By Joel Chandler Harris
LATE in the seventies—or, it may have been the first year of the eighties—when Colonel Bolivar Blasengame (so named after the great South American liberator) was working up a "boom" in real estate in and around Halcyondale in middle Georgia, the visitors who responded to his ingeniously worded and highly colored invitations invariably paused (on their way from the depot to the hotel) to admire a fine old house that sat far back from the red and dusty thoroughfare. Invariably, because, if by chance the visitors failed to remark the prospect, Colonel Blasengame was sure to rivet their attention upon it. That done, their admiration might be taken for granted.
And, in this case, admiration was not unreasonable, for the house, which sat in the middle of a five-acre lot, was a very elegant and substantial specimen of the colonial style of architecture. The picture it presented was pleasing to the eye and soothing to the mind. It suggested peace and repose. Munificence and good taste seemed to have joined hands in rearing the structure, which, both in mass and detail, was grandly simple. There was not a flaw in the imposing beauty and dignity of its proportions. The noble columns of the piazza rose to the roof, where they blossomed into carved capitals, while behind them, apparently suspended in the air, hung a balcony beautiful enough to serve as a stage for Juliet's amorous discourse.
The house was painted white, and time had mellowed without dimming the color. On the roof a flock of white and blue pigeons preened and cooed, or rose circling in the upper air, as caprice seized them. This fine piece of architecture was not without its appropriate and harmonious surroundings. Large as it was, it seemed to cuddle in the bosom of the grove of oaks that grew about it, the trees raising their tall tops above it in primitive grandeur. Two immense specimens of box-wood stood like sentinels at the corners of the house fronting the lawn, and neatly trimmed privet hedges enclosed and marked the course of a wide driveway. The hedges parted company at the double-gate, to meet again and merge into one on the thither side of the house.
Colonel Blasengame had gone into the business of speculation for the entire community, and, taking his cue from some energetic and thrifty spirits whose marvellous enterprise had been blown about on the wings of the newspapers, he had arranged a very ingenious and attractive programme for drawing the attention of well-to-do settlers from the North and Northwest. The Colonel had a double purpose in view in calling attention to the fine house and its picturesque surroundings: first, because the structure was one of the "sights" of the neighborhood, giving an atmosphere of distinction to the whole region; and, second, because it served to introduce a story which he rightly judged would make his Northern and Western visitors feel that the air they were breathing was not entirely alien.
It is unnecessary, and it would be improper, to give the Colonel's version of the story. He suppressed or ignored many vital facts, and gave over to hopeless exaggeration many details essentially simple. This may have been due to forgetfulness; for assuredly it was not ignorance that led the Colonel to suppress the fact that he himself was one of the chief actors in the little drama.
The house was built in the forties by Aaron Chippendale, a man of most substantial parts, whose individuality and independence won for him an enviable reputation in middle Georgia, where these characteristics were by no means uncommon. He might have boasted of his ancestors with good reason, but his lot was cast among the most democratic people the world has ever seen, and in a section where, to this day, the ideals of character and conduct are held in higher esteem than wealth or ancient lineage.
In this society the Chippendales lived and flourished until Aaron died in 1855, leaving a widow and two children, Tom and Irene. The widow followed her husband in 1859. When this last bereavement came Tom was twenty-two and Irene nineteen, and both were fully capable of managing the estate—Tom by reason of experience already acquired, and Irene by reason of common-sense and observation; for, although she was a very womanly young woman, she had never chosen to put on the airs or play the part of the grand lady.
Even if Irene had not been brought up in an atmosphere of simplicity and industry, these traits would have been hers by right of inheritance. They were bred in the bone. She had travelled a good deal, and her very liberal education was supplemented by a course of miscellaneous reading. Simple and democratic as she was, her ideals were too high to suit the views of the marriageable young men of Halcyondale. Nevertheless, they continued to hover around her, though in an aimless and a hesitating sort of way; for she was not only very attractive to the masculine eye, but had a comfortable fortune at her command.
She was a trifle taller than the average of her sex, and, therefore, according to all the theories, she should have had a great deal of dignity; but buoyancy took the place of stateliness, and gave an unexpected charm to her manner. She was not beautiful according to the rules, but her face was singularly attractive, having that magnetic quality, which, since it can be traced to no particular feature, is beyond description. Her personality was restful and helpful to appreciative people, especially to those in trouble; and even the young gallants who hovered around her when opportunity permitted, would have had no uncomfortable feelings in her presence had they not allowed themselves to be baffled by her extreme simplicity and candor, which they knew not how to interpret.
To the eye, brother and sister seemed to be opposites. She was a brunette, while he was florid, fair-haired, and fat. In his face the lines of good-humor and mirth were well developed, while Irene's countenance most frequently wore a pensive, serious expression. But appearances are frequently deceitful. Behind Tom's mirthfulness, firmness and determination dwelt, and behind Irene's pensiveness humor had its jocund abiding-place, flanked by a will as strong as Tom's.
Irene's name for her brother was Master Toodie, to which Tom responded by calling her Miss Priss—a term for which you will search the dictionaries in vain, for it conveys no meaning to the scholarly ear. Nevertheless, "prissy" is a good English word, being apt and effective when properly applied, and is not likely to be lost to the language because the reference-books ignore it. The point of its application to Irene lay in the fact that, while it is descriptive of attitudes and poses, which she never saw without a shiver of disgust, it fitted, with laughable precision, her mental attitude toward the common run of Tom's blind, awkward, and unfortunate sex.
