THE MAN IN GRAY
A ROMANCE OF NORTH AND SOUTH
AUTHOR OF "THE SOUTHERNER," "THE LEOPARD'S SPOTS," "THE BIRTH OF A NATION," "THE CLANSMAN," ETC.
DEDICATED TO MY FELLOW MEMBERS OF THE KAPPA ALPHA FRATERNITY FOUNDED UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF ROBERT E. LEE 1868
TO THE READER
Now that my story is done I see that it is the strangest fiction that I have ever written.
Because it is true. It actually happened. Every character in it is historic. I have not changed even a name. Every event took place. Therefore it is incredible. Yet I have in my possession the proofs establishing each character and each event as set forth. They are true beyond question.
THOMAS DIXON CURRITUCK LODGE Munden, Va.
LEADING CHARACTERS OF THE STORY
ROBERT E. LEE The Southern Commander.
MRS. LEE His Wife.
CUSTIS His older Son.
MARY His Daughter.
MRS. MARSHALL Lee's Sister.
UNCLE BEN The Butler.
SAM A Slave.
J.E.B. STUART "The Flower of Cavaliers."
FLORA COOKE His Sweetheart.
PHIL SHERIDAN His Schoolmate.
FRANCIS PRESTON BLAIR Lincoln's Messenger.
SENATOR ROBERT TOOMBS of Georgia.
JOHN BROWN of Osawatomie.
JOHN E. COOK His Spy.
VIRGINIA KENNEDY Cook's Victim.
GERRIT SMITH A Philanthropist.
GEORGE EVANS A Labor Leader.
F. B. SANBORN Brown's Organizer.
REV. THOMAS W. HIGGINSON A Revolutionist.
WM. C. RIVES Confederate Senator
GEN. E. P. ALEXANDER of Lee's Artillery.
JOHN DOYLE A Poor White.
MAHALA DOYLE His Wife.
EDMOND RUFFIN A Virginia Planter.
THE MAN IN GRAY
The fireflies on the Virginia hills were blinking in the dark places beneath the trees and a katydid was singing in the rosebush beside the portico at Arlington. The stars began to twinkle in the serene sky. The lights of Washington flickered across the river. The Capitol building gleamed, argus-eyed on the hill. Congress was in session, still wrangling over the question of Slavery and its extension into the territories of the West.
The laughter of youth and beauty sifted down from open windows. Preparations were being hurried for the ball in honor of the departing cadets—Custis Lee, his classmate, Jeb Stuart, and little Phil Sheridan of Ohio whom they had invited in from Washington.
The fact that the whole family was going to West Point with the boys and Colonel Robert E. Lee, the new Superintendent, made no difference. One excuse for an old-fashioned dance in a Southern home was as good as another. The main thing was to bring friends and neighbors, sisters and cousins and aunts together for an evening of joy.
A whippo'will cried his weird call from a rendezvous in the shadows of the lawn, as Sam entered the great hall and began to light the hundreds of wax tapers in the chandeliers.
"Move dat furniture back now!" he cried to his assistants. "And mind yo' p's and q's. Doan yer break nuttin."
His sable helpers quietly removed the slender mahogany and rosewood pieces to the adjoining rooms. They laughed at Sam's new-found note of dignity and authority.
He was acting butler to-night in Uncle Ben's place. No servant was allowed to work when ill—no matter how light the tasks to which he was assigned. Sam was but twenty years old and he had been given the honor of superintending the arrangements for the dance. And, climax of all, he had been made leader of the music with the sole right to call the dances, although he played only the triangle in the orchestra. He was in high fettle.
When the first carriage entered the grounds his keen ear caught the crunch of wheels on the gravel. He hurried to call the mistress and young misses to their places at the door. He also summoned the boys from their rooms upstairs. He had seen the flash of spotless white in the carriage. It meant beauty calling to youth on the hill. Sam knew.
Phil came downstairs with Custis. The spacious sweep of the hall, its waxed floor clear of furniture, with hundreds of blinking candles flashing on its polished surface, caught his imagination. It was a fairy world—this generous Southern home. In spite of its wide spaces, and its dignity, it was friendly. It caught his boy's heart.
Mrs. Lee was just entering. Custis' eyes danced at the sight of his mother in full dress. He grasped Phil's arm and whispered:
"Isn't my mother the most beautiful woman you ever saw?"
He spoke the words half to himself. It was the instinctive worship of the true Southern boy, breathed in genuine reverence, with an awe that was the expression of a religion.
"I was just thinking the same thing, Custis," was the sober reply.
"I beg your pardon, Phil," he hastened to apologize. "I didn't mean to brag about my mother to you. It just slipped out. I couldn't help it. I was talking to myself."
"You needn't apologize. I know how you feel. She's already made me think I'm one of you—"
He paused and watched Mary Lee enter from the lawn leaning on Stuart's arm. Stuart's boyish banter was still ringing in her ears as she smiled at him indulgently. She hurried to her mother with an easy, graceful step and took her place beside her. She was fine, exquisite, bewitching. She had never come out in Society. She had been born in it. She had her sweethearts before thirteen and not one had left a shadow on her quiet, beautiful face. She demanded, by her right of birth as a Southern girl, years of devotion. And the Southern boy of the old regime was willing to serve.
Phil stood with Stuart and watched Custis kiss a dozen pretty girls as they arrived and call each one cousin.
"Is it a joke?" he asked Stuart curiously.
"This cousin business."
"Not much. You don't think I'd let him be such a pig if I could help him, do you?"
"Are they all kin?"
"Yes—" Stuart laughed. "Some of it gets pretty thin in the second and third cousin lines. But it's thick enough for him to get a kiss from every one—confound him!"
The hall was crowding rapidly. The rustle of silk, the flash of pearls and diamonds, the hum of soft drawling voices filled the perfumed air.
Phil's eyes were dazzled with the bevies of the younger set, from sixteen to eighteen, dressed in soft tulle and organdy; slow of speech; their voices low, musical, delicious. He was introduced to so many his head began to swim. To save his soul he couldn't pick out one more entrancing than another. The moment they spied his West Point uniform he was fair game. They made eyes at him. They languished and pretended to be smitten at first sight. Twice he caught himself about to believe one of them. They seemed so sincere, so dreadfully in earnest. And then he caught the faintest twinkle in the corner of a dark eye and blushed to think himself such a fool.
But the sensation of being lionized was delightful. He was in a whirl of foolish joy when he suddenly realized that Stuart had deserted him, slipped through the crowd and found his way to Mary Lee. He threw a quick glance at the pair and one of the four beauties hovering around him began to whisper:
"Jeb Stuart's just crazy about Mary—"
"Did you ever see anything like it!"
"He couldn't stop even to say how-d'y-do."
"And she's utterly indifferent—"
Sam's voice suddenly rang out with unusual unction and deliberation. He was imitating Uncle Ben's most eloquent methods.
"Congress-man and Mrs. Rog-er A. Pry-or!"
Mrs. Lee hastened to greet the young editor who had taken high rank in Congress from the day of his entrance.
Mrs. Pryor was evidently as proud of her young Congressman as he was of her regal beauty.
Colonel Lee joined the group and led the lawmaker into the library for a chat on politics.
The first notes of a violin swept the crowd. The hum of conversation and the ripple of laughter softened into silence. The dusky orchestra is in place on the little platform. Sam, in all his glory, rises and faces the eager youth.
He was dressed in his young master's last year's suit, immaculate blue broadcloth and brass buttons, ruffled shirt and black-braided watch guard hanging from his neck. His eyes sparkled with pride and his rich, sonorous voice rang over the crowd like the deep notes of a flute:
"Choose yo' pardners fur de fust cowtillun!"
Again the quick rustle of silk and tulle, the low hum of excited, young voices and the couples are in place.
A boy cries to the leader:
"We're all ready, Sam."
The young caller of the set knew his business better. He lifted his hand in a gesture of reverence and silence, as he glanced toward the library door.
"Jes' a minute la-dees, an' gem-mens," he softly drawled. "Marse Robert E. Lee and Missis will lead dis set!"
The Colonel briskly entered from the library with his wife on his arm. A ripple of applause swept the room as they took their places with the gay youngsters.
Sam lifted his hand; the music began—sweet and low, vibrating with the sensuous touch of the negro slave whose soul was free in its joyous melody.
At the first note of his triangle, loud above the music rang Sam's voice:
"Honors to yo' pardners!"
With graceful courtesies and stately bows the dance began. And over all a glad negro called the numbers:
The caller's eyes rolled and his body swayed with the rhythm of the dance as he watched each set with growing pride. They danced a quadrille, a mazurka, another quadrille, a schottische, the lancers, another quadrille, and another and another. They paused for supper at midnight and then danced them over again.
While the fine young forms swayed to exquisite rhythm and the music floated over all, the earnest young Congressman bent close to his host in a corner of the library.
"I sincerely hope, Colonel Lee, that you can see your way clear to make a reply to this book of Mrs. Stowe which Ruffin has sent you."
