Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

Rodman the Keeper, an electronic edition

by Constance Fenimore Woolson [Woolson, Constance Fenimore, 1840-1894]

date: 1880
source publisher: D. Appleton and Company
collection: Genre Fiction

Table of Contents

<< story 5 story 10 >>

Display page layout


The loveliest land that smiles beneath the sky,
The coast-land of our western Italy.
I view the waters quivering; quaff the breeze,
Whose briny raciness keeps an under taste
Of flavorous tropic sweets, perchance swept home
From Cuba's perfumed groves and garden spiceries.


Call on thy children of the hill,
Wake swamp and river, coast and rill,
Rouse all thy strength, and all thy skill,
Tell how the patriot's soul was tried,
And what his dauntless breast defied;
How Rutledge ruled and Laurens died,


Do you know the cotton country—the country of broad levels open to the sun, where the ungainly, ragged bushes stand in long rows, bearing the clothing of a nation on their backs? Not on their backs either, for the white wool is scattered over the branches and twigs, looking, not as if it grew there, but as if it had been blown that way, and had caught and clung at random. When I first came to the cotton country, I used to stand with my chin on the top-rail of the fences, trying to rid my eyes of that first impression. I saw the fields only when the cotton was white, when there were no green leaves left, and the fleecy down did not seem to me a vegetable at all. Starved cows passed through the half-plucked rows untempted, and I said to myself: "Of course. Cows do not eat cotton any more than they eat wool; but what | | 179 bush is there at the North that they would not nibble if starving?" Accustomed to the trim, soldierly ranks of the Western corn-fields, or the billowy grace of the wheat, I could think of nothing save a parade of sturdy beggarmen unwillingly drawn up in line, when I gazed upon the stubborn, uneven branches, and generally lop-sided appearance of these plants—plants, nevertheless, of wealth, usefulness, and historic importance in the annals of our land. But after a while I grew accustomed to their contrary ways, and I even began to like their defiant wildness, as a contrast, perhaps, to the languorous sky above, the true sky of the cotton country, with its soft heat, its hazy air, and its divine twilight that lingers so long. I always walked abroad at sunset, and it is in the sunset-light that I always see the fields now when far away. No doubt there was plenty of busy, prosaic reality down there in the mornings, but I never saw it; I only saw the beauty and the fancies that come with the soft after-glow and the shadows of the night.

Down in the cotton country the sun shines steadily all day long, and the earth is hot under your feet. There are few birds, but at nightfall the crows begin to fly home in a long line, going down into the red west as though they had important messages to deliver to some imprisoned princess on the edge of the horizon. One day I followed the crows. I said to myself: "The princess is a ruse; they probably light not far from here, and I am going to find their place. The crows at home—that would be something worth seeing." Turning from the path, I went westward. "What!" said a country-woman, meeting Wordsworth on the road, "are ye stepping westward, sir?" I, too, stepped westward.

Field after field I crossed; at last the fences ceased, and only old half-filled ditches marked the boundary-lines. The land sloped downward slightly, and after a while the ridge behind me seemed like a line of heights, the old cotton-plants on its top standing out as distinctly as single pine-trees on a mountain-summit outlined against the sky; so comparative is | | 180 height. The crows still flew westward as I came out upon a second level lower down than the first, and caught a golden gleam through the fringe of bushes in the middle of the plain. I had unwittingly found the river at last, that broad, brown river that I knew was down there somewhere, although I had not seen it with my bodily eyes. I had full knowledge of what it was, though, farther south toward the ocean; I knew the long trestles over the swamps and dark canebrakes that stretched out for miles on each side of the actual stream—trestles over which the trains passed cautiously every day, the Northern passengers looking nervously down at the quaking, spongy surface below, and prophesying accidents as certain some time—when they were not on board. Up here in the cotton country, however, the river was more docile; there were no tides to come up and destroy the banks, and with the exception of freshets the habits of the stream were orderly. The levels on each side might have been, should have been, rich with plenty. Instead, they were uncultivated and desolate. Here and there a wild, outlawed cotton-bush reared its head, and I could trace the old line of the cart-road and cross-tracks; but the soil was spongy and disintegrated, and for a long time evidently no care had been bestowed upon it. I crossed over to the river, and found that the earth-bank which had protected the field was broken down and washed away in many places; the low trees and bushes on shore still held the straws and driftwood that showed the last freshet's high-water mark.