There was one young man, however, who stood apart from the rest in her fancy. This was Harvey Haskell, who had been Tom's college-mate, and who was now his chum. For a long time Irene could see nothing in this young man different from the rest, and she often wondered why Tom had chosen him to be his bosom friend and companion. And, indeed, there seemed to be little in common between them. Tom was jovial, always ready for a frolic, and with plenty of money to gratify his whims and desires, while Harvey Haskell was serious and dignified, with no taste for ordinary amusements, and as poor as a church-mouse. At one time—for the feminine mind is cutely sage and suspicious—Irene had an idea that Haskell, under cover of his friendship for Tom, was burning incense at her altar. The thought put her to the blush and vexed her, not because she was averse to the offering, but because, like all young women, she had no enjoyment in incense that she could not get a whiff of. Afterward, and for some years, she abused herself roundly for giving entertainment to the suspicion.
Afternoons and evenings, the two young men were rarely apart. Tom would go to Haskell's small and musty office and sit patiently until his friend was through with his law books, and then they would stroll through the woods, or roll nine-pins or play billiards, or sit on the chippendale piazza and discuss questions common to their experience and understanding. Whatever the tie existing between temperaments so radically dissimilar outwardly, they were inseparable when leisure permitted them to be together.
On one occasion, after the two young men had been conversing more confidentially than usual, Irene observed that her brother was inclined to be mopish. This was so unusual that she made bold to inquire as to the cause, and such was her persistence that Tom felt obliged to tell her. But it was not of much importance after all. Tom had found out, in some way, that Haskell was in sore need of ready money, and had offered to lend his friend as much as he wanted. The proffer was gently but firmly declined.
"I would take it and be glad to get it, Tom," Haskell had said, "if I were not so dreadfully in need of it. But I have made up my mind to fight it out alone. If I whip the fight I'll be something of a man; if I'm whipped I'll be—well, I'll be just what I am."
Tom made a faithful report of this speech to Irene, closing abruptly with, "Now, what do you think of that?"
"Why, I think what I've always thought," she promptly replied; "the man is daft."
But of course this was not what she thought at all. It made her pulse beat high to know there was a young man in the world capable of entertaining such notions, and strong enough to stand by them. Women, as we know, are terribly unpractical at times, and especially in matters of this kind.
Well, anyhow, Harvey Haskell won his battle, by what shifts and at what sacrifices large or small it is not our business to inquire. But he had no sooner settled down to enjoy the first-fruits of his victory than the trumpets sounded summons to a real war; and he and Tom, in common with nearly all the young men of that region, were drawn pell-mell into the centre of the murderous conflict.
Now, while the people of the North and South, armed with guns, were treating one another with unpolite familiarity, Irene Chippendale was managing the affairs of the estate the best she could, and she did it very well The system her father had introduced was so perfect that all she had to do was to keep the ends from falling loose, as the saying is. And as she found time for thought, it was natural that she should think of Harvey Haskell whenever she thought of Tom, and on more than one occasion she sent him a souvenir in the shape of a tobacco-pouch, or some present more substantial, in the boxes periodically expressed to her brother. Invariably these gifts, small as they were, brought from the young man a cordial note of thanks.
Haskell was made captain, and then colonel, and, at Malvern Hill, was promoted to be a brigadier-general. Tom's career was not so brilliant, but he was a solid fighter, and was finally made adjutant of Haskell's brigade. And then all promotions of whatsoever kind were suddenly cut short in the Southern army by the falling of the curtain on the dismal spectacle of war.
Tom came home, not much the worse for wear, bringing word that Haskell had fallen in with some kinsmen in Virginia with whom he would spend a long-needed vacation. The Chippendales were not wholly given over to poverty by the war, for Aaron Chippendale, with a shrewdness that was an offset to his simplicity, had invested in the commercial future of the village. He had built and owned more than half the stores on the only business street in Halcyondale, and these made a very handsome return on the investment; for whatever else happens, business and trade must go on. Since people must buy, there must be men to sell to them, and these last must have fairly comfortable quarters whereat to display their wares. Thus it was that Aaron Chippendale's foresight made itself felt, not only on his beloved children, but on the community itself, for Irene and Tom, out of their income, large for that time and place, were able to give succor to many unfortunates among their friends and acquaintances.
As for Harvey Haskell, he fell in with some relatives in Virginia, as we have seen, and his talent for war, together with the commission based thereon, did for him what consanguinity never could have done. It caused his kindred to seek him out and lay claims upon his time and attention; and, what with resting from the cares and duties of a very active command, and with convalescing from a long and very trying spell of fever that sapped all his energies and came within one of carrying him off, he remained among them a long time.
He had been absent from Halcyondale six years almost to a day (Irene called his attention to the fact later) when he returned and found himself, willy-nilly, the central figure, as it were, in an episode that threatened to be as aggravating as any in his career. And thereby hangs the tale that Colonel Blasengame so often spoiled in the telling.
In the late spring of 1866, there came to Halcyondale, Mr. Orestes Richardson and his daughter Grace. They began housekeeping on a modest scale by renting the small but comfortable house in which Aaron Chippendale had lived before he built the more ambitious structure to which attention has been directed. Father and daughter were very quiet and retiring in their habits. They did not seek acquaintances. The few neighbors who called on them out of curiosity, or in search of food for gossip, did not meet with an encouraging reception. Early every morning the father would visit the village post-office, where he received a surprising number of newspapers. On his return his daughter would run over to the Chippendales for a pitcher of milk, which Irene sold under protest, or, rather, which she permitted to be sold by Mammy Minty, the cook. This was the extent of their goings and comings, so far as their neighbors could perceive; but this was not the way to escape observation in a small community. It simply made them conspicuous and gave zest to rumor. Even Irene, who had caught a glimpse of Miss Richardson now and then, and noted that she was a tall young woman with a profusion of yellow hair, was anxious to find out something substantial and satisfactory about her new neighbors. So, when Mammy Minty showed a tendency to gossip about them, Irene made no protest.
