[The illustrations are from the first edition.]
Chapter II: A Light Shining in Darkness
In the rear of Mrs. Gaston's place, there stood in the midst of an orchard a log house of two rooms, with hallway between them. There was a mud-thatched wooden chimney at each end, and from the back of the hallway a kitchen extension of the same material with another mud chimney. The house stood in the middle of a ten acre lot, and a woman was busy in the garden with a little girl, planting seed.
"Hurry up Annie, less finish this in time to fix up a fine dinner er greens and turnips an 'taters an a chicken. Yer Pappy 'll get home to-day sure. Colonel Gaston's Nelse come last night. Yer Pappy was in the Colonel's regiment an' Nelse said he passed him on the road comin' with two one-legged soldiers. He ain't got but one leg, he says. But, Lord, if there's a piece of him left we'll praise God an' be thankful for what we've got."
"Maw, how did he look? I mos' forgot--'s been so long sence I seed him?" asked the child.
"Look! Honey! He was the handsomest man in Campbell county! He had a tall fine figure, brown curly beard, and the sweetest mouth that was always smilin' at me, an' his eyes twinklin' over somethin' funny he'd seed or thought about. When he was young ev'ry gal around here was crazy about him. I got him all right, an' he got me too. Oh me! I can't help but cry, to think he's been gone so long. But he's comin' to-day! I jes feel it in my bones."
"Look a yonder, Maw, what a skeer-crow ridin' er ole hoss!" cried the girl, looking suddenly toward the road.
"Glory to God! It's Tom!" she shouted, snatching her old faded sun-bonnet off her head and fairly flying across the field to the gate, her cheeks aflame, her blond hair tumbling over her shoulders, her eyes wet with tears.
Tom was entering the gate of his modest home in as fine style as possible, seated proudly on a stack of bones that had once been a horse, an old piece of wool on his head that once had been a hat, and a wooden peg fitted into a stump where once was a leg. His face was pale and stained with the red dust of the hill roads, and his beard, now iron grey, and his ragged buttonless uniform were covered with dirt. He was truly a sight to scare crows, if not of interest to buzzards. But to the woman whose swift feet were hurrying to his side, and whose lips were muttering half articulate cries of love, he was the knightliest figure that ever rode in the lists before the assembled beauty of the world.
"Oh! Tom, Tom, Tom, my ole man! You've come at last!" she sobbed as she threw her arms around his neck, drew him from the horse and fairly smothered him with kisses.
"Look out, ole woman, you'll break my new leg! cried Tom when he could get breath.
"I don't care,--I'll get you another one," she laughed through her tears.
"Look out there again you're smashing my game shoulder. Got er Minie hall in that one."
"Well your mouth's all right I see," cried the delighted woman, as she kissed and kissed him.
"Say, Annie, don't be so greedy, give me a chance at my young one." Tom's eyes were devouring the excited girl who had drawn nearer.
"Come and kiss your Pappy and tell him how glad you are to see him!" said Tom, gathering her in his arms and attempting to carry her to the house.
He stumbled and fell. In a moment the strong arms of his wife were about him and she was helping him into the house.
She laid him tenderly on the bed, petted him and cried over him. "My poor old man, he's all shot and cut to pieces. You're so weak, Tom--I can't believe it. You were so strong. But we'll take care of you. Don't you worry. You just sleep a week and then rest all summer and watch us work the garden for you!"
He lay still for a few moments with a smile playing around his lips.
"Lord, ole woman, you don't know how nice it is to be petted like that, to hear a woman's voice, feel her breath on your face and the touch of her hand, warm and soft, after four years sleeping on dirt and living with men and mules, and fightin' and runnin' and diggin' trenches like rats and moles, killin' men, buryin' the dead like carrion, holdin' men while doctors sawed their legs off, till your turn came to be held and sawed! You can't believe it, but this is the first feather bed I've touched in four years.
"Well, well!--Bless God it's over now," she cried. "S'long as I've got two strong arms to slave for you--as long as there's a piece of you left big enough to hold on to--I'll work for you," and again she bent low over his pale face, and crooned over him as she had so often done over his baby in those four lonely years of war and poverty.
