John Lamar

THE guard-house was, in fact, nothing but a shed in the middle of a stubblefield. It had been built for a cider-press last summer; but since Captain Dorr had gone into the army, his regiment had camped over half his plantation, and the shed was boarded up, with heavy wickets at either end, to hold whatever prisoners might fall into their hands from Floyd’s forces. It was a strong point for the Federal troops, his farm, — a sort of wedge in the Rebel Cheat counties of Western Virginia. Only one prisoner was in the guard-house now. The sentry, a raw boat-hand from Illinois, gaped incessantly at him through the bars, not sure if the “ Secesh ” were limbed and headed like other men ; but the November fog was so thick that he could discern nothing but a short, squat man, in brown clothes and white hat, heavily striding to and fro. A negro was crouching outside, his knees cuddled in his arms to keep warm: a field-hand, you could be sure from the face, a grisly patch of flabby black, with a dull eluding word of something, you could not tell what, in the points of eyes, — treachery or gloom. The prisoner stopped, cursing him about something: the only answer was a lazy rub of the heels.

“Got any ’baccy, Mars’ John?” he whined, in the middle of the hottest oath.

The man stopped abruptly, turning his pockets inside out.

“ That ’s all, Ben,” he said, kindly enough. “Now begone, you black devil!”

“ Dem’s um, Mars’! Goin’ ’mediate,” — catching the tobacco, and lolling down full length as his master turned off again.

Dave Hall, the sentry, stared reflectively, and sat down.

“ Ben ? Who air you next ? ” — nursing his musket across his knees, babyfashion.

Ben measured him with one eye, polished the quid in his greasy hand, and looked at it.

“ Pris’ner o’ war,” lie mumbled, finally, — contemptuously; for Dave’s trousers were in rags like his own, and his chilblained toes stuck through the shoe-tops. Cheap white trash, clearly.

“ Yer master’s some at swearin'. How many, neow, hes he like you, down to Georgy ? ”

The boatman’s bony face was gathering a woful pity. He had enlisted to free the Uncle Toms, and carry God’s vengeance to the Legrees. Here they were, a pair of them.

Ben squinted another critical survey of the “miss’able Linkinite.”

“ How many wells hev yer poisoned since yer set out ? ” he muttered.

The sentry stopped.

“ How many ’longin’ to de Lamars ? ’Bout as many as der ’s dam’ Yankees in Richmond ’baccy-houses ! ”

Something in Dave’s shrewd, whitish eye warned him off.

“ Ki yi ! yer white nigger, yer ! ” he chuckled, shuffling down the stubble.

Dave clicked bis musket, — then, choking down an oath into a grim Methodist psalm, resumed his walk, looking askance at the coarse-moulded face of the prisoner peering through the bars, and the diamond studs in his shirt, — bought 'with human blood, doubtless. The man was the black curse of slavery itself in the flesh, in his thought somehow, and he hated him accordingly. Our men of the Northwest have enough brawny Covenanter muscle in their religion to make them good haters for opinion’s sake.

Lamar, the prisoner, watched him with a lazy drollery in his sluggish black eyes. It died out into sternness, as he looked beyond the sentry. He had seen this Cheat country before; this very plantation was his grandfather’s a year ago, when he had come up from Georgia here, and loitered out the summer months with his irginia cousins, hunting. That was a pleasant summer ! Something in the remembrance of it flashed into his eyes, dewy, genial; the man’s leather-covered face reddened like a child’s. Only a year ago,— and nowThe plantation was Charley Dorr’s now, who had married Ruth. This very shed he and Dorr had planned last spring, and now Charley held him a prisoner in it. The very thought of Charley Dorr warmed his heart. Why, he could thank God there were such men. True grit, every inch of his little body ! There, last summer, how he had avoided Ruth until the day when he (Lamar) was going away !—then he told him he meant to try and win her. “ She cared most for you always,” Lamar had said, bitterly ; “why have you waited so long ? ” “ You loved her first, John, you know.” That was like a man ! He remembered that even that day, when his pain was breathless and sharp, the words made him know that Dorr was fit to be her husband.

Dorr was his friend. The word meant much to John Lamar. He thought less meanly of himself, when he remembered it. Charley’s prisoner ! An odd chance! Better that than to have met in battle. He thrust back the thought, the sweat oozing out on his face, — something within him muttering, “ For Liberty! I would have killed him, so help me God !”

He had brought despatches to General Lee, that he might see Charley, and the old place, and—Ruth again; there was a gnawing hunger in his heart to see them. Fool! what was he to them? The man’s face grew slowly pale, as that of a savage or an animal does, when the wound is deep and inward.

The November day was dead, sunless : since morning the sky had had only enough life in it to sweat out a few muddy drops, that froze as they fell: the cold numbed his mouth as he breathed it. This stubbly slope was where lie and his grandfather had headed the deer: it was covered with hundreds of dirty, yellow tents now. Around there were hills like uncouth monsters, swathed in ice, holding up the soggy sky; shivering pine-forests; unmeaning, dreary flats ; and the Cheat, coiled about the frozen sinews of the hills, limp and cold, like a cord tying a dead man’s jaws. Whatever outlook of joy or worship this region had borne on its face in time gone, it turned to him to-day nothing but stagnation, a great death. He wondered idly, looking at It, (for the old Huguenot brain of the man was full of morbid fancies,) if it were winter alone that had deadened color and pulse out of these full-blooded hills, or if they could know the colder horror crossing their threshold, and forgot to praise God as it came.

