”

“Then I’ve dropped them—Oh, dear! dear! What shall I do?”

“What is it?” asked Ruth.

“My eyes, my dear—and I cannot read a word without them. Blair, we
must go right back and hunt for them.”

But Blair was up and searching, not on the floor or in the road; but
in the folds of Miss Thomasia’s dress; in the wrappings of the little
parcel which she still held in her lap.

“Here they are, Cousin Thomasia,” she exclaimed, triumphantly drawing
them out of the paper. “Right where you put them.”

Miss Thomasia gave a laugh as fresh as a girl’s.

“Why, so I did! How stupid of me!” She seated herself again, adjusted
her glasses and began to unwrap her parcel.

“Here, my dear, is a little cutting I have fetched you from a rose
which my dear mother brought from Kenilworth Castle, when she
accompanied my dear father to England. I was afraid you might not have
any flowers now, and nothing is such a panacea for loneliness as the
care of a rose-bush. I can speak from experience. The old one used
to grow just over my window at my old home and I took a cutting with
me when we went away—General Legaie obtained the privilege of doing
so—and you have no idea how much company it has been to me. I will
show you how to set it out.”

The glasses were on now, and she was examining the sprig of green in
the little pot with profound interest, while her needles flew.

“Where was your old home?” Ruth asked, softly.

“Here, my dear—not this place, but all around you. This was Mrs.
Stamper’s—one of our poor neighbors. But we lived at Red Rock.”

“Oh!” said Ruth, shocked at having asked the question.

“No matter, my dear,” the old lady went on. “Since we moved we have
lived at a little place right on the road. You must come over and let
me show you my roses there. But I don’t think they will ever be equal
to the old ones—or what the old ones were, for I hear they are nearly
all gone now—I have never been back since I left. I do not think I
could stand seeing that—person in possession of my father’s and my
brother’s estate.” She sighed for the first time, and for the first
time the needles, as she leant back, stopped.

“I wrapped up my glasses to keep from seeing it as we drove up the
hill. I wish they might let me lie there when I die, but I know they
will not.” Her gaze was out of the open door. In the silence which
followed her words the sound of a horse’s hoofs was heard.

“There is someone outside, my dear,” she said, placidly. Both Ruth and
Blair looked out.

“Why, it is the General,” said Blair, and Ruth wondered who the General
was, and wondered yet more to detect something very much like a flutter
in Miss Thomasia’s manner. Her hand went to her bonnet; to her throat;
she smoothed her already smooth skirts, and glanced around—ending in
a little appealing look to Blair. It was almost as if a white dove,
represented in some sacred mystery, had suddenly lost tranquillity.
When, however, the new visitor reached the door, Miss Thomasia was
quietude itself.

He stepped up to the door and gave a tap with the butt of his
riding-switch before he was aware of the presence of the three ladies;
then he took off his hat.

“Ladies,” he said, with quite a grand bow. At the same moment, both of
the ladies who knew him, spoke, but Ruth heard only Miss Thomasia’s
words:

“My dear, this is General Legaie, of whom you have often heard, our
old and valued friend.” Ruth had never heard of him, but she was
struck by him. He was not over five feet three inches high: not as
tall by several inches as Ruth herself; but his head, with curling
white hair, was so set on his shoulders, his form was so straight and
vigorous, and his countenance, with its blue eyes and fine mouth, so
handsome and self-contained, that Ruth thought she had never seen a
more martial figure. She thought instinctively of a portrait she had
once seen of a French Marshal; and when the General made his sweeping
bow and addressed her with his placid voice in old-fashioned phrase as,
“Madam,” the illusion was complete. Why, he was absolutely stately.
Then he addressed Miss Thomasia and Blair, making each of them a bow
and a compliment with such an old-fashioned courtesy that Ruth felt as
if she were reading a novel.

He had hoped to call and pay his respects before, he told Ruth, when
he had finished his greetings; but had been unavoidably delayed, and
it was a cause of sincere regret that he should be so unfortunate as
to miss her father. He had learned of his absence several miles below,
but he would not delay longer paying his devoirs to her; so had come
on. “And you see the triple reward I receive,” he said, with a glance
which included all three ladies, and a little laugh of pleasantry over
himself.

“See what an adept he is,” said Blair: “he compliments us all in one
breath.”

The General looked at Miss Thomasia as if he were going to speak
directly to her, but she was picking up a stitch, so he shifted his
glance to Blair, and, catching her eye, laughed heartily.

“Well? Why didn’t you say it?”

Miss Thomasia knitted placidly.

He shrugged his shoulders, laughed again, and changed his bantering
tone.

“Have you seen Jacquelin?” asked Miss Thomasia, who had calmly ignored
the preceding conversation.

“Yes, he’s all right—he came back yesterday and has gone in with Steve
Allen. They’ll get along. He’s just the sort of man Steve needed; he’ll
be his heavy artillery. He is looking into the matter of the bonds.”

Miss Thomasia sighed.

“Two young gentlemen of the County who are great friends of ours, Miss
Welch,” explained the General.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Major Welch and Mr. Still had reached the county seat.
During their ride, Still had given Major Welch an account of affairs
in the County, and of most of those with whom he would come in
contact. Steve Allen he described as a terrible character. It had been
a dreadful struggle that he himself and other Union men had had to
wage, he said. Leech was the leading Northern man in the County, and
was going to be Governor. But he was disposed to caution Major Welch
somewhat against even him. Leech did not exactly understand things; he
did not rely enough on his white friends. He would have turned out all
the white officials and filled their places with negroes. But Still had
insisted on keeping, at least, Mr. Dockett, the Clerk, in; because he
had charge of all the records. But Mr. Dockett had not acted exactly
right, he said, and he was afraid at the next election “they’d have to
let him go.” He had been “getting mighty unreasonable.” Some people
wanted his son, Wash, the Doctor, to run, but he “didn’t know about
it?” he said, with an interrogation in his voice.

Major Welch had supposed that the Doctor would find his profession
more profitable, or at least that it would take up all his time if he
proposed to follow it; but Still explained that there was not a great
deal of practice, and that the clerk’s place was a “paying office.”

When they arrived at Leech’s house Major Welch found it a big, modern
affair with a mansard roof, set in the middle of a treeless lot. To
Major Welch’s surprise, Leech was not at home. Still appeared much
disconcerted.

As they crossed the yard, the Major observed a sign over a door: “ALLEN
AND GRAY. LAW OFFICE.”

“If necessary we could secure their services,” he said, indicating the
sign.

Still drew up to his side, and lowered his voice, looking around: They
were the lawyers he had told him of, he said. That was “that fellow
Allen, the leader in all the trouble that went on.”

“Who’s Gray?” The Major was still scanning the sign.

Still gave a curious little laugh.

“He’s the one as used to own my place—Mr. Gray’s son. He’s a bad one,
too. He’s just come back and set up as a lawyer. Fact is, I believe
he’s set up as one, more to devil me than anything else.”

Major Welch said, dryly, that he did not see why his setting up as a
lawyer should bedevil him. Still hesitated.

“Well, if he thinks he could scare me——”

“I don’t see how he could scare you. I would not let him scare me,”
said Major Welch, dryly.

“You don’t know ’em, Colonel,” said Still. “You don’t know what we
Union men have had to go through. They won’t let us buy land, and they
won’t let us sell it. They hate you because you come from the North,
and they hate me because I don’ hate you. I tell you all the truth,
Colonel, and you don’t believe it—but you don’t know what we go
through down here. We’ve got to stand together. You’ll see.” The man’s
voice was so earnest, and his face so sincere that Major Welch could
not help being impressed.

“Well, I’ll show him and everyone else pretty quickly that that is not
the way to come at me,” said Major Welch, gravely. “When I get ready to
buy, I’ll buy where I please, and irrespective of anyone else’s views
except the seller’s.” And he walked up to the door, without seeing the
look on Still’s face.

The only occupants of the clerk’s office were two men; one was an old
man, evidently the clerk, with a bushy beard and keen eyes gleaming
through a pair of silver spectacles. The other was a young man and a
very handsome one, with a broad brow, a strongly chiselled chin, and
a very grave and somewhat melancholy face. He was seated in a chair
directly facing the door, examining a bundle of old chancery papers
which were spread out on his knee and on a chair beside him, and as the
visitors entered the door he glanced up. Major Welch was struck by his
fine eyes, and the changed look that suddenly came into them. Still
gave his arm a convulsive clutch, and Major Welch knew by instinct that
this was the man of whom Still had just spoken.

If Jacquelin Gray was really the sort of man Still had described him to
be, and held the opinions Still had attributed to him, he played the
hypocrite very well, for he not only bowed to Major Welch very civilly,
if distantly, but to do so even rose from his seat at some little
inconvenience to himself, as he had to gather up the papers spread on
his knee. It is true that he took not the least notice of Still, who
included him as well as the clerk in his greeting, the only evidence
he gave of being aware of the presence of his former manager, being
contained in a certain quiver of the nostrils, as Still passed him.

Major Welch was introduced by Still to the clerk, and stated his
errand, wondering at the change in his companion’s voice.

“He’s afraid of that young man,” he thought to himself, and he
stiffened a little as the idea occurred to him; and at the first
opportunity he glanced again at Jacquelin, who was once more busy with
his bundle of papers, in which be appeared completely absorbed. Still
was following the clerk, who, with his spectacles on the tip of his
long nose, was looking into the files of his deed-books; but Major
Welch saw that Still was not attending to him; his eyes were turned
and were fastened on the young lawyer, quite on the other side of the
room. As the Major looked he was astonished to see Still start and put
out his hand as though to support himself. Following Still’s gaze he
glanced across at Jacquelin. He had taken several long, narrow slips
of paper out of the bundle, and was at the instant examining them
curiously, oblivious of everything else. Major Welch looked back at
Still, and he was as white as a ghost. Before he could take it in,
Still muttered something and turned to the door. As he walked out he
tottered so that Major Welch, thinking he was ill, followed him.

Outside, the air revived Still somewhat, and a drink of whiskey which
he got at the tavern bar, and told the bar-keeper to make “stiff,” set
him up a good deal. He had been feeling badly for some time, he said;
thought he was a little bilious.

Just as they came out of the bar, they saw young Gray cross the
court-green and go over to his office.

They returned to the clerk’s office, and Major Welch was soon running
through the deeds, while Still, after looking over his shoulder for a
moment or two, took a seat near Mr. Dockett and began to talk to him.
He appeared much interested in the old fellow, his family, and all that
belonged to him, and Major Welch was a little amused at the old man’s
short replies.

His attention was attracted by Still’s saying casually that he’d like
to see the papers in that old suit of his against the Gray estate, if
he could lay his hands on them, and the clerk’s dry answer that he
could lay his hands on any paper in the office, and that the papers in
question were in the “ended-causes” case. “Mr. Jacquelin Gray was just
looking over them as you came in,” he said, as he rose to get them.

“Well, let him look,” Still growled, with a sudden change of tone. “He
can look all he wants, and he won’t git around them bonds.”

“Oh, no! I don’t say as he will,” the old officer answered.

“I’d like to take ’em home with me—” Still began; but the clerk cut
him short.

“I can’t let you do that. You’ll have to look at ’em here in the
office.”

“Why, they’re nothin’ but—I want Colonel Welch here to look at
’em—they’ll show him how the lands come to me—I’ll bring ’em back——”

“I can’t let you take ’em out of the office.” His tone was as dry as
ever.

“Well, I’d like to know why not? They don’t concern nobody but me, and
they’re all ended.”

“That’s the very reason you can’t take ’em out; they’re part of the
records of this office——”

“Well, I can take the bonds out, anyway,” Still persisted; “they is
mine, anyhow.”

“No, you can’t take them, either.”

Still did not often lose his temper, or show it, if he did; but this
time he lost it.

“Well, I’ll show you if I can’t, before the year is out, Mr. Dockett.
I’ll show you who I am!” He rose with much feeling.

“I know who you are.” The old fellow turned and shot a piercing glance
at him over his spectacles, and Major Welch watched complacently to see
how it would end.

“Well, if you don’t, I mean to make you know it. I’ll show you you
don’t own this County. I’ll show you who is the bigger man, you or the
people of this County. You think because you been left in this office
that you own it; but I’ll——”

“No, I don’t,” the old man said, firmly; “I know you’ve got negroes
enough to turn me out if you choose; but I want to tell you that until
you do I’m in charge here, and I run the office according to what I
think is my duty, and the only way to change it is to turn me out. Do
you want to see the papers or not? You can look at ’em here just as
everybody else does.”

“That’s right,” said Major Welch, meaning to explain that it was the
law. Still took it in a different sense, however, and quieted down. He
would look at them, he said, sulkily, and, taking the bundle, he picked
out the same slips which young Gray had been examining.

“You’re so particular about your old papers,” he said, as he held up
one of the slips, “I wonder you don’t keep ’em a little better. You got
a whole lot o’ red ink smeared on this bond.”

“I didn’t get it on it.” The clerk got up and walked across the room to
look at the paper indicated, adjusting his spectacles as he did so. One
glance sufficed for him.

“That ain’t ink, and if ’tis, it didn’t get on it in this office. That
stain was on that bond when Leech filed it. I remember it particularly.”

“I don’t know anything about that—I know it wa’n’t on it when I give
it to him, and I don’t remember of ever having seen it before,” Still
persisted.

“Well, I remember it well—I remember speaking of it to him, because
we thought ’twas finger-marks, and he said ’twas on it when you gave it
to him.”

“Well, I know ’twant,” Still repeated, hotly. “If ’twas on thar when he
brought it here he got ’t on it himself, and I’ll take my oath to it.
Well, that don’t make any difference in the bond, I s’pose? It’s just
as good with that on it as if ’twant?”

“Oh, yes; that’s so,” said Mr. Dockett. “If it’s all right every other
way, that won’t hurt it.”

Still looked at him sharply.

As they drove home, Still, after a long period of silence, suddenly
asked Major Welch, within what time after a case was ended a man could
bring a suit to upset it.

“Well, I don’t know what the statutes of this State are, but he can
generally bring it without limit, on the ground of fraud,” said the
Major, “unless he is estopped by laches.”

“What’s that?” asked Still, somewhat huskily, and the Major started to
explain; but Still was taken with another of his ill turns.

That same afternoon, a little before Major Welch’s return, Ruth was
walking about the yard, looking, every now and then, across the hill,
in the direction of Red Rock, from which her father should soon be
coming, when, as she passed near a cherry-tree, she observed that some
of the fruit was already ripe. One or two branches were not very high.
She had been feeling a little lonely, and it occurred to her that it
would be great fun to climb the tree. She had once been a good climber,
and she remembered the scoldings she had received for it from her
mother, who regarded it as “essentially frivolous,” and had once, as
a punishment, set her to learn all the names of all the branches of a
tree which hung on the nursery wall, and represented, allegorically,
all the virtues and vices, together with a perfect network of
subsidiary qualities. She could remember many of them now— “Faith,
Hope, Temperance,” and so on.

“Dear mamma,”she thought, with a pang of homesickness, “I wish she were
here now.” This reflection only made her more lonely, and to overcome
the feeling she turned to the more material and attractive tree.

“I could climb that tree easily enough,” she said,”and there’s no
one to know anything about it. Even mamma would not mind that much.
Besides, I could see papa from a greater distance and I’ll get him some
cherries for his tea.”

These last two considerations were sufficient to counterbalance the
idea of maternal disapproval. So Ruth turned up the skirt of her dress,
pinned it so that it would not be stained, and five minutes later was
scrambling up the tree. Higher and higher she went up, feeling the
old exhilaration of childhood as she climbed. What a fine view there
was from her perch! the rolling hills, the green low-grounds, the
winding river, the blue mountains behind and, away to the eastward,
the level of the tide-water country almost as blue at the horizon as
the mountains to the westward. How still it was too! Every sound was
distinct: the lowing of a cow far away toward Red Rock, the notes of a
thrush in a thicket, and the chirp of a sparrow in an old tree. Ruth
wished she could have described it as she saw it, or, rather, as she
felt it, for it was more feeling than seeing, she thought. But the
best cherries were out toward the ends of the limbs, so she secured a
safe position and set to work, gathering them. She was so engrossed in
this occupation that she forgot everything else until she heard the
trampling of a horse’s feet somewhere. It was quite in a different
direction from that in which she expected her father, but supposing
that it was he, Ruth gave a little yodel, with which she often greeted
him when at a distance, and climbed out on a limb that she might look
down and see him. How astonished and amused he would be, she thought.
Yes, there he was, coming around the slope just below her, but how
was he going to get across the ditch? If only that bough were not in
the way! Ah! now she had the bough and could pull it aside. Heavens!
it was a stranger, and he was near enough for her to see that he was
a young man. What should she do? Suppose he should have heard her! At
the moment she looked he was putting his horse at the ditch—a splendid
jump it was. She let the bough go and edged in toward the body of the
tree, listening and half seeing the rider below through the leaves as
he galloped up into the yard. Perhaps he had not seen her? She crouched
down. It was a vain hope, for the next instant he turned his horse’s
head toward the tree and drew him in almost under her.

“I say—Is anyone at home?” he asked. The voice was a very deep and
pleasant one. Although Ruth was sure he was speaking to her, she did
not answer.

“I say, little girl, are Colonel Welch and his daughter at home?”

This time he looked up. So Ruth answered. No, they were not at home.
Her voice sounded curiously quavering.

“Ah! I’m very sorry. When will they be at home? Can you tell me?”

“Ah! ur—not exactly,” quavered Ruth, crouching still closer to the
tree-trunk and gathering in her skirts.

“You have some fine cherries up there!”

Oh, heavens! why didn’t he go away!

To this she made no answer, hoping he would go. He caught hold of a
bough, she thought, to pull some cherries; wrapped his reins around it,
and the next moment stood up in his saddle, seized a limb above him and
swung himself up. In her astonishment Ruth almost stopped breathing.

“I believe I’ll try a few—for old times’ sake,” he said to himself, or
to her, she could not tell which, and swung himself higher. “I don’t
suppose Colonel Welch would object.”

The next swing brought him up to the limb immediately below Ruth, and
he turned and looked up at her where she sat in the fork of the limb.
Her face had been burning ever since she had been discovered, and was
burning now; but she could not help being amused at the expression
which came into the stranger’s eyes as he looked at her. Astonishment,
chagrin, and amusement were all stamped there, mingled together.

“What on earth!—I beg your pardon—” he began, his eyes wide open with
surprise, gazing straight into hers. The next instant he burst out
laughing, a peal so full of real mirth that Ruth joined in and laughed
with all her might too.

“I’m Captain Allen, Steve Allen—and you are——?”

“Miss Welch—when I’m at home.”

He pulled himself up to the limb on which Ruth sat and coolly seated
himself near her.

“I hope you will be at home—Miss Welch; for I am. I used to be very
much at home in this tree in old times, which is my excuse for being
here now, though I confess I never found quite such fruit on it as it
seems to bear to-day.”

The twinkle in his gray eyes and a something in his lazy voice reminded
Ruth of Reely Thurston. The last part of his speech to her sounded
partly as if he meant it, but partly as if lie were half poking fun at
her and wished to see how she would take it. She tried to meet him on
his own ground.

“If you had not made yourself somewhat at home you would not have found
it now.” She was very demure.

Steve lifted his eyes to her quickly, and she was rather nettled to see
that he looked much amused at her speech.

“Exactly. You would not have had me act otherwise, I hope? We always
wish our guests to make themselves at home. You Yankees don’t want to
be behind us.”

She saw his eyes twinkle, and felt that he had said it to draw her
fire, but she could not forbear firing back.

“No, but sometimes it does not seem necessary, as you _Rebels_ appear
inclined to make yourselves at home—sometimes even without an
invitation.” Her chin went up a point.

Steve burst out laughing.

“A good square shot. I surrender, Miss Welch.”

“What! so easily? I thought you Rebels were better fighters? I have
heard so.”

Steve only laughed.

“‘He that fights and runs away,’ you know. I can’t run, so I surrender.
May I get you some cherries? The best are out on the end of the limbs,
and I am afraid you might fall.” His voice had lost the tone of
badinage and was full of deference and protection.

Ruth said she believed that she had all the cherries she wanted. She
had, perhaps, a dozen—. She was wondering how she should get down, and
was in a panic lest her father should appear and find her up in the
tree with this strange young man.

In reply to her refusal, however, Steve looked at her quizzically.

“You want to get down.” This in assertion rather than in question.

“Yes.” Defiantly.

“And you can’t get down unless I let you?”

“N—n— “ She caught herself quickly, “I thought you had surrendered?”

“Can’t a prisoner capture his captor?”

“Not if he has given his parole and is a gentleman.” Steve whistled
softly. His eyes never left her face.

“Will you invite me in?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because——”

“I see.” Steve nodded.

“Because my father is not at home.”

“Oh! All the more reason for your having a protector.”

“No. And I will make no terms with a prisoner.”

With a laugh Steve let himself down to the limb below. Then he stopped
and turning looked up at her.

“May I help you down?” The tone was almost humble.

“No, I thank you, I can get down.” Very firmly.

“I must order your father to remain at home,” he smiled.

“My father is not one to take orders; he gives them,” she said, proudly.

Captain Allen looked up at her, the expression of admiration in his
eyes deepened. “I think it likely,” he said with a nod. “Well, I
don’t always take them so meekly myself. Good-by. Do you require your
prisoner to report at all?” He held out his hand.

“Good-by—I—don’t know: No.”

He smiled up at her. “You don’t know all your privileges. Good-by. I
always heard you Yankees were cruel to prisoners.”

It was said in such a way that Ruth did not mind it, and did not even
wish to fire back. The next minute Steve was on his horse, cantering
away without looking back, and curiously, Ruth, still seated on her
leafy perch, was conscious of a feeling of blankness.

“I hate that man,” she said to herself, “he has been doing nothing but
make fun of me. But he is amusing—and awfully handsome. And what a
splendid rider! I wonder if he will have the audacity to come back?”

As she reached the ground she saw her father far across the field,
coming up the same road along which her visitor was going away. When
the two men met they stopped and had a little talk, during which Ruth
watched with curiosity to see if Captain Allen would return. He did
not, however. It was only a moment and then he cantered on, leaving
Ruth with a half disappointed feeling, and wondering if he had told her
father of their meeting.

When Major Welch arrived, Ruth waited with some impatience to discover
if he had been told. He mentioned that he had met Mr. Allen and
thought him a striking-looking and rather nice fellow; had invited him
to return, but he said he could not, that he had seen her, and would
call again.

“He is a gentlemanly fellow, but is said to be one of the most
uncontrolled men about here, the leader in all the lawlessness that
goes on.”

Ruth thought of what the old mammy at Dr. Cary’s had told her. She
wished to change the subject.

“Did he say where we met?” she asked, laughing and blushing.

“No, only said he had met you.”

“He caught me up in a cherry-tree.”

“What! Well, he’s a nice fellow,” said her father, and Ruth had begun
to think so too.



CHAPTER XXVIII

MRS. WELCH ARRIVES AND GIVES HER FIRST LESSON IN ENTERPRISE


The next day, Still called to see Major Welch and made him a
proposition to sell him a part of the Red Rock place. On thinking
it over, he said, he believed he’d rather have the Major as a near
neighbor than to have him farther off, and he also believed that the
Major would find it safer to buy from him a place he had got under
decree of court, and had already held quietly for some time, than to
buy a place about which there might be a question and where he’d be
sure to incur the enmity of the old owners.

This reason, to judge from Major Welch’s expression, did not make much
impression on him. He did not wish to incur anyone’s enmity, he said.
But if he bought honestly, and became the lawful owner of a place, he
should not mind what others thought.

Still shook his head. Major Welch did not know these people, he said.
“And to be honest with you, Major, I feel as if having you right here
by me was a sort of protection. They daresn’t touch a gentleman who’s
been in the Union army, and who’s got big friends. And that’s one
reason I’d like to have you right close to me.”

His manner had something so sincere in it that it was almost pathetic.
So, as he made Major Welch what appeared to be really a very reasonable
proposal, not only as to the Stamper place, but also as to several
hundred acres of the Red Rock land adjoining, the Major agreed to take
it under advisement, and intimated that if the title should prove all
right, and Mrs. Welch should like the idea when she arrived he would
probably purchase.

Within a week or two following Major Welch’s trip to the county seat,
and Still’s offer to sell him the Stamper place and a part of Red Rock,
Mrs. Welch arrived. Mrs. Welch, in her impatience, could not wait for
the day she had set and arrived before she was expected. The telegram
she had sent had miscarried, and when she reached the station there was
no one present to meet her.

A country station is a sad place at best to one who has just left the
bustle and life of a city; but to be deposited, bag and baggage, in a
strange land and left alone without anyone to meet you, and without
knowing a soul, is forlorn to the last degree.

Strong as she was, Mrs. Welch, when the train whirled away and no one
came to her, felt a sense of her isolation strike her to the heart. A
two-horse carriage, the only one in sight, stood near a fence at some
little distance, and for a short while she thought it might have come
for her, and she waited for some moments; but presently a tall colored
man and a colored woman got into it. The man was glittering with a
shining silk-hat and a long broad-cloth coat; and the woman was in a
brand-new silk, and wore a vivid bonnet. Even then, it occurred to Mrs.
Welch that, perhaps, the man was the coachman, and, for a moment, she
was buoyed by hope, but she was doomed to disappointment. The man was
talking loudly, and apparently talked to be heard by all around him.
Mrs. Welch could hear something of what he said.

“We’re all right. We’ve got ’em down, and we mean to keep ’em down,
too, by ——!” A shout followed this.

“Yes, the bottom rail is on top, and we mean to keep it so till the
fence rots down, by ——!” Another burst of laughter. “You jest stick
to me and Leech, and we’ll bring you to the promised land. Yas, we’re
in the saddle, and we mean to stay there. We’ve got the Gov’ment behind
us, and we’ll put a gun in every colored man’s hand and give him, not
a mule, but a horse to ride, and we’ll dress his wife in silk and give
her a carriage to ride in, same’s my wife’s got.”

“Ummh! heah dat! Yes, Lord! Dat’s what I want,” cried an old woman,
jumping up and down in her ecstasy, to the amusement of the others.

“A _mule’s_ good ’nough for me—I b’lieve I ruther have mule ’n hoss,
I’se fotched up wid mules,” called out someone, which raised a great
laugh, and some discussion.

“Well, all right; you shall have your ruther. Everyone shall take his
pick. We’ll do the ridin’ now.”

Mrs. Welch was listening with keen interest. The speaker, who was
Nicholas Ash, the member from Red Rock, gathered up the reins. As he
did so, someone called:

“You better watch out for de K. K.’s,” at which there was a roar of
laughter.

“They’s the one’s I’m lookin’ for. I’m just fixed for ’em, by ——!”
shouted the statesman.

“Dee ain’ gwine meddle wid him,” said someone in the crowd, admiringly.

“Don’ know. I wouldn’ drive roun’ heah and talk ’bout ’um like he does,
not for dat mule he gwine gi’ me.” The laughter that greeted this
showed that others besides the speaker held the same views.

As the carriage drove off, Mrs. Welch’s heart sank. Her last hope was
gone. She was relieved somewhat by the approach of the station-agent,
who up to that time had been engaged about his duties, and who now,
seeing a lady standing outside, came up to her. Mrs. Welch told who she
was. He had heard that Mrs. Welch was expected, but did not know the
day. No telegrams, such as she spoke of, had passed through his office,
and it was an all-day’s ride up to Red Rock when the roads were bad.
He invited her to remain as his guest. “People right often did so when
they came, unexpected-like.”

Mrs. Welch thanked him, but thought she would prefer to go on, if she
could get a conveyance, even if she could go that night only as far as
Brutusville.

“Can’t I get some sort of wagon?” she inquired.

The agent gazed at her with a serenity that was in strong contrast with
her growing decisiveness. He did not know as she could, the mail-wagon
went over in the morning after the early train; people generally went
by that. Dill Herrick had a sort of a wagon, and folks sometimes took
it if they got there too late for the mail-wagon and were in too big a
hurry to wait till next day. But Dill was away that day. The wagon was
there, but Dill had gone away on his horse and would not be back till
next day.

All this was told in the most matter-of-fact way, as if it was quite as
much a thing of course as any other order of nature. Mrs. Welch was on
her metal. She would for once give this sleepy rustic an illustration
of energy; she would open his eyes.

“Well, is that the _only_ horse anywhere about here?” Her tone was
energetic, perhaps even exasperated. The agent was unmoved.

“No’m; Al Turley’s got a _sort_ of a horse, but he don’t work very
well. And Al ain’t got any wagon.”

This was too much for Mrs. Welch.

“Don’t you think we might get a horse of one man and the wagon and
harness of the other, and put them together?” she laughed.

The agent was not so sure. Al might be going to use his horse, and he
“didn’t work so well, anyhow.”

“But he does work?” Mrs. Welch persisted.

“Oh, yes’m—_some_. Al ploughs with him.”

“Well, now, let’s see what a little enterprise will do. I’ll pay well
for both horse and wagon.”

The agent went off, and after a time came back. Al would see what he
could do. But again he renewed his invitation to her to wait until
to-morrow. He was almost urgent; he painted the difficulties of the
journey in the gloomiest colors. Mrs. Welch now, however, had set her
mind on carrying out her plans. It had become a matter of principle
with her. She had come down here to show what energy would accomplish,
and she might as well begin now.

While she waited, she passed her time watching the negroes who were
congregated about a small building which seemed to be part store, part
bar-room, though from her observation the latter was its principal
office.

They were a loud and slovenly set, but appeared to be good-humored, and
rather like children engaged in rough horse-play; and when their voices
sounded most like quarrelling they would suddenly break out in loud
guffaws of laughter.

They were so boisterous at times that Mrs. Welch was glad when the
station-agent returned and asked if she wouldn’t go over and sit in
his house till Al came. She would have done so, but, as he evidently
intended to remain in the office, she thought it would be a good
opportunity to learn something about the negroes, and perhaps also to
teach him a little on her part.

“Were the negroes not improving?” she asked. Her companion’s whole
manner changed. She was surprised to see what a keen glance was
suddenly shot at her from under his light brows.

“Not as I can see—You can see ’em yonder for yourself.”

“Do they ever give you trouble?”

“Me?—No’m; don’t never give _me_ trouble,” he answered, negligently.
“Don’ give nobody as much trouble as they did.”

Mrs. Welch was just thinking this corroborative of her own views when
he, with his back to her, stooped for something, and the butt of a
pistol gleamed in his trousers pocket. Mrs. Welch froze up. She could
hardly refrain from speaking of it. She understood now the significance
of his speech. Just then there was quite a roar outside, followed by
the rattle of wheels, and the next instant Mrs. Welch’s vehicle drew
up to the door. For a moment Mrs. Welch’s heart failed her, and she
regretted the enterprise which had committed her to such a combination.
In the shafts of a rickety little wagon—the wheels of which wobbled
in every direction and made four distinct tracks—was a rickety little
yellow horse which at that moment, to the great diversion of the crowd
of negroes outside, was apparently attempting to back the wagon through
a fence. One instant he sat down in the shafts, and the next reared
and plunged and tried to go any way but the right way. Two negroes
were holding on to him while the others were shouting with laughter
and delight. The driver was a spare, dingy-looking countryman past
middle age, and was sitting in the wagon, the only creature in sight
that appeared to be unmoved by the excitement. Mrs. Welch’s heart sank,
and even after the plunging little animal was quieted she would have
declined to go; but it was too late now. She had never put her hand to
the plough and turned back.

“I can manage him,” said the driver serenely, seeing her hesitation.
And as there were many assurances that he was “all right now,” and
everyone was expecting her to get in, she summoned the courage and
climbed in.

It was a wearying drive. The roads were the worst Mrs. Welch had ever
seen, but, in one way, there was excitement enough. The tedium was
relieved by the occasional breaking of the harness and the frequent
necessity of dismounting to walk up the hill when the horse balked.

The day before had been very warm, and Mrs. Welch’s journey had not
been a comfortable one, and this last catastrophe capped the climax.
But she did not complain—she considered querulousness a sin—it was a
sign of weakness. Perhaps, she even found a certain satisfaction in her
discomfort. She had not come for comfort. But when the harness broke
for the half-dozenth time, she asked:

“Why don’t you keep your harness in good order?”

The somewhat apathetic look in the driver’s face changed.

“‘Tain’t my harness.”

“Well, whosever it is, why don’t he keep it in order?”

“You’ll have to ask Dill that,” he said, dryly.

When, a few minutes later, they came to their next stand she began
again:

“Why don’t you keep your roads repaired and rebuild your fences?”

“I don’t live about here.” This time the tone was a little shorter.

“Well, it’s the same all the way. It’s been just as bad from the start.
What is the reason?” she persisted.

“Indeed, ma’am I don’t know,” he drawled, “some says it’s the Yankee
carpet-baggers steals all the money—”

“Well, I don’t believe it—I believe it’s that the people are just
shiftless,” Mrs. Welch fired back.

The man, for answer, only jerked his horse: “Git up!”

“A dull fellow,” thought Mrs. Welch, and presently she essayed again:

“The Yankees are thrifty enough. In all the North there is not such a
road as this. I wish you could see their villages, how snug and trig
and shipshape they are: houses painted, fences kept up, everything nice
and neat.”

“Maybe, that’s where they puts the money they steals down here,” said
the driver, more dryly than before.

Mrs. Welch grew hot, but she could not help being amused too.

“It must be an accident, but I’ll write that home,” thought she.
She, however, had not much time to think. For just then they were
descending a steep hill and the breeching gave way, the wagon ran down
on the horse, and, without a second’s warning, the little steed, like
the Gadarine swine, ran violently down the steep hill, and on up the
road. The driver, who was swinging to him for life, was in the act of
assuring Mrs. Welch that she need not be scared as he could hold him,
when the rein broke and he went out suddenly backward over the wheel,
and Mrs. Welch herself must soon have followed him, had not a horseman
unexpectedly dashed up from behind and, spurring his fleet horse beside
the tearing little beast in the wagon, seized the runaway by the bridle
and brought it to a stand-still.

The transition from the expectation of immediate injury, if not death,
to absolute security is itself a shock, and even after the vehicle was
quite still, Mrs. Welch, who had been holding on to its sides with all
her might, could hardly realize her escape. Her first thought was for
the driver.

“Oh! I’m afraid that poor man is killed!” she exclaimed.

“Oh! he’s all right. I hope you are not hurt, madam?” said her rescuer,
solicitously. “I think I’d better hold the horse, or I would come and
take you out.”

Mrs. Welch assured him that she was not at all hurt, and she sprang out
and declared that she would go back at once and look after the driver.
Just then, however, the driver appeared, covered with dust, but not
otherwise injured.

“Well, I was just sayin’ I’d saved Al, anyhow,” he said as he came up.
“And I’m glad to find, Cap’n, you saved the others.”

“What are you going to do now?” Mrs. Welch asked when the driver had
finished talking to the gentleman, and begun to work at the harness.

“I’m going to take you to the Cote-house. I told you I’d do it.”

“Behind that horse!”

“Ain’t nothin’ the matter with the hoss—it’s the gear.”

“I think I’d better take her,” the young man who had rescued her said,
though with a little hesitation. “I can take her behind me, and get her
there by the through way.”

“What! On that horse? I can’t ride that creature,” declared Mrs. Welch
with wide-open eyes, looking at his handsome horse which was still
prancing from excitement.

“Why, he’s as quiet as a lamb—he’s carried double many a time, and
several ladies have ridden him. I could get you there much quicker than
you can drive. All you have to do is to hold on to me. Whoa, boy!”

“I know that sort of lamb,” declared Mrs. Welch, “What shall I do with
my trunk?”

The young man’s confidence was telling on her and she was beginning to
yield. The choice was between the two horses and she had had experience
with one.

“Oh! your trunk’s all right. I’ll carry your trunk on,” agreed the
driver. He had finished his mending and was gathering up his reins.

“Do you mean that you are going to get in there and try to drive that
horse again?”

“That’s what I’m agoin’ to do ’m.”

“Then I’ll get in, too,” declared Mrs. Welch, firmly. Her face was
pale, but there was a light in her eyes that made her suddenly
handsome. The two men looked at her and both began to expostulate.

“I made him come, and I don’t mean that he shall risk his neck for me
alone,” she declared, firmly, gathering up her skirts. But the horseman
suddenly interfered.

“I couldn’t let you be run away with again under my very eyes,” he
said, smiling, “I might be held accountable by your dau——by your
fam——your Government.”

Mrs. Welch was not accustomed to being talked to in this way; but she
liked him none the less for it. However, she would not yield.

It was finally agreed that a trial should be made first without her,
and then, if the horse went all right, she could get in. Both men
insisted on this, and as they explained that the driver could manage
the horse better without her, she temporized. Indeed she was obliged to
do so, for the young man who had rescued her told her plainly, though
politely, that he would not allow her to get in the wagon again until
the experiment had been made.

[Illustration: “I COULDN’T LET YOU BE RUN AWAY WITH AGAIN UNDER MY VERY
EYES,” HE SAID.]

After a little time, as the horse appeared to have been sobered by
his unwonted exertion, she was allowed to mount once more, and so
proceeded, the young gentleman riding close beside the horse, to
prevent any further trouble.

Mrs. Welch at last had time to look at her deliverer. He was a tall,
fine-looking young fellow, with the face and address of a gentleman.
A slouch hat, much weather-stained, and a suit of clothes by no means
new, at first sight made his dress appear negligent, but his voice was
as refined as any Mrs. Welch had ever heard; his manner was a mixture
of deference and protection, and his face, with clear, gray eyes, firm
mouth, and pleasant smile, gave him an air of distinction and was one
of the most attractive she had ever seen.

He had introduced himself to her when he first spoke; Captain Somebody,
he said, but as she had been rather agitated at that moment she had not
caught the name, and she waited until he should mention it again or
she should get a chance to ask the driver. When she did ask him, she
understood him to say Captain Naline.

After a time, as the horse was now quiet and there were no more bad
hills, the gentleman said he had an engagement, and would have to ride
on. So, as Mrs. Welch declared herself now entirely easy in her mind,
he bade her good-evening and galloped on, and soon afterward Mrs. Welch
was met by her husband on his way over to the station with a carriage.



CHAPTER XXIX

MRS. WELCH ENTERS THE HARVEST


Mrs. Welch had not been in the County forty-eight hours before she was
quite satisfied that this was the field for her work, and that she was
the very laborer for this field.

In three days the signs of her occupation and energy were unmistakable.
Every room in the little cottage was scoured afresh, and things were
changed within the old house, and were undergoing a change without,
which would have astonished the departed Stampers.

A gang of darkies, of all ages and sizes, was engaged by her or
collected somehow (perhaps, no one knew just how, unless Hiram, who
distributed the contents of the boxes, knew), who, Andy Stamper
said, looked like harvesters and got harvest-wages. The rooms were
turned inside out, the yard was cleared up, the fences repaired and
whitewashed, and the chambers were papered or painted of a dark maroon
or other rich color, then the fashion, by Doan, whom Hiram Still sent
over for the purpose—Mrs. Welch not only superintending actively,
but showing, with real skill, how it ought to be done; for one of
the lady’s maxims was, “What your hands find to do, do with all your
might.” Ruth, during the repairs, took occasion to pull out carefully
the nail on which Andy had told her his father used to hang his watch,
and sent it wrapt in a neat little parcel to Andy, with a note saying
how much pleasure she had in sending it. She did not dream that by this
little act she was making one of the best friends of her life. Sergeant
Stamper drove the nail in a strip beside his own bed. And as he struck
the last blow he turned to his wife, who with sympathetic eyes was
standing by, and said:

“Delia, if I ever fail to do what that young lady asks me, I hope God
will drive the nails in my coffin next day.”

On the arrival of Mrs. Welch, there was a repetition of those visits of
mingled friendliness and curiosity which had been paid Major Welch and
Miss Ruth. And as Major Welch and Ruth formed their opinions, so now,
Mrs. Welch formed hers. She prided herself on her reasoning faculty.
She repudiated the idea that woman’s intuition was a substitute for
man’s reason. She was not going to hang on any such wretched makeshift.
She judged men and things precisely as men did, she said, and the only
difference was that she was quicker than most men.

Dr. Cary and Mrs. Cary called with Miss Thomasia and Blair; and
General Legaie and Jacquelin Gray and Steve Allen rode up together
one afternoon. The two former paid only a short visit, but Captain
Allen stayed to tea. Steve treated her with that mingled deference
and freedom which, in just the right proportion, make—at least, in a
young and handsome man—the most charming manners. He even dared to
tease Mrs. Welch on the serious sentiments she expressed, and on her
appearance that day in the wagon, a liberty that neither Ruth nor Major
Welch ever ventured to take; and to Ruth’s exceeding surprise, her
mother, so far from resenting it, actually appeared to like it. As for
Ruth, her mother surprised a look of real delight in her eyes.

It gave her food for thought. “That young man talked to me; but he
looked at Ruth. What does it mean? It might mean one thing—yes, it
might mean that? But it is impossible!” She put the idea aside as too
absurd to consider. However, she determined to be on her guard.

Mrs. Welch had no time to spend in the sort of hospitality practised
by her neighbors. The idea of going over to a neighbor’s to “spend
the day,” as most of the invitations she received ran, or of having
them come and “spend the day” with her as they did with others, was
intolerable. It might have done, she held, for an archaic state of
society, but it was just this terrible waste of time that made the
people about her what she saw them: indolent, and shiftless and poor.
She had “work to do,” and she “meant to do it.” So, having called
formally at Dr. Cary’s, Miss Gray’s, and the other places, the ladies
from which had called on her, she declined further invitations and
began her “work.” She wrote to her Society back at home, that as
she looked around her spirit groaned within her. The harvest was
ripe—already too ripe, and the over-ripened wheat was falling, day by
day, to the earth and being trampled in the ground. She wrote also her
impressions of her new neighbors. She was charmed with Miss Thomasia
and the General. The former reminded her of her grandmother, whom she
remembered as a white-haired old lady knitting in her arm-chair, and
the General was an old French fieldmarshal, of the time of Bayard or
Sidney, who had strayed into this century, and who would not surprise
her by appearing in armor with a sleeve around his helmet, “funny,
dear, old fossil that he is.” She was pleased with Miss Cary and the
Doctor, though the former appeared to have rather too antiquated
views of life, and the Doctor was unpractical to the last degree.
They were all densely prejudiced; but that she did not in the least
mind; they were also universally shiftless, but she had hope. They
must be enlightened and aided (Mrs. Welch was conscious of a feeling
of virtuous charitableness when she penned this. It was going farther
than she had ever deemed it possible she could go). When it came to the
question of the poor blacks, the whites were all alike. They had not
the least idea of their duty to them: even those she had mentioned as
the most enlightened, regarded them yet as only so many chattels, as
still slaves. Finally, she wrote, she could not but admit that nothing
but kindness had been shown to themselves since their arrival. One
could not but appreciate such cordiality, even if it were the result
of mere impulse rather than of steady principle. But Mr. Still, the
Union man of whom the Society knew, had intimated that it was only a
concerted effort to blind them to the true state of affairs, and that
if they exhibited any independence it would soon change. As to this she
should be watchful. And she appealed for help.

Such was the substance of the first letter that Mrs. Welch wrote back
to her old Reform and Help Society at home, which was regarded by some
of her friends as a roseate-colored statement of the case. It was
even intimated that it contained evidence that Mrs. Welch was already
succumbing to the very influence she repudiated.

“But they all do it. I never knew anyone go down there who did not at
once abandon all principles and fall a victim to the influences of
those people,” declared Mrs. Bolter, who, now that Mrs. Welch had left,
represented the earnest and most active wing of the society.

“May not that prove that perhaps there is something on their side that
we do not understand?” hazarded one of the young ladies of the society,
Mrs. Clough, who, as a daughter of Senator Rockfield, was privileged to
express views.

“Not at all,” declared Mrs. Bolter. “I knew that Major Welch and Ruth
were both hopelessly weak; but I confess I did think better things of
Mrs. Welch.”

“Do you know, now that she has gone, I confess that I always did think
Ruth Welch had more sense—more practical sense I mean, than her
mother,” said Mrs. Clough.

“Of course, you do,” replied the older lady. Mrs. Clough colored.

“And my husband thinks so, too.”

“Oh! if your husband thinks so—of course!” Mrs. Bolter looked
sympathetic and superior. “I supposed _he_ thought so.” The younger
lady colored deeply.

“And my sister thinks so,” she added, with dignity.

“Oh! indeed! I knew she thought some of the younger members of the
connection very attractive,” said Mrs. Bolter.

Mrs. Clough rose, and, with a bow, left the assembly.

She was comforted that evening by hearing her husband not only commend
her views warmly, but abuse Mrs. Bolter as a “stuck-up and ill-bred
woman, as vain and vulgar as Bolter himself,” whom he would not trust
around the corner.

“If she is that now, what will she be after she marries her daughter to
Captain Middleton?” Mrs. Clough said. “She’s had him in tow ever since
he came home a week ago. I do think it is vulgar, the way some women
run after men for their daughters nowadays. She has not given that poor
man an hour’s rest since he landed.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in that. Larry would not marry one of
that family. He knows Bolter too well. I always thought he would end
by marrying Ruth Welch, and he told me to-day at the club he was going
South.”

“Oh! all you men always were silly about Ruth Welch. You all thought
she was the most beautiful creature in the world,” said little Mrs.
Clough, with an air not wholly reconcilable with her attitude at the
Aid Society meeting just recorded.

“No, I know one man who made one exception,” said her husband leaning
over and kissing her, and thereupon, as is the way with lovers, began
“new matter.”

“Captain Middleton is not going South,” said Mrs. Clough, suddenly.
“That is, he’s going south; but not to the South.”

“He is not! Why, he told me he was.”

“Well, he’s not. He’s going to Washington.” She spoke oracularly.

“What’s he going there about? About that old affair? You seem to know
his plans better than he does. I see by the papers it’s up again. Or
about that railroad scheme Bolter’s working at? He’s down there now.
Larry said he had to see the Senator.”