Suddenly Tom pushed her aside and sprang up in bed.
"Geemimy, Annie, I forgot my pardners--there's two more peg-legs out at the gate by this time waiting for us to get through huggin' and carryin' on before they come in. Run, fetch 'em in quick!"
Tom struggled to his feet and met them at the door.
"Come right into my palace, boys, I've seen some fine places in my time, but this is the handsomest one I ever set eyes on. Now, Annie, put the big pot in the little one and don't stand back for expenses. Let's have a dinner these fellers 'll never forget."
It was a feast they never forgot. Tom's wife had raised a brood of early chickens, and managed to keep them from being stolen. She killed four of them and cooked them as only a Southern woman knows how. She had sweet potatoes carefully saved in the mound against the kitchen chimney. There were turnips and greens and radishes, young onions and lettuce and hot corn dodgers fit for a king; and in the centre of the table she deftly fixed a pot of wild flowers little Annie had gathered. She did not tell them that it was the last peck of potatoes and the last pound of meal. This belonged to the morrow. To-day they would live.
They laughed and joked over this splendid banquet, and told stories of days and nights of hunger and exhaustion, when they had filled their empty stomachs with dreams of home.
"Miss Camp, you've got the best husband in seven states, did you know that? "asked one of the soldiers, a mere boy.
"Of course she'll agree to that, sonny," laughed Tom.
"Well it's so. If it hadn't been for him, M'am, we'd a been peggin' along somewhere way up in Virginny 'stead o' bein' so close to home. You see he let us ride his hoss a mile and then he'd ride a mile. We took it turn about, and here we are."
"Tom, how in this world did you get that horse?" asked his wife.
"Honey, I got him on my good looks," said he with a wink. "You see I was a settin' out there in the sun the day o' the surrender. I was sorter cryin' and wonderin' how I'd get home with that stump of wood instead of a foot, when along come a chunky heavy set Yankee General, looking as glum as though his folks had surrendered instead of Marse Robert. He saw me, stopped, looked at me a minute right hard and says, "Where do you live?"
"Way down in ole No'th Caliny," I says, "at Hambright, not far from King's Mountain."
"How are you going to get home?" says he.
"God knows, I don't, General. I got a wife and baby down there I ain't seed fer nigh four years, and I want to see 'em so bad I can taste 'em. I was lookin' the other way when I said that, fer I was purty well played out, and feelin' weak and watery about the eyes, an' I didn't want no Yankee General to see water in my eyes."
"He called a feller to him and sorter snapped out to him, "Go bring the best horse you can spare for this man and give it to him."
"Then he turns to me and seed I was all choked up and couldn't say nothin' and says:
"I'm General Grant. Give my love to your folks when you get home. I've known what it was to be a poor white man down South myself once for awhile."
"God bless you, General. I thanks you from the bottom of my heart," I says as quick as I could find my tongue, "if it had to be surrender I'm glad it was to such a man as you.
"He never said another word, but just walked slow along smoking a big cigar. So ole woman, you know the reason I named that hoss, 'General Grant.' It may be I have seen finer hosses than that one, but I couldn't recollect anything about 'em on the road home."
Dinner over, Tom's comrades rose and looked wistfully down the dusty road leading southward.
"Well, Tom, ole man, we gotter be er movin'," said the older of the two soldiers. "We're powerful obleeged to you fur helpin' us along this fur."
"All right, boys, you'll find yer train standin' on the side o' the track eatin' grass. Jes climb up, pull the lever and let her go."
The men's faces brightened, their lips twitched. They looked at Tom, and then at the old horse. They looked down the long dusty road stretching over hill and valley, hundreds of miles south, and then at Tom's wife and child, whispered to one another a moment, and the elder said:
"No, pardner, you've been awful good to us, but we'll get along somehow--we can't take yer hoss. It's all yer got now ter make a livin' on yer place."