Over that farthest ridge the house had stood. The guard (he had been taken by a band of Snake-hunters, back in the hills) had brought him past it. It was a heap of charred rafters. “ Burned in the night,” they said, “when the old Colonel was alone.” They were very willing to show him this, as it was done by his own party, the Secession “Bush-whackers”; took him to the wood-pile to show him where his grandfather had been murdered, (there was a red mark,) and buried, his old hands above the ground. “ Colonel said’t was a job fur us to pay up; so we went to the village an’ hed a scrimmage,”— pointing to gaps in the hedges where the dead Bush-whackers yet lay unburied. He looked at them, and at the besotted faces about him, coolly. Snake-hunters and Bush-whackers, he knew, both armies used in Virginia as tools for rapine and murder: the sooner the Devil called home his own, the better. And yet, it was not God’s fault, surely, that there were such tools in the North, any more than that in the South Ben was — Ben. Something was rotten in freer States than Denmark, he thought

One of the men went into the hedge, and brought out a child’s golden ringlet as a trophy. Lamar glanced in, and saw the small face in its woollen hood, dimpled yet, though dead for days. He remembered it. Jessy Birt, the ferryman’s little girl. She used to come up to the house every day for milk. He wondered for which flag she died. Ruth was teaching her to write. Ruth ! Some old pain hurt him just then, nearer than even the blood of the old man or the girl crying to God from the ground. The sergeant mistook the look. “ They ’ll be buried,” he said, gruffly. “Ye brought it on yerselves.” And so led him to the Federal camp.

The afternoon grew colder, as he stood looking out of the guard-house. Snow began to whiten through the gray. He thrust out his arm through the wicket, his face kindling with childish pleasure, as he looked closer at the fairy stars and crowns on his shaggy sleeve. If Floy were here! She never had seen snow. When the flakes had melted off, he took a case, out of his pocket to look at Floy. His sister, — a little girl who had no mother, nor father, nor lover, but Lamar. The man among his brother officers in Richmond was coarse, arrogant, of dogged courage, keen palate at the table, as keen eye on the turf. Sickly little Floy, down at home, knew the way to something below all this: just as they of .the Rommany blood see below the muddy boulders of the streets the enchanted laud of Boabdil bare beneath. Lamar polished the ivory painting with his breath, remembering that he bad drunk nothing for days. A child’s face, of about twelve, delicate, — a breath of fever or cold would shatter such weak beauty; big, dark eyes, (her mother was pure Castilian,) out of which her little life looked irresolute into the world, uncertain what to do there. The painter, with an unapt fancy, had clustered about the Southern face the Southern emblem, buds of the magnolia, unstained, as yet, as pearl. It angered Lamar, remembering bow the creamy whiteness of the full-blown flower exhaled passion of which the crimsonest rose knew nothing, — a content, ecstasy, in animal life. Would Floy -Well, God help them both ! they needed help. Three hundred souls was a heavy weight for those thin little hands to hold sway over, — to lead to hell or heaven. Up North they could have worked for her, and gained only her money. So Lamar reasoned, like a Georgian: scribbling a letter to “ My Baby ” on the wrapper of a newspaper,— drawing the shapes of the snowflakes, — telling her he had reached their grandfather’s plantation, but “ have not seen our Cousin Ruth yet, of whom you may remember I have told you, Floy. When you grow up, I should like you to be just such a woman ; so remember, my darling, if I ”—— He scratched the last words out: why should he hint to her that he could die? Holding his life loose in his hand, though, had brought things closer to him lately, — God and death, this war, the meaning of it all. But he would keep his brawny body between these terrible realities and Floy, yet awhile. “ I want you,” he wrote, “ to leave the plantation, and go with your old maumer to the village. It will be safer there.” He was sure the letter would reach her. He had a plan to escape to-night, and he could put it into a post inside the lines. Ben was to get a small hand-saw that would open the wicket; the guards were not hard to elude. Glancing up, he saw the negro stretched by a camp-fire, listening to the gaunt boatman, who was off duty. Preaching Abolitionism, doubtless : he coidd hear Ben’s derisive shouts of laughter. “ And so, good bye, Baby Florence!” he scrawled. “I wish I could send you some of this snow, to show you what the floor of heaven is like.”

While the snow fell faster without, he stopped writing, and began idly drawing a map of Georgia on the tan-bark with a stick. Here the Federal troops could effect a landing : he knew the defences at that point. If they did ? He thought of these Snake-hunters who had found in the war a peculiar road for themselves downward with no gallows to stumble over, fancied he saw them skulking through the fields at Cedar Creek, closing around the house, and behind them a mass of black faces and bloody bayonets. Floy alone, and he here,— like a rat in a trap! “ God keep my little girl! ” lie wrote, unsteadily. “God bless you, Floy!” He gasped for breath, as if he had been writing with his heart’s blood. Folding up the paper, he hid it inside his shirt and began his dogged walk, calculating the chances of escape. Once out of this shed, he could baffle a blood-hound, he knew the hills so well.

