A CERTAIN RICH MAN
WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE
Author of "Stratagems and Spoils," "The Court of Boyville," etc.
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A Certain Rich Man
New York The MacMillan Company 1909 All rights reserved Copyright, 1909, By The MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published July, 1909. Norwood Press J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
CHAPTER I 1 CHAPTER II 15 CHAPTER III 30 CHAPTER IV 51 CHAPTER V 59 CHAPTER VI 72 CHAPTER VII 84 CHAPTER VIII 95 CHAPTER IX 105 CHAPTER X 118 CHAPTER XI 135 CHAPTER XII 150 CHAPTER XIII 165 CHAPTER XIV 176 CHAPTER XV 193 CHAPTER XVI 206 CHAPTER XVII 227 CHAPTER XVIII 243 CHAPTER XIX 262 CHAPTER XX 275 CHAPTER XXI 294 CHAPTER XXII 304 CHAPTER XXIII 319 CHAPTER XXIV 334 CHAPTER XXV 339 CHAPTER XXVI 355 CHAPTER XXVII 365 CHAPTER XXVIII 382 CHAPTER XXIX 405 CHAPTER XXX 428
A CERTAIN RICH MAN
The woods were as the Indians had left them, but the boys who were playing there did not realize, until many years afterwards, that they had moved in as the Indians moved out. Perhaps, if these boys had known that they were the first white boys to use the Indians' playgrounds, the realization might have added zest to the make-believe of their games; but probably boys between seven and fourteen, when they play at all, play with their fancies strained, and very likely these little boys, keeping their stick-horse livery-stable in a wild-grape arbour in the thicket, needed no verisimilitude. The long straight hickory switches—which served as horses—were arranged with their butts on a rotting log, whereon some grass was spread for their feed. Their string bridles hung loosely over the log. The horsemen swinging in the vines above, or in the elm tree near by, were preparing a raid on the stables of other boys, either in the native lumber town a rifle-shot away or in distant parts of the woods. When the youngsters climbed down, they straddled their hickory steeds and galloped friskily away to the creek and drank; this was part of the rites, for tradition in the town of their elders said that whoever drank of Sycamore Creek water immediately turned horse thief. Having drunk their fill at the ford, they waded it and left the stumpy road, plunging into the underbrush, snorting and puffing and giggling and fussing and complaining—the big ones at the little ones and the little ones at the big ones—after the manner of mankind.
When they had gone perhaps a half-mile from the ford, one of the little boys, feeling the rag on his sore heel slipping and letting the rough woods grass scratch his raw flesh, stopped to tie up the rag. He was far in the rear of the pack when he stopped, and the boys, not heeding his blat, rushed on and left him at the edge of a thicket near a deep-rutted road. His cry became a whimper and his whimper a sniffle as he worked with the rag; but the little fingers were clumsy, and a heel is a hard place to cover, and the sun was hot on his back; so he took the rag in one hand and his bridle in the other, and limped on his stick horse into the thick shade of a lone oak tree that stood beside the wide dusty road. His sore did not bother him, and he sat with his back against the tree for a while, flipping the rag and making figures in the dust with the pronged tail of his horse. Then his hands were still, and as he ran from tune to tune with improvised interludes, he droned a song of his prowess. Sometimes he sang words and sometimes he sang thoughts. He sank farther and farther down and looked up into the tree and ceased his song, chirping instead a stuttering falsetto trill, not unlike a cricket's, holding his breath as long as he could to draw it out to its finest strand; and thus with his head on his arm and his arm on the tree root, he fell asleep.
The noon sun was on his legs when he awoke, and a strange dog was sniffing at him. As he started up, he heard the clatter of a horse's feet in the road, and saw an Indian woman trotting toward him on a pony. In an instant he was a-wing with terror, scooting toward the thick of the woods. He screamed as he ran, for his head was full of Indian stories, and he knew that the only use Indians had for little boys was to steal them and adopt them into the tribe. He heard the brush crackling behind him, and he knew that the woman had turned off the road to follow him. A hundred yards is a long way for a terror-stricken little boy to run through tangled underbrush, and when he had come to the high bank of the stream, he slipped down among the tree roots and tried to hide. His little heart beat so fast that he could not keep from panting, and the sound of breaking brush came nearer and then stopped, and in a moment he looked up and saw the squaw leaning over the bank, holding to the tree above him. She smiled kindly at him and said:—
"Come on, boy—I won't hurt you. I as scared of you as you are of me."
She bent over and took him by the arm and lifted him to her. She got on her pony and put him on before her and soothed his fright, as they rode slowly through the wood to the road, where they came to a great band of Indians, all riding ponies.
It seemed to the boy that he had never imagined there were so many people in the whole world; there was some parley among them, and the band set out on the road again, with the squaw in advance. They were but a few yards from the forks of the road, and as they came to it she said:—
"Boy—which way to town?"
He pointed the way and she turned into it, and the band followed. They crossed the ford, climbed the steep red clay bank of the creek, and filed up the hill into the unpainted group of cabins and shanties cluttered around a well that men, in 1857, knew as Sycamore Ridge. The Indians filled the dusty area between the two rows of gray houses on either side of the street, and the town flocked from its ten front doors before half the train had arrived. The last door of them all to open was in a slab house, nearly half a mile from the street. A washing fluttered on the clothes-line, and the woman who came out of the door carried a round-bottomed hickory-bark basket, such as might hold clothes-pins. Seeing the invasion, she hurried across the prairie, toward the town. She was a tall thin woman, not yet thirty, brown and tanned, with a strong masculine face, and as she came nearer one could see that she had a square firm jaw, and great kind gray eyes that lighted her countenance from a serene soul. Her sleeves rolled far above her elbows revealed arms used to rough hard work, and her hands were red from the wash-tub. As she came into the street, she saw the little boy sitting on the horse in front of the squaw. Walking to them quickly, and lifting her arms, as she neared the squaw's pony, the white woman said:—
"Why, Johnnie Barclay, where have you been?"
The boy climbed from the pony, and the two women smiled at each other, but exchanged no words. And as his feet touched the ground, he became conscious of the rag in his hand, of his bleeding heel, of his cramped legs being "asleep"—all in one instant, and went limping and whining toward home with his mother, while the Indians traded in the store and tried to steal from the other houses, and in a score of peaceful ways diverted the town's attention from the departing figures down the path.
That was the first adventure that impressed itself upon the memory of John Barclay. All his life he remembered the covered wagon in which the Barclays crossed the Mississippi; but it is only a curious memory of seeing the posts of the bed, lying flat beside him in the wagon, and of fingering the palm leaves cut in the wood. He was four years old then, and as a man he remembered only as a tale that is told the fight at Westport Landing, where his father was killed for preaching an abolition sermon from the wagon tongue. The man remembered nothing of the long ride that the child and the mother took with the father's body to Lawrence, where they buried it in a free-state cemetery. But he always remembered something of their westward ride, after the funeral of his father. The boy carried a child's memory of the prairie—probably his first sight of the prairie, with the vacant horizon circling around and around him, and the monotonous rattle of the wagon on the level prairie road, for hours keeping the same rhythm and fitting the same tune. Then there was a mottled memory of the woods—woods with sunshine in them, and of a prairie flooded with sunshine on which he played, now picking flowers, now playing house under the limestone ledges, now, after a rain, following little rivers down rocky draws, and finding sunfish and silversides in the deeper pools. But always his memory was of the sunshine, and the open sky, or the deep wide woods all unexplored, save by himself.
The great road that widened to make the prairie street, and wormed over the hill into the sunset, always seemed dusty to the boy, and although in after years he followed that road, over the hills and far away, when it was rutty and full of clods, as a child he recalled it only as a great bed of dust, wherein he and other boys played, now battling with handfuls of dust, and now running races on some level stretch of it, and now standing beside the road while a passing movers' wagon delayed their play. The movers' wagon was never absent from the boy's picture of that time and place. Either the canvas-covered wagon was coming from the ford of Sycamore Creek, or disappearing over the hill beyond the town, or was passing in front of the boys as they stopped their play. Being a boy, he could not know, nor would he care if he did know, that he was seeing one of God's miracles—the migration of a people, blind but instinctive as that of birds or buffalo, from old pastures into new ones. All over the plains in those days, on a hundred roads like that which ran through Sycamore Ridge, men and women were moving from east to west, and, as often has happened since the beginning of time, when men have migrated, a great ethical principle was stirring in them. The pioneers do not go to the wilderness always in lust of land, but sometimes they go to satisfy their souls. The spirit of God moves in the hearts of men as it moves on the face of the waters.
Something of this moving spirit was in John Barclay's mother. For often she paused at her work, looking up from her wash-tub toward the highway, when a prairie schooner sailed by, and lifting her face skyward for an instant, as her lips moved in silence. As a man the boy knew she was thinking of her long journey, of the tragedy that came of it, and praying for those who passed into the West. Then she would bend to her work again; and the washerwoman's child who took the clothes she washed in his little wagon with the cottonwood log wheels, across the commons into the town, was not made to feel an inferior place in the social system until he was in his early teens. For all the Sycamore Ridge women worked hard in those days. But there were Sundays when the boy and his mother walked over the wide prairies together, and she told him stories of Haverhill—of the wonderful people who lived there, of the great college, of the beautiful women and wise men, and best of all of his father, who was a student in the college, and they dreamed together—mother and child—about how he would board at Uncle Union's and work in the store for Uncle Abner—when the boy went back to Haverhill to school when he grew up.