"All I got?" shouted Tom, "man alive, ain't you seed my ole woman, as fat and jolly and han'some as when I married her 'leven years ago? Didn't you hear her cryin' an' shoutin' like she's crazy when I got home? Didn't you see my little gal with eyes jes like her daddy's? Don't you see my cabin standin' as purty as a ripe peach in the middle of the orchard when hundreds of fine houses are lyin' in ashes? Ain't I got ten acres of land? Ain't I got God Almighty above me and all around me, the same God that watched over me on the battlefields? All I got? That old stack o' bones that looks like er hoss? Well I reckon not!"
"Pardner, it ain't right," grumbled the soldier, with more of cheerful thanks than protest in his voice.
"Oh! Get off you fools," said Tom good-naturedly, "ain't it my hoss? Can't I do what I please with him?"
So with hearty hand-shakes they parted, the two astride the old horse's back. One had lost his right leg, the other, his left, and this gave them a good leg on each side to hold the cargo straight.
"Take keer yerself, Tom!" they both cried in the same breath as they moved away.
"Take keer yerselves, boys. I'm all right!" answered Tom, as he stumped his way back to the home. "It's all right, it's all right," he muttered to himself. "He'd a come in handy, but I'd a never slept thinkin' o' them peggin' along them rough roads."
Before reaching the house he sat down on a wooden bench beneath a tree to rest. It was the first week in May and the leaves were not yet grown. The sun was pouring his hot rays down into the moist earth, and the heat began to feel like summer. As he drank in the beauty and glory of the spring his soul was melted with joy. The fruit trees were laden with the promise of the treasures of the summer and autumn, a cat-bird was singing softly to his mate in the tree over his head, and a mockingbird seated in the topmost branch of an elm near his cabin home was leading the oratorio of feathered songsters. The wild plum and blackberry briars were in full bloom in the fence corners, and the sweet odour filled the air. He heard his wife singing in the house.
"It's a fine old world after all!" he exclaimed leaning back and half closing his eyes, while a sense of ineffable peace filled his soul. "Peace at last! Thank God! May I never see a gun or a sword, or hear a drum or a fife's scream on this earth again!"
A hound came close wagging his tail and whining for a word of love and recognition.
"Well, Bob, old boy, you're the only one left. You'll have to chase cotton-tails by yourself now."
Bob's eyes watered and he licked his master's hand apparently understanding every word he said.
Breaking from his master's hands the dog ran toward the gate barking, and Tom rose in haste as he recognised the sturdy tread of the Preacher, Rev. John Durham, walking rapidly toward the house.
Grasping him heartily by the hand the Preacher said,
"Tom, you don't know how it warms my soul to look into your face again. When you left, I felt like a man who had lost one hand. I've found it to-day. You're the same stalwart Christian full of joy and love. Some men's religion didn't stand the wear and tear of war. You've come out with your soul like gold tried in the fire. Colonel Gaston wrote me you were the finest soldier in the regiment, and that you were the only Chaplain he had seen that he could consult for his own soul's cheer. That's the kind of a deacon to send to the front! I'm proud of you, and you're still at your old tricks. I met two one-legged soldiers down the road riding your horse away as though you had a stable full at your command. You needn't apologise or explain, they told me all about it."
"Preacher, it's good to have the Lord's messenger speak words like them. I can't tell you how glad I am to be home again and shake your hand. I tell you it was a comfort to me when I lay awake at night an them battlefields, a wonderin' what had become of my ole woman and the baby, to recollect that you were here, and how often I'd heard you tell us how the Lord tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. Annie's been telling me who watched out for her them dark days when there was nothin' to eat. I reckon you and your wife knows the way to this house about as well as you do to the church."
Tom had pulled the Preacher down on the seat beside him while he said this.
"The dark days have only begun, Tom. I've come to see you to have you cheer me up. Somehow you always seemed to me to be closer to God than any man in the church. You will need all your faith now. It seems to me that every second woman I know is a widow. Hundreds of families have no seed even to plant, no horse to work crops, no men who will work if they had horses. What are we to do? I see hungry children in every house."
"Preacher, the Lord is looking down here to-day and sees all this as plain as you and me. As long as He is in the sky everything will come all right on the earth."