The river made an irregular bend a short distance below, and I strolled that way, walking now on the thick masses of lespedeza that carpeted the old road-track, and now on the singularly porous soil of the level, a soil which even my inexperienced eyes recognized as worthless, all its good particles having been drained out of it and borne away on the triumphant tide of the freshets. The crows still evaded me, crossing the river in a straight line and flying on toward the west, and, in that arbitrary way in which solitary pedestrians make | | 181 compacts with themselves, I said, "I will go to that tree at the exact turn of the bend, and not one step farther." I went to that tree at the exact turn of the bend, and then I went—farther; for I found there one solemn, lonely old house. Now, if there had been two, I should not have gone on; I should not have broken my compact. Two houses are sociable and commonplace; but one all alone on a desolate waste like that inspired me with—let us call it interest, and I went forward.

It was a lodge rather than a house; in its best day it could never have been more than a very plain abode, and now, in its worst, it seemed to have fallen into the hands of Giant Despair. "Forlorn" was written over its lintels, and "without hope" along its low roof-edge. Raised high above the ground, in the Southern fashion, on wooden supports, it seemed even more unstable than usual to Northern eyes, because the lattice-work, the valance, as it were, which generally conceals the bare, stilt-like underpinning, was gone, and a thin calf and some melancholy chickens were walking about underneath, as though the place was an arbor. There was a little patch of garden, but no grass, no flowers; everything was gray, the unpainted house, the sand of the garden-beds, and the barren waste stretching away on all sides. At first I thought the place was uninhabited, but as I drew nearer a thin smoke from one of the chimneys told of life within, and I said to myself that the life would be black-skinned life, of course. For I was quite accustomed now to finding the families of the freedmen crowded into just such old houses as this, hidden away in unexpected places; for the freedmen hardly ever live up on the even ground in the broad sunshine as though they had a right there, but down in the hollows or out into the fringes of wood, where their low-roofed cabins, numerous though they may be, are scarcely visible to the passer-by. There was no fence around this house; it stood at large on the waste as though it belonged there. Take away the fence from a house, and you take away its respecta- | | 182 bility; it becomes at once an outlaw. I ascended the crazy, sunken steps that led to the front door, and lifted the knocker that hung there as if in mockery; who ever knocked there now save perhaps a river-god with his wet fingers as he hurried by, mounted on the foaming freshet, to ravage and lay waste again the poor, desolate fields? But no spirit came to the door, neither came the swarm of funny little black faces I had expected; instead, I saw before me a white woman, tall, thin, and gray-haired. Silently she stood there, her great, dark eyes, still and sad, looking at me as much as to say, "By what right are you here?"

"Excuse me, madam," was my involuntary beginning; then I somewhat stupidly asked for a glass of water.

"I would not advise you to drink the water we have here; it is not good," replied the woman. I knew it was not; the water is never good down on the levels. But I was very stupid that day.

"I should like to rest a while," was my next attempt. It brought out a wooden chair, but no cordiality. I tried everything I could think of in the way of subjects for conversation, but elicited no replies beyond monosyllables. I could not very well say, "Who are you, and how came you here?" and yet that was exactly what I wanted to know. The woman's face baffled me, and I do not like to be baffled. It was a face that was old and at the same time young; it had deep lines, it was colorless, and the heavy hair was gray; and still I felt that it was not old in years, but that it was like the peaches we find sometimes on the ground, old, wrinkled, and withered, yet showing here and there traces of that evanescent bloom which comes before the ripeness. The eyes haunted me; they haunt me now, the dry, still eyes of immovable, hopeless grief. I thought, " Oh, if I could only help her!" but all I said was, "I fear I am keeping you standing "; for that is the senseless way we human creatures talk to each other.

Her answer was not encouraging.

"Yes," she replied, in her brief way, and said no more.

| | 183

I felt myself obliged to go.

But the next afternoon I wandered that way again, and the next, and the next. I used to wait impatiently for the hour when I could enter into the presence of her great silence. How still she was! If she had wept, if she had raved, if she had worked with nervous energy, or been resolutely, doggedly idle, if she had seemed reckless, or callous, or even pious; but no, she was none of these. Her old-young face was ever the same, and she went about her few household tasks in a steady, nerveless manner, as though she could go on doing them for countless ages, and yet never with the least increase of energy. She swept the room, for instance, every day, never thoroughly, but in a gentle, incompetent sort of way peculiarly her own; yet she always swept it and never neglected it, and she took as much time to do it as though the task was to be performed with microscopic exactness.