On these excursions the mother sometimes tried to interest him in Mr. Beecher's sermons which she read to him, but his eyes followed the bees and the birds and the butterflies and the shadows trailing across the hillside; so the seed fell on stony ground. One fine fall day they went up the ridge far above the town where the court-house stands now, and there under a lone elm tree just above a limestone ledge, they spread their lunch, and the mother sat on the hillside, almost hidden by the rippling prairie grass, reading the first number of the Atlantic Monthly, while the boy cleared out a spring that bubbled from beneath a rock in the shade, and after running for a few feet sank under a great stone and did not appear again. As the mother read, the afternoon waned, and when she looked up, she was astonished to see John standing beside the rock, waist deep in a hole, trying to back down into it. His face was covered with dirt, and his clothes were wet from the falling water of the spring that was flowing into the hole he had opened. In a jiffy she pulled him out, and looking into the hole, saw by the failing sunlight which shone directly into the place that the child had uncovered the opening of a cave. But they did not explore it, for the mother was afraid, and the two came down the hill, the child's head full of visions of a pirate's treasure, and the mother's full of the whims of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.
The next day school began in Sycamore Ridge,—for the school and the church came with the newspaper, Freedom's Banner,—and a new world opened to the boy, and he forgot the cave, and became interested in Webster's blue-backed speller. And thus another grown-up person, "Miss Lucy," came into his world. For with children, men and women generically are of another order of beings. But Miss Lucy, being John Barclay's teacher, grew into his daily life on an equality with his dog and the Hendricks boys, and took a place somewhat lower than his mother in his list of saints. For Miss Lucy came from Sangamon County, Illinois, and her father had fought the Indians, and she told the school as many strange and wonderful things about Illinois as John had learned from his mother about Haverhill. But his allegiance to the teacher was only lip service. For at night when he sat digging the gravel and dirt from the holes in the heels of his copper-toed boots, that he might wad them with paper to be ready for his skates on the morrow, or when he sat by the wide fireplace oiling the runners with the steel curly-cues curving over the toes, or filing a groove in the blades, the boy's greatest joy was with his mother. Sometimes as she ironed she told him stories of his father, or when the child was sick and nervous, as a special favour, on his promise to take the medicine and not ask for a drink, she would bring her guitar from under the bed and tune it up and play with a curious little mouse-like touch. And on rare occasions she would sing to her own shy maidenly accompaniment, her voice rising scarcely higher than the wind in the sycamore at the spring outside. The boy remembered only one line of an old song she sometimes tried to sing: "Sleeping, I dream, love, dream, love, of thee," but what the rest of it was, and what it was all about, he never knew; for when she got that far, she always stopped and came to the bed and lay beside him, and they both cried, though as a child he did not know why.
So the winter of 1857 wore away at Sycamore Ridge, and with the coming of the spring of '58, when the town was formally incorporated, even into the boy world there came the murmurs of strife and alarms. The games the boys played were war games. They had battles in the woods, between the free-state and the pro-slavery men, and once—twice—three times there marched by on the road real soldiers, and it was no unusual thing to see a dragoon dismount at the town well and water his horse. The big boys in school affected spurs, and Miss Lucy brought to school with her one morning a long bundle, which, when it was unwrapped, disclosed the sword of her father, Captain Barnes, presented to him by his admiring soldiers at the close of the "Black Hawk War." John traded for a tin fife and learned to play "Jaybird" upon it, though he preferred the jew's-harp, and had a more varied repertory with it. Was it an era of music, or is childhood the period of music? Perhaps this land of ours was younger than it is now and sang more lustily, if not with great precision; for to the man who harks back over the years, those were days of song. All the world seemed singing—men in their stores and shops, women at their work, and children in their schools. And a freckled, barefooted little boy with sunburned curly hair, in home-made clothes, and with brown bare legs showing through the rips in his trousers, used to sit alone in the woods breathing his soul into a mouth-organ—a priceless treasure for which he had traded two raccoons, an owl, and a prairie dog. But he mastered the mouth-organ,—it was called a French harp in those days,—and before he had put on his first collar, Watts McHurdie had taught the boy to play the accordion. The great heavy bellows was half as large as he was, but the little chap would sit in McHurdie's harness shop of a summer afternoon and swing the instrument up and down as the melody swelled or died, and sway his body with the time and the tune, as Watts McHurdie, who owned the accordion, swayed and gyrated when he played. Mrs. Barclay, hearing her son, smiled and shook her head and knew him for a Thatcher; "No Barclay," she said, "ever could carry a tune." So the mother brought out from the bottom of the trunk her yellow-covered book, "Winner's Instructor on the Guitar," and taught the child what she could of notes. Thus music found its way out of the boy's soul.
One day in the summer of 1860, as he and his fellows were filing down the crooked dusty path that led from the swimming hole through the dry woods to the main road, they came upon a group of horsemen scanning the dry ford of the Sycamore. That was the first time that John Barclay met the famous Captain Lee. He was a great hulk of a man who, John thought, looked like a pirate. The boys led the men and their horses up the dry limestone bed of the stream to the swimming hole—a deep pool in the creek. The coming of the soldiers made a stir in the town. For they were not "regulars"; they were known as the Red Legs, but called themselves "The Army of the Border." Under Captain J. Lord Lee—whose life afterwards touched Barclay's sometimes—"The Army of the Border," being about forty in number, came to Sycamore Ridge that night, and greatly to the scandal of the decent village, there appeared with the men two women in short skirts and red leggins, who were introduced at Schnitzler's saloon as Happy Hally and Lady Lee. "The Army of the Border," under J. Lord and Lady Lee,—as they were known,—proceeded to get bawling drunk, whereupon they introduced to the town the song which for the moment was the national hymn of Kansas:—
"Am I a soldier of the boss, A follower of Jim Lane? Then should I fear to steal a hoss, Or blush to ride the same."
As the night deepened and Henry Schnitzler's supply of liquor seemed exhaustless, the Army of the Border went from song to war and wandered about banging doors and demanding to know if any white-livered Missourian in the town was man enough to come out and fight. At half-past one the Army of the Border had either gone back to camp, or propped itself up against the sides of the buildings in peaceful sleep, when the screech of the brakes on the wheels of the stage was heard half a mile away as it lumbered down the steep bank of the Sycamore, and then the town woke up. As the stage rolled down Main Street, the male portion of Sycamore Ridge lined up before the Thayer House to see who would get out and to learn the news from the gathering storm in the world outside. As the crowd stood there, and while the driver was climbing from his box, little John Barclay, white-faced, clad in his night drawers, came flying into the crowd from behind a building.
"Mother—" he gasped, "mother—says—come—mother says some one come quick—there's a man there—trying to break in!" And finding that he had made himself understood, the boy darted back across the common toward home. The little white figure kept ahead of the men, and when they arrived, they found Mrs. Barclay standing in the door of her house, with a lantern in one hand and a carbine in the crook of her arm. In the dark, somewhere over toward the highway, but in the direction of the river, the sound of a man running over the ploughed ground might be heard as he stumbled and grunted and panted in fear. She shook her head reassuringly as the men from the town came into the radius of the light from her lantern, and as they stepped on the hard clean-swept earth of her doorway, she said, smiling:
"He won't come back. I'm sorry I bothered you. Only—I was frightened a little at first—when I sent Johnnie out of the back door." She paused a moment, and answered some one's question about the man, and went on, "He was just drunk. He meant no harm. It was Lige Bemis—"
"Oh, yes," said Watts McHurdie, "you know—the old gang that used to be here before the town started. He's with the Red Legs now."
"Well," continued Mrs. Barclay, "he said he wanted to come over and visit the sycamore tree by the spring."
The crowd knew Lige and laughed and turned away. The men trudged slowly back to the cluster of lights that marked the town, and the woman closed her door, and she and the child went to bed. Instead of sleeping, they talked over their adventure. He sat up in bed, big-eyed with excitement, while his mother told him that the drunken visitor was Lige Bemis, who had come to revisit a cave, a horse thief's cave, he had said, back of the big rock that seemed to have slipped down from the ledge behind the house, right by the spring. She told the boy that Bemis had said that the cave contained a room wherein they used to keep their stolen horses, and that he tried to move the great slab door of stone and, being drunk, could not do so.