His head bent down, he did not see a man who stood looking at him over the wicket. Captain Dorr. A puny little man, with thin yellow hair, and womanish face : but not the less the hero of his men,—they having found out, somehow, that muscle was not the solidest thing to travel on in war-times. Our regiments of “roughs” were not altogether crowned with laurel at Manassas ! So the men built more on the old Greatheart soul in the man’s blue eyes : one of those souls born and bred pure, sent to teach, that can find breath only in the free North. Ills hearty “Hillo!” startled Lamar.

“ How are you, old fellow ?” he said, unlocking the gate and coming in.

Lamar threw off his wretched thoughts, glad to do it. What need to borrow trouble ? He liked a laugh, — had a lazy, jolly humor of his own. Dorr had finished drill, and come up, as he did every day, to freshen himself with an hour’s talk to this warm, blundering fellow. In this dismal war-work, (though his whole soul was in that, too.) it was like putting your hands to a big blaze. Dorr had no near relations; Lamar — they had played marbles together — stood to him where a younger brother might have stood. Yet, as they talked, he could not help his keen eye seeing him just as he was.

Poor John! he thought: the same uncouth-looking effort of humanity that he had been at Yale. No wonder the Northern boys jeered him, with his slothways, his mouthed English, torpid eyes, and brain shut up in that worst of mudmoulds,— belief in caste. Even now, going up and down the tan-bark, bis step was dead, sodden, like that of a man in whose life God had not yet wakened the full live soul. It was wakening, though, Dorr thought. Some pain or passion was bringing the man in him out of the flesh, vigilant, alert, aspirant. A different man from Dorr,

In fact, Lamar was just beginning to think for himself, and of course his thoughts were defiant, intolerant. He did not comprehend how his companion could give his heresies such quiet welcome, and pronounce sentence of death on them so coolly. Because Dorr had gone farther up the mountain, had he the right to make him follow in the same steps ? The right,—that was it. By brute force, too ? Human freedom, eh ? Consequently, thentalks were stormy enough. To-day, however, they were on trivial matters.

“ I’ve brought the General’s order for your release at last, John. It confines you to this district, however.”

Lamar shook his head.

“ No parole for me! My stake outside is too heavy for me to remain a prisoner on anything but compulsion. I mean to escape, if I can. Floy has nobody but me, you know, Charley.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“I wish,” said Dorr, half to himself, “the child was with her cousin Ruth. If she could make her a woman like herself!”

“ You are kind,” Lamar forced out, thinking of what might have been a year ago.

Dorr had forgotten. He had just kissed little Ruth at the door-step, coming away; thinking, as he walked up to camp, how her clear thought, narrow as it was, was making his own higher, more just; wondering if the tears on her face last night, when she got up from her knees after prayer, might not help as much in the great cause of truth as the life he was ready to give. He was so used to his littte wife now, that he could look to no hour of his past life, nor of the future coming ages of event and work, where she was not present, — very flesh of his flesh, heart of his heart. A gulf lay between them and the rest of the world. It was hardly probable he could see her as a woman towards whom another man looked across the gulf, dumb, hopeless, defrauded of his right.

“ She sent you some flowers, by the way, John, — the last in the yard, — and bade me be sure and bring you down with me. Your own colors, you see ?— to put you in mind of home,” —pointing to the crimson asters flaked with snow.

The man smiled faintly: the smell of the flowers choked him: he laid them aside. God knows he was trying to wring out this hitter old thought: he could not look in Dorr’s frank eyes while it was there, He must escape to-night: he never would come near them again, in this world, or beyond death, — never! He thought of that like a man going to drag through eternity with half his soul gone. Very well: there was man enough left in him to work honestly and bravely, and to thank God for that good pure love he yet had. He turned to Dorr with a flushed face, and began talking of Floy in hearty earnest,—glancing at Ben coming up the hill, thinking that escape depended on him.

“ I ordered your man up,” said Captain Dorr. “ Some canting Abolitionist had him open-mouthed down there.”

The negro came in, and stood in the corner, listening while they talked. A gigantic fellow, with a gladiator’s muscles. Stronger than that Yankee captain, he thought,— than either of them : better breathed,—drawing the air into his brawny chest. “ A man and a brother.” Did the fool think he did n’t know that before ? He bad a contempt for Dave and his like. Lamar would have told you Dave’s words were true, but despised the man as a crude, unlicked bigot. Ben did the same, with no words for the Idea. The negro instinct in him recognized gentle blood by an}’ of its signs,—the transparent animal life, the reticent eye, the mastered voice : he had better men than Lamar at home to learn it from. It is a trait of serfdom, the keen eye to measure the inherent rights of a man to be master. A negro or a Catholic Irishman does not need “ Sartor Resartus” to help him to see through any clothes. Ben leaned, halfasleep, against the wall, some old thoughts creeping out of their hiding-places through the torpor, like rats to the sunshine : the boatman’s slang had been hot and true enough to rouse them in his brain.

“ So, Ben,” said his master, as he passed once, “your friend has been persuading you to exchange the cotton-fields at Cedar Creek for New-York alleys, eh ? ”

“ Ki! ” laughed Ben, “ white darkey. Mind ole dad, Mars’ John, as took off in der swamp? Um asked dat Linkinite ef him saw dad up Norf. Guess him ’s free now. Ki ! ole dad ! ”

“ The swamp was the place for him,” said Lamar. “ 1 remember.”