She lived in her old house alone save for the presence of one child, a boy of six or seven years—a quiet, grave-eyed little fellow, who played all by himself hour after hour with two little wooden soldiers and an empty spool. He seldom went out of the house; he did not seem to care for the sunshine or the open air as other children care, but gravely amused himself in-doors in his own quiet way. He did not make his wooden soldiers talk or demolish each other triumphantly, according to the manner of boys; but he marshaled them to and fro with slow consideration, and the only sound was the click of their little muskets as he moved them about. He seemed never to speak of his own accord; he was strangely silent always. I used to wonder if the two ever talked together playfully as mother and child should talk; and one day, emboldened by a welcome, not warmer, for it was never warm, but not quite so cold perhaps, I said:

"Your little son is very quiet, madam."

"He is not my son."

"Ah!" I replied, somewhat disconcerted. "He is a pretty child; what is his name?"

| | 184

"His name is John."

The child heard us in his barren corner, but did not look up or speak; he made his two soldiers advance solemnly upon the spool in silence, with a flank movement. I have called the corner barren, because it seemed doubly so when the boy sat there. The poorest place generally puts on something of a homelike air when a little child is in it; but the two bare walls and angle of bare floor remained hopelessly empty and desolate. The room was large, but there was nothing in it save the two wooden chairs and a table; there was no womanly attempt at a rag-carpet, curtains for the windows, or newspaper pictures for the walls—none of those little contrivances for comfort with which women generally adorn even the most miserable abiding-places, showing a kind of courage which is often pathetic in its hopefulness. Here, however, there was nothing. A back-room held a few dishes, some boxes and barrels, and showed on its cavernous hearth the ashes of a recent fire. " I suppose they sleep in a third bare room somewhere, with their two beds, no doubt, standing all alone in the center of the chamber; for it would be too human, of course, to put them up snugly against the wall, as anybody else would do," I said to myself.

In time I succeeded in building up a sort of friendship with this solitary woman of the waste, and in time she told me her story. Let me tell it to you. I have written stories of imagination, but this is a story of fact, and I want you to believe it. It is true, every word of it, save the names given, and, when you read it, you whose eyes are now upon these lines, stop and reflect that it is only one of many life-stories like unto it. "War is cruelty," said our great general. It is. It must be so. But shall we not, we women, like Sisters of Charity, go over the field when the battle is done, bearing balm and wine and oil for those who suffer?

"Down here in the cotton country we were rich once, madam; we were richer than Northerners ever are, for we toiled not for our money, neither took thought for it; it came | | 185 and we spent it; that was all. My father was Clayton Cotes-worth, and our home was twenty miles from here, at the Sand Hills. Our cotton-lands were down on these river-levels; this was one of our fields, and this house was built for the overseer; the negro-quarters that stood around it have been carried off piecemeal by the freedmen." (Impossible to put on paper her accentuation of this title.) "My father was an old man; he could not go to battle himself, but he gave first his eldest son, my brother James. James went away from earth at Fredericksburg. It was in the winter, and very cold. How often have I thought of that passage, ' And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter,' when picturing his sufferings before his spirit took flight! Yes, it was very cold for our Southern boys; the river was full of floating ice, and the raw wind swept over them as they tried to throw up intrenchments on the heights. They had no spades, only pointed sticks, and the ground was frozen hard. Their old uniforms, worn thin by hard usage, hung in tatters, and many of them had no shoes; the skin of their poor feet shone blue, or glistening white, like a dead man's skin, through the coverings of rags they made for themselves as best they could. They say it was a pitiful sight to see the poor fellows sitting down in the mornings, trying to adjust these rag-wrappings so that they would stay in place, and fastening them elaborately with their carefully saved bits of string. He was an honored man who invented a new way. My brother was one of the shoeless; at the last, too, it seems that he had no blanket, only a thin counterpane. When night came, hungry and tired as he was, he could only wrap himself in that and lie down on the cold ground to wait for morning. When we heard all this afterward, we said, ' Blessed be the bullet that put him out of his misery!' for poor James was a delicate boy, and had been accustomed to loving, watchful care all his life. Yet, oh, if I could only know that he was warm once, just once, before he died! They told us he said nothing after he was shot save 'How cold! How cold!' They put his poor, stiff body has- | | 186 tily down under the sod, and then the brigade moved on; 'no man knoweth his sepulchre unto this day.'