"Dey aint our kind er white folks," said the cook, "kaze when I say we don't sell no milk, she ax ef we ain't got none ter spar'. I 'low we got 'bun'ance, but dat we don't sell it. Dat what we don't use we gi' ter de chickens, an' dat what de chickens don't want, we gi' ter de pigs. But she say she want ter buy it an' pay de money down. I 'low dat she kin have all she want, but she say ef she can't buy it she don't want none. I up an' 'low, I did, dat she mus' be mo' richer dan what she look, but she say dat ain't got nothin' 'tall ter do wid it, kaze folks don't hatter be too rich fer ter pay fer dat what dey git. So I say, here's what don't keer ef Miss Irene don't, an' den she planked down er shinplaster an' I po'd out de milk, an' I gin her good medjer, too, ef I does say it myse'f. Nex' day she up an' ax me what my name, an' I 'low hit's Minty. Den she say de full name mus' be Arryminty, an' I 'low ef dat's de case, I shedded de Arry whence I wuz too little fer ter cry 'bout it. She's a mighty talker. She ax me ter day ef I glad I free, an' I make answer dat I hatter work so hard, I ain't had no time fer ter ax myse'f 'bout dat. She say I oughter be mighty, mighty glad; an' den I ax her what de diffunce in hard work one year an' harder work de nex'; but 'bout dat time Marse Tom come sa'nt'in' roun' de cornder er de house, an' she wuz de wuss flurried white gal you ever laid eyes on. She snatched up her pitcher an' Marse Tom snatched off his hat. He ax her ef he can't tote de milk fer her, but she got red in de face an' 'low dat 'tain't no trouble ter tote it. But you know how Marse Tom is. Ef dat white gal hadn't broke an' run, he'd er tuck de pitcher 'way fum her anyhow."
This was Mammy Minty's report, more accurate than satisfactory. Meanwhile rumor was busy, being spurred on by the thousand and one prejudices growing out of Southern defeat, and by the irritation resulting from the obnoxious Reconstruction Laws. Fresh as that period is in the memory, it is difficult to reproduce, on paper, even a hint of the bubbling, boiling, hissing cauldron in which one party heated water to pour on the other party's back. It is difficult to revive, even for a moment, an adequate recollection of that desperate crisis when the politicians on both sides gave themselves over to attacks and reprisals brutal enough to belong to the dark ages.
Mr. Orestes Richardson was a problem but the vigorous watchfulness and painfully keen suspicions of his neighbors were not long in fathoming what they thought were his plans and purposes. They hit upon the substance and missed the essence. They mistook him for a politician, whereas he was simply a missionary. It is safe to say that a man more innocent and harmless, more earnest and persistent than Mr. Orestes Richardson was not to be found on the face of the earth. A school-teacher in Maine, he had lived a secluded and scholarly life, until he was suddenly fired with the idea that the war had found and left him a mission. Why should he devote his days and nights to teaching those who would be taught in any event, when, in the far South, there were millions of benighted souls that needed to be uplifted? Yea, why? The scheme absorbed and inthralled him. No fanatic was ever more completely captured and consumed by an idea. To uplift the black people—that was the scheme to which he gave his waking thoughts and fondly carried out in his dreams. The negro he yearned over was the negro of politics and literature. The real negro, Mr. Orestes Richardson had no conception of whatever. Living in Maine, he could not know that the genuine negro is as superior to the negro of politics and literature as man is superior to a myth.
So he came South and his daughter came with him; and, after looking over the ground, as he termed it, he determined to make Halcyondale his head-quarters. At that point he would begin his work of uplifting, and gradually enlarge his field of operations.
Now it happened that at the moment Mr. Orestes Richardson and his daughter came to Halcyondale, public opinion was tremendously stirred up over the fact that certain alien political agents, known as carpet-baggers, had been going about organizing the negroes into "Union Leagues." It was soon known, from the negroes themselves, that the chief object of their organization was to array the blacks against the whites, and this discovery aroused the deepest resentment, giving rise to many acts of unreasoning violence.
Just when this feeling was at its height, Mr. Orestes Richardson, the uplifter, as innocent of practical politics and as free from a desire to stir up strife as the bird that flies, appeared on the scene. Rumor, whetted by suspicion, made him out a very dangerous character. He had lectured to the negroes in their little church, and he had organized a colored school. Suspicion, giving a crooked tongue to rumor, would have it that these things were the mere surface indications of the activity of this man in forming "Union Leagues," in fomenting strife between the races, and in urging the negroes to make reprisals on the lives and property of their late masters. All these things were on the political cards in that day.
In the midst of this atmosphere, Mr. Orestes Richardson, the uplifter, found himself. A mere atom of humanity, his figure, projected against the screen of this situation, assumed colossal proportions—a giant and demon.
But he never realized it. He knew less of life than his daughter did, except as a scholar and a student may be said to know it by inference and hearsay. It was in vain that the more sober and conservative citizens of the community dropped hints and intimations in his ears; it was in vain that the more reckless uttered veiled threats. He took none of them home to himself. Having no prejudice whatever against the Southern people, simply deploring the necessity that had made them slave-owners, charged with the patriotic views of Lincoln, and holding all men equally in his good-will, it was simply impossible that he should conceive himself to be the object of suspicion. His simplicity was a match for his sincerity. He had come to teach the negroes the value of individuality, to tell them that their freedom would be worth no more to them than to a flock of sheep unless they made it the basis of character, industry, and economy. He was in the field a quarter of a century too soon, as all men now know; but how was he to know it then?
But since no man asked these questions while Mr. Orestes Richardson was occupied with his unrewarded and unrecognized labors at Halcyondale, why ask them now? For one thing because they shed a side-light on the events that followed the failure of the Uplifter (as he was contemptuously referred to in Halcyondale) to heed the various warnings, oral and written, that came to ears and hands. He had come to the South expecting to be misunderstood, and was even prepared to be the victim of persecution, but, even at the worst, he fully expected the work he was undertaking to be his complete vindication; and it was not the fault of his sincerity and honesty that the vindication never came.