When the men of Sycamore Ridge who left the stage without waiting to see what human seed it would shuck out arrived at Main Street, the stage was in the barn, the driver was eating his supper, and the passenger was in bed at the Thayer House. But his name was on the dog-eared hotel register, and it gave the town something to talk about as Martin Culpepper was distributing the mail. For the name on the book was Philemon R. Ward, and the town after his name, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Every man and woman and most of the children in Sycamore Ridge knew who Philemon Ward was. He had been driven out of Georgia in '58 for editing an abolition newspaper; he had been mobbed in Ohio for delivering abolition lectures; he had been led out of Missouri with a rope around his neck, and a reward was on his head in a half-dozen Southern states for inciting slaves to rebellion. His picture had been in Harper's Weekly as a General Passenger Agent of the Underground Railway. Naturally to Sycamore Ridge, where more than one night the town had sat up all night waiting for the stage to bring the New York Tribune, Philemon R. Ward was a hero, and his presence in the town was an event. When the little Barclay boy heard it at the store that morning before sunrise, he ran down the path toward home to tell his mother and had to go back to do the errand on which he was sent. By sunrise every one in town had the news; men were shaken out of their morning naps to hear, "Philemon Ward's in town—wake up, man; did you hear what I say? Philemon Ward came to town last night on the stage." And before the last man was awake, the town was startled by the clatter of horses' hoofs on the gravel road over the hill south of town, and Gabriel Carnine and Lycurgus Mason of Minneola came dashing into the street and yelling, "The Missourians are coming, the Missourians are coming!"
The little boy, who had just turned into Main Street for the second time, remembered all his life how the news that the Minneola men brought, thrilled Sycamore Ridge. It seemed to the boy but an instant till the town was in the street, and then he and a group of boys were running to the swimming hole to call the Army of the Border. The horse weeds scratched his face as he plunged through the timber cross-lots with his message. He was the first boy to reach the camp. What they did or what he did, he never remembered. He has heard men say many times that he whispered his message, grabbed a carbine, and came tearing through the brush back to the town.
All that is important to know of the battle of Sycamore Ridge is that Philemon Ward, called out of bed with the town to fight that summer morning, took command before he had dressed, and when the town was threatened with a charge from a second division of the enemy, Bemis and Captain Lee of the Red Legs, Watts McHurdie, Madison Hendricks, Oscar Fernald, and Gabriel Carnine, under the command of Philemon Ward, ran to the top of the high bank of the Sycamore, and there held a deep cut made for the stage road,—held it as a pass against a half-hundred horsemen, floundering under the bank, in the underbrush below, who dared not file up the pass.
The little boy standing at the window of his mother's house saw this. But all the firing in the town, all the forming and charging and skirmishing that was done that hot August day in '60, either he did not see, or if he saw it, the memory faded under the great terror that gripped his soul when he saw his mother in danger. Ward in his undershirt was standing by a tree near the stage road above the bank. The firing in the creek bed had stopped. His back was toward the town, and then, out of some place dim in the child's mind—from the troop southwest of town perhaps—came a charge of galloping horsemen, riding down on Ward. The others with him had found cover, and he, seeing the enemy before him and behind him, pistol in hand, alone charged into the advancing horsemen. It was all confused in the child's mind, though the histories say that the Sycamore Ridge people did not know Ward was in danger, and that when he fell they did not understand who had fallen. But the boy—John Barclay—saw him fall, and his mother knew who had fallen, and the wife of the Westport martyr groaned in anguish as she saw Freedom's champion writhing in the dust of the road like a dying snake, after the troop passed over him. And even when he was a man, the boy could remember the woe in her face, as she stooped to kiss her child, and then huddling down to avoid the bullets, ran across the field to the wounded man, with dust in his mouth, twitching in the highway. Bullets were spitting in the dust about her as the boy saw his mother roll the bleeding man over, pick him up, get him on her back with his feet trailing on the earth beside her, and then rising to her full height, stagger under her limp burden back to the house. When she came in the door, her face and shoulders were covered with blood and her skirt ripped with a bullet.
That is all of the battle that John Barclay ever remembered. After that it seemed to end, though the histories say that it lasted all the long day, and that the fire of the invaders was so heavy that no one from the Ridge dared venture to the Barclay home. The boy saw his mother lay the unconscious man on the floor, while she opened the back door, and without saying a word, stepped to the spring, which was hidden from the road. She put her knee, her broad chest, and her strong red hand to the rock and shoved until her back bowed and the cords stood out on her neck; then slowly the rock moved till she could see inside the cave, could put her leg in, could squirm her body in. The morning light flooded in after her, and in the instant that she stood there she saw dimly a great room, through which the spring trickled. There were hay inside, and candles and saddles; in another minute she had the wounded man in the cave and was washing the dirt from him. A bullet had ploughed its way along his scalp, his body was pierced through the shoulder, and his leg was broken by a horse's hoof. She did what she could while the shooting went on outside, and then slipped out, tugged at the great rock again until it fell back in its place, and knowing that Philemon Ward was safe from the Missourians if they should win the day, she came into the house. Then as the mocking clouds of the summer drouth rolled up at night, and belched forth their thunder in a tempest of wind, the besiegers passed as a dream in the night. And in the morning they were not.
And so on the night of the battle of Sycamore Ridge, John Barclay closed the door of his childhood and became a boy. He did not remember how Ward's wounds were dressed, nor how the town made a hero of the man; but he did remember Watts McHurdie and Martin Culpepper and the Hendricks boys tramping through the cave that night with torches, and he was the hero of that occasion because he was the smallest boy there and they put him up through the crack in the head of the cave, and he saw the stars under the elm tree far above the town, where he and his mother had spent a Sunday afternoon three years before. He called to the men below and told them where he was, and slipped down through, the hole again with an elm sprout in his hand to prove that he had been under the elm tree at the spring. But he remembered nothing of the night—how the men picketed the town; how he sat up with them along with the other boys; how the women, under his mother's direction and Miss Lucy's, cared for the wounded man, who lapsed into delirium as the night wore on, and gibbered of liberty and freedom as another man would go over his accounts in his dreams.
His mother and Miss Lucy took turns nursing Ward night after night during the hot dry summer. As the sick man grew better, many men came to the house, and great plans were afloat. Philemon Ward, sitting up in bed waiting for his leg to heal, talked much of the cave as a refuge for fugitive slaves. There was some kind of a military organization; all the men in town were enlisted, and Ward was their captain, drums were rattling and men were drilling; the dust clouds rose as they marched across the drouth-blighted fields. One night they marched up to the Barclay home, and Ward with a crutch under his arm, and with Mrs. Barclay and Miss Lucy beside him, stood in the door and made a speech to the men. And then there were songs. Watts McHurdie threw back his head and sang "Scots wha ha' wi' Wallace bled," following it with some words of his own denouncing slavery and calling down curses upon the slaveholders; so withal it was a martial occasion, and the boy's heart swelled with patriotic pride. But for a vague feeling that Miss Lucy was neglecting him for her patient, John would have begun making a hero of Philemon R. Ward. As it was, the boy merely tolerated the man and silently suspected him of intentions and designs.
But when school opened, Philemon Ward left Sycamore Ridge and John Barclay made an important discovery. It was that Ellen Culpepper had eyes. In Sycamore Ridge with its three hundred souls, only fifteen of them were children, and five of them were ten years old, and John had played with those five nearly all his life. But at ten sometimes the scales drop from one's eyes, and a ribbon or a bead or a pair of new red striped yarn stockings or any other of the embellishments which nature teaches little girls to wear casts a sheen over all the world for a boy. The magic bundle that charmed John Barclay was a scarlet dress, "made over," that came in an "aid box" from the Culpeppers in Virginia. And when the other children in Miss Lucy's school made fun of John and his amour, the boy fought his way through it all—where fighting was the better part of valour—and made horsehair chains for Ellen and cut lockets for her out of coffee beans, and with a red-hot poker made a ring for her from a rubber button as a return for the smile he got at the sly twist he gave her hair as he passed her desk on his way to the spelling class. As for Miss Lucy, who saw herself displaced, she wrote to Philemon Ward, and told him of her jilting, and railed at the fickleness and frailty of the sex.
And by that token an envelope in Ward's handwriting came to Miss Lucy every week, and Postmaster Martin Culpepper and Mrs. Martin Culpepper and all Sycamore Ridge knew it. And loyal Southerner though he was, Martin Culpepper's interest in the affair between Ward and Miss Lucy was greater than his indignation over the fact that Ward had carried his campaign even into Virginia; nothing would have tempted him to disclose to his political friends at home the postmarks of Ward's letters. That was the year of the great drouth of '60, remembered all over the plains. And as the winter deepened and the people of Sycamore Ridge were without crops, and without money to buy food, they bundled up Martin Culpepper and sent him back to Ohio seeking aid. He was a handsome figure the day he took the stage in his high hat and his ruffled shirt and broad coat tails, a straight lean figure of a man in his early thirties, with fine black eyes and a shocky head of hair, and when he pictured the sufferings of the Kansas pioneers to the people of the East, the state was flooded with beans and flour, and sheeted in white muslin. For Martin Culpepper was an orator, and though he is in his grave now, the picture he painted of bleeding Kansas nearly fifty years ago still hangs in many an old man's memory. And after all, it was only a picture. For they were all young out here then, and through all the drouth and the hardship that followed—and the hardship was real—there was always the gayety of youth. The dances on Deer Creek and at Minneola did not stop for the drouth, and many's the night that Mrs. Mason, the tall raw-boned wife of Lycurgus, wrapped little Jane in a quilt and came over to the Ridge from Minneola to take part in some social affair. And while Martin Culpepper was telling of the anguish of the famine, Watts McHurdie and his accordion and Ezra Lane's fiddle were agitating the heels of the populace. And even those pioneers who were moved to come into the wilderness by a great purpose—and they were moved so—to come into the new territory and make it free, nevertheless capered and romped through the drouth of '60 in the cast-off garments of their kinsmen and were happy; for there were buffalo meat and beans for the needy, the aid room had flour, and God gave them youth.