"Next John went, my second brother. He said good-by, and marched away northward—northward, northward, always northward—to cold, corpse-strewed Virginia, who cried aloud to us continually, 'More! more!' Her roads are marked with death from her Peaks of Otter to the sea, and her great valley ran red. We went to her from all over the South, from Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and from our own Carolina. We died there by thousands, and by tens of thousands. O Virginia, our dead lie thick in thy tidewater plains, in thy tangled Wilderness, and along thy river-shores, with faces upturned, and hearts still for ever.

"John came back to us once, and wedded the fair girl to whom he was betrothed. It was a sad bridal, although we made it as gay as we could; for we had come to the times of determined gayety then. The tone of society was like the determinedly gay quicksteps which the regimental bands play when returning from a funeral, as much as to say, 'Le roi est mort, vive le roi!' So we turned our old silk dresses, and made a brave appearance; if our shoes were shabby, we hid them under our skirts as well as we could, and held our heads the higher. Maum Sally made a big wedding-cake, as of old, and we went without meat to pay for the spices in it; such luxuries we obtained from the blockade-runners now and then, but they were worth almost their weight in gold. Then John, too, left us. In four months he also was taken—killed by guerrillas, it is supposed, as he rode through a lonely mountain-defile. He was not found for weeks; the snow fell and covered him, mercifully giving the burial the frozen earth denied. After a while the tidings came to us, and poor Mabel slowly wept herself into the grave. She was a loving-hearted little creature, and her life was crushed. She looked at her baby once, called his name John, and then died. The child, that boy yonder, seems to have inherited her grief. He sheds no tears, however; his girl-mother shed them all, both for | | 187 him and for herself, before ever he saw the light. My turn came next.

"You have been married, madam? Did you love, too? I do not mean regard, or even calm affection; I do not mean sense of duty, self-sacrifice, or religious goodness. I mean love—love that absorbs the entire being. Some women love so; I do not say they are the happiest women. I do not say they are the best. I am one of them. But God made us all; he gave us our hearts—we did not choose them. Let no woman take credit to herself for her even life, simply because it has been even. Doubtless, if he had put her out in the breakers, she would have swayed too. Perhaps she would have drifted from her moorings also, as I have drifted. I go to no church; I can not pray. But do not think I am defiant; no, I am only dead. I seek not the old friends, few and ruined, who remain still above-ground; I have no hope, I might almost say no wish. Torpidly I draw my breath through day and night, nor care if the rain falls or the sun shines. You Northern women would work; I can not. Neither have I the courage to take the child and die. I live on as the palsied animal lives, and if some day the spring fails, and the few herbs within his reach, he dies. Nor do I think he grieves much about it; he only eats from habit. So I.

"It was in the third year of the war that I met Ralph Kinsolving. I was just eighteen. Our courtship was short; indeed, I hardly knew that I loved him until he spoke and asked me to give him myself. ' Marry me, Judith,' he pleaded ardently; ' marry me before I go; let it be my wife I leave behind me, and not my sweetheart. For sweethearts, dear, can not come to us in camp when we send, as we shall surely and soon, that you may all see our last grand review.' So spoke Rafe, and with all his heart he believed it. We all believed it. Never for a moment did we doubt the final triumph of our arms. We were so sure we were right!

"'Our last grand review,' said Rafe; but he did not dream of that last review at Appomattox, when eight thousand hun- | | 188 gry, exhausted men stacked their muskets in the presence of the enemy, whose glittering ranks, eighty thousand strong, were drawn up in line before them, while in the rear their well-filled wagons stood—wagons whose generous plenty brought tears to the eyes of many a poor fellow that day, thinking, even while he eagerly ate, of his desolated land, and his own empty fields at home.

"I did marry my soldier, and, although it was in haste, I had my wedding-dress, my snowy veil; lace and gauze were not needed at the hospitals! But we went without the wedding-cake this time, and my satin slippers were made at home, looking very like a pair of white moccasins when finished.