"I can't see it yet, Mr. Pryor—"
"Ruffin is a terrible old fire-eater, I know," the Congressman admitted. "But Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most serious blow the South has received from the Abolitionists. And what makes it so difficult is that its appeal is not to reason. It is to sentiment. To the elemental emotions of the mob. No matter whether its picture is true or false, the result will be the same unless the minds who read it can be cured of its poison. It has become a sensation. Every Northern Congressman has read it. A half million copies have been printed and the presses can't keep up with the demands. This book is storing powder in the souls of the masses who don't know how to think, because they've never been trained to think. This explosive emotion is the preparation for fanaticism. We only wait the coming of the fanatic—the madman who may lift a torch and hurl it into this magazine. The South is asleep. And when we don't sleep, we dance. There's no use fooling ourselves. We're dancing on the crust of a volcano."
"I've a number with Mrs. Pryor. I wish you'd think it over, Colonel. This message is my big reason for missing a night session to be here."
Lee nodded and strolled out on the lawn before the white pillars of the portico to consider the annoying request. He hated controversy.
Yet he was not the type of man to run from danger. The breed of men from which he sprang had always faced the enemy when the challenge came. In the carriage of his body there was a quiet pride—a feeling not of vanity, but of instinctive power. It was born in him through generations of men who had done the creative thinking of a nation in the building. His face might have been described as a little too regular—a little too handsome perhaps for true greatness, but for the look of deep thought in his piercing eyes. And the finely chiseled lines of character, positive, clean-cut, vigorous. He had backbone.
And yet he was not a bitter partisan. He used his brain. He reasoned. He looked at the world through kindly, conservative eyes. He feared God, only. He believed in his wife, his children, his blood. And he loved Virginia, counting it the highest honor to be—not seem to be—an old-fashioned Virginia gentleman.
He believed in democracy guided by true leaders. This reservation was not a compromise. It was a cardinal principle. He could conceive of no democracy worth creating or preserving which did not produce the superman to lead, shape, inspire and direct its life. The man called of God to this work was fulfilling a divine mission. He must be of the very necessity of his calling a nobleman.
Without vanity he lived daily in the consciousness of his own call to this exalted ideal. It made his face, in repose, grave. His gravity came from the sense of duty and the consciousness of problems to be met and solved as his fathers before him had met and solved great issues.
His conservatism had its roots in historic achievements and the chill that crept into his heart as he thought of this book came, not from the fear of the possible clash of forces in the future, but from the dread of changes which might mean the loss of priceless things in a nation's life. He believed in every fiber of his being that, in spite of slavery, the old South in her ideals, her love of home, her worship of God, her patriotism, her joy of living and her passion for beauty stood for things that are eternal.
And great changes were sweeping over the Republic. He felt this to-day as never before. The Washington on whose lights he stood gazing was rapidly approaching the end of the era in which the Nation had evolved a soul. His people had breathed that soul into the Republic. To this hour the mob had never ruled America. Its spirit had never dominated a crisis. The nation had been shaped from its birth through the heart and brain of its leaders.
But he recalled with a pang that the race of Supermen was passing. Calhoun had died two years ago. Henry Clay had died within the past two months. Daniel Webster lay on his death bed at Mansfield. And there were none in sight to take their places. We had begun the process of leveling. We had begun to degrade power, to scatter talent, to pull down our leaders to the level of the mob, in the name of democracy.
He faced this fact with grave misgivings. He believed that the first requirement of human society, if it shall live, is the discovery of men fit to command—to lead.
With the passing of Clay, Calhoun and Webster the Washington on which he gazed, the Washington of 1852, had ceased to be a forum of great thought, of high thinking and simple living. It had become the scene of luxury and extravagance. The two important establishments of the city were Gautier's, the restaurateur and caterer—the French genius who prepared the feasts for jeweled youth; and Gait, the jeweler who sold the precious stones to adorn the visions of beauty at these banquets.
The two political parties had fallen to the lowest depths of groveling to vote getting by nominating the smallest men ever named for Presidential honors. The Democrats had passed all their real leaders and named as standard-bearer an obscure little politician of New Hampshire, Mr. Franklin Pierce. His sole recommendation for the exalted office was that he would carry one or two doubtful Northern states and with the solid South could thus be elected. The Whig convention in Baltimore had cast but thirty-two votes for Daniel Webster and had nominated a military figurehead, General Winfield Scott.
The Nation was without a leader. And the low rumble of the crowd—the growl of the primal beast—could be heard in the distance with increasing distinctness.
The watcher turned from the White City across the Potomac and slowly walked into his rose garden. Even in September the riot of color was beyond description. In the splendor of the full Southern moon could be seen all shades from deep blood red to pale pink. All sizes from the tiniest four-leaf wild flowers to the gorgeous white and yellow masses that reared their forms like waves of the surf. He breathed the perfume and smiled again. A mocking bird, dropping from the bough of a holly, was singing the glory of a second blooming.
The scene of entrancing beauty drove the thought of strife from his heart. He turned back toward the house and its joys of youth.
Sam's sonorous voice was ringing in deliberation the grand call of the evening's festivities:
And then the stir, the rush, the commotion for place in the final dance. The reel reaches the whole length of the hall with every foot of space crowded. There are thirty couples in line when the musicians pause, tune their instruments and with a sudden burst play "The Gray Eagle." The Virginia Reel stirs the blood of these Southern boys and girls. Its swift, graceful action and the inspiration of the old music seem part of the heart beat of the youth and beauty that sway to its cadences.
The master of Arlington smiled at the memory of the young Congressman's eloquence. Surely it was only a flight of rhetoric.
Phil had finally reached the boys' room after the dance, his head in a whirl of excitement. Sleep was the last thing he wished. His imagination was on fire. He had heard of Southern hospitality. He had never dreamed of such waste of good things, such joy in living, such genuine pleasure in the meeting of friends and kinfolks. Custis had insisted on every boy staying all night. A lot of them had stayed. The wide rooms bulged with them. There were cots and pallets everywhere. He had seen the housemaids and the menservants carrying them in after the dance. Their own room contained four beds and as many pallets, and they were all full.
He tried to sleep and couldn't. He dozed an hour, waked at dawn and began day-dreaming. There was no sense of weariness. His mind was too alert. The great house, in which he was made to feel as much at home as in the quiet cottage of his mother in Ohio, fascinated him with its endless menservants, housemaids, serving boys, cooks, coachmen and hostlers.
He thought of the contrast with the quiet efficiency and simplicity of his mother's house. He could see her seated at the little table in the center of the room, a snow-white cap on her head. The work of the house had been done without a servant. It had been done so simply and quietly, he had never been conscious of the fact that it was work at all. It had seemed a ministry of love for her children. Their help had been given with equal joy, unconscious of toil, her kitchen floor was always spotless, with every pot and pan and shining dish in its place as if by magic.
He wondered how Custis' mother could bear the strain of all these people. He wondered how she could manage the army of black servants who hung on her word as the deliverance of an oracle. He could hear the hum of the life of the place already awake with the rising sun. Down in the ravine behind the house he caught the ring of a hammer on an anvil and closer in the sweep of a carpenter's plane over a board. A colt was calling to his mother at the stables and he could hear the chatter and cries of the stable boys busy with the morning feed.
He rose, stepped gingerly beside the sleepers on the floor and stood by an open window. His mind was stirring with a curious desire to see the ghost that haunted this house, its spacious grounds and fields. He, too, had read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and wondered. The ghost must be here hiding in some dark corner of cabin or field—the ghost of deathless longing for freedom—the ghost of cruelty—the ghost of the bloodhound, the lash and the auction block.
Somehow he couldn't realize that such things could be, now that he was a guest in a Southern home and saw the bright side of their life. Never had he seen anything brighter than the smiles of those negro musicians as they proudly touched their instruments: the violin, the banjo, the flute, the triangle and castanets, and watched the dancers swing through each number. There could be no mistake about the ring of joy in Sam's voice. It throbbed with unction. It pulsed with pride. Its joy was contagious. He caught himself glancing at his rolling eyes and swaying body. Once he muttered aloud:
"Just look at that fool nigger!"
But somewhere in this paradise of flowers and song birds, of music and dance, of rustling silk, of youth and beauty, the Ghost of Slavery crouched.
In a quiet way he would watch for it to walk. He had to summon all his pride of Section and training in the catch words of the North to keep from falling under the charm of the beautiful life he felt enfolding him.
He no longer wondered why every Northern man who moved South forgot the philosophy of the Snows and became a child of the Sun. He felt the subtle charm of it stealing into his heart and threw off the spell with an effort.
A sparrow chirped under the window. A redbird flashed from a rosebush and a mocking bird from a huge magnolia began to softly sing his morning love song to his mate.
He heard a yawn, turned and saw Custis rubbing his eyes.
"For heaven's sake, Phil, why don't you sleep?"
"Tried and can't."
"Don't like your bed?"
"Too much excited."
"One of those girls hooked you?"
"No. I couldn't make up my mind. So many beauties they rattled me."
"All right," Custis said briskly. "Let's get up and look around the old plantation."
"Good," Phil cried.
Custis called Jeb Stuart in vain. He refused to answer or to budge.