“No, about a new affair—Larry Middleton is in love with Alice,” said
Mrs. Clough, with entire unconsciousness of the singularity of her
sudden and unexpected bouleversement. Her husband turned round on her
in blank amazement.

“Wha-at!” He strung the word out in his surprise.

“Yes—you men are so blind. He’s in love with Alice; was with her
abroad and came home to see her.” She was suddenly interested in a very
small baby-garment she was sewing on.

“Why, you just said he was in love with Ruth Welch!”

“Did I?” she asked, quietly, as calm as a May morning, and apparently
with perfect indifference.

“—And you said Mrs. Bolter would catch him for her loud, sporty
daughter!”

“Oh! I believe I did.” She was turning a hem. “One, two, three,” she
counted. “Well, she won’t get him.” She was interested only in the
baby-garment.

“Are they engaged?”

“Not yet—quite—but almost—Will be in a week. Isn’t that a darling?”
She held up the garment, and spanned it with her pink fingers.

“Well, you women are curious,” said her husband, almost with a gasp.
“Here you have been abusing Ruth Welch and Mrs. Bolter and every woman
Larry Middleton knew in the world, and all the time he was dead in love
with your own sister!”

“Umhm!” She looked up and nodded brightly, then broke into a laugh.
“And you think that’s curious?”

“Well, I’m glad of it. Larry’s a good fellow. Now I see it all. I
thought he was uncommonly glad to see me to-day, and when I undertook
to chaff him a little about Ruth Welch, looked rather red and silly.”

“You didn’t!” said his wife, aghast. “What in the world——!”

“Oh! I’ll make it all right the next time I see him. How was I to
know? I’ll write to Alice and congratulate her.”

“Indeed, you’ll not. Not a word. You’ll ruin everything!”

“Why?”

“Why, he hasn’t spoken yet——”

“Why, you just said—” He lapsed into reflection.

“Oh! You men are so stupid!” sighed Mrs. Clough. “But come, promise me.”

And he promised—as we all do—always.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having despatched her appeal, Mrs. Welch did not waste time waiting
for a response, but was as good as her word and, like an energetic
soul, without waiting a day, sickle in hand, entered the field alone.
Her first step was what she termed “informing herself.” She always
“informed herself” about things; it was one of the secrets of her
success, she said.

Her first visit on this tour of inspection was to the Bend. She
selected this as the primary object of her visitation, because she
understood it was the worst place in the community, and she proposed
to go at once to the very bottom. Dr. Cary had spoken of it as “a
festering spot”; General Legaie had referred to it as “a den of
iniquity.” Well, if it were a festering sore it ought to be treated;
if it were a den it ought to be opened to the light, she declared. She
found it worse than she had expected; but this did not deter her. She
forthwith set to work to build a school-house near the Bend, and sent
for a woman to come down and take charge of it.

She was no little surprised one day when she called at a cabin where
she had been told a woman was ill, to have the door opened by Mrs.
Cary. Mrs. Cary invited her in and thanked her for calling, quite as
if she owned the house. Mrs. Welch had her first gleam of doubt as to
whether she had stated the case to her Society with entire correctness.
She observed that the woman’s sheets were old and patched, and she
said she would have her Society make new ones. How could she know that
Maria’s old mistress had just brought her these and that she and Blair
had mended them with their own hands?

It does not require an earthquake to start talk in a rural
community—and Mrs. Welch had not been in her new home a month, or, for
that matter, a week, before she was the most talked-of woman in the
County.

Notwithstanding Hiram Still’s desire to keep secret the fact that he
was trying to sell a part of Red Rock to Major Welch, it was soon
rumored around that Major Welch was to buy the Stamper place and a
considerable part of the old Gray estate. Leech, it was reported, had
come up from town, given a clean title and prepared a deed which was
to be delivered on a certain day. Allowing for exaggerations, it is
astonishing how accurate the bureau of advanced rumor often is.

Steve Allen and Jacquelin Gray held sundry conferences in the clerk’s
office, with the papers in Still’s old suit before them, and it got
abroad that they were not going to permit the sale.

The day before that set by this exact agency for the final consummation
of the purchase, a letter was brought for Major Welch. The messenger
who brought it was a handsome, spirited-looking boy of seventeen or
eighteen, evidently a gentleman’s son. Major Welch was away from home;
but Ruth happened to be in the yard when the boy rode up. He was
mounted on a handsome bay with white feet, which Ruth recognized as
that which Captain Allen rode. Ruth loved a fine horse, and she went
up to him. As she approached, the boy sprang to the ground and took
off his hat with a manner so like Captain Allen’s that Ruth smiled to
herself.

“Is—is Major Welch at home?” he asked. He had pulled a paper from his
pocket and was blushing with a boy’s embarrassment.

Ruth said her father was not at home, but explained that she would
take any letter for him—or—would not he tie his horse and come in and
wait for her father?

This invitation quite overthrew the little structure of assurance the
boy had built up, and he was thrown into such a state of confusion that
Ruth’s heart went out to him.

He thanked her; but he was afraid his horse would not stand tied. He
was stuffing the paper back in his pocket, hardly aware of what he was
doing.

Ruth was sure the horse would stand; she had seen him tied; but she
respected the boy’s confusion, and offered again to take the letter for
her father. He gave it to her apparently with reluctance. His cousin,
Steve Allen, had told him to give it to Major Welch himself, he half
stammered.

“Well, I am his daughter, Miss Welch,” Ruth said, “and you can tell
Captain Allen that I said I would certainly deliver it to my father.
Won’t you tell me who you are?” she asked, smiling.

“I’m Rupert Gray, Jacquelin Gray’s brother.”

“Oh! You have been off at school?”

“Yes’m. Jacquelin would make me go, but I’ve come back for good, now.
He says I needn’t go any more. He hasn’t got anything to send me any
more, anyhow.” This in a very cheery tone. He was partly recovering
from his embarrassment. “Steve wanted to send me to college, but I
won’t go.”

“You won’t? Why not?”

“Steve hasn’t got any money to send me to college. Besides, they
just want to get me away from here—I know ’em—and I won’t go.”
(With a boy’s confidingness.) “They’re afraid I’ll get—” He stopped
short.—“But I’m not afraid. Just let ’em try.” He paused, his face
flushed with excitement, and looked straight at her. He evidently
wanted to say something else to her, and she smiled encouragingly.

“You tell your father not to have anything to do with that Still and
that man Leech.” His tone was a mixture of sincerity and persuasiveness.

“Why?” Ruth smiled.

“Because—one’s a carpet-bagger and t’other a scalawag.”

“Why, we are carpet-baggers, too.”

“Well—yes—but—. Steve he says so, too. And he don’t want you to get
mixed up with ’em. That’s the reason.” His embarrassment returned for a
moment.

“Oh! Captain Allen says so? I’m very much obliged to him, I’m sure.”
Ruth laughed, but her form straightened and her color deepened.

“No, no, not that way. Steve is a dandy. And so is Jacquelin. He’s just
as good as Steve. Never was anybody like Jacquelin. You ought to know
him. That fellow Leech imprisoned him. But I knocked him down—I could
die for Jacquelin—at least, I think I could. That’s the reason I hate
’em so!” he broke out, vehemently. “And I don’t want you to get mixed
up with ’em. You aren’t like them. You are more like us.”

Ruth smiled at the ingenuousness of this compliment.

“And you tell your father, won’t you?” he repeated. “Good-evening.”
He held out his hand, shook hers, sprang on his horse, and, making
her a flourishing bow, galloped away, evidently very proud of his
horsemanship.

He left Ruth with a pleasant feeling round her heart, which she could
scarcely have accounted for. She wondered what it was that his brother
and Captain Allen were afraid the boy would do.

As for Rupert, when he returned to Captain Allen he was so full of Miss
Welch that Steve declared he was in love with her, and guilefully drew
him on to talk of her and tell, over and over, every detail of his
interview. The charge of being in love the boy denied, of course, but
from that time Ruth, without knowing it, had the truest blessing a girl
can have—the ingenuous devotion of a young boy’s heart.

When her father came home the current of Ruth’s thoughts was changed.

The letter Rupert had brought contained a paper, or rather two papers,
addressed to Major Welch. One was a formal notice to him that the title
by which Still held Red Rock was fraudulent and invalid, and that he
would buy at his peril, as a suit would be brought to rip up the whole
matter and set aside the deed under which Still held. The paper was
signed by Jacquelin Gray and witnessed by Stevenson Allen as counsel,
in whose handwriting it was. In addition to the formal notice, here
was a note to Major Welch from Captain Allen, in which he stated that
having heard the rumor that Major Welch was contemplating buying the
place in question, he felt it his duty to let him know at once that
such a step would involve him in a lawsuit, and that possibly it might
be very unpleasant for him.

This letter was a bombshell.

Mrs. Welch took it not as a legal notice, but as a declaration of war,
and when that gage was flung down she was ready to accept it. She came
of a stock equally prompt to be martyrs or fighters. She urged Major
Welch to reply plainly at once. It was just a part of the persecution
all loyal people had to go through. Let them see that they were not
afraid. Major Welch was for moving a little deliberately. He should
certainly not be bullied into receding from his purchase by anything
of this kind, but he would act prudently. He would look again into the
matter and see if there was any foundation for the charge.

Ruth rallied to the side of her mother and father, and felt as angry
with Mr. Allen and everyone else concerned in the matter as it was in
the nature of her kind heart to be.

Major Welch’s investigation did not proceed exactly on the lines
on which he would have acted at home. He had to rely on the men he
employed. Both Still and Leech insisted that the notice given was
merely an attempt to bully him. They further furnished him an abstract
of the title, which showed it to be perfectly clear and regular, and
when Major Welch applied in person to the old clerk, he corroborated
this and certified that at that time no cloud was on the title.

He was, however, by no means as gracious toward Major Welch as he had
been the first time he saw him—was, on the contrary, rather short in
his manner, and, that gentleman thought, almost regretted to have to
give the certificate.

“Yes, it’s all clear to date as far as the records show,” he said,
with careful limitation, in reply to a request from Major Welch for a
certificate,” but if you’ll take my advice——”

Still, who was sitting near, wriggled slightly in his chair.

Major Welch had been a little exasperated. “My dear sir, I should
be very glad to take your advice generally, but this is a matter of
private business between this gentle——between Mr. Still and myself,
and I must be allowed to act on my own judgment. What I want is not
advice, but a certificate of the state of those titles.”

A change came over the old clerk’s countenance. He bowed stiffly. “All
right, sir; I reckon you know your own business,” he said, dryly, and
he made out the certificate and handed it to Major Welch almost grimly.

Major Welch glanced at it and turned to Still.

“You can have your deeds prepared, Mr. Still. I am going to town
to-morrow and shall be ready to pay over the money on my return.”
He spoke in a tone for the clerk to hear and intended to show his
resolution.

Still followed him out and suggested that he’d as lieve give him the
deeds to put to record then, and he could pay him when he came back.
He was always willing to take a gentleman’s word. This, however, Major
Welch would not consent to.

Still stayed with Major Welch all the rest of the day and returned
home with him: a fellowship which, though somewhat irksome to the
Major, he tolerated, because Still, half-jestingly, half-seriously,
explained that somehow he “felt sort of safer” when he was with the
Major.

Two or three days afterward Major Welch, having returned from the
capital, paid Still the money and took his deed; and it was duly
recorded.

The interview in the clerk’s office, in which Major Welch had declined
to hear the old clerk’s advice, was reported by Mr. Dockett to Steve
Allen and Jacquelin Gray that same evening. The only way to save the
place, they agreed, was to institute their proceedings and file a
notice of a pending suit, or, as the lawyers call it, a _lis pendens_.

“He’ll hardly be big enough fool to fly in the face of that,” said Mr.
Dockett.

So the very next day a suit was docketed and a _lis pendens_ filed,
giving notice that the title to the lands was in question.

The summonses were delivered to the sheriff, Mr. James Sherwood; but
this was the day Major Welch spent in the city, and when the sheriff
handed the summons to Still and showed the one he had for Major Welch,
Still took it from him, saying he would serve it for him.

Thus it happened that when Major Welch paid down the money he was in
ignorance that two suits had already been instituted to declare the
title in Still fraudulent.

Meantime, copies of Mrs. Welch’s letter to her friends had come back to
the County, and the effect was instantaneous.

When Mrs. Welch wrote the letter describing her new home and
surroundings, she gave, as has been said, what she considered a very
favorable account of her neighbors. She had not written the letter for
publication, yet, when the zeal of her friends gave it to the public,
she was sensible of a feeling of gratified pride. There were in it
a number of phrases which, as she looked at them in cold print, she
would in a milder mood have softened; but she consoled herself with the
reflection that the individuals referred to in the letter would never
see it. Alas! for the vain trust of those who rely on their obscurity
to hide their indiscretions. The _Censor_ was as well known, even if
not so extensively known, in the old County as in Mrs. Welch’s former
home. It had long been known as Leech’s organ, and was taken by more
than one of the Red Rock residents.

When the issue containing Mrs. Welch’s letter first appeared it raised
a breeze. The neighborhood was deeply stirred and, what appeared
most curious to Mrs. Welch was, that what gave most offence, was
her reference to individuals which she had intended to be rather
complimentary. She made up her mind to face boldly the commotion she
had raised and to bear with fortitude whatever it might bring. She
did not know that it was her patronizing attitude that gave the most
serious offence.

“I don’t mind her attack on us, but blame her impudent, patronizing
air,” declared the little General—“General Fossil,” as Steve called
him—“and to think that I should have put myself out to be especially
civil to her! Steve, you are so fond of Northern cherries, I shall
let you do the civilities for us both hereafter.” To the General’s
surprise, Steve actually reddened.

The next time Mrs. Welch met her neighbors she was conscious of the
difference in their bearing toward her. It was at old St. Ann’s. When
she had been there before, the whole congregation had thronged about
her with warm greetings and friendly words. Now there was a marked
change. Though Steve Allen and Rupert and Blair, and a few others came
up and spoke to her, the rest of the congregation contented themselves
with returning her bows coldly from a distance, and several ladies, she
was sure, studiously avoided her greeting.

“Well, sir, I knew she was a oner as soon as I lay my eye ’pon her,”
said Andy Stamper to a group of his friends in the court-yard at the
county seat the next court day, “but I didn’t know she was goin’ to
take that tack. She’s done fixed up the place till you wouldn’t know it
from a town place. She has painted them old rooms so black that Doan
had to git a candle to see how to do it, and I was born in one of ’em.
I told her I never heard o’ paintin’ nothin’ that black befo’ but a
coffin, but she said it was her favorite color.”

“’Pears like that’s so too, Sergeant,” laughed someone. “Is Hiram there
much?”

“Oh! he goes there; but you know I don’t think she likes him; and it’s
my opinion that Hiram he’s afeard of her as he is of Jacquelin Gray. He
talks that soft way o’ hisn aroun’ her which he uses when he’s afeared
o’ anyone. She’s gin them niggers the best clo’es you ever see—coats
better then me or you or anyone aroun’ heah has seen since the war.
What’s curious to me is that though she don’t seem to like niggers and
git along with ’em easy-like and nat’ral as we all do, in another way
she seems to kind o’ want to like ’em. It reminds me of takin’ physic:
she takes ’em with a sort o’ gulp, but wants to take ’em and wants to
make everybody else do it.

“Now she’s been over yonder to the Bend and got ’em all stirred up,
diggin’ dreens and whitewashin’ and cuttin’ poles for crosslay.”

“She’ll be tryin’ to whitewash them,” said one of his auditors.

“Well, by Jingo! if she sets her mind to it she’ll make it stick,” said
Andy.” What gits me is the way she ain’t got some’n better to work on.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Report said that Jacquelin was blossoming into a fine young lawyer.
Steve Allen declared that his practice was doubling under Jacquelin’s
devotion to the work—which was very well, as Steve, whether from
contrariness or some other motive, was becoming a somewhat frequent
visitor at Major Welch’s, these days.

The General asserted that if Jacquelin stuck to his office and studied
as assiduously as he was doing, he would be the most learned lawyer
in the State. “But he’ll kill himself if he does not stop it. Why, I
can see the difference in him already,” he declared to Miss Thomasia,
solicitously. Miss Thomasia herself had seen the change in Jacquelin’s
appearance since his return home. He was growing thin again, and, if
not pale, was at least losing that ruddy hue of health which he had
had on his arrival, and she expostulated with him, and tried even to
get Blair to do the same; for Blair always had great influence with
him, she told her. Blair, however, pooh-poohed the matter and said,
indifferently, that she could not see any difference in him and thought
he looked very well. Miss Thomasia shook her head. Blair did not use to
be so hard-hearted.

But, however this was, Jacquelin did not alter his course. The negroes
had become so unruly, that, as Rupert was often away from home, and
his aunt was left alone, he came home every night, though it was often
late before he arrived; but early in the morning he returned to the
Court-house and spent the day there in his office, rarely accepting an
invitation or taking any holiday.

When he and Blair met, which they did sometimes unavoidably, there was
a return of the old constraint that had existed before he went away,
and even with Steve he appeared to be growing silent and self-absorbed.

Blair had become the mainstay of her family. Unconsciously she had
slipped into the position where she was the prop on which both her
father and mother leaned. She taught her little colored school, and at
home was always busy about something. She vied with Mrs. Andy Stamper
in raising chickens, and with Miss Thomasia in raising violets. Under
her skilful management, the little cottage amid its wilderness of
fruit-trees, in which old Mr. and Mrs. Bellows had lived, became a
rose-bower, and the fruit-trees became an orchard with its feet buried
in clover. Her father said of her that she was a perpetual reproduction
of the miracle of the creation—that she created the sun and followed
it with all the plants and herbs after their kind.

Yet, with all these duties, Blair found time to run over to see Miss
Thomasia almost every day or two; at first shyly and at rare intervals,
but, after she found that Jacquelin was always at his office, oftener
and more freely. She always declared that a visit to Miss Thomasia was
like reading one of Scott’s novels; that she got back to a land of
chivalry and drank at the springs of pure romance; while Miss Thomasia
asserted that Blair was a breath of May.

Jacquelin, after a time, came to recognize the traces of Blair’s
visits, in the little touches of change and improvement about the
house: a pruned rose-bush here, a fold of white curtain there, and
he often had to hear her praises sung by Miss Thomasia’s guileless
tongue, and listen to the good lady’s lament because Blair and Steve
did not proceed a little more satisfactorily with their affairs.
Miss Thomasia had an idea that it was on account of Steve’s former
reputation for wildness. “It would have such a good influence on
Steve,” she declared, “would be just what he needed. I quite approve
of a young lady being coy and maidenly, but, of course, I know there
is an understanding between them, and I must say, I think Blair is
carrying it too far.” She bridled as she always did at the thought of
anyone opposing Steve. “I know that a man is sometimes driven by a
young lady’s cruelty—apparent cruelty—for I am sure Blair would not
wittingly injure anyone—into courses very sad and injurious to him.”
Miss Thomasia heaved a sigh and gazed out of the window, and a moment
later resumed her knitting.

“Do you see anything of that—young lady, Miss Welch?” she asked
Jacquelin, suddenly.

Jacquelin said he had not seen her for some time, except at church, and
once or twice in the village, at a distance.

“I did not suppose you had,” said Miss Thomasia. “She is a very nice,
refined girl—has always been very sweet to me when I have met her—but
of course—.” Her lips closed firmly and she began to knit vigorously,
leaving Jacquelin to wonder what she meant.

“I only wanted to know,” she said, presently, and that was the only
explanation she gave.



CHAPTER XXX

SOME OF THE GRAIN MRS. WELCH REAPED


The difference in the attitude of their neighbors toward them was felt
deeply by Major and Mrs. Welch. Even Dr. Cary’s wonted cordiality had
given place, when he met Mrs. Welch, to grave and formal courtesy.
Toward Major Welch the formality was less marked, while toward Ruth
there was almost the same warmth and friendliness that had existed
before Mrs. Welch’s letters were seen. Ruth received quite as many
invitations as before, and when she met her neighbors they were as
cordial to her as ever. She was conscious that this difference in her
case was intentional, that the old warmth toward her was studied, and
that they meant her to feel that the change in their attitude did not
extend to her. Ruth, however, was far too loyal to her own to accept
such attentions; so far from accepting, she resented the overtures
made her, and was not slow in letting it be understood. There were
one or two exceptions to this general attitude. For Blair Cary her
liking deepened. Blair was sweeter than ever to her, and though Ruth
felt that this was to make up to her for the coolness of others, there
were a real warmth and a true sympathy in Blair, and a delicacy and
charm about her manner of showing them that touched Ruth, and she was
conscious that day by day she became drawn more and more closely to
her. She felt that Blair understood her and sympathized with her, and
that, if she ever chose to speak, she had in her a friend on whose
bosom she could fling herself and find consolement. Such friendships
are rare. The friend with whom one does not have to make explanations
is God-given.

With her other neighbors Ruth stood on her dignity, in armed
guardfulness. She carried her head higher than she had ever done in her
life, and responded to their advances with a coldness that soon gained
her a reputation for as much pride as she could have desired, if not
for a good deal of temper. Mrs. Dockett attempted a sympathetic manner
with her, and if subsequent rumors were any indication, that redoubted
champion did not come off wholly unscathed.

“The little minx has got her mother’s tongue,” sniffed the offended
lady. “Why, she actually snubbed me—_me_! Think of her daring to
tell me, when I was giving her to understand that we knew she was
not responsible for any of the insulting things that had been said
about us, that she always agreed with her mother and father in
everything!—Which I’ll wager she doesn’t, unless she’s different from
all the other girls I know! And away she marched with her little mouth
pursed up and her head held as high as Captain Allen’s. She’ll know
when I try to be civil to her again! She’s getting her head turned
because Captain Allen said she had some pretension to good looks.”

It must be said, though, on behalf of Mrs. Dockett, that after the
first smart of the rebuff she had received was over, she liked Ruth
none the less, and after a little while used to tell the story of
Ruth’s snubbing her, with a very humorous take-off of Miss Welch’s
air and of her own confusion. And long afterward she admitted that
the first time she really liked Ruth Welch was when she resented her
condescension. “It takes a good woman—or man either—to stand up to
me, you know!” she said, with a twinkle of pride and amusement in her
bright eyes.

Mrs. Dockett was not by any means the only one to whom the young lady
showed her resentment. Ruth felt her isolation keenly, though she did
not show this generally, except in a new hauteur. She not only gave up
visiting, and immersed herself in the home duties which devolved upon
her in consequence of her mother’s absorption in her philanthropical
work, but she suddenly began to take a much deeper interest than ever
before in that work itself, riding about and visiting the poor negroes
in whom her mother was interested, and extending her visits to the
poorer whites as well. She was surprised at the frequency with which
she met Mrs. Gray and Blair, or, if she did not meet them, heard of
their visits to the people she was attending. Once or twice she met
Miss Thomasia, also, accompanied by old Peggy as her escort. “I heard
that the fence was going to be put up between us and old Mrs. Granger,”
explained Miss Thomasia, “and I am such a poor hand at climbing fences,
I am trying to see her as often as I can before it is done. I do hope
the old woman will die before it is put up.” She saw the astonished
look on Ruth’s face and laughed heartily. “You know what I mean, my
dear, I am always getting things wrong. But, are you alone, my dear?”

Ruth said she was alone.

“I don’t think it quite right,” said Miss Thomasia, shaking her head.
“Steve, I am sure, would be very glad to accompany you on any of your
visitations, and so would Jacquelin.” She was perfectly innocent, but
Ruth was incensed to find herself blushing violently.

It happened that on these visitations, more than once, Ruth fell in
with Captain Allen. She treated him with marked coldness—with actual
savageness, Steve declared afterward, but at the time, it must be said,
it appeared to have little apparent effect upon that gentleman. Indeed,
it appeared simply to amuse him. He was “riding about on business,”
he explained to her. He seemed to have a great deal of business “to
ride about on” of late. Ruth always declined, with much coolness, his
request to be allowed to escort her, but her refusal did not seem to
offend him, and he would turn up unexpectedly the next time she rode
out alone, cheerful and amused. (One singular thing was that she
rarely saw him when she was accompanied by her father.) Still she did
not stop riding. She did not see why she should give up her visits
of philanthropy, simply because Captain Allen also happened to have
business to attend to. She began to be conscious that sometimes she
even felt disappointed if on her rides she did not see him somewhere,
and she hated herself for this, and took to disciplining herself for
it by riding on unfrequented roads. Yet even here, now and then,
Captain Allen passed her, and she began to feel as if he were in some
sort doing it to protect her. On one occasion when he found her on a
somewhat lonely road, he took her to task for riding so much alone, and
told her that she ought not to do it. She was secretly pleased, but
fired up at his manner.

“Why?” She looked him defiantly in the eyes.

He appeared confused.

“Why—because—Suppose you should lose your way, what would you do?”
She saw that this was not his reason.

“I should ask someone,” she answered, coolly.

“But whom would you ask? There is no one—except one old woman, my
old Mammy Peggy who lives down in this direction—who lives anywhere
between the old road that is now stopped up and the creek, and farther
back is a through-cut to the Bend, which you crossed, along which some
of the worst characters in the County travel. They do not come this
side of the creek, for they are afraid; I assure you that it is not
safe for you to be riding about through the woods in this way at this
time of the evening, by yourself.”

“Why, I see this path—someone must travel it?” Ruth said. She knew
that somewhere down in that direction was the old hospital-place,
which the negroes said was haunted, and which was rumored to be the
meeting-place of the Ku Klux. Steve looked a little confused.

“Yes——”

“And if no one is down here, there cannot any harm come to me.” She
enjoyed her triumph.

“Yet—but you don’t understand. People pass this way going backwards
and forwards from—from the Bend—and elsewhere, and—” He broke off.
“You must trust me and take my word for it,” he said, firmly. “It is
not right for you; it is not safe.” He was so earnest that Ruth could
not help feeling the force of what he said, and she was at heart
secretly pleased, yet she resented his attitude.

“Whom should I be afraid of? Of the Ku Klux?” She was pleased to see
him flush. But when he answered her he spoke seriously:

“Miss Welch, there are no Ku Klux here—there never were any—except
once for a little while,” he corrected himself, “and there is not one
in the County or in the South who would do you an injury, or with whom,
if you were thrown, you would not be as safe as if you were guarded by
a regiment.”

Ruth felt that he was telling the truth, and she was conscious of the
effect he had on her. Yet she rebelled, and she could not resist firing
a shot at him.

“Thank you,” she said, mockingly. “I am relieved to know they will not
murder ladies.” Steve flushed hotly, and, before he could answer, she
pressed her advantage with delight.

“Could you not persuade them to extend their clemency to other poor
defenceless creatures? Poor negroes, for example? You say there never
were any Ku Klux in this County; how about that night when the State
militia were raided and their arms taken from them, and when poor
defenceless women were frightened to death. Were the men who did that
really ghosts?”

She looked at Steve and was struck with a pang that she should have
allowed herself to be carried so far. She had meant only to sting him
and revenge herself, but she had struck deeper than she had intended.
The look on Steve’s face really awed her, and when he spoke the tone
in his voice was different from any she had ever heard in it.

“Miss Welch, I did not say there had never been any Ku Klux in this
County—you misunderstood me. I said there had never been any but once.
I myself organized a band of Ku Klux regulators—‘a den,’ as we called
it, in this County—and we made one raid—the raid you speak of, when
we took the arms from the negroes. I led that raid. I organized it and
led it, because I deemed it absolutely necessary for our protection
at the time—for our salvation. No one was seriously hurt—no women
were frightened to death, as you say. It is true that some women were
frightened, and, no doubt, frightened badly, at the pranks played
that night. We meant to frighten the men; if necessary we should have
killed them—the leaders—but never to frighten the women. Under the
excitement of such an occasion, where there were hundreds of young men,
some full of fun, others wild and reckless, some unauthorized acts were
committed. It had been attempted to guard against them, but some men
overstepped the bounds and there were undoubtedly unjustifiable acts
committed under cover of the disguise adopted. But no lives were taken
and no great violence was done. The reports you have heard of it were
untrue. I give you my word of honor as to this. That is the only time
there has been a raid by Ku Klux in this County—and the only time
there will be one. We accomplished our purpose, and we proved what we
could do. The effect was salutary. But I found that the blackguards and
sneaks could take advantage of the disguise, and under the disguise
wreak their private spite, and by common consent the den was disbanded
soon after that night. There have been ruffianly acts committed since
that time by men disguised as Ku Klux; but not one of the men who were
in that raid, so far as I know, was concerned in them or has ever worn
the disguise since then. They have sworn solemnly not to do so. At
least only one—I am not sure as to one,” he said, almost in reverie;
“but he is an outsider. The place where they met is the old plantation
down here on the river; this path leads to it, and at the top of the
next hill I can show you the house. It is only a ruin, and was selected
by me because the stories connected with it protected it from the
curiosity of the negroes, and in case of invasion the woods around,
with their paths, furnished a ready means of escape.

“I have told you the whole story and told you the truth absolutely, and
I hope you will do me the honor to believe me.” His manner and voice
were so grave that Ruth had long lost all her resentment.

“I do,” she said, “and I beg your pardon for what I said.”

He bowed. They had reached the crest of the hill.

“There is the house.” He held a bough aside and indicated a large
rambling mansion below them, almost concealed on one side by the dense
growth, while the other side appeared to be simply a ruin. It lay in a
cleft between two wooded hills around the base of which ran the river,
and seemed as desolate a place as Ruth had ever seen.

“My showing it to you is a proof that ‘the den’ is broken up. Now we
will go back.”

“I did not need it,” she said, “and I will never tell anyone that I
have ever seen it.”

To this Captain Allen made no response.

“I must see you safely back to the main road,” he said, gravely.

Ruth felt that she had struck him deeply, and as they rode along she
cast about in her mind for some way to lead up to an explanation. It
did not come, however, and at the main road, when her gate was in
sight, Captain Allen pulled in his horse and lifted his hat.

“Good-by.”

“Good-evening. I will think of what you said,” she began, meaning what
he had said about her riding out alone.

“I would at least like you to think of me as a gentleman.” He bowed
gravely, and lifting his hat again, turned and rode slowly away.

Ruth rode home, her mind filled with conflicting emotions. Among them
was anger, first with herself and afterward with Captain Allen.

Miss Welch, on her arrival at home that evening, was in a singular
frame of mind, and was as nearly at war with everyone as it is possible
for a really sweet-tempered girl to be. Dr. Washington Still had
called in her absence and proffered his professional services for any
of her patients. She broke out against him vehemently, and when her
mother, who was in a mollified state of mind toward the young man,
undertook to defend him, Ruth attacked the whole Still family—and
connections—except Virgy, whom she admitted to be a poor little
kind-hearted thing, and shocked her mother by denouncing warmly the
stories of the Ku Klux outrages and declaring openly that she did not
believe there had ever been any Ku Klux in the County, except on the
one occasion when they had disarmed the negro militia—and that she
thought they had done exactly right, and just what she would have had
them do.

Mrs. Welch was too much shocked to do anything but gasp.

“Oh! Ruth, Ruth,” she groaned. “That ever my daughter should say
such things!” But Miss Ruth was too excited for control just then.
She launched out yet more warmly and shocked her mother by yet more
heretical views, until suddenly, moved by her mother’s real pain, she
flung herself into her arms in a passion of remorse and tears, and
declared that she did not mean half of what she had said, but was a
wicked, bad girl who did not appreciate the best and kindest of mothers.

A few days afterward, the man known as the trick-doctor, who called
himself “Doctor Moses,” came to Major Welch’s and told a pitiful story
of an old woman’s poverty. Mrs. Welch gave him some sugar, coffee, and
other things for her, but he asked the ladies to go and see her. She
lived “all by herself, mostly, and hones to see the good white folks,”
he said.

“Ef my young Mistis would be so kind as to go and see her some evenin’
I will show her de way.” He looked at Ruth, with a low bow and that
smile and uneasy look which always reminded her of a hyena in a cage.

They promised to go immediately, and he undertook to describe the road
to them.

It was too bad to drive a carriage over—you had to ride on horseback;
but his young Mistress would find it, she was such a good rider.

Ruth could never bear the sight of the negro; he was the most repulsive
creature to her that she had ever seen. Yet it happened, that from his
description of the place where the old woman lived and of the road that
led there, she was sure it was the same old woman whom Captain Allen
had mentioned to her, that afternoon, as having been his mammy, and
as the one person who lived on the deserted plantation. And this, or
some other reason—for the writer by no means wishes to be positive in
assigning a woman’s reason—determined Ruth to go and see her. She had
expected her father to accompany her, as he frequently did so, but it
happened that day that he was called away from home, and as her mother
received another urgent call that morning to go and see a sick child,
Ruth had either to postpone her visit or go alone. She chose the latter
alternative, and as soon as the afternoon had cooled a little, she
started off on horseback.

Ever since her interview with Captain Allen, she had been chafing under
the sense of obeying his command that she should not ride through the
woods alone. It was less a request than a command he had given her.
She had not ridden out alone since that evening—at least, she had
not ridden through the wood-roads; she had stuck to the highways, and
she felt a sense of resentment that she had done so. What right had
Captain Allen to issue orders to her? She would now show him that they
had no effect on her. She would not only go against his wishes, but
would go to the very place he had especially cautioned her against. She
would see that old woman who had once belonged to him, and perhaps the
old woman would some time tell him she had been there.

Ruth had no difficulty in finding her way. She knew the road well as
far as the point where the disused road led off from the highway, and
she had a good idea of direction. There she turned into the track that
took her down toward the abandoned plantation, and crossed the zigzag
path that she knew cut through the pines and led down to the Bend. She
remembered Captain Allen’s pointing it out to her that afternoon, and
as she approached the path she galloped her horse rapidly, conscious of
a feeling of exhilaration as she neared it. A quarter of a mile farther
on, the thought occurred to her that it was cowardice to ride rapidly.
Why should she do so? And though there was a cloud rising in the west,
she pulled her horse down to a walk. The woods were beautiful and were
filled with the odors of grape-blossoms; the path was descending, which
assured her that she was on the right track. A little farther on, as it
had been described to her, it should cross a stream; so she was pleased
to see below her, at the bottom of a little ravine, the thicket through
which the stream ran. She rode down into the ravine and to the stream.
To her surprise the path appeared suddenly to stop at the water’s
edge. There was no outlet on the other side; simply a wall of bushes.
Suddenly her horse threw up his head and started violently. At the
same moment a slight noise behind her attracted Ruth’s attention. She
turned, and in the path behind her stood the negro, Moses.

The blood deserted Ruth’s face. He had always made her flesh creep, as
if he had been a reptile. She had often found him on the side of the
road as she passed along, or had turned and seen him come out of the
woods behind her, but she had never been so close to him before when
alone. And now to find herself face to face with him in that lonely
place made her heart almost stop. After regarding her for a moment
silently, the negro began to move slowly forward, bowing and halting
with that peculiar limp which always reminded Ruth of a species of
worm. She would have fled; but she saw in an instant that there was no
way of escape. The bushes on either side were like a wall. The same
idea must have passed through the man’s mind. A curious smirk was on
his evil face.

“My Mistis,” he said, with a grin that showed his yellow teeth and
horrid gums.

“The path seems to end here,” said Ruth, with an effort commanding her
voice.

“Yes, my Mistis; but I will show you de way. Old Moses will show you de
way. He-he-he.” His voice had a singular feline quality in it. It made
Ruth’s blood run cold.

“No—thank you—I can find it—I shall go back up here and look for
it.” She urged her horse back up the path to pass him. But the negro
stepped before the horse and blocked the way.

“Nor’m—dat ain’t de way. I’ll show you de way. Jes’ let Doctor Moses
show you.” He gave his snicker again, moved closer and put his hand on
her bridle.

This act changed the girl’s fear to anger. “Let go my bridle,
instantly!” Her voice rose suddenly. The tone of command took the negro
by surprise and he dropped his hand; the next second, however, he
caught her bridle again, so roughly that her horse reared and started
back, and if Ruth had not been a good rider she would have fallen from
the saddle.

“I’m _gwine_ to show you.” His tone was now different. He clung to the
bridle of the frightened horse. His countenance had changed.

Raising her riding-whip, Ruth struck him with all her might across the
face.

“Let go my bridle!” she cried.

He gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast; but her
horse whirled and slung him from his feet and he missed her, only
tearing her skirt. It seemed to Ruth at that moment that she heard the
sound of a horse galloping somewhere, and she gave a scream. It was
answered instantly by a shout back over the hill on the path along
which she had come, and the next moment was heard the swift rush of a
horse tearing along on the muffled wood-path back in the woods.

The negro caught the sound, as he turned to seize Ruth’s bridle again,
stopped short and listened intently, then, suddenly wheeling, plunged
into the bushes and went crashing away. That same instant, the horseman
dashed over the crest of the hill and came rushing down the path,
scattering the stones before him. And before Ruth could take it in,
Steve Allen, his face whiter than she had ever seen it, was at her side.

“What is it? Who was it?” he asked.

“Nothing. Oh! He frightened me so,” she panted.

“Who?” His voice was imperious.

“That negro.”

“What negro?”

“The one they call Moses—Doctor Moses.”

The look that came into Steve’s face was for a second almost
terrifying. The next moment, with an effort, he controlled himself.

“Oh! it was nothing,” he said, lightly. “He is an impudent dog, and
must be taught manners; but don’t be frightened. No one shall hurt
you.” His voice had suddenly grown gentle and soothing, and he led Ruth
from the subject, talking lightly, and calming her.

“I told you not to come here alone, you know?” he said, lightly.

His manner reassured Ruth, and she almost smiled as she said:

“I thought that was a woman’s revenge.”

“I did not mean it for revenge; but I want you to promise me now you
will never do it again. Or if you will not promise me, I want you to
promise yourself.”

“I will promise you,” said Ruth. She went on to explain why she came.

“The old woman you speak of wants nothing,” he said, “and you have
passed the path that leads to her house. That negro misled—you did not
take the right road to reach her place. You should have turned off,
some distance back. It was a mere chance—simple Providence, that I
came this way and saw your track and followed you. If you wish to see
my old Mammy I will show you the way. It is the nearest house, and the
only one we can reach before that storm comes, and we shall have to
hurry even to get there.”

Ruth looked over her shoulder, and was frightened at the blackness
of the cloud that had gathered. There was a dense stillness, and the
air was murky and hot. Almost at the moment she looked, a streak of
flame darted from the cloud and a terrific peal of thunder followed
immediately, showing that the storm was close on them.

“Come,” he said, and, catching her bridle, Captain Allen headed her
horse up the hill. “Mind the bushes. Keep him well in hand; but put him
out.”

Ruth urged the horse, and gave him the rein, and they dashed up the
hill, Steve close at her horse’s flank. It was to be a close graze,
even if they escaped at all; for the rising wind, coming in a strong
blast, was beginning to rush through the woods, making the trees bend
and creak. The bushes swept past her, and dragged Ruth’s hat from her
head. “Keep on! I’ll get it!” called Steve, and leaning from his saddle
he picked it from the ground, and in a moment was up with her again.
The thunder was beginning to crash just above their heads, and as they
dashed along, the air was filled with flying leaves and small boughs,
and big drops were beginning to spatter on them as if driven from a
gun. Ruth heard Steve’s voice, but could not, in the roar of the
wind, tell what he said. The next instant he was beside her, his hand
outstretched to steady her horse. She could not distinguish his words;
but saw that he meant her to pull in, and she did so. The next second
they were at a path which led off at an angle from that they were on.
Steve turned her horse into it, and a moment later there appeared a
small clearing, on the other side of which was an old cabin. That
instant, however, the cloud burst upon them, and the rain came in a
sheet. Before Ruth could stop her horse at the door, Steve was on the
ground and had lifted her down as if she had been a child.

“Run in,” he said, and it never occurred to her to oppose him. Holding
both horses with one hand, Steve reached across and pushed open the
door, and put her in. An old negro woman, the only occupant, was facing
her, just as she had risen from her chair by the fire, her small black
eyes wide with surprise at the unexpected entrance. The next moment she
advanced toward Ruth.

“Come in, Mistis. Is you wet?” she asked.

“Thank you—why, yes—I am rather—But—” Ruth turned to the door. She
was thinking of her companion, who was still out in the storm that was
driving against the house.

“Yes, to be sho’ you is. I’ll shet de do’.” The old negress moved to
push it closer to.

“No, don’t!” cried Ruth. “He is out there.”

“Who? Don’t you go out dyah, Mistis.”

She restrained Ruth, who was about to go out again. But the door was
pushed open from the outside, and Steve, dripping wet, with a pile of
broken pieces of old rails in his arms and Ruth’s saddle in his hand,
came in.

“Marse Steve! My chile! Fo de L—d!” exclaimed the old woman. “Ain’t
you mighty wet?” She had left Ruth, and was feeling Steve’s arms and
back.

“Wet? No, I’m as dry as a bone,” laughed Steve. “Here—make up a good
fire.” He threw the wood on the hearth and began to pile it on the
fire, which had been almost extinguished by the rain that came down the
big chimney. “Dry that young lady. I’ve got to go out!” He turned to
the door again.

“No—please! You must not go out!” cried Ruth, taking a step toward him.

“I have to go to see after the horses. I must fasten them.”

“Please don’t. They are all right. I don’t want you to go!” She faced
him boldly. “Please don’t, for my sake!” she pleaded.

Steve hesitated, and looked about him.

“I shall be wretched if you go out.” Her face and voice proved the
truth of her assertion.

“I must go. I am already soaking wet; but I’ll come back directly.” His
voice was cheerful, and before Ruth could beg him again, with a sign to
the old woman he was gone, and had pulled the door close to behind him.

“Heah, he say I is to dry you,” said the old Mammy, and she set a chair
before the fire and gently but firmly put Ruth in it, and proceeded
to feel her shoes and clothing. “Dat’s my young master—my chile,”
she said, with pride, and in answer to Ruth’s expostulations. “You’re
’bliged to do what he say, you know. He’ll be back torectly.”

Ruth felt that the only way to induce Captain Allen to come in out of
the storm was to get dried as quickly as possible; so she set to work
to help the old woman. Steve did not come back directly, however, nor
for some time, and not until Ruth sent him word that she was dry, and
he must come in or she would go out. Then he entered, laughing at the
idea that a rain meant anything to him.

“Why, I am an old soldier. I have slept in such a rain as that, night
after night, and as soundly as a baby. I enjoy it.” His face, as
he looked at Ruth sitting before the fire, showed that he enjoyed
something. And as the girl sat there, her long hair down, her eyes
filled with solicitude, and the bright firelight from the blazing,
resinous pine shining on her and lighting up the dingy little room,
she made a picture to enjoy.

Old Peggy, bending over her and ministering to her with pleased
officiousness, caught something of the feeling. A gleam of shrewdness
had come into her sharp, black eyes.

“Marse Steve, is dis your lady?” she asked, suddenly, with an admiring
look at Ruth, whose cheeks flamed.

“No—not—” Steve did not finish the sentence. “What made you think
so?” He looked very pleased.

“She so consarned about you. She certainly is pretty,” she said, simply.

Ruth was blushing violently, and Steve said:

“I’m not good enough, Mammy, for any lady.”

“Go ’way, Marse Steve! You know you good ’nough for anybody. Don’t you
b’lieve him, young Mistis. I helt him in dese arms when he wa’ n’t so
big;” she measured a length hardly above a span, “and I knows.”

Ruth thought so too just then, but she did not know what to say.
Fortunately Steve came to her rescue.

“Mammy, you’re the only woman in the world that thinks that.”

“I know better ’n dat!” declared the old woman, emphatically. “You does
too, don’t you, my Mistis?” At which Ruth stammered, “Why, yes,” and
only blushed the more. She looked so really distressed that Steve said:

“Come, Mammy, you mustn’t embarrass your young Mistress.”

“Nor, indeed—dat I won’t. But you see dyah, you done call her _my_
young Mistis!” laughed the old woman, enjoying hugely the confusion of
both her visitors.

“It was time to go,” Steve said. So as the storm had passed, they
came out and he saddled Ruth’s horse and handed her into the saddle.
He spoke a few words to the old woman, to which she gave a quick
affirmative reply. As they rode off, she said, “You mus’ come again,”
which both of them promised and doubtless intended to do.

The woods were sparkling with the raindrops, and the sky was as if it
had just been newly washed and burnished, and the earth was covered
with water which shone in the light of the setting sun, like pools of
crystal.

Steve bade Miss Welch good-by at her gate. He had scarcely gotten out
of sight of her when he changed his easy canter to a long gallop, and
a look of grim determination deepened on his face. At the first byway
he turned off from the main-road and made his way by bridle-paths back
to the point where he had rescued Miss Welch. Here he tied his horse
and began to examine the bushes carefully. He was able at first to
follow the track that the negro had made in his flight; but after a
little distance it became more difficult. The storm had obliterated the
traces. So Steve returned to the point where he had left his horse,
remounted and rode away. He visited Andy Stamper’s and several other
plantations, at all of which he stopped, but only for a few moments to
speak a word or two to the men at each, and then galloped on to the
next, his face still grim and his voice intense with determination.

That night a small band of horsemen rode through the Bend, visiting
house after house. They asked for Moses, the trick-doctor. But Moses
was not there. He had left early the morning before, their informants
said, and had not been back since. There was no doubt as to the truth
of this. There was something about that body of horsemen, small though
it was, riding in pairs, that impressed whomever they accosted, and
it was evident that their informants meant to tell the truth. If,
on the first summons at a door, the inmates peered out curious and
loud-mouthed, they quieted down at the first glance at the silent
horsemen outside.

“What you want with him?” asked one of the men, inquisitively. Almost
instantly, as if by machinery, two horsemen moved silently in behind
him and cut him out from the group behind. “You know where he is? Come
along.” Their hands were on his collar.