What did come was very surprising to Mr. Orestes Richardson, though a man less sincere and simple-minded would have been prepared for anything after his interview with Colonel Blasengame. It seems that the Colonel roused himself from his slumbers earlier one morning than usual, for the sole purpose of having a confidential talk with the Uplifter. They met at the post-office.
"Judge," remarked the Colonel in his suavest tones, "if you can spare me five minutes I'd like mighty well to have a little confidential talk with you."
Mr. Orestes Richardson was more than willing, and Colonel Blasengame, though there was nobody within hearing and but few persons to be seen at all, took the man's arm and led him to the stile, or steps, leading over the fence that surrounded the court-house, where, the Colonel explained, no one was likely to interrupt them. When at last they had reached that point of municipal seclusion, and seated themselves, Colonel Blasengame appeared to be somewhat embarrassed. He had a piece of white pine which he began to whittle nervously, and he chewed his tobacco vigorously.
"Judge," he said, finally, "I dunno whether's it's any of my blamed business, but I thought I'd take it on myself to tell you how the boys are talkin'. It may be doin' you a favor and it may not; it's accordin' to how you look at it. It's the talk of the county that you are goin' around amongst the niggers organizin' these here danged Union leagues, and tellin' 'em that the white folks are makin' all arrangements to put 'em in slavery ag'in."
"That is a mistake," replied Mr. Orestes Richardson, with a smile. "I know nothing of the leagues, except through report. I am no politician."
"That's what I told the boys," remarked Colonel Blasengame, reassuringly; "almost them very words. Now, if it was the town boys, everything would be all right; we'd have the smoothest kind of sailin'. But it's them pleggon'd country chaps. They live out there in the woods and swamps, an' when they git an idee in their heads it's danged hard to git it out ag'in—next to impossible, as you may say. From all that I can hear, an' I hear a great deal more than I want to, some of these country chaps are fixin' up to invite you to a little frolic."
"I'm much too old for frolics," remarked Mr. Orestes Richardson, sorting his letters carefully. "I have no time but for my duties. These are pressing enough, heaven knows."
"In regards to which, for instance?" suggested Colonel Blasengame with a dryness that made no impression whatever on the Uplifter.
"Well, sir," responded Mr. Richardson, "with respect to elevating and uplifting the unfortunate people who have so suddenly been cast on their own resources."
"I reckon you think a white man is most as good as a nigger, don't you?" inquired Colonel Blasengame. There was just a shade—the faintest tinge—of indignation in his tone.
"In what respect?" Mr. Richardson asked, simply and seriously. Colonel Blasengame was so nearly boiling over with indignation that he would not trust himself to reply. He merely dipped his sharp knife an eighth of an inch deeper into the white pine paddle he had been fashioning. "It is important to know in what respect," Mr. Richardson went on calmly; "for if a white man has taken due advantage of his opportunities he should be a great deal more useful in every way than a negro, and, therefore, from a practical point of view, a great deal better."
Into these waters Colonel Blasengame did not care to wade. He simply shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. When he did speak, he gave a new direction to the interview.
"Well, I just thought I'd see you. and drop you a hint," he said. "These danged country chaps have got old Nick in 'em since the surrender. They think you're stirrin' up the niggers ag'in the whites, and preachin' social equality and the like of that, an' you couldn't git the idee out of their heads to save your life. Some time or other they'll git a dram or two ahead, an' they'll ride into town after you, and when they do it'll be all-night-, as sure as you're born. Now, if I was in your place, knowin' what I do, I wouldn't have the least hesitation about leavin' these diggin's. Anyways, if I didn't go myself, I know mighty well I'd send the young lady off."
"My daughter? I have nowhere to send her," the Uplifter explained.
"No kinfolks, nor friends, nor anything of that kind?" persisted Colonel Blasengame.
"None that she'd be willing to go to," the Uplifter said.
Colonel Blasengame's whittling came slowly to a conclusion. The shavings from the strokes of his knife grew thinner and thinner, smaller and smaller. At last he threw the paddle from him with an exclamation of impatience, and rose to his feet. The other rose also.
"I jest thought I'd let you know how things was movin'," he explained. "A wink is as good as a nod to a blind hoss, they say."
"I'm very much obliged to you, sir," said the Uplifter. "I'd be very glad if you'd read a little pamphlet of mine on 'The Potency of an Upright Life.' I'll send it to you; I think you'll like it." He offered his hand at parting, and gripped the Colonel's with great warmth and strength, and went hurrying down the street.
The Colonel stood for some moments, looking first at the retreating form of Mr. Orestes Richardson, and then at his hand, which, for some reason or other, he still held stretched out. Finally he rubbed the member on his breeches, and looked at it again—and by this time Mr. Orestes Richardson had disappeared.
"It's what I call pretty damned tough," remarked the Colonel, confidentially to himself, and with that he went home to an earlier breakfast than usual.
It is due to the truth of history to say that Mr. Orestes Richardson read no warning in the Colonel's words and gestures, and had not gone ten steps on his homeward way before the whole conversation (with the exception of the remark about his pamphlet) had passed entirely from his mind, never to be recalled again. He had expected for Colonel Blasengame to press him for a small loan of money, and judged him to be pretty far gone in his cups, whereas the Colonel had taken only two modest nips that morning.
Colonel Blasengame regarded himself as a very conservative citizen. And so he was. He was politic—a great stickler for ordinances, customs, systems, establishments, institutions, and things of that kind. He was an authority on the duelling code, and an active arbiter in all quarrels and disputes for which that code gave warrant of a peaceful settlement. He hated the radicals, as the republicans were called at that day, but his hatred was political, and not personal. In short, Colonel Blasengame was considered to be a very useful citizen, and he tried hard to live up to his reputation.