"How's your pantry?" asked the Preacher.
"Don't know. 'Man shall not live by bread alone,' you know. When I hear these birds in the trees an' see this old dog waggin' his tail at me, and smell the breath of them flowers, and it all comes over me that I'm done killin' men, and I'm at home, with a bed to sleep on, a roof over my head, a woman to pet me and tell me I'm great and handsome, I don't feel like I'll ever need anything more to eat! I believe I could live a whole mouth here without eatin' a bite."
"Good. You come to the prayer meeting to-night and say a few things like that, and the folks will believe they have been eating three square meals every day."
"I'll be there. I ain't asked Annie what she's got, but I know she's got greens and turnips, onions and collards, and strawberries in the garden. Irish taters 'll be big enough to eat in three weeks, and sweets comin' right on. We've got a few chickens. The blackberries and plums and peaches and apples are all on the road. Ah! Preacher, it's my soul that's been starved away from my wife and child!"
"You don't know how much I need help sometimes Tom. I am always giving, giving myself in sympathy and help to others, I'm famished now and then. I feel faint and worn out. You seem to fill me again with life."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Preacher. I get down-hearted sometimes, when I recollect I'm nothin' but a poor white man. I'll remember your words. I'm goin' to do my part in the church work. You know where to find me."
"Well, that's partly what brought me here this morning. I want you to help me look after Mrs. Gaston and her little boy. She is prostrated over the death of the Colonel and is hanging between life and death. She is in a delirious condition all the time and must be watched day and night. I want you to watch the first half of the night with Nelse, and Eve and Mary will watch the last half."
"Of course, I'll do anything in the world I can for my Colonel's widder. He was the bravest man that ever led a regiment, and he was a father to us boys. I'll be there. But I won't set up with that nigger. He can go to bed."
"Tom, it's a funny thing to me that as good a Christian as you are should hate a nigger so. He's a human being. It's not right."
"He may be human, Preacher, I don't know. To tell you the truth, I have my doubts. Anyhow, I can't help it. God knows I hate the sight of 'em like I do a rattlesnake. That nigger Nelse, they say is a good one. He was faithful to the Colonel, I know, but I couldn't bear him no more than any of the rest of 'em. I always hated a nigger since I was knee high. My daddy and my mammy hated 'em before me. Somehow, we always felt like they was crowdin' us to death on them big plantations, and the little ones too. And then I had to leave my wife and baby and fight four years, all on account of their stinkin' hides, that never done nothin' for me except make it harder to live. Every time I'd go into battle and hear them Minie balls begin to sing over us, it seemed to me I could see their black ape faces grinnin' and makin' fun of poor whites. At night when they'd detail me to help the ambulance corps carry off the dead and the wounded, there was a strange smell on the field ' that came from the blood and night damp and burnt powder. It always smelled like a nigger to me! It made me sick. Yes, Preacher, God forgive me, I hate 'em! I can't help it any more than I can the color of my skin or my hair."
"I'll fix it with Nelse, then. You take the first part of the night 'till twelve clock. I'll go down with you from the church to-night," said the Preacber, as he shook Tom's hand and took his leave.
from Chapter XVII: The Second Reign of Terror
Tom Camp's daughter was now in her sixteenth year and as plump and winsome a lassie, her Scotch mother declared, as the Lord ever made. She was engaged to be married to Hose Norman, a gallant poor white from the high hill country at the foot of the mountains. Hose came to see her every Sunday riding a black mule, gaily trapped out in martingales with red rings, double girths to his saddle and a flaming red tassel tied on each side of the bridle. Tom was not altogether pleased with his future so-in-law. He was too wild, went to too many frolics, danced too much, drank too much whiskey and was too handy with a revolver.
"Annie, child, you'd better think twice before you step off with that young buck," Tom gravely warned his daughter as he stroked her fair hair one Sunday morning while she waited for Hose to escort her to church.
"I have thought a hundred times, Paw, but what's the use. I love him. He can just twist me 'round his little finger. I've got to have him."