“Nor, suh, b’fo’ Gord I don’t, gentmens,” protested the negro, almost
paralyzed with fright. “I didn’t mean nuttin’ in the worl’, gentmens.”

At a sign from the leader he was released, and was glad to slip back
into obscurity behind the rest of the awe-struck group, till the
horsemen rode on.

It was, no doubt, well for the trick-doctor that his shrewdness had
kept him from his accustomed haunts that night. He visited the Bend
secretly a night or two later; but only for a short time, and before
morning broke he was far away, following the woodland paths, moving at
his swift, halting pace, which hour by hour was placing miles between
him and the danger he had discovered. Thus the County for a time, at
least, was rid of his presence, and both white and blacks breathed
freer.



CHAPTER XXXI

JACQUELIN GRAY LEARNS THAT HE IS A FOOL, AND STEVE ASTONISHES MAJOR
WELCH


The bill in Jacquelin’s suit against Mr. Still was not filed for some
time after the notice was sent and the suit instituted. But this period
was utilized by Steve and Jacquelin in hunting up evidence; and by Mr.
Still in holding conferences with Leech and the officers of the court.
Meanwhile Steve Allen had met the Welches several times, and although
there was a perceptible coolness in their manner to him, yet civilities
were kept up. As for Steve himself, he went on just as he had done
before, ignoring the change and apparently perfectly oblivious of the
chilliness with which he was received.

Yet Steve appeared to have changed. His old cheerfulness and joviality
seemed to have gone, and he was often in a state bordering on gloom.
As, however, most of those in that part of the world were at this time
in a state of actual gloom, Steve’s condition was set down to the
general cause. Occasionally it occurred to Jacquelin that some trouble
with Blair Cary might have a part in it. His Aunt Thomasia’s words had
stuck in his memory. Steve did not go to Dr. Cary’s as often as he used
to go; and when he did go, on his return to the Court-house he was
almost always in one of his fits of depression. Jacquelin set it down
to another exhibition of Blair’s habitual capriciousness. It was that
Yankee Captain that stood in the way. And Jacquelin hardened his heart,
and vowed to himself that he would not see Blair again.

At length the bill in Jacquelin’s suit was ready.

It was at the end of a hard day’s work that Jacquelin had put the
finishing touches to it, and as he completed the copy from a draft that
Steve had made, he handed it across to Steve to read over. It was a
bill to reopen, on the ground of fraud, the old suit in which Still had
become the purchaser of Red Rock, and to set aside the conveyance to
him and the subsequent conveyance of a part of his purchase to Major
Welch. It went somewhat into a history of the confidential relation
that Still had borne to Jacquelin’s and Rupert’s father; charged that
Still’s possession of the bonds was fraudulent, and that even, if not
so, the bonds had been discharged by proceeds of the estate that had
come to the steward’s hands. It charged Still with gross fraud in
his accounts, as well as in the possession of the bonds. It ended by
making Major Welch a party, as a subsequent purchaser, and charged
constructive knowledge on his part of Still’s fraud. Actual knowledge
of this by him was expressly disclaimed, but it was stated that he had
knowledge of facts which should have put him on inquiry. It was alleged
that a formal notice had been served on Major Welch before he became
the purchaser, and it asked that “an issue out of chancery,” as the
lawyers term it, might be awarded to try the question of fraud.

When Steve finished reading the paper, he laid it on his desk and
leaned back in his chair, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, in deep
thought. Jacquelin did not disturb him; but watched him in silence as
the expression on his face deepened into one almost of gloom. Presently
Steve stirred.

“Well, is that all?” asked Jacquelin.

“Yes.” He actually sighed.

“You don’t think it will hold?”

“No. I am sure we shall show fraud—on that rascal’s part—at least,
so far as his accounts are concerned. We have followed up some of his
rascality, and I am equally sure that his possession of the big bond
was fraudulent. Your father never owed him all that money, in the
world; but how did he get hold of it? The man in the South in whose
name it was made out is dead, and all his papers burned. Still turns up
with the bond assigned to him, and says it was given him for negroes he
sold. Now, how shall we meet it? We know he made money negro-trading.
Rupert’s story of hearing the conversation with your father is too
vague. He can’t explain what your father meant by his reference to the
Indian-killer, and his threats against Hiram will weaken his testimony.
Hiram’s afraid of him, though, and he’d better be. We’ll have to send
him away. He’s with McRaffle too much.”

Jacquelin’s face sobered, and he sighed. The thought of Rupert cost him
many sighs these days.

“I am not sure that we have been specific enough in our charges,” Steve
continued, “and I am sure the judge will be against us. He has never
gotten over the peeling I gave him when he first turned Rad, and he and
Hiram are as thick as thieves.”

“Yes; but, as you say, we’ll get at something, and it is all we can
do. I am willing to take the risk for Rupert, if not for myself. Will
you sign as counsel? And I’ll go over to the office and file it. Mr.
Dockett said he’d wait for us.”

Steve took the pen and dipped it in the ink; then again leaned back in
his chair, and then, after a second’s thought, sat up and signed the
paper rapidly, and Jacquelin took it and went out. In a few minutes he
returned.

“Well, the Rubicon is crossed,” he said, gayly.

Steve did not answer. He was again leaning back in his chair, deep in
thought, his eyes on the ceiling, his face graver than before.

“Steve, don’t bother about the thing any more. We’ve done the best
we could, and if we fail we fail, that’s all.” But the other did not
respond in the same vein.

“Yes, we’ve crossed the Rubicon,” he said, with something between a
sigh and a yawn.

“Steve, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Yes, there is—tell me.”

“Nothing—I assure you, there’s not.”

“And I know better. Confound it! can’t I see something is going on
that I don’t understand? You couldn’t, be gloomier if you had broken
with—with your sweetheart.”

“Well, I have.” Steve turned and looked out of the window to where the
light in the clerk’s office shone through the trees.

“What!” Jacquelin was on his feet in a second.

“Jack, I’m in love.”

“I know that. But what do you mean by—by—that you have broken with—?”

“That I’m in love with Ruth Welch.” he spoke quietly.

“What—what do you mean?” Jacquelin’s voice faltered.

“What I say—that I’ve been in love with her ever since I met her.” He
was still looking out of the window.

“Steve!” Jacquelin’s tone had changed and was full of deep reproach. As
Steve was not looking at him and did not answer, he went on: “Steve, I
don’t understand. Does she know?” His throat was dry and his voice hard.

“I don’t know—”

“Steve Allen!” The tone was such that Steve turned to look at him.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“That’s what I have to ask you,” said Jacquelin, sternly. “Are you
crazy?”

“I don’t know whether I am or not,” Steve said, half bitterly. “But
that’s the fact, anyhow.”

Jacquelin’s face had paled, and his form was tense.

“Steve, if anyone else had told me this of you, he’d not have stood to
complete his sentence. I thought you were a gentleman,” he sneered.

“Jacquelin Gray!” Steve sprang to his feet, and the two young men stood
facing each other, their faces white and their eyes blazing. Jacquelin
spoke first.

“As Blair Cary has no brother to protect her, I will do it. I never
thought it would have to be against you.”

“Blair Cary? Protect her against me? In God’s name, what do you mean?”

“You know.”

“I swear I do not!”

Jacquelin turned from him with a gesture of contempt; but Steve seized
him roughly.

“By Heaven! you shall tell me. I feel as if the earth were giving way
before me.”

Jacquelin shook him off, but faced him, his whole expression full of
scorn.

“Haven’t you been engaged to—engaged to—or as good as engaged to—or,
at least, in love with Blair Cary for years?”

Steve gazed at him for a moment with a puzzled look on his face, which
gave place the next instant to one of inexpressible amusement, and
then, with a shove which sent Jacquelin spinning across the room, flung
himself into his chair and burst into a ringing laugh.

“You fool! you blamed fool!” he exclaimed. “But I’m a fool, too,” he
said, standing and facing Jacquelin.

“I think you are.” Jacquelin was still grave.

“Why, Blair knows it.”

“Knows what?”

“Knows that I’m in love with Ruth Welch. She divined it long ago and
has been my confidante.”

“What!—Steve!—” The expression on Jacquelin’s face underwent a
dozen changes in as many seconds. Astonishment, incredulity, memory,
reflection, regret, hope—all were there, chasing each other and
tumbling over one another in wild confusion. “Steve,” he began again in
hopeless amazement, with a tone almost of entreaty, but stopped short.

“You double-dyed, blind idiot!” exclaimed Steve, “Don’t you know that
Blair Cary don’t care a button for me? never has cared and never will
care but for one man——?”

“Middleton!” Jacquelin turned away with a fierce gesture.

“No, you jealous fool!”

“Then, in Heaven’s name, who is it?” Jacquelin again faced him.

“A blind idiot.”

The effect was not what Steve had anticipated. Jacquelin made a wild
gesture of dissent, turned his back, and, walking to the window, put
his forearm against the sash, and leaned his forehead on it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, bitterly. “She
hates me. She treats me like——She has always done it since that
cursed Middleton——”

“I don’t say she hasn’t. I simply say she——” Steve broke off. “She
ought to have treated you badly. You made a fool of yourself, and have
been a fool ever since. But I know she cared for you—before that,
and if you had gone about it in the right way, you’d have won her.”
(Jacquelin groaned.) “Instead of that, you must get on a high horse and
put on your high and mighty airs and try to hector a spirited girl like
Blair Cary.” (A groan from the window.) “Why, if I were to treat my
horse as you did her, he’d break my neck.”

“Oh, Steve!”

“And then after she had tried to prove it to you, for you to go and put
it on another’s account, of course she kicked—and she ought to have
done so, and has treated you coldly ever since.”

Jacquelin faced him.

“Steve, I loved her so. I have loved her ever since I was a boy—ever
since that day I made her jump off the barn. It was what kept me alive
in prison many a time when otherwise I’d have gone. And when I came
home, ready to go down on my knees to her—to die for her, to find her
given to another, or, if not——” He stopped and turned away again.

“Then why didn’t you tell her so, instead of outraging her feelings?”
demanded Steve.

“Because—because I thought you loved her and she loved you, and I
would not——!” He turned off and walked to the window.

Steve rose and went up to him.

“Jacquelin,” he said, putting his hand on his shoulder, and speaking
with a new tenderness, “I never knew it—I never dreamed it. You
have been blind, boy. And I have been worse. I was never in love
with her and she knew it. At first, I simply meant to bedevil you,
and—Middleton—and then afterward, used to tease her to see her let
out about you; but that was all. She has known ever since Ruth Welch
came here that I liked her, and now—that I have become a fool like the
rest of you.” He turned away.

Jacquelin stood for a moment looking at him, a light dawning on his
face.

“Steve, I beg your pardon for what I said.” He stood lost in thought.
The next second he rushed out of the door. In a moment he was back, and
held the bill he had just filed, in his hand. Steve rose as he entered.

“What have you done?”

“I may be a fool—but—” He held up the bill and glancing at it, caught
hold of the last sheet and began to tear it. Steve made a spring, but
was too late; Jacquelin had torn the signature from the paper.

“I’m not such a selfish dog as to let you do it and bar your chance of
happiness. I did not know. Do you suppose Miss Welch would ever marry
you if you signed that bill?”

“No. But do you suppose I will not tell her of my part in bringing the
suit?”

“Of course you will—but she’ll forgive you for that.”

It was late in the night before their disagreement was settled.

Steve insisted that he would sign the bill; he had brought the suit and
he would assume the responsibility for it. But he had met his match.
Jacquelin was firm, and finally declared that if Steve still held to
his decision he would not press the suit at all. Steve urged Rupert’s
interest. Jacquelin said Rupert would still have six months after he
came of age, in which to save his rights. In this unexpected turn of
the case, Steve was forced to yield; and Jacquelin recopied the whole
bill in his own hand and filed it the next morning. It was signed by
Jacquelin and Rupert personally, and by General Legaie as counsel.

It created a sensation in at least two households in the County.

When Still read the bill, he almost dropped to the floor. The attack
was made on the ground of fraud, and Major Welch had said the statute
of limitations did not apply. After a conference, however, with Leech,
who happened to be at home, he felt better. Leech assured him that the
bill would not hold good against his possession of the bonds.

“They’ll hold against all creation,” said that counsellor, “if they
weren’t stolen and ain’t been paid.”

This declaration did not seem to relieve Still much.

“And they’ve got to prove both of ’em,” added Major Leech, “and prove
’em before our judge.”

Still’s face cleared up.

“Well, Welch is obliged to stand by us. We’ll go and see him.”

So, that evening they took a copy of the bill to Major Welch. Mrs.
Welch and Miss Ruth both were in a state of great excitement and
indignation. The idea of fraud being charged against Major Welch was an
outrage that they could not tolerate.

Major Welch alone was calm and unmoved. It was, after all, expressly
stated that no actual fraud was attributed to him, and though, of
course, he felt keenly having his name mixed up with such a matter, he
had no anxiety as to the result. He could readily prove that he had had
no knowledge whatever of anything to arouse the slightest suspicion. He
should, of course, have to employ counsel. He began to canvass their
names.

“Papa, why don’t you get Mr. Allen to represent you? They say he is the
best lawyer in this part of the country,” said Ruth. She was conscious
that her color came as Still quickly looked at her.

“He’s the one that started the whole matter, ma’am.”

“Why, I don’t see his name to the bill!” the Major said.

“Ain’t it? Well, anyhow he’s the main one. If it hadn’t been for him
the suit never would ’a’ been brought. Colonel Leech saw a copy of the
bill in his handwriting in his office this morning, didn’ you, Colonel?”

Leech declared that he had seen the copy, and corroborated his client
in his statement that Captain Allen had inspired the suit.

Mrs. Welch gave an exclamation of indignation.

“Well, I did not think he would have played the sneak!”

Ruth’s face flamed and turned white by turns.

“You don’t know him yet,” said Still, plaintively, “Does she, Colonel?”

“No—he’s a bad man,” said Leech, unctuously.

“He is that,” said Still. He dropped his voice. “You look out for him,
Major. He’s after you. If I was you I’d carry a pistol pretty handy.”
Major Welch gave a gesture of impatience.

Ruth’s eyes flashed a sudden gleam, and her face flamed again. She
rose, walked to the window, and pressed deep in between the curtains.
Still addressed himself to Major Welch.

“The Colonel says ’tain’t goin’ to be any trouble to beat the suit;
that he can git it dismissed on demurrer—if that’s the word? You know
I ain’t any book-learnin’—I’m nothin’ but a plain farmer. And he says
the judge is sure to—”

“Yes—that’s it,” said Leech, quickly, with a glance of warning at him.
“I don’t cross a bridge till I get to it; I’ve got several in this
case, but, as Mr. Bagby says, I believe in making every defence.”

“That may be so; but I’m going to fight this case on its merits,”
declared Major Welch, firmly. “I don’t propose, when a question of
fraud is raised, to shelter myself behind any technicalities. I mean
to make it as clear as day that I had no connection with any fraud. I
spoke to Mr. Bagby when the rumor of a suit was first started, and told
him so.” Though he spoke quietly his voice had a ring in it and his
face a light on it which made both Mrs. Welch and Ruth proud of him,
and Ruth squeezed her mother’s arm, in her joy. How different he looked
from those other men!

Meantime the change in Steve Allen was perceptible to many who had no
idea of the true reason it was so.

Jacquelin set it down to the wrong cause. Miss Thomasia, like
Jacquelin, laid Steve’s despondency at Blair’s door, and the good lady
cast about in her mind how she might draw Blair into a discussion of
the subject and give her some affectionate advice. But as often as she
touched on the subject of love, even in the most distant way, bringing
in Jacquelin as a sort of introduction, Blair shied off from it, so
that Miss Thomasia found it more difficult to accomplish than she had
anticipated.

Steve, however, was working on his own lines. His present situation
was intolerable to him. The fact that his name had not appeared on
Jacquelin’s bill stuck in his memory like a thorn. He was lying on the
grass under a tree in the court-green one afternoon reading a book,
not a law-book either, when the sound of horses’ feet caught his ear.
He looked up lazily as it came nearer, and soon in view appeared two
riders, a girl and a young man. They cantered easily along the little
street, their laughter coming across to Steve where he lay, his book
neglected on the ground beside him. Steve stretched, and picking up
his book dived once more into the “Idylls of the King.” But the spell
was broken. A line from Dante flashed through his mind. Launcelot and
Guinevere; Tristram and Isolt; Geraint and Enid, interested him no
more. The reality had passed before him. Resting his head against the
tree, he tried to go to sleep; but the minute denizens about in the
grass bothered him, the droning of bees in the locust boughs above
failed to lull him.

“‘I am half sick of shadows,’” he murmured to himself, and he sat up
and, resting against the tree, thought deeply. Another line came to him:

“On burnished hooves his war-horse trode.”

He suddenly sprang to his feet and walked straight to his office, his
face resolute and his step determined. He was not a girl to be caught
in a mesh! He would be the other. Jacquelin was at his desk, deep in a
big law-book. Steve shut the door behind him and stood with his back
against it looking down at his partner.

“Jacquelin, I am going to marry Ruth Welch.”

“What!” Jacquelin looked up in blank amazement. “Oh!” he laughed. “I
thought you meant you had asked her.”

“You misunderstand me. It is not conceit. It is determination. I have
no idea she will accept me now; but she will in the end. She shall, I
will win her.” He was grave, and though his words spoke conceit, his
voice and face had not a trace of it. Jacquelin too became grave.

“I believe you can win her if you try, Steve—unless someone else is in
the way; but it is a long chase, I warn you.” Steve’s brow clouded for
a second, but the shadow disappeared as quickly as it came.

“You don’t think there’s anything in that story about Wash Still?” His
tone had a certain fiery contempt in it. “I tell you there isn’t. I’ll
stake my salvation on that. An eagle does not mate with a weasel!”

“No—I do not believe she would, but how about her mother? You know
what she thinks of us, and what they say of her missionary ideas, and
Wash Still has been playing assiduously on that string of late. He is
visiting all her sick, free—he says. Besides they have not the same
ideas that we have about family and so on, and they don’t know the
Stills as we do.”

“Not pride of family! You don’t know her. She’s one of the proudest
people in the United States, of her family. I tell you she could give
General Legaie six in the game and beat him. By Jove! I wish one could
do the old-fashioned way. I’d just ride up and storm the stronghold
and carry her off!” burst out Steve, straightening up and stretching
out his arms, half in jest, half in earnest, his eyes flashing and his
color rising at the thought.

“Now you have to storm the stronghold all the same, without carrying
her off,” Jacquelin laughed.

“No, I’ll carry her away some day,” asseverated Steve, confidently.
“It’s worth all my worthless life and a good deal more too.”

“I think if you get into that spirit you may win her; but I’m afraid
they’ll hardly recognize you in the rôle of humility. I doubt if they
have heard much of you in that character. How are you going about it?
You have not seen her since the suit was brought, and I doubt if she
will speak to you.”

“She will not? I’ll make her. Whether she speaks or not, I’ll win her.”

“There goes your robe of humility. You have to win her parents
first—for you have to ask their permission.”

Steve relapsed into thought for a moment, during which Jacquelin
watched him closely.

“Do you think that’s necessary?” he asked, doubtfully, as if almost to
himself.

[Illustration: STEVE STRETCHED, AND, PICKING UP HIS BOOK, DIVED ONCE
MORE INTO THE “IDYLLS OF THE KING.”]

“I do, under the circumstances—for you; not for Wash Still.”

“The gorgon will refuse me——”

“Probably—All the same, you have to do it.”

Suddenly, with a sigh, Steve came out of his reverie as if he were
emerging from a cloud. His countenance cleared up and he spoke with
decision.

“You are right. I knew you were right all the time. But I did not want
to do it. I will, though. I’ll do it if I lose her.” He turned to go
out.

“When are you going to do it?”

“Right now.” In the presence of contest Steve’s face had got back all
its fire, his voice all its ring.

“I believe you’ll win her,” said Jacquelin.

“I know I shall, some day,” said Steve. And a little later Jacquelin
heard him in his room, whistling “Bonny Dundee,” and calling to Jerry
to saddle his horse.

Major Welch was sitting on his veranda that afternoon about sunset when
a rider came out of the woods far below, at a gallop, and continued
to gallop all the way up the hill. There was something about a rapid
gallop up hill and down that always bore Major Welch’s mind back to
the war. As the horseman came nearer, Major Welch recognized Captain
Allen. He remembered the advice Still had recently given him, always to
have a pistol handy when he met Allen. He put the thought away from him
with almost a flush of shame that it should even have crossed his mind.
Should he meet a man at his own door, with a weapon? Not if he was shot
down for it. So, as the rider approached, Major Welch walked down to
meet him at the gate, just as Steve, dismounting, tied his horse.

The young man’s face was pale, his manner constrained, and he was
manifestly laboring under more emotion than he usually showed.
Wondering what could be the object of his call, Major Welch met him
gravely. Steve held out his hand and the Major took it formally. At any
rate the mission was peaceful.

“Major Welch, I have come to see you—” he began hesitatingly, his hat
in his hand, and his face flushed.

“Won’t you walk up on the veranda and sit down?” The Major did not mean
to be outdone in civility.

“Not until I have stated the object of my visit. Then, if you choose
to invite me, I shall be very glad to accept.” He had recovered his
composure.

The Major was more mystified.

“I have come this evening for a purpose which, perhaps, will—no doubt
will—surprise you.” The Major looked affirmative, and wondered more
and more what it could mean.

“I have come to ask your permission to pay my addresses to your
daughter.”

If the Major was expecting to be surprised, he was more than surprised;
he was dazed—he almost gasped.

“What?”

“I am not surprised that you are astonished.” The younger man, now that
the ice was broken, was regaining his composure. “It is, however, no
sudden impulse on my part.” How melodious his deep voice had grown!
Major Welch was sensible of the charm growing upon him that he had seen
exercised in the case of others.

“I have loved your daughter”—(his voice suddenly sank to a pitch as
full of reverence as of softness)—“a long time; perhaps not long in
duration, but ever since I knew her. From that evening that I first met
her here, I have loved her.” His glance stole toward the tree in which
he had found Ruth that afternoon. “If I can obtain your consent, and
shall find favor in her eyes, I shall be the happiest and most blessed
of men.” He gave a deep sigh of relief. He stood suddenly before Major
Welch a different being—modest and manly, not without recognition of
his power, and yet not for a second presuming on it. Major Welch could
not help being impressed by him. A wave of the old liking that he had
had for him when he first met him came over him.

“Does my daughter know of this?” he asked.

“I hardly know. I have never said anything of it to her directly, but I
do not know how much a girl’s instinct can read. My manner has seemed
to myself always that of a suitor, and at times I have wondered how she
could help reading the thoughts of my heart; they have seemed to me
almost audible. Others have known it for some time; at least one other
has. I thought your daughter knew it. Yet now I cannot tell. She has
never given me the slightest encouragement.”

“I thought you were in love with—with someone else; with your cousin,
and her accepted lover? Rumor has so stated it?” The elder gentleman’s
manner cooled again as the thought recurred to him.

Steve smiled.

“Blair Cary? I do love her—dearly—but only as an admirer and older
brother might. I am aware of the impression that has existed, but
her heart has long been given to another who has loved her from his
boyhood. From certain causes, which I need not trouble you with and
which occurred before you arrived, differences grew up between them,
and they became estranged; but the affection remains. Jacquelin does
not know it, but in time he will succeed, and it is one of my most
cherished hopes that some time he will realize that great happiness in
store for him. Meantime, I feel sure that you will consider what I have
said of this as confidential. I have, perhaps, said more than I should
have done.”

Major Welch bowed. “Of course I will. And now I wish to say that I am
so much taken by surprise by what you have told me that I scarcely know
just what answer to give you at this time. I appreciate the step you
have taken. But it is so strange—so unexpected—that I must have time
for reflection. I must consult my wife, who is my best adviser and our
daughter’s best guardian. And I can only say that we wish for nothing
but our child’s best and most lasting happiness. I cannot, of course,
under the circumstances renew my invitation to you to come in.” He
paused and reflected. “Nor can I hold out to you any hope. And I think
I must ask you not to speak to my daughter on the subject until I have
given my consent.”

“I promise you that,” said Steve. “I should not have come to you at all
unless I had been prepared to give that promise.”

The young man evidently had something more that he wished to say; he
hesitated a moment and then began again.

“One other thing I should tell you. I brought the suit for Jacquelin
and Rupert Gray. Although my name was not signed to the bill, I brought
the suit, and have the responsibility.”

Major Welch could not help a graver look coming into his face—he felt
almost grim, but he tried to choke down the sensation.

“I was aware of that.”

“There is one word more I would like to say, but—not now—I should
possibly be misunderstood. Perhaps the day may come—May I say in the
meantime that I am not one who changes or is easily disheartened? I
know that even if I should secure your consent I should have to make
the fight of my life to win your daughter—but I should do it. I think
the prize well worth all, and far more than all I could give.”

He stood diffidently, as though not knowing whether Major Welch would
take his hand if offered. The Major, however, made the advance and
the two men shook hands ceremoniously and Steve mounted his horse and
without looking back rode off, while Major Welch returned slowly to the
house. The only glance Steve gave was one up toward the old cherry-tree
in the yard.

Mrs. Welch had seen Steve ride up and had watched with curiosity and
some anxiety the conference that had taken place at the gate. When the
Major stated to her the object of Mr. Allen’s visit she was too much
surprised to speak. She, however, received the announcement somewhat
differently from the way the Major had expected. She was deeply
offended. Without an instant’s hesitation she was for despatching an
immediate and indignant refusal.

“Of course, you at once refused him and told him what you thought of
his effrontery?” she said.

“Well—no, I did not,” said Major Welch. In fact, though the Major had
been astonished by Steve’s proposal and had supposed that it would be
rejected, it had not occurred to him that his wife would take it in
just this way.

“You did not! Oh, you men! I wish he had spoken to me! It was an
opportunity I should not have lost. But he would not have dared to face
me with his insulting proposal.”

“Well, I don’t think he intended it as an insult, and without intention
it cannot be an insult. I think if you had seen him you would have felt
this.”

“Do you think I would entrust my daughter’s happiness to a desperado
and a midnight assassin?”

“No, I cannot say that I thought you would—nor would I. But I am not
prepared to say I think him either an assassin or a desperado.”

“Well, I am,” asserted Mrs. Welch. “I was deceived in him once and I
will not give him a chance again.”

“I simply told him that I would confer with you and give him our
answer.”

“He will take that as encouragement,” declared Mrs. Welch, “and will be
pursuing Ruth and persecuting her.”

“No, he will not. He gave me his word that he would not speak to her
without my—without our consent——”

“He will not keep it.” Mrs. Welch’s words were not as positive as her
manner.

“Yes, he will. I will stand sponsor.” Major Welch was thinking of the
young man as he had just stood before him.

“Well, I am glad you extracted that much of a pledge from him. He will
not get my consent in this life, I can assure him.”

“Nor mine without yours and Ruth’s,” said Major Welch, gravely. “I will
write him and tell him what you say. Shall I mention it to Ruth? “

“No, of course not.”

Major Welch did not see why it should be “of course”; but he considered
that his wife knew more of such things than he did, and he accordingly
accepted her opinion without question.

“Where is Ruth?” he asked.

“She went with Dr. Still to see a sick woman he wanted me to see. I was
not able to go this afternoon when he called, so I sent her. I don’t
think there is much the matter with her.”

Major Welch sat for a moment in deep reflection. He was evidently
puzzled. Suddenly he broke the silence.

“Prudence, you don’t mean that you wish that—that you think that young
fellow is a suitable—ah—companion for our daughter?” That was not the
word Major Welch meant.

“William!” exclaimed Mrs. Welch. She said no more, and it was not
necessary. Major Welch felt that he had committed a great mistake—a
terrible blunder. A moment before, he had had the best of the
situation, and he had been conscious of a feeling of somewhat exalted
virtue; now he had thrown it away. He felt very foolish, and though he
hoped he did not show it, he did show it plainly. He began to defend
himself: a further blunder.

“Well, my dear, how could I know? That young fellow has been coming
over here day after day, with his horses and buggies, on one pretext
or another—tagging after—not after you or me certainly—and you are
as civil to him as if he were the—the President himself, and actually
send the child off with him——”

“William! Send the child off with him!—I!”

“Well, no—not exactly that, of course,” said her husband, rather
embarrassed, “but permitting her to go, and thus giving him an
opportunity to declare himself, which he would be a stick not to avail
himself of.”

“I am glad you retracted that, William,” said Mrs. Welch, with the air
of one deeply aggrieved. “Of course, I am civil to the young man. I
hope I am civil to everyone. But you little know a mother’s heart. I
have always said that no man can understand a woman.”

“I believe that’s so,” said her husband, smiling. “I know I have often
heard your Royal Highness say so. But did it ever occur to you that it
may be because men are somewhat direct and downright? “

“Now don’t go and insult my sex to cover the density of yours,” said
Mrs. Welch. “Confine your attack to one. If you think that I would
allow my daughter to marry that—that young upstart, you don’t know me
as well as you did the first day we met.”

“Oh, yes I do! I know you well enough to know you are the best and most
devoted wife and mother and friend in the world,” declared her husband.
“But, you see, I misunderstood you. I reason simply from the plain
facts that lie right before my eyes——”

“And you always will misunderstand, my dear. Your sex always will
misunderstand until they learn that woman is a more complex and finer
organism that their clumsy, primary machine, moved by more delicate and
complicated motives.”

“Well, I agree to that,” said her husband. “And I am very glad to
find you agree with me—that I agree with you—” he corrected, with a
twinkle in his eye, “as to that young man.”

Mrs. Welch accepted his surrender with graciousness and left the room,
and the Major sat down and wrote his reply to Captain Allen.

He expressed his unfeigned appreciation of the honor done, but gave him
to understand that after conference with Mrs. Welch they felt it their
duty to state to him that his suit for their daughter would not be
acceptable to them, and he requested him to consider the matter closed.

As soon as he had finished the letter the Major despatched it to Mr.
Allen by a messenger.

He had hardly sent it off when Mrs. Welch returned. Her first question
was whether the answer had gone. She was manifestly disappointed to
learn that it had been sent.

“I wish you had let me see it,” she said.

“Oh! I made it positive enough,” declared the Major.

“Yes, I was not thinking of that,” Mrs. Welch said, thoughtfully. “I
was afraid you would be too—Men are so hasty—so up and down—they
don’t know how to deal with such matters as a woman would.”

Major Welch turned on her in blank amazement—a little humor lighting
up his face. Mrs. Welch answered as if he had made a charge.

“You men will never understand us.”

“I believe that’s so. You women are curious, especially where your
daughters are concerned. I set the young man down pretty hard, just as
you wished me to do.”

Mrs. Welch made a gesture of dissent.

“Not at all—I have reflected on what you said about—about his not
intending to be insulting, and I think you are right. I no more wish to
accept his proposal now than before; all I want is to—?” She made a
gesture—“Oh! you understand.”

“Yes, I think I do,” laughed her husband “Why cannot women let a man
go?”



CHAPTER XXXII

A CUT DIRECT AND A REJECTED ADDRESS


The revelation that Steve made to Jacquelin in their law-office the
night the bill was filed, seemed suddenly to have opened life again to
Jacquelin. Looking back over the past, he could now see how foolish he
had been. Incidents which he had construed one way now, in the light
of Steve’s disclosure, took on a new complexion. He appeared to have
sprung suddenly into a new and rarer atmosphere. Hope was easily worth
everything else in Pandora’s box. When he began to visit at Dr. Cary’s
again, it must be said, that he could discern no change in Blair. Easy
and charming as she always was to others, to him she was as constrained
as formerly. She treated him with the same coldness that she had always
shown him since that fatal evening when he had taken her to task
about Middleton, and then had alleged that it was on Steve’s account.
However, he was not to be cast down now. With the key which Steve had
given him he could afford to wait and was willing to serve for his
mistake, and he set down her treatment of him simply to a woman’s
caprice. He would bide his time until the occasion came and then he
would win her. According to Steve, she had no idea that he was still
in love with her, and according to the same expert authority, this was
what she waited for. He had first to prove his love, and then he should
find that he had hers. So through the long summer months he served
faithfully. Each time that he saw Blair he found himself more deeply
in love than before; and each time he feared more to tell her of it,
lest Steve’s diagnosis should possibly prove wrong. He knew that the
next time he opened the subject it must be final. He even stood seeing
McRaffle visiting Dr. Cary’s, though he fumed and smouldered internally
over a man like McRaffle being in Blair’s presence, however smooth
he was. Steve declared that McRaffle was in love with Miss Welch,
but Jacquelin knew better. Steve was such a jealous creature that he
thought everyone was in love with Miss Welch—even that Wash Still was,
whom Miss Welch would not so much as look at. No, McRaffle was in love
with Blair. Jacquelin knew it—just as he knew that Middleton was. She
could not bear McRaffle, of course; but the thought of Middleton often
crossed Jacquelin’s mind, and discomposed him. He had heard of the
honors Middleton had won in the Northwest and of his retirement from
the service. Blair had told him of it with undue enthusiasm. Confound
him! When that Indian bullet hit him most men would have died. Then
as his thought ran this way Jacquelin would haul himself up short,
with a feeling of hot shame that such an ignoble idea could even enter
his mind, and next time he saw Blair would speak of Middleton with
unmeasured admiration.

At length he could wait no longer. He would tell her how he had always
loved her. Steve was his confidant, as he was Steve’s, and Steve agreed
that this was the thing to do.

Alas! for masculine wisdom! The way of a serpent on a rock is not
harder than that of a maid with a man. An opportunity presented itself
one afternoon in which everything appeared so propitious that Jacquelin
felt as though the time were made for his occasion. He and Blair had
been to ride. The summer woods had been heavenly in their peacefulness
and charm. Blair had insensibly fallen into a softer mood than she
usually showed him, and, as they had talked of old times, she had
seemed sweeter to him than ever before. He had spoken to her of Rupert,
and of his anxiety about the boy; of his association with McRaffle, and
of the influence McRaffle seemed to have obtained over him; and Blair
had responded with a warmth which had set his heart to bounding. Mr.
McRaffle was a dangerous, bad man, she declared, and she was doing all
she could to counteract his evil influence over Rupert. Her sweetness
to Jacquelin was such that he had hardly been able to restrain himself
from opening his heart to her then and there, and asking her to let
the past be bygones and accept his love. But he had waited until they
should reach home, and now they were at the door. She invited him
to stay to tea. Her voice thrilled him. Jacquelin suddenly began to
speak to her of what was in his heart. She dropped her eyes and he was
conscious that she was trembling. In his constraint he referred to the
past, and faltered something about Steve having set him right. She
looked up quickly. He did not heed it, but went on and said all he had
so often rehearsed, with a good deal more than he had planned to say.
Perhaps he gathered confidence as he went on—perhaps he showed it a
little too much; for he became conscious somehow that she was not as
responsive as she had been just before.

When he was quite through, he waited. She also waited a moment, and
then began.

She did not care for him, except as a relative, and she never expected
to marry at all. She was not looking at him, and was evidently speaking
under strong feeling.

Jacquelin’s hopes were all dashed to the ground. His throat felt
parched, and when he tried to speak again his lips did not frame his
words easily.

“May I ask if you care for anyone else?” he demanded, in a constrained
voice.

“She did not know that he had any right to ask her such a question. She
had already told him that she never expected to marry anyone.” She had
grown more formal.


Jacquelin was sure now that she cared for Middleton, and she had simply
misled Steve.

“What did you tell Steve?” he asked.

She faced him, her figure quite straight and strong, her flashing eyes
fastened searchingly on his face.

“So that’s the reason you have come! Steve told you to come, and you
have come to say what he told you to say. Well, go back to him and tell
him I say he was mistaken.” Her lip curled as she turned on her heel.

“No—no—Blair—wait one moment!” But she had walked slowly into the
house, and Jacquelin saw her climb the stair.

A moment later he mounted his horse, and came slowly away down the road
he knew so well, the road to Vain regret, beyond which, somewhere, lies
Despair.

He knew now it was Middleton who had barred his way, and that to keep
her secret, Blair had misled Steve. He might have forgiven her all
else, but he could not forgive that.

When Jacquelin announced the result of his proposal to Steve, that
wise counsellor laughed at him. He could make it up in ten minutes, he
declared, and he rode up to see Blair next day. His interview lasted
somewhat longer than he had expected, and most of the time he had been
defending himself against Blair’s scathing attack. When he left, it was
with a feeling that he had done both Blair and Jacquelin an injury, and
when he saw Jacquelin, he summed up his position briefly: “Well, Jack,
I give it up. I thought I knew something of men and women; but I give
up women.”

After his interview with Major Welch, Captain Allen had appeared to be
in better spirits than he had been in for some time. Even the letter he
received from that gentleman did not wholly dash his hopes, and though
they occasionally sank, they as often rallied again. We know from the
greatest of novelists that when a man is cudgelling his brains for
other rhymes to “sorrow” besides “borrow” and “to-morrow,” he is nearer
light than he thinks. Steve found this safety-scape.

Jacquelin did not write poetry or even “poems” on the subject of his
disappointment; but his cheek-bones began to show more, and his chin
began to take on a firmer set.

But Captain Allen was soon plunged as deep in the abyss as Jacquelin.

He was sitting in his office looking out of the window one afternoon,
a habit that had grown on him of late, when a pair of riders, a lady
and her escort, rode up the street, in plain view of where he sat. At
sight of the trim figure sitting her horse so jauntily, Steve’s heart
gave a bound and a light came into his eyes. The next instant a cloud
followed as he recognized Miss Welch’s companion as Dr. Washington
Still. Rumor had reported that Dr. Still was with her a good deal of
late. Miss Thomasia and Blair had met them one evening visiting a poor
woman together. McRaffle had taken the trouble to state that he had
frequently met them.

Steve could not believe that such a girl as Ruth Welch could be
accepting the addresses of such a man as young Dr. Still. She could not
know him. He followed the girl, with his eyes, as long as she was in
view. For some moments afterward he sat with a dogged resolution on his
face; but it gradually faded away, and he rose and went out, passing
down to the street. He had not seen Ruth Welch face to face since the
filing of Jacquelin’s suit. But she had never been absent from his
thoughts for a moment. He had heard that both she and Mrs. Welch had a
great deal of feeling about the suit, and that both had spoken bitterly
of him; but Major Welch had received him civilly, even though he had
denied his request to be allowed to offer himself as Ruth’s suitor.

With a combination of emotions, rather than with any single idea in his
mind, Steve strode into the village and up the street. He wanted to get
away, and he wanted to be near her and have a look in her face; but he
had no definite intention of letting her see him, none, at least, of
meeting her. But as he turned a corner into a shady street they were
coming back and Steve saw that even at a distance Ruth Welch knew him.
He could not turn back; so kept on, and as they passed him he raised
his hat. Miss Welch’s escort, with a supercilious look on his face,
raised his hat; but the girl looked Steve full in the eyes and cut him
dead. The blood sprang into Steve’s face. For any sign she gave, except
a sudden whitening, and a contraction of the mouth, she might never
have seen him before in all her life. The next second Steve heard her
voice starting apparently a very animated conversation with her escort,
and heard him reply:

“Hurrah! for you, that will settle him;” and break into a loud laugh.

Steve did not return to his office that evening. He spent the night
wandering about in blind and hopeless gloom. But had Mr. Allen known
what occurred during the remainder of that ride he might have found in
it some consolation.

Miss Ruth had hardly gotten out of hearing of Captain Allen, and her
escort had scarcely had time to turn over in his mind his enjoyment
of his rival’s discomfiture and his own triumph, when the young lady
inexplicably changed and turned on him so viciously and with so biting
a sarcasm that he was almost dumfounded. The occasion for her change
was so slight that Wash Still was completely mystified. It was only
some slighting little speech he made about the man she had just cut
dead.

“Why don’t you say that to Captain Allen?” she asked, with a sudden
flush on her face and a flash in her eyes. “You, at least, have not the
excuse of not speaking to him.”

Women have this in common with the Deity, that their ways are past
finding out. The young doctor was completely mystified; but he could
not comprehend how Miss Welch could have cut Captain Allen without it,
in some way, redounding to his own advantage, and, notwithstanding her
fierceness and coldness toward him, he believed it was a favorable time
for him.

The ride home through the woods in the soft summer afternoon presented
an opportunity he had been seeking for some time, and the attitude
Ruth had shown toward his rival appeared to him to indicate that
everything was propitious. Even her attack he construed as only a flash
of feminine caprice. After her little explosion, Miss Welch had lapsed
into silence, and rode with her eyes on her horse’s mane and her lips
firmly closed. The young man took it for remorse for her conduct, and
drawing up to her side, began to talk of himself and of his affairs.
Ruth listened in silence—so silently, indeed, that she scarcely seemed
to be listening at all—and the young doctor was moved to enlarge
somewhat eloquently on his prospects as the owner of both Birdwood and
Red Rock, the handsomest places in the County. Presently, however,
he changed, and as they reached a shady place in the road, began to
address her. He stated that he thought she had given him reason to
hope he might be successful. The change in Ruth was electric. She gave
suddenly a vehement gesture of wild dissent:

“Oh! No! no! Don’t!” she cried, and drew her horse to a stand, turning
in the road and facing the young man. “No! no! You have misunderstood
me! How could you think so? I have never done it! I never dreamed of
it! It is impossible!” The deep color sprang to her face, but the next
moment she controlled herself by a strong effort, and faced the young
man again. “Dr. Still,” she said, calmly and with deep earnestness,
“I am sure that, wittingly, I never gave you the least warrant to
think—to suppose that I could—that you might say to me what you have
said. My conscience tells me this; but if I have ever done or said
anything that appeared to you to be a ground to build a hope on, I am
deeply sorry, and humbly beg your pardon. I beg you to believe me, I
never intended it. I do not wish to appear hard or—cruel, but I must
tell you now that there is not the slightest hope for you, and never
will be. I do not love you, I never could love, and I will never
marry, you, never.” She could not have spoken more strongly.

The young man’s face, which had begun by being pale, had now turned
crimson, and he broke out, almost violently—reiterating that she had
given him ground to think himself favored. He cited the rides she had
taken with him. Ruth’s eyes opened wide and her form straightened:

“I do not wish to discuss this further. I have told you the simple
truth. I should prefer that you go on ahead of me—I prefer to ride
home alone.”

“Why did you cut Steve Allen this evening?” Dr. Still persisted,
angrily.

Ruth’s face hardened.

“Certainly not on your account,” she said, coldly, “or for any reason
that you will understand. Go; I will ride home alone.”

“I used to think you were in love with him, and so did everybody else,”
persisted he; “but it can’t be him. Is it that young jackanapes, Rupert
Gray? He’s in love with you, but I didn’t suppose you to be in love
with a boy like that.”

Ruth’s face flamed with indignation.

“By what right do you question me as to such things? Go, I will ride
home alone.” She drew her horse back and away from him. The young man
hesitated for a moment, but Ruth was inexorable.

“If you please—go!” she said, coldly, pointing down the road.

“Well, I will go,” he burst out, angrily. “But Rupert Gray and the
whole set of ’em had better look out for me,” and with a growl of rage,
he struck his horse and galloped away.

Miss Welch rode on alone, her heart moved by conflicting
emotions—indignation, apprehension—and yet others, deeper than
these. What right had this man to treat her so? She flushed again with
indignation as she thought of his insolence. It seemed to her almost an
insult to have been addressed by him. She went over in her mind her
conduct toward him. There never was one thing of which he could have a
right to complain. Of this she was sure. It could not be otherwise, for
she had never for a moment been free from a consciousness of antipathy
to him. Then she went over her present situation, the situation of her
father and mother, now so lonely and cut off from everyone. The cool,
still woods, the deserted road, the far-reaching silence, were such as
to inspire loneliness and sadness, and Ruth was on the verge of tears
when the gallop of a horse came to her from ahead. She wondered if it
could be Wash Still returning, and a momentary wave of apprehension
swept over her. The next instant Rupert Gray cantered in sight. Ruth’s
first thought was one of relief, the next was that she ought to be
cool to him. But as the boy galloped up to her, his young face glowing
with pleasure, and reined in his horse, all her intended formality
disappeared, and she returned his greeting cordially.

“Well, I am in luck,” he exclaimed. “Mayn’t I ride home with you?” He
had assumed her consent, and turned his horse without waiting for it.

“I am afraid you may be going somewhere and I may detain you.”

“No, indeed; I am my own master,” he said, with a toss of his head.
“Besides, I don’t like you to be riding so late all by yourself.”

The imitation of Steve Allen’s protecting manner was so unmistakable
that Ruth could not help smiling.

“Oh! I’m not afraid. No one would interfere with me.”

“They’d better not! If they did, they’d soon hear from me,” declared
the boy, warmly, with that mannish toss of the head which boys have.
“I’d soon show ’em who Rupert Gray is. Oh! I say! I met Washy Still up
the road yonder, a little way back, looking as sour as vinegar, and
you ought to have seen the way I cut him. I passed him just like this”
(giving an imitation of his stare), “and you just ought to have seen
the way he looked. He looked as if he’d have liked to shoot me.” He
burst into a clear, merry laugh.

The boy’s description of himself was so exactly like the way Ruth had
treated Steve, that she could not forbear smiling. The smile died away,
however, and an expression of seriousness took its place.

“Rupert, I don’t think it well to make enemies of people——”

“Who? Of Washy Still? Pshaw! He knows I hate him—and he hates me. I
don’t care. I want him to hate me. I’ll make him hate me worse before
I’m done.” It was the braggadocio of a boy.

Ruth thought of the gleam of hate that had come into the man’s eyes.
“He might do you an injury.”

“Who? Washy Still? Let him try it. I’m a better man than he is, any
day. But he’d never try it. He’s afraid to look me in the eyes. You
don’t like him, do you?” he asked with sudden earnestness.

“No, but I think you underestimate him.”

“Pshaw! He can’t hurt you—not unless you took his physic—no other
way. I asked if you liked him, because—because some people thought you
did, and I said you didn’t—I knew you didn’t. I say, I want to ask you
something. I wish you wouldn’t let him come to see you.”