"In the middle of the ceremony there was an alarm; the slaves had risen at Latto's down the river, and were coming to the village armed with clubs, and, worse still, infuriated with liquor they had found. Even our good old rector paused. There were but few white men at home. It seemed indeed a time for pausing. But Rafe said, quietly, ' Go on!' and, unsheathing his sword, he laid it ready on the chancel-rail. ' To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,' repeated Rafe, holding my hand in his firm clasp, and looking down into my frightened face so tenderly that I forgot my alarm—everything, indeed, save his love. But when the last word was spoken, and the blessing pronounced over our bowed heads, the shining sword seeming a silent witness, Rafe left me like a flash. The little church was empty when I rose from my knees; the women had hurried home with blanched faces to bar their doors and barricade their windows, and the men had gone for their horses and guns; only my old father waited to give me his blessing, and then we, too, hastened homeward. Our little band of defenders assembled in the main street, and rode gallantly out to meet the negroes, who were as fifty to their one. Rafe was the leader, by virtue of his uniform, and he waved his | | 189 hand to me as he rode by. 'Cheer up, Judith,' he cried; 'I will soon return.'

"I never saw him again.

"They dispersed the negroes without much difficulty; Latto's slaves had been badly treated for months, they had not the strength to fight long. But Rafe rode to the next town with the prisoners under his charge, and there he met an imploring summons to the coast; the Federal ships had appeared unexpectedly off the harbor, and the little coast-city lay exposed and helpless at the mouth of the river. All good men and true within reach were summoned to the defense. So my soldier went, sending back word to me a second time, 'I will soon return.' But the siege was long, long—one of those bitterly contested little sieges of minor importance, with but small forces engaged on each side, which were so numerous during the middle times of the war—those middle times after the first high hopes had been disappointed, and before the policy of concentration had been adopted by the North—that slow, dogged North of yours that kept going back and beginning over again, until at last it found out how to do it. This little siege was long and weary, and when at last the Federal vessels went suddenly out beyond the bar again, and the town, unconquered, but crippled and suffering, lay exhausted on the shore, there was not much cause for rejoicing. Still I rejoiced; for I thought that Rafe would come. I did not know that his precious furlough had expired while he was shut up in the beleaguered city, and that his colonel had sent an imperative summons, twice repeated. Honor, loyalty, commanded him to go, and go immediately. He went.

"The next tidings that came to me brought word that he loved me and was well; the next, that he loved me and was well; the next, that he loved me and was—dead. Madam, my husband, Ralph Kinsolving, was shot—as a spy!

"You start—you question—you doubt. But spies were shot in those days, were they not? That is a matter of his- | | 190 tory. Very well; you are face to face now with the wife of one of them.

"You did not expect such an ending, did you? You have always thought of spies as outcasts, degraded wretches, and, if you remembered their wives at all, it was with the idea that they had not much feeling, probably, being so low down in the scale of humanity. But, madam, in those bitter, hurrying days men were shot as spies who were no spies. Nay, let me finish; I know quite well that the shooting was not confined to one side; I acknowledge that; but it was done, and mistakes were made. Now and then chance brings a case to light, so unmistakable in its proof that those who hear it shudder—as now and then also chance brings a coffin to light whose occupant was buried alive, and came to himself when it was too late. But what of the cases that chance does not bring to light?

"My husband was no spy; but it had been a trying time for the Northern commanders: suspicion lurked everywhere; the whole North clamored to them to advance, and yet their plans, as fast as they made them, were betrayed in some way to the enemy. An example was needed—my husband fell in the way.

"He explained the suspicious circumstances of his case, but a cloud of witnesses rose up against him, and he proudly closed his lips. They gave him short shrift; that same day he was led out and met his death in the presence of thousands. They told me that he was quite calm, and held himself proudly; at the last he turned his face to the south, as if he were gazing down, down, into the very heart of that land for whose sake he was about to die. I think he saw the cotton-fields then, and our home; I think he saw me, also, for the last time.

"By the end of that year, madam, my black hair was gray, as you see it now; I was an old woman at nineteen.

"My father and I and that grave-eyed baby lived on in the old house. Our servants had left us, all save one, old | | 191 Cassy, who had been my nurse or 'maumee,' as we called her. We suffered, of course. We lived as very poor people live. The poorest slaves in the old time had more than we had then. But we did not murmur; the greater griefs had swallowed up the less. I said, ' Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow? ' But the end was not yet.