One day, some weeks after his conversation with Mr. Orestes Richardson, the Colonel found himself the centre of a very enthusiastic group of young men, the most of them living in the Fishing Creek settlement. It was Saturday, and on the heels of court, which they had been attending as jurors, witnesses, and spectators. The Colonel had been telling them a new series of war adventures, mixed with anecdotes too spicy for feminine ears. But after awhile the conversation lagged, and then turned on the political situation, a topic uppermost in the minds of all, no matter what else might be talked of. This reminded Colonel Blasengame of the friendly warning he had given Mr. Orestes Richardson, and he related the incident with such exaggeration as his own importance suggested.
"And I'll tell you what, boys," he concluded, "the man's game. He heard me out, and didn't bat his eyes. But it takes these measly little chaps to have sand in their gizzards. I remember Buck Sawyer——"
"Ain't the man gone, Colonel?" interrupted Bud Flewellen.
"Gone!" exclaimed the Colonel; "why he ain't no more gone than I am—not one bit and grain."
"And you all jest set down and let him go on day in and day out! Why, Colonel, it don't look reasonable to a man up a tree," said Flewellen.
To this all the young men agreed, making various emphatic remarks in regard to the carelessness of town people.
"Well, I'll tell you, boys," explained Colonel Blasengame; "I don't believe the man's doin' much harm, if any. That's my candid belief."
"Maybe you'd change your beliefs if you was to wake up some fine mornin' an' find the whole blasted town burnt up," said Mr. Flewellen.
"Well, I reckon I would," replied the Colonel.
"It'd be a mighty purty time to change your beliefs, now, wouldn't it?"
To this statement the Colonel vouchsafed no reply, but sat drumming on a chair with his fingers.
"And they do say," Mr. Flewellen went on, "that country folks is as green as grass."
"That's what I've been told," remarked Bill-Tom Birch.
"Where does the chap hang out?" Bud Flewellen inquired.
"Why, right spang in the little red house on the Chippendale lot," replied Colonel Blasengame.
"Is that so?" inquired Mr. Flewellen. His tone expressed real astonishment. Being reassured on that point, he continued: "Why, there's a gal there, and she's a blamed scrumptious lookin' little trick. I seen her this mornin'; yaller hair, big blue eyes, and a hand like—well, like a Cape jessamin." Mr. Flewellen leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and inwardly contemplated the vision which his words had conjured up.
"That's a fact!" exclaimed Colonel Blasengame, after a pause. "A mighty likely gal. That's why I hope you boys won't do anything that you'd maybe regret. I'm heartily sorry I brought the matter up," he went on. "I don't care what the man's up to: in town here we can take care of ourselves. Let the calaboose bell ring after hours, and we'll all be up and armed in ten minutes."
"Oh, quite so, quite so!" exclaimed Mr. Bill-Tom Birch, with a sinister grin. "It's all greased and fixed. Everything's on skids—in town; but what about we-all in the settlements. We ain't got no calaboose bell; we ain't got no great big crowd ready to muster every time a dog barks. You-all have got everything fixed but what are we all goin' to do when the worst comes to the worst and keeps on gittin' worser? I wish you'd tell me that."
If there was any answer to this, Colonel Blasengame didn't have it at his tongue's end, and, as for the others, it seemed to settle the matter. The Colonel realized this, apparently, and seemed to feel a sense of responsibility.
"Now, if I was you, boys," he said soothingly, "I'd jest get on my hoss and canter home. Whatever the man maybe a doin', there's the gal, and no Southern gentleman (I don't care who he is) can afford to do anything calculated to worry a young woman. By letting the man alone you let the gal alone."
Mr. Bill-Tom Birch's under-jaw was prominent enough at best, but it protruded a trifle farther, as he allowed his cold gray eyes to rest on the Colonel's pinkish face.
"Colonel," he said, "I reckon maybe you've forgot that we've got wimmin folks to look after. Who's goin' to up and beg somebody to let them alone when the pinch comes? Oh, no, Colonel; you can't come that game on us. We're goin' to stay in town a good part of the night, and if you and your town folks don't like that, why you can jest go home and go to bed and pull the cover over your head."
Colonel Blasengame dismissed the whole subject by a graceful flourish of his right hand. But he could not dismiss it from his mind. He had lost a daughter a year or two before, and she was constantly in his thoughts, but on this particular day she jumped into his memory and stayed there most persistently. She, too, would have answered to the description which Bud Flewellen had given of Mr. Orestes Richardson's daughter—"yellow hair, big blue eyes, and a hand like a Cape jessamin." The words rung in his head. " 'A hand like a Cape jessamin!' How did the blamed fool ever hit on it?" he asked himself. As he passed the stores going home to supper, he saw groups of young men sitting on the counters, eating cheese, sardines, and crackers, and they seemed to be enjoying the unusual fare. The boys from the Fishing Creek Settlement were taking a light lunch preparatory to a night's frolic.
When the Colonel reached home, he found his wife sitting in the hall-way patching a pair of his old trousers by the dim light of a lamp. He went in and sat on the lounge.
"I reckon supper'll be ready directly," she said with a sigh.
"I'm in no hurry, honey," he replied.
"I don't know what's going to happen." she remarked after awhile. "I've been thinking of Sally all the afternoon. It was almost the same as if she was in the house."
The faded woman looked at her husband with a faint smile to see what effect the statement would have on him. It seemed to have none whatever. He sat gazing at the floor twirling his thumbs. His wife sighed again, and bent over her work, with a vain wish that men had more sentiment than they have, or were more sympathetic than they are. Yet her remark made such a deep impression on Colonel Blasengame that it changed the whole tenor of his purpose. He accepted it as a sign. At the supper-table he betrayed more cheerfulness. "A hand like a Cape jessamin." He kept on repeating it to himself.