Phil found his shoes at the door neatly blacked and the moment he began to stir a grinning black boy was at his heels to take his slightest order.
"I don't want anything!" he said at last to his dusky tormentor.
"Nuttin tall, sah?"
Phil smiled at the eager, rolling eyes.
"Get out—you make me laugh—"
The boy ducked.
"Yassah—des call me if ye wants me—I'se right outside de do'."
The two cadets ate breakfast alone. The house was yet asleep—except the children. Their voices could be heard on the lawn at play. They had been put to bed early, at eleven o'clock. They were up with the birds as usual. The sun was an hour high, shining the glory of a perfect September morning. The boys strolled on the lawn. The children were everywhere, playing in groups. Little black and white boys mixed indiscriminately. Robbie Lee was playing rooster fight with Sid, his boon companion. The little black boy born nearest his birthday was dedicated to be his friend, companion and body servant for life.
Phil paused to see the rooster fight.
The boys folded their arms and flew at each other sideways, using their elbows as a rooster uses his spurs.
Robbie was pressing Sid against the fence of the rose garden. Sid's return blows lacked strength.
Robbie stamped his foot angrily.
"Come on now—no foolin'—fight! There's no fun in a fight, if you don't fight!"
Sid bucked up and flew at his enemy.
Robbie saw the two older boys watching and gave a star performance. As Sid lunged at him with uplifted arms, and drew back to strike a stunning blow, Robbie suddenly stooped, hurled his elbow under Sid's arm, lifted him clear of the ground and he fell sprawling.
Robbie stood in triumph over the prostrate figure.
"You got him that time, Robbie!"
Robbie squared himself, raised his spurs and waited for Sid to rise.
Sid was in no hurry. He had enough. He hadn't cried. But he was close to it.
"Ye needn't put up dem spurs at me no mo'."
"Come on again!" Robbie challenged.
"Na, sah. I'se done dead. Ye stick dat spur clean froo me. Hit mighty nigh come out on de odder side!"
The game was suddenly ended by a barefoot white boy approaching Robbie. Johnny Doyle carried a dozen teal ducks, six in each hand. They were so heavy for his hands that their heads dragged the ground.
Robbie rushed to meet his friend.
"Oh, John, where'd you get the ducks?"
"Me and daddy killed 'em this mornin' at sun-up on the river."
"Why, the duck season isn't on yet, is it?" Custis asked the boy.
"No, sir, but daddy saw a big raft of teal swingin' into the bend of the river yesterday and we got up before daylight and got a mess."
"You brought 'em to me, John?" Robbie asked eagerly.
"Jes the same, Robbie. Dad sent 'em to Colonel Lee."
"That's fine of your daddy, John," Custis said, placing his hand on the little bare sunburnt head.
"Yessir, my daddy says Colonel Lee's the greatest man in this county and he's mighty proud to be his neighbor."
"Tell him my father will thank him personally before we leave and say for all that he has given us a treat."
Custis handed the ducks to Sid.
"Take them to the kitchen and tell Aunt Hannah to have them for dinner, sure."
Sid started for the kitchen and Robbie called after him:
"Hurry back, Sid—"
"Yassah—right away, sah!"
Robbie seized John's hand.
"You'll stay all day?"
"We're goin' fishin'—"
"Sure. Uncle Ben's sick. But after dinner he's promised to take us. He's not too sick to fish."
"I can't stay," the barefoot boy sighed.
"Come on. There's three bird's nests in the orchard. The second layin'. It ain't no harm to break up the second nest. Birds've no business layin' twice in one season. We ought to break 'em up."
"I'm afraid I can't."
His tone grew weaker and Robbie pressed him.
"Come on. We'll get the bird's eggs and chase the calves and colts till the dinner bell rings, ride the horses home from the fields, and go fishin' after dinner and stay till dark."
John glanced up the road toward the big gate beyond which his mother was waiting his return. The temptation was more than his boy's soul could resist. He shook his head—paused—and grinned.
"Come on, Sid, John's goin' with us," Robbie called to his young henchman as he approached.
"All right," John consented, finally throwing every scruple to the winds. "Ma'll whip me shore, but, by granny, it'll be worth it!"
The aristocrat slipped his arm around his chum and led him to the orchard in triumph.
"He'd rather play with that little, poor white rascal than any boy in the country."
"Don't blame him," Phil replied. "He may be dirty and ragged but he's a real boy after a real boy's heart. And the handsomest little beggar I ever saw—who is he?"
"The boy of a poor white family, the Doyles. They live just outside our gate on a ten-acre farm. His mother's trying to make him go to school. His father laughs and lets him go hunting and fishing."
They were strolling past the first neat row of houses in the servants' quarters. Phil thought of them as the slave quarters. Yet he had not heard the word slave spoken since his arrival. These black people were "servants" and some of them were the friends and confidants of their master and his household. Phil paused in front of a cottage. The yard flamed with autumn flowers. Through the open door and windows came the hum of spinning wheels and the low, sweet singing of the dark spinners, spinning wool for the winter clothing of the estate. From the next door came the click and crash of the looms weaving the warm cloth.
"You make your own cloth?" the Westerner asked in surprise.
"Of course, for the servants. It takes six spinners and three weavers working steadily all year to keep up with it, too."
"Isn't it expensive?"
"Maybe. We never thought of it. We just make it. Always have in our family for a hundred years."
They passed the blacksmith's shop and saw him shoeing a blooded colt. Phil touched the horse's nostrils with a gentle hand and the colt nudged him.
"It's funny how a horse knows a horseman instinctively—isn't it, Phil?"
"Yes. He knows I'm going to join the cavalry."
They moved down the long row of whitewashed cottages, each with its yard of flowers and each with a huge pile of wood in the rear—wood enough to keep a sparkling fire through the winter. Chubby-faced babies were playing in the sanded walks and smiling young mothers watched them from the doors.
Phil started to put a question, stammered and was silent.
"What is it?" Custis asked.
"You'll pardon my asking it, old boy, but are these black folks married?"
The Southern boy laughed heartily.
"I should say so. A negro wedding is one of the joys of a plantation boy's life."
"But isn't it awful when they're separated?"
"They're not separated."
"Not on this plantation. Nor on any estate whose master and mistress are our friends. It's not done in our set."
"You keep them when they're old, lazy and worthless?"
"If they're married, yes. It's a luxury we never deny ourselves, this softening of the rigor of the slave regime. It's not business. But it's the custom of the country. To separate a husband and wife is an unheard-of thing among our people."
The thing that impressed the Westerner in those white rows of little homes was the order and quiet of it all. Every yard was swept clean. There was nowhere a trace of filth or disease-breeding refuse. And birds were singing in the bushes beside these slave cottages as sweetly as they sang for the master and mistress in the pillared mansion on the hill. They passed the stables and paused to watch a dozen colts playing in the inclosure. Beyond the stable under the shadows of great oaks was the dog kennel. A pack of fox hounds rushed to the gate with loud welcome to their young master. He stooped to stroke each head and call each dog's name. A wagging tail responded briskly to every greeting. In another division of the kennel romped a dozen bird-dogs, pointers and setters. The puppies were nearly grown and eager for the fields. They climbed over Custis in yelping puppy joy that refused all rebuffs.
Phil looked in vain for the bloodhounds. He was afraid to ask about them lest he offend his host. Custis had never seen a bloodhound and could not guess the question back of his schoolmate's silence.
Sam entered the inclosure with breakfast for the dogs.
Phil couldn't keep his eyes off the sunlit, ebony face. His smile was contagious. His voice was music.
The Westerner couldn't resist the temptation to draw him out.
"You were certainly dressed up last night, Sam!"
"Yer lak dat suit I had on, sah?"
"It was a great combination."
"Yassah, dat's me, sah," the negro laughed. "I'se a great combination—yassah!"
He paused and threw his head back as if to recall the words. Then in a voice rich and vibrant with care-free joy he burst into song:
"When I goes out ter promenade I dress so fine and gay I'm bleeged to take my dog along Ter keep de gals away."
Again his laughter rang in peals of sonorous fun. They joined in his laugh.
A stable boy climbed the fence and called:
"Don't ye want yer hosses, Marse Custis?" He was jealous of Sam's popularity.
Custis glanced at Phil.
"Sure. Let's ride."
"All right, Ned—saddle them."
The boy leaped to the ground and in five minutes led two horses to the gate. As they galloped past the house for the long stretch of white roadway that led across the river to the city, Phil smiled as he saw Jeb Stuart emerge from the rose garden with Mary Lee. Custis ignored the unimportant incident.
Stuart led Mary to a seat beneath an oak, brushed the dust away with his cap and asked her to honor him. He bowed low over her hand and dared to kiss it.
She passed the gallant act as a matter of course and sat down beside him with quiet humor. She knew the symptoms. A born flirt, as every true Southern girl has always been, she eyed his embarrassment with surprise. She knew that he was going to speak under the resistless impulse of youth and romance, and that no hearts would be broken on either side no matter what the outcome.