"You have heard the story of the great march, the march to the sea? But there was another march after that, a march of which your own writers have said that its route was marked by a pillar of smoke by day and of flame by night—the march through South Carolina. The Northern soldiers shouted when they came to the yellow tide of the Savannah, and looked across and knew that the other shore was South Carolina soil. They crossed, and Carolina was bowed to the dust. Those were the days we cried in the morning, ' O God, that it were night!' and in the night, ' O God, that it were morning!' Retribution, do you say? It may be so. But love for our State seemed loyalty to us; and slavery was the sin of our fathers, not ours. Surely we have expiated it now.

"'Chile, chile, dey is come!' cried old Cassy, bursting into my room one afternoon, her withered black face grayly pale with fear. I went out. Cavalrymen were sweeping the village of all it contained, the meager little that was left to us in our penury. My father was asleep; how I prayed that he might not waken! Although an old man, he was fiery as a boy, and proudly, passionately rebellious against the fate which had come upon us. Our house was some distance back from the road, and broad grounds separated us from the neighboring residences. Cassy and I softly piled our pillows and cushions against the doors and windows that opened from his room to the piazza, hoping to deaden the sounds outside, for some of our people were resisting, and now and then I heard shouts and oaths. But it was of no use. My dear old father woke, heard the sounds, and rushed out into the street sword in hand; for he had been a soldier too, serving with honor through the Mexican War. Made desperate | | 192 by my fears for him, I followed. There was a mêlée in the road before our house; a high wind blew the thick dust in my eyes and half blinded me, so that I only saw struggling forms on foot and on horseback, and could not distinguish friend or foe. Into this group my father rushed. I never knew the cause of the contest; probably it was an ill-advised attack by some of our people, fiery and reasonless always. But, whatever it was, at length there came one, two, three shots, and then the group broke apart. I rushed forward and received my old father in my arms, dying—dead. His head lay on my shoulder as I knelt in the white road, and his silver hair was dabbled with blood; he had been shot through the head and breast, and lived but a moment.

"We carried him back to the house, old Cassy and I, slowly, and with little regard for the bullets which now whistled through the air; for the first shots had brought together the scattered cavalrymen, who now rode through the streets firing right and left, more at random, I think, than with direct aim, yet still determined to ' frighten the rebels,' and avenge the soldier, one of their number, who had been killed at the beginning of the fray. We laid my father down in the center of the hall, and prepared him for his long sleep. No one came to help us; no one came to sorrow with us; each household gathered its own together and waited with bated breath for what was still to come. I watched alone beside my dead that night, the house-doors stood wide open, and lights burned at the head and foot of the couch. I said to myself, ' Let them come now and take their fill.' But no one disturbed me, and I kept my vigil from midnight until dawn; then there came a sound of many feet, and when the sun rose our streets were full of blue-coated soldiers, thousands upon thousands; one wing of the great army was marching through. There was still hot anger against us for our resistance, and when the commanding officers arrived they ordered guards to be stationed at every house, with orders to shoot any man or boy who showed himself outside of his | | 193 doorway. All day and night the Federal soldiers would be passing through, and the guards gave notice that if another man was injured twenty rebel lives should answer for it.

"'We must bury my father, you and I together, Cassy,' I said; 'there is no one to help us. Come!'

"The old woman followed me without a word. Had I bidden her go alone, even as far as the door-step, she would have cowered at my feet in abject terror; but, following me, she would have gone unquestioning to the world's end. The family burial-place was on our own grounds, according to the common custom of the South; thither we turned our steps, and in silence hollowed out a grave as best we could. The guard near by watched us with curiosity for some time; at last he approached:

"'What are you two women doing there?'

"'Digging a grave.'

"'For whom?'

"'For my father, who lies dead in the house.'

"He withdrew a short distance, but still watched us closely, and when all was ready, and we returned to the house for our burden, I saw him signal the next guard. 'They will not interrupt us,' I said; 'we are only two women and a dead man.'