"Honey, which one of my guns has got the buckshot in it? Ain't it the one in your room? I thought so. Well, I'll have to borry your far-seein' specs to-night, and I wish you'd git Mrs. Winchell to stay all night with you. It'll be late when I come home."
Mrs. Blasengame asked no questions, but when he was ready to go, she tucked the ends of his cravat under his vest, saying, "Now, don't go and lose your temper."
"All right, honey. To-night's one of the nights when I'll jest have to hold in."
She laughed softly and patted him on the cheek. He stooped and kissed her, a proceeding so unusual that it brought a faint hint of a blush to her pale face. She watched him pass through the yard between the green files of dwarf boxwood, and heard him shut the gate carefully behind him, as was his wont. Then she turned away feeling a little happier than usual. She did not even ask herself what he was going to do with the shot-gun. Experience had taught her that the Colonel, whether in a riot, a hand-to-hand contest, or a vendetta, had the knack of staying at the front and taking care of himself.
When Colonel Blasengame left his front gate, he turned sharply to the left, thus avoiding the main thoroughfare that led through Halcyondale. He went two blocks and turned sharply to the right, still traversing what might be called a back street. He carried his gun at "trail arms," and moved rapidly. Presently he paused at the little red house where Mr. Orestes Richardson made his home. Without hesitation, he went along the gravelled walk, mounted the low steps and knocked at the door. There was a little flutter of preparation and expectation on the inside which was so natural that it reminded him of home. But the door was opened promptly enough—opened by Miss Grace Richardson.
"What is it?" she inquired.
"Good-evening, ma'm." Excess of politeness caused the Colonel to address even young girls as "ma'm." "My name is Blasengame. I'd like to see your pa. I'll not take up his time five minutes."
"Come in, sir," said Grace. "Father is not here, but if you want to see him on business of any kind I'll do as well."
"Not here!" exclaimed the Colonel, stepping across the threshold, and allowing his gun to rest at "order arms," seeing which Miss Richardson shrank back with surprise and alarm. "Not here! Why, I'm mighty sorry for that. He'd better be here, that's all I've got to say." The Colonel walked over to the fireplace and leaned his gun in the corner and wiped his face with his red silk handkerchief. "Why, what on earth—what is he doing?"
"Take that chair, Mr. Blasengame. What is the matter? What is the trouble? What has happened?"
The young woman was visibly excited. Apprehension looked from her eyes. She seated herself sidewise on a low lounge and threw a hand to her throat, as though the tightness of her collar vexed her. The Colonel noted this and again he thought of the Cape Jessamin and of his daughter.
"Won't you please tell me?" cried Grace. "Is there any trouble?"
"Trouble's on foot, ma'm; I've come here to stop it, but how can I stop it if your pa is away somewheres, I don't know where?"
"Why, he's teaching the colored people at their church," Grace explained.
Colonel Blasengame frowned heavily and pursed up his mouth as if to say something very emphatic, but he hesitated and the words died on his lips. Over the fireplace was a portrait of Grace painted when she was fifteen, and but for the color that the painter had ostentatiously put in, it was his dead daughter over again, even to a tricksy droop of the mouth.
"Please tell me what the trouble is," Grace insisted. "I'm not afraid."
"No, ma'm, I'll not worry you with it," replied the Colonel; "but I'll tell you this much: if your pa gits back before I do, don't you let him open that door to a livin' human bein'. If it must be opened, you open it yourself, and stand and hold it. And tell your pa to take that gun there and empty both loads in the first man that crosses the doorsill. Is there any body you can git to stay with you till he comes?"
"No one at all," said the young girl.
The Colonel paused. "I wonder if Miss Irene——"
"Oh, she's not friendly at all," exclaimed Grace, bridling a little.
"No matter," said the Colonel. He hesitated again, regarded the young woman closely, and started for the door. "Mind what I told you," he said as he stepped out into the darkness.
Grace held the door ajar until she heard the click of the gate as the Colonel shut it gently. Then she applied such bars to the door as lock and thumb-bolt provided, and, woman-like, also propped a chair against it. As she turned away, with no light heart, she heard a tap on the back door, and the sound of it nearly caused her to drop with excitement. Would the trouble which Colonel Blasengame had vaguely hinted at come from that direction? She crept into the dark back room and listened. The tapping came a trifle louder, and with it she heard the voice of Mammy Minty.
"Open de do', honey; 'taint nobody but me."
Grace could hardly get the door opened fast enough. Here, at least was friendly company. Mammy Minty had come over on business. She wanted to buy some of Grace's old things for her daughter, who was preparing to get married. Grace went about satisfying the desires of the old negro woman in the most deliberate way. She dived deep into her trunks, and fished out frocks that had not hitherto been aired in that atmosphere. She brought forth the treasures of her chest, and spread out the gowns that had long been hanging in the stuffy closet. She told the history of each, she higgled and quibbled and hesitated, all for the purpose of holding Mammy Minty as long as possible. At last the old negro gave a snort and a grunt.
"Huh! I done hear tell 'bout you-all Northron folks lovin' money, but de Lord knows I ain't never b'lieve hit wuz dis bad."
"What do you mean?" Grace inquired, taken by surprise.
"I mean 'bout deze cloze," replied Mammy Minty. "I offer you dollar an' a half fer dish yer frock, an' you 'low hit's wuff two dollars. Den I offer you dollar fer dis'n, an' you up'n say it's wuff dollar an' a half. Hit bangs my time, sho."
Grace saw she had carried higgling as far as she could, and then she proceeded to purchase delay.
"Why, you asked me what they were worth, and I told you," she said. "I am going to make you a present of the best one, and I think I can find you a little hat to go with it."
"Ma'm?" inquired Mammy Minty. She wanted to make sure she had heard aright. Thereupon Grace repeated the information.