“ Dunno,” said the negro, surlily: “ him ’s dad, af’er all: link him ’s free now,” — and mumbled down into a monotonous drone about

“ Oh yo, bredern, is yer gwine ober Jordern ? ”

Half-asleep, they thought, — but with dull questionings at work in his brain, some queer notions about freedom, of that unknown North, mostly mixed with his remembrance of his father, a vicious old negro, that in Pennsylvania would have worked out his salvation in the under cell of the penitential)’, but in Georgia, whipped into heroism, had betaken himself into the swamp, and never returned. Tradition among the Lamar slaves said he had got off to Ohio, of which they had as clear an idea as most of us have of heaven. At any rate, old Kite became a mystery, to be mentioned with awe at fish-bakes and barbecues. He was this uncouth wretch’s father, — do you understand ? The flabby-faced boy, flogged in the cotton-field for whining after his dad, or hiding away part of his flitch and molasses for months in hopes the old man would come back, was rather a comical object, you would have thought. Very different his, from the feeling with which you left your mother’s grave, — though as yet we have not invented names for the emotions of those people. We ’ll grant that it hurt Ben a little, however. Even the young polypus, when it is torn from the old one, bleeds a drop or two, they say. As he grew up, the great North glimmered through his thought, a sort of big field,— a paradise of no work, no flogging, and white bread every day, where the old man sat and ate his fill.

The second point in Ben’s history was that he fell in love. Just as yon did,— with the difference, of course : though the hot sun, or the perpetual foot upon his breast, does not make our black Prometheus less fierce in his agony of hope or jealousy than you, I am afraid. It was Nan, a pale mulatto house-servant, that the field-hand took into his dull, lonesome heart to make life of, with true-love defiance of caste. I think Nan liked him very truly. She was lame and sickly, and if Ben was black and a picker, and stayed in the quarters, he was strong, like a master to her in some ways: the only thing she could call hers in the world was the love the clumsy boy gave her. White women feel in that way sometimes, and it makes them very tender to men not their equals. However, old Mrs. Lamar, before she died, gave her house-servants their free papers, and Nan was among them. So she set off, with all the finery little Floy could give her: went up into that great, dim North. She never came again.

The North swallowed up all Ben knew or felt outside of his hot, hated work, his dread of a lashing on Saturday night. All the pleasure left him was ’possum and hominy for Sunday’s dinner. It did not content him. The spasmodic religion of the field-negro does not teach endurance. So it came, that the slow tide of discontent ebbing in everybody’s heart towards some unreached sea set in his ignorant brooding towards that vague country which the only two who cared for him had found. If he forgot it through the dogged, sultry days, he remembered it when the overseer scourged the dull tiger-look into his eyes, or when, husking corn with the others at night, the smothered negro-soul, into which their masters dared not look, broke out in their wild, melancholy songs. Aimless, unappealing, yet no prayer goes up to God more keen in its pathos. You find, perhaps, in Beethoven’s seventh symphony the secrets of your heart made manifest, and suddenly think of a Somewhere to come, where your hope waits for you with late fulfilment. Do not laugh at Ben, then, if he dully told in his song the story of all he had lost, or gave to his heaven a local habitation and a name.

From the place where he stood now, as his master and Dorr walked up and down, he could see the purplish haze beyond which the sentry bad told him lay the North. The North! Just beyond the ridge. There was a pain in his head, looking at it; his nerves grew cold and rigid, as yours do when something wrings your heart sharply: for there are nerves in these black carcasses, thicker, more quickly stung to madness than yours. Yet if any savage longing, smouldering for years, was heating to madness now in his brain, there was no sign of it in his face. Vapid, with sordid content, the huge jaws munching tobacco slowly, only now and then the beady eye shot a sharp glance after Dorr. The sentry had told him the Northern army had come to set the slaves free; he watched the Federal officer keenly.

“ What ails you, Ben ? ” said his master. “ Thinking over your friend’s sermon ? ”

Ben’s stolid laugh was ready.

“ Done forgot dat, Mars’. Would n’t go, nohow. Since Mars’ sold dat cussed Joe, gorry good times ’t home. Dam’ Abolitioner say we ums all goin' Norf,” — with a stealthy glance at Dorr.

“ That’s more than your philanthropy bargains for, Charley,” laughed Lamar.

The men stopped; the negro skulked nearer, his whole senses sharpened into hearing. Dorr’s clear face was clouded.

“ This slave question must be kept out of the war. It puts a false face on it.”

“ I thought one face was what it needed,” said Lamar. “ You have too many slogans. Strong government, tariff, Sumter, a bit of bunting, eleven dollars a month. It ought to be a vital truth that would give soul and vim to a body with the differing members of your army. You, with your ideal theory, and Billy Wilson with his ‘Blood and Baltimore!’ Try human freedom. That’s high and sharp and broad.”

Ben drew a step closer.

“ You are shrewd, Lamar. I am to go below all constitutions or expediency or existing rights, and tell Ben here that he is free ? When once the Government accepts that doctrine, you, as a Rebel, must be let alone.”