"Tom Camp, you don't want to forget you were not a saint when I stood up with you one day," cried his wife with a twinkle in her eye.
"That's a fact, ole woman," grinned Tom.
"You never give me a day's trouble after I got hold of you. Sometimes the wildest colts make the safest horses"
"Yes, that's so. It's owing to who has the breaking of 'em," thoughtfully answered Tom.
"I like Hose. He's full of fun, but he'll settle down and make her a good husband."
The girl slipped close to her mother and squeezed her hand.
"Do you love him much, child?" asked her father.
"Well enough to live and scrub and work for him and to die for him, I reckon."
"All right, that settles it, you're too many for me, you and Hose and your Maw. Get ready for it quick. We'll have the weddin' Wednesday night. This home is goin' to be sold Thursday for taxes and it will be our last night under our own roof. We'll make the best of it."
It was so fixed. On Wednesday night Hose came down from the foothills with three kindred spirits, and an old fiddler to make the music. He wanted to have a dance and plenty of liquor fresh from the mountain-dew district. But Tom put his foot down on it.
"No dancin' in my house, Hose, and no licker," said Tom with emphasis. "I'm a deacon in the Baptist church. I used to be young and as good lookin' as you, my boy, but I've done with them things. You're goin' to take my little gal now. I want you to quit your foolishness be a man."
"I will, Tom, I will. She is the prettiest sweetest little thing in this world, and to tell you the truth I'm goin' to settle right down now to the hardest work I ever did in my life."
"That's the way to talk, my boy," said Tom, putting his hand an Hose's shoulder. "You'll have enough to do these hard times to make a livin'."
They made a handsome picture, in that humble home, as they stood there before the Preacher. The young bride was trembling from head to foot with fright. Hose was trying to look grave and dignified and grinning in spite of himself whenever he looked into the face of his blushing mate. The mother was standing near, her face full of pride in her daughter's beauty and happiness, her heart all a quiver with the memories of her own wedding day seventeen years before. Tom was thinking of the morrow when he would be turned out of his home and his eyes filled with tears.
The Rev. John Durham had pronounced them man and wife and hurried away to see some people who were sick. The old fiddler was doing his best. Hose and his bride were shaking hands with their friends, and the boys were trying to tease the bridegroom with hoary old jokes.
Suddenly a black shadow fell across the doorway. The fiddle ceased, and every eye was turned to the door. The burly figure of a big negro trooper from a company stationed in the town stood before them. His face was in a broad grin, and his eyes bloodshot with whiskey. He brought his musket down on the floor with a bang.
"My frien's, I'se sorry ter disturb yer but I has orders ter search dis house."
"Show your orders," said Tom hobbling before him.
"Well, deres one un 'em !" he said still grinning as be cocked his gun and presented it toward Tom. "En ef dat aint ennuf day's fifteen mo' stanin' 'roun' dis house. It's no use ter make er fuss. Come on, boys!"
Before Tom could utter another word of protest six more negro troopers laughing and nudging one another crowded into the room. Suddenly one of them threw a bucket of water in the fire place where a pine knot blazed and two others knocked out the candles.
There was a scuffle, the quick thud of heavy blows, and Hose Norman fell to the floor senseless. A piercing scream rang from his bride as she was seized in the arms of the negro who first appeared. He rapidly bore her toward the door surrounded by the six scoundrels who had accompanied him.
"My God, save her! They are draggin' Annie out of the house," shrieked her mother.
"Help! Help! Lord have mercy!" screamed the girl as they bore her away toward the woods, still laughing and yelling.
Tom overtook one of them, snatched his wooden leg off, and knocked him down. Hose's mountain boys were crowding round Tom with their pistols in their hands.
"What shall we do, Tom? If we shoot we may kill Annie."
"Shoot, man! My God, shoot! There are things worse than death!"
They needed no urging. Like young tigers they sprang across the orchard toward the woods whence came the sound of the laughter of the negroes.
"Stop de screechin'!" cried the leader.
"She nebber get dat gag out now."
"Too smart fur de po' white trash dis time sho'!" laughed one.