“Why?”

“Why, because he is not a man you ought to associate with—he is not
a gentleman. He’s a sneak, and his father’s a thief. He stole our
place—just stole it—besides everything else he’s stolen.”

“Why, you say we—my father had something to do with that,” said Ruth,
quietly.

“What! You! Your father?—I said he stole!” He reined up his horse, in
his amazement.

“In your suit or bill, or whatever you call it.” Ruth felt that it was
cruel in her to strike him such a blow, yet she enjoyed it.

“I never did—we never did—you are mistaken,” stammered the boy. “Why,
I wouldn’t have done it for the whole of Red Rock—no more would Steve.
Let me explain. I know all about it.”

Ruth looked acquiescent, and as they walked their horses along under
the trees the boy tried to explain the matter. He was not very lucid,
for he was often confused; but he made clear the desire they had had to
keep Major Welch out of the matter, and the sincerity of their motive
in giving him the notice before he should buy, and the anxiety they had
had and the care they had taken to make it clear in their suit that no
charge of personal knowledge by him was intended. He also informed Ruth
of Steve’s action in the matter, and of the episode in the office that
night when the bill was signed, or, at least, of as much of it as he
had heard.

“But why did he do that?” asked Ruth.

“Don’t you know?”

“N—o.” Very doubtfully and shyly.

“Steve’s in love with you!”

“What? Oh, no! You are mistaken.” Ruth was conscious that her reply was
silly and weak, and that she was blushing violently.

“Yes, he is—dead in love. Why, everybody knows it—at least Jack does,
and Blair does, and I do. And I am, too,” he added, warmly. The boy’s
ingenuous declaration steadied Ruth and soothed her. She looked at him
with a pleased and gratified light on her face.

“I am—I am dead in love with you, too. I think you are the prettiest
and sweetest and kindest young lady in the whole world—just as nice
as Blair, every bit; and I just wish I was older—I just wish you
could marry me.” He was blushing and turning white by turns, and the
expression on his young face was so ingenuous and sweet and modest, and
the light in his eyes so adoring, that the girl’s heart went out to
him. She drew her horse over to his side, and put her hand softly on
his arm.

“Rupert, you are a dear, sweet boy, and, at least, you will let me be
your best friend, and you will be mine,” she said, sweetly.

“Yes, I will, and I think you are just as good as you can be, and I’ll
be just like your own brother, if you will let me.”

“Indeed, I will, and we will always be sister and brother to each
other.”

“Thank you,” he said, simply. A moment later he said, reining in his
horse, “I say, if you think that suit means anything against your
father, I’ll have it stopped.”

“No, no, Rupert; I am satisfied,” Ruth protested, with a smile.

“Because I can do it; Jack and Steve would do anything for me, and I
would do anything for you. It was mainly on my account, anyhow, that
they brought it, I believe,” he added. “They said I was a minor; but,
you know, I’ll soon be of age—I’m seventeen now. I don’t know why boys
have to be boys, anyhow! I don’t see why they can’t be men at once.”

“I think I know,” Ruth smiled, gazing at him pleasantly.

“And, I say, I want to tell you one thing about Steve. He isn’t what
people take him to be. You know?—Just clever and dashing and wild
and reckless. He’s the best and kindest fellow in the world. You ask
Aunt Thomasia and Blair and Aunt Peggy and Uncle Waverley and old Mrs.
Turley, and all the poor people about the County. And he’s as brave as
Julius Cæsar. I want to tell you that of him, and you know I wouldn’t
tell you if ’twa’n’t so.”

“I know,” said Ruth, looking at him more pleasantly than ever.

They were at the gate now, and Ruth invited him in; but Rupert said he
had an engagement.

“There is one thing I want to ask you to do,” said Ruth, rather
doubtfully.

“What is it?” he asked, brightening; and then, as she hesitated: “
Anything! I’ll do it. I’ll do anything for you, Miss Ruth; indeed, I
will.”

“No; it is not for me, but for yourself,” said Ruth, who was thinking
of a report that Rupert had been associating lately with some very wild
young men, and she had it in her mind to ask him not to do so any more.
“But, no; I’ll ask you next time I see you, maybe,” she added, after a
pause.

“All right; I promise you I’ll do it.”

He said good-by, and galloped away through the dusk.

Ruth stood for some time looking after him, and then turned and entered
the house, and went softly to her room.

Ruth did not think it necessary to tell her mother or father of the
incidents of her ride, except that Rupert had ridden home with her.
She shrank instinctively from speaking even to her mother of what had
occurred on the ride. She felt a certain humiliation in the fact that
Dr. Still had ventured to address her. Her only consolation was that
she knew she had never given him any right to speak so to her. She had
never gone anywhere with him except from a sense of duty, and had never
been anything but coldly polite to him. She was relieved to hear a few
days later that Dr. Still had left the County, and, rumor said, had
gone to the city to practise his profession. Anyhow, he was gone, and
Ruth felt much relieved, and buried her uncomfortable secret in her own
bosom.



CHAPTER XXXIII

BLAIR CARY SAVES A RIVAL SCHOOL


A new cause of grievance against Mrs. Welch had arisen in the County
in her conduct of her school near the Bend. Colored schools were not a
novelty in the County. Blair Cary had for two years or more taught the
colored school near her home. But Mrs. Welch had made a new departure.
The other school had been talked over and deliberated on until it was
in some sense the outcome of the concert of the neighborhood. Dr. Cary
gave the land and the timber. “Whether it will amount to anything
else, I cannot say; but it will amount to this, sir,” said the Doctor
to General Legaie, “I shall have done the best I could for my old
servants.” And on this, General Legaie, who had been the most violent
opponent of it all, had sent his ox-team to haul the stocks to the
mill. “Not because I believe it will accomplish any good, sir; but
because a gentleman can do no less than sustain other gentlemen who
have assumed obligations.”

Thus Miss Blair’s school was regarded in part as representative of
the old system. When, however, Mrs. Welch started her school, she
consulted no one and asked no assistance—at least, of the county
people. The aid she sought was only from her friends at the North, and
when she received it, she set in, chose her place and built her school,
giving out at the same time that it was to be used for sewing classes,
debating societies, and other public purposes. Thus this school came
to be considered as a foreign institution, conducted on foreign
principles, and in opposition to the school already established by the
neighborhood. Mrs. Welch not only built a much larger and handsomer
structure than any other school-house in that section, but she planted
vines to cover the porch, and introduced a system of prizes and rewards
so far beyond anything heretofore known in the County, that shortly
not only most of the scholars who had attended Blair’s school left,
but those from other schools much farther off began to flock to Mrs.
Welch’s seminary.

The first teacher Mrs. Welch secured to take charge of the institution
was a slender, delicate young woman with deep eyes, thin cheeks, and
a worn face, who by her too assiduous devotion to what she deemed her
duty and an entire disregard of all prudence, soon reduced herself
to such a low condition of health that Dr. Cary, who was called in,
insisted that she should be sent back to her old home. The next
teacher, Miss Slipley, was one who had testimonials high enough to
justify the idea that she was qualified to teach in Tübingen.

She was a young woman of about thirty, with somewhat pronounced views
and a very pronounced manner; her face was plain, but she had a good
figure, of which Mrs. Welch, who herself had a fine figure, thought
she was much too vain, and as her views relating to the conduct of the
school by no means coincided with those of Mrs. Welch, matters were
shortly not as harmonious between the two as they might have been. She
soon began to complain of the discomforts of her situation and her lack
of association. Mrs. Welch deplored this, but thought that Miss Slipley
should find her true reward in the sense of duty performed, and told
her so plainly. This, Miss Slipley said, was well enough when one had
a husband and family to support her, but she had had no idea that she
was to live in a wilderness, where her only associates were negroes,
and where not a man ever spoke to her, except to bow distantly. So
after a little time, she had thrown up her position and gone home, and
shortly afterward had married. This, to Mrs. Welch, explained all her
high airs. Just then Mrs. Welch received a letter from a young woman
she knew, asking her to look out for a position for her. During the war
this applicant had been a nurse in a hospital, where Mrs. Welch had
learned something of her efficiency. So when Miss Slipley left, Mrs.
Welch wrote Miss Bush to come.

“She, at least, will not have Miss Slipley’s very objectionable
drawbacks—for, if I remember aright, Miss Bush has no figure at all,”
said Mrs. Welch. “Heaven save me from women with figures! When an ugly
woman has nothing else, she is always showing her figure or her feet.”

When Miss Bush arrived Mrs. Welch found her impressions verified. She
was a homely little body, yet with kind eyes and a pleasant mouth. She
acceded cheerfully to all Mrs. Welch’s views. She was perfectly willing
to live with the woman at whose house it had been arranged that she
should board; she wished, she said, to live unobtrusively. She was in
deep mourning and wore a heavy veil.

Miss Bush had not been in her position long before Mrs. Welch felt that
at last she had found the very person for the place. She was as quiet
as a mouse, and not afraid of any work whatever. She not only taught,
but wholly effaced herself, and, in fact, proved a perfect treasure.

By the negroes she was called Miss May (a contraction for Mary), which
went abroad as her family name.

Miss May proved to be a strict disciplinarian, and a firm believer in
the somewhat obsolete, but not less wise doctrine, that to spare the
rod is to spoil the child, and as this came to be known, it had the
effect of establishing her in the good esteem of the neighborhood.
Thus, though no one visited her, Miss May received on all hands a
respectful regard. This was suddenly jeopardized at the opening of
the new campaign, by a report that the school-house, in addition to
its purposes as a school-building, was being used as a public hall by
negroes for their Union-league meetings. Leech, whose head-quarters
were now in the city, had come up to take charge of the canvass, and
had boasted that he would make it hot for his opponents—a boast he
appeared likely to make good. He attended the meetings at the new
school-house, and it was reported that he had made a speech in which
he said that the whites owed the negroes everything; that the time had
come for payment, and that matches were only five cents a box, and if
barns were burned they belonged to them. The report of this speech was
carried through the County next day. One night shortly afterward Andy
Stamper’s store was burned to the ground, and this was followed by the
burning of several barns throughout Red Rock and the adjoining counties.

The reappearance of the masked order that had almost disappeared
followed immediately in some places. A meeting was held in Brutusville,
denouncing the outrage of such speeches as those of Leech, at which Dr.
Cary presided, and Steve Allen and General Legaie, Jacquelin Gray and
Captain McRaffle spoke, but there was no reappearance in this County of
the masked men. McRaffle denounced the patrons and teacher of the new
school with so much heat that Steve Allen declared he was as incendiary
as Leech.

McRaffle sneered that Steve appeared to have become very suddenly a
champion of the carpet-bagger, Welch; and Steve retorted that at least
he did not try to borrow from people and then vilify them, but that
Captain McRaffle could find another cause to quarrel with him if he
wished it. For a long time there had been bad blood between Steve and
McRaffle. Among other causes was McRaffle’s evil influence over Rupert.

Rupert Gray had been growing of late more and more independent,
associating with McRaffle and a number of the wildest fellows in the
County, and showing a tendency to recklessness which had caused all
his friends much concern. Jacquelin tried to counsel and control him,
but the boy was wayward and heedless. Rupert thought it was hard that
he was to be under direction at an age when Jacquelin had already won
laurels as a soldier.

When his brother took him to task for going off with some of the wilder
young men in their escapades, Rupert only laughed at him.

“Why, Jack, it’s you I am emulating. As Cousin John Cary would say,
‘The trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep.’” And when Captain
Allen tried to counsel him seriously, he floored that gentleman by
saying that he had learned both to drink and to play poker from him. He
was, however, devoted to Blair, and she appeared to have much influence
with him; so Steve and Jacquelin tried to keep him with her as much as
possible.

One evening shortly after the public meeting at which Steve and
McRaffle had had their quarrel, Rupert appeared to be somewhat
restless. Blair had learned the signs and knew that in such cases it
was likely to be due to Rupert’s having heard that some mischief was
on foot, and she used to devise all sorts of schemes to keep the boy
occupied. She soon discovered now what was the matter. Rupert had heard
a rumor that a movement was about to be directed against Miss May’s
school. None of the men he was intimate with knew much about it. It
was only a rumor. Steve and Jacquelin were both away from the County
attending Court in another county. Blair was much disturbed.

“Why, they are going to do it on your account,” said Rupert. “They say
this school was started to break up your school.”

“Nonsense! Do they think that’s the way to help me? The teacher is a
woman,” urged Blair. Rupert’s countenance fell.

“They aren’t going to trouble her—are just going to scare the negroes
so there won’t be any more meetings held there. Some say she’s kin to
Leech—or something.”

“She is nothing of the kind,” asserted Blair. “Ruth Welch told me she
had never seen Mr. Leech, and declined positively to see him. When is
it to be?”

“To-night.”

Blair lamented the absence of Jacquelin and Steve. If they were but at
home they would, she knew, prevent this outrage.

“Oh! Jacquelin and Steve! They are nothing but old fogies,” laughed
Rupert. “McRaffle, he’s the man!” With a toss of his head he broke into
a snatch of Bonny Dundee.

Blair watched him gravely for a moment.

“Rupert,” she said, “Captain McRaffle is nothing but a gambler and an
adventurer. He is not worthy to be named in the same breath with—with
Steve and—your brother any more than he is to be named with my father.
This is the proof of it, that he is going to try to interfere with a
woman. Why does he not go after Colonel Leech, who made the speech
there?” Rupert’s face grew grave. Blair pressed her advantage.

“He is a coward; for he would never dare to undertake such a thing
if your brother and Steve were at home. He takes advantage of their
absence to do this, when he knows that Miss May has no defender.”

Rupert’s eye flashed.

“By George! I never thought of that,” he burst out. “She has got a
defender. I’ll go there and stand guard myself. You needn’t have any
fear, Blair, if I’m there.” He hitched his coat around in such a way as
to display the butt of a huge pistol. Blair could not help smiling. But
this was not what she wanted. She was afraid to send Rupert to guard
the place. He had not judgment enough. If what the boy had heard were
true, something might happen to him if he went there. She knew that he
would defend it with his life; but she was afraid of the consequences.
So she set to work to put Rupert on another tack. She wanted him to
go down to the county seat and learn what he could of the plans, and
try to keep the men from coming at all. This scheme was by no means
as agreeable to Rupert as the other, but he finally yielded, and set
out. Blair watched him ride away through the orchard, the evening
light falling softly around him as he cantered off. She sat still
for a little while thinking. Suddenly she rose, and going into the
house found her mother and held a short consultation with her. A few
moments later she came out with her hat on, and disappeared among the
apple-trees, walking rapidly in the same direction Rupert had taken.
Her last act as she left the house was to call softly to her mother:

“When Rupert comes back send him after me. I will wait for him at Mr.
Stamper’s.”

It had occurred to her that Andy Stamper would do what she was afraid
to have a rash boy like Rupert attempt. Andy hated Leech, to whom he
charged the burning of his store; but he was devoted to Miss Welch. And
he had told Blair of seeing Miss May once pull down her veil to keep
from looking at Leech.

When, however, Blair arrived at the Stampers’s Mr. Stamper was absent.
But she found an heroic enough ally in his representative, Mrs. Delia,
to make up for all other deficiencies. The idea of the possibility of
an injury to one of her sex fired that vigorous soul with a flame not
to be quenched.

“I jest wish my Andy was here,” she lamented. “He’d soon straighten ’em
out. Not as I cares, Miss Blair, about the school, or the teacher,”
she said, with careful limitation; “for I don’t like none of ’em, and
I’d be glad if they’d all go back where they come from. The old school
was good enough for me, and them as can’t find enough in white folks
to work on, outdoes me. But—a man as can’t git a man to have a fuss
with and has to go after a woman, Delia Stamper jist wants to git hold
of him. I never did like that Cap’n McRaffler, anyhow. He owes Andy a
hundred and twenty-nine dollars, and if I hadn’t stopt Andy from givin’
him things—that’s what I call it—jest _givin’_ ’em to him—sellin’
on credit, he’d a owed us five hundred. He knows better th’n to fool
with me.” She gave a belligerent shake of her head. “I’ll tell you
what, Miss Blair,” she suddenly broke out. “Our men folks are all away.
If they are comin’ after women, let’s give ’em some women to meet as
know how to deal with ’em. I wants to meet Captain McRaffler, anyhow.”
Another shake of the head was given, this time up and down, and her
black eyes began to sparkle. Blair looked at her with new satisfaction.

“That is what I wish. That is why I came,” she said. “Can you leave
your children?”

“They are all right,” said Mrs. Stamper, with kindling eyes. “I ain’t
been on such an expedition not since the war. I’ll leave word for Andy
to come as soon as he gits home.”

As they sallied forth, Mrs. Stamper put into her pocket a big pistol
and her knitting. “One gives me courage to take the other,” she said.

It was a mile or two through the woods to the school-house, and the
novel guards arrived at their post none too soon. As they emerged from
the woods into the little clearing on one side of which stood the
church and on the other the new school-house, the waning moon was just
rising above the tree-tops, casting a ghostly light through the trees
and deepening the shadows. The school-house was considerably larger
than any other in the neighborhood, and over one end of the porch Miss
May had trained a Virginia creeper. The two guards took their seats in
the shadow of the vine. They were both somewhat awed by the situation,
but from different causes. Blair’s feeling was due to the strangeness
of her situation out there, surrounded by dark woods filled with the
cries of night insects and the mournful call of the whip-poor-will.
Mrs. Stamper confessed that the graves amid the weeds around the church
were what disquieted her. For she boasted that she “was not afeared of
that man living.” But she admitted mournfully, “I am certainly afeared
of ghosts.”

The two sentinels had but a short time to wait. They had not been
there long before the tramp of horses was heard, and in a little while
from the woods opposite them emerged a cavalcade of, perhaps, a dozen
horsemen. Mrs. Stamper clutched Blair with a grip of terror, for men
and horses were heavily shrouded and looked ghostly enough. Blair was
trembling, but not from fear, only from excitement. The presence of the
enemy suddenly strung her up, and she put her hand on her companion
encouragingly. Just then one of the men burst into a loud laugh. Mrs.
Delia’s grip relaxed.

“I know that laugh,” she said, with a sigh of deep relief. “Jest let
him ride up here and try some of his shenanigan!” She began to pull at
her pistol, but Blair seized her.

“For heaven’s sake, don’t,” she whispered; and Mrs. Stamper let the
pistol go, and they squeezed back into the shadow. Just then the men
rode up to the school-house door. They were discussing what they should
do. “Burn the house down,” declared the leader. “Drive the old hag
away.” But this met with fierce opposition.

“I didn’t come out here to burn any house down,” said one of the men,
“and I’m not going to do it. You can put your notice up and come along.”

“Ah! you’re afraid,” sneered the other.

There was a movement among the horsemen, and the man so charged rode up
to the head of the column and pulled his horse in front of the leader.
There was a gleam of steel in the light of the moon.

“Take that back, or I’ll make you prove it,” he said, angrily. “Ride
out there and draw your pistol; we’ll let Jim here give the word, and
we’ll see who’s afraid.”

Their companions crowded around them to make peace. The leader
apologized. The sentiment of the crowd was evidently against him.

“Now get down and fix up your notice to Leech, and let’s be going,”
said one of the peacemakers.

The leader dismounted and started up to the door. As he did so, one of
the two young women stepped forward.

[Illustration: SHE GAVE A STEP FORWARD AND WITH A QUICK MOVEMENT PULLED
THE MASK FROM HIS FACE.]

“What do you want?” asked Mrs. Stamper. The man positively staggered
from surprise, and a murmur of astonishment broke from the horsemen.
Mrs. Stamper did not give them time to recover. With true soldierly
instinct she pressed her advantage. “I know what you want,” she said,
with scorn. “You want to scare a poor woman who ain’t got anybody to
defend her. You ain’t so much against niggers and carpet-baggers as you
make out. I know you.”

“You know nothing of the kind,” growled the man, angrily, in a deep
voice. He had recovered himself. “What business have you here? Go home,
wherever that may be, and leave the Invisible Empire to execute its
dread decrees.”

“Dread fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Mrs. Stamper. “I don’t know you, don’t
I?” She gave a step forward and, with a quick movement, caught and
pulled the mask from his face. “I don’t know you, Captain McRaffle?
And you don’t know me, do you?” With an oath the man made a grab for
his mask, and, snatching it from her, hastily replaced it. She laughed
triumphantly. “No, I didn’t know you, Captain McRaffle. I’ve got cause
to know you. And you ought to be ashamed of yourself coming out here
to harm a poor woman. So ought all of you; and you are, I know, every
mother’s son of you. If you want to do anything, why don’t you do it to
men, and openly, like Andy Stamper and Capt’n Allen?”

“It hasn’t been so long since they were in the order,” sneered McRaffle.

“Yes, and, when they were, there were gentlemen in it,” fired back Mrs.
Stamper; “and they went after men, not women.”

“We didn’t come to trouble any woman; we came to give notice that no
more night-meetings and speeches about burning houses were to be held
here,” growled McRaffle.

“Yes; so you set an example by wanting to burn down houses yourself?
That’s the way you wanted to give notice, if it hadn’t been for those
gentlemen there.”

“She’s too much for you, Captain,” laughed his comrades.

“We’re trying to help out our own people, and to keep the
carpet-baggers from breaking up Miss Cary’s school,” said McRaffle,
trying to defend himself.

“No doubt Miss Cary will be much obliged to you.”

“No doubt she will. I have good reason to know she will,” affirmed
McRaffle; “and you’ll do well not to be interfering with our work.”
There was a movement in the corner behind Mrs. Stamper.

“Ah! Well, I’ll let her thank you in person,” said Mrs. Stamper,
falling back with a low bow, as Miss Cary herself advanced from the
shadow. The astonishment of the men was not less than it had been when
Mrs. Stamper first confronted them.

Blair spoke in a clear, quiet voice that at once enforced attention.
She disclaimed indignantly the charge that had just been made by the
leader, and seconded all that Mrs. Stamper had said. Her friends, if
she had any in the party, could not, she declared, do her a worse
service than to interfere with this school. She knew that its patrons
had reprobated the advantage that had been taken of their action in
allowing the building to be used as a public hall.

When she was through, several of the riders asked leave to accompany
her and Mrs. Stamper home, assuring her that the school-house would not
be interfered with.

This offer, however, they declined. They were “not afraid,” they said.

“We don’t think you need tell us that,” laughed several of the men.

Just then there was the sound of horses galloping at top speed, and in
a second Rupert Gray and Andy Stamper dashed up breathless.

Mrs. Stamper and Miss Cary explained the situation. Hearing from Mrs.
Stamper what McRaffle had said about Blair, Rupert flashed out that he
would settle with Captain McRaffle about it later.

For a moment or two it looked as if there might be a serious
misunderstanding. But Blair, seconded by the men who had offered
to conduct them home and by Mrs. Stamper, quieted matters; and the
cavalcade of masked men rode away in one direction, whilst Andy
and Rupert rode off in the other with the two young women behind
them, leaving the little school-house as peaceful in the moonlight
as if there had never been a sound except the cicalas’ cry and the
whip-poor-wills call within a hundred miles.

The incident had some far-reaching consequences. Only a day or two
later Captain McRaffle went to town; and a short time after there
was quite a sensation in the county over a notice in Leech’s organ,
announcing that Colonel McRaffle, long disgusted with the brutal
methods of the outlaws who disgraced the State, had severed his
connection with the party that employed such methods; that, indeed,
he had long since done so, but had refrained from making public
his decision in order that he might obtain information as to the
organization, and thus render his country higher service than he could
otherwise do.

The next issue of the paper announced the appointment of “the able
counsellor, Colonel McRaffle,” to the office of Commissioner of the
Court, in which position, it stated, his experience and skill would
prove of inestimable benefit to the country!

It was, perhaps, well for the new commissioner that his office was in
the city.



CHAPTER XXXIV

LEECH AND STILL MAKE A MOVE, AND TWO WOMEN CHECK THEM


The departure of Leech and Still from the County was followed by
the quieting down which always signalized their absence. The County
breathed the freer and enjoyed the calm, knowing that when they
returned there would be a renewed girding of loins for the struggle
which the approaching campaign would inevitably bring. It was not
even disquieted over the rumors of some unusual move which, it was
reported, the Government, on the application of Leech and Still, would
make to strengthen their hands. These rumors had been going on so long
that they were hardly heeded now. It would be time enough to meet the
storm when it came, as it had met others; meanwhile, the people of Red
Rock would enjoy the calm that had befallen. The calm would be broken
when Leech and Still returned for the trial of the Red Rock case at
the approaching term of court. Steve Allen and Jacquelin, meanwhile,
were applying all their energies to preparation for the trial. Rupert,
filled with the desire to do his part, was riding up and down the
County notifying their witnesses, and, it must be said, talking with a
boy’s imprudence of what they were going to do at the trial. “They were
going to show that Still was a thief, and were going to run him and
Leech out of the County,” etc.

Rupert left home one morning to go to the railway, promising to return
that evening. Jacquelin sat up for him, but he did not come; and as he
did not appear next morning, and no word had come from him, Jacquelin
rode down in the evening to see about him. At the station he learned
that Rupert had been there, but had left a little before dark, the
evening before, to return home. He had fallen in with three or four men
who had just come from the city on the train, and were making inquiries
concerning the various places and residents in the upper end of the
County, something about all of which they had appeared to know. They
said they were interested in timber lands and had a good deal of law
business they wished attended to, and they wanted advice as to who were
the best lawyers of the County; and Rupert said he could tell them all
about the lawyers: that General Legaie and Mr. Bagby were the best old
lawyers, and his brother and Steve Allen were the best young lawyers.
They asked him about Leech and McRaffle.

Leech wasn’t anything. Yes, he was—he was a thief, and so was Still.
Still had stolen his father’s bonds; but wait until he himself got on
the stand, he’d show him up! McRaffle was a turncoat hound, who had
stolen money from a woman and then tried to run her out of the County.

One of the men who lived about the station told Jacquelin that he had
gone up and tried to get Rupert away from the strangers, and urged him
to go home, but that the boy was too excited by this time to know what
he was doing.

“He was talking pretty wildly,” he said, “and was abusing Leech and
Still and pretty much all the Rads. I didn’t mind that so much, but he
was blowing about that old affair when the negro soldiers were shot,
and about the K.K.’s and the capture of the arms, and was telling what
he did about it. You know how a boy will do! And I put in to stop him,
but he wouldn’t be hearsaid. He said these men were friends of his and
had come up to employ you all in a lawsuit, and knew Leech and Still
were a parcel of rascals. So I let him alone, and he went off with ’em,
along with a wagon they’d hired, saying he was going to show them the
country, and I supposed he was safe home.”

By midnight the whole population of that part of the County was out,
white and black, and the latter were as much interested as the former.
All sorts of speculation was indulged in, and all sorts of rumors
started. Some thought he had been murdered, and others believed he and
his companion had gotten on a spree and had probably gone off together
to some adjoining county, or even had turned at some point and gone to
the city; but the search continued. Meantime, unknown to the searchers,
an unexpected ally had entered the field.

That evening Ruth Welch was sitting at home quietly reading when a
servant brought a message that a man was at the door asking to see
Major Welch. It happened that Major Welch was absent in town, and Mrs.
Welch had driven over that afternoon to see a sick woman. So Ruth went
out to see the man. He was a stranger, and Ruth was at once struck by
something peculiar about him. He was a little unsteady on his feet, his
voice was thick, and, at first, he did not appear to quite take in what
Ruth told him. He had been sent, he repeated several times, to tell
“Mazhur Welth” that they had taken his advice and had made the first
arrest, and bagged the man who had given the information that started
that riot, and had gotten evidence enough from him to hang him and to
haul in the others too.

“But I don’t understand,” said the girl. “What is all this about? Who’s
been arrested, and who is to be hung? My father has never advised the
arrest of anyone.”

“Tha’s all I know, miss,” said the man. “At least, tha’s all I was to
tell. I was told to bring him that message, and I guess it’s so, ’cause
they’ve got the young fellow shut up in a jail since last night and
as drunk as a monkey, and don’t anybody know he’s there—tha’s a good
joke, ain’t it?—and to-morrow mornin’ they’ll take him to the city and
lodge him in the jail there, and ’t ’ll go pretty hard with him. Don’t
anybody know he’s there, and they’re huntin’ everywheres for him.” He
appeared to think this a great joke.

“But I don’t understand at all whom you mean?”

“The young one. They bagged him, and they’re after the two older ones
too,” he said, confidentially. He was so repulsive that Ruth shrank
back.

“The one they calls Rupert; but they’re after the two head devils—his
brother and that Allen one. Them’s the ones the colonel and your friend
over there want to jug.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of Red
Rock.

It all flashed on the girl in a moment.

“Oh! They have arrested Mr. Rupert Gray, and they want Mr. Jacquelin
Gray and Captain Allen? Who has arrested him?”

“The d—tectives. But them’s the ones had it done—Major Leech and
Mist’ Still.” He winked elaborately, in a way that caused Ruth to
stiffen with indignation.

“What was it for?” she asked, coldly.

“For murder—killin’ them men three or four years back. They’ve got the
dead wood on ’em now—since the young one told all about it.”

“Has he confessed? What did he say?”

“Enough to hang him and them too, I heard. You see they tanked him up
and led him on till he put his head in the noose. Oh! they’re pretty
slick ones, them detectives is. They got him to pilot ’em most to the
jail door, and then they slipped him in there, to keep him till they
take him to the city to-morrow. He was so drunk—don’t nobody know
who he was, and he didn’t know himself. And they huntin’ all over the
country for him!” He laughed till he had to support himself against the
door.

The expression on Ruth’s face was such that the man noticed it.

“Oh! don’t you mind it, miss. I don’t think they’re after the young
one. They’re after the two elder ones, and if he gives it away so they
ever get them they’ll be easy on him.”

Ruth uttered an exclamation of disgust.

“He’ll never give it away——” She checked herself.

“Don’t know—a man’ll do a heap to save his own neck.” He made a
gesture, drawing his hand across his throat significantly.

“I know that young man, and I say he’ll die before he’d betray
anyone—much less his cousin and brother.”

“Well, maybe so.”

Just as the messenger turned away Ruth caught sight of someone standing
in the shrubbery, and as the man went out of the gate the person came
forward. It was Virgy Still. She appeared to be in a state of great
agitation, and began to tell Ruth a story in which her father and
Rupert Gray and Major Leech were all mixed up so incoherently that, but
that Ruth had just heard the facts, she could never have been able to
unravel it. At length Ruth was able to calm her and to get her account.
She had sent a man over to tell Ruth, but she was so afraid he had not
come that she had followed him. “They want to get rid of Mr. Rupert. It
has something to do with the case against pa and your father. They are
afraid Mr. Rupert will give evidence against them, and they mean to put
him in jail and keep him from doing it. Do you know what it is?”

Ruth shook her head.

“I do not either. I heard them talking about it, but I did not
understand what it was. They ain’t after Mr. Rupert; they’re after Mr.
Jacquelin and Captain Allen.”


She suddenly burst into tears.

“Oh, Miss Ruth,” she sobbed, “you don’t know—you don’t know——”

“I don’t know what?” asked Ruth, gently.

“He is the only one that was always kind to me.”

“Who?”

“Mr. Jacquelin. He was always good to me; when I was a little bit of
girl he was always kind to me. And now he hates me, and I never wanted
the place!”

“Oh, I don’t think he does,” said Ruth, consolingly.

“Yes, he does; I know he does,” sobbed the girl. “And I never wanted
the place. I have been miserable ever since I went there.”

Ruth looked at her with new sympathy. The idea that the poor girl
was in love with Jacquelin had never crossed her mind. She felt an
unspeakable pity for her.

“And now they want me to marry Mr. Leech,” moaned the girl, “and I hate
him—I hate him! Oh, I wish we never had had the place. I know he would
not want to marry me if pa did not have it, and could not help him get
the governorship. And I hate him. I hope we’ll lose the case.”

“I would not marry anyone I did not want to marry,” said Ruth.

“Oh, you don’t know,” said Virgy. “You don’t know Wash. And pa wants me
to marry him too; he says he’ll be Governor. Pa loves me, but he won’t
hear to my not marrying. And I’ll have to do it—unless we lose the
case,” she added.

She rose and went away, leaving Ruth with a new idea in her mind.

Ruth sat still for a few moments in deep thought. Suddenly she sprang
up, and, calling a servant, ordered her horse. While it was being got
she seized a pencil and scribbled a few lines on a piece of paper,
which she put in her pocket.

She blushed to find what an interest she took in the matter, and how
warmly her feeling was enlisted on the side opposed to that which she
felt she ought to espouse. And she hated herself to recognize the
cause. She tried to think that it was on account of the poor wild boy,
or on account of Blair Cary and Miss Thomasia; but no, she knew it
was not on their account—at least, not mainly so—but on account of
another.

When her horse came, Ruth muttered something to the servant about
telling her mother that she would be back in a little while; sprang
into the saddle and galloped away, leaving the negro gazing after her
with wonderment, and mumbling over the message she had given him.

Blair Cary was one of the best horsewomen in the State, and it was
fortunate for Ruth Welch’s project that night that, emulating her
friend, she also had become a capital horsewoman, self-possessed and
perfectly fearless; else she could not have managed the high-mettled,
spirited horse she rode.

Ruth knew her road well, and as soon as she turned into the highway
that led to the county seat she let her horse out, and they fairly
flew. She passed a number of men, riding all of them toward the
court-house, but she dashed by them too rapidly for them to speak to
her or to recognize her in the dark. As she came near the village the
riders increased in numbers, so she drew in her horse and turned into
a by-lane which skirted the back of the court-green and led near the
lawyers’ offices. Jumping her horse over the low fence, she tied him
to a swinging limb of a tree where he would be in the shadow, and,
with a pat or two to quiet him and keep him from whinnying, she made
her way on foot into the court-green. There were a number of lights
and many men moving about over across the street that ran between the
tavern and the court-green; but not a light was visible in any of the
offices. Ruth walked down as far as she dared, keeping close beside the
fence, and tried to recognize some of the men who were moving about
on the tavern veranda or in the road before it; but there was not one
that she knew. While she was listening the sound of a horse galloping
rapidly came from the direction of the road that led to the railway,
and the next minute the rider dashed up. Ruth’s heart gave a bound as
she recognized Captain Allen. His coming seemed to give her a sense
of security and protection. She felt reassured and certain that now
everything would be all right. As Steve sprang from his horse, he was
surrounded by the crowd with eager questions. His first words, however,
damped Ruth’s hopes.

No, no trace had been found of Rupert. Jacquelin and many others were
still searching for him, and would keep it up. No, he felt sure he had
not been murdered by any negro—that he had not been murdered at all.
He would be found in time, etc. All this in answer to questions.

Suddenly he singled out one man and drew him away from the crowd, and
to Ruth’s horror they came across the road straight toward where she
stood. She gave herself up for lost. She turned and would have fled,
but she could not. Instead, she simply dropped down on the ground and
cowered beside the fence. They came and leant against the fence within
ten feet of her, on the other side, and began to talk. The other person
was a stranger to Ruth; but his voice was that of an educated man, and
Steve Allen called him Helford, which Ruth remembered to have heard
somewhere before.

“Well, where is he?” the stranger asked Steve, as soon as they were out
of earshot of the crowd.

“Somewhere, shut up—hidden,” said Allen.

“Drunk?”

“Yes, and that’s not the worst of it.”

“What do you mean? He’ll turn up all right.”

“You think so! He’ll turn up in jail, and you and I shall too, if we
don’t mind. He’s been trapped and spirited away—by detectives, sent up
here on purpose.”

“What! Oh, nonsense! You’re daft about the boy. Many another young
fellow’s gone off and disappeared, to turn up with nothing worse than a
splitting head and somewhat damaged morals. You yourself, for instance,
when you were not much older than he——”

“Never mind about that,” interrupted Steve; “wait until I tell you all,
and you’ll see. I’m not given to being scary, I think.”

He went on to tell of Rupert’s falling in with the men at the station,
and of his disappearance, including all that his friends had learned
of him both before and after he left. The man gave a low whistle of
amazement and dismay.

“The little fool! What makes you think they were detectives?” He was
groping for a shred of encouragement.

“I know it,” said Steve; and he gave his reasons.

Ruth was astonished to see how closely his reasoning followed and
unravelled the facts as she knew them.

“Well, where is he now? Back in the city?”

“No. They haven’t got him there yet. They have hid him somewhere and
are keeping him drunk, and will try taking him off by night.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Find him and take him away from them,” said Steve. “If Leech or Still
were in the County I’d find him in an hour; but they’re both in the
city—been away a fortnight hatching this thing.”

“All right, I’m with you. But where’ll we look? You say Leech and Still
are both away in the city, and you don’t think he’s at either of their
places? Where can he be?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out if he’s above ground,” said Steve,
“and some day I’ll call Jonadab Leech and Hiram Still to a settling.”

“I’ll tell you, Allen, where you may find him, or, at any rate, find a
trace of him. At that new carpet-bagger’s, Mr. Welch’s.”

“Nonsense! Why don’t you look in my office?”

“You may say so; but I’ll tell you you’d better look. You all over here
think he’s different from the rest: but I tell you he isn’t. When it
comes to these questions, they’re all tarred with the same stick, and a
d——d black stick it is.”

Ruth stirred with indignation. She wished she could have sprung up and
faced him.

“We won’t discuss that,” said Steve, coldly. “Major Welch certainly
differs widely from you and me on all political questions—perhaps on
many other questions. But he is a gentleman, and I’ll stake my life on
his being ignorant of anything like this. Gentlemen are the same the
world over in matters of honor.”

“Well, maybe so—if you think so,” said the other, impressed by Steve’s
seriousness. “But I don’t see why you should think he’s so different
from all the rest of them. You didn’t use to find one Yankee so much
better than another.”

Steve declared haughtily that he did not wish to discuss that question
further, and that he would have his horse fed and go to his office to
make out a few notices and be ready to start off again in an hour.

“The roads are all picketed, and if they get him to the city it will be
by a route they won’t want to take themselves,” he said grimly, as he
turned away.

“Suppose he’s already in jail somewhere?” asked his friend.

“We’ll take him out,” said Steve, stopping short. “There isn’t a jail
in this commonwealth that will hold him, if I discover where he is.”

“All right, we’ll be with you, old fellow,” said his friend, his
good-humor restored; “and if we could get a pull at some of your
carpet-bag friends at the same time so much the better. You are not the
only one who holds a due-bill of McRaffle’s, and has a score against
Leech. He arrested my father and kept him in jail a week.” His voice
had suddenly grown bitter.

When they moved off, Ruth rose and crept hurriedly away, stealing along
by the fence until she was in the shadow of the offices. She knew she
had not a moment to lose. She went up to the offices and scanned the
doors. Fortunately, by even the faint glimmer of the stars she could
make out the big names on the signs. She tried the door on which was
the name of “Allen and Gray,” and, finding it locked, slipped her
envelope under it and crept quickly away.

She was just in time, for she heard steps behind her and caught sight
of a tall figure striding across the green toward the door she had just
left. She found and mounted her horse and rode away, keeping well in
the shadow of the trees. As she turned into the road at a sharp canter
she almost ran over an old negro who was walking rapidly toward the
village. It was so close that she could not avoid calling out to him;
but she was not quite in time, for her horse touched him enough to
topple him over. Ruth pulled in instantly and, turning around, went
back to the man, who was scrambling to his feet grumbling and mumbling
to himself:

“Who d’name o’ King dat ridin’ over me?”

Ruth recognized old Waverley.

“Oh! Are you hurt, uncle? I hope not. I’m so sorry. It was so dark I
couldn’t see you,” she said, solicitously. The tone removed the old
man’s irritation immediately.

“Yes’m—’tis mighty dark, sho nough. Nor’m, I ain hut none—jes kind o’
skeered, dat’s all. I did’n hut yo’ hoss, did I? Ken you tell me, is
dee done heah anything o’ my young marster? I jes hurryin’ down heah to
git de lates’ wud ’bout him.”

Ruth told him that his young master had not been seen yet; but that he
would certainly be found within the next twenty-four hours, and that
she was sure he would be discovered to be all right.

“Well, I certney is glad to heah you say dat, mistis,” said the old
fellow, “‘cause my mistis is almost distracted, and so is he mammy
and all de fam’ly. I done walked down heah three times to-day to git
de news, an’ I know I ain’ gwine shet my eyes till he found. Hits all
de wuck of dat Cun’l Leech an’ dat debble, Hiram Still, an’ he son.
I knows ’em,” he broke out, fiercely, “and I’ll git at de bottom of
it yit.” He came near and gazed up at Ruth with a look of such keen
scrutiny, that to get away from him Ruth made her horse start. “I shall
have to let him go,” she said, and at a touch of her heel her horse
bounded away.

“I knows your hoss and I knows you too, now,” said the old man, looking
after her as she dashed away in the darkness. “Well, well!” and he went
on into the village.

When Ruth reached home, to her relief she found that her mother had not
yet returned. A message had come that Miss Bush was ill and she would
be detained until very late, but would certainly be back by bedtime.



CHAPTER XXXV

CAPTAIN ALLEN FINDS RUPERT AND BREAKS THE LAW


When Steve Allen stepped across his threshold he caught the gleam of
something white lying on the floor just inside the door-sill. He picked
up the slip of paper and, striking a light, looked at it. The writing
on it was in a cramped backhand that Steve did not know and could
hardly read. At last, however, he made it out:

“Your friend is in jail here on charge of murder. Will be taken to city
to-night for trial.” It had been signed, “A Friend,” but this had been
much scratched over and was almost illegible. Steve read the words
again and again. Suddenly he left his office and walked quickly around
the back part of the court-green, looking in all the corners and dark
places. It had occurred to him that he had heard someone retreating as
he approached his office. Everything, however was quiet, and the only
sound he heard was that of a horse galloping on the road some distance
away. As he stood still to listen again it died away. In a few minutes
he had called his friend Helford into his office and laid before him
his information. Helford received it coldly—thought it might be a
trick to throw them off the track and obtain delay. He argued that
even if it would have been possible for Rupert Gray to be put in jail
right under their noses, he could not have been kept there all day
without its being discovered. Steve was of a different opinion. Perdue,
the jailer, was a creature of Leech’s and Still’s. Something assured
him that the information was true, and he laid his plans accordingly.
The men who were at the county seat were requested to wait, without
being told what was the reason; riders were sent off to call in the
searchers who were still engaged, a rendezvous near the village being
appointed. Steve, leaving the men present under charge of Helford, rode
off as if to continue the search; but a short distance down the road he
turned, and, riding back by another way, tied his horse and returned to
the court-green. He entered at the rear, walked up to the jail and rang
the bell. After some delay a man peeped at him through the wicket and
asked who it was. Steve gave his name, and said he wanted to see the
prisoner who had been brought in the night before. The man hesitated
a second, then said there was no such prisoner there. He took a half
step backward to close the shutter, but Steve was too quick for him. He
was sure from the jailer’s manner that he was lying to him. The next
second there was a scraping sound on the grating and the man found a
pistol-barrel gleaming at him through the bars, right under his nose.

“Stir, and you are a dead man,” said Steve. “Open the door.”

“I ain’t got the keys.”

“Call for them. Don’t stir! I’ll give you till I count five:
one—two—three——”

“Here they are, sir.” The pistol-barrel was shining right in his face,
and Steve’s eyes were piercing him through the bars. He unlocked the
door, and Steve stepped in.

“Take me to Mr. Gray’s cell instantly, and remember a single word from
you means your death.” Steve expected to be taken to one of the front
rooms in which the prisoners of better condition were usually kept;
but his guide went on, and at length stopped at the door of one of
the worst cells in the place, where the most abandoned criminals were
usually confined. Two negro prisoners, in another cell, seeing Captain
Allen, howled at him in glee through their bars.

“You don’t mean to say that you’ve put him in here?” Steve asked,
sternly.

“That’s orders,” said the man, and added, explanatorily, as he fumbled
at the lock. “You see, he was pretty wild when they brought him here.”

“Don’t defend it,” said Steve, in a voice which brought the turnkey up
shaking.

“No, suh—no, suh—I ain’ defendin’ it. I jest tellin’ you.” He
unlocked the door.

“Walk in,” said Steve, and, pushing the other ahead, he stepped in
behind him and took his light. It was so dark that he could not at
first make out anything inside; but after a moment a yet darker spot in
the general gloom became dimly discernible.

“Rupert?” Steve called. At the voice the dark shadow stirred. “Rupert
Gray?”

There was a cry from the dark corner.

“Steve! Oh, Steve! Steve!”

“Come here,” said Steve, who was keeping close beside the jailer.

“I can’t. Oh, Steve!”

“Why not?—Over there!” he said, with emotion to the jailer, to walk
before him.

“I’m chained.”

“What!” The young man turned and caught the jailer by the shoulder, and
with a single twist of his powerful arm sent him before him spinning
into the corner of the room. Stooping, Steve felt the boy and the chain
by which he was bound to a great ring in the wall. The next second he
faced the keeper.

“Dog!”

For a moment the man thought he was as good as dead. Steve’s eyes
blazed like coals of fire, and he looked like a lion about to spring.
The man began to protest his innocence, swearing with a hundred oaths
that he had nothing to do with it; that it was all Leech’s doings—his
orders and other men’s work. He himself had tried to prevent it.

Steve cut him short.

“Liar, save yourself the trouble. What are their names? Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They’ve gone, I don’t know where. They went away this
mornin’ before light.”

“Get the key and unlock that chain.”

The man swore that he did not have it—the men had taken it with them.

Steve reflected a moment. He had no time to lose.

“Oh, Steve! never mind me,” broke in Rupert, his self-possession
recovered. “Go—I’m not worth saving. Oh, Steve! if you only knew! I
have done you an irreparable injury. I don’t mind myself, but——” His
voice failed him and his words ended in a sob. “I’m not crying because
I’m here or am afraid,” he said, presently. “But if you only knew——”

Steve Allen leant down over him and, throwing his arm around him,
kissed him as if he had been a child.