The slave was hid back in the shade.

“ Dorr,” said Lamar, “ you know I'm a groping, ignorant fellow, but it seems to me that prating of constitutions and existing rights is surface talk ; there is a broad common-sense underneath, by whose law’s the world is governed, which your statesmen don’t touch often. You in the North, in your dream of what shall be, shut your eyes to what is. You want a republic where every man’s voice shall be heard in the council, and the majority shall rule. Granting that the free population are educated to a fitness for this,— (God forbid I should grant it with the Snake-hunters before my eyes !) — look here ! ”

He turned round, and drew the slave out into the light: he crouched down, gaping vacantly at them.

“ There is Ben. What, in God’s name, will you do with him ? Keep him a slave, and chatter about self-government ? Pah! The country is paying in blood for the lie, to-day. Educate him for freedom, by putting a musket in his hands? We have this mass of heathendom drifted on our shores by your will as well as mine. Try to bring them to a level with the whites by a wrench, and you ’ll waken out of your dream to a sharp reality. Your Northern philosophy ought to be old enough to teach you that spasms in the body-politic shake off no atom of disease,— that reform, to be enduring, must be patient, gradual, inflexible as the Great Reformer. ‘The mills of God,’ the old proverb says, ‘grind surely.’ But, Dorr, they grind exceeding slow ! ”

Dorr watched Lamar with an amused smile. It pleased him to see his brain waking up, eager, vehement. As for Ben, crouching there, if they talked of him like a clod, heedless that his face deepened in stupor, that his eyes had caught a strange, gloomy treachery, — we all do the same, you know.

“ What is your remedy, Lamar ? You have no belief in the right of Secession, I know,” said Dorr.

“It ’s a bad instrument for a good end. Let the white Georgian come out of his sloth, and the black will rise with him. Jefferson Davis may not intend it, but God does. When we have our Lowell, our New York, when we are a selfsustaining people instead of lazy landprinces, Ben here will have climbed the second of the great steps of Humanity. Do you laugh at us?” said Lamar, with a quiet self-reliance. “ Charley, it needs only work and ambition to cut the brute away from my face, and it will leave traits very like your own. Ben’s father was a Guinea fetich - worshipper ; when we stand where New England does, Ben’s son will be ready for his freedom.”

“ And while you theorize,” laughed Dorr, “ I hold you a prisoner, John, and Ben knows it is his right to be free. He will not wait for the grinding of the mill, I fancy.”

Lamar did not smile. It was womanish in the man, when the life of great nations hung in doubt before them, to go back so constantly to little Floy sitting in the lap of her old black maumer. But he did it, — with the quick thought that to-night he must escape, that death lay in delay.

While Dorr talked, Lamar glanced significantly at Ben. The negro was not slow to understand, — with a broad grin, touching his pocket, from which projected the dull end of a hand-saw. I wonder what sudden pain made the negro rise just then, and come close to his master, touching him with a strange affection and remorse in his tired face, as though he had done him some deadly wrong.

“ What is it, old fellow ? ” said Lamar, in his boyish way. “ Homesick, eh ? There’s a little girl in Georgia that will be glad to see you and your master, and take precious good care of us when she gets us safe again. That ’s true, Beni” laying his hand kindly on the man’s shoulder, while his eyes went wandering off to the hills lying South.

“ Yes, Mars',” said Ben, in a low voice, suddenly bringing a blacking-brush, and beginning to polish his master’s shoes,— thinking, while he did it, of how often Mars’ John had interfered with the overseers to save him from a flogging, — (Lamar, in his lazy way, was kind to his slaves,) — thinking of little Mist' Floy with an odd tenderness and awe, as a gorilla might of a white dove : trying to think thus,—the simple, kindly nature of the negro struggling madly with something beneath, new and horrible. He understood enough of the talk of the white men to know that there was no help for him, — none. Always a slave. Neither you nor I can ever know what those words meant to him. The pale purple mist where the North lay was never to be passed. His dull eyes turned to it constantly,—with a strange look, such as the lost women might have turned to the door, when Jesus shut it: they forever outside. There was a way to help himself? The stubby black fingers holding the brush grew cold and clammy, — noting withal, the poor wretch in his slavish way, that his master’s clothes were finer than the Northern captain’s, his hands whiter, and proud that it was so, — holding Lamar’s foot daintily, trying to see himself in the shoe, smoothing down the trousers with a boorish, affectionate touch, — with the same fierce whisper in his ear, Would the shoes ever be cleaned again? would the foot move to-morrow?

It grew late. Lamar’s supper was brought up from Captain Dorr’s, and placed on the bench, lie poured out a goblet of water.

“ Come, Charley, let’s drink. To Liberty ! It is a war-cry for Satan or Michael.”

They drank, laughing, while Ben stood watching. Dorr turned to go, but Lamar called him back,—stood resting his band on his shoulder: he never thought to see him again, yon know.

“ Look at Ruth, yonder,” said Dorr, his face lighting. “ She is coming to meet us. She thought you would be with me.”

Lamar looked gravely down at the low field-house and the figure at the gate. He thought he could see the small face and earnest eyes, though it was far off, and night was closing.

“ She is waiting for you, Charley. Go down. Good night, old chum ! ”

If it cost any effort to say it, Dorr saw nothing of it.