Three pistol shots rang out like a single report! Three more! and three more! There was a wild scramble. Taken completely by surprise, the negroes fled in confusion. Four lay on the ground. Two were dead, one mortally wounded and three more had crawled away with bullets in their bodies. There in the midst of the heap lay the unconscious girl gagged.
"Is she hurt?" cried a mountain boy.
"Can't tell, take her to the house quick."
They laid her across the bed in the room that had been made sweet and tidy for the bride and groom. The mother bent over her quickly with a light. Just where the blue veins crossed in her delicate temple there was a round hole from which a scarlet stream was running down her white throat.
Without a word the mother brought Tom, showed it to him, and then fell into his arms and burst into a flood of tears.
"Don't, don't cry so Annie! It might have been worse. Let us thank God she was saved from them brutes."
Hose's friends crowded round Tom now with tear-stained faces.
"Tom, you don't know how broke up we all are over this. Poor child, we did the best we could."
"It's all right, boys. You've been my friends to-night. You've saved my little gal. I want to shake hands with you and thank you. If you hadn't been here--My God, I can't think of what would 'a happened! Now it's all right. She's safe in God's hands."
The next morning when Tom Camp called at the parsonage to see the Preacher and arrange for the funeral of his daughter he found him in bed.
"Dr. Durham is quite sick, Mr. Camp, but he'll see you,"said Mrs. Durham.
"Thank you, M'am."
She took the old soldier by his hand and her voice choked as she said,
"You have my heart's deepest sympathy in your awful sorrow."
"It'll be all be the for best, M'am. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. I will still say, Blessed is the name of the Lord!"
"I wish I had such faith." She led Tom into the room where the Preacher lay.
"Why, what's this, Preacher? A bandage over your eye, looks like somebody knocked you in the head?"
"Yes, Tom, but it's nothing. I'll be all right by to-morrow. You needn't tell me anything that happened at your house. I've heard the black hell-lit news. It will be all over this county by night and the town will be full of grim-visaged men before many hours. Your child has not died in vain. A few things like this will be the trumpet of the God of our fathers that will call the sleeping manhood of the Anglo-Saxon race to life again. I must be up and about this afternoon to keep down the storm. It is not time for it to break."
"But, Preacher, what happened to you?"
"Oh! nothing much, Tom."
"I'll tell you what happened," cried Mrs. Durham standing erect with her great dark eyes flashing with anger.
"As he came home last night from a visit to the sick, he was ambushed by a gang of negroes led by a white scoundrel, knocked down, bound and gagged and placed on a pile of dry fence rails. They set fire to the pile and left him to burn to death. It attracted the attention of Doctor Graham who was passing. He got to him in time to save him."
"You don't say so!"
"I'm sorry, Tom, I'm so weak this morning I couldn't come to see you. I know your poor wife is heartbroken."
"Yes, sir, she is, and it cuts me to the quick when I think that I gave the orders to the boys to shoot. But, Preacher, I'd a killed her with own hand if I couldn't a saved her no other way. I'd do it over again a thousand times if I had to."
"I don't blame you, I'd have done the same thing. I can't come to see you to-day, Tom, I'll be down to your house to-morrow a few minutes before we start for the cemetery. I must get up for dinner and prevent the men from attacking these troops. They'll not dare to try to sell your place to-day. The public square is full of men now, and it's only nine o'clock. You go home and cheer up your wife. How is Hose?"
"He's still in bed. The Doctor says his skull is broken in one place, but he'll be over it in a few weeks."
Tom hobbled back to his house, shaking hands with scores of silent men on the way.
The Preacher crawled to his desk and wrote this note to the young officer in command of the post,
MY DEAR CAPTAIN,
In the interest of peace and order I would advise you to telegraph to Independence for two companies of white regulars to come immediately on a special, and that you start your negro troops on double quick marching order to meet them. There will be a thousand armed men in Hambright by sundown, and no power on earth can prevent the extermination of that negro company if they attack them. I will do my best to prevent further bloodshed but I can do nothing if these troops remain here to-day.
The Commandant acted an the advice immediately.