“That’s all right,” he said, tenderly, and whispered something which
made the boy exclaim:

“Oh, Steve! Steve!” The next moment he said, solemnly, “I promise you
that I will never touch another drop of liquor again as long as I live.”

“Never mind about that now,” said Steve.

“But I want to promise. I want to make you that promise. It would help
me, Steve. I have never broken my word.”

“Wait until you are free,” said Steve, indulgently. He turned to the
keeper, who still stood cowering in the corner.

“Come—walk before me.” As they left the cell he said to him: “In a
half-hour two hundred men will be here. These doors will go like paper.
If they find that boy chained and you are here, your life will not be
worth a button. Nothing but God Almighty could save you.” He left him
at the front door and went out. A number of men were already assembling
about the jail. It transpired afterward that old Waverley had seen
Steve enter the jail, and, fearing that he might not get out again, had
told Andy Stamper, who had just arrived. As Steve came out of the door
Andy stepped up to him.

“We were going in after you,” he said.

Steve took him aside and had a talk with him, telling him the state of
the case and putting him in charge until his return.

“If Perdue wants to come out, let him do so,” he said, as he left him.
As he walked across the green he fell in with Waverley, who gave an
exclamation of joy.

“I sutney is glad to see you. I was mighty feared dee’d keep you in
dyah.” He was very full of something he wanted to tell him. Steve did
not have time to listen then, but said he wanted him, and took him
along.

“Well, jes’ tell me dis, Marse Steve; is you foun’ my young marster?”

“Yes, we have.”

“Well, thank Gord for dat!” exclaimed old Waverley. “Whar is he?”

Steve pointed back to the jail. “In there.”

The old man gave an outcry.

“In dyah! My young marster? My marster and mistis’ son! Go way, Marse
Steve—you jokin’; don’t fool me ’bout dat.”

“He’s in there, and in chains; and I want you to cut them off him,”
said Steve.

The old man broke out into a tirade. He ended:

“Dat I will! De’s a blacksmiff shop yonder. I’ll git a hammer and cole
chisel d’rectly.” He started off. When he arrived, the shop had already
been levied on for sledges and other implements.

The crowd was beginning to be excited. Steve took charge at once. He
spoke a few words in a calm, level, assured tone; stated the fact of
Rupert Gray’s arrest by Leech’s order, not for his own offence, but
more for that of others, of his imprisonment in irons in the jail, and
of his own intention to take him out. And he declared his belief that
it was the desire of those assembled, that he should command them, and
expressed his readiness to do so.

The response they gave showed their assent.

Then they must obey his orders.

They would, they said.

“The first is—absolute silence.”

“Yes, that’s right,” came from all sides.

“The second is, that we will release our friend, but take no other
step—commit no other violence than that of breaking the doors and
taking him out.”

“Oh, h—l! We’ll hang every d——d nigger and dog in the place,” broke
in a voice near him. Steve wheeled around and faced the speaker. He was
a man named Bushman, a turbulent fellow. As quick as thought the pistol
that had been shining under Perdue’s nose a little before was gleaming
before this man’s eyes.

“Step out and go home!” Steve pointed up the road.

The man began to growl.

“Go,” said Steve, imperiously, and the crowd applauded.

“That’s right, send him off.” They opened a path through which the
ruffian slunk, growling, away.

“Now, men, fall in.”

They fell in like soldiers, and Steve marched them off to the spot he
had appointed as the place for others to join them.

The rendezvous was in a pine forest a little off the road, and only a
quarter of a mile or so back of the village. Near the road the pines
were thick, having sprung up since the war; but here, in a space of
some hundreds of yards each way, the trees, the remnants of a former
growth, were larger and less crowded, leaving the ground open and
covered with a thick matting of “tags,” on which the feet fell as
noiselessly as on a thick carpet, and where even the tramp of horses
made hardly a sound. It was an impressive body assembled there in the
darkness, silent and grim, the stillness broken only by the muffled
stamping and tramping of a restless horse, by an almost inaudible
murmur, or an order given in a low, quiet tone. By a sort of soldierly
instinct the line had fallen into almost regimental form, and, from
time to time, as new recruits came up, directed by the pickets on the
roads outside, they, too, fell into order.

Just as they were about to move, a horseman galloped up, and a murmur
went through the ranks.

“Dr. Cary!”

Whether it was surprise, pleasure, or regret, one at first could
scarcely have told.

“Where is Captain Allen?” asked the Doctor, and pushed his way to
the head of the line. A colloquy took place between him and Steve in
subdued but earnest tones, the Doctor urging something, Steve replying,
while the men waited, interested, but patient. The older man was
evidently protesting, the other defending. At length Dr. Cary said:

“Well, let me speak a word to them.”

“Certainly,” assented Steve, and turned to the men.

“Dr. Cary disagrees with us as to the propriety of the step we are
about to take and urges its abandonment. He desires to present his
views. You will hear him with the respect due to the best and wisest
among us.” He drew back his horse, and the Doctor rode forward and
began to speak.

“First, I wish you to know that I am with you, heart and soul—for
better, for worse; flesh of your flesh, and bone of your bone. Next
to my God and my wife and child, I love my relatives and neighbors.
Of all my relatives, perhaps, I love best that boy lying in yonder
jail, and I would give my life to save him. But I could not kneel to
my God to-night if I did not declare to you my belief—my profound
conviction—that this is not the way to go about it. I know that the
wrongs we are suffering cry to God, but I urge you to unite with me in
trying to remedy them by law, and not by violence. Let us unite and
make an appeal to the enlightened sense of the American people, of
the world, which they will be forced to hear. Violence on our side is
the only ground which they can urge for their justification. It is a
terrible weapon we are furnishing them, and with it, not only can they
defeat us now, but they can injure us for years to come.”

He went on for ten or fifteen minutes, urging his views with impressive
force. Never was a stronger appeal made. But it fell on stony ears. The
crowd was touched by him, but remained unchanged. It had resolved, and
its decision was unaltered. When he ended, there was, for a moment, a
low murmur all through the ranks, which died down, and they looked to
their captain. Steve did not hesitate. In a firm, calm voice he said:

“For the first time in my life almost, I find myself unable to agree
in a matter of principle with the man you have just heard. At the same
time, this may be only my personal feeling, and, recognizing the force
of what he has said, I wish all who may think as he does to fall out of
line. The rest will remain as they are. If all shall leave, feeling as
I do I shall still undertake to rescue Rupert Gray. Those who disagree
with me will ride forward.”

There was a rustle and movement all down the ranks, but not a man
stirred from his place. As the men looked along the line and took in
the fact, there went up a low, suppressed sound of gratification and
exultation.

“Silence, men,” said the captain. He turned his horse to face Dr. Cary.

“Dr. Cary, I beg you to believe that we all recognize the wisdom of
your views and their unselfishness, and we promise you that no violence
shall be offered a soul beyond forcing the doors and liberating the
boy.”

A murmur of assent came from the ranks. Dr. Cary bowed.

“I shall wait at the tavern,” he said, “to see if my services may be of
any use.”

Steve detailed two men to conduct him through the guards, and he rode
slowly away.

A few minutes later Captain Allen gave the order, and, wheeling, the
column marched off through the dusk.

Steve had made the men disguise themselves by tying strips of cotton
across their faces. He himself wore no mask. When he arrived at the
jail he learned from Andy Stamper that Perdue had taken advantage of
the hint given him and had escaped.

“I had hard work at first to git him out,” said Andy. “I had to go up
to the door and talk to him; but when he found what was comin’, he was
glad enough to go. I let him slip by, and last I seen of him, he was
cuttin’ for the woods like a fox with the pack right on him. If he kept
up that lick he’s about ten miles off by this time.”

The breaking into the jail was not a difficult matter. It meant
only a few minutes’ work bursting open the outer door with a heavy
sledge-hammer, and a little more in battering down the iron inner
doors. During the whole time the crowd without was as quiet as the
grave, the silence broken only by the orders given and the ringing
blows of the iron hammers. But it was very different inside. The two or
three negroes confined within were wild with terror. They all thought
that the mob was after them, and that their last hour was come; and
they who an hour before had hooted at the visitor, yelled and prayed
and besought mercy in agonies of abject terror. When the squad detailed
by Steve passed on to the cell in which Rupert was confined and began
to break down the door, these creatures quieted a little, but even then
they prayed earnestly, their faces, ashy with fear in the glare of the
torches, pressed to the bars and their eyeballs almost starting from
their sockets. When the door gave way the low cry that came up from the
party sent them flying and trembling back into the darkness of their
cells.

It took a considerable time to cut the irons that bound the prisoner,
who, under the excitement of the rescuing party’s entrance, had been
overjoyed, but a moment later had keeled over into Andy Stamper’s arms.
Under the steady blows of the old blacksmith’s hammer, even that was
at length accomplished, and the rescuers moved out bearing Rupert with
them. As they emerged from the building with the boy in their arms,
the long-pent-up feeling of the crowd outside burst forth in one wild
cheer, which rang through the village and was heard miles away on the
roads. It was quickly hushed; the crowd withdrew into the woods, and in
a few minutes the jail was left in the darkness as silent as the desert.

The news of the assault on the jail and the liberation of the prisoner
thrilled through the County next morning, and the thrill extended far
beyond the confines of the section immediately interested. The party
of detectives who were waiting to take their prisoner to the city made
their way by night through the country to a distant station, to take
the cars; and Leech and McRaffle, who had come on the morning train to
meet them, deemed it prudent to catch it on its way back and return to
the city.

Ruth, the morning after her visit to the court-house and the rescue of
Rupert, was in a state of great unrest. Finally she mounted her horse
and paid a visit to Blair Cary. They were all in intense excitement.
Ruth herself was sensible of constraint; but she had an object in view
which made it necessary to overcome it. So she chatted on easily,
almost gayly. At length she made an excuse to get Blair off by herself.
In the seclusion of Blair’s room the secret came out. Ruth, on her
part, learned that Rupert was to be sent off; Blair did not know
where. One difficulty was the want of means to send him. This Ruth had
divined. With a burning face, she told Blair she had a great favor to
ask of her; and when Blair wonderingly assented, she took from her
pocket a roll of money—what seemed to Blair an almost vast amount. It
was her own, she said; and the favor was: that Blair would help her to
get that money to Rupert without anyone knowing where it came from.
She wanted Rupert to go out to the West and join Reely Thurston there.
Blair demurred at this. Captain Thurston was an army officer, and
Rupert was——. She paused. Ruth flushed. She would be guaranty that
Thurston would stand his friend.

There was also another thing which Blair discovered, though she did
not tell Ruth that she had done so. She simply rose and kissed her.
This discovery decided her to accept Ruth’s offer. It seemed to draw
Ruth nearer to her and to make her one with themselves. So she told
Ruth where Rupert was. He was at that time at the house of Steve’s old
mammy, Peggy. He was to be conducted out of the County that night.
Whether he could be persuaded to go to Captain Thurston, Blair did not
know; but she promised to aid Ruth so far as to suggest it, and try
to persuade him to do so. There were two difficulties. One was that
she might be watched, and it might lead to Rupert’s re-arrest. She did
not state what the other was. But Ruth knew. She, too, could divine
things without their being explained. If, however, Blair could not meet
Jacquelin Gray, there was no reason why Ruth herself could not. And she
determined to go. Suddenly Blair changed. She, too, would go. She could
not let Ruth go alone.

That evening, toward dusk, old Peggy was “turning about” in her little
yard, when the sound of horses’ feet caught her ear. As quick as
thought the old woman ran to her door and spoke a few words to some one
inside, and the next moment the back door opened and a figure sprang
across the small cleared space that divided the cabin from the woods,
and disappeared among the trees. In a little while the riders appeared
in sight, and when the old negress turned, to her surprise, they were
two ladies. When they took off their veils, to old Peggy’s still
greater astonishment, they were Miss Blair and the young lady who had
visited her with her young master the evening of the rain-storm.

The old woman greeted them pleasantly, but when they said they wanted
to see Rupert Gray, her suspicions returned again.

“He ain’t heah,” she said, shortly. “What you want wid him?” Her eyes
gleamed with shrewdness.

“We want to see him.”

“Well, you won’ see him heah.”

They began to cajole.

“Can’t you trust me?” asked Blair.

But old Peggy was firm.

“I don’ trus’ nobody. I ain’ got nothin’ ’t all to do wid it. Why n’t
you go ax Marse Steve?” she asked Ruth, suddenly. Ruth’s face flushed.

The dilemma was unexpectedly relieved by the appearance of Rupert
himself. From his covert he had recognized the visitors, and could not
resist the temptation to join them. Old Peggy was in a great state of
excitement at his appearance. She began to scold him soundly for his
imprudence. But the boy only laughed at her.

Blair and Ruth took him aside and began to broach the object of their
visit. At first he was obstinate. He would not hear of the plan they
proposed. In fact, he was not going away at all, he declared. He would
not be run out of the County. He would stay and fight it out, and let
them try him, if they wished to get all they wanted. He showed the butt
of a pistol, with boyish pride.

In this state of the case, Ruth began to plead with him on his
brother’s account, and Blair, as her argument, took Steve. They said
he was bound in honor to go, if they wished it. Ruth deftly put in a
word about Thurston, and the opportunity the trip would give Rupert
to see the world. He could join in the campaigns against the Indians
out there, if he wished; and, finally, she begged him to go and join
Thurston, as a favor to her.

These arguments at length prevailed, and Rupert said he would go.

As his friends were soon to come for him, the girls had to leave, which
they did after binding old Peggy over with many solemn promises not
to breathe to a single soul a word of their visit. “If she does,” said
Rupert, “I’ll come back here and make her think the Ku Klux are after
her.” The old woman laughed at the threat.

“Go ’way from heah, boy! What you know ’bout Ku Klux? You done told too
much ’bout ’em now.”

This home-thrust shut Rupert up. Blair put into his hand the package
that Ruth had given her and kissed him good-by, and he turned to Ruth.

Ruth said, as she took his hand, “Rupert, I am going to ask you to
grant me that favor you once promised me you would grant.”

The boy’s eyes lit up.

“I will do it.”

“I want you to promise me you will not drink any more.”

“I promise,” he said, softly, and bent over and kissed her hand. As he
stood up, the girl leant forward and kissed him. He turned to Blair
and, throwing his arms around her neck, suddenly burst into tears.

“Oh, Blair, Blair,” he sobbed, “I can’t go.”

The girls soothed him, and when they left a little later he was calm
and firm.

Within a little time other detectives came, and some who were not known
as detectives performed the functions of that office. But no trace of
the rescued boy was found. The nearest approach to a clew was a report
that Andy Stamper and old Waverley, a short time after the breaking
into the jail, took a long journey with Andy’s covered wagon into
another State, “selling things,” and that Steve Allen and several other
men were about the same time in the same region, and even rode with the
wagon for some days.

However, this was not traced up. And it illustrates the times, that
two accounts of the affair of the rescue were published and given
circulation: one that the prisoner was rescued by his friends, the
other that he was taken from the jail by a band of Ku Klux outlaws
and murdered, because he had confessed to having taken part in some of
their outrages and had given information as to his accomplices. This
was the story that was most widely circulated in some parts of the
country and was finally accepted.



CHAPTER XXXVI

MR. STILL OFFERS A COMPROMISE, AND A BLUFF


The term approached at which the Red Rock suit was to be tried, and
both parties made preparations for it. A number of the prominent
members of the Bar had volunteered as Jacquelin’s counsel. They knew
the character of the new judge, Bail, and they considered Jacquelin’s
cause that of every man in the State. Leech, on his side, had
associated with him as counsel for Still several lawyers of well-known
ability, if of less recognized integrity; and Major Welch had retained
old Mr. Bagby to represent his interest. As the term drew near, Still
applied to Mr. Bagby to represent him too. The old lawyer declined. The
interest of his client, Major Welch, might in some way conflict, though
he could not see how; in a way he already represented Still, since to
protect his client he had to look after Still’s title also. “Besides,
Still already had lawyers enough to ruin his case,” he said, “and he
would charge him a big fee.” But these reasons were not sufficient for
Still. He wished Mr. Bagby to represent him. He told him Leech had
employed those others; but he wanted a man he knew. “There wasn’t a man
in the State could carry a jury like Mr. Bagby, and he did not mind the
fee.”

Flattery is a key that fits many locks. So the old lawyer consented,
after consulting Major Welch, and notifying Still that if at any time
or at any point in the case he found his interest conflicting with
Major Welch’s he would give him up. Still grew more anxious and sought
so many interviews with the old counsellor that finally his patience
wore out, and he gave his new client to understand that he had other
business, and if he wanted so much of his time he must increase his
fees. Still consented even to this, with the effect of arousing
suspicion on the old lawyer’s part that there must be something in his
client’s case which he did not understand. “Something in it he has not
let out,” reflected the old lawyer. “I must get at it.”

Not very long after this arrangement, Still asked Mr. Bagby to come
and see him at his home on business of great importance, alleging as
a reason for his not going to see Mr. Bagby that he was too unwell
to travel. The note for some reason offended Mr. Bagby. However, as
he had to go to Major Welch’s that night, he rode by Red Rock to see
Still. He found him in a state of great anxiety and nervousness. Still
went over the same ground that he had been over with him already
several times; wanted to know what he thought of the bill, and of the
Grays’ chances of success. The old lawyer frowned. Up to the time of
beginning a suit he was ready to be doubtful, prudent, cautious, even
anxious, in advising; but the fight once begun he was in it to the end;
doubt disappeared; defeat was not among the possibilities. It was an
intellectual contest and he rejoiced in it; put into it every nerve and
every power he possessed, and was ready to trample down every adversary
from the sheriff who served the writ, to the Supreme Court itself. So
now, when Still, almost at the entrance of the term, was whimpering as
to his chances, the old lawyer answered him with scant courtesy.

“The bill? I think the same of it I thought when you asked me
before; that it is a good bill in certain respects and a poor one in
others;—good as to your accounts showing rents and profits, and too
general as to the bonds. It’s a good thing you got hold of so much of
Gray’s paper. I knew he was a free liver and a careless man; but I had
no idea he owed so much money.” He was speaking rather to himself.

“What do you mean?” faltered Still, his face flushing and then growing
pale.

“That if they can prove what they allege about the crops in the years
just before and after the war, they’ll sweep you for rents and profits,
and you’ll need the bonds.” He reflected for a minute, then looked at
Still.

“Mr. Still, tell me exactly how you came by that big bond.” He shut his
eyes to listen, so did not see the change that came over his client’s
face.

“What’d you think of a compromise?” asked Still, suddenly.

“Have they offered one?”

“Well, not exactly,” said Still, who was lying; “but I know they’d like
to make one. What’d you think of our kind of broaching the subject?”

“What! You? After that bill aspersing your character!” He looked
at Still keenly. “Do as you please! But Major Welch will offer
no compromise.” He rose and walked off from Still for a moment,
formulating in his mind some sentence that would relieve him from his
relation of counsel to him. It was the first time he had been in the
house since Still’s occupancy; and as he paced across the hall, the
pictures lining the walls arrested his attention, and he began to
examine them. He stopped in front of the “Indian-killer,” and gazed at
it attentively.

“Astonishingly like him!” he muttered, musingly; and then after another
look he asked, “Do you know whether there really was a cabinet behind
that picture or not?” Still did not answer, but his face turned a
sudden white. The old lawyer had his back to him. He stepped up nearer
the picture and began to examine the frame more closely. “I believe
there is,” he said, musingly. “Yes, that red paint goes under.” He took
out a large pocket-knife. “Those nails are loose. I believe I’ll see.”
He inserted the blade of his knife and began to prize at the frame.
“My G—d! don’t do that!” exclaimed Still; and, giving a bound, he
seized the old lawyer’s arm.

The latter turned on him in blank amazement. Still’s face was as white
as death.

“What in the d—l is the matter with you?” demanded Mr. Bagby.

“Don’t! for God’s sake!” stammered Still, and staggered into a chair,
the perspiration standing out on his forehead.

“What’s the matter with you, man?” Mr. Bagby poured out a glass of
whiskey from a decanter on the table and gave it to him. The liquor
revived him, and in a moment he began to talk.

It was nothing, he said, with a ghastly attempt at a smile. He had of
late been having a sort of spells; had not been sleeping well—his son
was giving him some physic for it; ’twas a sort of nervousness, and he
supposed he just had one, and couldn’t help thinking of that story of
the picture coming down always meaning bad luck, and the story of the
old fellow being seen on horseback at night. Some of the niggers had
been saying that he had been seen at night once or twice lately riding
around, and he supposed that had got in his mind. But of course he
didn’t believe any such lies as that.

“I hope not,” sniffed the old lawyer. He rose and took up his hat and
saddle-bags. Still urged him to stay; he had had his horse put in the
stable and fed; but Mr. Bagby said he must go, he wished to see Major
Welch. He had made up his mind that he would not remain in the case
as Still’s counsel. He could not get over the feeling that there was
something in Still’s case which Still had not confided to him, or the
idea of his wishing to compromise after a charge of fraud; and the
rough way in which Still had seized his arm and had spoken to him had
offended him. So he would not be his guest. He told Still that he felt
that he could not act further as his counsel, in association with his
other counsel. Again Still’s face blanched. He offered to throw them
all over—except Leech. He was obliged to keep Leech; but the others he
would let go. This, however, Mr. Bagby would not hear of.

As it was late, and the servants had retired, Still walked with Mr.
Bagby to the stable to get his horse. He continued to urge him to
remain in the suit as his counsel. But the old lawyer was firm.

As they approached the stables there came to them from the field over
beyond the gardens and toward Major Welch’s the distant neigh of a
horse. Still clutched Mr. Bagby’s arm.

“My G—d! did you hear that?”

“What? Yes—one of your horses over in your pasture?”

“No, there ain’t no horses over in that field, or in a field between
here and Stamper’s house. It’s all in crop. That’s over toward the
grave-yard.”

“Oh! the d—l!” the old man exclaimed, impatiently.

But Still seized him.

“Look! Look yonder!” he gasped. The lawyer looked, and at the moment
the outline of a man on horseback was clearly defined against the
skyline on the crest of a hill. How far away it was he could not tell;
but apparently it was just behind the dark clump of trees where lay the
old Gray burying-ground. The next second the moon was shrouded and the
horseman faded out.

When Mr. Bagby reached Major Welch’s, the latter came out to meet him:
he had sat up for him.

“I thought you had come a half-hour ago. I fancied I heard your horse
neigh,” he said.

As he went to call a servant, he picked up from a small side-porch a
parcel wrapped around with paper. He took it in to the light. It was a
large bunch of jonquils, addressed to Ruth.

“Ah!” thought the old lawyer, with a chuckle, “that is what our ghostly
horseman was doing.”

The next morning, when Major Welch and his guest came to breakfast,
the table was already decorated with jonquils, which were lighting it
up with their golden glow; and one or two of them were pinned on Miss
Ruth’s dainty white dress.

Both Major Welch and the guest remarked on the beauty of the flowers,
and the Major mentioned his surprise that Ruth should have left them
out on the porch overnight. The remark was quite casual, and the Major
was not looking at Ruth at the moment; but the old lawyer was looking,
and his eyes twinkled as he noticed the deep color that rushed up into
the girl’s cheeks. No age is too great to be stirred by the sight of a
romance, and the old fellow’s countenance softened as he looked at the
young girl.

“Lucky dog,” he thought, “that night rider! I wonder who he is? I’d
give my fee in this case to be able to call up that blush. I remember
doing that same thing once—forty odd years ago. The flowers faded, and
the girl—My dear, will you give me one of those jonquils?” he broke
off, suddenly, addressing Ruth. Ruth, with a smile, pinned it on him,
and the old man wore it with as proud a mien as he had ever had after a
successful verdict.

The apparition was too much for Hiram Still. A few days after his
interview with Mr. Bagby, Still, without consulting any of his counsel,
took the step on his own account which he had suggested to the lawyer.
If it went through, he could put it on the ground of friendship for
Jacquelin’s father. He selected his opportunity.

Steve Allen was away that day and Jacquelin Gray was sitting in his
office alone, when there was a heavy, slow step outside and, after a
moment’s interval, a knock at the door. “Come in,” Jacquelin called;
and the door opened slowly and Hiram Still walked half-way in and
stopped doubtfully. He was pale, and a simper was on his face.
Jacquelin did not stir. His face flushed slightly.

“Good-mornin’, Mr. Jacquelin,” said the visitor, in his most
insinuating tone.

“What do you want?” Jacquelin asked, coldly.

“Mr. Jacquelin, I thought I’d come and see you when you was by yourself
like, and see if me and you couldn’t come to a understandin’ about our
suit.”

Jacquelin was so taken by surprise that he did not try to answer
immediately, and Still took it for assent and moved a step farther into
the room.

“I don’t want no lawyers between us; we’re old friends. I ain’t got
nothin’ against you, and you ain’t got nothin’ against me; and I don’t
want no trouble or nothin’. Your father was the best friend I ever
had; and I jist thought I’d come like a friend, and see if we couldn’t
settle things like old friends—kind of compromise, kind o’——?” He
waved his hands expressively.

Jacquelin found his voice.

“Get out,” he said, quietly, with a sudden paling of his face. Still’s
jaw dropped. Jacquelin rose to his feet, a gleam in his eyes.

“Get out.” There was a ring in his voice, and he took a step toward
Still. But Still did not wait. He turned quickly and rushed out of the
room, never stopping until he had got out of the court-green.

He went to the bar of the tavern and ordered two drinks in rapid
succession.

“D—n him!” he said, as he drained off his glass the second time. “If
he had touched me I’d have shot him.”

“You’re lookin’ sort o’ puny these days. Been sick?” the man at the bar
asked.

“Yes—no—I don’ know,” said Still, gruffly. He went up and looked at
himself in a small fly-speckled, tin-like mirror on the wall. “I ain’t
been so mighty well.”

“Been ridin’ pretty hard lately ’bout your suit, I reckon?” said the
bar-keeper.

“I don’ know. I ain’t afeared ’bout it. If they choose to fling away
money tryin’ to beat me out o’ my property, I’ve got about as much as
they have, I reckon.”

“I reckon you have.” The man’s manner was so dry that Still cut his
eye at him. “Why don’t you try him with a compromise?” Still looked at
him sharply; but he was washing a glass, and his face was as impassive
as a mask.

“D—n him! I wouldn’t compromise with him to save his life,” said
Still. “D’ you think I’d compromise with a man as is aspersed my
character?”

“I d’n’ know. I hear there’s to be a jury; and I always heard, if
there’s one thing the L—d don’ know, it’s how a jury’s goin’ to
decide.”

“I ain’t afeared of _that_ jury,” said Still, on whom the whiskey was
working. “I’ve got——” He caught a look of sharpness on the man’s face
and changed. “I ain’t afeared o’ no jury—that jury or no other. And I
ain’t afeared o’ Jacquelin Gray nor Mr. Steve Allen neither. I ain’t
afeared o’ no man as walks.”

“How about them as rides?” asked the bar-keeper, dryly.

The effect was electric.

“What d’you know about them as rides?” asked Still, surlily, his face
pale.

“Nothin’ but what I hear. I hear they’s been a rider seen roun’ Red
Rock of nights, once or twice lately, ain’t nobody caught up with.”

“Some o’ these scoundrels been a tryin’ to skeer me,” said Still, with
an affectation of indifference. “But they don’t know me. I’ll try how a
bullet’ll act on ’em next time I see one of ’em.”

“I would,” said the bar-keeper. “You’se seen him, then? I heard you
had.”

Hiram saw that he had been trapped into an admission. Before he could
answer, the man went on:

“They say down this away it means something’s goin’ to happen. How’s
that old picture been standing of late?”

Still burst out in a rage, declaring that it had been standing all
right, and would continue to stand till every man against him was in
the hottest region his imagination could picture. It seemed to him,
he said, that everybody in the County was in league against him. The
bar-keeper heard him unmoved; but, when his customer left, he closed
his door and sauntered over to the office of Allen and Gray.

When Steve returned next day, Jacquelin told him of the interview with
Still. Steve’s eyes lit up.

“By Jove! It means there’s something we don’t know! What did you do?”

“Threatened to kick him out of the room.”

“I supposed so. But, do you know, Jack,” he said, after a moment’s
reflection, “I am not sure you did right? As a man I feel just as you
did; but as a lawyer I think we should try and compromise. The case
as it stands is a doubtful one on the law; but what show do we stand
before his new judge. You know he is hand in glove with them, and they
say was appointed to try this very case. Remember, there is Rupert.”

“I tell you what I will do,” said Jacquelin, “and it is the only
compromise I will make. You can go to him and say I will agree to
dismiss the case. If he will give Rupert the full half of the place,
including the house, and me the grave-yard and Birdwood, with three
hundred acres of land, I will dismiss the suit. You can go to him and
say so. It will still leave him more than the value of Birdwood.”

“Birdwood! What do you want with Bird——?” asked Steve, in amazement;
but at the moment his eye rested on Jacquelin’s face. Jacquelin was
blushing. “Oho!” he exclaimed. “I see.”

“Not at all!” said Jacquelin. “I have no hope whatever. Everything has
gone wrong with me. I feel as if as soon as I am interested, the very
laws of nature become reversed!”

“Nonsense! The laws of nature are never reversed!” exclaimed Steve.
“It’s nothing but our infernal stupidity or weakness. Have you ever
said anything to her since?”

“No, I am done. She’s an iceberg.”

“Iceberg? When I saw her she was a volcano. Besides, ice melts,” said
Steve, sententiously. “I’m engaged in the process myself.”

Jacquelin could not talk lightly of Blair, and he rose and quietly
walked out of the office. As his footsteps died away, Steve sat back in
his chair and fell into a reverie, induced by Jacquelin’s words and his
reply.

Jacquelin had just left the office when there was a step outside, and a
knock so timid that Steve felt sure that it must be a woman. He called
to the person to come in; the knock, however, was repeated; so Steve
called out more loudly. The door opened slowly, and a young colored
woman put her head in and surveyed the office carefully. “Is dat you,
Marse Steve?” she asked, and inserted her whole body. Then turning her
back on Steve, she shut the door.

Steve waited with interest, for his visitor was Martha, Jerry’s wife,
who was a maid at Major Welch’s. It was not the first time Martha had
consulted him. Now, however, Steve was puzzled, for on former occasions
when she came to see him, Jerry had been on a spree; but Steve had seen
Jerry only the evening before, and he was sober. Steve motioned the
girl to a seat and waited.

She was so embarrassed, however, that all she could do was to tug at
something which she held securely tied up in her apron. Steve tried to
help her out.

“Jerry drunk again? I thought I had given him a lesson last time that
would last him longer.”

“Nor, suh, he ain’ drunk—yit. But I thought I’d come to ’sult you.”
Again she paused, and looked timidly around the room.

“Well, what is it? Has he threatened to beat you?” he asked, a shade
gathering on his brow. “He knows what he’ll get if he tries that again.”

“Nor, suh,” said Martha, quickly; “I ain’ feared o’ dat. He know better
’n dat now—sence you an’ my gran’mother got hold o’ him; but”—her
knot came untied, and suddenly she gained courage—“what I want to
’sult you about is dis: I want to ax you,—is Mr. Spickit—’lowed to
write ‘whiskey’ down in my sto’-book?” She clutched her book, and gazed
at Steve as if the fate of the universe depended on the answer.

Steve took the book and glanced over it. It was a small, greasy
account-book, such as was kept by persons who dealt at the little
country-stores about the County. Many of the items were simply “Mdse.,”
but on the last two or three pages, the item “Whiskey” appeared with
somewhat undue frequency.

“What do you mean?” asked Steve.

“Well, you see, it’s disaway. Jerry, he gits his whiskey at Mr.
Spickit’s—_some_ o’ it—an’ he say Mr. Spickit _shell_ write hit down
on de book dat way, an——”

“Oh! You don’t want him to have it?” said Steve, a light breaking on
him.

“Nor, suh—dat ain’t it. I don’ mine he havin’ de _whiskey_—I don’
mine he gittin’ all he want—cuz I know he gwine _drink_ it. But I don’
want him to have it put down dat away on de _book_. I is a member o’ de
chutch, and I don’ want whiskey writ all over my book—dat’s hit!”

“Oh!” Steve smiled acquiescingly.

“An’ I done tell Jerry so; an’ I done tell Mr. Spickit so, an’ ax him
not to do it.”

“Well, what do you want?”

“I wants him to put it down ‘merchandise,’ dat’s all; an’ I come to ax
you, can’t you meck Jerry do it dat away.”

“Ah! I see. Why, certainly I can.”

“An’ I want to ax you dis: Jerry say, ef I don’ stop meddlin’ wid he
business, he won’ let me have no sto’-book, an’ he gwine lef’ me; dat
he’ll meck you git a divo’ce from me—an’ I want to ax you ef he ken
lef’ me jes cuz I want him to mark it merchandise? Kin he git a divorce
jes for dat?” She was far too serious for Steve to laugh now. Her face
was filled with anxiety.

“Of course, he cannot.”

“Well, will you write me dat down, so I ken show it to him?”

Steve gravely wrote a few lines, which, after reading to her, he folded
with great solemnity and handed her.

They read as follows:

“LEGAL OPINION.

“I am of opinion that it is not a cause for divorce, either _a vinculo
matrimonii or a mensâ et thoro_, when a woman insists that the whiskey
which her husband drinks, and which she pays for, shall be entered on
her account-book as _Mdse_. Given under my hand this —— day of ——,
18—.

  “STEVENSON ALLEN,

  “_Attorney and Counsellor-at-Law_.”

The young woman received the paper with the greatest reverence and
relief.

“Thankee, Marse Steve,” she said, with repeated bows and courtesies.
“Dis will fix him. I knowed dat if I come to you, you’d tell me de law.
Jerry talk like he know all de law in the wull!” Armed with her weapon,
her courage was returning. “But I’ll straighten him out wid dis.” She
tied her letter up in her apron with elaborate care. Suddenly her face
grew grave again.

“‘Spose Jerry say he’ll trick me cuz I come to you?”

“Trick you——!” began Steve, in a tone of contempt.

“Not he himself; but dat he’ll git Doct’ Moses to do it?” Her face had
grown quite pale.

“If he says he’ll trick you, tell him I’ll lick him. You come to me.”

“Yes, suh.” She was evidently much relieved, but not wholly so. “I
cert’ny is feared o’ him,” she said, plaintively. “He done tricked
Jane—Sherrod’s wife—and a whole lot o’ urrs,” she said. Steve knew
from her face that the matter was too serious to be laughed at.

“You tell Jerry that if he dares to try it, or even threatens you
with it, I’ll lick the life out of him and discharge him. And as for
Moses——” His face darkened.

“I don’t want you to do that,” she said, quickly.

“Well, you tell him so, anyhow. And if I get hold of Moses, he won’t
trouble you.”

“Yas, suh, I’ll tell him ef he try to trick me. ’Cus I cert’ny is
feared o’ dat man.” She was going out, when Steve called her back.

“Ah! Martha? How are they all at Major Welch’s?”

“Dee’s all right well, thankee, suh,” said Martha. “Sept Miss Ruth—she
ain been so mighty well lately.” Steve’s face brightened.

“Ah! What is the matter with her?” His voice was divided between
solicitude and feigned indifference.

“I don’ know, indeed, suh. She’s jes sort o’ puny—jes heah lately. She
don’t eat nuttin’. Dee talk ’bout sen’in’ her ’way.”

“Indeed!” Steve was conscious of a sudden sinking of the heart.

“I think she ride ’bout too much in de hot sun,” explained Martha, with
the air of an authority.

“I have no doubt of it,” said Steve.

“She come home tother evenin’ right down sick, and had to go to bed,”
continued Martha.

“Ah! when was that? Why don’t they send for a doctor?—Dr. Still?”
asked Steve, guilefully.

“Go ’way, Marse Steve, you know dee ain gwine let dat man practus on
Miss Ruth. Dat’s what de matter wid her now. He come dyah all de time
teckin’ her out ridin’——”

“Why, he’s away from the County,” declared Steve, who appeared to have
a surprising knowledge of the young Doctor’s movement.

“Yas, suh; but I talkin’ ’bout b’fo’ he went way. He was wid her dat
evenin’. Least, he went way wid her, but he didn’t come back wid her.”
Her tone was so significant that again the light came into Captain
Allen’s eyes.

“And he hasn’t been back since?”

“Nor, suh, an’ he ain’t comin’ back nurr.”

“And you don’t know where Miss Welch is going, or when?”

“Nor, suh, she ain’ goin’ at all. I heah her say she wa’n’t gwine; but
she cert’ny look mighty thin, heah lately.” The conversation had ended.
Steve was in a reverie, and Martha moved toward the door.

“Well, good-by, Marse Steve. I cert’ny is obliged to you, an’ I gwine
send you some eggs soon as my hens begins to lay again.”

But Captain Allen told her she did not owe him anything.

“Come again, Martha, whenever you want to know about anything—anything
at all.”

When Martha went out she heard him singing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story of Still’s offer of a compromise to Jacquelin got abroad,
and, notwithstanding the wise doctrine of the law that an offer of
compromise shall not be taken as evidence in any case, this particular
offer was so taken. Still found himself roundly abused by his counsel
for being such a fool as to propose it. All sorts of rumors began
to fly about. It was said that Mr. Bagby had declined to act as his
counsel. To meet these reports it was necessary to do something, and
Still’s counsel held a consultation. It was decided that he should give
an entertainment.

It would show his indifference to the claims of the Grays to his
plantation, and would prove his position in the County. Leech thought
that this would be a good thing to do; it would anger the Grays, if it
did nothing else. He could invite Judge Bail up to it.

“Make it a fine one when you do have it,” said the counsellor. “I’ve
found champagne make its way to a man’s heart when you couldn’t get at
it through his pocket.”

Dr. Still also was eager to have such an entertainment. He, too,
appreciated the fineness of the stroke that, on the eve of battle,
would show their contempt for the other side. Besides which, the young
physician had another motive. Soon after his removal from the County
to the city Dr. Still had become an admirer of Governor Krafton’s
daughter. She was the Governor’s only child, and even the Governor’s
bitterest enemies admitted that he was a devoted father; and in the
press that was opposed to him, often side by side with the bitterest
attacks on the Governor, was some admiring mention of his handsome
and accomplished daughter. He would have given her the moon, someone
said to General Legaie. “Yes, even if he had to steal it to do so,”
said the General. Miss Krafton had had the best education that the
country could afford. This she had finished off with a year or two of
travel abroad. She had just returned home. She idolized her father, and
perhaps the Governor had not been sorry to have her out of the country
where half the press was daily filled with the most direct and vehement
accusations against him. The Governor’s apologists declared that his
most questionable acts were from the desire to build up a fortune for
his daughter. It was for her that he had bought the old Haskelton
place, one of the handsomest in the city, and, pulling down the fine
old colonial mansion, had erected on its site one of the costliest and
most bewildering structures in the State.

It is often the case that the very magnitude of the efforts made to
accomplish a design frustrates it; and Governor Krafton, with all his
eagerness to be very rich, and his absolute indifference as to the
means employed, was always involved pecuniarily, while the men with
whom he worked appeared to be immensely successful. Until he fell
out with Leech and Still, he had gone in with them in their railroad
and land schemes; but while everything that they touched appeared to
turn to gold (at least, it was so with Still; for there were rumors
respecting Leech), the Governor was always hard pushed to meet his
expenditures.

Still’s explanation to his son was that he let others climb the trees
and do the shaking, and he stayed on the ground and gathered the
apples. “Krafton and Leech has both made more money than I have,” he
said, shrewdly; “but they have to pay it out to keep their offices,
while I——” He completed the sentence by a significant buttoning of
his pocket. “They think that because they get a bigger sheer generally
than I do, they do better. But—it ain’t the water that falls on the
land that makes the crops; it’s what sinks in. This thing’s got to
stop some time, my son—ground gets worked out—and when the crops are
gathered I know who mine’s for.” He gazed at his son, with mingled
shrewdness and affection. The young Doctor also looked pleased. His
father’s sharpness at times made up to him for his ignorance and want
of education. Dr. Still was not lacking in smartness himself, and had
been quick enough to see which way Miss Krafton’s tastes lay. He had
discovered that she was both proud and ambitious—Not politically. She
said she detested politics; that her father never allowed politics
to be talked before her; and when he gave a “political dinner,” she
did not even come downstairs. She was ambitious socially. Dr. Still
promptly began to play on this chord. He had prevailed on his father
to set him up a handsome establishment in the city, and he became
deeply literary. He began to talk of his family—the Stills had
originally been Steels, he said, and were the same family to which Sir
Richard Steel belonged—and to speak of his “old place” and his “old
pictures.” He described them with so much eloquence that Miss Krafton
said she wished she could see them. This gave Dr. Still an idea, and he
forthwith began to plan an entertainment. As it happened, it was at the
very time that Leech had suggested the same thing to Hiram Still; and
as his son and Leech rarely agreed about anything these days, Still was
impressed, and the entertainment was determined on. It was to be the
“finest party” that had ever been given at Red Rock. On this all were
united. Even Hiram yielded to the general pressure, and admitted that
if you were “going to send for a man’s turn of corn it was no good to
send a boy to mill after it.”

He entrusted the arrangements to the young Doctor, who laid himself out
on them. A florist and a band were to be brought up from the city, and
the decorations and supper were to surpass everything that had ever
been seen. A large company was invited, including many guests from the
city, for whom a special train was furnished, and Still, “to show his
good feeling,” extended the invitation to many of his neighbors. Major
and Mrs. Welch and Ruth were invited. Still remembered that Major Welch
had been to one entertainment in that house, and he wished to show him
that he could excel even the Grays. Dr. Still was at first determined
that Miss Welch should not come; but it was suggested that it would be
a greater triumph to invite her, and more mature reflection decided
him that this was so. He would show her Miss Krafton, and this would
be a greater victory than to omit her from the list. He could not but
believe that she would be jealous.

On the evening of the entertainment Major Welch and Mrs. Welch
attended. But Miss Ruth did not accompany them. She was not very well,
Mrs. Welch said in reply to Virgy, who, under Dr. Still’s wing, was
“receiving” in a stiff, white satin dress, and looking unfeignedly
scared as she held her great bouquet, like an explosive that might “go
off” at any time. Miss Virgy’s face, however, on seeing Mrs. Welch’s
familiar countenance, lit up, and she greeted her with real pleasure,
and expressed regret that Ruth had not come, with a sincerity that
made Mrs. Welch warm toward her. Mrs. Welch liked her better than she
did Miss Krafton, whom she had met casually and thought a handsome and
intelligent, but rather conceited girl.

It was a curious company that Major and Mrs. Welch found assembled. The
strangers from the city included the judge, who was a dark-looking man
with a strong face, a heavy mouth, and a lowering gray eye; a number
of people of various conditions, whom Mrs. Welch recognized as men
whose names she had heard as connected with Leech; and a number of
others whom she had never heard of. But there was not a soul whom she
had ever met before socially. Not a member of the St. Ann congregation
was present. Both the Stills were in an ill-humor, and Virgy, though
she was kind and cordial, looked wretchedly unhappy. Mrs. Welch was
glad that, for once, she had not permitted her principles to override
her instincts, and had left Ruth at home. As she glanced about her, her
gaze rested on her host. Hiram Still was talking to one of his guests,
a small, stumpy, red-headed man with a twinkling eye and a bristly red
mustache, whom Mrs. Welch recognized as an office-holder who had come
down from one of the Northern States.

Still was talking in a high, complaining voice.

“Yes,” he said, evidently in answer to a speech by his guest, “it is
a fine party—the finest ever given in this County. It ought to be;
I’ve spent enough money on it to buy a plantation, and to show my
friendliness I invited my neighbors. Some of ’em I didn’t have no call
to invite,—and yet just look around you. I’ve got a lot of folks from
the city I don’t know, and some from the County I know too well; but
not one of my old neighbors has come—not one gentleman has put his
foot here this night.”

His guest glanced round the hall, and ended with a quizzical look up in
Still’s face. “Of course, what did you expect? Do you suppose, Still,
if I were a gentleman I’d have come to your party? I’d have seen you
d—d first. Let’s go and have some more champagne.”

It was the first time the fact had struck Mrs. Welch. It was
true—there was not a gentleman there except her husband.

When Mrs. Welch left, shortly afterward, Still and his guest had
evidently got more champagne. Still was vowing that it was the finest
party ever given in Red Rock, even if there wasn’t a gentleman
present; and his guest was laughing and egging him on. As Major and
Mrs. Welch waited for their carriage, Leech passed with Miss Krafton on
his arm. Mrs. Welch drove home in silence. There were things she did
not wholly understand.



CHAPTER XXXVII

IN WHICH IT IS SHOWN THAT, IN A TRIAL, COUNSEL MAY ASK ONE QUESTION TOO
MANY


When the Court met, at which the trial of Jacquelin’s suit against
Hiram Still was set, all other matters, even politics, were driven from
mind.

It will not be needful to go in detail into the trial of the case. The
examination of the plaintiffs’ witnesses occupied two days. In the
contest the defendant, to use the phraseology of another arena, was
acknowledged to have “drawn first blood.” On the morning of the trial
the two sides, with their counsel, witnesses, and friends, thronged the
court-house. The counsel, an imposing array, were ranged along the bar,
fronting the bench and the jury-box which was off to one side, and in
which sat seven solemn-looking negroes and five scarcely less solemn
white men. Major Welch sat beside Mr. Bagby, and during a part of the
time Mrs. Welch and Ruth had chairs behind them. By the time they were
all settled it was announced that the Judge was coming.

It had been the practice in the County, when the Judge entered, for the
Bar to rise and remain standing until he had mounted the bench, bowed
to them, and taken his seat, when they bowed and resumed their places.
It was a custom brought from the Supreme Court, before which Mr. Bagby,
General Legaie, and others of that bar had practised in old times.