She watched him indulgently. She had to like him. He was the kind of boy a girl couldn't help liking. He was vital, magnetic and exceptionally good looking. He sang and danced and flirted, but beneath the fun and foolishness slumbered a fine spirit, tender, reverent, deeply religious. It was this undercurrent of strength that drew the girl. He was always humming a song, his heart bubbling over with joy. He had never uttered an oath or touched a drop of liquor amid all the gaiety of the times in which he lived.
"Miss Mary," he began slowly.
"Now Jeb," she interrupted. "You don't have to, you know—"
Stuart threw his head back, laughed, and sang a stanza from "Annie Laurie" in a low, tender voice. He paused and faced his fair tormentor.
"Miss Mary, I've got to!"
"You don't have to make love to me just because you're my brother's classmate—"
"You know I'm not!" he protested.
"You're about to begin."
"But not for that reason, Miss Mary—"
He held her gaze so seriously that she blushed before she could recover her poise. He saw his advantage and pressed it.
"I'm telling you that I love you because you're the most adorable girl I've ever known."
His boyish, conventional words broke the spell.
"I appreciate the tribute which you so gallantly pay me, Sir Knight. But I happen to know that the moonlight, the music of a dance, the song of birds this morning and the beauty of the landscape move you, as they should. You're young. You're too good looking. You're fine and unspoiled and I like you, Jeb. But you don't know yet what love means."
"I do, Miss Mary, I do."
"You don't and neither do I. You're in love with love. And so am I. It's the morning of life and why shouldn't we be like this?"
"There's no hope?" he asked dolefully.
"Of course, there's hope. There's something fine in you, and you'll find yourself in the world when you ride forth to play your part. And I'll follow you with tender pride."
"But not with love," he sighed.
"Maybe—who knows?" she smiled.
"Is that all the hope you can give me?"
"Isn't it enough?"
He gazed into her serious eyes a moment and laughed with boyish enthusiasm.
"Yes, it is, Miss Mary! You're glorious. You're wonderful. You make me ashamed of my foolishness. You inspire me to do things. And I'm going to do them for your sake."
"For your own sake, because God has put the spark in your soul. Your declaration of love has made me very happy. We're too young yet to take it seriously. We must both live our life in its morning before we settle down to the final things. They'll come too soon."
"I'm going to love you always, Miss Mary," he protested.
"I want you to. But you'll probably marry another girl."
"And I know you'll be her loyal knight, her devoted slave. It's a way our Southern boys have. And it's beautiful."
Stuart studied the finely chiseled face with a new reverence.
"Miss Mary, you've let me down so gently. I don't feel hurt at all."
A sweet silence fell between them. A breeze blew the ringlets of the girl's hair across the pink of her cheek. A breeze from the garden laden with the mingled perfume of roses. A flock of wild ducks swung across the lawn high in the clear sky and dipped toward the river. Across the fields came a song of slaves at work in the cornfield, harvesting the first crop of peas planted between the rows.
Stuart caught her hand, pressed it tenderly and kissed it.
"You're an angel, Miss Mary. And I'm going to worship you, if you won't let me love you."
The girl returned his earnest look with a smile and slowly answered:
"All right, Beauty Stuart, we'll see—"
The dinner at night was informal. Colonel Lee had invited three personal friends from Washington. He hoped in the touch of the minds of these leaders to find some relief from the uneasiness with which the reading of Mrs. Stowe's book had shadowed his imagination.
The man about whom he was curious was Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the most brilliant figure in the Senate. In the best sense he represented the national ideal. A Northern man, he had always viewed the opinions and principles of the South with broad sympathy.
The new Senator from Georgia, on the other hand, had made a sensation in the house as the radical leader of the South. Lee wondered if he were as dangerous a man as the conservative members of the Whig party thought. Toombs had voted the Whig ticket, but his speeches on the rights of the South on the Slavery issues had set him in a class by himself.
Mr. and Mrs. Pryor had spent the night of the dance at Arlington and had consented to stay for dinner.
Douglas had captured the young Virginia congressman. And Mrs. Douglas had become an intimate friend of Mrs. Pryor.
When Douglas entered the library and pressed Lee's hand, the master of Arlington studied him with keen interest. He was easily the most impressive figure in American politics. The death of Calhoun and Clay and the sudden passing of Webster had left but one giant on the floor of the Senate. They called him the "Little Giant." He was still a giant. He had sensed the approaching storm of crowd madness and had sought the age-old method of compromise as the safety valve of the nation.
He had not read history in vain. He knew that all statesmanship is the record of compromise—that compromise is another name for reason. The Declaration of Independence was a compromise between the radicalism of Thomas Jefferson and the conservatism of the colonies. In the original draft of the Declaration, Jefferson had written a paragraph arraigning slavery which had been omitted:
"He (the King of Great Britain) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him; capturing and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting these very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."
This indictment of Slavery and the Slave trade was stricken from the Declaration of Independence in deference to the opposition of both Northern and Southern slave owners who held that the struggling young colonies must have labor at all hazards.
Lee knew that the Constitution also was a compromise of conflicting interests. But for the spirit of compromise—of reason—this instrument of human progress could never have been created. The word "Slave" or "Slavery" does not occur within it, and yet three of its most important provisions established the institution of chattel slavery as the basis of industrial life. The statesmen who wrote the Constitution did not wish these clauses embodied in it. Yet the Union could not have been established without them. Our leaders reasoned, and reasoned wisely, that Slavery must perish in the progress of human society, and, therefore, they accepted the compromise.
There has never been a statesman in the history of the world who has not used this method of constructive progress. There will never be a statesman who succeeds who can use any other method in dealing with masses of his fellow men.
Douglas was the coming constructive statesman of the republic and all eyes were being focused on him. His life at the moment was the fevered center of the nation's thought. That his ambitions were boundless no one who knew the man doubted. That his patriotism was as genuine and as great all knew at last.
Lee studied every feature of his fine face. No eye could miss him in an assemblage of people, no matter how great the numbers. His compact figure was erect, aggressive, dominant. A personage, whose sense of power came from within, not without. He was master of himself and of others. He looked the lion and he was one. The lines of his face were handsome in the big sense, strong, regular, masculine. He drew young men as a magnet. His vitality inspired them. His stature was small in height, measured by inches, but of such dignity, power and magnetism that he suggested Napoleon.
He smiled into Colonel Lee's face and his smile lighted the room. Every man and woman present was warmed by it.
Douglas had scarcely greeted Mrs. Lee and passed into an earnest conversation with the young Congressman when Robert Toombs of Georgia entered.
Toombs had become within two years the successor of John C. Calhoun. He had the genius of Calhoun, eloquence as passionate, as resistless; and he had all of Calhoun's weaknesses. He called a spade a spade. He loathed compromise. Three years before he had swept the floor and galleries of the House with a burst of impassioned eloquence that had made him a national figure.
Lifting his magnificent head he had cried:
"I do not hesitate to avow before this House and the Country, and in the presence of the living God, that if by your legislation you seek to drive us from the Territory of California and New Mexico, purchased by the blood of Southern white people, and to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the States of this Confederacy, I am for disunion. The Territories are the common property of the United States. You are their common agents; it is your duty while they are in the Territorial state to remove all impediments to their free enjoyment by both sections—the slave holder and the non-slave holder!"
He was the man of iron will, of passionate convictions. He might lead a revolution. He could not compromise.
His rapidly growing power was an ominous thing in the history of the South. Lee studied his face with increasing fascination.
In this gathering no man or woman thought of wealth as the source of power or end of life. No one spoke of it. Office, rank, position, talent, beauty, charm, personality—these things alone could count. These men and women lived. They did not merely exist. They were making the history of the world and yet they refused to rush through life. Their souls demanded hours of repose, of thought, of joy and they took them.
Toombs' pocket was stuffed with a paper-backed edition of a French play. It was his habit to read them in the original with keen enjoyment in moments of leisure. The hum of social life filled the room and strife was forgotten. Douglas and Toombs were boys again and Lee was their companion.
Mary Lee managed to avoid Stuart and took her seat beside Phil Sheridan—not to tease her admirer but to give to her Western guest the warmest welcome of the old South. She knew the dinner would be a revelation to Phil and she would enjoy his appreciation.
The long table groaned under the luxuries of the season. Course succeeded course, cooked with a delicate skill unknown to the world of to-day. The oysters, fresh, fat, luscious, were followed by diamond-back terrapin stew as a soup.
Phil tasted it and whispered to his fair young hostess.
"Miss Mary, what is this I'm eating?"
"Don't you like it?"
"I never expected to taste it on earth. I've only dreamed about it on high."
"It's only terrapin stew. We serve it as a soup."
"The angels made it."
"No, Aunt Hannah."
"I won't take it back. Angels only could brew this soup."
The terrapin was followed by old Virginia ham and turnip greens. And then came the turkey with chestnut stuffing and jellies. The long table, flashing with old china and silver, held the staples of ham and turkey as ornaments as well as dainties for the palate. The real delicacies were served later, the ducks which Doyle had sent the Colonel, and plate after plate of little, brown, juicy birds called sora, so tender and toothsome they could be eaten bones and all.