“ Good night, Lamar! I ’ll see you in the morning.”

He lingered. His old comrade looked strangely alone and desolate.

“John !”

“ What is it, Dorr ? ”

“If I could tell the Colonel you would take the oath ? For Floy’s sake.”

The man’s rough face reddened.

“ You should know me better. Good bye.”

“ Well, well, you are mad. Have you no message for Ruth ? ”

There was a moment’s silence.

“ Tell her I say, God bless her ! ”

Dorr stopped and looked keenly in his face,— then, coming back, shook hands again, in a different way from before, speaking in a lower voice,—

“ God help us all, John ! Good night ! ” — and went slowly down the hill.

It was nearly night, and bitter cold. Lamar stood where the snow drifted in on him, looking out through the horizonless gray.

“ Come out o’ dem cold, Mars’ John,” whined Ben, pulling at his coat.

As the night gathered, the negro was haunted with a terrified wish to be kind to his master. Something told him that the time was short. Here and there through the far night some tent-fire glowed in a cone of ruddy haze, through which the thick-falling snow shivered like flakes of light. Lamar watched only the square block of shadow where Dorr’s house stood. The door opened at last, and a broad, cheerful gleam shot out red darts across the white waste without; then he saw two figures go in together. They paused a moment; he put his head against the bars, straining his eyes, and saw that the woman turned, shading her eyes with her hand, and looked up to the side of the mountain where the guard-house lay,— with a kindly look, perhaps, for the prisoner out in the cold. A kind look : that was all. The door shut on them. Forever : so, good night, Ruth !

He stood there for an hour or two, leaning his head against the muddy planks, smoking. Perhaps, in his coarse fashion, he took the trouble of his manhood back to the same God he used to pray to long ago. When he turned at last, and spoke, it was with a quiet, strong voice, like one who would fight through life in a manly way. There was a grating sound at the back of the shed : it was Ben, sawing through the wicket, the guard having lounged off to supper. Lamar watched him, noticing that the negro was unusually silent. The plank splintered, and hung loose.

“ Done gone, Mars’ John, now,” — leaving it, and beginning to replenish the fire.

“ That’s right, Ben. We ’ll start in the morning. That sentry at two o’clock sleeps regularly.”

Ben chuckled, heaping up the sticks.

“ Go on down to the camp, as usual. At two, Ben, remember! We will be free to-night, old boy! ”

The black face looked up from the clogging smoke with a curious stare.

“ Ki! we ’ll be free to-night, Mars’!” — gulping his breath.

Soon after, the sentry unlocked the gate, and he shambled off out into the night. Lamar, left alone, went closer to the tire, and worked busily at some papers he drew from his pocket: maps and schedules. He intended to write until two o’clock ; but the blaze dying down, he wrapped his blanket about him, and lay down on the heaped straw, going on sleepily, in his brain, with his calculations.

The negro, in the shadow of the shed, watched him. A vague fear beset him, —of the vast, white cold,—the glowering mountains,— of himself; he clung to the familiar face, like a man drifting out into an unknown sea, clutching some relic of the shore. When Lamar fell asleep, he wandered uncertainly towards the tents. The world had grown new, strange; was he Ben, picking cotton in the swampedge ?—plunging his fingers with a shudder in the icy drifts. Down in the glowing torpor of the Santilla flats, where the Lamar plantations lay, Ben had slept off as maddening hunger for life and freedom as this of to-day ; but here, with the winter air stinging every nerve to life, with the perpetual mystery of the mountains terrifying his bestial nature down, the strength of the man stood up: groping, blind, malignant, it may be; but whose fault was that? He was halffrozen : the physical pain sharpened the keen doubt conquering his thought. He sat down in the crusted snow, looking vacantly about him, a man, at last, —but wakening, like a new-born soul, into a world of unutterable solitude. Wakened dully, slowly ; sitting there far into the night, pondering stupidly on his old life; crushing down and out the old parasite affection for his master, the old fears, the old weight threatening to press out his thin life; the muddy blood heating, firing with the same heroic dream that hade Tell and Garibaldi lift up their hands to God, and cry aloud that they were men and free: the same,— God-given, burning in the imbruted veins of a Guinea slave. To what end ? May God be merciful to America while she answers the question ! He sat, rubbing his cracked, bleeding feet, glancing stealthily at the southern hills. Beyond them lay all that was past; in an hour he would follow Lamar back to — what ? He lifted his hands up to the sky, in his silly way sobbing hot tears. “ Gor-a’mighty, Mars’ Lord, I ’se tired,” was all the prayer he made. The pale purple mist was gone from the North; the ridge behind which love, freedom waited, struck black across the sky, a wall of iron. He looked at it drearily. Utterly alone : he had always been alone. He got up at last, with a sigh.

“ It’s a big world,” — with a bitter ehuckle, — “ but der’s no room in it fur poor Ben.”