Now, when the Judge entered he was announced by Sherwood, the Sheriff,
and came in preceded by Leech and McRaffle. And not a man rose. The
Judge walked up the steps to his arm-chair, faced the crowd, and for a
second stood still, as if waiting. Not a lawyer stirred, and the Judge
took his seat. A half scowl was on his brow, but he banished it and
ordered Court to be opened. The case was called, the parties announced
themselves ready, the jury was impanelled, and the trial was begun.
General Legaie was to open the case. It was the custom for a chair to
be placed inside the bar, just at the feet of the jurors. This chair
was usually occupied by one of the older members of the bar. And as
the General had been growing a little deaf, he had been taking it of
late. He had prepared himself with great care, and was dressed with
the utmost scrupulousness—a black frock coat, white trousers, a high
stock, and immaculate linen—and when the case was called he stood up.
He presented a striking figure. The gravity of the occasion spoke in
every line of his weather-beaten, high-bred face. To his mind it was
not a mere question of title to property he was to argue; it was the
question between the old and the new—it was a civilization that was
on trial. He took the papers in his hand, glanced with some curiosity
along the lines of the jury, and faced the judge.

“If the Court please——” he began, in a calm, well-modulated voice
that brought an instant hush over the whole court-room.

His words appeared to wake the judge from a lethargy. He, however, took
no notice whatever of the General, but addressed the sheriff.

“Put that man behind the bar.”

The Sheriff was mystified, and looked first around him and then at the
judge, in a puzzled way, to see whom he referred to.

“Suh?”

“Make that man get behind the bar.” He simply glanced at the General.
This time the negro took in what he meant, and he approached the
General doubtfully. The General had not caught all the words, but he
had heard a part of it, and he also looked around. But seeing no one
to be removed, and not understanding the cause of the order, he was
just beginning again: “If the Court please——” when the negro came up
to him. The General stopped and looked at him inquiringly.

“De Cote say you is to git behine de bar,” said the Sheriff. The
General leaned forward, his hollowed hand raised to his ear.

“De Cote say you is to git behine de bar.”

The General turned sharply to the bench and shot one piercing look at
the Judge; then, seeming to recollect himself, wheeled about, walked
across to Steve and laid the papers of the suit on the bar before him,
took up his hat, turned his back squarely on the Court, and faced the
Bar:

“Good-morning, _gentlemen_.” He made them a low bow, clapped his hat on
his head, and marched out of the court-room.

It made a sensation. Steve Allen rose and asked the Court to postpone
the case until after dinner, the hour for which was approaching.
General Legaie, he said, was the leading counsel on their side.

“Proceed with the case,” said the judge.

It was conceded that the action of General Legaie was a loss to the
plaintiffs’ side, but every one on that side sustained him. They did
not see how a gentleman could have done otherwise.

The case proceeded without him.

It was attempted to show that Mr. Gray could not have owed all the
money Still claimed, and that, if he did owe it, before Still brought
suit he must have received from Red Rock crops enough to reduce the
amount largely, if not to discharge it.

The investigation was fought at every point by Still’s counsel, and
the Judge almost uniformly ruled in favor of their objections, so that
Steve Allen had hard work to maintain his composure. His eyes flashed
and a cloud lowered on his brow as he noted exception after exception.
At length the Court began to head him off from even this protection,
by ruling, whenever Captain Allen rose, that he was out of order.
When Court adjourned the second day it was felt that except for the
suspicious fact that Still had not endorsed any credit on the bonds, no
fraud had been shown in his title to them. Witnesses who had been put
on the stand to show facts tending to prove that he could not have had
any such amount of money had been ruled out. It was conceded that under
the Court’s ruling no sufficient ground had been established to upset
Still’s title. The defendant’s counsel were jubilant, and that night
debated whether they should put any witnesses on the stand at all.
Leech was against it. The Judge was with them, he maintained. Mr. Bagby
was acquiescent, but Major Welch insisted that, at least, he should go
on the stand to state his connection with the case. He did not intend
that it should appear of record that his name had been connected with
a charge of fraud, and that, when he had had the opportunity to go on
the stand and deny it, he had failed to do so. Mr. Bagby’s eyes lit up
with a gleam of satisfaction as he listened to him, partly because of
pride in his client, and partly, perhaps, because of the discomfiture
of Leech and his client. The old lawyer was content either way, for he
did not see how he could possibly be hurt, whatever might happen. So,
next morning, the defence began to take evidence, and after they began
to introduce witnesses it was necessary to go fully into the case. It
was, however, plain sailing: wind and tide, in shape of the sympathy
of the Court, were with them, and as often as Captain Allen interposed
objections they were ruled out. Witnesses were put up to show that
Still had always been a keen business man, and had at various times
lent money to his neighbors, including Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray’s confidence
in him was proved, and it was shown that he had relied on him so far
as to send him South as his agent. Still was ostentatiously offered
by Leech as a witness to prove everything, but was objected to on
the ground that the other party to the transaction was dead, and was
necessarily held incompetent. All the merit, however, of what he might
prove was secured. An undisputed bond of Mr. Gray’s was put in proof.
It was dated at the outbreak of the war, and was the bond given for
money to help equip the Red Rock Company. This bond was taken from the
bundle of papers in the old suit which Still had brought, and whilst it
was being examined the other papers in the file were left spread out on
the bar before Leech, with the big bond lying by itself until it should
be offered in evidence. In this way a presumption was raised as to
Still’s means and ability to lend money. Just then it became necessary
to show the time when Still went South, in order to connect the large
bond with that visit. An attempt was made to do this, but the witnesses
put on the stand to prove it got confused on cross-examination and
differed among themselves by several years. It was now night, and Leech
was anxious to close the case. Things had been going so smoothly that
he was impatient. He glanced around the court-room.

“Is there no one here who was present when you went or came back?” he
asked Still, with a frown. Still looked about him.

“Yes, there’s a nigger. He was there both when I went away and when I
came back. He used to work about the house.” He pointed to Doan, who
stood behind the bar in the throng of spectators. “But I don’t want to
put him on,” he whispered. “I don’t like him.”

“Oh! nonsense! It’s only a single fact, and if we can prove it by one
witness, it’s as good as by a hundred.” He turned and spoke to Doan
from his seat.

“Come around and be sworn.” Doan came to the clerk’s desk and was
sworn. He was told by Leech that he need not sit down, as there was
only one question to be asked. So he stood just in front of the
bar, where the papers were spread on it, looking self-conscious and
sheepish, but very self-important. Leech put his question.

“Do you know when Mr. Still was sent South by Mr. Gray?”

“Yes, suh. Cose I does. I was right dyah. See him de night he come
back.”

“Well, tell those gentlemen when it was,” said Leech. A shade of
impatience crossed his face as Doan looked puzzled. “What year it was?”
He leaned over and touched the big bond lying on the bar before him,
preparatory to putting it in evidence. The act seemed to arouse the
negro’s intellect.

“Well, I don’ know nothin’ ’bout what year ’twuz,” he said, “but I
knows _when_ ’twuz.”

“Well, _when_ was it? And how do you know when it was?” Leech asked,
sharply.

“‘Twuz when de big picture o’ de ghos’ in de gret hall fall down the
lass’ time, jes b’fo’ de war. Mr. Still had jes come back from de Souf
de day befo’, an’ him and marster wuz in the gret hall togerr talkin’
’bout things, and Mr. Still had jes ontie he picket-book an’ gin
marster back de papers, when de win’ blow ’em on de flo’ an’ de picture
come down out de frame ’quebang, most ’pon top my haid.”

“Stop him! For God’s sake! stop him,” muttered Still, clutching at
Leech’s arm. The lawyer did not catch his words, and turned to him.
Still was deadly pale. “Stop him!” he murmured. A stillness had
fallen on the court-room, and the crowd was listening. Leech saw that
something had happened.

“Hold on. Stop! How do you know this?” His tone was suddenly combative.

“Hi! I wuz right dyah onder it, and it leetle mo’ fall ’pon top my
haid.” Doan gave a nod of satisfaction as he recalled his escape.
“Yes, suh, I thought he had got me dat time sho’!” he chuckled, with
a comical glance at the negroes before him, who roused up at the
reminiscence and laughed at his whimsical look. “‘Twuz in de spring,
and I wuz paintin’ de hearth wid red paint, and marster an’ de
overseer was talkin’ togerr at de secretary by de winder ’bout de new
plantation down Souf; an’ I wuz doin’ mo’ lis’nin ’n paintin’, cuz when
I heah Mr. Still say he hadn’ buyed all de lan’ an’ niggers marster
’spected him to buy and had done bring he barn back, I wuz wonderin’
what that wuz an’ ef dee’d sen’ any o’ our blackfolks down Souf; and
thunderstorm come up right sudden, an’ b’fo’ dee pull de winder down,
blowed dem papers, what Mr. Still bring back an’ teck out he pocket an’
gi’ to marster, off de secretary down on de flo’, and slam de do’ so
hard de old Ingin-killer fall right out de frame mos’ ’pon top my haid.
Yas, suh, I wuz dyah sho’!” He was telling the incident of the picture
and not of the papers, and the crowd was deeply interested. Even the
Judge was amused. Still, with white face, was clutching Leech’s arm,
making him signals to stop the witness; and Leech, not yet wholly
comprehending, was waiting for a pause to do so, without its being too
marked. But Doan was too well launched to stop. He flowed on easily: “I
holp Mr. Still to put de picture back in the frame an’ nail’t up after
marster had done put de paper what he call he ‘barn,’ in de hole behine
it, an’ I tell you I didn’t like it much nohow. An’ Mr. Still didn’
like it much nurr.”

“Stop him!” whispered Still, agonizingly.

“Here, this is all nonsense,” broke in Leech, angrily. “You don’t know
what Mr. Still thought. You know that he came back from the South some
year that there was a thunderstorm, and a picture was blown out of a
frame or fell down. And that’s all you know. You don’t know what Mr.
Still thought or anything else.” But Doan was by this time at his ease,
enjoying the taste of publicity.

“Yas, suh, I does, cuz I hear him say so. I holp him nail de picture
back after marster had done put dem very papers Mr. Still gi’ him back
in de hole behine it. An’ I hear Mr. Still tell marster ’t ef it wuz
him he’d be skeered, cuz dee say ’twuz bad luck to anybody in de house
ef de picture fall; and marster say he wa’n’t skeered, dat ef anything
happen to him he could trust Mr. Still, an’ he’d put de papers in de
hole behine de picture, so ef anyone ever fine ’em dee’d see what a
faithful man he had; he had trus’ him wid he barn for thousan’s o’
dollars, an’ he brung it back, an’ he gwine nail de picture up now so
’twon’ come down no mo’.”

“Oh! Your master said he felt he could trust Mr. Still?” said Leech,
brightening, catching this crumb of comfort.

“Yas, suh.”

“And what did Mr. Still say?”

“He say he could too.” The crowd laughed.

“And he nailed the picture up securely?”

“Yas, suh. I holped him. Marster sont me to teck Marse Rupert out, cuz
he wuz dabblin’ he little byah foots in de paint on de hearth, trackin’
up de flo’, an’ had done step’pon one o’ de barns whar blow’ down, an’
mark it up; an’ he tell me when I come back to bring hammer an’ nails
to nail de picture up, an’ so I done.”

Still was again squeezing his counsel’s arm painfully, whispering him
to stop the witness. But Leech had to ask one more question.

“You brought the nails and nailed it up?”

“Yes, suh, me an’ Mr. Still. An’ Marse Rupert he come back, and Mr.
Jack dyah wid him, an’ say he gwine help too. He wuz always pesterin’
roun’, dem days.” This in pleasant reminiscence to the crowd.

“You can stand aside,” said Leech, contemptuously. He gave a sigh of
relief, and Doan was turning slowly to go.

“Hold on.” Steve’s deep voice broke in. Jacquelin was whispering to
him eagerly. A new light had come into his eyes, and he was scanning
Still’s white face, on which the beads of sweat had stood during the
whole examination. Steve, still listening to Jacquelin’s rapid speech,
rose slowly to get the bond lying on the bar. Before he could reach
it however, McRaffle, one of the counsel associated with Leech, partly
resenting the neglect of himself and wishing to earn his fee, leant
forward. He would, at least, ask one question.

“You nailed it up securely, and that was the last time it fell.” He
spoke rather in affirmation than question.

“Nor, suh; it done fall down two or three times since den. Hit fall de
day marster wuz kilt, an’ hit fall de evenin’ Mr. Still dyah got de
papers out de hole agin. Dat’s de evenin’ Mr. Leech dyah ’rest Marse
Jack. Mr. Leech know ’bout dat.”

Suddenly a voice rang through the court-room.

“It’s a lie! It’s all a d—d lie!” It was Hiram Still, and he had
sprung to his feet in uncontrollable agitation, his face livid. Every
eye was turned on him, and Leech caught him and pulled him down
forcibly into his seat, rising in his place and addressing the Court.

“If your honor please,” he said, “all of this is irrelevant. I have no
idea what it is all about; but it has no bearing whatever on this case:
a lot of stuff about a picture falling down. I shall ask you to exclude
it all from the jury——”

“But I will show whether or not it is relevant,” asserted Steve. He had
picked up the bond from the bar and held it firmly. His voice had a new
ring in it.

Leech turned on him angrily, but caught his eye and quieted down. He
addressed the Court again.

“I will show how impossible it is for it to be accepted. Can you read
or write?” he demanded of Doan, who stood much puzzled by what was
going on.

“Nor, suh.”

“And you cannot tell one paper from another, can you?”

“Nor, suh. But ef de paper Mr. Still got out from behine de picture
dat evenin’ I see him git up in de hole after you brung Marse Jack
away, is de one I see him gi’ marster an’ see him put in dyah, hit’s
got Marse Rupert’s foot-track ’pon it—least his toe-tracks—whar
he’d been dabblin’ in de fresh paint on de hearth; cuz dat’s de reason
marster meek me cyar him out, cuz he step ’pon de barn whar blown down
on de hall-flo’ wid red paint, an’ track up de flo’ runnin’ after it.”
(Here Steve, with a bow, handed the bond across to Major Welch.) “I see
marster when he put de paper in de bundle an’ Mr. Still put it up in de
hole behine de picture, an’ I see Mr. Still when he git up in de hole
an’ teck it out de evenin’ de picture fall down after mistis an’ all
de white folks come ’way to de cote-house after Marse Jack. Ef it’s de
same barn hit’s got he toe-marks on hit in red paint, cuz I can show
you de tracks on de hall flo’ now. Hit’s dim, but hit’s dyah on de flo’
still. Ef you go dyah wid me I can show’t to you.”

At this moment Major Welch, who had been holding the bond in his hand
and had studied it carefully, leaned forward and held it out to the
negro.

Still, with a gasp, made a grab for Leech, and Leech reached for the
paper; but Major Welch put him aside without even looking at him.

“Did you ever see that paper before?” he asked Doan. Doan’s face lit
up, and he gave an ejaculation of surprise and pleasure.

“Yas, suh, dat’s de very paper I’se talkin’ ’bout.” He took it and held
it triumphantly, turning it so it could be seen. “Dyah’s Marse Rupert’s
little toe-marks ’pon hit now, jes’ like I tell you.” And as the paper
was viewed, there, without doubt, were the prints—incontestably
the marks of five little toes, as the exclamation of the spectators
certified. Doan was delighted at his justification. “I knowed he
teck it out, cuz I see him when he cut de string up dyah an’ put
it in he pocket, an’ I see de string when I put it back,” he said,
confidentially, to the crowd. “I see him, an’ Unc’ Tarquin see him
too, cuz he had jes come over to see ’bout Marse Jack; an he ax me
afterwards what Mr. Still wuz doin’ in de hole up dyah rummagin’
papers.”

[Illustration: STILL SPRUNG TO HIS FEET IN UNCONTROLLABLE AGITATION,
HIS FACE LIVID.]

“That’s so!” exclaimed a deep voice back in the crowd. “I saw him
in the hole, and I saw him take some papers out and put them in his
pocket.” It was old Tarquin, standing still and solemn in the front row
of the negroes behind the bar.

The Judge roared for silence, and Leech rose and renewed his motion. He
denounced the whole story as nonsensical and absurd.

Steve Allen started to contest the motion; but the Judge sustained it,
and ruled out Doan’s testimony, to which Steve excepted. Then Leech
calmly offered the bond in evidence, and announced that they were
through and wanted no argument.

Steve Allen offered to put Doan on the stand as his witness, but Leech
objected; the plaintiffs had closed their case, he said. And so the
Court ruled. Steve Allen claimed the right to put the witness on the
stand, asserting that it was in rebuttal. But the Court was firm. The
Judge declined “to hear ghost stories.” Steve insisted, and the Court
ordered him to take his seat. He was “out of order.” The case was
closed, and he wanted to hear no argument. In such a case the verdict
of a jury was not obligatory on the Court, it was only to instruct the
mind of the chancellor. He had heard all that the jury had heard, and
his mind was clear. He would instruct them to bring in a verdict that
no fraud had been shown, and the defendants would prepare a decree
accordingly.

On this Steve suddenly flamed out. He would like to know, he said, when
he had been in order in that court. It was an outrage on decency; the
rulings of the Court were a cover for fraud.

He was certainly out of order now. The Judge was angry, but he was not
afraid.

“Take your seat, sir,” he shouted. “I will commit you for contempt.”
The anger of the Judge cooled Steve’s.

“If you do, it will certainly be for _contempt_,” he said, recovering
his composure. He was looking the Judge squarely in the eyes.

“I will put you in jail, sir!”

“It has no terrors for me. It is more honorable than your court.”

“I will disbar you!” roared the Judge.

“You have substantially done it in this case,” said Steve.

The Judge was foaming. He turned to the clerk and commanded him to
enter an order immediately striking Steve’s name from the roll of
attorneys practising in that court, and ordered the Sheriff to take him
into custody. The excitement was intense. Instinctively a number of
men, Andy Stamper among them, moved up close to Steve and stood about
him. The colored Sheriff, who had started, paused and looked at the
Judge inquiringly. The Judge was just beginning to speak again to the
Sheriff, but his attention was arrested.

At this moment Jacquelin rose. His calm manner and assured voice
quieted the hubbub; and the Judge looked at him and waited. As his
counsel was disbarred, Jacquelin said, he should ask the Court to
allow him to represent himself at this juncture, and also his brother,
who was still a minor. He calmly stated the series of events that
had prevented their knowing before the facts that had just then been
disclosed, and which made everything clear; and he asked leave to amend
their bill, or to file a new one, on the ground of after-discovered
evidence. With the new light thrown on the case, he traced Still’s
action step by step, and suddenly wound up with a charge that Still had
arrested his brother to get him out of the way and destroy the danger
of his testimony. A roar of applause burst from the white men present,
in whom a ray of hope began to shine once more. Jacquelin sat down.

Of all the people in the court-room the Judge was the most calm. He was
as motionless as a sphinx. As Jacquelin took his seat there was a brief
pause of deathly stillness. The Judge looked at Leech and waited. The
latter caught the signal and his face lit up. He put his hand on the
bar, and leant forward preparatory to rising to his feet. Before he
could make another motion Major Welch rose. Every eye was turned on
him. Old Mr. Bagby gazed up at him, his lips slightly parted, his eyes
filled with wonderment. Leech, with his hand resting on the bar and his
body bent forward, waited. The Judge turned his gaze to Major Welch.
The silence became almost palpable. Major Welch’s face was pale, and
the lines, as seen in the dim light, appeared to have deepened in it.
His form was erect.

“If your honor please,” he began, “I am a defendant in this case, and
hold as a purchaser under the other defendant a considerable part of
the property sought to be recovered by the plaintiffs. I bought it
honestly and paid for it, believing that it was the land of the man
from whom I bought, and I still hold it. There have been a number
of things since that I have not been able to understand until now.
I have observed closely all that has gone on here to-day, and have
heard all that has just been said. I wish to say that, as far as I
am concerned—so far as relates to the part of the property formerly
belonging to Mr. Jacquelin Gray and his brother now held by me—I am
satisfied. It will not be necessary for the plaintiffs to take the
step that has just been proposed, of filing a new bill. From certain
facts within my own knowledge, and which I did not understand before,
but on which, what has just taken place has thrown a full light, I am
quite satisfied. And if the complainants will prepare a proper deed
reconveying the land—my part of the land—to them, I will execute
it without further delay, and will make such restitution as I can.
I have lost what I put into it, which is a considerable part of all
I possessed in the world. But”—he paused for a second—“there is
one thing I have not lost, and I do not propose to lose it. I am not
willing to hold another man’s property which he lost by fraud.” (For
the first time he turned and faced the bar. His voice which, if firm,
had been grave and low, suddenly became strong and full, with a ring in
it of pride.) “I shall expect them to make a declaration of record that
every transaction, so far as I at least was concerned, was free from
any taint of suspicion.” He sat down, amid a deathly silence. The next
moment, from all through the court-room, there was a cheer that almost
took the roof off. The Judge scowled and rapped, but it was beyond
him; and in spite of his efforts to restore order, the tumult went on
wildly, cheer after cheer, not only for the act, but for the man.

Ruth, who all through the scene had been sitting beside her mother,
holding her arm tightly, her face as white as her handkerchief, in a
fit of uncontrollable emotion burst into tears and threw herself into
her mother’s arms; and Mrs. Welch’s eyes were glistening and her face
was lit by a glow which she did not always permit to rest there.

Old Mr. Bagby had sat half-dazed by his client’s action—wonder,
dissatisfaction, and pride all contending in his countenance for
mastery. Before his client was through, pride conquered, and as Major
Welch took his seat the old lawyer leant forward, placed his hand on
the back of Major Welch’s and closed it firmly. That was all.

As Major Welch sat down Jacquelin sprang to his feet. His face was
almost as white as Major Welch’s.

“If the Court please——” he began. But it was in vain that he strove
to speak. Cheers for Major Welch were ringing, and the Judge, his
face livid with wrath, was rapping. Jacquelin was waving his hand to
quiet the crowd. “If the Court please,” he repeated, “I wish to make a
statement.”

“Sit down,” said the Judge, shouting angrily to the Sheriff to restore
order. Jacquelin sat down, and the cheers began to subside.

Leech and his associates had been struck dumb with astonishment. They
gazed on Still in blank dismay, and, as Jacquelin resumed his seat,
Leech leaned over and spoke to Still. Still sat motionless, his face
ashy, his cheeks twitching, his eyes dull. Just at that moment there
was a crash outside close to the window. A restive horse had broken
loose. There was a shrill neigh and the sudden trample of feet as he
dashed away through the darkness. Hiram Still sank forward and rolled
from his chair in a heap on the floor.

The Court adjourned for the night, and the crowd poured from the
court-room.

As Ruth and her mother came out, the darkened green was full of groups
of men all eagerly discussing the occurrence and its probable effect on
the case. Major Welch’s name was on every lip.

“Danged if I believe he’s a Yankee, anyway!” said a voice in the
darkness as Ruth and Mrs. Welch passed by—a theory which gained this
much credit: that several admitted that, “He certainly was more like
our people than like Yankees.” One, after reflection, said:

“Well, maybe there’s some of ’em better than them we know about.”

The ladies passed on in the darkness.

Hiram Still was taken over to the tavern, and Dr. Cary worked over him
for hours; and later in the night the report was current that it was
only a fit he had had, and that he was recovering.

Meantime Leech and Still’s other counsel held a consultation, and after
that Leech was closeted with the Judge in his room for an hour; and
when he left, having learned that Major Welch had gone home, he mounted
his horse and rode away in the darkness in the direction of Red Rock.

The next morning the Judge adjourned his court for the term. The
illness of Still, the chief party in the cause, was the ground assigned.

It soon became known that Still was not going to give up the suit. It
was authoritatively announced by Leech. What Major Welch chose to do
had nothing to do with Still.

“If Major Welch was fool enough,” Leech said, “to turn tail at a
nigger’s lies, which he had been bribed to tell, and fling away a good
plantation, it was none of their business. But they were going to fight
and win their case.”

The Judge left the County, and Still, having recovered sufficiently,
was moved to his home.

The day after the scene in the court-room Jacquelin Gray, Steve, and
the General had a conference with old Mr. Bagby, and then together they
called on Major Welch. They stated that, while they appreciated his
action, they did not wish him to take such a step as he had proposed
under the excitement of an impulse, and they would prefer to bring the
proof and lay it before him to establish the facts they alleged as
beyond question.

“It was this that I wished to say last night,” said Jacquelin; and then
added that he was quite ready to make the entry of record at once that
the Major’s holding of the lands was entirely innocent.

Major Welch heard his visitors through, then said he preferred not to
wait; he was quite satisfied.

“It might have been an impulse last night, gentlemen, but it is not
an impulse now. I have reflected very deeply, you may be sure; but I
am only confirmed in my intention, and my act now is that of mature
deliberation. I only wish to say one thing more: that if I were capable
of holding on to this land, my wife would not permit me to do so.”

He did not tell the visitors that, the night before, he had been
followed home by Leech, who had just come from an interview with the
Judge, and who urged him, on every ground that he could think of, to
reconsider his action and retract his promise; assured him of the
absolute certainty of success, and gave him finally the assurance of
the Judge himself, who had promised to dismiss the suit and enter the
decree.

Nor did he tell Jacquelin that the interview with Leech had come
suddenly to an end by his telling Leech of what he knew personally,
and that he considered him a proper counsel for Still, and the Judge a
proper judge for him to try his case before.

This he did not mention, and they did not learn it until long
afterward.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

IN WHICH MR. LEECH SPRINGS A TRAP WITH MUCH SUCCESS


The developments of the trial decided Jacquelin to offer immediately an
amended bill, setting up all the facts that had come out. Steve Allen
went South to follow up the fresh clew and obtain new evidence, and on
his return it was rumored that he had been successful. Meantime Still
had recovered sufficiently to be taken to a watering-place—for his
health, it was said—and Leech was engaged in other parts of the State
looking after his prospective canvass for the Governorship. Leech’s
candidacy and the final issue of the Red Rock case had become closely
associated. It was charged that Leech had been engaged with Still in
the attempt to perpetrate a fraud; and it was intimated that, if the
Red Rock case should be won by the Grays, it would be followed by the
prosecution of Still and possibly of Leech. Captain Allen’s connection
with the case, together with the part he had taken in public matters,
had brought him forward as the leader of the opposition to Leech, not
only in the County, but throughout the State. Dr. Still was absent,
dutifully looking after his father, and, rumor said, also looking after
his own prospects in another field. Whether these reports were all true
or not, the three men were all absent from the County, and the County
breathed more freely by reason thereof. It was an unquestioned fact
that when they were absent, peace returned.

It was, however, but the calm before the storm.

In the interval that came, Jacquelin once more brought his suit. It
was based on the disclosure made at the first trial, and the bill was
this time against Still alone. Major Welch, as stated, had insisted on
reconveying his part of the land to Jacquelin. He said he could not
sleep with that land in his possession. So Jacquelin and Rupert were
the owners of it, and Major Welch took it on a lease.

The suit matured, and once more the term of court approached. The
people of the County were in better spirits. The evidence that Steve
had secured in the South was believed to fill the broken links. On the
decision depended everything. It was recognized on both sides that it
was not now a mere property question, but a fight for supremacy. The
old citizens were making a stand against the new powers. There was talk
of Rupert’s coming home. He had been in the West with Captain Thurston,
acting as a volunteer scout, and had distinguished himself for his
bravery. One particular act of gallantry, indeed, had attracted much
attention. In a fight with the Indians, a negro trooper belonging to
one of the companies had been wounded and during a check had fallen
from his horse. Rupert had heard his cries, and had gone back under
a heavy fire and, lifting him on his horse, had brought him off. The
first that was heard of it in the County was through a letter of
Captain Thurston’s to Miss Welch. When Rupert was written to about it,
he said he could not let Steve and Jack have all the honors: “And the
fact is,” he added, “when I heard the negro boy calling, I could not
leave him to save my life.”

Within a month after the reinstitution of the suit, Captain Thurston’s
company had come back from the West, and there was talk of efforts
being made to have the old prosecution against Rupert dismissed. It
was reported that he would come home and testify at the trial. Since
his memory had been refreshed he recollected perfectly the incident of
stepping on the paper.

Rumors of what might follow the trial were increasing daily. It was
even said that Leech was trying to make up with Governor Krafton, and
that negotiations were pending between them by which one of them would
become Governor and the other Senator.

Steve Allen asserted boldly that it was much more likely that one of
them would be in the penitentiary, unless the other pardoned him. This
speech was repeated to Leech, who blinked uneasily. He went North that
night.

In view of these facts, the old County was in better spirits than it
had enjoyed for some time.

Dr. Washington Still’s attentions to his father, after the father’s
“attack” at the trial of the Red Rock case, were, however, not so
filial as they were reported to be. Had the truth been known, he
was not so attentive to his father’s interest as he was to that of
another member of the Still family. While the trial and its strange
_denouement_ had affected the elder Still to the point of bringing on a
slight attack of paralysis, it affected Dr. Still also very seriously,
though in a different way.

After the entertainment at Red Rock, Dr. Still fancied that he saw
much improvement in his chances with Miss Krafton. He had expected to
impress her with Red Rock, and she had been impressed. The pictures had
particularly struck her. He had told her of as many of the portraits
as he could remember, inventing names and histories for most of them.
He had not thought it necessary to go into any elaborate explanation,
consequently he had not mentioned the fact that they were the ancestors
of the man who was suing for the recovery of the place. Miss Krafton
had heard of the suit and referred to it casually. Dr. Still scouted
the idea of his title being questioned. His grandfather had lived
there, and his father had been born on the place. He did not mention
the house in which his father was born. He only intimated that in some
way they had been straitened in their circumstances before the war,
at some period which he made vaguely distant; and he spoke of their
later success somewhat as of a recovery of their estate. The suit, he
asserted, had been instigated purely by spite. It was simply one of
the customary attempts to annoy Union men and Northern settlers—it was
really brought more against Major Welch than his father. Miss Krafton
had met Major Welch, and had declared that she adored him. Dr. Still’s
eyes blinked complacently.

Miss Krafton was manifestly interested, and the Doctor after this began
to have more hopes of his success than he had ever had. He allowed
himself to fall really in love with her.

His father’s connection with the bonds of his former employer suddenly
threatened to overthrow the whole structure that Dr. Still was so
carefully building. The story of the bonds was told, with all its
accessories, in such newspapers as were conducted by the old residents;
and although Miss Krafton might never have heard of it from them, as
she had never seen a copy of such a journal in her life, the papers
that were on her father’s side undertook to answer the story. It was
an elaborate answer—a complete answer—if true. It ought to have been
complete, for Dr. Washington Still inspired it, if he did not write
it. The trouble was, it was too complete. It was not content with
answering, it attacked; and it by innuendo attacked Major Welch. Miss
Krafton might not have believed the story, if it had been confined to
Mr. Gray and Mr. Still; but when Major Welch had accepted the story,
and, as was stated, had even reconveyed his property to Mr. Gray, it
was a different matter.

Miss Krafton had conceived a high opinion of Major Welch. He was so
different from all others whom she had seen at the entertainment at Red
Rock or had met at her father’s table. She knew of the Welches’ high
social standing. She had met Miss Welch, and had been delighted with
her also. The partial similarity of their situations had drawn her to
Ruth, and Ruth’s sweetness had charmed her. When the story of the Red
Rock suit came out, Miss Krafton’s curiosity was aroused. She wrote to
Miss Welch and asked her about it.

Dr. Still had now begun to press his suit in earnest. He too had
schemes which a union with Governor Krafton would further. Leech was
becoming too constant a visitor at the governor’s mansion to suit the
young physician, and the latter was planning to forestall him.

When Dr. Still called on Miss Krafton next, after she had made her
inquiry of Miss Welch, as he waited in her drawing-room his eye fell
on a letter lying open on a table. He thought he recognized the
handwriting as that of Miss Welch; and as he looked at it to verify
this, he caught the name “Red Rock.” He could not resist the temptation
to read what she had said, and, picking up the letter, he glanced at
the first page. It began with a formal regret that she could not accept
Miss Krafton’s invitation to visit her, and then continued:

“As to your request to tell you the true story of Mr. Hiram Still’s
connection with the Red Rock case, which the papers have been so
full of, I feel——” What it was that she felt, Dr. Still did not
discover, for at this point the page ended, and just then there was
a rustle of skirts outside the door. Dr. Still replaced the letter
only in time to turn and meet Miss Krafton as she entered. He had
never seen her so handsome; but there was something in her manner to
him which he had never felt before. She was cold, he thought—almost
contemptuous. He wondered if she could have seen him through the door
reading her letter. Partly to sound her as to this, and partly to
meet the statements which he feared Miss Welch had made, he turned
the conversation to the Welches. He began to praise them mildly, at
the same time speaking of their impracticability and prejudices, and
incidentally hinting that Major Welch had sold out to the Grays. To
this Miss Krafton replied so warmly that the young man began to try
another tack. Miss Krafton, however, did not unbend. She launched out
in such eulogy of Major Welch, of Mrs. Welch, and of Miss Welch that
Dr. Still was quite overwhelmed. He mentioned the account that had
appeared in her father’s organ. Miss Krafton declared that she did not
believe a word of it. Major Welch had stated that it was wholly untrue.
She asserted with spirit, that if she were a man, she would rather
starve than have a dollar that was not gotten honestly; and if ever she
married, it would be to a man like Major Welch. Her color had risen and
her eyes were flashing.

Dr. Still gazed at her in a half-dazed way, and a curious expression
came over his face. It was no time for him to push matters to an
extreme.

Well, some women are innocent, he thought, as he came down the steps.
And his eyes had an ugly look in them.

When he reached home his father was waiting for him. The young man
attacked him so furiously that he was overwhelmed. He began to try to
defend himself. He had done nothing, he declared feebly; but whatever
he had done, had been for his sake. His voice was almost a whimper.

His son broke out in a fury:

“For my sake! That’s your plea! And a pretty mess you’ve made of it!
Just as I was about to succeed—to make me the talk of the State!—to
make me appear the son of a—thief! You’ve stood in my way all my life.
But for you, I might have been anything. I am ashamed of you—I’ve
always been ashamed of you. But I did not think you’d have been such
a—fool!” He walked up and down the room, wringing his hands and
clutching the air.

“Washy—Washy—hear me,” pleaded the father, rising totteringly from
his arm-chair, and with outstretched hands trying to follow his son.

Wash Still made a gesture, half of contempt and half of rage, and burst
out of the door.

As his son slammed the door behind him, Hiram Still stood for a moment,
turned unsteadily to his chair, threw up his hands, and, tottering,
fell full length on the floor.

The newspaper of which McRaffle was one of the editors stated a day
or two later that “our fellow-citizens will be glad to learn that the
honored Colonel Hiram Still is rapidly recovering from his paralytic
stroke, owing to the devoted attentions and skill of his son, the
eminent young physician, Dr. Washington Still, for whom we are prepared
to predict a remarkable career.” It “further congratulated all honest
men that Colonel Still would be well in time to attend the trial of the
so-called suit, instituted against him by his political enemies, which
suit, to the editor’s _own personal knowledge_, was neither more nor
less than a malicious persecution.”

How much Dr. Still paid for this notice was known only to two men,
unless Leech also knew; for Leech and McRaffle were becoming very
intimate.

It had been supposed that Mr. Hiram Still’s illness would put off
the trial of the Red Rock case; but Mr. Leech, who had just returned
from the North, declared publicly that the trial would come off as
already scheduled, at the next term. He further intimated that those
who were setting traps for him would learn that he could set a few
traps himself. This declaration set at rest the fears that had been
entertained that the Red Rock case would be postponed.

Leech made good his word, and when it was least anticipated sprang the
trap he had prepared. It was a complete surprise and almost a complete
success; and when Leech counted up his game, he had, with a single
exception, bagged every man in the County from whom he had received an
affront, or against whom he cherished a grudge.

One Sunday morning, about daylight, as Jerry was returning to
Brutusville from some nocturnal excursion, when only a mile or two
from the village, he was startled to come on a body of cavalry, on the
march. They were headed toward Brutusville, and with them were Colonel
Leech and Captain McRaffle. A shrewd guess satisfied Jerry that it must
mean some mischief to Captain Allen. Curiosity and interest prompted
him to fall in with them; but the men he addressed knew nothing, and
were grumbling at having to take a long night-ride. Jerry pressed on
to the head of the column, where he saw Leech. He touched his hat, and
passed on as if he were in a great hurry. Leech, however, called him,
and began to question him, but soon discovered that he was drunk—too
drunk to be wholly intelligent, but, fortunately, sober enough to give
a good deal of valuable information. Leech gathered from him that no
one had the slightest idea that troops were coming to Brutusville,
unless Captain Allen had. The Captain, Jerry said, had left Brutusville
the evening before, and had gone to a friend’s in the upper end of the
County to spend Sunday. Jerry knew this, because the Captain had told
him to meet him there with his horse in time for church; but Jerry
was not going. He “had had enough of that man,” he said. He was not
going to work for him any more. The Captain had threatened to beat
him. Here Jerry, at the memory of his wrongs, fell into a consuming
rage, and cursed Captain Allen so heartily that he almost propitiated
Leech. It was a matter of regret to Leech that Steve Allen was not
in Brutusville, and so could not be arrested at once. This, however,
could be remedied if a part of the company were detailed to catch him
before he learned of their arrival. Leech would himself go with the
men who were to undertake this. He wished to be present, or almost so,
when Captain Allen was arrested. He would have taken Jerry with him,
but Jerry was suddenly so drunk that he could hardly stand. So, having
directed that the negro should not be allowed to go until after all the
contemplated arrests had been made, Colonel Leech, with a platoon, took
a road that led to the place where, according to Jerry, he should find
Captain Allen preparing to attend church.

It was just daybreak when the remainder of the company reached the
outskirts of the county seat, and, in accordance with the instructions
that had been received, began to post pickets to surround the
village. This was done under the immediate supervision of Captain
McRaffle. Jerry remained with one of the pickets. The morning air
appeared to have revived him astonishingly, and in a little while he
had ingratiated himself with the picket by telling a number of funny
stories of Leech, who did not appear to be at all popular with the men.
He presently insinuated that he knew where the best whiskey in town was
to be secured, and offered to go and get some for the picket before the
officers took possession. He could slip in and come right out again
without anyone knowing it. On this, and with a threat of what would be
done to him if he failed to return, he was allowed by the picket to go
in. He started off like a deer. It was surprising how straight he could
go when he moved rapidly!

As soon as he reached the village he struck straight for the
court-green. Jacquelin had spent the night at the court-house with
Steve, and was about to start for home in the first light of the
morning, and, just as Jerry flung himself over the fence, Jacquelin
came down from the rooms that he and Steve occupied. Jerry rushed up
to him and began to tell him the story of Leech’s return with the
soldiers. He had come to arrest the Captain, Jerry declared.

At first Jacquelin thought that Jerry was merely drunk; but his anxiety
on Captain Allen’s account, and the cleverness of his ruse by which
he had outwitted Leech, satisfied him; and Jerry’s account of Leech’s
eagerness (for he did not stick at telling the most egregious lies as
to what Leech had told him) aroused Jacquelin’s anxiety for Steve.
Jacquelin, therefore, took instant alarm and sent Jerry to saddle
Steve’s horse, while he himself hurried back to Steve’s room and roused
him out of bed. At first, Steve was wholly incredulous. Jerry was just
drunk, he declared, sleepily. But when Jerry appeared, though certainly
he was not sober, he told a story which made Steve grave enough. The
whole expedition was, according to his account, to capture Steve.
Leech and Captain McRaffle and the captain of the troop had all said
so. Steve’s horse was saddled at the door. Steve still demurred. He’d
be condemned if he’d run away; he’d stay, and, if what Jerry said was
true, would settle with Leech, the whole score then and there. He went
back into his room and put his pistol in his pocket. This Jacquelin
declared was madness. It would only bring down vengeance on the whole
County. What could Steve do against Government troops? Jerry added
another argument: “Colonel Leech ain’ gwine to meet him. He done gone
off with some other soldiers,” he asserted.

Steve turned to Jacquelin. “How can I leave you, Jack? I’m not a dog.”

“Why, what can they do with me?” laughed Jacquelin. “They are after you
about the Ku Klux, and I was not even in the country.” He was still
hurrying him.

Thus urged, Steve consented to go, and mounting his horse rode out
a back way. To his surprise, he found the lane already picketed. He
turned to take another road. As he wheeled into it he saw a squadron of
troops at either end riding into the village toward him. He was shut
in between them, with a high fence on either side. The only chance of
escaping was across the fields. He acted quickly. Breasting his horse
at the fence, he cleared it, and, dashing across the court-green,
cleared that on the other side, and so made his way out of the village,
taking the fences as he came to them.

Ten minutes later Jacquelin was arrested on a warrant sworn out before
McRaffle as a commissioner of the court, and so, during the morning,
was nearly every other man in the village.

Jacquelin no sooner looked at Leech, than he knew that it was not only
Steve that he had come for. As Leech gazed on him his eyes watered, if
his mouth did not; and he spoke in a sympathetic whine.

Dr. Cary heard of the raid and of the arrest of his friends that
morning as he came home from Miss Bush’s sick bedside, by which he had
spent the night. He was tired and fagged; but he said he must go down
to the court-house and see about the matter. Mrs. Cary and Blair tried
to dissuade him. He needed rest, they urged. And, indeed, he looked it.
His face was worn, and his eyes glowed deep under his brows.

“My dear, I must go. I hear they have made a clean sweep, and arrested
nearly every man in the place.”

“They may arrest you, if you go.”

“They cannot possibly have anything against me,” he said. “But if
they should, it would make no difference. I must go and see about my
friends.” The ladies admitted this.

So he rode off. Mrs. Cary and Blair looked wistfully after him as he
passed slowly down the road through the apple-trees. He rode more
slowly now than he used to do, and not so erect in the saddle.

He was about half-way to the village when he met Andy Stamper riding
hard, who stopped to give him the news. They had arrested nearly every
man in the village, Andy said, and were now sending out parties to make
arrests in the country. General Legaie, and Jacquelin Gray, and Mr.
Dockett, and even Mr. Langstaff had been arrested. Leech had come with
them, and the prisoners were being taken up to Leech’s house, where
they were to be tried before McRaffle, the commissioner. Captain Steve
had got away, and had tried to meet Leech; but Leech was too smart for
that.

“And they are after you and me too, Doctor,” said Andy. “Where are you
going?”

Dr. Cary told him. Andy tried to dissuade him. “What’s the use? You
can’t do any good. They’ll just arrest you too. My wife made me come
away. I tell you, Doctor, it’s worse than the war,” said Andy. “I never
would have surrendered, if I’d thought it ud ’a come to this.” There
was a sudden flash of wrath in his blue eyes. “I’ve often been tempted
to git even with that Still and that Leech, and I’ve shut my ears and
turned away; but if I’d known ’t ’ud come to this, d—d if I wouldn’t
have done it!”

Dr. Cary soothed him with his calm assurance, and as the Doctor started
to go, Andy turned.

“If you’re goin’, I’m goin’ with you,” he said. “But first I must go by
and tell Delia Dove.”

The Doctor tried to assure him that it was not necessary for him to
surrender himself; but Andy was firm. “It might have been all right,”
he said, if he had not met the Doctor; but Delia Dove would never
forgive him if he let the Doctor go into a trouble by himself and
he stayed out—’twould be too much like running away.” I tell you,
Doctor,” said Andy, “if Delia Dove had been where I was, she’d never
’a surrendered. If there’d been her and a few more like her, there
wouldn’t ’a been any surrender.”

The Doctor smiled, and, leaving him to go by and make his peace with
Mrs. Stamper, rode slowly on to town.

He found the roads picketed as in time of war; but the pickets let him
through. He had scarcely entered the village when he met Leech. He was
bustling about with a bundle of books under his thin arm. The Doctor
greeted him coldly, and Leech returned the greeting almost warmly. He
was really pleased to see the Doctor.

The Doctor expressed his astonishment and indignation at the step that
had been taken. Leech was deprecatory.

“I have heard that I am wanted also, Colonel Leech,” said the Doctor,
calmly. “I am present to answer any charge that can be brought against
me.”

Leech smiled almost sadly. He had no doubt in the world that the
Doctor could do so. Really, he himself had very little knowledge of
the matter, and none at all as to the Doctor’s case. The Doctor could
probably find out by applying to the officer in command. He passed on,
leaving the old gentleman in doubt if he could know what was going on.
Within ten minutes Dr. Cary was arrested by an officer accompanied by a
file of soldiers. When he reached Leech’s house, he found more of his
old friends assembled there than he could have found anywhere else in
the County that day. It was with mingled feelings that they met each
other. In one way they were deeply incensed; in another, it was so
grotesque that they were amused as one after another they were brought
in, without the slightest idea of the cause of their arrest.

However, it soon ceased to be matter for hilarity. The soldiers who
were their guards were simply coldly indifferent, and ordered them
about as they would have done any other criminals. But Leech was
feline. He oozed with satisfaction and complacency. Andy Stamper was
one of the last to appear, and when he was brought in he was a sorry
sight. He had not been given the privilege of surrendering himself.
As he was taking leave of his wife a posse had appeared, with Perdue
the jailer at their head, with a warrant for him. Andy had insisted
that he would go and surrender himself, but would not be arrested. A
fight had ensued, in which though, as Perdue’s broken head testified,
Andy had borne himself valorously. Andy had been overpowered; and he
was brought to jail, fastened on his mule, with a trace-chain about
his body and a bag over his head. The prisoners were first marched to
Leech’s big house, and were called out one by one and taken into a wing
room, where they were arraigned before McRaffle, as a commissioner, on
the charge of treason and rebellion. The specific act was the attack on
the jail that night. The witnesses were the jailer, Perdue; a negro who
had been in the jail that night, and Bushman, the man whom Steve Allen
had ordered out of the ranks for insubordination and threats against
the prisoners. Leech himself was present, and was the inspiration
and director of each prosecution. He sat beside the Commissioner and
instructed him in every case. Toward Jacquelin he was particularly
attentive. He purred around him.