When Phil wound up with cakes and custards, apples, pears and nuts from the orchard and fields, his mind was swimming in a dream of luxury. And over it all the spirit of true hospitality brooded. A sense of home and reality as intimate, as genuine as if he sat beside his mother's chair in the little cottage in Ohio.
"Lord save me," he breathed. "If I stay here long I'll have but one hope, to own a plantation and a home like this—"
Toombs sat on Lee's right and Douglas on his left. Mr. and Mrs. Pryor occupied the places of honor beside Mrs. Lee.
The Colonel's keen eye studied Douglas with untiring patience. To his rising star, the man who loved the Union, was drawn as by a magnet. Toombs, the Whig, belonged to his own Party, the aristocracy of brains and the inheritors of the right to leadership. He was studying Toombs with growing misgivings. He dreaded the radicalism within the heart of the Southern Whig.
His eye rested on Sam, serving the food as assistant butler in Ben's absence. In the kink of his hair, the bulge of his smiling lips, the spread of his nostrils, the whites of his rolling eyes, he saw the Slave. He saw the mystery, the brooding horror, the baffling uncertainty, the insoluble problem of such a man within a democracy of self-governing freemen. He stood bowing and smiling over his guests, in shape a man. And yet in racial development a million years behind the wit and intelligence of the two leaders at his side.
Over this dusky figure, from the dawn of American history our fathers had wrangled and compromised. More than once he had threatened to divide or destroy the Union. Reason and the compromises of great minds had saved us. In Sam he saw this grinning skeleton at his feast.
He could depend on the genius of Douglas when the supreme crisis came. He felt the quality of his mind tonight. But could Douglas control the mob impulse of the North where such appeals as Uncle Tom's Cabin had gripped the souls of millions and reason no longer ruled life?
There was the rub.
There was no question of the genius of Douglas. The question was could any leadership count if the mob, not the man, became our real ruler? The task of Douglas was to hold the fanatic of the North while he soothed the passions of the radical of the South. Henry Clay had succeeded. But Uncle Tom's Cabin had not been written in his day.
Toombs was becoming a firebrand. His eloquence was doing in the South what Mrs. Stowe's novel was doing in the North—preparing the soil for revolution—planting gunpowder under the foundations of society.
Could these forces yet be controlled or were they already beyond control?
After dinner, Jeb Stuart succeeded in separating Mary from Phil and began again his adoration. The men adjourned to the library to discuss the Presidential Campaign and weigh the chances of General Scott against Franklin Pierce. The comment of Toombs was grim in its sarcasm and early let him out of the discussion.
"It doesn't matter in the least, gentlemen, who is elected in November," he observed. "There's nothing before the country as yet. Not even an honest-to-God man."
Lee shook his head gravely.
Toombs parried his protest.
"I know, Colonel Lee, you're fond of the old General. You fought with him in Mexico. But—" he dropped his voice to a friendly whisper—"all the same, you know that what I say is true."
He took a cigar from the mantel, lighted it and waved to the group.
"I'll take a little stroll and smoke."
Custis took Phil to the cottage of the foreman to see a night school in session.
"You mean the overseer's place?" Phil asked eagerly, as visions of Simon Legree flashed through his mind.
"No—I mean Uncle Ike's cottage. He's the foreman of the farm. We have no white overseer."
Phil was shocked. He had supposed every Southern plantation had a white overseer as slave driver with a blacksnake whip in his hand. A negro foreman was incredible. As a matter of fact there were more negro foremen than white overseers in the South.
In Uncle Ike's cottage by the light of many candles the school for boys was in session. Custis' brother "Rooney," was the teacher. He had six pupils besides Sam. Not one of them knew his lesson to-night and Rooney was furious.
As Phil and Custis entered, he was just finishing a wrathful lecture. His pupils were standing in a row grinning their apologies.
"I've told you boys for the last three weeks that I won't stand this. You don't have to go to school to me if you don't want to. But if you join my school you've got to study. Do you hear me?"
"Yassah!" came the answer in solid chorus.
"Well, you'll do more than hear me to-night. You're going to heed what I say. I'm going to thrash the whole school."
Sam broke into a loud laugh. And a wail of woe came from every dusky figure.
"Hear dat, folks—?"
"I been a tellin' ye chillun—"
"I lubs my spellin' book—but, oh, dat hickory switch!"
"Gib us anudder chance, Marse Rooney!"
"Not another chance," was the stern answer. "Lay off your coats."
They began to peel their coats. Big, strapping, husky fellows nudging one another and grinning at their fourteen-year-old schoolmaster. It was no use to protest.
They knew they deserved it. A whipping was one of the minor misfortunes of life. Its application was universal. No other method of discipline had yet been dreamed by the advanced thinkers and rulers of the world. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was accepted as the Word of God and only a fool could doubt it. The rod was the emblem of authority for child, pupil, apprentice and soldier. The negro slave as a workman got less of it than any other class. It was the rule of a Southern master never to use the rod on a slave except for crime if it could be avoided. To flog one for laziness was the exception, not the rule.
The old Virginia gentleman prided himself particularly on the tenderness and care with which he guarded the life of his servants. If the weather was cold and his men exposed, he waited to see that they had dry clothes and a warm drink before they went to bed. He never failed to remember that his white skin could endure more than their sunburned dark ones.
The young school-teacher had no scruples on applying the rod. He selected his switches with care, and tested their strength and flexibility while he gave the bunch a piece of his mind.
"What do you think I'm coming down here every night for, anyhow?" he stormed.
"Lordy, Marse Rooney," Sam pleaded, "doan we all pay you fur our schoolin'?"
"Yes, you do when I can manage to choke it out of you. One dozen eggs a month or one pullet every two months. And I don't even ask you where you got the eggs or the pullet."
"Marse Rooney!" protested Sam. "Yer know we gets 'em outen our own yards er buys 'em from de servants."
"I hope you do. Though my mother says she don't know how we eat so many chickens and eggs at the house. Anyhow I'm not here because I'm going to get rich on the tuition you pay me. I'm not here for my health. I'm here from a sense of duty to you boys—"
"Yassah, we know dat, sah!"
"Give us annuder chance an' we sho' study dem lessons—"
"I gave you another chance the last time. I'll try a little hickory tea this time."
He began at the end of the line and belabored each one faithfully. They shouted in mockery and roared with laughter, scampered over the room and dodged behind chairs and tables.
Phil fairly split his sides laughing.
When the fun was over, they drew close to their teacher and promised faithfully to have every word of the next lesson. They nudged each other and whispered their jokes about the beating.
"Must er bin er flea bitin' me!"
"I felt sumfin. Don't 'zactly know what it wuz. Mebbe a chigger!"
"Must er been a flea. Hit bit me, too!"
Sam tried to redeem himself for failing on his lessons in arithmetic. He had long ago learned to read and write and had asked for a course in history. The young teacher had given him a copy of Gulliver's Travels.
"Look a here, Marse Rooney, I been a readin' dat book yer gimme—"
"Well, that's good."
"Yer say dat book's history?"
"Well, it's what we call fiction, but I think fiction's the very best history we can read. It may not have happened just that way but it's true all the same."
"Well, ef hit nebber happened, I dunno 'bout dat," Sam objected. "I been suspicionin' fer a long time dat some o' dem things that Gulliver say nebber happen nohow."
"You read it," the teacher ordered.
"Yassah, I sho gwine ter read it, happen er no happen. Glory be ter God. Just 'cause yer tells me, sah!"
The next morning found Phil walking again between the white, clean rows of the quarter houses. He was always finding something to interest him. Every yard had its gorgeous red autumn flowers. Some of them had roses in bloom. The walks from the gate to the door were edged with white-washed bricks or conch shells. The conch shells were souvenirs of summer outings at the seashore.
In the corner of the back yard there was the tall pole on which were hung five or six dried gourds with tiny holes cut in the sides for the martins. And every gourd had its black family. The martins were the guardians of the servants' chicken yards. The hawks were numerous and the woods close to the quarters. Few chickens were lost by hawks. The martins circled the skies in battalions, watching, chattering, guarding, basking in the southern sun.
At noon the assembly bell rang at the end of the Broadway of the quarters. From every cottage, from field and stable, blacksmith shop, carpenter's shop, the house of the spinners, the weavers, the dairy, the negroes poured toward the shed beside the bell tower.
"What is it?" Phil asked of Custis.
"Saturday noon. All work stops."
"My Lord, it's been raining nearly all morning. The field hands haven't worked a lick all day. Do they stop, too?"
"It's the unwritten law of the South. We would no more think of working on Saturday afternoon than on Sunday."
"What are they gathering under that shed for?" Phil inquired.
Custis led him to the shed where Ike, the foreman, stood with Mrs. Lee beside a long table on which were piled the provisions for the week to follow.
The negroes laughed and chattered like a flock of blackbirds picking grain in a wheat field. To each head of a family was given six pounds of meat for each person. A father, mother and two children received twenty-four pounds. Their bread was never rationed. The barrel in each cottage was filled from the grist mill, a bag full at a time. They had their own garden and flocks of chickens. Sugar, coffee and molasses were given on the first of each month.
"Come right back here now all ob you!" Ike shouted, "des ez quick ez yer put yo vittles away. De Missis gwine gib ye yo' winter close now, case she gwine ter Wes' Pint next week."