He dragged himself through the snow to a light in a tent where a voice in a wild drone, like that he had heard at negro camp-meetings, attracted him. He did not go in: stood at the tent-door, listening. Two or three of the guard stood around, leaning on their muskets ; in the vivid fire-light rose the gaunt figure of the Illinois boatman, swaying to and fro as he preached. For the men were honest, God-fearing souls, members of the same church, and Have, in all integrity of purpose, read aloud to them,—the cry of Jeremiah against the foul splendors of the doomed city, — waving, as he spoke, his bony arm to the South. The shrill voice was that of a man wrestling with his Maker. The negro’s fired brain caught the terrible meaning of the words,—found speech in it: the wide, dark night, the solemn silence of the men, were only fitting audience.

The man caught sight of the slave, and, laying down his book, began one of those strange exhortations in the manner of his sect. Slow at first, full of unutterable pity. There was room for pity. Pointing to the human brute crouching there, made once in the image of God, — the saddest wreek on His green footstool : to the great stealthy body, the revengeful jaws, the foreboding eyes. Soul, brains,— a man, wifeless, homeless, nationless, hawked, flung from trader to trader for a handful of dirty shinplasters. “ Lord God of hosts,” cried the man, lifting up his trembling hands, “ lay not this sin to our charge ! ” There was a scar on Ben’s back where the lash had buried itself: it stung now in the cold. He pulled his clothes tighter, that they should not see it; the scar and the words burned into his heart : the childish nature of the man was gone ; the vague darkness in it took a shape and name. The boatman had been praying for him ; the low words seemed to shake the night: —

“ Hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his supplications ! Is not this what Thou hast chosen: to loose the bands, to undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free ? O Lord, hear ! O Lord, hearken and do! Defer not for Thine own sake, O my God ! ”

“ What shall I do ? ” said the slave, standing up.

The boatman paced slowly to and fro, his voice chording in its dull monotone with the smothered savage muttering in the negro’s brain.

“ The day of the Lord cometh; it is nigh at hand. Who can abide it? What saith the prophet Jeremiah ? ‘ Take up a burden against the South. Cry aloud, spare not. Woe unto Babylon, for the day of her vengeance is come, the day of her visitation ! Call together the archers against Babylon; camp against it round about; let none thereof escape. Recompense her: as she hath done unto my people, be it done unto her. A sword is upon Babylon ; it shall break in pieces the shepherd and his flock, the man and the woman, the young man and the maid. I will render unto her the evil she hath done in my sight, saith the Lord.’ ”

It was the voice of God: the scar burned fiercer; the slave came forward boldly, —

“ Mars’er, what shall I do ? ”

“ Give the poor devil a musket,” said one of the men. “ Let him come with us, and strike a blow for freedom.”

He took a knife from his belt, and threw it to him, then sauntered off to his tent.

“ A blow for freedom ? ” mumbled Ben, taking it up.

“ Let us sing to the praise of God,” said the boatman, “ the sixty-eighth psalm,” lining it out while they sang, — the scattered men joining, partly to keep themselves awake. In old times David’s harp charmed away the demon from a human heart. It roused one now, never to be laid again. A dull, droning chant, telling how the God of Vengeance rode upon the wind, swift to loose the fetters of the chained, to make desert the rebellious land ; with a chorus, or refrain, in which Ben’s wild, melancholy cry sounded like the wail of an avenging spirit: —

“ That in the blood of enemies
Thy foot imbrued may be:
And of thy dogs dipped in the same
The tongues thou mayest see.”

The meaning of that was plain ; he sang it lower and more steadily each time, his body swaying in cadence, the glitter in his eye more steely.

Lamar, asleep in his prison, was wakened by the far-off plaintive song : he roused himself, leaning on one elbow, listening with a half-smile. It was Naomi they sang, he thought, — an old-fashioned Methodist air that Floy had caught from the negroes, and used to sing to him sometimes. Every night, down at home, she would come to his parlor-door to say good-night: he thought he could see the little figure now in its white nightgown, and hear the bare feet pattering on the matting. When he was alone, she would come in, and sit on his lap awhile, and kneel down before she went away, her head on his knee, to say her prayers, as she called it. Only God knew how many times he had remained alone alter hearing those prayers, saved from nights of drunken debauch. He thought he felt Floy’s pure little hand on his forehead now, as if she were saying her usual “ Good night, Bud.” He lay down to sleep again, with a genial smile on his face, listening to the hymn.

“ It’s the same God,” he said,—“ Floy’s and theirs.”

Outside, as he slept, a dark figure watched him. The song of the men ceased. Midnight, white and silent, covered the earth. He could hear only the slow breathing of the sleeper. Ben’s black face grew ashy pale, but he did not tremble, as he crept, cat-like, up in the wicket, his blubber lips apart, the white teeth clenched.

“It ’s for Freedom, Mars’ Lord!” he gasped, looking up to the sky, as if he expected an answer. “ Gor-a’mighty, it ’s for Freedom !” And went in,

A belated bird swooped through the cold moonlight into the valley, and vanished in the far mountain-cliffs with a low, fearing cry, as though it had passed through Hades.