"Is you gwine ter gi' um to me sho nuff, honey? Well, de Lord knows——"
She paused and listened. The tramp of heavy feet on the small porch arrested her attention. Then there came a knock, and a very decisive one, on the door. The old negro woman looked at the young white woman.
"Ain't you gwine ter open de do', honey?"
"No," replied Grace.
"How come? Don't you know who 'tis?" The young woman shook head. "Well, bless God! I'm gwine roun' de house an' see."
Mammy Minty crept cautiously to the front. There was no moon, but the stars were shining, and a pale light seemed to filtrate from the Milky Way. One man was walking about on the porch impatiently. A group of men stood near the gate. In the street three or four horsemen were congregated.
Mammy Minty took all this in at a glance and crept to the back door again. "Come on, honey, less go 'way from here! Hit's de Ku-kluck! Come on! Make 'as'e! Deyer gwine ter do damage dis night. Come on! run!"
But Grace Richardson shook her head. Now that the worst had come, she would remain. She was pale, but composed. If she went away, her father might return and find that his daughter had deserted him at this hour; and this thought held her with a strong grip and would not let her go.
Again the knock came on the door, and this time Mammy Minty disappeared from Grace's vision as suddenly and as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed her. Frightened as she was, the old negro did not lose her wits. She ran to the big house, toiled up the flight of back steps, and went into the wide hall only to find the house apparently deserted. Irene and Tom were sitting on the veranda. Mammy Minty lifted up her voice——
"Miss Irene! 's Irene! Oh, Miss Irene!"
"What is it, Mammy?" came the reply.
"I wish you'd please, ma'm, step here quick ez you kin."
Irene went tripping from the porch into the hall, where Mammy Minty was standing panting.
"Miss Irene! " she exclaimed, "you better run over yon' ter the yuther house. De white men is ku-kluckin' dat ar young 'oman."
"Nonsense! who told you?"
"I seed um. I seed um wid my own eyes. Dey got hosses! an', mo' dan dat, dey got guns! I seed um—an' when I come 'way fum dar, dey wuz lammin' on de do'. I speck dey done broke it down by now. An' she settin' dar by her own 'lone se'f."
"Brother Tom!" Irene called out. "Mammy has something to tell you. I can't wait."
She whisked along the hallway, gathered her skirt firmly in her hand as she went, fluttered down the steps, and went running through the lot, with not the least idea of what she intended to do. Near the back door of the red house she ran against two men. Stifling a scream, she flew past them and went in at the door without ceremony. Grace Richardson was leaning against the table. "You are in trouble," cried Irene; "what is it?" The friendly face and the eager, friendly voice were too much for the excited girl. She broke down and fell to weeping, and this was perhaps a very good thing under the circumstances.
Then came the sound of footsteps at the back door, and in walked the two men whom Irene had surprised by running against them—Colonel Blasengame and Mr. Orestes Richardson, the first a little red and fretful, the last as cool as a cucumber and wearing a smile of perfect peace and contentment.
"Howdy, Miss Irene?" said the Colonel. Then to Grace: "He would come. I tried to argy with him; but I might as well have been talkin' to a tree."
"He thought I was afraid," remarked Mr. Richardson, after politely greeting Irene.
"For your daughter's sake, Judge, you could well afford to be afraid. That's what I thought, and that's what I still think."
Over at Chippendale's, when Irene ran out of the hall, Mammy Minty waited to tell Tom the news, while Tom waited to be told. Finally he yawned, and this was too much for Mammy Minty. She walked to the door and gave the young man a piece of her mind.
"De Lord knows ef de ku-kluckers wuz trompin' 'bout on my place, an' I had a sister right 'mongst um, I wouldn't be settin' up here gapin' an' gwine on—dat I wouldn't!"
"What are you talking about, you fat rascal?" cried Tom, jocularly. "Gracious! if we had slavery times again, I'd give you a paddling!"
"Well, you better go yan' whar Miss Irene gone. De ku-kluckers done come atter dat Yankee man, and by dis time Miss Irine right 'mongst um. Den come back an' we'll see who'll git de paddlin'."
"By George!" cried Tom; "why didn't you tell me at first?"
"Kaze how I know but what you 'uz in wid um? An' 'sides dat, how kin I talk ter anybody when dey er gapin' an' noddin'?"
Tom Chippendale didn't wait to hear any explanation. He rushed into the house, seized his Winchester, emptied a box of cartridges into his coat-pockets, and went tearing through the lot at such a rate that he roused the dogs, and had them all chasing him in full cry. He arrived on the spot not half a minute behind Colonel Blasengame and his charge.
Now it happened, as Tom went out at the back door, a buggy drove up the gravelled walk to the front, and a gentleman bearing a valise alighted therefrom and dismissed the vehicle, which went rattling off. The new-comer walked leisurely up the steps with the air of a man sure of a welcome. Mammy Minty was still standing in the hall-way, and she came forward as the stranger approached the door.
"Howdy, Mammy? " he said, reaching forth his hand to greet her. The sonorous voice had a ring in it that stirred pleasant memories in Mammy's mind. She laughed aloud, crying out:
"Ain't dat Marse Harvey Haskell? Ah, Lord, honey! you nee'nter put on no long whiskers tryin' ter fool me! I'd know you ef you had yo' head in a bag!"
She took his valise and explained the situation in a few words.
"This is too bad!" he exclaimed. "I'll walk around and see how the trouble may be mended."
He had grown taller and stouter, and as he went down the steps holding himself proudly erect, Mammy Minty exclaimed to herself: "De Lord knows he's a man!"
Meanwhile Tom Chippendale took charge of affairs inside the house. Would Miss Richardson oblige him by sitting at the table where the light fell on her face? And would Mr. Richardson go into the next room out of range of the front door?
"One moment," said Mr. Richardson. "You are not doing this as the result of any special friendship for me?"