The provisions were swept from the long table. Out of the storehouse came huge piles of clothing and blankets. Each package was marked with the owner's name.
To each pair, man and wife, or two children, was given a new wool blanket. This was, of course, added to the stock each house had already. A woolen blanket was good for ten years' wear. Many a servant's house had a dozen blankets for each bed. Besides the blankets, to every woman with a baby was given a quilted comfort.
To each man, woman and child were allotted two complete woolen suits for the winter, a new pair of shoes and three pairs of stockings. In the spring two suits of cotton would be given for summer. The thrifty ones had their cedar chests piled with clothes. Many had not worn the suits given out a year ago.
The heads of large families trudged away with six or seven blankets, a comfort, and twenty suits of clothes. It sometimes took the father, mother and two of the children to carry the load.
But the most amazing thing which Phil saw was the sudden transformation of the shed into a market for the sale of slave produce to the mistress of Arlington.
Mrs. Lee had watched the distribution of clothes, blankets, quilts, shoes and stockings for the winter and then became the purchaser of all sorts of little luxuries which the slave had made in his leisure hours on Saturday afternoons and at night. The little boys and girls sold her dried wild fruits. The women had made fine jellies. They all had chickens and eggs to sell to the big house. Some had become experts in making peanut brittle and fudge.
They not only sold their wares here, but they also sold them in the market in Washington. The old men were expert basket and broom makers. The slaves made so much extra money on their chickens, peanuts, popcorn, fudge, brittle, molasses cakes, baskets, brooms, mats and taking in sewing, that they were able to buy many personal luxuries. Phil observed one dusky belle already arrayed in a silk dress for the Saturday afternoon outing with her beau. A few of them had their Sunday dresses made by fashionable mantua makers in Washington.
In addition to the regular distribution of clothing, the household supplied to the servants in rapid succession everything worn by master, mistress, son or daughter. Knowing that their clothes were being watched and guarded by longing eyes, they never wore them very long. Mary Lee was distributing a dozen dresses now to the girls. They had been made within the past year.
Phil observed Sam arrayed in a swallowtail coat of immaculate cut stroll by with his best girl. She was dressed in silk with full hoop-skirts, ruffles, ribbons and flowers.
Sid annoyed Sam by calling loudly:
"Doan yer stay too late ter dat party. Ef ye do I'll hatter sing fur ye—
"Run, nigger, run, de patterole ketch you. Nigger run, de nigger flew, De nigger loss his best ole shoe! Run, nigger, run. Run, nigger, run. Run, nigger, run."
Sam waved his arm in a long laugh.
"Dey won't git me, chile. I'se er conjur man, I is!"
Phil had supposed the patrol of the mysterious mounted police of the South—the men who rode at night—were to the slave always a tragic terror.
It seemed a thing for joke and ribald song.
After lunch, the negroes entered on the afternoon's fun or work. The industrious ones plied their trades to earn money for luxuries. The boys who loved to fish and hunt rabbits hurried to the river and the fields. There was always a hound at their service for a rabbit hunt on Saturday afternoons. Some were pitching horse shoes. Two groups began to play marbles.
The marketing done for the house, the mistress of Arlington, with medicine case in hand, started on her round of healing for body and mind. Mary offered to go with her but the mother saw Stuart hovering about and quietly answered:
"No. You can comfort poor Jeb. He looks disconsolate."
Into every cottage she moved, a quiet, ministering angel. Every hope and fear of ailing young or old found in her an ear to hear, a heart to pity and an arm to save.
If she found a case of serious illness, a doctor was called and a nurse set to watch by the bedside. Every delicacy and luxury the big house held was at the command of the sufferer and that without stint.
In all these clean flower-set cottages there was not a single crippled servant maimed in the service of his master. No black man or woman was allowed to do dangerous work. All dangerous tasks were done by hired white laborers. They were hired by the day under contract through their boss. Even ditches on the farm if they ran through swamp lands infested by malaria, were dug by white hired labor. The master would not permit his slave to take such risks.
But the most important ministry of the mistress of Arlington was in the medicine for the soul which she brought to the life and character of each servant for whose training she had accepted responsibility.
To her even the master proudly and loyally yielded authority. Her sway over the servants was absolute in its spiritual power. Into their souls in hours of trial she poured the healing and inspiration of a beautiful spirit. The mistress of Arlington was delicate and frail in body. But out of her physical suffering the spirit rose to greater heights with each day's duty and service.
This mysterious power caught the warm imagination of the negroes. They were "servants" to others. They were her slaves and they rejoiced in the bond that bound them. They knew that her body had no rest from morning until far into the hours of the night if one of her own needed care. The master could shift his responsibility to a trained foreman. No forewoman could take her place. To the whole scheme of life she gave strength and beauty. The beat of her heart made its wheels go round.
The young Westerner studied her with growing admiration and pity. She was the mistress of an historic house. She was the manager of an estate. She was the counselor of every man, woman and child in happiness or in sorrow. She was an accomplished doctor. She was a trained nurse. She taught the hearts of men and women with a wisdom more profound and searching than any preacher or philosopher from his rostrum. She had mastered the art of dressmaking and the tailor's trade. She was an expert housekeeper. She lived at the beck and call of all. She was idolized by her husband. Her life was a supreme act of worship—a devotion to husband, children, friends, the poor, the slave that made her a high-priestess of humanity.
The thing that struck Phil with terrific force was that this beautiful delicate woman was the slave of slaves.
As a rule, they died young.
He began to wonder how a people of the intelligence of these proud white Southerners could endure such a thing as Slavery. Its waste, its extravagance, its burdens were beyond belief.
He laughed when he thought of his mother crying over Uncle Tom's Cabin. Yet a new edition of a hundred thousand copies had just come from the press.
Early Sunday morning Custis asked him to go down to the quarters to see Uncle Ben, the butler, who had not yet resumed his duties. He had sent an urgent message to his young master asking him to be kind enough to call on Sunday. The message was so formal and reserved Custis knew it was of more than usual importance.
They found the old man superintending a special breakfast of fried fish for two little boys, neatly served at a table with spotless cloth. Robbie and his friend, John Doyle, were eating the fish they had caught with Uncle Ben the day before. They were as happy as kings and talked of fish and fishing with the unction of veteran sportsmen.
The greeting to Custis was profound in its courtesy and reverence. He was the first born of the great house. He was, therefore, the prospective head of the estate. Jeffersonian Democrats had long ago abolished the old English law of primogeniture. But the idea was in the blood of the Virginia planter. The servants caught it as quickly as they caught the other English traits of love of home, family, kin, the cult of leisure, the habit of Church, the love of country. It was not an accident that the decisions of the courts of the Old South were quoted by English barristers and accepted by English judges as law. The Common Law of England was the law of Southern Seaboard States. It always had been and it is to-day.
"How is you dis mornin', Marse Custis?" Ben asked with a stately bow.
"Fine, Uncle Ben. I hope you're better?"
"Des tolerble, sah, des tolerble—" he paused and bowed to Phil. "An' dis is you' school-mate at Wes' Pint, dey tells me about?"
"Yes, Uncle," Phil answered.
"I'se glad ter welcome yer ter Arlington, sah. And I'se powerful sorry I ain't able ter be in de big house ter see dat yer git ebry thing ter make yer happy, sah. Dese here young niggers lak Sam do pooty well. But dey ain't got much sense, sah. And dey ain't got no unction'tall. Dey do de best dey kin an' dat ain't much."
"Oh, I'm having a fine time, Uncle Ben," Phil assured him.
"Praise de Lord, sah."
"Sam told me you wanted to see me, Uncle Ben," Custis said.
"'Bout sumfin mos' particular, sah—"
"At your service."
The old man waved to his wife to look after the boys' breakfast.
"Pile dem fish up on der plates, Hannah. Fill 'em up—fill'em up!"
"We're mos' full now!" Robbie shouted.
"No we ain't," John protested. "I jis begun."
Ben led the young master and his friend out the back door, past the long pile of cord wood, past the chicken yard to a strong box which he had built on tall legs under a mulberry tree. It was constructed of oak and the neatly turned gable roof was covered with old tin carefully painted with three coats of red. A heavy hasp, staple and padlock held the solid door.
Ben fumbled in his pocket, drew forth his keys and opened it. The box was his fireproof and ratproof safe in which the old man kept his valuables. His money, his trinkets, his hammer and nails, augur and bits, screwdriver and monkeywrench. From the top shelf he drew a tin can. A heavy piece of linen tied with a string served as a cover.
He carefully untied the string in silence. He shook the can. The boys saw that it was filled with salt of the coarse kind used to preserve meats.
Ben felt carefully in the salt, drew forth a shriveled piece of dark gristle, and held it up before his young master.
"Yer know what dat is, Marse Custis?"
Custis shook his head.
From the old man's tones of deep emotion he knew the matter was serious. He thought at once of the Hoodoo. But he could make out no meaning to this bit of preserved flesh.
"Never saw anything like it."
"Nasah. I spec yer didn't."