When Dr. Cary’s turn came, neither he nor anyone else had any doubt
that he would be at once discharged. He was one of the last to be
called. He had taken no part whatever in the attack on the jail; all
that he had done had been to try and dissuade from it those who made
the assault, and, failing in that, he had waited, in case anyone should
be injured, to render what professional aid might be necessary. When he
was brought before Leech he was sensible at once of some sort of change
in the man. Always somewhat furtive in his manner, the carpet-bagger
now had something feline about him. He had evidently prepared to act
a part. He was dressed in a long black coat, with a white tie which
gave him a quasi-clerical touch, and his expression had taken on a
sympathetic regretfulness. A light almost tender, if it had not been so
joyous, beamed from his mild blue eyes, and when he spoke his voice had
a singular whine of apparent self-abnegation. The Doctor was instantly
conscious of the change in him.

“The tiger is loose in this man,” he said to himself. Leech called the
Commissioner’s attention to the Doctor’s presence, and greeted him
sadly. The Doctor acknowledged the salute gravely, and stated to the
Commissioner his views as to the error that had led to his arrest.
Before he was through, however, he was addressing Leech. A glint shone
in Leech’s eyes for a second.

“Yes, it would seem so,” he said, reflectively, with a slight twang in
his voice. “I should think that all that would be necessary would be
for you to mention it to the Court.” He looked at the Commissioner as
if for corroboration. McRaffle’s sallow face actually flushed; but he
kept his eyes on his paper.

“Why, you are the real power,” said the Doctor; “you are the one who
has authority.”

Leech smiled almost wanly.

“Oh, no, my dear sir, you do me too much honor. I am but the humble
instrument of the law. I bind and loose only as it is given me, my dear
sir.” His voice had grown more nasal and his blue eyes beamed. He laid
his hand tenderly on the Doctor’s shoulder and smiled half-sadly. The
Doctor moved a step farther off, his thin nostrils quivering slightly.

“Very well. I am not afraid. Only don’t my-dear-sir me, if you please.
I shall state frankly all I know about the matter, and expect to be
discharged now and at once.”

“Yes, that’s right. No doubt of it. I shall be glad to do what I can
to further your wishes. I will speak to the Commissioner.” He smiled
blandly.

He did so, holding a long whispered conversation with McRaffle, and
the Doctor’s case was taken up. The Doctor made his statement, and
made it fully and frankly, and it was taken down. When, however, it
was finished, he was not discharged. He was asked to give the names of
those who were in the crowd that night, and refused. Leech approached,
and tenderly and solicitously urged him to do so. “My dear sir, don’t
you see how impossible it will be for me to assist you if you persist
in what is really a contempt of court?”

“Do you suppose I would tell you to save my life?” said Dr. Cary.

Leech shook his head sadly. He was really grieved.

“Perhaps your Commissioner might supply you names,” snapped General
Legaie. McRaffle looked up at him and tried to face his gaze; but it
was in vain. His eyes dropped before the General’s withering scorn.

The Doctor was held “on his own confession,” the commissioner said. Old
Mr. Langstaff was sent on in the same way; and by nightfall the entire
party were in jail, sent on to the next term of the court to be held at
the capital.

It was late in the afternoon when the prisoners were conducted to
prison. Leech himself headed the procession, walking with impressive
solemnity a little in advance of the guard. Quite a large crowd had
assembled, mostly negroes; though there were some white men on the
edges, looking on with grim faces and glowing eyes, their hats drawn
down and their speech low, hardly articulate mutterings. All day
long, since the news of the arrival of the soldiery and their work,
the negroes had been coming into the village, and they now lined the
roadside and packed the court-green near the jail. As the procession
made its way they followed it with shouts of derision. “Awe, my Lawd!
Ef dee ain gwine put ’em into de _jail_!” cried out a young slattern,
shrilly; at which there was a shout of laughter.

“Amy, come heah, and look at _dis_ one,” shrieked another. “Look at dat
ole one. Don’t I hope dee’ll hang de ole deble!”

“Shut your mouth, you black huzzy,” said a tall old negro, sternly, in
solemn rebuke. The girl gave a shrill, nervous laugh, and, pulling her
friend by the hand, pushed her way nearer the prisoners.

“Dese heah young gals is too free wid dee moufs!” complained another
old negro to the taller one. Old Tarquin vouchsafed no answer. His
burning eyes were fastened on his master’s tall form as the Doctor
marched to the black door before him.

On the edge of the throng, though sufficiently disguised not to be
recognized casually, was another form, also with burning eyes, which
were, however, fastened not on Dr. Cary, but on Colonel Leech. Steve
Allen had come back that day, determined if he met Leech to offer him a
pistol and settle the questions between them, on the spot.

As Dr. Cary passed into the jail, he involuntarily stooped. As the
heavy door closed behind the prisoners, there was such a wild shout of
triumph from the ragged crowd that surged about the space outside that
the dull, indifferent soldiers in line before the door looked up and
scowled, with side glances and muttered speeches to each other; while
on the outskirts the white men gathered together in groups and talked
in low tones, their faces dark with impotent rage, but none the less
dangerous because they, too, were bound by shackles.

Excitement was hardly the name for the extraordinary sensation the
arrests had caused. It was a bolt from a clear sky. By some curious
law, whenever a step was taken against the whites the negroes became
excited; and the arrest of so many of the leading men of the County
had thrown them into a condition of the wildest commotion. They
came flocking into the village, forming and marching in a sort of
order, with shouts and yells of triumph. They held meetings about the
court-green, preached and prayed and sang hymns, shouting derisively
about the jail, and yelling insults against the whites. Had anyone seen
the throng, he would never have believed that the wild mob that hooted
and yelled about the village were the quiet, orderly, and amiable
people who but the day before tilled the fields or laughed about
their cabins. It needed all the power of the troops stationed at the
court-house to restrain them.

It, however, was not only the negroes who were excited. The news had
spread rapidly. The whites also were aroused, and men from every
direction were riding toward the county seat, their faces stern and
grim. By nightfall the village was overflowing, and they were still
arriving. As always, their presence awed and quieted the negroes. Many
of them stopped outside the town. The presence of regular soldiers
meant the presence of a force they were compelled to recognize. The
two words heard were “the Government” and “Leech.” Suddenly the two
had become one. Leech was _the_ Government, and the Government was
Leech: no longer merely the State—the Carpet-bag Government—but the
Government. He represented and was represented by the blue-coated,
silent, impassive men who were quartered in the court-house and moved
indifferently among the citizens—disliked, but careless whether it
were so or not. The carpet-bagger had suddenly ceased to be a mere
individual—he had become a power. For the first time he was not
only hated, but feared. Men who had braved his militia, which had
outnumbered them twenty to one, who had outscowled him face to face
a hundred times, now glanced at him furtively and sank their voices
as he passed. Leech was quick to note the difference, and his heart
swelled with pride. He walked backward and forward through the throng
many times, his long coat flapping behind him, his mild eyes peering
through his spectacles, his wan smile flickering about his mouth, his
book, “The Statutes of the United States,” clasped under his arm, his
brow bent as if in meditation. He felt that he was feared, and it
was unction to his spirit. He had bided his time and had triumphed.
Waiting till they least expected it, he had at one blow struck down
every enemy. He, Jonadab Leech, had done it; and they were under his
feet. They knew it, and they feared him. He meant them to know it and
fear him. For this reason he had sat by the Commissioner all day and
instructed him; for this reason he had led the march to the jail.

But had he struck all down? No. One had escaped. At the thought,
Leech’s smile died away, and a dark, threatening look took its place.
His chief enemy, the one he most hated and feared, had escaped. Those
he had caught were well enough, but it was Steve Allen whom he was
after chiefly—Steve Allen, who had scouted and braved and defied
him so often, who had derided him and thwarted him and stung him. He
had planned the whole affair mainly for Steve, and now the enemy had
slipped through his fingers. It turned all the rest of his success
into failure. His triumph changed to dust and ashes on his lips. He
was enraged. He would catch him. One moment he denounced his escape as
treachery, the next he boasted that he would find him and bring him in
alive or dead. A rumor came to him that night that Captain Allen was
not far off. Indeed, he was not, but Leech slept at the hotel, guarded
by soldiers.

Leech headed, next day, a squad—not a small one—and visited every
house in the neighborhood that Steve frequented, searching the houses
and proclaiming his determination to have him, alive or dead. He had
the pleasure of searching once more the cottage where Miss Thomasia
lived. Miss Thomasia received him at the door. She was white with
apprehension and indignation. Her apprehension, however, was not for
herself, but for Steve, who had only just ridden over the hill, and who
had left a message for Leech that he was looking for him, too. Leech
assured her sympathetically that she need not be disturbed. He had
to do his duty—a painful duty, but it was necessary to execute the
law. “‘They who take the sword shall perish by the sword’” he said,
with a mournful smile and a shake of the head, and a side look at Miss
Thomasia.

“Yes, I have heard that, and I commend it to you, sir,” Miss Thomasia
declared, with unexpected spirit. “God is the avenger of the guiltless,
and He sometimes employs those who are persecuted as His instruments.”

Leech left there and went to Dr. Cary’s. Here, too, however, he was
doomed to disappointment. Mrs. Cary and Miss Blair had gone down to the
court-house to look after the Doctor, and the family was represented by
Mammy Krenda, whose dark looks and hostile attitude implied too much
for Leech to try her. He contented himself with announcing to her that
he was hunting for Steve Allen, and had a warrant for his arrest.

“Yes, I heah you’ huntin’ for him,” said the old woman, quietly. “Well,
you better mine some day he don’t go huntin’ for you. When he ready, I
reckon you’ll fine him.”

“I mean to have him, alive or dead,” said Leech. “It don’t make any
difference to me,” he laughed.

“No, I heah say you say dat,” replied the old woman, placidly.
“Well,’twould meck right smart difference to him, I spec’; an’ when you
push folks dat fur, you’se got to have mighty sho stan’in’ place.”

This piece of philosophy did not strike home to Leech at the time; but
a little later it came back to him, and remained with him so much
that it worried him. He returned to the court-house without having
accomplished his mission. He made up his mind that the old woman knew
where Captain Allen had gone; but he had too vivid a recollection of
his last contest with her to try her again. On his arrival at the
court-house that evening, however, he found that Tarquin was there,
having accompanied his mistresses, and he sent a file of soldiers to
bring the old man before him. When Tarquin was brought in, he looked
so stately and showed so much dignity that Leech for a moment had a
feeling that, perhaps, he had made a mistake. McRaffle was present,
sitting with that inscrutable look on his dark face. The Commissioner
had already gained a reputation for as much severity in his new office
as rumor had connected with his name in a less authorized capacity. And
Leech had expected the old servant to be frightened. Instead, his head
was so erect and his mouth so calm that Leech instinctively thought of
Dr. Cary.

However, he began to question the old servant. He stated that he knew
where Captain Allen was, and that Tarquin had just as well tell. He
did not wish to be severe with him, he said, but it was his duty, as a
representative of the Government, to ascertain; and while on one side
was the penalty of the law, on the other was a high reward. The old
fellow listened so silently that Leech, as he proceeded, began to think
he had made an impression, and a gleam of satisfaction lit up his eyes.
When he was through, there was an expression very like scorn on old
Tarquin’s face.

“I don’t know where he is, Colonel Leech,” he said. “But do you suppose
I would tell you if I did? If I betrayed a gentleman, I couldn’ look my
master in the face.” Leech was taken aback.

“Here, that’s all nonsense,” he snarled. “I’m the Government, and I’ll
make you tell.” But Tarquin was unmoved.

“You can’t terrify me with your threats, Colonel Leech,” he said,
calmly. “I served with my master through the war.”

“If you don’t tell, I’ll send you to jail; that’s what I’ll do.”

“You have already sent better gentlemen there,” said the old servant,
quietly, and with a dignity that floored the other completely. Leech
remembered suddenly Hiram Still’s warning to him long ago, “With these
quality niggers, you can’t do nothin’ that way.”

He suddenly tried another course, and began to argue with Tarquin. It
was his duty to the Government which had set him free, and would pay
handsomely. Tarquin met him again.

“Colonel Leech, my master offered me my freedom before the war, and I
wouldn’t take it. You may get some poor creatures to betray with such a
bribe, but no gentleman will sell himself.” He bowed. Leech could not
help enjoying the scowl that came on McRaffle’s face. But the old man
was oblivious of it.

“I have voted with the Government since we were free, because I thought
it my duty; but I tell you now, suh, what you are doin’ to-day will
hurt you mo’ than ’twill help you. What you sow, you’ve got to reap.”

“Ah, pshaw!” sneered Leech, “I don’t believe you know where Captain
Allen is?”

“I told you I did not,” said the old man, with unruffled dignity.

Leech saw that it was useless to try him further in that direction,
and, thinking that he might have gone too far, he took out his
pocket-book.

“Here; I was just testing you,” he said, with a well-feigned smile. He
extracted a dollar note and held it out.

“Nor, suh; I don’t want your money,” said Tarquin, calmly. He bowed
coldly, and, turning slowly, walked out.

Leech sat for some time in deep reflection. He was wondering what the
secret was that controlled these people without threats or bribery.
Here he was, almost on the point of attaining his highest ambition,
and he was beginning to find that he was afraid of the instruments
he employed. He had never seen a negro insolent to one of the old
residents except under the instigation of himself or someone else like
him, and yet to him they were so insolent that at times even he could
hardly tolerate it. A strange feeling came to him, as if he were in a
cage with some wild animal whose keeper he had driven away, and which
he had petted and fed until it had gotten beyond him. He could control
it only by continually feeding it, and it was steadily demanding more
and more. Would the supply from which he had drawn give out? And then
what would happen? He was aroused from his thoughts by McRaffle. He
gave a short laugh.

“Called your hand, rather, didn’t he?”

Leech tried hard to look composed.

“Why didn’t you turn him over to me? I’d have got it out of him.
Trouble about you is, you don’t know the game. You are all right when
your hand’s full, but you haven’t got the courage to bet on your hand
if it’s weak. You either bluster till a child would know you were
bluffing, or else you funk and lay your hand down. I told you you
couldn’t do anything with these old fellows that have held on. If
they’d been going to come over, they’d have done so long ago. But if
you can’t get them, you can others. You leave it to me, and I’ll find
out where your friend Allen is.”

“Well, go on and do it, and don’t talk so much about it,” snarled
Leech, angrily. “I mean to have him, alive or dead.”

“And I rather think you’d prefer the latter,” sneered McRaffle, darkly.

“No; vengeance belongeth unto God.” His tone was unctuous.

“Look here, Leech,” said the other, with cold contempt, “you make me
sick. I’ve done many things, but I’m blanked if I ever quoted Scripture
to cover my meanness. You’re thinking of Still; I’m not him. You
move heaven and earth to take your vengeance, and then talk about it
belonging to God. You think you are a God, but you are a mighty small
one. And you can’t fool Steve Allen, I tell you. If you give me a
thousand dollars, I’ll get him for you, alive or dead.”

“You said you’d get him for two hundred, and I have offered that
reward,” said Leech.

“The price has risen,” said McRaffle, coolly. “You haven’t got him,
have you? If Allen runs across you, you’ll wish you had paid me five
thousand; and you better look out that he don’t.” He rose and lounged
toward the door.

“Well, you get him, and we’ll talk about the price,” said Leech.

“We’ll talk of it before that, Colonel,” said McRaffle, slowly to
himself.

Leech had some compensation next day when he superintended the
arrangements for the transfer of his prisoners to the city. His office
was besieged all day with the friends and relatives of the prisoners,
offering bail and begging their release, or, at least, that he would
allow them to remain in the County until the time for the term of
court to begin. To all he returned the same answer—he was “only a
humble minister of the law; the law must take its course.” He found
this answer satisfactory. It implied that he could if he would, and at
the same time left an impression of the inscrutable character of the
punishment to come. He had begun to feel very virtuous. From being a
humble instrument of Providence, he had come to feel as if he were a
part of Providence itself. The thought made his bosom swell. It was so
sweet to find himself in this position, that he determined to lengthen
out the pleasure; so, instead of sending all his prisoners down to the
city at once, he divided them into two lots and shipped only half of
them at first, keeping the others in jail in the County until another
day. What his reason was no one knew at the time. It was charged
around the County that he wanted to keep Jacquelin Gray until he
could secure Steve Allen, so that he might march them down handcuffed
together, and that he kept Andy Stamper and some of the others, so that
he might hector them personally. However that was, he kept these in
jail at Brutusville; and the others were marched down to the station
handcuffed, under guard of the soldiers, and with a crowd of yelling,
hooting negroes running beside them, screaming and laughing at them,
until one of the officers drove them to a respectful distance. They
were shipped to the city in a closed box-car, Leech superintending the
shipment personally. Just before starting he approached Dr. Cary and
General Legaie, and said that in consideration of their age he would
have them sent down to the station in his carriage.

“Thank you. We wish no exemptions made in our cases different from
those accorded our neighbors,” said Dr. Cary, grimly. The General said
nothing; he only looked away.

“Now, my dear sirs, this is not Christian,” urged Leech.” I beg that
you will allow me the pleasure——”

The little General turned on him so suddenly and with such a blaze in
his eyes, that Leech sprang back, and his sentence was never finished.

“Dog!” was the only word that reached him.

So Dr. Cary and General Legaie went along with the rest, though
they were not handcuffed. Old Mr. Langstaff was released on his
recognizance, Leech kindly offering the Commissioner to go his bail
himself.

On Leech’s return from the railroad that night, he requested the
officer in command to go through the jail with him, and gave him, in a
high key, especial orders as to guarding it securely.

“It will be guarded securely enough,” said the Captain, gruffly. He
was beginning to find Leech intolerable. The last few days’ work had
sickened him.

“I’ll soon have another prisoner,” said Leech as he passed the door
where Jacquelin was confined.—He raised his voice so that it might be
heard by those within the cells.—“And then we shall relieve you.”

“Well, I wish you’d do it quick, for I’m blanked tired of this
business, I can tell you!” snapped the Captain.

“Oh, it won’t be long now. A day or two at most. We’ll have Allen, dead
or alive. I had information to-day that will secure him. And the court
will sit immediately to try them.”

The Captain made no answer, except a grunt. Leech puffed out his bosom.

“A soldier’s duty is to obey orders, Captain,” he said, sententiously.

The Captain turned on him suddenly, his red face redder than ever.
“Look here, you bully these men down here who haven’t anybody to speak
up for them; but don’t you be trying to teach me my duty, Mister Leech,
or I’ll break your crooked neck, you hear?”

He looked so large and threatening that Leech fell back. In order to
appease the ruffled officer and satisfy him that he was not a coward,
Leech, just as he was leaving, said that he did not care for him to
send guards up to his house that night, as he had been doing.

“All right.”

“Of course, I mean until toward bedtime, Captain. I think it still
better to keep them there until I leave. I have important documents
there. You don’t know these people as I do. I shall go to the city
to-morrow or next day. I have business there, and I have the utmost
confidence in your ability to manage things. I shall report your zeal
to our friends in Washington.”

“All right,” grunted the Captain. And Leech went off.

Leech started toward his house. “I’ll have him recalled and get
somebody else in his place,” he muttered.

He stopped, and, going to his office, lit a lamp and wrote a letter
to the authorities urging a transfer of the present company, on the
ground that the Captain did not appear very well adapted for managing
the negroes, and that he feared it was giving encouragement to those
they were trying to suppress.

When he had written his letter, he sat back and began to think. He had
heard a name that day that had disquieted him. It was the name of the
teacher at Mrs. Welch’s school. He had always supposed her name was
Miss May, but it seemed that her name was Miss Bush.

One thing that had worried him in the past more than he had ever
admitted even to himself had like the others, under the influence of
his fortunate star, passed wholly away. He had married early in life.
As his ambition rose, his wife had been a clog to him. He had tried
to get a divorce; but this she resisted, and he had failed. She had,
however, consented to a separation. And he had persuaded her to give
up his name and resume her own, Miss Bush. He had not heard anything
of her in a long time, and he was quietly moving to get a divorce on
the ground of abandonment—of her having abandoned him. When this was
done, why should he not marry again? Miss Krafton was a handsome girl.
It would make Krafton his friend and ally instead of his enemy, and
together they could own the State.

Just then there was a knock at the door. A servant entered. A lady
wanted to see him. Who was it? The servant did not know. She wanted to
see him at once. Curiosity prevailed. “Show her in,” said Leech. She
entered a moment later. Leech turned deadly white. It was Miss Bush.
The next moment his fear gave way to rage. He sprang to his feet. “What
are you doing here? Where did you come from?” he snarled.

She seated herself on a chair near the door.

“Don’t be angry with me, John,” she said, quietly.

“I am angry. Why shouldn’t I be angry with you? You have lied to me.”

“That I have not.” She spoke firmly.

“You have. What do you call it? Did you not promise never to bother me
again?”

“I have not bothered you. I came here to try and protect you.”

“You have. You gave me your word never to come near me again. What do
you want?”

“I want to talk to you.”

“Well, talk quick. I have no time to waste on you. I am busy.”

“I know you are, and I shall not bother you long. I want you to stop
prosecuting Dr. Cary and Mr. Gray and Captain Allen.”

“What do you know about them?” asked Leech, in unfeigned astonishment.

“They are friends of friends of mine. Dr. Cary saved my life not long
ago.”

“I wish he’d let you— I’ll see you first where I wish they were
now—in blank.”

“There is no use in speaking that way, John,” she said, quietly.

“I don’t want you to ‘John’ me,” he snarled. “I tell you I want you to
go away.”

“I am going,” she said, sadly. “I will go as soon as I can. I have no
money.”

“Where is your money?”

“I lent it to Captain McRaffle to invest.”

“More fool you!”

His manner changed.

“Will you go if I give you the money?”

“Yes”—his face brightened—“as soon as I have finished my year here.”

He broke out on her furiously.

“That’s always the way with you. You are such a liar, there’s no
believing you. I wish you were dead.”

“I know you do, John; and I do, too;” she said, wearily. “But the
issues of life and death belong to God.”

“Oh, that’s just a part of your hypocrisy. Here, if I give you money,
will you go away?”

“Yes, as soon as I can.”

“And will you promise me never to breathe my name to a soul while you
are here, or let anyone know that you know me? Will you give me your
word on that?”

“Yes.”

He looked at her keenly for a moment.

“Does anyone know that you—that you ever knew me?”

She flushed faintly, with distress.

“Yes, one person—one only.”

Leech sprang to her and seized her roughly.

“And he? Who is he?”

“Dr. Cary. I told him when I thought I was dying. He will not tell.”

He gave a cry of rage.

“He! I’d rather have had anyone else know it.” He flung her from him
roughly and stood for a moment lost in thought. His countenance cleared
up. If Dr. Cary had promised not to tell, he knew he would not do so,
if his life hung on it.

When he spoke it was in a somewhat changed voice.

“Remember, you have sworn that you will never mention it again to a
soul, and that you will never come near me again as long as you live!”

“Yes.” She looked at him with pleading eyes, interlacing her fingers.
“Oh, John!” she gasped, and then her voice failed her.

For answer, Leech opened the door and glanced out into the empty
passage, then seized her by the shoulder and put her outside, and,
shutting the door, locked it.

A minute later she slowly and silently went down the dark stairs and
out into the night.



CHAPTER XXXIX

CAPTAIN ALLEN CLAIMS THE REWARD LEECH OFFERED


Leech had a bad half-hour; but when he left his office his spirits were
rising again. He had weathered many a storm before. It would be hard
if he could not weather this little trouble. He was satisfied that his
wife would keep her word not to divulge his secret to anyone, and if
he could but get her away everything would go all right. He would be
free to marry a handsome and wealthy woman; and this alliance would
give him complete control of the State. With this, what might he not
have—wealth unlimited, position, unmeasured power—there was no end to
it! It all stretched before him a shining track with, at the end—it
appeared before him for only one brief moment—a dazzling point: at the
far end of that long track a great white house, with the broad avenues
reaching in every direction. Why not? Why should he not be——? The
vision made his head swim. He wiped his hand across his mouth as though
he tasted something actually material.

He returned to earth, and, locking his office-door, strolled up the
hill. The village was all quiet except for the sentries pacing their
beats.

As Leech walked up under the clear stars, the thought came into his
mind once more; and this time he tried to follow it step by step.
Yes, it was possible. He was rich, powerful, fortunate. He would be
Governor. What might he not be! His enemies had fallen before him—all
but one, and that one could not escape. He would find him, alive or
dead; and then—wealth—power—revenge! He raised his clenched hand
and brought it down in the intensity of his feeling.

“Yes, by G—d! I’ll have him, alive or dead!” he exclaimed. He was
almost at his gate. Two steps brought him to it; and before him in the
darkness, waiting for him, tall and silent, stood the man he wanted.

“I hear you are hunting for me,” said Steve Allen, quietly. “I am here.”

The blood rushed back and forth in Leech’s veins as cold as ice, as hot
as fire. What would he not have given for his guards! Why had he been
such a fool as to dismiss them! He thought of his pistol; but he knew
Steve was quicker with a pistol than he. So he resorted to craft. He
would keep him until the guards arrived.

“How are you, Captain? Won’t you walk in?” he said, with a show of
ease, though his voice quavered. He thought about offering his hand,
but feared to do so. If he could only detain him!

“Thank you. I will.” Steve indicated with a wave of his hand that
Leech should precede him; and Leech walked before him, knowing that he
was his prisoner. Still he hoped help would come. They went into his
library. Steve took a seat.

“What did you want with me?”

“I was only fooling,” said Leech, feebly. Steve looked so placid that
he began to feel reassured. “You know there’s a warrant out for your
arrest; and the best thing for you to do is to surrender quietly. You
can clear yourself easy enough, and it’s just a form. You come with me,
and I’ll do all I can for you.” His voice was cajoling, and he looked
at Steve almost tenderly. “You know I was only fooling about what I
said.”

Steve looked at him with cold contempt. “You’ll find it ill fooling
with a desperate man. Let’s drop our masks. You have made a mistake to
push us so far. You have offered a reward for me, alive or dead. I am
here to claim it. You are my prisoner, and you know it.” He gave Leech
a glance that made him shiver.”Sit there, and write what I tell you.”
He indicated Leech’s desk. Leech, with blanched face, took his seat. As
he did so he glanced furtively at the clock. Secret as the glance was,
Steve saw it.

“Be quick about it, and don’t waste a word. I have no time to spare.
Remember, it was alive or dead you wanted me.” He dictated the words of
a safe-conduct:

“To the Commandant of United States troops in District No. —. Pass
the bearer and companions, and render them all the aid possible. For
reasons of State,” added Steve, with a twinkle in his eye, as he
glanced over it. “Now sign it.”

Leech signed slowly. He was listening with all his ears.

“Now another.” Steve dictated the following to the commanding officer
in the village: “I have been called away unexpectedly on business
connected with the man I want, Captain Allen. Take no steps in my
absence, and credit no reports not signed by me personally.” Now
sign it, and add this postscript: “I have decided to pursue a more
conciliatory policy toward the prisoners. Please make them entirely
comfortable, and give their friends access to them.” Sign that, and
mark it to be delivered in the morning, and leave it on your table.

“Leave it on my table?” Leech’s face blanched.

“Yes, you are going with me.”

Just then steps were heard on the walk outside, and the murmur of low
voices reached them. A gleam of hope stole into Leech’s face. Steve
Allen heard too, and he listened intently. As he turned his eyes again
on Leech, a new light appeared in the latter’s eyes; fear had suddenly
changed to joy.

“Aha! Captain Allen, our positions are reversed again. Let us drop our
masks indeed! You are my prisoner now. Those are my sentries. The house
is surrounded by soldiers. Ah! ha-ha-ha!” he laughed, leaning back in
his chair, eying Steve, and rubbing his hands in glee.

Steve shifted his seat a little, displaying the butt of a revolver.

“You fool!” he said, with that coolness which was Leech’s envy and
despair, and which made him in a way admire Steve more than any other
man he knew. “Suppose they are your men? You are going with me all
the same. If they come in here, you are still my prisoner; and one
word—one look from you—one bare suspicion on their part that I am not
going on your invitation; that it is not voluntary on your part—and
you are a dead man.” He loosened his pistol, and, while he listened,
sat looking at Leech with a cool assurance on his face that made Leech
gasp.

There was a sharp knock at the outer door. As Steve listened his
expression changed to one of amusement.

“Call to them to come in, and remember you were never in greater peril
than at this moment.”

Leech called, and there was the slow tramp of several men in the
passageway.

“Call them in here.”

Leech was becoming puzzled. But he could not keep down the hope that
was dawning on his countenance. He called, and they approached the
door. Steve did not even turn. He was keeping his eyes on a big gilt
mirror that hung in front of him and showed both the door and Leech.

The men reached the door and knocked again; then opened it, and three
men in United States uniform stood in the doorway. Steve’s hand left
his pistol, and the eyes in the mirror were filled with a more amused
smile as he glanced from them to Leech. A radiant joy sprang into
Leech’s face. He gave a dive behind his desk, shouting, “Seize that
man. Shoot him if he lifts his hand!”

Nothing of the kind, however, occurred. At a sign from Steve, the three
men came inside the room and closed the door behind them.

“Come out, Leech. These are my men, not yours,” said Steve. “You are
too big a coward to fool with; come out. Pull him out, one of you.” And
the man nearest Leech caught him by the arm and dragged him up on his
feet, gasping and white with returning terror as he saw the trick that
had been played him.

“Did you think I was such a fool as that?” Steve asked, contemptuously.
“Come, we have no more time to lose. Fetch him along, men.” He turned
to the door, and the next moment Leech was seized and hustled out at
a trot. The sight of a pistol in the hand of one of the men kept him
quiet. At the door a gag was put into his mouth, a cap was pulled down
over his eyes, and his arms were pinioned to his side. He was conscious
that the lamps were extinguished, and the key turned in the lock behind
him. Then he was borne to his gate, set on a horse, and carried off
through the darkness at a gallop. He gave a groan of terror. “Remember
Andy Stamper,” said one of the men, and Leech remembered well enough.
How far they went the prisoner had no means of knowing. After awhile
the gag was taken from his mouth; but he was told that the least outcry
would mean his death. They travelled at a brisk gait all night, and he
knew that he had several men in his escort; but though they at times
talked together in undertones, they did not address him and were deaf
to his speeches. Much of the journey was through woods, and several
times they forded rivers, and toward the end they must have left all
beaten tracks, for they rode through bushes so dense as almost to sweep
him from his horse; then they descended a steep hill, forded a stream,
and, a little later, Leech was lifted from his horse, borne, half-dead
with fright and fatigue, into a house, down a flight of steps, and laid
on a bed. One of the men who brought him in lighted a candle and gave
him a drink of whiskey, which revived him; and Leech found that he was
in a large room with stone walls, furnished simply, like a bedroom, and
ventilated from the top.

The man who was left with him was a stranger to him, and, as he turned
to go, Leech asked him to tell him where he was and what they were
going to do with him. He felt that it was his last chance.

“Maybe keep you as a hostage, maybe not.”

“As a hostage?”

“That’s the Commander’s idea. As a hostage for those you’ve arrested,
and I reckon what the Capt’n says will prevail. Good-by.” He shut the
door and bolted it behind him, leaving Leech alone.

This, then, explained what Steve Allen meant by what he said. He was a
prisoner, to be held as a hostage for those he had arrested. There was
a bed in the room; and Leech was so fatigued that he fell asleep, and
slept until he was awakened by the guard bringing him something to eat.
This man, like the others, was masked, and he refused to talk at all.

“What will they do with me?” asked Leech.

“Depends on what orders you’ve given about those you’ve arrested,” said
the man in a voice which Leech knew was feigned. He was going. Leech
determined to make one more effort.

“Wait, please. I’m rich. No, I’m not rich; but I have friends who are
who would pay well if you—if I were to get back to them.” His voice
had grown confidential.

“Shouldn’t be surprised.” The tone was rather dry; but that might have
been due to the fact that the voice was disguised. And as he appeared
acquiescent, Leech took courage. He moved a little nearer to him. “I
could make it worth your while to let me go,” he said, insinuatingly.
The man waited. Leech’s hopes revived. McRaffle had sold out; why not
buy this man? He was plainer. “Why not let me out?” The guard was
considering. “Help me, and help me get hold of—just help me, and I
will see that you and your friends receive full pardon, and will make
you rich.”

The guard pulled off his mask. It was Steve Allen himself.
“Good-night;” and he was gone, leaving Leech with his heart in his
mouth.

There was great excitement in the County over the disappearance of
Major Leech; but it was suppressed excitement, and, curious as it may
seem, his absence had the immediate effect of quieting the negroes.
They were struck with awe at either the boldness or the mystery of his
abduction, and almost within a night after he disappeared they had
subsided. One who had seen them parading and yelling with defiance and
delight the day that Leech led his handcuffed prisoners to the station
to ship them off to prison, would not have recognized the awe-struck
and civil people who now went back and forth so quietly to their work.
It seemed almost a miracle.

All sorts of tales were published in the public press as to this latest
outrage, and there was much denunciation; but no action was taken
immediately, and for a time, at least, the old County was once more
under the rule of its own citizens.

Owing partly to the letter Leech had written just before his
disappearance, and partly to the request of the Captain of the
company, who was heartily tired of his work, an order had been issued
transferring that officer’s company to another post; and he had left
with his company before the fact of Leech’s abduction became known. An
appeal was made to the Governor to declare the County under martial
law; but though he talked about it loudly enough, and made many
threats, he did not carry out his threats immediately. Perhaps the
Governor was not too anxious to go into an investigation that might,
instead of proving Leech to have been murdered, result in bringing back
into the field his most formidable rival.

It, however, was deemed by the higher authorities that something must
be done to vindicate the majesty of the law, and it was decided to
send other troops to the County. The selection of troops, however,
had been proved by the history of the County to be a matter of more
than ordinary delicacy. Several different bodies had been sent there
without accomplishing what had been hoped for.

It happened that Thurston’s command had just returned from the
Northwest and was awaiting some disposal. It was remembered that
this same troop had once quieted things in the disturbed region,
and had given, at least, more of a show of peace than any of their
numerous successors had done. This was one view of the case. There was
perhaps another view which may have influenced some. So Thurston was
unexpectedly dispatched with his command to the place from which he
had been ordered several years before. His appearance was a complete
surprise to the old residents, and the effect was immediately apparent.

It was not known what it signified. Some thought it meant the
immediate placing of the County under martial law, and the arrest of
the remaining citizens. Others held differently. Whatever it meant,
the excitement quieted down. The whites had had experience with this
company, and felt that they could be relied on. The blacks recognized
that a stronger power had come among them, and that it meant order and
obedience.

When Captain Thurston dismounted from his horse on the very ground on
which he had dismounted a number of years before, he had a curious
feeling of mingled pleasure and dissatisfaction. There, amid the big
trees, stood the old court-house, massive and imposing as it had looked
that day when he had guyed old Mr. Dockett about its architecture, and
told him that it was finer than anything in Athens; there, were the
same great trees; there the same rows of old offices, only a little
more dilapidated; there the same moody faces of the few whites, and
the same crowd of idling negroes lagging about his troop. He turned
and looked at the clerk’s office, almost expecting to see the same
rosy, girlish face looking out at him defiantly. Instead, a brawny
negro in black clothes, with a beaver hat cocked on the side of his
head, was lounging in the door smoking a cigar. It gave the captain an
unpleasant shock; and as he made arrangements about placing his camp he
wondered where old Mr. Dockett was now, and how his pretty daughter was
coming on. He had not heard from her since his last campaign. She was
probably married. The idea gave him an unpleasant sensation, he always
hated to hear of any pretty girl marrying. It seemed to make the world
lonelier. The negro in the door sauntered across toward the camp and
spoke to some of the soldiers familiarly, his silk hat on the side of
his head, his cigar rolling in his mouth.

“What company is this, men?”

The words reached the Captain. One of the men who was working told him
shortly.

“Who’s your Captain?”

“There he is.”

Thurston had grown stouter, and the negro did not recognize him.

“That little man? What’s his name?”

Thurston caught the speech and, before the soldier could answer, bawled
at the negro, “Come here and take hold of these things, and don’t stand
there interfering with the men.” The darky looked at him in blank
amazement.

“Who? Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“Not me; you don’t know who I am!” He reared himself back and stuck his
thumbs in his armholes.

“No, and I don’t care a hang either,” said the little Captain.
“Sergeant, make that man take hold of those things and put them in
place.”

“I’m Senator Ash,” declared the man, surlily, swelling with importance,
and turning to walk away.

“Halt, there,” said the soldier, coldly.

Nicholas Ash turned at the tone, to find the sergeant quietly taking
his pistol from the holster.

“You come back here.”

“I’m Senator Ash.”

“Well, I don’t give a —— who you are; if you are Captain Jack
himself, you catch hold there, as the Captain says, or ’twill be the
worse for you. He won’t stand no foolishness. I’ve seen him string a
man up for less than you have said already.” And the weather-beaten
soldier looked so coldly on the senator that the latter deemed it best
to go through the form of obeying, and, swallowing his rage as best he
might, took hold and did his first manual labor in some years.

This was the first official act of Captain Thurston on his return, and,
though it was an accident, it, perhaps, saved him trouble in the future.

The Captain availed himself of the earliest opportunity to hunt up his
old friends. When he had pitched his camp and got settled, he sauntered
up to Mr. Dockett’s. As he walked along he noted the changes that had
occurred since he went away. The yards were more uncared for, the
houses more dilapidated, and the fences more broken. As he entered the
Dockett yard, he was pleased to observe that it was kept in its old
trim order. The breath of flowers that he remembered so well, and had
always associated with the place, met him as of old. When he opened
the gate he saw that there were several persons on the porch; but as
he approached they all rose and disappeared in the house. There were
one or two white dresses in the party. He had not long to wait. At his
knock Mrs. Dockett herself appeared, and he thought he could see the
firm set of her mouth and the glint in her eyes as she bore down upon
him. She looked much older. She did not appear surprised to see him.
She invited him in, but did not say anything about her daughter; and at
length the Captain had to ask after her. She was very well, she thanked
him. She had some young friends with her.

In this condition of affairs, Captain Thurston had recourse to
stratagem. He adroitly turned the conversation to Rupert Gray, and
began to tell of his success in the West, and of the incident when
he had showed such bravery while acting as a scout with him. He was
conscious at once of the change in the good lady’s manner, and of the
increased interest she betrayed; so he dilated on it at some length.
No one ever had a warmer historian. He made Rupert out a hero, and was
congratulating himself secretly on his success, when, with a sniff,
Mrs. Dockett declared that she was not surprised at Rupert’s acting
so. It was only what she should have expected from one of their young
men, and she was not surprised that the Yankees should have been
obliged to call on him to help them. But she was surprised that Captain
Thurston should have exposed a boy like Rupert, hardly more than a
child, to such danger. Why had he not gone himself to rescue his men?
Thurston could not help laughing at the turn she gave his story. This
shot appeared, however, to have somewhat cleared the atmosphere. Mrs.
Dockett began to unbend. She “would see her daughter; perhaps, she
would come in; she would like to hear of Rupert.” Just then, whether
for this reason or one in which the visitor had a more personal
concern, the door opened and Miss Dockett walked in unbidden. She, too,
had grown older since Thurston went away; but the change was not to her
disadvantage. The plump little figure had developed; the round face
had in it more force; and she had become, if not a very pretty woman,
at least a very comely one. She greeted the Captain distantly, but not
coldly. She began by making war at once, and that the little officer
was used to. It was only indifference that he could not stand.

“Well, and so you have come back, and I suppose you will expect us all
to get down on our knees to you?” she said, her chin a little elevated.

“No, not you. I’ll make a treaty with you, if you won’t insist on my
getting down on mine to you,” he laughed.

“To me? I supposed Miss Welch was the only one you did that to.”

This was encouraging, and the little Captain was instantly at his ease.

“Miss Welch? Who is Miss Welch?”

“Come, now, don’t be trying that with me; I know all about it, so you
might as well tell me. Perhaps, you’ll need my assistance. All the
gentlemen seem to be victims to her charms. Captain Allen thinks there
is no one like her. Some men, when they are discarded, take to drink,
but here they seem to take to Miss Welch.”

“Well, some men need one kind of stimulant, and some another; now, I
like mine with a proper mixture of spirit and sweetening.” The little
Captain’s eyes were helping him all they could.

“I don’t know what you mean, I’m sure.” She looked down coyly.

“Say, a sort of peach and honey?”

“You men have such vulgar similes.” The little nose was turning up.

“Well, I’ll be literary, and say ‘a snow and rose-bloom maiden,’” said
the Captain, who had been reading Carlyle. “I always think of you in
connection with roses and snow.”

The little nose came down, and the Captain’s peace was made. He began
to tell of Indian fights and long marches over parched or snow-swept
plains, where men and horses dropped. Miss Elizabeth, like Desdemona,
to hear did seriously incline, and the Captain was invited to supper.



CHAPTER XL

JACQUELIN GRAY AND ANDY STAMPER PAY AN OLD DEBT


The disappearance of Leech had strangely affected Miss Bush. She was
much agitated by it. Her host was sure at first that Leech had gone
off; then he was sure he had been murdered. Miss Bush was accustomed
to investigate for herself. Among her acquaintances was old Peggy, who
lived in the cabin on the abandoned place. Miss Bush, in her round
among the negroes, had found the old woman, and, in the face of some
coldness on the latter’s part, had persisted in showing her kindness,
and had finally won her gratitude, if not her friendship. Soon after
Leech’s disappearance she paid old Peggy a visit. Then she went to see
Miss Welch. If Miss Welch would only use her influence with Captain
Allen! Miss Welch had none; they did not even speak. But she made a
suggestion.

So, one evening about dusk, just after the arrival of Thurston with
his command, a visitor, deeply veiled, applied to the sentinel at the
gate of the court-green, and asked leave to see Mr. Jacquelin Gray. The
sergeant of the guard was called, and, after certain formalities, she
was admitted to the clerk’s office; and a few minutes later Jacquelin
Gray came in. The visitor stated, with some nervousness, that she
wished to see him privately, and Jacquelin, wondering what the stranger
could want with him, walked with her into the inner office. Even there
she appeared greatly embarrassed. She evidently did not know how to
begin, and Jacquelin, to relieve her, asked her kindly what he could do
for her.

“I have a great favor to ask of you,” she said.

“Well, madam, I do not know what I can do for anyone, a prisoner like
me,” said Jacquelin, smiling half-grimly, half-sadly. “But I think I
can say that whatever I can do I will do.”

“I am sure you can. If you cannot, no one can. I want you to intercede
for me with Captain Allen.”

“With Steve! For you? Why, I do not know where he is! And I am sure if
he knew you wanted anything he could grant, he would do it on your own
simple request. Who are you?”

The visitor, after a moment of hesitation, put back her veil and faced
him. “Don’t you remember me?” she asked, timidly.

Jacquelin looked at her earnestly. For a moment he was deeply puzzled;
then, as a faint smile came into her eyes, a light broke on him.

“Why, Miss Bush! What are you doing here?”

“I am teaching school. I am the school-teacher at the Bend, Miss May.”

“Is it possible?” He stepped forward and took her hand warmly. “I never
knew it. I have heard the name, but I never connected it with you. Why
did you not let me know before? I am very glad to see you, and I can
say that anything in the world I can do for you I will do.”

“You must not promise too fast. It is a great favor I have to prefer,”
she said. “And I do not know whether, when you hear it, you will be
willing to help me.”

“Well, I know. I have not forgotten the hospital.” She appeared once
more deterred from speaking by embarrassment.

“I want you to save Jonadab Leech,” she said.

“What! What do you know of him?” asked Jacquelin, in sincere
astonishment.

“I know he is alive.”

“You do? What do you know of him? What is he to you?”

“He is—he was—my husband.”

“Miss Bush!”

“We were separated. But——” She stopped in agitation, pulled down
her veil, and turned her face away. Jacquelin watched her in silent
sympathy.

“I am sure it was his fault,” he said.

“Yes, I think it was,” brokenly, from under her veil. “He was not very
kind to me. But I cannot forget that he was my husband, and the father
of my child.”

“I will do what I can for you,” Jacquelin said, kindly. “Tell me how
you think I can help him. What do you know of him?”

She composed herself, and told him what she knew. She knew where Leech
was, and the conditions under which he was held. She wanted Jacquelin
to interfere personally. This alone would save him, she believed. The
difficulty was to get Jacquelin free. Here her powers failed, and she
sat looking at Jacquelin in hopeless anxiety.

Jacquelin thought deeply. Suddenly he roused himself.

“All right, Miss Bush. I will see what I can do. You are just in time.
The order has come this evening, I hear, for us to go to the city
to-morrow. I have never asked a favor of my keepers; but I will do it
for you, and, if you will wait in here, I will let you know if there is
any chance.”

He went out, leaving the little school-teacher in the dim office,
His first visit was to his fellow-prisoner, Mr. Stamper. It was an
extraordinary request that he made of Thurston a little later: to be
allowed to leave his prison for the night, and take Andy Stamper with
him, and to be lent two good horses. But it was granted. He promised to
be back by daylight, and Thurston knew he would be back.

“I will be here, dead or alive,” said Jacquelin; and he and Andy
Stamper rode away in the dusk.

Leech was awakened from his slumbers that night by the trampling of
many horses outside, and footsteps and voices in the rooms above him.
He started up in terror; for though he could not catch anything that
was said, he knew from the sound that there must be many men in the
party, and he felt sure that his time had come.