They had broken down the wicket: he saw them lay the heavy body on the lumber outside, the black figures hurrying over the snow. He laughed low, savagely, watching them. Free now! The best of them despised him; the years past of cruelty and oppression turned back, fused in a slow, deadly current of revenge and hate, against the race that had trodden him down. He felt the iron muscles of his fingers, looked close at the glittering knife he held, chuckling at the strange smell it bore. Would the Illinois boatman blame him, if it maddened him ? And if Ben took the fancy to put it to his throat, what right has he to complain ? Has not he also been a dweller in Babylon ? He hesitated a moment in the cleft of the hill, choosing his way, exultantly. He did not watch the North now; the quiet old dream of content was gone; his thick blood throbbed and surged with passions of which you and I know nothing: he had a lost life to avenge. His native air, torrid, heavy with latent impurity, drew him back : a fitter breath than this cold snow for the animal in his body, the demon in his soul, to triumph and wallow in. He panted, thinking of the saffron hues of the Sautilla flats, of the white, stately dwellings, the men that went in and out from them, quiet, dominant, — feeling the edge of his knife. It was his turn to he master now! He ploughed his way doggedly through the snow,—panting, as he went,— a hotter glow in his gloomy eyes. It was his turn for pleasure now: he would have his fill! Their wine and their gardens and—— He did not need to choose a wife from his own color now. He stopped, thinking of little Floy, with her curls and great listening eyes, watching at the door for her brother. He had watched her climb up into his arms and kiss his cheek. She never would do that again ! He laughed aloud, shrilly. By God ! she should keep the kiss for other lips! Why should he not say it ?

Up on the hill the night-air throbbed colder and holier. The guards stood about in the snow, silent, troubled. This was not like a death in battle : it put them in mind of home, somehow. All that the dying man said was, “ Water, now and then. He had been sleeping, when struck, and never had thoroughly wakened from his dream. Captain Poole, of the Snake-hunters, had wrapped him in his own blanket, finding nothing more could be done. He went off to have the Colonel summoned now, muttering that it was “ a damned shame.” They put snow to Lamar’s lips constantly, being hot and parched ; a woman, Dorr’s wife, was crouching on the ground beside him, chafing his hands, keeping down her sobs for fear they would disturb him. He opened his eyes at last, and knew Dorr, who held his head.

“ Unfasten my coat, Charley. What makes it so close here ? ”

Dorr could not speak.

“ Shall I lift you up, Captain Lamar ? ” asked Dave Hall, who stood leaning on his rifle.

He spoke in a subdued tone, Babylon being far off for the moment. Lamar dozed again before he could answer.

“Don’t try to move him, — it is too late,” said Dorr, sharply.

The moonlight steeped mountain and sky in a fresh whiteness. Lamar’s face, paling every moment, hardening, looked in it like some solemn work of an untaught sculptor. There was a breathless silence. Ruth, kneeling beside him, felt his hand grow slowly colder than the snow. He moaned, his voice going fast,—

“ At two, Ben, old fellow ! We ’ll be free to-night! ”

Dave, stooping to wrap the blanket, felt his hand wet: he wiped it with a shudder.

“ As he hath done unto My people, be it done unto him !” he muttered, but the words did not comfort him.

Lamar moved, half-smiling,

“ That’s right, Floy. What is it she says ? ‘ Now I lay me down ’——I forget. Good night. Kiss me, Floy.”

He waited,— looked up uneasily. Dorr looked at his wife : she stooped, and kissed his lips. Charley smoothed back the hair from the damp face with as tender a touch as a woman’s. Was he dead ? The white moonlight was not more still than the calm face.

Suddenly the night-air was shattered by a wild, revengeful laugh from the hill. The departing soul rushed back, at the sound, to life, full consciousness. Lamar Started from their hold, — sat up.

“ It was Ben,” he said, slowly.

In that dying flash of comprehension, it may be, the wrongs of the white man and the black stood clearer to his eyes than ours: the two lives trampled down. The stern face of the boatman bent over him: he was trying to stanch the flowing blood. Lamar looked at him : Hall saw no bitterness in the look,— a quiet, sad question rather, before which his soul lay bare. He felt the cold hand touch his shoulder, saw the pale lips move.

“ Was this well done ? ” they said.

Before Lamar’s eyes the rounded arch of gray receded, faded into dark ; the negro’s fierce laugh filled his ear: some woful thought at the sound wrung his soul, as it halted at the gate. It caught at the simple faith his mother taught him.

“ Yea,” he said aloud, “ though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.”

Dorr gently drew down the uplifted hand. He was dead.

“ It was a manly soul,” said the Northern captain, his voice choking, as he straightened the limp hair.

“ He trusted in God ? A strange delusion ! ” muttered the boatman.

Yet he did not like that they should leave him alone with Lamar, as they did, going down for help. He paced to and fro, his rifle on his shoulder, arming his heart with strength to accomplish the vengeance of the Lord against Babylon. Yet he could not forget the murdered man sitting there in the calm moonlight, the dead face turned towards the North, — the dead face, whereon little Floy’s tears should never fall. The grave, unmoving eyes seemed to the boatman to turn to him with the same awful question. “ Was this well done ? ” they said. He thought in eternity they would rise before him, sad, unanswered. The earth, he fancied, lay whiter, colder, — the heaven farther off; the war, which had become a daily business, stood suddenly before him in all its terrible meaning. God, he thought, had met in judgment with His people. Yet he uttered no cry of vengeance against the doomed city. With the dead face before him, he bent his eyes to the ground, humble, uncertain,— speaking out of the ignorance of his own weak, human soul.

“ The day of the Loud is nigh,” he said ; “ it is at hand; and who can abide it?”