Not drouth, nor famine, nor suffering, nor zeal of a great purpose can burn out the sparkle of youth in the heart. Only time can do that, and so John Barclay remembered the famous drouth of '60, not by his mother's tears, which came as she bent over his little clothes, before the aid box came from Haverhill, not by the long days of waiting for the rain that never came, not even by the sun that lapped up the swimming hole before fall, and left no river to freeze for their winter's skating, not even by his mother's anguish when she had to go to the aid store for flour and beans, though that must have been a sorry day for a Thatcher; but he remembers the great drouth by Ellen Culpepper's party, where they had a frosted cake and played kissing games, and—well, fifty years is along time for two brown eyes to shine in the heart of a boy and a man. It is strange that they should glow there, and all memory of the runaway slaves who were sheltered in the cave by the sycamore tree should fade, and be only as a tale that is told. Yet, so memory served the boy, and he knew only at second hand how his mother gave her widow's mite to the cause for which she had crossed the prairies as of old her "fathers crossed the sea."
Before the rain came in the spring of '61 Martin Culpepper came back from the East an orator of established reputation. The town was proud of him, and he addressed the multitude on various occasions and wept many tears over the sad state of the country. For in the nation, as well as in Sycamore Ridge, great things were stirring. Watts McHurdie filled Freedom's Banner with incendiary verse, always giving the name of the tune at the beginning of each contribution, by which it might be sung, and the way he clanked Slavery's chains and made love to Freedom was highly disconcerting; but the town liked it.
In April Philemon R. Ward came back to Sycamore Ridge, and there was a great gathering to hear his speech. Ward's soul was aflame with anger. There were no Greek gods and Roman deities in what Ward said, as there were in Martin Culpepper's addresses. Ward used no figures of speech and exercised no rhetorical charms; but he talked with passion in his voice and the frenzy of a cause in his eyes. Martin Culpepper was in the crowd, and as Ward lashed the South, every heart turned in interrogation to Culpepper. They knew what his education had been. They understood his sentiments; and yet because he was one of them, because he had endured with them and suffered with them and ministered to them, the town set him apart from its hatred. And Martin Culpepper was sensitive enough to feel this. It came over him with a wave of joy, and as Ward talked, Culpepper expanded. Ward closed in a low tone, and his face was white with pent-up zeal as he asked some one to pray. There was a silence, and then a woman's voice, trembling and passionate, arose, and Sycamore Ridge knew that Mrs. Barclay, the widow of the Westport martyr, was giving sound to a voice that had long been still. It was a simple halting prayer, and not all those in the room heard it clearly. The words were not always fitly chosen; but as the prayer neared its close,—and it was a short prayer at the most,—there came strength and courage into the voice as it asked for grace for "the brother among us who has shared our sufferings and lightened our burdens, and who has cleaved to us as a brother, but whose heart is drawn away from us by ties of blood and kinship"; and then the voice sank lower and lower as though in shame at its boldness, and hushed in a tremulous Amen.
No one spoke for a moment, and as Sycamore Ridge looked up from the floor, its eyes turned instinctively toward Martin Culpepper. He felt the question that was in the hearts about him, and slowly, to the wonder of all, he rose. He had a beautiful deep purring voice, and when he opened his eyes, they seemed to look into every pair of eyes in the throng. There were tears on his face and in his voice as he spoke. "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." And then he sank to his chair and hid his face, and for a moment a hundred wet-eyed men were still.
Though John Barclay was at the meeting, he remembered only his mother's prayer, but in his heart there was always a picture of a little boy trying to walk home with a little girl, and when he came up with her she darted ahead or dropped back. At the Culpepper gate she stood waiting fully a minute for him to catch her, and when he came up to her, she laughed, "Huh, Mr. Smarty, you didn't, did you?" and ran up the walk, scooted into the house, and slammed the door. But he understood and went leaping down the hill toward home with happiness tingling in his very finger-tips. He seemed to be flying rather than walking, and his toes touched the dirt path so lightly that he rounded the corner and ran plump into Miss Lucy and Philemon Ward standing at the gate. And what he saw surprised him so that he let out a great "haw-haw-haw" and ran, trying to escape his shame and fear at his behaviour. But the next morning Miss Lucy smiled so sweetly at him as he came into the schoolroom, that he knew he was forgiven, and that thrill was lost by the thump of joy that startled his heart when he saw a bunch of dog-tooth violets in his ink bottle, and in his geography found a candy heart with a motto on it so fervent that he did not eat it for three long abstemious days of sheer devotion, in which there were eyes and eyes and eyes from the little girl in the scarlet gown.
It is strange that the boy did not remember how Sycamore Ridge took the call to arms for the war between the states. All he remembered of the great event in our history as it touched the town was that one day he heard there was going to be a war. And then everything seemed to change. A dread came over the people. It fell upon the school, where every child had a father who was going away.
And it was because Madison Hendricks, the first man to leave for the war, was father of Bob and Elmer Hendricks that John's first associations of the great Civil War go back to the big black-bearded man. For Madison Hendricks, who was a graduate of West Point, and a veteran of the Mexican War, was called to Washington in May, and his boys acquired a prestige that was not accorded to them by the mere fact that their father was president of the town company, and was accounted the first citizen of the town. Madison Hendricks, who owned the land on which the town was built, Madison Hendricks, scholar and gentleman, veteran of the Mexican War, first mayor of Sycamore Ridge upon its incorporation,—his sons had no standing. But Madison Hendricks, formally summoned to go to Washington to put down the rebellion, and leaving on the stage with appropriate ceremonies, —there was a man who could bequeath to his posterity in the boy world something of his consequence.
So in the pall that came upon the school in Sycamore Ridge that spring of '61, Bob and Elmer Hendricks were heroes, and their sister—who was their only guardian in their father's absence—had to put them in her dresses and send them to bed, and punish them in all the shameful ways that she knew to take what she called "the tuck out of them." And the boy of all the boys who gave the Hendricks boys most homage was little Johnnie Barclay. There was no dread in his hero-worship. He had no father to go to the war. But the other children and all the women were under a great cloud of foreboding, and for them the time was one of tension and hoping against hope that the war would soon pass.
How the years gild our retrospect. It was in 1903 that Martin Culpepper, a man in his seventies, collected and published "The Complete Poetical and Philosophical Works of Watts McHurdie, together with Notes and a Biographical Appreciation by Martin F. Culpepper." One of the earlier chapters, which tells of the enlistment of the volunteer soldiers for the Civil War in '61, devotes some space to the recruiting and enlistment in Sycamore Ridge. The chapter bears the heading "The Large White Plumes," and in his "introductory remarks" the biographer says, "To him who looks back to those golden days of heroic deeds only the lines of Keats will paint the picture in his soul:—
"'Lo, I must tell a tale of chivalry, For large white plumes are dancing in mine eyes.'"
And so the "large white plumes" blinded his eyes to the fear and the dread that were in the hearts of the people, and he tells his readers nothing of the sadness that men felt who put in crops knowing that their wives must cultivate and harvest them. He sees only the glory of it; for we read: "Hail to the spirit of mighty Mars. When he strode through our peaceful village, he awoke many a war song in our breasts. As for our hero, Mars, the war god forged iron reeds for his lute, and he breathed into it the spirit of the age, and all the valour, all the chivalry of a golden day came pouring out of his impassioned reeds." Such is the magic of those large white plumes on Martin Culpepper's memory. Although John Barclay in that latter day bought a thousand copies of the Biography and sent them to public libraries all over the world, he smiled as he read that paragraph referring to Watts McHurdie's accordion as the "impassioned reeds." When he read it, John Barclay, grown to a man of fifty-three, sitting at a great mahogany table, with a tablet of white paper on a green blotting pad before him, and a gorgeous rose rising from a tall graceful green vase on the shining table, looked out over a brown wilderness of roofs and chimneys across a broad river into the hills that were green afar off, and there, rising out of yesterday, he saw, not the bent little old man in the harness shop with steel-rimmed spectacles and greasy cap, whom you may see to-day; but instead, the boy in John Barclay's soul looked through his eyes, and he saw another Watts McHurdie,—a dapper little fellow under a wide slouch hat, with a rolling Byronic collar, and fancy yellow waistcoat of the period, in exceedingly tight trousers. And then, flash! the picture changed, and Barclay saw Watts McHurdie under his mushroom hat; Martin Culpepper in his long-tailed coat; Philemon Ward, tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, slim, and sturdy; skinny, nervous Lycurgus Mason and husky Gabriel Carnine from Minneola; Jake Dolan in his shirt sleeves, without adornment of any kind, except the gold horseshoe pinned on his shirt bosom; Daniel Frye, the pride of an admiring family, in his best home-made clothes; Henry Schnitzler, Oscar Fernald, and nearly a hundred other men, to the boy's eyes so familiar then, now forgotten, and all their faces blurred in the crowd that stood about the recruiting officer by the town pump in Sycamore Ridge that summer day of '61. A score or so of men had passed muster. The line on the post at the wooden awning in front of Schnitzler's saloon was marked at five feet six. All had stood by it with their heads above the line. It was Watts McHurdie's turn. He wore high-heeled boots for the occasion, but strut as he would, his roached hair would not touch the stick that came over the line. "Stretch your neck—ye bantam," laughed Jake Dolan. "Walk turkey fashion, Watts," cried Henry Schnitzler, rushing up behind Watts and grabbing his waistband. The crowd roared. Watts looked imploringly at the recruiting officer and blubbered in wrath: "Yes, damn you—yea; that's right. Of course; you won't let me die for my bleedin' country because I ain't nine feet tall." And the little man turned away trying to choke his tears and raging at his failure. And because the recruiting officer was considerable of a man, Watts McHurdie's name was written in the muster roll, and he went out.