"I wrapped my dear father in his cloak, and covered his face; then we bore the lounge on which he lay out into the sunshine down toward the open grave. The weight of this poor frame of ours when dead is marvelous, and we moved slowly; but at length we reached the spot. I had lined the grave with coverlids and a fine linen sheet, and now, with the aid of blankets, we lowered the clay to its last resting-place. Then, opening my prayer-book, I read aloud the service for the burial of the dead, slowly, and without tears, for I was thinking of the meeting above of the old father and his two boys: ' Lord, thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made, thou art God from | | 194 everlasting.' I took a clod and cast it upon the shrouded breast below. ' Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,' I said, and old Cassy, kneeling opposite, broke forth into low wailing, and rocked her body to and fro. Then we filled the grave. I remember that I worked with feverish strength; if it was not done quickly, I knew I could never do it at all. Can you realize what it would be to stand and shovel the earth with your own hands upon your dead?—to hear the gravel fall and strike?—to see the last shrouded outline disappear under the stifling, heavy clods? All this it was mine to do. When it was over I turned to go, and for the first time lifted my eyes. There at the fence-corner stood a row of Federal soldiers, silent, attentive, and with bared heads; my father was buried with military honors after all.

"During all that day and night the blue-coated ranks marched by; there seemed to be no end to the line of glittering muskets. I watched them passively, holding the orphan-boy on my knee; I felt as though I should never move or speak again. But after the army came the army-followers and stragglers, carrion-birds who flew behind the conquerors and devoured what they had left. They swept the town clean of food and raiment; many houses they wantonly burned; what they could not carry with them they destroyed. My own home did not escape: rude men ransacked every closet and drawer, and cut in ribbons the old portraits on the wall. A German, coming in from the smoke-house, dripping with bacon-juice, wiped his hands upon my wedding-veil, which had been discovered and taken from its box by a former intruder. It was a little thing; but, oh, how it hurt me! At length the last straggler left us, and we remained in the ashes. We could not sit down and weep for ourselves and for our dead; the care of finding wherewithal to eat thrust its coarse necessity upon us, and forced us to our feet. I had thought that all the rest of my life would be but a bowed figure at the door of a sepulchre; but the camp-followers came by, took the bowed figure by the arm, and forced it back to every-day | | 195 life. We could no longer taste the luxury of tears. For days our people lived on the refuse left by the army, the bits of meat and bread they had thrown aside from their plenty; we picked up the corn with which they had fed their horses, kernel by kernel, and boiled it for our dinner; we groped in the ashes of their camp-fires; little children learned the sagacity of dogs seeking for bones, and quarreled over their findings. The fortune of war, do you say? Yes, the fortune of war! But it is one thing to say, and another thing to feel!

"We came away, madam, for our home was in ashes—old Cassy, the child, and I; we came on foot to this place, and here we have staid. No, the fields are never cultivated now. The dike has been broken down in too many places, and freshets have drained all the good out of the soil; the land is worthless. It was once my father's richest field. Yes, Cassy is dead. She was buried by her own people, who forgave her at the last for having been so spiritless as to stay with 'young missis,' when she might have tasted the glories of freedom over in the crowded hollow where the blacks were enjoying themselves and dying by the score. In six months half of them were gone. They had their freedom—oh, yes, plenty of it; they were quite free—to die! For, you see, madam, their masters, those villainous old masters of theirs, were no longer there to feed and clothe them. Oh! it was a great deliverance for the enfranchised people! Bitter, am I? Put yourself in my place.

"What am I going to do? Nothing. The boy? He must take his chances. Let him grow up under the new régime; I have told him nothing of the old. It may be that he will prosper; people do prosper, they tell me. It seems we were wrong, all wrong; then we must be very right now, for the blacks are our judges, councilors, postmasters, representatives, and law-makers. That is as it should be, isn't it? What! not so? But how can it be otherwise? Ah, you think that a new king will arise who knows not Joseph—that is, that a new generation will come to whom these questions | | 196 will be things of the past. It may be so; I do not know. I do not know anything certainly any more, for my world has been torn asunder, and I am uprooted and lost. No, you can not help me, no one can help me. I can not adjust myself to the new order of things; I can not fit myself in new soil; the fibers are broken. Leave me alone, and give your help to the young; they can profit by it. The child? Well, if—if you really wish it, I will not oppose you. Take him, and bring him up in your rich, prosperous North; the South has no place for him. Go, and God speed you! But, as for me, I will abide in mine own country. It will not be until such as I have gone from earth that the new blood can come to her. Let us alone; we will watch the old life out with her, and when her new dawning comes we shall have joined our dead, and all of us, our errors, our sins, and our sufferings will be forgotten."

<< story 5 story 10 >>