Ben pushed the gray hair back from his left ear. He wore his hair drawn low over the tips of his ears. It was a fad of his, which he never allowed to lapse.
"See anything funny 'bout de top o' dat year, sah?"
Custis looked carefully.
"It looks shorter—"
"Hit's er lot shorter. De top ob hit's clean gone, sah. Dat's why I allus combs my ha'r down close over my years—"
He paused and held up the piece of dried flesh.
"An' dat's hit, sah."
"A piece of your ear?"
"Hit sho is. Ye see, sah, a long time ergo when I wuz young an' strong ez er bull, one er dese here uppish niggers come ter our house drivin' a carriage frum Westover on de James, an' 'gin ter brag 'bout his folks bein' de bes' blood er ole Virginia. An' man I tells him sumfin. I tells dat fool nigger dat de folks at Westover wuz des fair ter midlin. Dat our folks wuz, an' allus wuz, de very fust fambly o' Virginy! I tells him, dat Marse Robert's father was General Light Horse Harry Lee dat help General Washington wid de Revolution. Dat he wuz de Govenor o' ole Virginy. Dat he speak de piece at de funeral o' George Washington, dat we all knows by heart, now—
"'Fust in war, fust in peace and fust in de hearts o' his countrymen.'
"I tells him dat Marse Robert's mother wuz a Carter. I tells him dat he could count more dan one hundred gemmen his kin. Dat his folks allus had been de very fust fambly in Virginy. I tells him dat he marry my Missis, de gran' daughter o' ole Gineral Washington his-salf—an' en—"
"An' den, what ye reckon dat fool nigger say ter me?"
"He say General Washington nebber had no children. And den man, man, when he insult me lak dat, I jump on him lak a wil' cat. We fought an' we fit. We fit an' we fought. I got him down an' bit one o' his years clean off smooth wid his head. In de las' clinch he git hol' er my lef year a'fo' I could shake him, he bit de top of hit off, sah. I got him by the froat an' choke hit outen his mouf. And dar hit is, sah."
He held up the dried piece of his ear reverently.
"And what do you want me to do with it, Uncle Ben?" Custis asked seriously.
"Nuttin right now, sah. But I ain't got long ter live—"
"Oh, you'll be well in a few days, Uncle Ben."
"I mought an' den agin I moughtent. I been lyin' awake at night worryin' 'bout dat year o' mine. Ye see hit wouldn't do tall fur me ter go walkin' dem golden streets up dar in Heben wid one o' my years lopped off lake a shoat er a calf dat's been branded. Some o' dem niggers standin' on dat gol' sidewalk would laugh at me. An' dat would hurt my feelin's. Some smart Aleck would be sho ter holler, 'Dar come ole Ben. But he ain't got but one year!' Dat wouldn't do, tall, sah."
Phil bit his lips to keep from laughing. He saw the thing was no joke for the old man. It was a grim tragedy.
"What I wants ter axe, Marse Custis, is dat you promise me faithful, ez my young master, dat when I die you come to me, get dis year o' mine outen dis salt box an' stick hit back right whar it b'long 'fore dey nail me up in de coffin. I des can't 'ford ter walk down dem golden streets, 'fore all dat company, wid a piece er my year missin'. Will ye promise me, sah?"
Custis grasped the outstretched hand and clasped it.
"I promise you, Uncle Ben, faithfully."
"Den hit's all right, sah. When a Lee make a promise, hit's des ez good ez done. I know dat case I know who I'se er talkin' to."
He placed the piece of gristle back into the tin can, covered it with salt, tied the linen cover over it carefully, put it back on the shelf, locked the heavy oak door and handed Custis the key.
"I got annudder key. You keep dat one, please, sah."
Custis and Phil left the old man more cheerful than he had been for days.
As the sun was sinking across the gray waters of the river, reflecting in its silver surface a riot of purple and scarlet, the master of Arlington sat in thoughtful silence holding the fateful Book of the Slave in his hand. He had promised his friend, Edmund Ruffin, to give him an answer early next week as to a public statement.
He was puzzled as to his duty. To his ready protest that he was not a politician his friend had instantly replied that his word would have ten times the weight for that reason. So deep was his brooding he did not notice the two boys in a heated argument at the corner of the house.
Robbie Lee had drawn his barefoot friend, John, thus far. He had balked and refused to go farther.
"Come on, John," Robbie pleaded.
"Scared of what?"
"Didn't you come to see him?"
"I thought I did."
"Well, didn't ye?"
"Come on, then!"
"What you scared of him for?"
"He's a great man."
"But he's my Papa."
"He don't want to be bothered with little boys."
"Yes, he does, too. He hears everything I've got to say to him."
"Ain't you skeered of him?"
Robbie seized John's hand again and before he could draw back dragged him to his father's side.
Lee turned the friendliest smile on John's flushed face and won his confidence before a word was spoken.
"Well, Robbie, what's your handsome little friend's name?"
"John Doyle, Papa."
"Your father lives on the farm just outside our gate, doesn't he?"
"Yessir," the boy answered eagerly.
His embarrassment had gone. But it was hard to begin his story. It had seemed easy at first, the need was so great. Now it seemed that he had no right to make the request he had in his heart.
He hung his head and dug his big toe in the gravel.
Robbie hastened to his rescue.
"John wants to tell you something, Papa," he began tenderly.
"All right," Lee cheerfully answered as he drew one boy within each arm and hugged them both. "What can I do for you, Johnnie?"
"I dunno, sir. I hope you can do somethin'."
"I will, if I can. I like to do things for boys. I was a little boy once myself and I know exactly how it feels. What is it?"
Again the child hesitated.
Lee studied the lines of his finely molded face and neck and throat. A handsomer boy of ten he had never seen. He pressed his arm closer and held him a moment until he looked up with a tear glistening in his blue eyes.
"Tell me, sonny—"
"My Ma's been cryin' all day, sir, and I want to do somethin' to help her—"
He paused and his voice failed.
"What has she been crying about?"
"We've lost our home, sir, and my daddy's drunk."
"You've lost your home?"
"Yessir. The sheriff come this mornin'. And he's goin' to put us out. Ma's most crazy. I ain't been a very good boy here lately—"
"No, sir. I've been runnin' away and goin' fishin' and hurtin' my Ma's feelin's and now I wish I hadn't done it. I heard her sayin' this mornin' while she wuz cryin', that you wuz the only man she knowed on earth who could help us. She was afeared to come to see you. And I slipped out to tell ye. I thought if I could get you to come to see us, maybe you could tell Ma what to do and that would make up for my hurtin' her so when I run away from my lessons this week."
The Colonel gently pressed the boys away and rose with quick decision.
"I'll ride right up, sonny, and see your mother."
"Will you, Colonel Lee?" the child asked with pathetic eagerness.
"Just as soon as I can have my horse saddled."
Lee turned abruptly into the house and left the boy dazed. He threw his arms around Robbie, hugged him in a flash and was gone. Up the dusty way to the gate the little bare feet flew to tell glad tidings to a lonely woman.
She stood beside the window looking out on the wreck of her life in a stupor of wordless pain. She saw her boy leap the fence as a hound and rushed from the house in alarm to meet him.
He was breathless, but he managed to gasp his message.
"Ma—Ma—Colonel Lee's comin' to see you!"
"To see me?"
"Yes'm. I told him we'd lost our home and he said he'd come right up. And he's comin', too—"
The mother looked into the child's flushed face, saw the love light in his eyes and caught him to her heart.
"Oh, boy, boy, you're such a fine young one—my baby—as smart as a whip. You'll beat 'em all some day and make your poor old mother proud and happy."
"I'm going to try now, Ma—you see if I don't."
"I know you will, my son."
"I'll never run away again. You see if I do."
The boy stopped suddenly at the sight of Colonel Lee swiftly approaching.
"Run and wash your face," the mother whispered, "and tell your brothers to put on clean shirts. I want them to see the Colonel, too."
The boy darted into the house.
The woman looked about the yard to see if there were any evidences of carelessness. She had tried to keep it clean. The row of flowers that flamed in the beds beside the door was the finest in the county. She knew that. She was an expert in the culture of the prolific tall cosmos that blooms so beautifully in the Indian summers of Old Virginia.
A cur dog barked.
"Get under the house, sir!" she commanded.
The dog continued to look down the road at the coming horseman.
"Get under the house, I say—" she repeated and the dog slowly obeyed.
She advanced to meet her visitor. He hitched his horse to a swinging limb outside the gate and hurried in.
No introduction was necessary. The Colonel had known her husband for years and he had often lifted his hat to his wife in passing.
He extended his hand and grasped hers in quick sympathy.
"I'm sorry to learn of your great misfortune from your fine boy, Mrs. Doyle."
The woman's eyes filled with tears in spite of her firm resolution to be dignified.
"He is a fine—boy—isn't he, Colonel?"
"One of the handsomest little chaps I ever saw. You should be proud of him."
"I am, sir."