Many days must have passed between the time when the men were mustered in and the day they went away to the war. But to the man who saw those times through the memory of the boy in blue jeans forever playing bugle-calls upon his fife, it was all one day. For that crowd dissolved, and another picture appeared upon the sensitized plate of his memory. There is a crowd in the post-office—mostly men who are going away to war. The stage has come in, and a stranger, better dressed than the men of Sycamore Ridge, is behind the letter-boxes of the post-office. The boy is watching his box; for it is the day when the Springfield Republican is due. Gradually the hum in front of the boxes quiets, and two loud voices have risen behind the screen. Then out walks great Martin Culpepper, white of face, with pent-up fury. His left hand is clutched like a talon in the shoulder of the stranger, whom Martin is holding before him. "Gentlemen, your attention," demands Culpepper. The stranger swallows his Adam's apple as if to speak; Martin turns to him with, "Don't you say that word again, sir, or I'll wring your neck." Then he proceeds:—
"Gentlemen, this busybody has come all the way from Washington here to tell me I'm a thief. I wrote to his damn Yankee government that I was needing the money last winter to go East on the aid committee and would replace it, and now that I'm going out to-morrow to die for his damn Yankee government, he has the impertinence to come in here and say I stole that money. Now what I want to ask you, gentlemen, is this: Do I go out to-morrow to die on the field of glory for my country, or does this here little contemptible whippersnapper take me off to rot in some Yankee jail? I leave it to you, gentlemen. Settle it for yourselves." And with that Culpepper throws the man into the crowd and walks behind the screen in solemn state.
The boy never knew how it was settled. But Martin Culpepper went to "the field of glory," and all the boy knew of the incident is here recorded. However, in the Biography of Watts McHurdie above-mentioned and aforesaid occur these words, in the same chapter—the one entitled "The Large White Plumes": "Let memory with gentle hand cover with her black curtain of soft oblivion all that was painful on that glorious day. Let us not recall the bickerings and the strifes, let the grass watered by Lethe's sweet spring creep over the scars in the bright prospect which lies under our loving gaze. Let us hold in our heart the tears in beauty's eyes; the smile that curls her crimson lips, and the hope that burns upon her brow. Let us fondle the sacred memory of every warm hand clasp of comrade and take to the silent grave the ever green garland of love that adorned our hearts that day. For the sordid thorns that pierced our bleeding hearts—what are they but ashes to-day, blown on the winds of yesterday?"
What indeed, Martin Culpepper—what indeed, smiled John Barclay as he reached for the rose on his broad mahogany desk across forty long years, and looking through a wide window, saw on the blank wall of a great hulk of a building half a mile away, the fine strong figure of a man with black shaggy hair on his young leonine head rise and wave his handkerchief to a woman with tears running down her face and anguish in her eyes, standing in a swarm of children. What indeed are sordid thorns when the "large white plumes are dancing"—what indeed?
That was a busy night in Sycamore Ridge—the night before the men left for war in the summer of '61. And the busiest man in all the town was Philemon R. Ward. Every man in the town was going, and most of the men were going who lived in the county—an area as large as a New England state, and yet when they were all gathered in Main Street, there were less than fivescore of them. They had agreed to elect Ward captain, Martin Culpepper first lieutenant, Jake Dolan second lieutenant. It was one of the diversions of the occasion to call out "Hello, Cap," when Ward hustled by a loitering crowd. But his pride was in his work, and before sundown he had it done. The Yankee in him gave him industry and method and foresight. At sunset the last of the twenty teams and wagons he had ordered came rattling down the hill west of town, driven by Gabriel Carnine of Minneola, with Mrs. Lycurgus Mason sitting like a war goddess on the back seat holding Lycurgus, a spoil of battle, while he held their daughter on his lap, withal a martial family party. Mrs. Barclay and Miss Lucy went to the aid store-room and worked the long night through, getting breakfast for the men. Mary Murphy and Nellie Logan came from the Thayer House to the aid room when the hotel dishes were washed, and helped with the work. And while they were there the Culpeppers walked in, returning from a neighbourly visit to Miss Hendricks; John Barclay in an apron, stirring a boiling pot of dried apples, turned his back on the eyes that charmed him, but when the women sent him for a bucket of water, he shook the handle at Ellen Culpepper and beckoned her with a finger, and they slipped out into the moonlight together. She had hold of the handle of the bucket with him, and they pulled and hauled and laughed as boy and girl will laugh so long as the world turns round. The street was deserted, and only the bar of light that fell across the sidewalk from Schnitzler's saloon indicated the presence of human beings in the little low buildings that pent in the highway. The boy and the girl stood at the pump, and the boy stuck a foot in the horse trough. He made a wet silhouette of it on the stone beneath him, and reached for the handle of the pump. Then he said, "I got somepin I won't tell."
"Three little niggers in a peanut shell," replied the girl.
"All right, Miss Cuteness. All right for you; I was going to tell you somepin, but I won't now." He gave the pump-handle a pull. It was limp and did not respond with water. "Ellen—" the boy repeated as he worked the handle, "I got somepin to tell you. Honest I have."
"I don't care, Mr. Smarty," the girl replied; she made a motion as if to walk away, but did not. The boy noticed it and said, "Yes, sir—it's somepin you'd like to know." The girl did not turn round. The boy, who had been working with the wheezy pump, was holding the handle up, and water was gurgling down the well. And before she could answer he said, "Say, Ellen—don't be mad; honest I got somepin."
"Who's it about?" she asked over her shoulder.
"That's not much—who else?"
"Who else?" The girl was halfway turned around when she spoke.
"Bob—Bob Hendricks," replied the boy.
"Aw—Bob Hendricks—" returned the girl, in contempt. Then she faced the boy and said, "What is it?"
"Come here 'n' I'll tell you."
"I'll come this far." The girl took two steps.
"I got to whisper it, and you can't hear."
"Well, 'tain't much." The girl dangled one bare foot hesitatingly.
"I'll come halfway," she added.
The boy made a mark in the dust of the road a few feet from him with his toe, and said, "Come to there."
The girl shook her head, and spoke. "Tell me part—'n' I'll see if it's good."
"Me and Elmer an' Bob are goin' to run away!" The girl stepped to the toe mark and cried, "What?"
"Yes, sir—in the mornin'." He caught hold of the girl's arm awkwardly and swung her around to the opposite side of the pump-handle, and put her hands on it and began to pump. She pumped with him as he puffed between the strokes, "Um' huh—we're going to hide in the provision wagons, under some saddles they is there and go—to—war!" The water was pouring into the bucket by the time he had got this out. Their hands touched on the pump-handle. It was the boy who drew his hand away. The girl gasped:—
"Why, John Barclay,—it ain't no such thing—does your ma know it?"
He told her that no one knew it but her, and they pumped in silence until the bucket was full, and walking back carrying the bucket between them, he told her another secret: that Watts McHurdie had asked John to get his guitar after midnight, and play an accompaniment to the accordion, and that Watts and Ward and Jake Dolan and Gabriel Carnine were going out serenading. Further he told her that Watts was going to serenade Nellie Logan at the Thayer House, and that Gabriel Carnine was going to serenade Mary Murphy, and that Philemon Ward was going to serenade Miss Lucy, and that he, John Barclay, had suggested that it would be fine to serenade Mrs. Culpepper, because she was such a nice woman, and they agreed that if he would bring his guitar, they would!
When the boy and girl returned to the store, Ward and Miss Lucy went to the Barclay home for the guitar. When they came back, Mrs. Barclay noted a pink welt on one of Ward's fingers where his cameo ring had been, and she observed that from time to time Miss Lucy kept feeling of her hair as if to smooth it. It was long after midnight before the girls from the hotel went home, and Miss Lucy and Mrs. Barclay lay on the counter in the store, trying to sleep. They awoke with the sound of music in their ears, and Miss Lucy said, "It's Captain Ward—and the other boys, serenading us." They heard the high tenor voice of Watts McHurdie and the strong clear voice of Ward rising above the accordion and guitar:—
"For her voice is on the breeze, Her spirit comes at will, At midnight on the seas Her bright smile haunts me still."