"No, not special," replied Tom. He looked at Grace as he spoke, and his face suddenly grew red, a symptom that was eloquently answered by a rosiness that crept into the young lady's face and persisted in displaying itself whenever Tom glanced at her.
There came another loud rap on the door, and this time it was promptly opened by Tom. The man at the door was evidently taken by surprise, for he slunk to one side.
"Is that you, Flewellen?" he said. "Come in; come right in! What is the trouble?"
The man was embarrassed, but he responded to the invitation, and Tom shut the door again.
Mr. Flewellen looked about him with quick-moving eyes, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The silence was painful until Tom Chippendale spoke again.
"Flewellen, what are you doing around my premises at this time of night?"
His voice was so harsh and so hard that Grace Richardson looked at him in surprise. The man as well as the voice had changed. The blushing, awkward young fellow had disappeared altogether, and in his place stood a self-poised, stern-faced man.
"If you want to find out about the whole business, go out there and ax the boys. I lay they'll tell you all you want to know." There was just the faintest glimmer of defiance in Mr. Flewellen's tone.
Tom Chippendale took his Winchester from the lounge, flung the door open and walked out, followed first by Mr. Flewellen, and then by Colonel Blasengame. Before the latter could shut the door Irene, by some sudden impulse, also went out. Two or three pine-torches had been lit to illuminate the scene, and by the fitful and flaring light of these, one could count from fifty to a hundred people, the most of them spectators and some of them young boys.
What would have happened if Tom Chippendale had been permitted to follow his impulses it is impossible to say, for he had a fierce temper when aroused. But just as he stepped to the front of the little porch, where he could see and be seen, a tall man clad in gray, entered the gate and advanced leisurely toward the house.
"Good-evening to one and all," he said, lifting his hat as he came up. His voice, strong and yet musical, carried far. It was heard in the highway where the mob was beginning to make a stir, and carried a thrill to the innocent bosom of a certain young woman on the porch, who was quick to recognize it, and who promptly shrank behind the friendly shadow of the honeysuckle vine that clambered across one corner.
"Why, General Haskell! Harvey!" cried Tom. He seized his old friend and hugged him as well as he could with one arm, the other holding the Winchester rifle.
Colonel Blasengame also gave the General a genuine, if somewhat boisterous, greeting.
Mr. Flewellen was less effusive, not because he was not a warm admirer of General Haskell, but because it was not his nature to expose his feelings to the light. He was glad to see the man he had served under, not only because he was fond of him, but because the General's opportune presence showed him a way out of a position that had now become too embarrassing to be comfortable.
"General," he said, "there's a whole lot of the boys out there, and they'd all be glad to see you."
"Not gladder than I'll be to see them," replied Harvey Haskell.
Whereupon Mr. Flewellen called to Birch and Dave Reddick and a few others, and told them that the General was there and would be glad to see them and shake hands with them. The whole crowd came rushing forward with a shout and a hurrah, for it was felt to convey some distinction to the whole population that the county and the town had produced a commander as famous as Harvey Haskell had come to be.
"You may be surprised to find me at this particular place," said the General, "but I went to Chippendale's, and finding the family gone, I concluded to pay my respects to the gentleman who lives here, and to thank him for some of the letters he has written to the Northern papers. He is the only Northern man who seems to understand the difficulties we are facing down here."
The only fabrication about this was that Harvey Haskell had not intended to call on this particular night.
"Well, dang me!" exclaimed Mr. Birch, scratching his head. "If that's the fact, I am mighty glad you come. Me and the boys was jest about to call on another little matter!"
"Well, I am glad you appreciate a gentleman who is trying to clear the atmosphere," remarked Harvey Haskell. He spoke seriously, but the tone of his voice carried a good deal of information to Mr. Birch's ears.
There was little more to be said after that. Some of the boys had far to ride, and they made haste to get on the road; so that in a little while peace fell around the place where, a few minutes before, there had been promise of a tragedy.
Then those who were left went inside, and if Harvey Haskell's greeting of Grace Richardson was a trifle more constrained than it should have been, it was because he fully expected to find another lady with her.
"Where is Miss Irene?" he asked, finally.
"Hiding out there on the porch," remarked Colonel Blasengame, with the air of an usher.
"On the porch! Why, I didn't see her," exclaimed General Haskell.
He hurried out, closing the door behind him. He found Irene in the darkest corner. He spoke to her and received no answer. She was crying.
"Won't you shake hands?" he asked. "I have come many a long mile to see you."
Well, he did shake hands, and although the porch was dark, Harvey Haskell found that he had come out to Irene in the very nick and score of time. A moment earlier, a second later, would have doomed him to a period of skirmishing for which he was not at all fitted.
As for Tom Chippendale, he began the next day a series of discussions with Mr. Orestes Richardson on the various problems of the hour, and after he had been uplifted by the Uplifter, he asked Grace if she wouldn't be so kind as to lift him to the seventh heaven, and she was kind enough to do so.
When Colonel Blasengame reached home that night, he found his wife sitting up for him—and still mending and patching.
"Why, honey!" he cried, "why don't you put up that everlastin' work and go to bed?"
"I've been doing it so long, it doesn't seem like work," she exclaimed, with a faint smile. "I thought you'd be tired, and I fixed you a pot of coffee. Mrs. Winchell couldn't come."
As the Colonel drank his coffee, he related the incidents of the night. His wife listened, asking a question now and then: how was the Yankee girl dressed, and did she seem to be afraid?
"Well," said the little woman at last, "you must watch that Flewellen. You've had one fuss with him."
"That's the reason I'll never have another," remarked the Colonel, dryly.
Then they went to bed, and by that time there was not a light to be seen in Halcyondale except the one that shone from the windows at Chippendale's where Harvey Haskell, speaking in no loud voice, was telling all the troubles he had had on account of the wrinkled and crooked course of true love.