She drew her figure a bit higher instinctively. The movement was not lost on the keen observer of character. He had never noticed before the distinction of her personality. In a simple calico dress, and forty years of age, she presented a peculiarly winsome appearance. Her features were regular, and well rounded, the coloring of cheeks and neck and hands the deep pink of perfect health. Her eyes were a bright glowing brown. They were large, soulful eyes that spoke the love of a mother. She might scold her husband if provoked. But those eyes could never scold a child. They could only love him into obedience and helpfulness. They were shining mother eyes.
Lee studied her in a quick glance before speaking. He knew instinctively that he could trust her word.
"Is there anything I can do, Mrs. Doyle?"
"Oh, I hope so, sir. My man's gone all to pieces to-day. He's good-hearted and kind if I do have to say it myself. But when the sheriff come to put us out, he just flopped and quit. And then he got drunk. I don't blame him much. If I hadn't been a woman and the mother of three fine boys and two as pretty little gals as the Lord ever give to a woman, I reckon I'd a got drunk, too."
She stopped, overcome with emotion and Lee hastened to ask:
"How did it happen, Mrs. Doyle?"
"Well, sir, you see, we hadn't quite paid for the place. You know it's hard with a big family of children on a little farm o' ten acres. It's hard to make a livin' let alone save money to pay for the land. But we wuz doin' it. We didn't have but two more payments to make when my man signed a note for his brother. His brother got sick and couldn't pay and they come down on us and we're turned out o' house and home. The sheriff's give us till Wednesday to get out and we've nowhere to go—"
A sob caught her voice.
"Don't say that, Madame. No neighbor of mine will ever be without a home so long as I have a house with a roof on it."
"Thank you, Colonel Lee," she interrupted, "but you know I can't let my man be a renter and see my husband and my sons workin' other people's land like nigger slaves. I got pride. I jus' can't do it. I'd rather starve."
"I understand, Madame," Lee answered.
The two older boys came awkwardly out into the yard. One of them was fourteen years old and the other sixteen.
The mother beckoned and they came to her with embarrassed step. Her face lighted with pride in their stalwart figures and well-shaped, regular features.
"Here's my oldest boy, William, Colonel Lee."
The Colonel took the outstretched hand with cordial grasp.
"I'm glad to know you, young man."
"And glad to see you, sir," he stammered, blushing.
"My next boy Drury, sir. He ain't but fourteen but he's a grown man."
Drury flushed red but failed to make a sound.
When they had moved away and leaned against the fence watching the scene out of the corner of an eye, the mother turned to the Colonel and asked:
"Do you blame me if I'm proud of my boys, Colonel?"
"I do not, Madame."
"The Lord made me a mother. All I know is to raise fine children and love 'em. My little gals is putty as dolls."
John suddenly appeared beside her and pulled her skirt.
"What's the matter?" she whispered.
"Pa's waked up. I told him Colonel Lee's here and he's washed his face and walks straight. Shall I fetch him out, too?"
"Yes, run tell him to come quick."
The boy darted back into the house.
"Johnnie's father wants to see you, Colonel Lee," the woman apologized.
"I'll be glad to talk to him, Madame."
"He'll be all right now. Your comin' to see us'll sober him. He'll be awful proud of the honor, sir."
Doyle emerged from the house and walked quickly toward the Colonel. His head was high. He smiled a welcome to his guest and his step was straight, light and springing, as if he were not quite sure he could rest his full weight on one foot and tried to get them both down at the same time.
Lee's face was a mask of quiet dignity. The tragedy in the woman's heart made the more pathetic the comedy of the half-drunken husband. Besides, he was philosopher enough to know that more than half the drunkenness of the world was the pitiful effort to smother a heartache.
The man's smile was a peculiarly winning one. His face was covered with a full growth of blond beard cut moderately long. He never shaved. His wife trimmed his beard in the manner most becoming to the shape of his head, the poise of his neck and evenly formed shoulders. He wore his hair full long and it curled about his neck in a deep blond wave. He might have posed for the model of Hoffman's famous picture of Christ. His eyes, a clear blue, were the finest feature of his personality. In spite of his lack of education, in spite of his shabby clothes, in spite of the smell of liquor he was a personality. His clean, high forehead, his aquiline nose, his straight eyebrows, his fair skin, his tall figure spoke the heritage of the great Nordic race of men. The race whose leaders achieved the civilization of Rome, conquered Europe and finally dominated civilization.
The difference between this man and the leader who wore the uniform of a Colonel was not in racial stock. It was purely an accident of the conditions of birth and training. Behind Lee lay two hundred years of wealth and culture. The poorer man was his kinsman of the centuries. The world had not been kind to him. He had lost the way of material success. Perhaps some kink in his mind, a sense of comedy, a touch of the old wanderlust of the ages.
Lee wondered what had kept him poor as he looked at the figure approaching. It was straight and fine in spite of the liquor.
Doyle's brain was just clear enough to realize that he had been highly honored in a call from the foremost citizen of Virginia. His politeness was extreme. And it was true. It was instinctive. It leaped from centuries of racial inheritance.
"We're proud of the honor you've done us, Colonel Lee," he announced.
He grasped the extended hand with a cordial, dignified greeting.
"I only hope I can be of some service to you and your family, Mr. Doyle."
"I'm sure you can, sir. Won't you come in, Colonel?"
"Thank you, it's so pleasant outside, we'll just sit down by the well, if you don't mind."
"Yessir. All right, sir."
Lee moved slowly toward the platform of the well with its old oaken bucket and tall sweep.
His wife threw a warning at her husband under her breath.
"Don't you say nothin' foolish now—"
"Your tongue's too long when it gets to waggin'."
"I'll mind, Ma," he smiled.
The woman called softly to her distinguished guest:
"You'll excuse me, Colonel, while I look after the supper. I'll be back in a minute."
He could not have bowed with graver courtesy to the wife of Stephen A. Douglas.
"Have a seat here on the well, Colonel," Doyle invited.
Lee took his seat on the weather-beaten oak boards.
Doyle turned his foot on a rounded stone and set down a little ungracefully in spite of his effort to be fully himself. He saw at once his misstep and hastened to apologize.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, you've caught me with the smell of liquor, sir—"
He paused and looked over his garden in an embarrassed way.
"I know what has happened to you, Mr. Doyle, and you have my deepest sympathy."
"Thank you, sir."
"I might have done the same thing if I'd been in your position. Though, of course, liquor won't help things for you."
Doyle smiled around the corners of his blue eyes.
"No, sir, except while it's a swimmin' in the veins. Then for a little while you're great and rich and you don't care which a way the wind blows."
"The farm is lost beyond hope?"
"Yessir, clean gone—world without end."
"You had a lawyer?"
"The best in the county, old Jim Randolph. I didn't have no money to pay him. He said we'd both always voted the Whig ticket and he'd waive his retainer. I didn't know what he was wavin', but anyhow he tuck my case. And I will say he put up a nasty fight for me. He made one of the greatest speeches I ever heared in my life. Hit wuz mighty nigh worth losin' the farm ter hear him tell how I'd been abused and how fine a feller I wuz. An' when he los' the case, he cussed the Judge, he cussed the jury, he cussed the lawyers. He swore they was all fools and didn't know the first principles er law nohow. I sho enjoyed the fight, ef I did lose it. I couldn't pay him nothin' yet. But I did manage to get him a gallon of the best apple brandy I ever tasted."
"What do you think of doing?"
"I ain't had time ter think, sir. I don't think fast nohow and the first thing I had to do when I come home and tole the ole 'oman and she bust out cryin'—wuz ter get drunk. Somehow I couldn't stand it."
"You've never learned a trade?"
"No sir—nothin' 'cept farmin'. I said to myself—what's the use? These damned nigger slaves have learned all the trades. They say in the old days, they wuz just servants in the house and stables, and field hands. Now they've learnt all the trades. They're mechanics, blacksmiths, carpenters, wagon makers and everything. What chance has a poor white man got agin 'em? They don't have to worry about nothin'. They have everything they need before they lift their hands to do anything. They got plenty to eat for themselves and their families, no matter how many children they have. All they can eat, all they can wear, a warm house and a big fire in the winter. I have to fight and scratch to keep a roof over my head, wood in my fireplace, clothes on my back and somethin' to eat on my table. How can I beat the slave at a trade? Tain't no use to try. Ef you want to build a house, your own carpenters can do it. And if you haven't enough slave carpenters of your own, your neighbors have. They can hire 'em to you cheaper than I can work and live. They're goin' to live anyhow. That's settled because they're slaves. They're worth twelve hundred dollars apiece. Their life is precious. Mine don't count. I got to look after that myself and I got to look after my wife and children, too. Hit ain't right, Colonel, this Slavery business. You know that as well as I do. I've heard you say it, too—"
"I agree with you, Mr. Doyle. But if we set them all free to-morrow, and you had to compete with their labor, you couldn't live down to their standard of wages, could you?"
"No, I couldn't. They would kill me at that game, too. That's why I hate a free nigger worse than a slave—"
He paused and his face knotted with fury.
"Damn 'em all—why are they here anyhow?"
"Come, come, my friend," Lee protested. "It doesn't help to swear about it. They are here. Not by any wish of mine or of yours. We inherited this curse from the past. We have clung to old delusions while our smart Yankee friends have shifted the responsibilities on others."