And underneath these high voices was the gruff bass voice of Gabriel Carnine and the baritone of Jake Dolan. And when Mrs. Barclay heard the piping treble of her son, and the tinkle of his guitar, her eyes filled with tears of pride.
The serenaders waked the chickens, and the crowing roosters roused Mrs. Barclay, and in the hurry of the hour she forgot to look for her son. As "the gray dawn was breaking," a hundred men came into the room, and found the smoking breakfast on the table. It was a good breakfast as breakfasts go when men are hungry. But they sat in silence that morning. The song was all out of them; the spring of youth was crushed under the weight of great events. And as they rose—they who had been so merry the day before, and had joked of the things the soldier fears, they were all but mute, and left their breakfasts scarcely tasted.
The women remember this,—the telltale sign of the untouched breakfast,—and their memory is better than that of Martin Culpepper, who wrote in that plumy chapter of the Biography, before mentioned:—
"The soldiers left their homes that beautiful August morning as the sun was kissing the tips of the sycamore that gave the magnificent little city its name. They had partaken abundantly of a bountiful breakfast, and as they satisfied their inner man from a table groaning with good things prepared by the fair hands of the gentler sex, the gallant men rose with song and cheer, and went on their happy way where duty and honour called them."
But the women who scraped the plates that morning knew the truth. One wonders how much of history would be thrown out as worthless, like Martin Culpepper's fine writing, if the women who scraped the plates might testify. For those "large white plumes" do not dance in women's eyes!
After breakfast the men tumbled into the wagons, and as one wagon after another rattled out of Fernald's feed lot and came down the street, the men waved their hats and the women waved their aprons, and a great cloud of dust rose on the highway, and as the wagons ducked down the bank to the river, only the tall figure of Martin Culpepper, waving his handkerchief, rose above the cloud. At the end of the line was a provision wagon, and on it rode Philemon Ward—Yankee in his greatest moment, scorning the heroic place in the van, and looking after the substantials. In the feed lot, just as the reins were in his hands, Ward saw Elmer Hendricks' foot peeping from under a saddle. Ward dragged the boy out, spanking him as he came over the end gate, and noted the sheepish smile on his face. Ten days later, as Ward, marching in the infantry, was going up a hill through the timber at the battle of Wilson's Creek, that same boy rode by with the cavalry, and seeing Ward, waved a carbine and smiled as he charged the brow of the hill. That night, going back under the stars, Ward stumbled over a body, and stooping, saw the smile still on the boy's face, and the carbine clutched in his hand. But for the hole through the boyish brow, the eyes might still have been laughing.
A few years ago, in the room of the great mahogany table, with its clean blotting pad, its writing tablet, and its superb rose rising from a green vase in the midst of the shining unlittered expanse, there was a plain, heavy mahogany wainscoting reaching chin-high to the average man. A few soft-toned pictures adorned the dull gray walls above the wainscoting, and directly over a massive desk that never was seen open hung a framed letter. The letter was written on blue-lined paper in red pokeberry ink. At the top of the letter was the advertisement of a hotel, done in quaint, old-fashioned, fancy script with many curly-cues and printers' ornaments. The advertisement set forth that the Thayer House at Sycamore Ridge was "First class in every particular," and that "Especial attention was paid to transient custom." On a line in the right-hand corner the reader was notified that the tavern was founded by the Emigrant Aid Society, and balancing this line, in the left-hand corner, were these words: "The only livery-stable west of Lawrence." John Barclay's eyes have read it a thousand times, and yet he always smiled when he scanned the letter that followed the advertisement. The letter read:—
"Dear Ma I am going to war. Doan crye. Iff father was here he wood go; so why should not I. I will be very caerfull not to get hurt & stay by Cap Ward all the time. So godby yours truly J. Barclay Jr."
It was five hours after the soldiers had gone when Mrs. Barclay came home from her work in the aid room, and the first thing that attracted her attention was her son's letter, lying folded on the table. When she read it, she ran with the open letter across the common to the town. It was a woman's town that morning,—not a man was left in it,—for Ezra Lane, the only old man living in the Ridge, had left Freedom's Banner to shift for itself while he rode to Leavenworth with the soldiers to bring back the teams; and when Mrs. Barclay came into the street, she found some small stir there, made by Miss Hendricks—the only mother the Hendricks boys remembered—who was inquiring for her lost boys. Mrs. Barclay displayed her note, and in a moment the whole population of Sycamore Ridge, with hands under its aprons, was standing in front of the post-office. Then Ellen Culpepper found her tongue, and Mrs. Barclay began to look for a horse. Elmer Hendricks' pony in the pasture was the only horse Ward had left within twenty miles. When Ellen Culpepper and her little sister Molly came back from the pasture and announced that Elmer's pony was gone also, the women surmised that he had taken it with him, for they could not know that after he was spanked from the provision wagon, he had slipped out to the pasture and ridden by a circuitous route to the main road.
It was Captain Ward, dismounting from his driver's seat on the provision wagon at noon, who discovered two boys: a little boy eleven years old in a dead faint, and a bigger boy panting with the heat. They threw cold spring water on John Barclay's face, and finally his eyes opened, and he grinned as he whispered, "Hullo, Captain," to the man bending over him. The man held water to the boy's lips, and he sipped a little and swam out into the blackness again, and then the man reappeared and the boy tried to smile and whispered, "Aw—I'm all right." They saw he was coming out of his faint, and one by one the crowd dropped away from him; but Ward stayed, and when the child could speak, he replied to Ward's question, "'Cause I wanted to." And then again when the question was repeated, the boy said, "I tell you 'cause I wanted to." He shook his head feebly and grinned again and tried to rise, but the man gently held him down, and kept bathing his temples with cold water from the spring beside them. Finally, when the man seemed a little harsh in his questions, the boy's eyes brimmed and he said: "Whur'd my pa be if he was alive to-day? I just guess I got as much right here as you have." He made a funny little picture lying on the lush grass by the spring in the woods; his browned face, washed clean on the forehead and temples, showed almost white under the dirt. There were tear-stained rings about the eyes, and his pink shirt and blue trousers were grimy with dust, and the red clay of the Sycamore still was on the sides of his dust-brown bare feet. Around a big toe was a rag which showed a woman's tying—neat and firm, but red with clay.
Ward left, and Bob Hendricks came and stood over the prostrate boy. Bob was carrying a bucket of water to the cook as a peace offering.
"What did they do?" asked the boy on the ground.
"Just shook me—and then said father'd tend to me for this." The boys exchanged comments on the situation without words, and then Bob said as he drew the dripping bucket from the spring, "We're going clear on to Leavenworth, and they say then we've got to come back with Ezra Lane and the teams."
The boy on the ground raised himself by rolling over and catching hold of a sapling. He panted a moment, and "I'll bet y' I don't." The other boy went away with a weak "Me neither," thrown over his shoulder.
During that long afternoon, and all the next day and the next, the boys ran from wagon to wagon, climbing over end gates, wriggling among the men, running with the horses through the shady woods, paddling in the fords, and only refusing to move when the men got out of the wagons and walked up the long clay hills that rise above the Kaw River. At night they camped by the prairie streams, and the men sang and wondered what they were doing at home, and Philemon Ward took John Barclay out into the silence of the woods and made him say his prayers. And Ward would look toward the west and say, "Well, Johnnie,—there's home," and once they stood in an open place in the timber, and Ward gazed at a bright star sinking in the west, and said, "I guess that's about over Sycamore Ridge." They went on, and the boy, looking back to see why the man had stopped, caught him throwing a kiss at the star. And they could not know, as they walked back together through the woods abashed, that two women sitting before a cabin door under a sycamore tree were looking at an eastern star, and one threw kisses at it unashamed while the other wept. And on other nights, many other nights, the two, Miss Lucy and Mrs. Barclay, sat looking at their star while the terror in their hearts made their lips mute. God makes men brave who stand where bullets fly, yet always they can run away. But God seems to give no alternative to women at home who have to wait and dread.
Forty years later John Barclay took from a box in a safety vault back of his office in the city a newspaper. It was the Sycamore Ridge Banner, yellow and creased and pungent with age. "This," he said to Senator Myton, spreading the wrinkled sheet out on the mahogany table, "this is my enlistment paper." He smiled as he read aloud:—
"At noon of our first day out we came across two stowaways. Hendricks, aged twelve, son of our well-known and popular Mayor, and J. Barclay, aged eleven, son of Mrs. M. Barclay, who, owing to the suddenness of the departure of our troops for the seat of war in Missouri, and certain business delays made necessary in ye editor's return, were slipped out with our company rather than left in the rough and uncertain city of Leavenworth. They are called by the boys of 'C' company respectively 'the little sergeant and the little corporal, Good Luck boys.'"