He rose and groped around his chamber. By creeping up to the chimney
and listening intently, he could after awhile distinguish a part of
what was said. To his unspeakable terror he could hear his own name
mentioned again and again. The men were a body of Ku Klux, and they
were debating what should be done with him. Most of the voices were
low, but now and then one rose. He heard one man distinctly give his
vote that he should be hanged, and, judging from the muffled applause
that followed, it appeared to meet with much favor. Then he heard the
name of Steve Allen, and the discussion seemed to be heated. Suddenly,
in the midst of it, there was a general exclamation. A door slammed;
a heavy tread crossed the floor above him, and dead silence fell. It
was broken by a single voice speaking in the deep tone which Leech
recognized instantly as Steve Allen’s. He gave himself up for lost.
But he was astonished at the next words that caught his ear. Captain
Allen’s voice was clearer than the others, or he was speaking louder,
and to the prisoner’s surprise he was defending him, or, at least, was
opposing the others. He was evidently angry. Leech heard him say he was
surprised to find them there and to learn why they had come. There was
a confused murmur at this, and Leech heard one voice calling, “Order!
Order! Remember your vows.”

This produced quiet, and the voice said (evidently speaking to Captain
Allen):

“It is the decision of the Supreme Council. We have come to take the
prisoner and deal with him according to our laws.”

“And I tell you,” said Captain Allen, his voice ringing out clear and
perfectly audible, “that I do not recognize your laws, and that you
shall not have him. He is my prisoner, and I will defend him with my
life. You will not get him except over my dead body.”

There was a suppressed murmur at this, but Captain Allen continued,
speaking firmly and boldly. He went over the state of affairs in the
County, and related his object in capturing Leech to hold him as a
hostage for his friends and relatives. To do away with him would be to
destroy the very object with which he had taken him prisoner, and would
render himself liable for his murder. This he did not propose to allow.
He should hold Leech for the present, and meantime would be responsible
for him; and he would allow no one to touch a hair of his head.

Leech began to breathe again. It was a strange feeling to him to be
grateful to Steve Allen; but at that moment he could have kissed his
feet. There was more talking, but too confused for Leech to catch what
was said; and whenever Allen spoke it was in the same bold tone, which
showed that he remained firm; and, at length, Leech could hear the
crowd going. They came down outside the house, and Leech could hear
them getting their horses, and, finally, they rode away. One thing,
however, terrified the prisoner. The voices of two men talking near the
wall reached him from above. One of them was grumbling that Captain
Allen should have come and prevented their carrying out their plan. Who
was he, he asked, that he could come in and defy the decision of the
Supreme Council? He had left the order, and declared that he did not
recognize them any longer; and the speaker did not like to have him or
anyone setting himself up and claiming to be above the order.

“Oh, never mind about that,” said the other; “he won’t be here all the
time. We’ll come back some time when he is not here, and deal with that
dog as he deserves; and then Allen will find out whether he is as big
as he thinks himself.”

Just then an order was given by someone, and they rode off, and left
Leech with the drops of sweat standing out on his forehead. The sound
of their trampling died away, and there fell a deep silence, broken for
a little while by the faint sound of a distant footstep, which Leech
believed to be that of his captor and guard; and after a short time
even this died out, and Leech went back to his bed, trembling with
fright, and, finally, sank into a fitful slumber.

He had not been asleep a great while when there was again a sound of
horses trampling. Leech sprang up once more, in an agony of terror. He
heard a challenge from above—“Halt, there!”—from some one who seemed
to be a guard, and then a colloquy, in which he could distinguish his
name; and then his guard seemed to yield. After a short interval he
heard the footsteps of several men coming down the stair that led to
his door, and there was a short consultation outside. He heard someone
say, “This is the place Steve said he is in; I know it.”

They tried the door, and then a voice called him, “Leech,
Leech—Colonel Leech!” He was afraid to answer. He was almost dead with
fright. It called again; and this time he was glad he had not answered,
for he heard one of the men say, “He forgot to give me the key. We’ll
break in the door. Wait, I’ll get an axe.”

He went up the stair, and Leech could hear the other waiting outside.
Leech was sure now that his last hour had come. In his terror he ran
to the chimney and attempted to climb up in it. It was too narrow,
however; and all he could do was to get up in it a little way and draw
up his feet. Here he stuck, wedged in, paralyzed with terror, while he
heard the blows outside under which the door was giving way.

Presently the door was smashed in, and Leech could see the light of the
torch, or whatever it was, flashed upon the floor, and could hear the
voices of the men.

“He isn’t in here,” he heard one say, and his heart revived a little;
but the next second it sank, for he heard the searchers say, “There
is his bed. He has been in it; so he must be here somewhere.” They
approached the chimney, and one of them held his torch up.

“Here he is,” he laughed. “Come out, Colonel.”

He did not wait for Leech to move, but, reaching up, caught him by the
leg and pulled him down amid a cloud of dust and soot. Leech must have
presented a strange appearance, for the men, who were masked, burst out
laughing. Leech began to pray for his life, but the men only laughed.

“Come on, Colonel. We’ll present you to your friends as you are,” said
one of them, the smaller. “You ought to be pleased with your looks, for
you look just like one of your friends. You wouldn’t know yourself from
a nigger.”

Leech recognized Andy Stamper, and knew he was lost. Andy had escaped.
He began to beg him, and to make him all sorts of promises, which Andy
cut short.

“Oh, pshaw! Come along. Shut up. This is no time for you to be making
promises. Come along, and keep your mouth shut.”

They seized him, and dragged him up the steps and through a door out
into the darkness. There, at a little distance, were two horses, on one
of which Andy Stamper sprang, while the other man made Leech mount up
behind him; and then, springing on the other horse himself, they set
off at a sharp trot. As they mounted, Leech recognized Jacquelin Gray.
He nearly fell from his horse.

As they followed wood-paths he began to have a dim hope; not much,
however, for he could not think that these two men could intend him any
good. Once, as they were on a road, the sound of horses’ feet ahead
reached them, and the two riders instantly left the road and struck
into the bushes.

“If you get out of this,” said Andy Stamper, “and get back safe to your
friends, will you swear you’ll never say a word about it to anybody?
Never a single——?”

“Yes, I’ll swear. I swear before——” said the prisoner, so quickly
that the other had not time to finish his question.

“That you will never tell anyone a word about this place, or how you
got here, or how you were taken, or anything?”

“Yes, yes. I swear before G—d I never will—never a word. I swear I
won’t.”

“Let’s see. How will you swear it?” asked the other, reflectively.

“I’ll swear it on the Bible. I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles.”

“We ain’t got any Bibles,” said the other, dryly.

“I’ll give you my word of honor as a gentleman.”

The other only grunted. He was not much impressed.

“I’ll swear before——”

Mr. Stamper suddenly roused up to the necessities of the occasion.

“Here,” he said, quickly. “Do you swear that, if you ever breathe a
word as to how you got here, who brought you, or who took you away, or
anything you saw here, or anything about the place at all, you hope
G—d will strike you dead, and d—n you in h—l fire?”

“Yes. I’ll swear it,” said Leech, fervently. “I hope he will d—n me
forever if I do.”

“And strike you dead?” repeated Andy, not to admit any loophole.

“Yes.”

“If that don’t keep him nothin’ will,” said Andy, dryly, half-aloud;
and then he added, for further security: “Well, you’d better keep it,
for if you don’t, the earth won’t be big enough to hide you. You won’t
have another chance.”

As they waited, a body of horsemen, heavily muffled, rode silently
along the road they had just left, and passed out of sight into the
woods behind them. It was a body of Ku Klux making their way back home,
or, perhaps, back to the house from which Leech had just been taken.
The two rescuers rode on and at length emerged into a field, and,
crossing it, dismounted behind a clump of buildings.

The eastern sky was just beginning to redden with the first glimmer of
dawn; and the cheep of a bird announcing it was heard in the trees as
the men tied their horses.

“Come on,” said Andy. “In a little while you can make your promises.”
They led Leech between them, half-dead with fright and fatigue, and,
helping him over a wall, dragged him up to a door, and, opening it,
walked in.

“Who’s that?” asked a man, rising from a sofa, where he had evidently
been asleep.

“Here we are; back on time,” said Jacquelin, gravely.

“Ah! you’ve got back? Wait. I’ll strike a light. Who’s this with you?”

“A prisoner,” said Andy, with mock solemnity; “but whether white or
black you’ll have to tell.”

The man struck a light, and Leech, to his astonishment, found himself
in the presence of a Federal officer—of Reely Thurston.

The two men stared at each other in blank amazement. And it is probable
that, if at that moment their happiness in finding their chief wish
gratified could have been marred, it would have been by the fact that
they owed this to each other. Perhaps something of this kind must have
appeared in their faces, for Jacquelin laughed.

“Well, you two can settle matters between you. We are off—to jail,” he
said. “Now, Major Leech, you can make good your promises; and it will
depend on whether you see fit to do so or not, whether we have done a
good act or not. Good-night.” He and Andy went off.

The next day the prisoners were sent to the city under Captain
Thurston’s personal guard, the little Captain, for his own private
reasons, deciding to take them himself. Leech accompanied them.



CHAPTER XLI

DR. CARY WRITES A LETTER TO AN OLD FRIEND


 The vows of a considerable part of the human race are said to be writ
 in water, but it is by no means only that sex to whom the poet has
 attributed this quality, which possesses it. Quite another part of the
 race is liable to forget vows made under conditions that have changed.
 And Major Leech was of this number. He no sooner found himself free
 and guarded by a power strong enough to protect him than he forgot the
 oaths he had sworn so volubly to Andy Stamper that night when he stood
 in the darkness of the deserted plantation; and he applied himself
 with all his energy to repair his fortunes and revenge himself. His
 enemies were in his power. With them free he might have to undergo
 trial himself; with them under indictment for offences against the
 Government, even if they were not convicted, he was free to push
 forward his plans. It was too great a temptation for him to resist,
 too good an opportunity for him to pass by; and perhaps even Andy
 Stamper did not blame him, or even expect him to forego it.

 The story the returned captive told of his wrongs was one strange
 enough to move hearts even less inclined to espouse his cause than
 those of the authorities into whose ears he poured it, and almost
 immediately after his arrival the machinery of the law was set in
 motion. His grudge against Captain Thurston was as great as that
 against the residents of the County—indeed greater; for he professed
 some gratitude for Jacquelin Gray and Stamper, and even had an offer
 made them of a sort of pardon, conditional on their making a full
 confession of their crimes. But investigation showed him that for the
 present he would weaken himself by attempting to attack Thurston.
 Thurston had secured his release. So for the time being he was
 content to leave the Captain alone, and apply all his energies to the
 prosecution of the enemies against whom he was assured of success.

 In a little while he had his grand jury assembled, and the prisoners
 were all indicted. An early time was set for their trial. Dr. Cary was
 among those indicted.

 In this state of the case, it appeared to the Doctor that the time
 had come when he could no longer with propriety refrain from applying
 for help to his old friend, Senator Rockfield, who had asked him to
 call on him. It was no longer a private matter, but a public one. It
 was not himself alone that was concerned, but his nearest friends and
 neighbors; and in such a case he could no longer stand on his pride.
 Already the prison was in view; and the path seemed very straight, and
 the way of escape seemed blocked on every side. Step by step they had
 been dragged along; every avenue shut off; all the old rights refused;
 and it looked as if they were doomed.

 So Dr. Cary sat down in prison and wrote a letter to his old
 college-mate, setting forth the situation in which he found himself
 and his friends, giving him a complete statement of the case and of
 all the circumstances relating to it, and asked that, if in his power,
 the Senator would help him.

 He told him that unless some action were taken promptly he saw no
 escape, and that he seemed doomed to a felon’s cell. The Doctor told
 his friend that, while he had been present for a little while with the
 masked mob that broke into the jail, he had been so for the purpose of
 trying to dissuade them from any act of lawlessness; and the part he
 had taken could be proved by a hundred witnesses. But all those who
 had been arrested were indicted with him, which would prevent their
 testifying for him; and if any others were to come forward to testify,
 they would simply subject themselves to immediate arrest.

 “I can give you no idea,” he wrote, “of the condition of affairs here,
 and shall offer no proof except my word. Unless you and I have changed
 since we knew each other man to man in that old time long ago, no
 other proof will be necessary; yet if I should attempt to give you a
 true picture, I should strain your credulity.

 “I think I can say, with Cicero, it is not my crimes, but my virtues
 that have destroyed me.

 “But if you wish to know the whole state of the case, I would ask
 you to come down and see for yourself. Unfortunately I shall not be
 able personally to extend to you the hospitality of my home; but if
 you will go to my house, my wife and daughter will show you every
 attention, and do everything in their power to promote your comfort.

 “Lying in jail as I am, under indictment for a scandalous crime, with
 the penitentiary staring me in the face, I perhaps should not sign
 myself as I do; yet when I call to mind the long and distinguished
 line of men of virtue who have suffered the same fate, and reflect on
 my own consciousness of integrity, I believe you would not have me
 subscribe myself otherwise than as,

  “Your old friend, JOHN CARY.”

This letter reached Senator Rockfield at an auspicious time, one
evening after dinner, when he was resting quietly at home, enjoying a
good cigar, and when his heart was mellow. It happened that certain
measures were pending just then, to secure which the Senator’s
influence was greatly desired. It also happened that a number of other
measures of a very radical character had lately been proposed; and the
Senator had gone somewhat deeply into the subject, with the result of
unearthing an appalling state of affairs in the whole section from
which this letter came. Moreover, Captain Middleton happened to be at
the Senator’s house at that very time, and added certain details to
those the Senator had learned, which stirred the Senator deeply.

The Senator’s part in the release of the prisoners that shortly
followed Dr. Cary’s letter was not known even to Dr. Cary for some
time, and was never known generally.

Senator Rockfield read Dr. Cary’s letter all through twice, and then
leaned back in his big chair and thought profoundly. The letter dropped
from his hand to the floor, and his cigar went out. His wife, seeing
that something was moving him deeply, watched him anxiously, and at
length asked: “What is it?” For answer, the Senator merely picked up
the letter, handed it to her across the table, and again sat back
in deep thought. She read it, and looked at him more anxiously than
before, her face paling somewhat. His face, which before had been
soft with reminiscence, had grown stern. He was conscious that she
was looking at him, and conscious of her thoughts as she was of his.
Suddenly he rose to his feet.

“Where are you going?” she asked, though in reality she knew.

“To send a telegram.”

“I will call John.”

“No, I am going to see Secretary ——.”

He folded the letter and put it into his pocket. At the mention of the
name, the light sprang into her eyes—the light of contest. She knew
that it would be a crucial interview, and that her husband’s future
would depend on it.

“Shall I ring for the carriage?”

“No, I will walk. I want to cool myself off a little.” He stopped as he
reached the door. “He was the first gentleman of our class,” he said.
He went out.

A half-hour later, Senator Rockfield was admitted to the study or
private office of the Secretary who had the direction of matters
affecting the South and who controlled everything which related to it.

He was a man of iron constitution, a tremendous worker, and his study
at his home was only a private apartment of his office in the great
Government building in which he presided. His ambition was to preside
in a greater building, over the whole Government. He gave his life to
it. Every other consideration was subordinated. It was a proof of the
Senator’s influence that he was admitted to see him at that hour. And
at the instant he appeared the Secretary was busy writing a momentous
document. As the Senator entered, however, he shot a swift, keen glance
at him, and his face lit up. He took his appearance at that hour as a
proof that he had yielded, or, at least, was yielding.

“Ah! Senator. Glad to see you,” he said, with a smile which he could
make gracious. “I was just thinking of you. I hope I may consider your
visit a token of peace; that you recognize the wisdom of our position.”

He was speaking lightly, but the Senator did not respond in the same
vein. His face did not relax.

“No, far from it,” he said. Without noticing the chair to which the
Secretary waved him, he took Dr. Cary’s letter from his pocket and laid
it on the table under the Secretary’s nose. “Read that.”

The Secretary’s face clouded. He took up the letter and glanced at it;
then began to read it cursorily. As he did so his face assumed another
expression.

“Well, what of this?” he asked, coldly. He looked at the Senator
superciliously. His manner and the sneer on his face were like a blow.
The Senator’s face flushed.

“Just this. That I say this thing has got to stop, by G—d!” He towered
above the Secretary and looked him full in the eyes. He did not often
show feeling. When he did he was impressive. A change passed over the
other’s face.

“And if it don’t?”

“I shall rise in my seat to-morrow morning and denounce the whole
administration. I shall turn the whole influence of my paper against
you, and shall fight you to the end.”

“Oh! you won’t be so foolish!” sneered the Secretary.

“I will not! Wait and see!” He leant over and took up the paper. “I bid
you good-evening.” He put on his hat and turned to the door. Before he
reached it, however, the other had reflected.

“Wait. Don’t be so hasty.”

The Senator paused. The Secretary had risen and was following him.

“My dear Senator, let me reason with you. I think if you give me ten
minutes, I can show you the folly——”

Senator Rockfield stiffened. “Good-evening, Mr. Secretary.” He turned
back to the door.

“Hold on, Senator, I beg you,” said the Secretary. The Senator turned,
this time impatiently. “What guarantee have I that this letter is
true?” asked the other, temporizing.

“My word. I was at college with the writer of that letter. He was my
dearest friend.”

“Oh! of course, if you know yourself that those facts are correct! Why
did you not say so before? Take a seat while I read the paper over
again.”

The Senator seated himself without a word, while the Secretary read
the letter a second time. Presently Senator Rockfield leant over and
lit again the cigar he had let go out an hour before, and which he had
carried all this time without being aware of it. He knew he had won his
game.

When the Secretary was through, he laid the letter down and, drawing a
sheet of paper toward him, began to write.

“When do you want the order issued?” he asked, presently.

“Immediately. I am going South to-night.”

“It will not be necessary. I will issue an order at once that the
prisoners be admitted to bail. In fact, I had intended to do so in a
few days, anyhow.”

The Senator looked politely acquiescent.

“But I am very glad to do it at once, at your request. You see, we are
obliged to rely on the reports of our agents down there; and they
report things to be in a very bad way.”

The Senator looked grimly amused.

“No doubt they are.”

“I will send you a copy of the order to-morrow. I hope you will take it
as a proof that we really are not quite as bad as you appear to think
us.” He began to write again.

The two men parted ceremoniously, and the Senator, after sending a
telegram South, returned to his home.

As he entered, he found his wife anxiously awaiting him.

“I won,” he said, and she threw herself into his arms.

The effect of this interview was immediately felt in the old County,
and after a short time Dr. Cary and the other prisoners confined
with him were admitted to bail, and eventually the prosecutions were
dismissed. But this was not until after the event about to be recorded.



CHAPTER XLII

CAPTAIN ALLEN SURRENDERS


The effect of Leech’s return to power was soon visible, and the gloom
in the old County was never so deep as it became after that. The
failure of Steve’s daring and high-handed step but intensified this. It
appeared as if a complete overthrow had come at last.

As is often the case when unexpected failure has come to brilliant and
promising plans, popular opinion veered suddenly; and whereas, but a
little before, all were full of wonder at Steve Allen’s daring coup,
now that it had failed many were inclined to blame him. He ought either
to have let the Ku Klux, who, it was understood, had tried to get hold
of Leech, deal with him, or else have let him alone. Now he had but
intensified his malice, as was shown by the rancor with which he was
pushing the prosecutions. He had given Leech a national reputation, and
increased his power to do harm.

Captain Allen was deeply offended by some of the things said about him
by certain of the members of the secret society, and he met them with
fierce denunciation of the whole order. It was, he said, no longer the
old organization which, he asserted, had acted for the public good, and
with a high purpose. That had ceased to exist. This was a cowardly body
of cut-throats, who rode about the country under cover of darkness,
perpetrating all sorts of outrages and villainies for purposes of
private vengeance. He gave them to understand clearly that he was not
afraid of them, and denounced and defied the whole gang.

But one thing Steve could not meet so well. He could not meet the
charge that his wild and reckless act in carrying Leech off had, in the
sequel, done harm, and had intensified the hostility shown to the old
County, and increased the rigor with which the citizens were treated.
Even the friends who adhered stoutly to him were forced to admit that,
as it turned out, his carrying Leech off was unfortunate. The downcast
looks and the gloom that appeared everywhere told him how deeply the
people were suffering. Another thing stuck deeper in his heart. He was
at liberty and his friends in prison. Jacquelin was in prison under
indictment when he had taken his place, and but for him would be a free
man.

Steve had thought at times of leaving the State and going West.
Rupert’s career there showed what might be accomplished. But this idea
passed away now in the stress of the present crisis. He would not leave
the State in the hour of her darkness. He could not leave his friends.
It would be desertion.

Another cause of anxiety began to make itself apparent to Captain
Allen about the same time. He knew, as the reader knows, that Captain
Aurelius Thurston had long been an ardent, if a somewhat intermittent,
suitor of Miss Welch; though his information was derived, not from the
cold statement of the chronicler, but through those intuitions with
which a lover appears to be endowed for his self-torture as well as
for his security. Miss Ruth, it is true, had denied the charge, made
from time to time, respecting Captain Thurston; but we know that these
denials are frequently far short of satisfying a lover’s jealousy. And
it must be confessed that she had never taken the trouble to state to
Captain Allen the explicit and somewhat decisive conditions under which
she had consented to continue the friendship.

Captain Thurston, thus cut off from his habitual occupation in that
quarter, shortly after his arrival, as has been seen, went back to his
old flame, Miss Elizabeth Dockett, and was soon as deeply immersed in
that affair as he had ever been with Miss Welch. As Miss Elizabeth,
however, treated him with unexampled rigor, and Mrs. Dockett never for
an instant permitted him to forget that he was occupying the position
of a tyrant, the Captain found himself obliged to seek at times the
aid of a friendly ally, and turned for consolation to Miss Welch, who
cheerfully rendered him in another’s behalf all the service she had
declined in her own. Thus the little Captain was much more welcome at
the Welches’ home than he had ever been before, and rumor was kind
enough to declare that his attentions were far from being unacceptable.
His duties at the court-house, as Commandant of the County, were
sufficient to account for all the time he spent there, including
whatever hours he passed at the old Dockett place among the trees and
lilacs, while his presence at the Welches’ could only be attributed to
one cause.

This report reached Captain Allen, lounging on the verandas of his
friends, and it did not serve to make his life as a refugee and exile
more agreeable.

Matters were in this condition when the news came that the next week
had been set as the time for the trial of the Red Rock prisoners. Judge
Bail had already arrived, accompanied by McRaffle. A special jury was
being selected, and the witnesses were being summoned. They were a set
to make the outlook as dark as possible—Bushman, and Perdue, and Dr.
Moses, and a score of the worst negroes in the County. Captain Allen
knew that Leech had said he would rather have him than all the other
prisoners put together. And at length came a definite statement that
Leech would abandon the other prosecutions if Allen would surrender
himself and stand trial. It had come through McRaffle, who claimed to
have secured this concession.

Next day, Steve rode down to the court-house, and, giving his horse
to a negro, with directions to send him to Dr. Cary’s, walked across
to Captain Thurston’s camp. A number of his friends saw him, and came
crowding up with wonder and curiosity in their faces. Steve spoke to
them cheerily, stopped and chatted lightly for awhile, and then left
them and walked quietly across the green to the camp, leaving them
staring after him open-eyed and with anxious faces. He knocked at the
door of the office which was the Captain’s head-quarters, and, on being
bid to enter, opened the door.

Perhaps there was not a man in the world whom Reely Thurston would not
rather have seen at that moment than Steve Allen. He sprang to his feet
as Steve entered, and stared at him in blank amazement. He had no idea
why he had come, and, for an instant, perhaps, supposed it was with
hostile intent. This idea, however, Steve at once dissipated by his
manner.

“Good-morning, Captain Thurston.” He held out his hand, and, having
shaken hands with the Captain, flung himself into a seat.

“Give me a cigar. I have come to have a talk with you,” he said,
lightly. Thurston handed him a cigar and lit one himself, his face
perplexed and a little troubled as he pondered on what could possibly
have brought him this visitor. Steve saw his perplexity and smiled.

“I have come to see what terms I can make through you, Captain, before
I give myself up.”

“Wait. I am not authorized to make any terms. I must notify you——”
Thurston was beginning very seriously. But Steve interrupted him.

“I did not say _with_ you, but _through_ you. I would not place you in
such an embarrassing position. I suppose you would not mind seeing what
terms you could make with your friend, Colonel Leech.” Thurston flushed.

“He is no friend of mine,” he said, hotly.

“Oh, I thought you had made up,” said Steve, maliciously. “Well, he
will be if you give me up to him. But I thought you might make a little
better terms for me than I could for myself, as he seems to prefer the
city to the country just now, and I fear a communication from me would
not meet with the consideration at his hands that the closeness of our
intimacy a short time since should secure for it.”

“What the d—l are you driving at, Allen?” asked Thurston. “You know
what I think of Leech, and how he regards me. But that does not alter
the fact that I am sent here to catch—to apprehend you—and if I do my
duty I should have you arrested.”

“Of course, Captain Thurston, do your duty,” said Steve, coolly, his
face hardening a little and his upper lip curling slightly.

“No, no, Allen. I did not mean it that way. I am only trying to get at
what you want. I am a little mystified.”

His evident friendliness soothed Steve’s feelings, which had been
ruffled by his former speech.

“I want to see whether I would not be accepted as a propitiatory
offering in place of my friends—of others who have done nothing, and
deserve no punishment. I am the head and front of the whole business. I
am responsible for all they are charged with, and they are not. And I
want to get them released, and give myself up in their place.”

Thurston looked deeply troubled. He shook his head thoughtfully.

“I do not want to arrest you. I must say that you are the last person
in the world that I wanted to see. But if you stay here, I must arrest
you. If, however, you came here with any idea that I would—I mean,
that I could—make terms with you, I do not wish to take advantage of
your mistake. There is a door. You can walk out of it while I go and
call the sergeant of the guard.”

Steve shook his head.

“No, no. I am going to give myself up, anyhow. It is the only thing I
can do to help them. Perhaps, if these scoundrels get me, they may let
the others off. I am the one they are after. But I want you to assist
me. You are a gentleman, and can appreciate my position.”

Thurston looked at him a moment, and then reached out his hand.

“Allen, I promise you I will do all I can.”

The two men shook hands across the table; and Steve, settling himself
comfortably, gave Thurston an account of all that had taken place
between himself and Leech the night of his capture, and between himself
and the band of Ku Klux the night they had come to take Leech from the
place where he had confined him. He showed Thurston that he had known
of the plan to rescue him.

“But why did you carry him off?” asked Thurston. “I can understand all
the rest; but I do not see how a man of your sense could have supposed
that you could accomplish anything by such an act.”

“It was to gain time, Captain Thurston, and to tide over a crisis; and
that it did. You do not know how desperate we are. Let me explain. But
for that, Dr. John Cary and Jacquelin Gray would to-day be wearing
convict suits. Leech had already appointed the time for that. I tided
over that crisis.”

He went on, and gave Thurston an account of all that had taken place in
the County under Leech’s régime since Thurston had left. It opened the
young officer’s eyes, and, when Steve was through, Thurston’s face was
filled with a new sympathy.

“Allen, I will do all I can for you,” he said, again. And he did. He
wrote to Middleton and his friends.

The news that Steve Allen had surrendered himself caused the greatest
commotion not only there, but throughout the rest of the State. Even
far outside the South it was regarded as a most important incident;
and the newspapers declared that it was the signal of a complete
collapse of the opposition to the Government. Steve was represented
as every species of brigand, from the sneaking lawbreaker who entered
houses under cover of night to the dashing, bold, mountain robber and
desperado who held passes and fought battles with Government troops,
and levied tribute on the surrounding country.

The man who profited by all this was Jonadab Leech.

He immediately took advantage of the turn in affairs to exploit
himself, and to strengthen the foundation of his re-established plans.
When he first heard that Steve Allen had surrendered himself, he could
not believe it; but when the report was verified, he was wild with
joy. He told, again and again, with many new embellishments, the story
of his seizure and incarceration, and the horrors of the midnight
meeting when he was tried and condemned to death without a hearing.
(In his later relations there was an intimation of threats of torture
having been used, and no mention of the mode of his escape.) He had
visited the national capital, and he redoubled his energies in pushing
the prosecutions of the Red Rock prisoners. He declared that nothing
could be done until these men were punished, and the authority of the
Government asserted. He contrived effectually to create fresh doubts as
to the zeal of the Governor, and to supplant him as the representative
of the Government. His star was once more in the ascendent. His
fortunes were more promising than ever. His ambition had taken a higher
leap, and he felt that now no power could keep him from the attainment
of his wishes.

His whole attitude and relation to his former friends changed. Why
should he handicap himself by attempting to carry the burden of Still
and his tottering fortunes? He gave Still plainly to understand that he
had higher aims than merely to obtain a few thousand acres of farming
land. He was now a public man, and affairs of State were occupying his
attention. To be sure, he continued to act as his counsel, and bled his
client for ever-renewed fees in a way that made Still groan and curse.
But this was all. He was engaged now in loftier aims. His name had been
mentioned in the national Senate, in connection with the plans for the
“pacification” of the section for which he spoke; and someone asked,
“Who is Colonel Leech?”

“I will tell you who he is,” said the Senator who was quoting him. “He
is a man who in a short time will be your compeer on the floor of this
body.”

This retort was unction to Leech’s soul.

Meantime the last hope of the old County was being destroyed. A black
pall seemed to have covered them. The local press raved in impotent
rage, and declared that open war would be better than the oppression to
which they were subjected.

Just at this juncture, when Steve’s surrender and Leech’s triumph
seemed to have put the uttermost affliction on the people, the order
which Senator Rockfield had secured from the authorities came, and the
prisoners named in it were released on bail. The order, however, having
been issued before Captain Allen surrendered himself, did not include
his name or apply to him. So when Dr. Cary, General Legaie, Jacquelin
Gray, Andy Stamper, and the other residents of Red Rock were released,
Captain Allen was still held, and bail was refused in his case. The
issuing of that order and the discharge of the other Red Rock prisoners
inspired Leech to hurry up the prosecution of Captain Allen. Thurston
was working for him, and Senator Rockfield was beginning to investigate
matters in the State. Bolter had written an urgent letter respecting
the railway investments, and had said that Middleton was interested and
had come home on Major Welch’s advice to see about the matter, and was
talking of coming South. So Leech could not tell when new difficulties
might arise.

It was soon rumored that the Government would make a test case of the
prosecution of Steve Allen, as the leader and head of the resistance
to it. Leech was moving heaven and earth to secure his conviction, and
was staking everything on this issue. Leech did not even deny it. He
rushed forward his prosecution. If he could get Steve Allen shut up
within the walls of a Government prison for a term of years, he would
be free to carry out his schemes; and of this he had no doubt. Judge
Bail was to try Steve, and the witnesses were being got together by
McRaffle. Leech did not want to prosecute Steve for a minor offence,
such as the rescue of Rupert. He wished to put him entirely out of
the way. A long term only would now satisfy him. The offences with
which Steve was charged were not grave enough, the penalties not heavy
enough. The attack on the jail had been thrown into the background by
the more recent outrages committed by the Ku Klux. Prosecution for
the seizure of Leech himself would look like personal hostility, and
weaken his cause; and, besides, some awkward facts might come out in
the development of the case. Thurston would be sure to tell how he had
escaped, and the whole story would come out and create sympathy with
the prisoner, and bring ridicule upon himself.

So Leech suddenly made a change of base. He desired to pose as a
public-spirited man. He determined to drop the prosecution for the
attack on the jail, and prosecute Steve Allen for the Ku Klux outrages,
as to which the Government was more particularly interested. The
difficulty was to establish Allen’s active connection with the Ku Klux.
Leech knew of his own knowledge, from Allen’s statement to the assembly
in the room above his prison that night, that Steve had left the
order and opposed them at that time, if he had ever belonged to their
organization. So he was somewhat at a loss to prove his connection with
them as an active member. Accident, however, suddenly threw in his way
the means to accomplish his wish, and to punish two enemies at once.

Leech had been in the upper end of the County looking after witnesses,
when he met Miss Welch, who was on her way home from Dr. Cary’s. She
gave him a cold bow, and was passing on; but Leech stopped her with an
inquiry after her father.

“He is very well,” said the girl, coldly.

“I suppose he, like all loyal men, is rejoicing over the capture at
last of the head of all the trouble that has been going on down here?”
Leech’s face wore a soft smile.

“I was not aware that Captain Allen was captured. I thought he
surrendered.” Ruth’s color deepened in spite of herself.

“Well, we have him safe at last, anyhow,” smiled Leech, “and I guess
we’ll keep him. No doubt your father is as much pleased as anyone. It
puts an end to the outrages down here, and your father, of all men,
should rejoice. He is too good a citizen not to.”

“He is too good a man to rejoice in anyone’s misfortunes,” said Ruth,
warmly; “and Captain Allen has had nothing to do with the outrages you
refer to. He never had anything to do with the Ku Klux except once or
twice. I have his own word for it.”

Leech’s eyes were resting on her face.

“Ah! You have it on good authority.” His tone was most polite.

But Ruth fired up.

“I have. Captain Allen is a gentleman; and when he says that he has
never had anything to do with the Ku Klux since the first or second
time they acted in this County, I am sure it is so. What he has done
since then he did alone.” She could not resist this shot.

Leech did not appear to mind it. His mild eyes were glowing with a
sudden light, almost of joy.

“No doubt, no doubt,” he murmured. And, as Ruth was moving on,

“Please remember me kindly to your father and mother.”

As she rode away Leech actually slapped his thigh, and he smiled all
the way home.



CHAPTER XLIII

MISS WELCH HEARS A PIECE OF NEWS


Ruth had heard of Captain Allen’s surrender the day after it took
place. Mrs. Stamper, passing through from the railway on her way home
from a visit to her husband in jail, had stopped and told her all about
it. Ruth almost fell to the ground during Mrs. Stamper’s narration. She
could scarcely stand up. When Mrs. Stamper had passed on, Ruth rushed
into the house and was on her way to her own room when she met her
mother.

“What on earth is it, Ruth?”

“Oh, mamma!” Ruth began, but was unable to proceed, and burst into
tears. Mrs. Welch also had heard the story; and she divined the cause
of her agitation, and drew her into her chamber, and there Ruth opened
her heart to her mother.

“I know I ought to hate him, mamma,” she wept, “but I do not. I have
tried to hate him, and prayed—yes, prayed to hate him; but I like him
better than any man I ever met or ever shall meet, and even when I cut
him on the road I liked him. I hate myself; I am humiliated to think
that I should care for a man who has never said he loved me.”

“But he has said so, Ruth,” declared Mrs. Welch.

“What?” Ruth’s eyes opened wide with a vague awaking something.

“He came to see your father, and asked his consent to pay you his
addresses.”

Ruth sprang to her feet as if electrified.

“Mamma!” The blood rushed to her face and back again. She seized her
mother, and poured out question after question. Her whole person seemed
to change. She looked like a different being. A radiance appeared to
have suddenly settled down upon her and enveloped her. Mrs. Welch
was carried away by her enthusiasm, and could not help enjoying her
joy. For once she let herself go, and gave herself up to the delight
of thorough and complete sympathy with her daughter. She told her
everything that had occurred, and Ruth in return told her mother all
that she knew and thought of Steve. Thus Mrs. Welch became Ruth’s
confidante, and, in her sympathy with Ruth’s happiness, committed
herself on Ruth’s side beyond hope of withdrawal.

Just then Major Welch opened the door. He stopped and looked in on the
scene in wonderment. Ruth rose and flung herself into his arms.

In the conference that ensued, Ruth, however, found ground for more
distress. Her father had heard the whole story of Captain Allen’s
surrender of himself. He had just got it from Thurston. He also knew of
the telegrams Thurston had received in response to his giving notice
of the surrender, and he was full of anxiety. He was by no means sure
that Captain Allen, however high his motive, had done a wise act in
giving himself up. He did not believe his action would be effectual to
obtain the release of his friends, and he had put himself in the power
of those who would move heaven and earth to secure his conviction. The
dispatches that had come from the city clearly indicated this.

Under the new revelation that Major Welch had received, his interest in
Captain Allen naturally increased beyond measure, and he showed it. His
only hope was that proof as to Captain Allen’s case might not be easy.
The new laws under which the prosecutions were being pressed aimed at
recent acts, and it might not be possible to prove Captain Allen’s
participation in these acts.

His carrying Leech off could, of course, be proved; but while Leech
would naturally push the prosecution for this, as Leech had returned,
the Government might not now take that so seriously. As her father
discussed Captain Allen’s chances earnestly, Ruth sat and listened with
bated breath, her eyes, wide with anxiety, fixed on his face, her hands
tightly clasped, her color coming and going as hope and fear alternated.

It was a few days after this, that she had her brief interview with
Leech.

The next day after that interview an official rode up to the door and
served a summons on Ruth to appear as a witness for the prosecution in
the case of the Government against Stevenson Allen. With this notice
he brought also a letter to Major Welch from Leech, who wrote Major
Welch that for reasons of importance to the Government he had found it
necessary to request his daughter’s attendance at the trial. The letter
was full of expressions of regret that he should have to cause Major
Welch’s daughter any inconvenience. She was the only one, he said, who
could prove certain facts material to the case for the Government.

As Major Welch read the letter his countenance fell. Ruth’s knowledge
of Captain Allen’s confession of his part in the Ku Klux organization
had filled out Leech’s case, and Captain Allen was in graver danger
than he had apprehended. The next day it was known in the County that
Ruth had been summoned by Leech, and that the object of the summons was
to have her prove Captain Allen’s confession to her of his part in the
acts of the Ku Klux. It was stated that Leech had written Major Welch
to obtain the information from him, and that Major Welch had replied
that his daughter would be on hand, dead or alive. The excitement in
the community was intense; and the feeling against the Welches flamed
forth stronger than it had ever been—stronger even than before the
trial of Jacquelin’s case. Intimations of this came to the Welches,
and they could not ride out without encountering the hostile looks
of their neighbors. It was asserted by some that Major Welch and his
daughter had trapped Steve, and were taking their revenge for his part
in Jacquelin’s suit. Major Welch received one or two anonymous letters
accusing him of this, and warning him to leave the country without
attempting to push his malice farther.

As the Major treated these letters with the contempt they deserved, and
destroyed them without letting either Mrs. Welch or Ruth know anything
about them, they would have given him no further concern except for the
fact that he had made up his mind to go North just then on business.
The letters came near preventing his going; but as the matter was
urgent, he went, and the rumor got abroad that he had left on account
of the letters.

Ruth was in a state of great distress. She hoped she would die before
the day of the trial; and, indeed, to have seen her, one might have
thought it not unlikely. Dr. Cary was sent for. He prescribed change
of air and scene. Mrs. Welch shook her head sadly. That was impossible
just now. “You look as though you needed change yourself, Doctor,” she
said. And well she might say so. The Doctor had aged years in the last
weeks. His face had never lost the prison pallor.

“No madam—I think not,” he said, calmly, his hand resting against his
breast. Mrs. Welch did not know that he meant that he was past that now.

“Then you must take a rest,” urged Mrs. Welch.

“Yes, I think I shall take a rest before long,” said he.

Ruth was out riding one afternoon just after this when she met old
Waverley. She stopped to inquire after Miss Thomasia who she had
heard was ill. The old man was actually short to her. “I don’ think
she’ll last long now,” he said, so significantly that it pierced the
girl’s breast like a knife. Ruth had always felt that Miss Thomasia
and she had one thing in common, and Miss Thomasia had always been
sweet and gracious to her. Now the picture of the old lady at home,
lonely and ill from anxiety and distress, pursued her. She could not
get away from it. At length she turned her horse, and rode slowly
back to the little cottage amid the vines. An air of stillness that
was oppressive surrounded the place. For a few moments Ruth thought
of drawing back and going home. Then her courage returned. She sprang
from her horse, and, tying him, walked up to the door and knocked.
The knock was answered by old Peggy. The old woman’s eyes darted fire
at Ruth, as she answered her. She did not know whether Ruth could see
Miss Thomasia or not—she thought not. Miss Thomasia was asleep. Ruth,
however, persisted; she would wait until Miss Thomasia waked up. She
took her seat quietly on the little veranda. The old woman looked
puzzled and disappeared. Presently she returned, and said Miss Thomasia
would see Ruth. Ruth went in. Miss Thomasia was sitting up in a little
rocking-chair. Ruth was astounded to see the difference in her since
she saw her last. She looked years older. She received Ruth civilly,
but distantly, and let her do the talking. Ruth kept well away from the
one subject that was uppermost in both their minds. Presently, however,
in face of her impenetrable coldness, Ruth could stand it no longer.
She rose to go, and bade the old lady good-by.

“Good-by, my dear,” said Miss Thomasia. They were the words with which
she always said her adieus. Her voice was feeble, and she spoke very
low. There was something in her tone, something of resignation and
forgiveness, that went to Ruth’s heart, and as she turned away—a deep
sigh caught her ear. She turned back. Miss Thomasia’s thin hands were
tightly clasped, her eyes were shut, and her lips were trembling. The
next moment Ruth was down on her knees beside her, her head buried in
her lap, pouring out her story.

“I must tell you,” she sobbed. “I came to tell you, and I cannot go
away and not tell you. I know you love him, and I know you hate me. You
have a right to hate me; they all hate me, and think I am hard and
cruel. But I am not, and neither is my father.”

She went on, and, as she told her story, the other lady’s hands came
and rested on her head and lifted her up, and the two women wept
together.

A little later Blair came in, and stopped, surprised, on the threshold.
The next moment she and Ruth were in each other’s arms, weeping
together; while Miss Thomasia, with her face brighter than it had
been since the news reached her of Steve’s surrender, smiled on them.
Presently old Peggy opened the door, thinking perhaps Ruth had been
there long enough. She gazed on the scene in wonder for a moment, and
then closed the door. “Well, dee beats me,” she muttered. When Ruth
left, Miss Thomasia looked better than she had done in days, and Ruth’s
own heart was lighter. That night Blair asked old Mr. Bagby if there
was no way in which a woman could avoid giving evidence against a man,
if she were summoned and did not wish to testify.

“One,” said the old lawyer “—two: she can die.”



CHAPTER XLIV

MIDDLETON REVISITS RED ROCK, AND AN OLD SOLDIER LAYS DOWN HIS ARMS


The account of affairs in the South that Middleton had got from
Senator Rockfield had decided him to go down there. It awakened old
recollections, and recalled a time in his life which, though there
were many things in it that he would have had otherwise, was on the
whole very pleasant to him. He had tried to do his duty under very
adverse circumstances, and, though he had not been sustained, events
had justified him. He happened to be present in the gallery during the
debate in which one Senator asked, “Who is this man Leech?” and another
replied, “He is a man who will soon be your compeer on this floor.” The
statement had astounded Middleton. Could it be possible that Dr. Cary,
Jacquelin Gray, and General Legaie were in jail, and that Leech was
about to become a Senator of the United States? It seemed incredible
to the young man. He had in a way kept himself informed as to the old
County, and he knew that there had been trouble there; but he had
had no idea that things had reached this pass. That night he had the
conversation with Senator Rockfield about Dr. Cary, and soon afterward
he got a letter from Thurston which finally decided him to go South and
see for himself.

His arrival at Brutusville was regarded very differently by different
people. The Welches were delighted to see him, and so was Reely
Thurston. Leech met him with a show of much cordiality—extended his
hand, and greeted him with warmth which somehow cooled Middleton.
Middleton could not for his life help having that old feeling of
repulsion. He was conscious of a change in Leech. Instead of his former
half-apologetic manner that was almost obsequious, Leech now was lively
and assertive. His air was that of an equal—indeed, almost of a
superior.

The strangest greeting, however, Middleton met with was from “Dr.
Moses.” Moses had returned to the County after the arrival of the
troops, and had been much in evidence about the court-house, where he
appeared to be in Leech’s employ. The day after Middleton arrived,
Moses came out of a yard just ahead of him, and advanced to meet him,
hat in hand, grinning and showing his repulsive teeth and gums. It was
almost a shock to Middleton to see him.

“How’s Mass’ Middleton? My young master? Glad to see you back, suh.
Does you ’member Moses—ole Moses?”

“Yes, I remember you,” said Middleton, almost grimly. The negro burst
out into a loud guffaw.

“Yas, suh. I knows you ’members Moses. Yaw-yaw-yaw-ee. Done lay de whup
on Mose’ back too good not to ’member him, yaw-yaw-yaw-ee. Dat wuz
right. Now you gwine gi’ me a quarter for dat.” He held out his hand,
his eyes oscillating, in their peculiar way.

Middleton pitched a dollar into his hand and walked on hastily,
followed by the thanks and protestations of gratitude of the negro. He
did not see the look that Moses shot after him as he followed him at a
distance till Middleton went into Mrs. Dockett’s.

As the trick-doctor turned back, he muttered, “Yas, done lay de whup
’pon Moses’ back. Dollar don’ pay for dat. Ain’ _Cap’n_ Middleton now,
jes Marse Middleton. Ump!” He disappeared with his uneven gait around
the rear of Leech’s law-office.

When Middleton mentioned to Mrs. Welch his meeting with Moses, to his
surprise she spoke of him with unmitigated detestation, and, equally to
his surprise, she spoke of Captain Allen with much less reprobation
than from his knowledge of her views he had anticipated.

Most of the other friends of Middleton received him with even greater
cordiality than he had expected. Mrs. Dockett invited him to come and
occupy his old quarters, and made him understand distinctly that it was
to be as her guest. She did not board any Yankees now—except Captain
Thurston, of course. The Captain was an old friend, and she had to
take him in for old times’ sake; she could not let him be starved or
poisoned at that miserable hole of a hotel.

Middleton laughed as he thanked her. He knew which way the wind was
setting with Thurston. He was staying with his cousins, he said. But
he hoped Mrs. Dockett would be good enough to let him come to dinner
some time and eat some of her fried chicken, which was the very best
in all the world, as he knew by experience. Mrs. Dockett declared that
he was flattering her; but this Middleton stoutly repudiated. He had
said so in every country he had visited, and there was no reason why he
should not say so now. In fact, he so flattered Mrs. Dockett that the
good lady declared at the table that evening—gazing hard at Captain
Thurston—that Captain Middleton was quite