A little farther down the column was this paragraph:
"Aug. 2nd we went into camp on Sugar Creek, and some sport was had by the men who went in bathing, taking the horses with them."
"Ever go in swimming with the horses, Senator?" asked Barclay. The senator shook his head doubtfully.
"Well—you haven't. For if you had you'd remember it," answered Barclay, and a hundred naked young men and two skinny, bony boys splashed and yelled and ducked and wrestled and locked their strong wet arms about the necks of the plunging horses and dived under them, and rolled across them and played with them like young satyrs in the cool water under the overhanging elms with the stars twinkling in the shining mahogany as Barclay folded the paper and put it away. He thrummed the polished surface a moment and looked back into the past to see Philemon Ward straight, lean, and glistening like a god standing on a horse ready to dive, and as he huddled, crouched for the leap, Barclay said, "Well, come on, Senator, we must go to lunch now."
It was late in the afternoon of their third day's journey that the men from Sycamore Ridge rode in close order, singing, through the streets of Leavenworth. Watts McHurdie was playing his accordion, and the people turned to look at the uncouth crowd in civilian's clothes that went bellowing "O My Darling Nellie Gray," across the town and out to the Fort. Ezra Lane promised to call at the Fort for the two boys and with drivers for the teams early the next morning—but to Sycamore Ridge, Leavenworth in those days was the great city with its pitfalls, and when Ezra Lane, grizzled though he was, came to a realizing sense of his responsibilities, the next day was gone and the third was waning. When he went to the Fort, he found the Sycamore Ridge men had been hurried into Missouri to meet General Price, who was threatening Springfield, and no word had been left for him about the boys. As he left the gate at the Fort, a troop of cavalry rode by gaily, and a boy, a big overgrown fourteen-year-old boy in a blue uniform, passed and waved his hand at the befuddled old man, and cried, "Good-by, Mr. Lane,—tell 'em you saw me." He knew the boy was from Sycamore Ridge, but he knew also that he was not one of the boys who had come with the soldiers; and being an old man, far removed from the boy world, he could not place the child in his blue uniform, so he drove away puzzled.
The afternoon the men from Sycamore Ridge came to Leavenworth they were hurriedly examined again, signed the muster rolls, and were sent away without uniforms all in twenty-four hours. But not before they had found time to have their pictures taken in borrowed regimentals. For twenty years after the war the daguerreotypes of the soldiers taken at Leavenworth that day were the proudest adornments of the centre-tables of Sycamore Ridge, and even now on Lincoln Avenue, in a little white cottage with green blinds, that sits in a broad smooth lawn with elm trees on it, stands an easel. On the easel is a picture—an enlarged crayon drawing of a straight, handsome young fellow in a captain's uniform. One hand is in his coat, and the other at his hip. His head is thrown back with a fierce determination into the photographer's iron rest and all together the picture is marked with the wrinkled front of war. For over one corner of the easel hangs a sword with an ivory handle, and upon it is an inscription proclaiming the fact that the sword was presented to Captain Philemon R. Ward by his company for gallant conduct on the field of battle on the night of August 4, 1861. Above the easel in the corner hangs another picture—that of a sweet-faced old man of seventy, beaming rather benignly over his white lawn necktie. The forty-five years that have passed between the two faces have trimmed the hair away from the temples and the brow, have softened the mouth, and have put patience into the eyes—the patience of a great faith often tried but never broken. The five young women of the household know that the crayon portrait on the bamboo easel is highly improper as a parlour ornament—for do they not teach school, and do they not take all the educational journals and the crafty magazines of art? But the hand that put it there was proud of its handiwork, and she who hung the sword upon the easel is gone away, so the girls smile at the fierce young boyish face in the picture as they pass it, and throw a kiss at the face above it, and the easel is not moved.
And the man,—the tall old man with a slight stoop in his shoulders, the old man who wears the alpaca coat and the white lawn tie seen in the upper picture,—sometimes he wanders into the stately front room with a finger in a census bulletin as a problem in his head creases his brow—and the sight of the sword always makes him smile, and sometimes the smile is a chuckle that stirs the cockles of his heart.
For his mind goes back to that summer night of August 4, 1861, and he sees himself riding on a horse with a little boy behind with his arms in the soldier's belt. It is dusk, and "C" Company on foot is filing down a Missouri hill. It is a muddy road, and the men are tired and dirty. There is no singing now. A man driving an ox team has turned out of the road to let the soldiers pass. Some one in the line asks the man, "Where's Price?"
"Over the hill yonder," replies the man, pointing with his hickory whip-stock. The word buzzes up and down the line. The captain on his horse with the boy clutching at his belt does not hear it. But the line lags and finally halts. The men have been only two days under military discipline. That day last week Phil Ward—who was he, anyway? Henry Schnitzler and Oscar Fernald could have bought him and sold him twice over. So the line halted. Then the captain halted. Then he called Second Lieutenant Dolan and asked to know what was the matter. "They say they are going to camp," responded Dolan, touching his cap. Captain Ward's face flushed. He told Dolan to give the order to march. There were shouts and laughter, and Gabriel Carnine cried, "Say, Phil, this here Missourian we passed says old General Price is over that hill." The boys laughed again, and Ward saw that trouble was before him. The men stood waiting while he controlled his rage before he spoke. Dolan said under his breath from the ground beside the horse, "They're awful tired, Cap, and they don't want to tackle Price's army all by their lonelies." Some one in the company called out, "We've voted on this thing, Cap. Don't the majority rule in this country?"
A smile twitched at Ward's mouth and the boy in him pricked a twinkle in his eyes, for he was only twenty-six, and he laughed—threw his head back and then leaned over and slapped the horse's neck and finally straightened up and said, "Gentlemen, I bow to the will of the people."
And so it happened that when they drew their first month's pay, Martin Culpepper and Jake Dolan suggested to the company that they buy Ward a sword to commemorate the victory of the people. And Martin Culpepper made a great presentation speech in which he said that to the infantry, cavalry, and artillery arms of military service, "C" Company had added the "vox populi." But the night after the presentation Oscar Fernald and Watts McHurdie crawled under the captain's tent and stole the sword and pawned it for beer, and there was a sound of revelry by night.
When they found the great camp near Springfield, it seemed to John Barclay that all the soldiers in the world were gathered. It is difficult for a boy under a dozen years to remember things consecutively; because boys do not do things consecutively. They flit around like butterflies, and so the picture that they make of events jumps from scene to scene. One film on a roll of John's memory showed a hot August day in the camp of "C" Company; the men are hurrying about the place. The tents are down; the boys—John and Bob—are kicking around the vacant camp looking for trophies. But there the film broke and did not record the fact that Captain Ward put Bob and John on a commissary wagon that stood in a side street as the soldiers moved out. John remembered looking into a street filled with marching soldiers. First the regulars and the artillery came swinging down the street. At their head the boy saw General Lyon, the commanding officer, and around him was a bodyguard whose plumed hats, with the left brim pinned up, caught the boys' eyes. The regulars marched by silently. It was part of their day's work; but following them came a detachment of Germans singing "Marchen Rote," and then the battery of six guns and then the Kansans. Small wonder Captain Gordon Granger told Colonel Mitchel that the Kansas soldiers were only an armed mob. They filed out of Springfield, some in rags and some in tags and some in velvet gowns. They carried guns; but they looked like delegates to a convention, and as the boys saw their own company, they waved their hands, but they were almost ashamed of the shabby clothes of the men from Sycamore Ridge; for a boy always notices clothes on others. When the Germans stopped singing "Marchen Rote," the boys heard Watts McHurdie's high tenor voice start up "The Dutch Companee," and the crowd that was lining the street cheered and cheered. A Missouri regiment followed and more regulars, and then a battery of four guns passed, and then came more Kansans still going to that everlasting convention. And a band came roaring by,—with its crashing brass and rumbling drums,—and then after the band had turned the corner, came Iowa in gray blouses and such other garments as the clothes-lines of the country afforded. They were singing as they passed—a song the boy had never heard, being all about the "happy land of Canaan." And before the sun had set again, after that night, hundreds of those who sang of the happy land were there. In the rear were the ambulances and the ammunition and the hospital vans, and the wagon which held the boys wheeled into the line. After they had passed, the streets were clogged with carts and drays and wagons of all sorts, for the citizens were moving to places of safety.
As a man, the boy's memory did not tell him how the boys fared, but he does remember that it was dark in the timber where they camped that night, and that they slipped away into the woods to lie down together. The chirping of the birds at dawn wakened them, and as John sat up rubbing his eyes, he heard a rifle's crack. They were at the edge of a field, and half a mile from him, troops were marching by columns across a clearing. The rifle-shot was followed by another, and another, and then by a half-dozen. "Wake up, Bob—wake up—they's a battle," he cried, and the two boys stumbled to their feet. The shots were far in front of the marching soldiers, and the boys could not make out what the firing meant. The line formed and ran up the hill, and the boys saw the morning sun flashing on the guns of the enemy. The battery roared, and the boys were filled with terror. They ran through the woods like dogs until they came to the soldiers from Sycamore Ridge. The boys crawled on their bellies to their friends, and lay with their faces all but buried in the ground. The men were lying at the edge of the timber talking, and Watts McHurdie was on his back.
"What's the matter with you, Watts?" asked Oscar Fernald.
"Os," replied Watts, "I got a presentiment I'm goin' to be shot in the rear. It will kill me to be shot in the back, and I've got a notion that's how I am goin' to die."
The line laughed. Captain Ward, who was sitting a few paces in the rear of the men, went over to Watts, and scuffled the man over with his foot. A bullet went through Ward's hat before he got back to his place. The men were sticking up ramrods and betting on the number of minutes they would last. No ramrod stood more than ten minutes. Martin Culpepper threw up his hat five times before a bullet hit it; but he went bareheaded the rest of the day, and John Barclay, in sheer fear, began to dig a hole under him. After he had been on his belly for an hour, Henry Schnitzler got tired and rose. The men begged him to lie down. But his only reply when they told him he was a fool was, "Vell, vot of it?" And when they said he would be shot, he answered again, "Vell, vot of it?" And when Jake Dolan cried, "You pot-gutted Dutchman, sit down or there'll be a sauer-kraut shower in hell pretty quick," Henry shook his fat sides a moment and laughed, "Vell, vot of dot—altzo!" For an hour, that seemed ten, he moved back and forth on the line, firing and joking, and then the spell broke and a bullet took part of his jaw. As he dropped to his position, with the blood gushing from his face, his eyes blazed, and he spat out, "By hell-tam, now I vos mad," and he fought the day out and died that night. But as he sank to his place when the bullet hit him, Watts McHurdie saw Schnitzler stagger, and through the smoke, knew that he was wounded. Watts rushed to Schnitzler and bent over him, when a ball hit Watts and went ripping through the fleshy part of his hip. "Shot in the back—damn it, shot in the back!" he screamed, as he jumped into the air. "What did I tell you, boys, I'm shot in the back." And he crawled bleeding to the rear.
All the long forenoon the camp of the enemy continued to belch out men. The battery mowed them down, and once the Kansans were ordered to charge the hill, and the boys were left alone. It was there that the two were separated. John saw men sink in awful silence, and the blood ooze from their heads. He saw men cramp in agony and choke with blood, and he saw Martin Culpepper, perhaps with the large white plumes still dancing in his eyes, dash out of the line and pick up a Union banner that Sigel's men had lost, and that the enemy was flaunting just before the artillery mowed the gray line down. He heard the hoarse men cheer Martin, and as the tall swart figure came running back waving the flag, the boy prayed to his father's God to save the man.
When the battle lulled, the boy found himself parted from "C" Company, and fled back through the woods to the rear. There he came upon a smell that was familiar. He had known it in the slaughter-house at home. It was the smell of fresh blood, and with it came the sickening drone of flies. In an instant he stood under a tree where men were working smeared with blood. He stumbled over a little pile of dismembered legs and hands. A man with a bloody knife was bending over a human form stretched on a bloody and, it seemed to the boy, a greasy table. Another was helping the big man. They were cutting the bullet out of Watts McHurdie, who was lying white and unconscious and with flies crawling over him, half naked and blood-smeared, on the table. The boy screamed, and the man turned his head and snarled through his clenched teeth that held the knife, "Get out of here—no—go get me a bucket of water from the creek." Some one handed the boy a bucket, and he ran where he was told to go, with the awful sight burned on his brain, with the sickening smell in his nose, and with the drone of flies in his ears. When he came back the firing had begun again. The surgeon was saying, "Well, that's all that's waiting—now I'm going for a minute." He grabbed a gun standing by the table and ran toward the front; he did not take off his blood-splotched apron, and the boy fled from the place in terror. In a few moments the firing ceased; but the boy ran on, hunting for a hiding-place. He saw a troop of Alabamians plunge over a log in a charge, and roll in an awful, writhing, screaming pile of dying men and horses, and in the heap he saw the terror-stricken face of a youth, who was shrieking for help; John carried that fear-distorted face in his memory for years, until long afterwards it appeared in Sycamore Ridge.
But that day John fled from the death-trap almost mad with fear. Rushing farther into the woods, he came upon General Lyon and his staff. The plumed hats of the bodyguard told the boy that the sandy-haired man before him was in command, though the man's face was bloody from a wound in his head, and though his clothes were stained with blood and he was hatless. He sat upright on his horse, and as the boy turned, he heard the voices of Captain Ward and his soldiers, begging to be sent into the fight. It was a clamour fierce and piteous, and the general had turned his head to the Kansans, when something at the left startled him. There was no firing, and a column of soldiers was approaching. Doubt paralyzed the group around Lyon for a moment. The men wore gray blouses strangely like those the Iowans wore. The men might be Sigel's men, coming back from their artillery duel. The general plainly was puzzled. He rode out from the bodyguard a few paces. The boy was staring at him, when the bodyguard with their gay plumed hats came up, and he saw wrath flash into the general's face as he recognized the enemy. "Shoot them—shoot them—" he shouted. But the gray line vomited its smoke first, and the boy felt his foot afire. The general dropped from his horse, and as the boy looked down, he saw a red blot coming out on his instep. In the same instant he saw Captain Ward rush to the falling general, and saw the bodyguard gather about him, and then the blackness came over the child and he fell. He did not see them bear General Lyon's body into the brush, nor hear Ward moan his sorrow. But when Ward returned from the thicket, he saw the child lying limp on the grass.
As Ward ran toward the hospital van carrying the limp little body, he could see that a ball had pierced the boy's foot. Also he saw the men in retreat who had shot Lyon, and all over the field the firing had ceased. As he hurried through the underbrush, Ward ran into Bob Hendricks hiding in the thicket. Ward took the child's hand and he began to sob: "I saw Elmer go up that hill, Captain; I saw him go up with the horses and he ain't come back." But Ward did not understand him, and hurried the little fellow along with John to the surgeon.
Then Ward left them, and when John Barclay opened his eyes, Bob Hendricks was sitting beside him. A great lint bandage was about John's foot, and they were in a wagon jolting over a rutty road. He did not speak for a long time, and then he asked, "Did we whip 'em?"
And Bob nodded and said, "Cap says so!"
The children clasped hands and talked of many things that passed from the boy's mind. But his mind recorded that the next day in the hospital Martin Culpepper said, "Bob can't come to-day, Johnnie; you know he's tendin' Elmer's funeral." The boy must have opened his eyes, for the man said, "Why, Johnnie, I thought you knew; yes; they found him dead that night—right under the reb—under the enemies' guns on the brink of the hill."
The child's eyes filled with tears, but he did not cry. His emotion was spent. The two sat together for a time, and the little boy said, "Why didn't you go, Mr. Culpepper?" And the man replied: "Me? Oh—why—Oh, yes, I got a little scratch here in my leg, and they won't let me out of here. There's Watts over there in the next cot; he got a little scratch too—didn't you, Watts?" Watts and the boy smiled at each other, but John did not see Bob again for years. Miss Hendricks came and took him to their father's people in Ohio.
One day some one came in the hospital where John and Watts and Martin Culpepper were lying, and began to call out mail for the men, and the third name the corporal called was "Captain Martin Culpepper"; and when they brought him a long official envelope with General Fremont's name on it, Martin Culpepper held it in his hands, looked at the inscription, read the word "captain" again and again, and could not speak for choked joy. And tears so dimmed his eyes that he could not see the "large white plumes" of chivalry, but the men in the beds cheered as they heard the words the corporal read.
With such music as that in his ears, and with his soul stirred by the events about him, Watts McHurdie, lying in the hospital, wrote the song that made him famous. They know in Sycamore Ridge that Watts is not much of a poet, that his rhymes are sometimes bad and his metre worse. But once his heart took fire and burned for a day sheer white, and in that day he wrote words that a nation sang, and now all the world is singing. And they are proud of him, and when people come to Sycamore Ridge on pilgrimages to see the author of the song, men do not smile in wonder; they show the visitors his shop, and point out the bowed little man bending over his bench, stretching his arms out as he sews, and they point him out with pride. Not even John Barclay with all his millions, or Bob Hendricks, who once refused a place in the President's cabinet, are more esteemed in Sycamore Ridge than the little harness maker who set the world to singing.
And curiously enough, John Barclay was with Watts McHurdie when he wrote the song. They brought him an accordion one day while he was getting well, and the two sat together. Watts droned along and shut his eyes and mumbled some words, and then burst out with the chorus. Over and over he sang it and exclaimed between breaths: "Say—ain't that fine? I just made it up." He was exalted with his performance, and some women came loitering down the corridor where the wounded man and the boy were lying. The visitors gazed compassionately at them—little Watts not much larger than the boy. A woman asked, "And where were you wounded, son?" looking at Watts with his accordion. His face flushed up at the thought of his shame, and he could not keep back the tears that always betrayed him when he was deeply moved. "Ten—ten miles from Springfield, madam, ten miles from Springfield." And to hide his embarrassment he began sawing at his accordion, chanting his famous song. But being only a little boy, John Barclay tittered.